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.
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)
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
Change is never easy but it is part of life. All we have to do is look around us and we see change occurring by the second. The weather. The time. The neighborhood. Our bodies. Some changes are bigger than others – marriage or the birth of a child. Some changes are exciting and bring joy. Other changes bring sadness and loss. Today, I am going through the beginning of a major change that has a combination of many things.
Today was my last Sunday with the congregation of Mt. Denson Cumberland Presbyterian Church. It was planned and I knew today would be my last day since I have BTA next weekend and I would like a weekend off before I go to Fort Hood. I knew it was coming but it doesn’t make it easy.
They are a good group of people who deeply love God and want to bring God to their community. They care about each other and that love comes through every thing they do. They are welcoming and to be honest, the first Sunday I preached at the church, I felt like I was home.
What makes it hard is that I fell in love with the church (as in the people) but God has called me to a different ministry. While I am excited to head to Fort Hood and serve as an Army chaplain, it is not easy to say good-bye and face a bit of the unknown. Would I have been happy if I stayed with the Mt Denson Church? Absolutely!
So what do I take from this time with this church?
- A renewed/restored faith in local congregations. I came to this church burned out and hurt from a rough experience with one congregation and an unexpected ending with another one. I vowed I would never serve in a local church again and worked hard to avoid it. However, God had other plans and I found myself called to this church. The result is a renewed faith.
- I will take their love into the world and to everyone I meet. Mt. Denson CP Church knows no strangers. Anyone who walks in the front door is quickly welcomed and finds a place. They are not oppressively loving but their love (an extension of God’s love) shines through. I take that love with me.
- I will take their passion with me. They are in a good position both financially and with the size of the congregation. If they kept at this size and pace, they will do fine but it is not enough. They are on fire for God and want to show that passion to the community. They are sharing their gifts with the congregation to grow and show God’s love.
Change is never easy but it does come. We can either embrace change or fight it but in the end change always wins. I shed some tears tonight as I was walking and reflecting on my time with this church. They were not tears of sadness but tears of joy and happiness knowing that God worked through me to minister to this church and through this church to minister to me. We were a good combination while we were together. It is okay to shed tears and reflect on change.
“I will not say, do not weep, for not all tears are an evil.” ~Gandalf (J.R.R. Tolkien)
Not all tears are an evil but I cannot dwell on this change. God is sending me to a new place and a new ministry and while I am sad that one has ended, I am excited that a new one soon begins. With God, every day is a joy, a blessing, and adventure. I am looking forward to what is coming next!
Here is today’s sermon based on Ephesians 4:25-5:2:
Do you remember the old children’s verse that began with “sticks and stones may break my bones”? We would often say this tom someone who said something mean or hurtful to us. The rest, of course, says, “but words will never hurt me!” The older we get, the more we realize that words do hurt us. There may be no scars on the outside but many times the scars from the words of others leaving last scars deep inside of us.
In our world here it is easy to get wrapped up in Army Strong and hooah when we put on this uniform. The pride that comes with this uniform and the purpose behind wearing it can often shade our better judgment when speaking to those around us. We have a mission to fulfill and it’s okay if we stomp on some toes or come across as being abrupt in our communication. No one was hurt and they know it’s our focus on the mission that dictates our words, right? Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.
In our text today, Paul tells us as Christians to encourage one another through our words and through our deeds. In our text we have six ways to encourage others as leaders, as Christians, and as Soldiers.
- We can speak the truth in love. The first way we can encourage one another is by removing falsehood and speaking the truth in love. On one side we must stop lying to each other, while on the other side we must speak the truth in a loving manner. Many times we try to avoid conflicts by fudging on the truth (does this dress make me look fat?). We do not want to hurt the other person’s feelings, or so we tell ourselves. Actually, we probably don’t want to get involved to the point that we put ourselves at risk. Loving relationships, though, mean that we do put ourselves in the place where we can be hurt for another’s welfare. At the same time we must not be blunt to the extent that we needlessly offend. Love must be our guide. We must ask ourselves what is the most loving way to express the truth. If you honestly care about another person, you can find ways to temper the truth through love so it is not harsh or blunt but rather the honest truth.
- We Encourage Others by Not Allowing Our Anger to Become Sin I have a temper that can get the best of me from time to time. There are certain triggers that just set me off (Memphis story). While anger is an emotion that arises in any relationship, we must not allow our anger to become sin. Biblical anger always involves a righteous reaction to sinfulness. But biblical anger is always seasoned by love and redemption. Sinful anger wants to hurt and get revenge. As Major Jackson said yesterday, we need to focus our anger and challenge ourselves. It is one of those cases where we have to decide whether it is ourselves or the other people that are making us angry.
- We Encourage Others by Working Hard Paul expresses a third manner in which we can encourage other people, and that is through sharing the goods we have gained through hard work. In verse 28 we are admonished not to steal but to work hard in order to have something to share with those who are in need. Sometimes the best thing we can do for someone is to supply a material need. Providing food or clothes or paying a medical bill can build others up in ways we could never imagine. The only way we can meet such a need is to be in a position financially to do so. Consequently, our income through gainful employment becomes a means for encouraging others. Hear me – I did not say you should only work so you can give it all away. I am saying that when we find ourselves with abundance and extra to share, we can encourage others by sharing what we have earned through our hard work.
- We Encourage Others by Speaking Positive Words Verse 29 is a verse that seems to tower over the rest of the passage. Words are not neutral. The words we say are either positive, which means they build up other people, or they are negative, which means they tear down other people. Evaluating our words as to whether they are positive or negative is one of the most difficult things for us to do. We need to be concerned with more than what we say and why we say it. We must be mindful of the way the other person hears and receives what we say. Perhaps the most encouraging thing we can do for others is to use our words to build them up.
- We Encourage Others by Forgiving Them The fifth way our passage teaches us to build up others is by forgiving them. Forgiveness means not taking into account wrongs we suffer. Forgiveness also involves treating the one who has sinned against us as though he or she has not done anything to us. We can forgive others even if they do not ask for our forgiveness, but full reconciliation takes place only when they admit their wrongs and ask our forgiveness. Think of the times in your life when you have had to ask for forgiveness. Can you remember how encouraging it was when you received forgiveness? So we need to be “tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.”
- We Encourage Others by Walking in Love Paul’s final exhortation on how we can encourage others is to walk in love. Our whole attitude and demeanor should be characterized by love. Such a character trait includes putting others before ourselves, wanting and working for the best for and in others, being patient and kind, and hoping and believing in others. Love is an action and not soupy sentimentality. We can encourage others best when we love them most.
The apostle Paul has given us practical instruction into exactly how we can encourage other people. The hard part for us is to apply what we know is right. The best application I can give you is to quote St. Francis of Assisi: “It’s no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching.” Amen.
Here is today’s worship bulletin.
In honor of the 237th birthday of the US Army Chaplain Corps, I want to share the stories of a few of the most notable Army Chaplains. While we are not motivated by a desire for heroism, it should be recognized when it occurs so here is a short list of heroic chaplains.
The Four Chaplains: The U.S.A.T. Dorchester was an Army transport ship that was carrying 902 people, both military and civilian, from Newfoundland to Greenland in February of 1943. Four of those were Army chaplains of various faiths on their way to European theater assignments. There were also German U-boats in the water, and three Coast Guard ships assigned to protect the Dorchester. A German torpedo hit the ship, killed dozens of men, and knocked out all communications. The ship sank in 20 minutes. That’s when the four chaplains went to work. They were Methodist minister George L. Fox, Jewish rabbi Alexander D. Goode, Dutch Reformed minister Clark V. Poling, and Catholic priest John P. Washington, all with the rank of lieutenant. Each immediately went to tend the wounded, rescue those trapped, encourage the frightened, and pray for them all. The evacuation was chaotic; although the escort ships moved in, many men jumped into lifeboats or rafts. The chaplains all helped hand out life vests, but there weren’t enough of them. When the supply ran out, each chaplain took off his vest and gave it to another man. As the overcrowded lifeboats moved away from the sinking ship, witnesses saw the four chaplains with their arms linked, saying prayers as the Dorchester went down into the icy water. Most of the Dorchester crew and passengers died of hypothermia in the cold water. There were 230 survivors. The Four Chaplains were all awarded the Purple Heart and the Distinguished Service Cross posthumously. Since the four men were not eligible for the Medal of Honor under its strict requirements at the time, a new medal called the Chaplain’s Medal for Heroism was introduced in 1960 and awarded to the Four Chaplains in 1961. They are the only recipients of the award to date. The Four Chaplains story is commemorated in foundations and organizations, chapels and sanctuaries, and various memorials such as scholarships, parks, sculptures, shrines, stamps, and stained glass, to illustrate how different faiths can work together for the greater good.
CH Emil Kapaun was ordained in 1940 and served as an Army chaplain from 1944 to 1946 in Burma and India. He rejoined the Army in 1948 and was sent to Korea in 1950. Kapaun worked the battlefields, retrieving the wounded and the dead, often under fire, and earned the Bronze Star. On November 1, his dwindling unit was captured and marched north to a P.O.W. camp near the Chinese border. There, Kapaun earned the nickname “the Good Thief” by sneaking food supplies from their captors and giving it to starving prisoners. He also cared for sick compatriots, led Mass, heard confessions, and shared his rations with those who were weaker. But Kapaun himself became ill under camp conditions, suffering from malnutrition and a seriously inflamed blood clot. He was given no medical treatment, and after several weeks of suffering, Kaplaun died of pneumonia on May 23, 1951. Kapaun was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and other military decorations.
CH (MAJ) Charles Watters was ordained in 1953, became a chaplain in the the New Jersey Air National Guard in 1962, and entered the Army in 1964. After his first year-long tour of Vietnam, during which he was awarded the Air Medal and a Bronze Star, he re-upped for another tour. On November 19, 1967, Watters was in the middle of the battle for Hill 875 at Dak To. He spent hours retrieving the wounded and giving last rites to the dead while exposing himself to heavy fire. Watters saved many wounded men, but was a victim of a bomb and died that day. Watters was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.
This is just a small sampling of the countless acts of valor, honor, and sacrifice performed by Chaplains of all branches of the military. We live by our motto: “nurture the living, care for the wounded, and honor the dead.” As I enter into this ministry, I have the heroic examples of those who have served before me and I am proud to be part of the history of this great corp.
Happy Birthday, Chaplains!
Chaplain Corps marks 237th anniversary
Religious Support Office
On July 29, 1775 Gen. George Washington signed the general order authorizing the position of one chaplain for each regiment in the pay of junior captain. Thus the Chaplain Corps was born.
Over the last 237 years, chaplains and chaplain assistants have faithfully served Soldiers, families and civilians of the United States Army on and off the battlefield with the same vigor and inspiration as those first chaplains did over 200 years ago.
In Stephen E. Ambrose’s book, “D-Day June 6, 1944,” the 2nd Ranger Battalion hit the beach with their chaplain, Father Joe Lacy. The Rangers described Lacy as “a small, old, fat Irishman,” and they doubted that he would be able to keep up with them, yet Father Lacy insisted on going with them.
On the transport to Normandy, Father Lacy told his rangers, “when you land on the beach and you get in there, I don’t want to see anyone kneeling down and praying. If you do I’m going to come up and boot you in the butt. You leave the praying to me and you do the fighting.”
On the beach the rangers saw Father Lacy go down to the water’s edge and pull the dead, dying and wounded from the water and put them in relatively protected positions. He didn’t stop at that, but prayed for them and with them, giving comfort to the wounded and dying. A real man of God.
On Sunday, we celebrate the 237th anniversary of the Chaplain Corps. George Washington and the Continental Congress decided early on that their Army needed the spiritual guidance and prayer of religious clergy. From the beginning chaplains have sought to help Soldiers and families deal with the difficulties of Army life. Three key roles of chaplains through the years are to care for the living, comfort the wounded, and honor the dead. This is reflected in our motto “For God and Country – Pro Deo et Patria.”
Chaplains go into our nation’s conflicts to fulfill this role. Before hitting the beaches of Normandy, Lacy clearly laid out the roles for himself and his Rangers…You fight, I’ll pray. During the fight, the Soldiers didn’t have time to pray. Yes, some will throw up a quick prayer when the shooting starts, but their purpose and mission is to fight, or provide communication, or supply other troops depending on their specialty and training. The role and the burden of prayer belong to the chaplain. As a non-combatant, he or she does not carry a physical weapon to shoot at an enemy. Instead the chaplain is armed with the spiritual weapon of prayer.
Prayer is an active activity. On the beaches of Normandy, Lacy did not stay aboard a ship to pray for his Soldiers. He was on the beach with his Rangers. He did not crouch in a hole protected from gunfire. Again and again he braved gunfire to pull wounded, dying and dead Soldiers to safety. Then he prayed for them – giving them comfort and blessing in a very painful and fearful environment. Thus, chaplains in the United States Army must bear the burden of prayer – “For God and Country.”
Happy 237th birthday, Chaplain Corps!
The short answer to this question is nurture the living; care for the wounded; and honor the dead. Ministry in the military is unique in many ways. Watch the video to find out more:
If you are interested in learning more about the Army Chaplaincy or becoming one, click here.
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)
This morning, I was at the YMCA working out on the elliptical machine. I am not a person who can use the little television attached to the machine so as I was listening to music, my eyes caught a verse of scripture on the wall:
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. ~Psalm:46:1 (NRSV)
The scripture is the source of the title of this post but as I thought about it and reflected, a few thoughts came to my mind. The first, and probably most obvious, is that God is our source. God is, as the title implies, refuge, strength, and help. For regular readers of my blog, you know that I have been on a journey for some time. You will also know that I was in anguish from time to time out of worry and dread and doubt. It was in those moments, that I felt God’s refuge and strength the most. I certainly did not have the strength or will to make it without God.
The second part of this is that God is very present. I will admit that there are times when I am not consciously aware of God’s presence. I am so wrapped up in myself or focused on something that I am not sensing God. However, in hind sight, when I pause and reflect, I am aware that God is there and has been there the entire time even when I didn’t realize it or focus on God.
It’s funny how you reflect on things. Today, I was simply working out and had the time to reflect on God and God’s presence in my life. I am blessed not only to have God but to have the time to reflect.
This week I am addressing some questions that have been raised along the way on my journey to the chaplaincy. One the frequent, and personal favorites, by far has been how did you decide to become and Army Chaplain? Or as it is more commonly put: What were you thinking?
The short and best answer is that God lead me in this direction. I am also human and I know that people can understand that answer but want a deeper answer that explains how. Here comes the rest.
A few years back, I accepted that I was going to seminary. I had avoided a call to ministry long enough and seminary was in my very near future. However, I told God I wasn’t going to pay for it (partially hoping to get out of seminary). Along comes a retired Army Chaplain who is doing some recruiting and he planted a seed. I considered the idea long enough to tell my wife I was thinking about it and then another opportunity came along to pay for seminary (God held up his side of the bargain – I owe nothing for seminary). I decided the Army wasn’t worth pursuing and I happily worked through seminary.
Yet, when something is ordained by God, it never leaves you. Along my seminary career, the idea of serving in the Army would surface from time to time and it would make sense each time but I doubted I could do it. I felt the pressure to become a pastor and continued on that path.
Along the way, I began to work at a struggling church. I had some success in ministry but there were tears, cries, curses, and frustration – sometimes all in one day. The longer I stayed at the church, the more I realized that being a pastor – or at least a traditional one – was not my calling. (As an aside: yes, those who though that GCPC drove me into the military – you are partially correct!)
So the path into Army Chaplaincy began anew with a brief conversation with my wife to get her blessing.
Me: I want to join the Army as a chaplain.
(yes, it really was that brief.)
A lot of paperwork, prayers, and exercise later, here I am about to embark on an awesome ministry. I am still excited and still ready to head down this path. I know God is in control and as long as I keep my eyes on God’s lead, I will be fine.
I know there are still some folks out there who do not get this calling. To be honest, I am not sure I always get this calling either but I have the faith to stay on this path and follow God to the very end of my life.
Pro Deo et Patria! For God and Country!
If you are interested in learning more about the Army Chaplaincy or becoming one, click here.
My colleagues in ministry can probably relate to this. When someone asks what I do for a living, I generally answer that I am a minister. This usually leads to awkward comments and/or questions if not silence. People never seem to know how to deal with someone who is in the ministry. When I throw in the fact that I am an Army Chaplain, well, there are even more questions and stares (especially when we get to the noncombatant status of Chaplains!) This is another blog post as I prepare for active duty. I will share some ideas of what a chaplain does.
Chaplains are the people who are there to answer the call of duty to those who serve us. Chaplains are active duty members of the military. They are given a rank based on their years of service and are able to advance by promotion. They must be endorsed by a church or other faith-based organization, such as in my case The Presbyterian Council for Chaplains and Military Personnel (PCCMP), throughout their service as a chaplain. Chaplains provide for the military member’s “freedom of religion,” by being stationed wherever there are troops. They address moral and ethical issues for commanders as well as indicating morale levels.
The majority of chaplain’s duties are not just administrative though. They must deal with deeper issues in ministry. They are called to quite literally go to battle with their men and women. This is, of course, a notable difference between civilian pastors and military chaplains. I can imagine that not very many pastors have to put on a helmet to preach.
Chaplains are not restricted to the chapel in their duties, and they often visit others at various locations. Sometimes this means the chaplain walks around the base to visit servicemen when they are on night duty. Other times, this can mean driving around delivering hot chocolate if it’s cold outside. This can even look like a chaplain visiting men who are on call to action and therefore risking the chance that he will have to go along.
The duties of a chaplain differ from that of the traditional civilian pastor in many other ways, including who they report to. They have to answer to two institutions, the organization or church that sponsors them and the U.S. military.
While chaplains are in place to ensure every military member’s constitutional right to free exercise of religion, it is often a balancing act. Though chaplains are allowed to carry the denominational name of their sponsor, they are often required to perform duties with a variety of people present and in such a way that will not offend anyone’s religious beliefs. Not only do chaplains work with varying religious beliefs, but their congregation is comprised of different ages and varying stages of life.
It is a different world than I encounter in civilian ministry but it is one that not only have I been called to but one in which I am looking forward. I literally will be with my congregation on a regular basis as we train together and work together. It is going to have its challenges but what an awesome opportunity.
If you are interested in learning more about the Army Chaplaincy or becoming one, click here.
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Edward Everett Hale, the great American orator, once said, “I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.” It may seem like a trite comment but there is power behind it. As I was running this morning, I was thinking about the idea of ministry. I have talked with people who tell me they could never be in ministry. It catches me off guard when I think that everyone is in ministry. Every thing we do is for the glory of God. Some people are called to ordained ministry while others are called to hospitality or music or some other ministry. Paul writes:
For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness. ~Romans 12:4-8 (NRSV)
As I think about an army unit, I am the chaplain not the commander, not the cook. I have a specific role within the unit just as everyone else does. My role differs from everyone else’s but I am just as important as the commander or the cook. However, without each part of the body of the unit, nothing would happen. It is the same way in a church. Different people have different roles but it is all ministry and without one person or another doing their piece of the ministry, things will not happen.
We are all in this together so let’s work together for God’s glory. Let’s remember that everything we do should be in worship to God and so there is no small task in ministry or in life. Without the work of each of us, ministry will not happen. Embrace what you can do and do it the best you can!
It’s official. It’s finally here. I have the answer I have been waiting for and it hasn’t even hit me yet. What is the answer? I have been selected as an Active Duty chaplain in the United States Army. I have been working towards this goal for several years now and it is upon me. I am here. I am nervous.
As many of you have been reading over the past week, I have been anxious about the answer and wavering (just a bit) in my faith. I knew God was listening to my prayers because I was hearing God speaking back to me. I knew God was working but things just didn’t seem to be happening fast enough for me.
The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance. ~2 Peter 3:9 (NRSV)
I know the above verse focuses on repentance but the beginning also reminds us that God may seem slow to us but all things happen in God’s time. My appointment to active duty happened in God’s time at the exact moment that I was ready for it. Not sooner. Not later.
Just some initial thoughts as I begin to process what this all means and what is next. Stay tuned for more updates and reflections.
- GIVE UP CONTROL
- GIVE OVER CONTROL
- GET UNDER CONTROL
First, I must give up control. Once I stop trying to fix the problem, once I stop trying to change the person, once I stop trying to control the situation, then God gets involved. When I say, “I give up” God says… finally, it’s about time. I’ve been waiting for that. Now I can get involved! But not only do I need to give up, I have to do a second thing. I have to give over control.
You see, if you’re just holding on to the steering wheel real tightly and you’ve been driving for hours and hours and you don’t even know where you are because you’ve taken so many wrong turns and you’re so lost and you’re so worn out and you’re so tired and you’ve failed and so you give up and you let go, you’re just going to crash. So you can’t just let go. You have to give over the steering wheel to someone else. But then there’s a third thing. I give up. I give over but I have to get under control.
I have to get under control. I have to turn that wheel over to someone who has real control. I can’t get control of my own life but I can get my life under control when I turn that wheel over to God. We cling so tightly to the wheel of our life. We think… “I can do this, I can handle one little wheel!” But the truth is there are so many wheels all spinning out of control. There’s a wheel for your spiritual life, your marriage, your work, your school, your friends, your family, your hobbies. We try to control them all, but we can’t… Or we say, Jesus you take the wheel, or we hold on to one of them. The truth is we can’t handle even one of them on our own. The only way through is to let go.
If you cling to your life, you will lose it, and if you let your life go, you will save it. ~Luke 17:33 (NLT)
The only way I can successfully let go of all these things is to take hold of Christ. I need His presence and power in my life to live a life of love. You’ll never master it this side of heaven but each day you grow in His love you will experience stronger and deeper and more fulfilling relationships. I believe this was the Apostle Paul’s great ambition in his life and for the churches he started. One of my favorite prayers in the Bible is found in Ephesians 3 when Paul prayed for the church in Ephesus. I want to close this series with this prayer for you and me today.
“My response is to get down on my knees before the Father, this magnificent Father who parcels out all heaven and earth. I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit—not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength—that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in. And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, you’ll be able to take in with all followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God.” ~Ephesians 3:17-18 (The Message)
I am waiting for word and news and still on the edge of my seat waiting. I don’t wait well but as I mentioned yesterday, God assured me that I am not waiting in vain. Today a friend told me to watch John Waller’s While I Am Waiting video. It was further assurance and peace to met that I am exactly where God wants me to be. Watch the video below:
The refain says: “While I’m waiting I will serve You; While I’m waiting I will worship; While I’m waiting I will not faint; I’ll be running the race even while I wait.” I can’t always say that. I can’t always say that I am doing anything but waiting and focusing on me. Instead, the song reminds me I need to be doing God’s work while I am waiting. It is not a vacation or a chance to rest but rather a further reason to keep doing what I am doing. God has me just where I need to be. This is all preparation for whatever is next in life and I am not just going to sit around and wait…I am going to keep doing what I need to do.
Two scripture verses I have prayed over today and used to focus my thoughts as I am waiting. The first comes from Hebrews 12:1-2 (NRSV):
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.
There are so many others who have come before me who have been in this position and they didn’t stop running the race God set them on. They kept going until God showed them a new direction or a new path. I am reminded that I need to do the same thing.
The other scripture verse comes from my favorite book of the Bible – Revelation. Revelation 3:11 (NRSV) says:
I am coming soon; hold fast to what you have, so that no one may seize your crown.
Again, I am reminded that I can be caught unaware if I focus too much on my waiting (or on me). If I am not careful, things will pass me by and I may not even realize. So I am going to keep doing what I am doing in the full hope and assurance that God is in control and what God wills is what is going to be.
So while I’m waiting, I plan to serve, to worship, and to praise God!
I wilSo I am spending this weekend waiting on word about the Active Duty board and an appointment as an Active Duty Chaplain. For those that read my blog regularly, you know I do not wait well nor do I handle worry very well. It is likely, I will end up as a basket case by Monday morning. I did a Google search on some scripture verses this morning and as I was reading them, I began to hear God’s voice speaking to me.
Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. ~Isaiah 43:18-19a (NRSV)
As it says in Ecclesiastes 3:1, “to everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven.”
“The hour is the God-given moment of destiny not to be shrunk from but seized with decisiveness, the floodtide of opportunity and demand in which the unseen waters of the future surge down to the present.” (Os Guinness, Character Counts **) Nothing is more critical than to recognize and respond to such a moment. A moment is all the time it takes for God to change things.
When God presents you with an exciting opportunity do you eagerly step out of your comfort zone and proceed with enthusiasm? Or like many people do you cower in fear and say to God, “Not me Lord, send someone else!” ? How can God do a new thing today, if we are still hanging on to yesterday’s hurt, pain and disappointment? We must declare as David did, “This is the day that the Lord has made, I will rejoice and be glad in it!”
But I trust in you, O Lord; I say, ‘You are my God.’ My times are in your hand; deliver me from the hand of my enemies and persecutors. ~Psalm 31:14-15a (NRSV)
The title of this post is from a quote by the immortal British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill. I chose this quote as the title because I have been pondering waiting over the past week as I await word from the US Army regarding Active Duty. Of course, for those who know my mind, you know I cannot stay on one topic for very long. So what is on my mind?
We all face failure in our lives at times; whether they are recurring fears, lost opportunities, possibly even moral failures. One of mine is that I get nervous when speaking to groups when I feel like I’m being evaluated. Then my breath gets short and my voice starts cracking. I’m just not myself when that happens and I feel terrible afterwards. It’s not like it happens all the time either. In those situations I feel like Peter, when he walked on water and then began to sink when he got his eyes off Jesus. I can hear Jesus saying…”Oh you of little faith”.
At those times…some of us start believing the enemy (satan). He tells us that we’re worthless failures or that God does not care about us or even love us. We tend to feel defeated and ready to give up and let the enemy win. Though giving up and giving in to the lies of the enemy seems like the easy thing to do sometimes, is that what God wants us to do?
It’s hard to get up…especially when we try to do it on our own strength. The good news is that we don’t have to do it on our own strength…we have a helper and that is Jesus and the Holy Spirit. God does not want us to do anything on our might. He does want us to take the initial step of faith, repent and then get up, however, He does not want us to do it on our own strength. He wants us to give him our failures, fears and burdens and move forward. Also, He does not want us to live in the past. Many of us relive our failure a thousand times over and over in our thoughts. We need to stop that. The Bible says that we should take every thought captive into the obedience of Jesus Christ. That means that He wants us to consciously cast away thoughts that do not come from Him. We can’t prevent every thought from entering our minds, however, we have to make a decision on what to do with those thoughts. Do we meditate on that bad thought or do we take that thought captive…do we bind it to a scripture and dismiss it? Which route we chose is up to us. Let’s choose right.
God wants us to get up when we experience failure or defeat. Never ever is God saying to give in to defeat. He is our biggest advocate who encourages us to get up because He is an overcomer and has already overcome this world.
The Bible (NRSV) says…
- Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. ~Hebrews 4:4-16
- Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved. ~Psalm 55:22
- ‘Do not fear, for I am with you; do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand. ~Isaiah 41:10
God wants us to get up. The key to success is not the act of falling down but that act of getting back up.
“But as for you, be strong and do not give up, for your work will be rewarded.” ~2 Chronicles 15:7
I wish that I could overcome some of my struggles in an instant, however, it’s more of a slow process most of the time. Nevertheless, God wants us to be overcomers and He gave us all the tools to do that. You might think that you will never overcome this illness, addition, fear, etc. in this life, but that is not what God says. The Grace that saved us from sins consequences also provides us with the power to be overcomers and to live holy, righteous, successful lives. It’s the lack of faith that is truly holding us back. Jesus talked to his disciples many times about their lack of faith. If we had the faith of just a mustard seed we could move mountains. We could pray for the sick and they would be healed.
How do we get more faith? We get it by spending more time in the word, in prayer and in thought with Jesus. We get it by trusting Him when these situations come up and by surrendering our fears, our doubts, our past, our failure continually to him and giving him thanks for the victories. We get it by little victories along the way when we step out in faith and trust God. We get it by getting up one more time. Let’s write down all that God blessed us with and read those blessings once a day for the next 30 days. We need to train our minds toward God and rebuke the enemy who want us to live defeated lives. Let’s start living a victorious life starting NOW!
Don’t give up on God because He has not given up on you. THIS IS IMPORTANT!!! You might feel that your sin is too big for God ever be able to forgive you. That is a lie of the enemy. God is not proud of our sins, however, He is always ready to receive us back if we repent and ask Him into our hearts. You might say…I have sinned 500 times…I have done really bad things. Repent, ask God to forgive you, and ask Jesus into your life…He is waiting.
Today is the day I have for which I have been waiting a long time. I have been on a journey and today (or maybe tomorrow) I will know where that journey will lead.
For those who are confused, I have been part of the Army Chaplain Candidate program for the past 18 months and heading in this direction for nearly 3 years. I have put forth my packet to be considered for active duty and I will know whether that is happening later this week. If I am not selected for active duty, it is not the end of my military ministry – it will just change directions and focus. I will still be part of the Army and I will still have a chance to do ministry with Soldiers.
There would have been a time in my life when I would have worried about what was going to happen but not anymore. I have a friend who likes to remind everyone that it isn’t about me, it isn’t about you, it’s about God. It is a true statement (I even preached about that idea this past Sunday). None of this has anything to do with me ultimately – it is all for God’s glory and all part of God’s greater plan. I am privileged to be a participant but it isn’t about me at all. While active duty may be appealing (and I really, really want to go active duty), it may not be God’s will for me. I may be disappointed but I will keep going where God leads me.
Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved. -Psalm 55:22 (NRSV)
So what lessons would I share with you today based on my above ramblings? Good question and here are my answers.
- It is not about you; It is about God. It is that simple. Every single thing about this life is about God. We have a purpose on this earth and true joy and delight come from fulfilling that purpose. Happy are those who find their purpose and live their life according to God’s will!
- It will be okay. I remind myself of this all the time and I am reminded of this all the time. We may not be able to see what is coming down the road or see to the other side of our troubles or our waiting but God is already there and that is enough for me. As my supervisory chaplain reminded us in a sermon: “God is already in tomorrow.”
- Don’t worry; be happy! I am not naïve enough to know that being happy all the time is nearly impossible. However, when we worry less and trust more, happiness follows. This comes from a worrier at heart who struggles with doubt and worry on a regular basis. Believe me, I am worrying less and I am happier for it. Life still isn’t easier but it is better when I stop worrying and trust that God is in control.
So as I go through the next few days, I am waiting but I am not worrying. I may be on the edge of my sit waiting for answers (who among really does like to wait?) but I am not worried about the outcome because it will be exactly what God wants for me. I would appreciate a prayer or two but no worries here. It is all good.
We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. -Romans 8:28-29 (NRSV)
This is a big week for me (and the family). We have been on a journey towards Active Duty for some time and we find out this week if that is going to happen. For those of you that know me, you will know I am one given to worry and anxiety. So to help me out this week, I have been reading through scripture and reflecting on it. This morning, I was reading the familiar words of Matthew 6. Here are my thoughts and reflections.
Jesus was concerned to correct false views of righteousness. As an example, Jesus’ most famous sermon — the one given on the mount (Mt. 5-7) was given largely with a view of revealing God’s standard (and provision) of righteousness. The problem, as Jesus revealed it, is that there are competing forms of righteousness and none of those are adequate to satisfy God’s standard. And of the many forms of righteousness that do not conform to God, one of the most deadly is self-righteousness.
So in Matthew 6, Jesus asserted four different arenas in which self-righteousness is revealed: giving, praying, fasting, and worrying. The first three are obvious places where one might attempt to assert his own form of righteousness. The last — worrying — is not so apparent.
Notice that one of the correctives that Jesus offers to the sin of anxiety is this: “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Mt. 6:33) If the corrective is God’s righteousness, then the sin must be some form of self-righteousness. So, rather than worrying, seek the righteousness that can be found only in Christ, and then God will provide you what you need (the “all things” in v. 33 refers to the daily needs like food and clothing that the Gentiles also seek, v. 32).
But how is worrying a form of self-righteousness? Christ gives hints in this section:
- When we worry, we are asserting that we believe we are the source of our provision (vv. 27-28).
- When we worry, we are asserting that we believe that God is not the source of our provision (v. 30).
- When we worry, we are disbelieving God and His goodness, just as the Gentiles do (vv. 31-32).
Those assertions are all part of the belief system of self-righteousness. They affirm the ability of man and the inability (or the unnecessariness) of God. So worrying, just like self-righteous giving and praying and fasting, relies on self and rejects God as the provision of our needs. It asserts “I am capable of meeting the task and obligation. I am the captain of my fate.” And worrying then is not a “respectable sin,” but an evil affront to God and His provision of righteousness.
Am I bound up in worry today? Then I must confess not only that sin, but also the prideful sin of self-righteousness that is undergirding my anxiety, and instead trust not only in God’s provision of my daily needs, but also of my right standing before Him. I am incapable. But He is capable and gracious to provide all I need.