I am assigned to an air defense missile battalion. They essentially look to the skies to watch for things that should not be flying towards us and then blow them out of the sky. It could be an interesting day when we deploy. In the meantime, around the unit, the standard greeting to officers is (with a salute) “Strike First, Sir (or Ma’am)” with a follow-up of “Strike Hard!” They are interesting words for a Chaplain but then I stop and think about them.
In the Christian life, we face temptations everyday if not more often. We know the things that can lead us astray and if we are not careful we can be lead astray by our sinful natures. Here is where strike first, strike hard come into play. If we are aware of our sinful nature and those things that can entice us, then we can act accordingly to avoid them, to make sure we have tools to help us around them, and to strike back at them (not literally). When we are prepared (to strike first) then we can strike hard and defeat our temptation. There are a few simple things to do in order to strike first, strike hard.
1. Read the Bible regularly and study it while you are reading. Come to know God’s word.
2. Pray to God throughout the day.
3. Be aware of what is around you. In the Army, we call this situational awareness.
I invite you to strike first and strike hard at sin and be aware of those things that can lead you astray.
Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.’ ~Matthew 26:41 (NRSV)
What a day! My feet hit the ground in the morning and it was a whirlwind of a day until I made it back to my room late in the afternoon. It was busy but it was awesome and I am glad to be here. Through the entire day, I felt the presence of God through my interactions with other people.
My day began with breakfast with my Brigade Chaplain. We had time to talk about my background and my time in ministry as we planned out our goals for the day to get through some of the in-processing. It was good to have the time to sit down and take a breath and ease into the day rather than hit it at full speed. I will admit this was the calmest part of the day.
After checking out some houses, I had the chance to participate in my first VTC with the division chaplain at Ft. Bliss as well as other brigade chaplains. The VTC came me a bit of time to get a feel for what is going on and what is going to happen within our brigade and beyond.
Then there is the whole adjusting back to the military again. It has been a while but I am slowly getting my military bearing back again so that is helpful. I seem to have a great Chaplain Assistant who is high-speed and squared away.
I am drinking from the fire house today. So where did I feel the presence of God? Everywhere!
Be strong and bold; have no fear or dread of them, because it is theLord your God who goes with you; he will not fail you or forsake you.’ ~Deuteronomy 31:6 (NRSV)
I had my worries and nervousness but I need not fear anything because I felt God everywhere today leading me where I had to be. Chaplains at Fort Hood are respected and given a lot of privilege. Those privileges allow us to breeze through things a bit quicker than normal and things are a bit easier. Along the way, there are people to point you in the right direction and it is awesome.Not because I get the special treatment but because God is in those moments. I am going exactly where I need to be. I am heading on the right path. I am being lead and it is all God. There is nothing to fear or worry about because God will not fail or forsake me.
Do you have the same experiences with God? If not, I challenge you to hand over your life to God and let God take control. You will not be a puppet but you will no longer have to worry about things because they will take care of themselves. God is good and God wants to help. Enjoy life with God!
Today is the day that I officially report for Active Duty. I am already at Fort Hood but today it’s official. This morning as I began my devotional reading, I came across this verse:
Do not, therefore, abandon that confidence of yours; it brings a great reward. For you need endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised. ~Hebrews 10:35-36 (NRSV)
It is an interesting couple of verses but they speak to me volumes. I know what is coming today – it is a lot of paperwork and stuff. It can be overwhelming as I am going from the civilian world back into the military world. I need to remember all those military things and find my military bearing again.
I am confident today in what is coming and I am confident that God will be with me each step of the day today. There are challenges ahead but what in life is challenging. Is life even worth living without challenges? I know at the end of this day, I will have grown as a person, a chaplain, and a pastor. I know that I will be challenged and probably overwhelmed but as always, I know that God is there and so I go with confidence.
I do not want to appear to be over-confident. I know I can’t do this on my own and I am not going to pretend that I am even at this point in my life because of what I have done. I have followed God and trusted God. I have to watch my words and actions lest I point away from God and point towards me. I do not want my actions or my words to do anything but bring glory to God. I am here to serve God, my country, and Soldiers – in that order.
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” ~Joshua 1:9 (ESV)
I pray that you will have confidence in God in all you do today. Feel God’s presence surround you as you go through this day and be confident that God goes with you through it all.
Since I received word in June that I was selected for Active Duty, I have felt like I was on a roller coaster. I would go from periods of great activity and communications with the Army to weeks with no word whatsoever. I kept focus on the tasks before me and knowing that I would be reporting on 24 September (tomorrow). There were times when I wanted to give up but I kept going knowing this is where God called me to be. I am not alone in having moments in the wilderness.
We can begin in Galatians with Paul’s mention of his time in the desert:
But when God, who had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, so that I might proclaim him among the Gentiles, I did not confer with any human being, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were already apostles before me, but I went away at once into Arabia, and afterwards I returned to Damascus. Then after three years I did go up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and stayed with him for fifteen days; but I did not see any other apostle except James the Lord’s brother. ~1:15-19 (NRSV)
David spent time hiding from Saul in various wildernesses and wrote about them as this example in Psalm 63:
O God, you are my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. ~1:1 (NRSV)
While there are other examples, Jesus is by far the best known when we went off into the desert for 40 days after his Baptism. The Gospel of Mark describes in like this:
And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him. ~1:12-13 (NRSV)
I share these examples because the past 3 months have felt like I was in a wilderness of sorts (driving through parts of Texas, I really was in the wilderness!). Other than the occasional email and my drill weekends, I didn’t have much connection to the Army and yet I was about to go active duty. Yet, those who have had wilderness experiences know that time of separation is a time of preparation. I had time to focus on God, study and read scripture, and prepare myself, mentally and physically, for the tasks ahead. If I didn’t have this time in the wilderness, I might not have been able to do those things.
There is another side to wilderness experiences. We come out of them eventually and when we do, there is always someone waiting for us to lead us to the next place. Paul came out of the desert and found Barnabas. David had Saul’s son Jonathan waiting for him. Jesus had angels to wait on him. God makes sure that when we come out of the wilderness, there is guidance and leaders ready for us.
On my drive to Fort Hood, I had a call from the Installation Chaplain welcoming me and then I spoke with my Brigade Chaplain and suddenly all of the questions and concerns I had for 3 months vanished. Just like that. I still have some questions and a bit of uncertainty but most of it has faded because my main questions have already been answered. They were not answered until they needed to be answered. Just like that.
I wonder if you are in your own wilderness right now. Perhaps you feel like no one is there and you are all alone. Have faith and don’t fear. You may very well be in one right now but God is waiting on the other side. God is already preparing to meet you. In the meantime, enjoy the journey and embrace this time to grow and be at peace.
Today is the day and it has finally arrived. In just a few hours, I will be heading for Fort Hood, TX to report for active duty. In the process, I am leaving my family (temporarily) and Nashville (for a lot longer). I knew it was coming and it came suddenly. Nashville has been home for nearly seven years and now all of that is about to change. I am sad to leave and unsure of what is coming next. There are some thoughts to keep me going today.
I know that my separation from my family is only temporary. I need to report before housing is available so I am heading off today so I can report on Monday. I know my family is just about a month behind me. Last year, I was at Fort Jackson, SC for three months and I went much longer without seeing them. With the technology available to us, I can keep in touch and keep connected until we are together again.
I refuse to say good-bye to anyone. I know paths will cross again at some point. Nashville has been home and I have formed some great friendships along the way. Nashville is also on the trip back to Pennsylvania so we will have to stop here overnight which means visiting with friends. Sometimes we have to say farewell to move on to other things. They are not easy but with friends (and with Christian friends), we never say good-bye. I like this quote I found yesterday:
“A farewell is necessary before we can meet again, and meeting again, after moments or a lifetime is certain for those who are friends.” ~Richard Bach
Finally, I go with God. I know I keep repeating this but it is the truth. I am on this journey because God has called me on this path. I really don’t know what is in store but I know I go with God. That is all that really matters in the end. This morning as I was reading through my devotionals, I came across two verses that jumped out at me.
…do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand. ~Isaiah 41:10 (NRSV)
I have nothing to fear because God is right there. Countless verses in Scripture allude to the fact that following God’s path may not be easy but God will be right there with us each step of the way. I go today knowing this.
What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? ~Romans 8:31-34 (NRSV)
Again, a similar idea to Isaiah. God is with me (and us) so I really have nothing to fear. Instead, as I prepare to leave Nashville, I look back on the friendships and the lessons I learned over the past seven years. I have grown considerably and as I have been saying, I take each of the people I have met with me wherever I go. The lessons they taught me and the love they showed me will go with me always. It is a wonderful idea that a seed planted in a person will grown and blossom and produce fruits – sometimes far away – but you have a part in planting that seed and nurturing it for a time.
Thanks friends, I will miss you but I cherish what you have shared with me.
It is a good time to stop and reflect on things during periods of transition. We often do this at the end of the year as we look to the beginning of a new one. My wife reflects at the end of a school year. Some people take the time to reflect at the end of a project. In my case, I am in the process of transition from a civilian pastor and US Army Reserve Chaplain to an Active Duty Chaplain. My ecclesiastical endorser requires an accounting of my activities semi-annually. It is no coincidence that the accounting is due right now. As I took the time to reflect on my activities over the past six months, I can look back, with some pride, what I have accomplished with God’s help and guidance.
I served as a Chaplain Candidate with the 332nd Medical Brigade in Nashville, TN under the supervision of CH (LTC) John Schroeder. During this time, I assisted in planning our monthly worship service, shared in worship, and delivered 4 messages in the absence of CH Schroeder. The Chaplain also provided mentoring and additional instruction from his experience in both the regular Army and the Reserves. In May, my unit conducted its Annual Training between our home location and Fort Campbell, KY. CH Schroeder and I visited with our unit while they were conducting training at Blanchfield Army Community Hospital (BACH) at Fort Campbell, KY. In addition, I had the opportunity to work with CH (MAJ) Hernandez, BACH Chaplain during a Mass Casualty Exercise. During this exercise, I observed CH Hernandez as he provided religious support to patients and staff of the hospital. I shared in the after action discussion as well learning what worked and what did not work during the exercise. During May, the unit also worked on Warrior tasks including weapons qualification (the Chaplain and I provided a ministry of presence), team building on the Air Assault Course at Fort Campbell, KY, and Suicide Prevention Training (I assisted the instructor). Beginning in June, I was asked to serve with the Family Readiness Group (this had not been active for several years) and working with other members of the units and spouses, we began to plan and organize events with the Family Readiness Group. Throughout my monthly weekend drills, in addition to worship responsibilities, I strived to meet with each Soldier during the monthly drills to see how they were doing, if they needed anything from me, and how their month has been. I made it a point to be visible and present not only for the Soldiers but also for the command staff as my responsibilities allowed.
It is interesting to stop and write down your accomplishments and then look back over them. As I read my notes, I see God’s presence in much of what I have accomplished. There is a good foundation of learning and experience that I will carry with me to Fort Hood, TX when I begin on Monday. I may not know everything but I am prepared to do what God has called me to do. As long as I remember why I am there and who has called me to this work, I have nothing to fear.
I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. ~Philippians 1:6 (NRSV)
It seems the world is a crazy place right now. As a nation, we just marked the anniversary of the worst terrorist attack in our history and now we are reeling from the death of Ambassador Christ Stevens in Libya. Accusations and assumptions were quick to erupt on Twitter and Facebook and again, I find myself shaking my head at the reactions of my friends. I am saddened by their words of hatred.
As an Army Chaplain, I serve two masters. First and foremost, I serve my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ as a Christian. My faith in Jesus Christ defines what I do and how I act. However, I am also the Chaplain to all Soldiers in my unit so I have to be aware of their religious beliefs and honor them as well. Perhaps, this is why I can step back and look at things from a different perspective. However, I do not wish to judge other people’s reactions either as scripture does say:
Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. ~Matthew 7:1 (NRSV)
So that brings me to the title of my blog post: at what point do we cross the line from being intolerant of violence (as in saying “I am not going to allow this to happen anymore”) to being filled with hatred. I am not going to judge the actions of those who attacked our embassies on Tuesday nor am I going to condone their actions. They have a belief system and they are reacting in accordance with their beliefs. There is also a mob mentality developing as well as people tend to follow the crowd. I will admit that as an American, I am upset to see fellow Americans attacked and killed and I am offended to see our flag ripped down and burned. I believe that is being intolerant of the violence and saying enough is enough.
It is the reactions of some of my friends (some of whom subscribe to this blog and will no doubt take offense to my words – none intended) on Facebook as they criticize not the doers of evil but the religion of many. Frankly there are crazy people in every religious group but the majority do not wish to be associated with them. I am a Christian and so are the Westboro Baptist Church folks. However, I do take offense to their actions and I would prefer not be considered in the same category as the WBC. In the same way, those who are attacking our embassies are one part of Islam. I think it is safe to say that every Muslim in the world is not attacking US Embassies and killing ambassadors. My Muslim neighbors are not storming my house to tear down my flag and burn it nor do I think there are mobs of Muslims anywhere in the United States. Sometimes we have to look at the cultural aspects of things as well and see that it may be more than just religion. I will not judge those who attack US interests around the world – not my lane to do so – nor will I judge my friends for their reactions. I will, however, challenge my friends to remember their baptism vows and remember that we are Christians in word and deed not just lifestyle. What we say represents what we truly believe. Would Jesus hate Muslims?
Finally, all of you, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or abuse for abuse; but, on the contrary, repay with a blessing. It is for this that you were called that you might inherit a blessing. For ‘Those who desire life and desire to see good days, let them keep their tongues from evil and their lips from speaking deceit; let them turn away from evil and do good; let them seek peace and pursue it. ~1 Peter 3:8-11 (NRSV)
It is easy to join in the mob mentality and we can see evidence of it on the news as our embassies continue to be attacked. People follow the crowd. Don’t be part of the crowd that hates – stand up and shout “Stop this!” Let’s stop hating and start loving. It has to begin somewhere so I am praying that it can begin with me. I am not going to hate or condemn or judge but I am going to love and pray for friends and enemies alike. They are no different in God’s eyes. My prayer comes from the Book of Psalms this morning:
How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity! ~Psalm 133:1 (NRSV)
This weekend, I will be preaching for the Soldiers of my unit during our monthly BTA. I am focusing on what our names mean to others but this morning I was thinking of one line in my sermon in particular – that Christianity should not be a label we wear but rather a lifestyle we live.
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Beloved, I urge you as aliens and exiles to abstain from the desires of the flesh that wage war against the soul. Conduct yourselves honorably among the Gentiles, so that, though they malign you as evildoers, they may see your honorable deeds and glorify God when he comes to judge. ~1 Peter 2:9-12 (NRSV)
I think that when we accept Christ, we live for Christ and it becomes part of who we are in the deepest sense. Our actions, our words, and our very lives point to Christ and there is no doubt that we are Christians. I think if we are fully in Christ and living out Christ in our lives, we need not tell another person that we are Christian – it should be plainly obvious!
Today (and everyday), I want to challenge you to live out Christ in all that you do. Make your actions, your words, and you very life honorable in Christ’s name and live in such way as to bring glory to God. I don’t know about you but today I will carry Christ wherever I go.
In an 1858 speech, Abraham Lincoln famously said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” He was of course referring to the slavery issue that was dividing the United States and would ultimately lead to the Civil War in just a few years.
Sadly, his words echo today in our climate of vitriolic words of hatred that are swirling from all sides of the election. Supporters of both major party candidates for President are making cases why their person is the best for the job while attacking the other side as blind, misguided, and even stupid. Not the case, you think? Well, all you have to do is glance at Facebook this morning. I glance over the posts and words of people I have known for years and I am surprised at what they are saying about people who do not think as they do. Their keyboards are where their mouths are and I am surprised at what they are saying! What is going to happen when the election is over?
The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever. ~Isaiah 40:8 (NRSV)
The day after the election in November, someone will be a winner and someone will have lost. We will go back to normal, so to speak, but things will have changed – relationships will be altered, friendships may even be ended. One thing that will not change is God’s word as Isaiah writes. In fact, God’s world has a lot to say about how we should be treating others. Here is just a sample:
- Do not rejoice when your enemies fall, and do not let your heart be glad when they stumble ~Proverbs 24:17
- In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets. ~Matthew 7:12
- This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. ~John 15:12
- Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. ~Ephesians 4:31-32
This is just a small sampling but my point is this: we cannot attack and tear each other down over small things like elections and they go back to normal. We need to abide by God’s word and love each other. More importantly, we need to see that politics is yet one more thing that divides in ways that make it harder to love each other. Let’s stop.
I have been reading protocols on caring for the dying and military funerals. There is a lot of heavy stuff Chaplains have to deal with in the course of a day. Granted, not every day involves death and dying but it is part of the job. There is also the counseling and the general problems that come up in day to day ministry. Chaplains care for a lot of people as do mothers and fathers.
This morning as I was reading my Bible, I was reminded that we need to be sure to take care of ourselves as well. I focused on a familiar text from Matthew:
“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” ~Matthew 11:28-30 (NRSV)
It is a beautiful scripture to think and reflect upon. In the midst of everything around us, we can simply come to Jesus and give up our cares and worries and take his yoke upon us. There is rest in the Lord and it is gratifying that we can depend on Jesus for rest. But what does that rest look like and how do we find it?
- Reading the Bible: I know this is an obvious answer but sometimes, you just need to get away from everything. A good way to do it is to find your Bible, open it, and spend some time reading the word of God. Many of us have a favorite passage or two and this is a good place to start. Using a study Bible may lead you to other passages that can speak to you as well. It’s like a coffee break for your soul.
- Spending Time in Prayer: It may not always be possible to stop in the midst of chaos and read your Bible but it is always possible to pray. It doesn’t have to be anything formal or long but just a simple prayer from deep inside your soul expressing your longing and your need. Peace and rest will come even if it just lasts a moment or two – you can find rest to keep going.
- Go for a Walk or Run: Sometimes we just need to go away and get away from everything for a time. Go for a walk (or run). Spend time in nature and looking for God’s presence in nature. You will be distracted and find some rest for a time. It is a good thing to get away.
These are just a few ideas and I am sure there are other ways. Sometimes we just need to throw our hands up and say “Jesus, I can’t do this. Please help!” It is not a bad thing to admit we need help from time to time. When we admit it, we find peace and rest and strength to keep going.
Do you have ways that you find Jesus’ rest? Please share them in the comments.
When I say “joy-stealers”, I am sure an image of a person pops into you head. I know several people that as soon as they walk into a room, they seem to suck the joy right out of the place (if this were Hogwarts – they would be dementors).
As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. ~John 15:9-11 (ESV)
I bring this up and share this verse with you for several reasons. First, I want you to be aware that we cannot choose our situation but we can choose how we deal with it. There are going to be moments when everything seems to be crumbling all around us and we can react in anger, anguish, pain, or remember that God is with us and so we can react in joy. I am slowly learning this in my own life (sometimes the hard way).
As I am embarking, with my family, on a new journey in the world of military ministry, I want to enjoy the journey. I want to savor each moment and find God in each moment – even during the stresses. I am reminded by the scripture that as I abide in Jesus’ love, I abide in his joy as well. There is joy in all things – sometimes we just have to look for it.
The second reason I share this is to tell you that you never know when you will be reminded of things. This message began this morning with an email from the senior chaplain assistant for the 3rd MDSC of which my unit is part. He sent out a spiritual fitness booster and it was just the message I needed to hear. God is awesome!
Life is hard and we can approach with anticipation or dread. I am going to enjoy the journey with God knowing that I abide in God’s love.
Life’s a climb but the view is worth it. ~Hannah Montana
I find myself in an interesting situation and one that I can appreciate. I am just about a month away from moving to Fort Hood, TX with my family to begin my active duty Chaplain career. It is exciting and official (I have orders in hand). For a while it seemed like the day would never come and now it is coming faster than I can imagine.
What I can appreciate is that I have time to say farewell to friends and visit places that I want to visit before we move. I wonder how many people truly have this opportunity to say farewell and I wonder again how many people realize it is happening when it does.
It comes to the idea of cherishing each moment and treasuring it as if it will be your last moment. It very well could be.
There is a poignant scene in the movie Dead Poets’ Society in which Robin Williams’ character takes his students to the main hall full of pictures of past (and long-dead) students. As the current lean in, Williams whispers, “Seize the day, boys, carpe diem.”
I am glad that I have the time to say farewell and enjoy things one last time before we move to new and exciting things. I know there are people who do not have that opportunity or they realize it when it is too late.
But it is more than just this move. I have been reminded that I need to enjoy each moment to its fullest because it will never come again. I do not want to look back on my life and regret not living out each moment or not doing something. I want to live fully in this world that God has given us and I want to live fully in the life that God has given me.
An’ he said: “I went sky diving, I went rocky mountain climbing,
“I went two point seven seconds on a bull named Fu Man Chu.
“And I loved deeper and I spoke sweeter,
“And I gave forgiveness I’d been denying.”
An’ he said: “Some day, I hope you get the chance,
“To live like you were dyin’.”
That is my prayer not only for myself but for everyone as well.
For those of you who regular readers of my blog, you know that my family is relocating to Fort Hood, TX in September. As a result, we are in the process of selling our house. The issue we have run into is that we owe more than our house is currently worth so we are pursuing a short sale.
The past few weeks have seen an increase in mail from our mortgage lender as a result of this process. However, the past few days the letters (and a few phone calls) have become threatening and intimidating. They are basically saying that if we do not contact them and make a payment immediately, they will foreclose on our house and put us in the street. Did I mention we are current on our mortgage and no where near foreclosure? My response has been to go ahead because I know they cannot.
I share this because I can sit back and disregard the letters and communications because they are not applicable to my family. There is nothing for us to be worried about. Then I think about families who are not so fortunate and are faced with not only foreclosure but the bullying tactics of mortgage lenders. I can see why people will agree to anything to stay in their houses and make the calls stop. They are downright intimidating.
This goes one step farther when I think of how people who are bullied must feel. I have not experienced bullying personally but I can see how people will do anything to make it stop. So I am standing up and calling on bullies everywhere from people to corporations to stop use these tactics to get what you want. I am also calling on victims to stand up and say no more. I am not a victim any more.
I stood up to my mortgage lender today and told them to stop immediately. They are harassing me and I am not going to accept it because they have no reason to do so. I took it up the supervisory chain until I found someone who could make it stop. There are better ways to work with people instead of threatening them.
Perhaps there is a lesson in this for other aspects of life as well. Perhaps we should stand up and say there are better ways to love people than to deny them rights or freedoms. I keep saying it but let’s have a conversation over coffee and not shout hatred at each other. After all, would Jesus threaten foreclosure?
Dear Fellow Christians (and others who read):
While I have shared some thoughts over the controversy surrounding same-sex marriage and especially Chick-Fil-a in the past few weeks, I want to share something with you specifically. Please note that I am an ordained minister in the Cumberland Presbyterian Church and an Army Chaplain, however, the opinions expressed in this letter are mine and mine alone.
To begin, I want to encourage all of you to open your minds and your souls to new possibilities. Personally, I am wrestling with same-sex marriage and the Biblical definition of marriage and what this means to myself as a minister and as a Christian. I do not have any clear answers. I cannot sit here right now and say what I believe because I do not know. I pray to God to show me answers as I read Scripture. For those who point to Leviticus and Romans as clear answers, I wonder if you follow the entire book of Leviticus to the letter. I don’t so I choose not to judge. In the meantime, I continue to wrestle knowing I have good company since Abraham, Moses, Jacob, and even the Apostles all wrestled with faith (and one wrestled with God literally). So I encourage you to open your minds and to wrestle with what this means to you and to your faith. If at the end of the day, and after honest, deep soul-searching wrestling, you find that you are truly opposed to same-sex marriage because God has shown you it is wrong, so be it. But be open to wrestling and not because someone in a pulpit tells you it is wrong (remember ministers are wrestling humans as well).
Second, I want to share the fact that even though I went to Chick-Fil-a on Wednesday, it did not make me a Christian. It made me a consumer and nothing more. I chose where to spend my money but I still spent money and I most certainly did not engage in worship at Chick-Fil-a. Instead, I spent money to eat a meal even though I had food at home. I could have used the money for a better purpose or to share with someone else in need. I chose not to do that and so did you. Instead, we made some local franchise owners have a very good day. If I want to live out my Christian faith, there are better ways to do it like waiting in line to serve at a food bank, reach out to those who are homeless, or even lend a shoulder to someone in need. Jesus would have gone where people were in need and I should do the same. I encourage you to do the same as well. I will eat at Chick-Fil-a again, I do enjoy their chicken sandwiches and waffle fries, but because I choose to eat there, I am not a Christian. I am not proud that I ate there and I am not ashamed either.
Finally, I want to encourage you to put people first. I have admitted that I am wrestling with same-sex marriage and the biblical definition of marriage but I keep in my mind that it involves people. We all have humanity in common. I want to encourage you to remember that we are people who are Christian, there are people who are LGBT, there are people who are Muslim, there are people who are atheist, but most most importantly there are people. When we lose sight of the people and focus on the label, it is easy to dwell in hatred and condemn people. I am amazed at my fellow Christians who say that God will send gays to hell and they appear happy about that. What does God think of you attitude. When you stop and remember that each of these people you are condemning were also “ fearfully and wonderfully made” by the same God we profess to love. I do not understand how you can hate others but yet claim to love a loving God.
It all comes back to honestly wrestling with these questions and keeping an open mind. I don’t know what to believe, yet, but I will continue to love all people and reach out to them. I will not hate and I will not condemn. Jesus may not have agreed with everyone (ie the Sanhedrin) but he still loved them and tried to find common ground. With the example of my Savior, I will do the same. I will love in the name of Jesus.
Please know that I pray daily for all people and for God to show us the truth. I hope one day to know what God wants me to do and believe. I am sure some will take the time to tell me what they think God wants me to know and I encourage you to do so. I believe God speaks through others and perhaps one of you will be the voice of God to me.
In the meantime, remember the words of Mother Teresa: If you judge people, you have no time to love them.
The Rev. Timothy Baranoski
I strive to live my life according to God. I pray and I read the Bible. I reflect on how God’s word impacts my life and I work at following where God leads me. And I fail at it on a regular basis because I am only human. I know I am not perfect because I am only human.
Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions just as I handed them on to you. ~1 Corinthians 11:1-2 (NRSV)
As I said I work to be an imitator of Christ but then there are issues or events that I am not sure how to deal with. I am referring to the current debate swirling around same-sex marriage. As I have said before, I do not honestly know what to think. I do know I am not homophobic. I would imitate Christ but I am not sure what Christ would do. I take that back. I know that Christ would not criticize or spout hateful language towards the LGBT community. I know Jesus would love them and I do the same.
I already admitted that my family and I went to Chick-Fil-a the other day to eat. It wasn’t so much to make a political statement as we passed on on the way back to Nashville and there isn’t one close to our house. We happen to like to eat there. What I was shocked by were the Christians who were celebrating that they “were helping to stamp out homosexuality” and those who were questioning “where the gays are now.” These are people who claim to be Christians and they were not acting in a Christian manner!
I have friends who are homosexual and they are good friends. This does not mean I do not struggle with the issue of same-sex marriage and they know that I do. We are still friends. I am simply honest about it. I tend to straddle the fence on this issue – not because I cannot make up my mind; though I am still working on what I truly believe – but because it lets me hear both sides and see things from both sides. I am a person who reads and studies. I am currently reading a book called Qu(e)erying Evangelism which is about a church that reached out to the LGBT community. Do I think it will change my mind? I don’t know but it is an issue that I struggle with so I want to be better read and educated. I pray over this issue and seek God’s guidance as well. I do not believe the condemnation language that many Christians put out there. God does not hate. There is no discussion on that issue.
Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.’ ~Jeremiah 1:5 (NRSV)
I do believe that God has called us all to be prophets of some sort. I am a prophet who is being exceedingly honest when I say I don’t know what to believe right now. I would like to think that I am a voice of moderation or at least one who is the middle listening to both sides to learn and understand. I have probably let myself open to criticism from both sides and so be it. But understand this – I am being open and honest with my beliefs and my struggles.
Yes, I’ll admit it. My family and I went to Chick-Fil-a today for dinner. I am not sure it was so much a political statement as we like eating there from time to time and we passed one on the way home from Dinosaur World in Kentucky. In the back of my head I knew it was “Chick-Fil-a Appreciation Day” and I realized they were swamped once I pulled in the parking lot. I could have gone somewhere else but this is where we wanted to eat. Not out of a political statement but because it is my choice. So here are my thoughts.
First, I think it is silly that we have made Chick-Fil-a the center of a controversy. I am not going to come out and say specifically whether I agree with them or not. I will say that in the end, we are so divided as a nation already that it does not matter because those that agree will continue to support Chick-Fil-a (see the picture above) and those that do not agree will boycott. Judging by the crowds when I was there, the company is making out pretty well.
So what do I think? I need we need to find some common ground. To begin with, we are all children of God. We are all human. We have things in common and that is a start.
As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise. ~Galatians 3:27-29 (NRSV)
I have said before that I do not know what I think regarding same sex marriage and Scripture. I know what Scripture says but then I am human and I interpret Scripture from a certain world view (known as hermeneutics). I know other people view Scripture and read it differently so I think it is difficult for us to come to a consensus as to what God intends marriage to be. I don’t think it is an easy answer and we have drawn a clear line that is dividing us.
Same-sex marriage has become a political issue and like other political issues, it is contentious. We need to spend more time having dialogues and seeking the common ground that Paul refers to since we are all humans; all Abraham’s offspring.
While I welcome dialogue, discussion, and study of what the Bible says, I do not want this shoved down my throat or forced upon me. Let me consider what God says through a study of Scripture and through prayer. Let’s take politics out of this and most certainly, Chick-fil-a needs to stay out of this.
I know people have strong opinions and you are welcome to them. This is my opinion and mine alone. If you do comment, please be kind and refrain from attacking.
Here are some startling statistics:
- On average, 18 veterans in the US commit suicide every day.
- On average, there are between 130,000 and 200,000 homeless veterans on any given night in the US.
I don’t know about you but I found these statistics to be disturbing. Of course, it does not take into account the number of other people who commit suicide each day nor the total number of homeless. However, I am going to focus on veterans for this post.
You see, we train Soldiers, Marines, Sailors, and Airmen to go to war to defend our rights and our freedoms. We cheer them on when they come home from war with parades and flags (at least recently – ask a Vietnam Vet how they were treated). Then we turn our backs when they need us. They have fulfilled a role and it is like they are expendable.
Unfortunately, I think this is a testament to the American mind. We use something while we can and then dispose of it once it is no longer useful to us. We are a culture of throwing things away including people.
There are great organizations out there that work with Veterans from the national level to the local grassroots level. I challenge you (and ask you) to find an organization that works with Veterans and help them with your time and/or money. After all, Veterans have done so much for us, it’s time to return the favor.
If that isn’t enough, let’s see what Scripture has to say:
Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family,you did it to me.” ~Matthew 25:34-40 (NRSV)
When Lord, when did I do this? What is your answer?
This morning as I watching the Olympics, a commercial came on highlighting the dedication of the athletes towards their training. Many of them work at their training every day and one even said he skipped dessert for the last two years. I am amazed at their dedication to the sport and they set a standard for many of us. Of course, as I thinking about this dedication, I cannot help but think what would happen if many of us did the same thing with our walk of faith.
Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it. Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable garland, but we an imperishable one. So I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the air; but I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others I myself should not be disqualified. ~1 Corinthians 9:24-27 (NRSV)
I know this scripture verse was probably preached in a lot of churches this past weekend and I am sure it is showing up on church signs as well. It is one that we can relate to, especially in this country, since it deals with sports and athletes. As I mentioned above, many Olympic athletes dedicate themselves to working at their sports to achieve a gold medal. It is a worthy cause.
We as Christians should also dedicate ourselves to working at our faith and our relationship with God. Not for a gold medal but for eternal life. Of course, I am one of those people who believes that while eternal life is a great thing, it should not be our total motivation. Our relationship with God should come out in our relationship with others. People should be able to see God in us and through our actions and even through our words. The harder we work at it, the easier it will become and the more evident it will be.
I watched several world records fall in swimming and the athletes make it look so easy but I know there is hours and hours of training behind that one race. They didn’t get up that morning and go swim. In the same manner, we should spend hours and hours in God’s presence through study of Scripture and prayer. In fact, everything we do should be focused on God – including work and training.
If we follow the example of the athletes’ we can grow stronger in our faith and in our relationship with God.
So just in case you missed the big news from Monday, my family and I are heading to Fort Hood for a PCS (permanent change of station) move this September. Of all the possibilities of places the Army could place me, I wasn’t expecting Fort Hood. Not that I am upset, just surprised. I have spent this week reflecting and thinking on what this means and what is next.
After the initial excitement wore off, I began to think about the distance (even farther) from family and heading into the unknown. While I have some idea of what I am getting myself into, in other ways, I have absolutely no idea. But nonetheless, we are heading off in this direction as God is leading us. Then I stop and read and reflect on Psalm 121 which happens to be my favorite:
I lift up my eyes to the hills— from where will my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade at your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and for evermore. (NRSV)
We are going off into the unknown of Texas but we are not going alone. We have God with us each moment of this journey (and all journeys for that matter). My family and I are exactly where God wants us to be and I have no doubt all things will work out according to God’s will for Scripture says:
We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. ~Romans 8:28 (NRSV).
This morning as I was running, I had to laugh as I thought back over the past seven years of my life. Right before my 30th birthday, my life took an unexpected turn and I found myself floundering and lost. I had no clue what to do or what was next except that God was calling me to ministry. If I fast forward seven years, I can look back and see God’s work every day over the past few years.
For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. ~Jeremiah 29:11 (NRSV)
This was the verse that I was reflecting on this morning. It is true. I may not have been able to see God’s work in the moment but as I look back, I see that God was pushing me and leading me where I needed to go. Here’s a few examples.
God lead me to a church and denomination that had just 1 seminary but as a member of that denomination, I could go to seminary at no cost to me. If you didn’t know, I refused to pay for seminary and made a deal with God that I would go to seminary but only if I didn’t have to pay for it. I know you shouldn’t make deals with God but I did and I held up my end of the deal as well.
Before I started seminary, I had a call from a Chaplain recruiter with the US Army. I listened respectfully but didn’t want to join the Army as a chaplain or otherwise. However, God planted the seed and it took root and a few years later, I am heading off to Fort Hood to serve as an active duty chaplain with the US Army.
As I sit here this morning and write this reflection, I can look back and see where God has guided my steps. I went from having my world turned upside down and having no place to turn to realizing I needed to turn to God and listen – and I mean really listen – to God. As I turned to God, things fell into place as I followed God’s path. Now I don’t mean my life has been perfect but my life has been in God’s will which means my worries and cares are truly minor because God is in control. I know God is in control of the next stage as well. I pray that I will be able to see God’s presence in the moment at hand rather than looking back and seeing it.
I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.’ ~Joshua 1:9 (NRSV)