It’s funny how things work out. A year ago (today), I was at Fort Jackson for the beginning of CH-BOLC class 12-001 as a 2LT (I miss my butter bar). The first hours were tense and I doubted my journey more than once – and all we did was paperwork that first day! It is funny to look back on those early days as we drank from the fire hydrant to take in as much as possible as many of us were civilian ministers coming into the Army with no prior experience. Now, I am about to jump off on another journey with God and a bit of it is unknown. I really don’t know what I am getting into again but I know God is there and I am excited! So what have I learned in the year since I was a “Sacred Warrior” (class motto)?
- Go with God. I know this is obvious but there are times when we are in spots when we forget God is there. Moses, David, Solomon, and even Jesus had moments when they were looking for God’s presence. Each time that I thought I had reached my limit, I found God right there to keep pushing me farther.
- Don’t Doubt Yourself (aka Believe in Yourself). While this goes with my first point, you have to believe in yourself when you go with God. I have found that God puts me where I need to be at the exact moment that I need to be there. I should have no doubts whatsoever because I am where I am supposed to be. I doubted myself at the beginning but learned to believe in myself because I was on God’s path. That lesson has been reinforced so much over the past year and I am ready to see what is next.
- Believe in Others. It was hard to believe in myself but others believed in me and showed me that I had what it took to keep going. I also began to see that in others and encouraged them as well. God speaks to us in many ways including through others (and through us). We need to believe in each other and support them.
- We Are Part of a Team. This is obvious in the Army that we are all part of a team but we are in life as well. We have families. We have churches. We have work. We have so many groups that we belong to and those groups need each person to do their share for the success of the group. It is a cliche but there is no “I” in team.
My time at CH-BOLC was a great experience and a time of growth and learning. I made lifelong friends that I look forward to seeing again in the future. I grew in my faith and relationship with God and I learned to cherish my family even more. I pray that you can all have a CH-BOLC (aka wilderness) experience of your own. They are awesome and make you a stronger person in many ways.
Here is today’s sermon based on John 10:11-18:
During CH-BOLC, we had the chance to practice our navigation skills. We did Day Land Nav and Night Land Nav. Now, we were given a map, some coordinates, a compass, a protractor and then sent on our way. We had to follow the course of the coordinates, check in, and find our way back in a reasonable amount of time. It was not a difficult task and we appointed a navigator, a leader, and the rest of us followed in course. We successfully missed the bramble patch, the pond, and the swamp and our squad won the best time. Move ahead 6 hours and we are ready for Night Land Nav. Same parameters and rules except we get our trusty red lens flashlight. It should be easy but that is not the case. Suddenly, everyone has suggestions. Everyone wants to lead. Everyone wants to read the map. We don’t miss the bramble patch, we hit the swamp, and that barbed wire fence? Yeah, there go those pants. We suffered from too many colonels and not enough sergeants. Too many chiefs and not enough Indians. Too many shepherds and not enough sheep.
I think the same thing happens for us – both individually and collectively as a church. During the good times, when we are walking through the forest in the daylight, we are content to let someone else lead. We will follow someone else and all is fine and dandy. Then we have to live through darkness or storms or whatever and suddenly, we want to take charge. We know best. We think we can do this on our own but it is this time especially, that we need to learn to depend on others. We can’t see the brambles and the swamps. We need others and especially one to guide us.
Jesus is the Good Shepherd. Jesus is our Good Shepherd. These are some of the most comforting words in Scripture for every believer. Many are familiar with the painting portraying Jesus as the Good Shepherd. Jesus is calmly standing amidst a flock of sheep. In one hand he holds his shepherd’s staff. In the other arm Jesus is securely holding an innocent lamb completely safe. This is a very fitting picture revealing the depth of meaning of the words in our text. This is the picture that the prophet Isaiah painted long before the physical birth of Jesus. ” Like a shepherd, God will tend the flock; he will gather lambs in his arms and lift them onto his lap. He will gently guide the nursing ewes.”(Isaiah 40:11). We direct our attention to this comforting truth in God’s word:
- Love Led Jesus to the Ultimate Sacrifice
- Today’s gospel (John 10:1-18) introduces our sermon text. The “disciples did not understand”.
- Jesus wants to make it very, very clear: “I am the good shepherd”, verses 11a, 14a.
- Verse 11b. The good shepherd would even offer his life in order to save the sheep.
- Verse 12. The hired hand is not like the good shepherd when it comes to dedication and service.
- The original Greek uses a word that shows this hireling only want money and nothing else.
- Verse 13. The sheep mean nothing to the money hungry hired man.
- Verse 14. The good shepherd and the sheep know each other, closely, intimately, and personally.
- Now Jesus wants the disciples to understand he has this same closeness with his Father, v. 15.
- Jesus, the Good Shepherd, will lay down his life for the sheep. This is the ultimate sacrifice.
- We are like sheep. Our sins cause us to wander away. Left to our own we would be lost forever. Like sheep we need a good shepherd to protect us. We need a good shepherd who would even be willing to offer up his life to save us. Most amazing we have that very Good Shepherd. Jesus Christ is our Good Shepherd. ” he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”(Philippians 2:8). By grace through faith we know Jesus our Good Shepherd.
- When Jesus died on the cross he was not selective about who would be forgiven. Most amazing, Jesus the Good Shepherd died for the sins of the whole world. His innocent sufferings and death was the price demanded for the payment of sin. Jesus holy, precious blood covered the sins of mankind once and for all. No other sacrifice is ever needed. “He is God’s way of dealing with our sins, not only ours but the sins of the whole world.”(1 John 2:2). This is certainly and truly God’s amazing grace. Sadly, those who reject Christ also reject his forgiveness and heaven itself.
- There are only two types of people in this world: believers and unbelievers. There is a vast difference in the lives of believers and unbelievers. The unbelievers live lives that are very self-centered and self-serving. After all they are only and ever going to look out for number one – themselves. They are the ones who are trying to navigate on their own. I have been one of those people before. I am sure you have too. But the believers look at what the Good Shepherd has done. The believers realize that their lives are completely and forever changed by the love of Christ. ” He gave himself for us in order to rescue us from every kind of lawless behavior, and cleanse a special people for himself who are eager to do good actions.”(Titus 2:14). As believers we live lives that love God and serve our fellow man. By the power of the risen Christ we are able to turn from sin. Living in the resurrected power of our Good Shepherd we live lives that are “eager to do what is good”! We can do this only by God’s grace at work in us.
- Today’s gospel (John 10:1-18) introduces our sermon text. The “disciples did not understand”.
It was love and love alone that led Jesus to the ultimate sacrifice of his life on the cross – for us, and for others. Power provided Jesus with total victory.
- Power Provided Jesus with Total Victory
- Jesus dearly wanted his disciples to understand the simple teaching that he was the Good Shepherd.
- Jesus compared the good shepherd with the hired hand. They were very different.
- As Good Shepherd, Jesus would always act out of love for the sheep whoever they are.
- But there was more. Jesus had not come only for the lost sheep of Israel but others also, verse 16.
- There were other sheep that needed to be brought into the sheep pen by the voice of Jesus.
- We remember the thief on the cross. Once outside God’s flock and now in paradise.
- Recall the centurion. After the crucifixion he confessed, “Surely this was the Son of God”.
- They heard the voice of Jesus from the cross and listened and followed, other sheep no longer.
- Jesus now describes the power that he has in verses 17, 18a. Jesus lays down his life on his own.
- Six months later the disciples see these words fulfilled. Jesus’ love held him on the cross.
- Jesus laid down his life for one purpose. Verse 18. Giving up his life, Jesus would raise it!
- The Father sent his Son to do all this as the Good Shepherd for all straying, lost sheep.
- We have looked at Jesus’ love that led him to the cross and the ultimate sacrifice. The love of our Good Shepherd did not stop there. Jesus was laid to rest in the tomb. But on Easter the tomb was empty. Jesus took back his life. Jesus rose again in total victory over sin, death, and the devil. By grace we know, believe, and confess this vital victorious truth of the Scriptures. “Since we believe that Jesus died and rose, so we also believe that God will bring with him those who have died in Jesus.”(1 Thessalonians 4:14). The victory that Jesus won was not for himself but for us and for the world.
- Today, some would rather not talk about sin. Sin, well, sin is just too negative. People want to deny sin, reject sin, and cover it up as if it never existed. With no sin there is no need for a Savior. True, it is not pleasant at all to hear that we are sinners. It is not pleasant to be reminded, “all our righteous acts are like filthy rags”. But this is the truth of God’s word. Along with this truth of the law come the truth and the comfort of the gospel. “ He destroyed the record of the debt we owed, with its requirements that worked against us. He canceled it by nailing it to the cross. When he disarmed the rulers and authorities, he exposed them to public disgrace by leading them in a triumphal parade.”(Colossians 2:14,15). God’s law has been fulfilled – perfectly and completely. Our Good Shepherd gives us his total victory over sin that we may live to love and serve him.
- Total victory, everyone loves to be a winner. Everyone loves to be a champion. That is what we are. Our Good Shepherd has given us the victory of death itself. This victory, Jesus’ victory, is God’s gift to us. Simply put, we cannot earn salvation. We do not deserve salvation. Freely, through Christ, God gives to every believer his gift of total victory into eternal life! “Now his grace is revealed through the appearance of our savior, Christ Jesus. He destroyed death and brought life and immortality into clear focus through the good news.”(2 Timothy 1:10). Our Good Shepherd gives us his total victory.
- Jesus dearly wanted his disciples to understand the simple teaching that he was the Good Shepherd.
This is Christ the Lord, Jesus the/our Good Shepherd. Once again we have only begun to scratch the surface of the depth of God’s great love for us lost, wandering sheep. We daily stand in awe and wonder at the great and marvelous things God has done for us! What love that Christ would die willingly for us. What love that Christ would freely give us his victory. No matter what we face in this world our Good Shepherd is always there holding us safely, securely in his strong grasp. ” They will make war on the Lamb, but the Lamb will emerge victorious, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings. Those with him are called, chosen, and faithful.””(Revelation 17:14). Love led him to the cross. Power provides us victory. Amen.
Here is today’s worship bulletin.
Today was an interesting day – a whirlwind day – with so many things happening. It was one of those days where we can quickly lose focus if we don’t stop and realize the significance of what is happening around us. I am grateful that I did have time (plenty of time actually!) to realize what was happening and to savor the moments.
This morning, I had the privilege of being part of the Soldiers who shared in the Change of Commandant ceremony for USACHCS (United States Army Chaplain Center and School). For those who know me or regularly read my blog, you will know that I prefer high liturgy to any other type of worship. Today, I realized that Army also has liturgy as I watched the events of the change of ceremony occur. Soldiers stand in formation while we are reviewed. There is a passing of the command flag from the outgoing commandant to the new commandant. There is music. There are marches. Each event has a significance to it and it all adds to the moment. The master of ceremonies narrated the significance of each event and provide education as to why we do it (something for the church to consider, perhaps?).
As the events of the program unfolded, I realized that I was part of history. Someday, I will come back to USACHCS and I will pass CH (COL) Smartt, the outgoing commandant’s photo, and I will reflect not only on my time here as a student but on the passing of history. In today’s events, I realize that by putting on the uniform, I am part of this awesome organization and its history. It was a moment to stop and ponder for certain. There was a profound sense of sadness as we watched the end of an era but yet a sense of hope as a new era begins. Again, I think we have lost the significance of such moments because we are so busy that life passes us by before we realize it.
To me, one of the best parts of today was spending it with friends. During my time at CH-BOLC, I have formed great friendships and I am glad to have these men and women in my life. We have laughed together, pushed together, cried together, and possibly yelled at each other a few times. In the end, I know they have my back (or six) just as I have theirs. What more can you say about a friend? I have learned much from them and as we prepared to leave and go back to our families, it will be hard. I am ready to go home but then I hate to leave these friendships. Of course, good friendships never die, they just adapt and change. I have made lifelong friends over this past few months and I know our paths will cross again and I look forward to that day. I am continually amazed at how God works in my life. Looking back, I can see God leading me and guiding me through these people I have spent the last few months with. I know people say God does not interact with people, but I disagree. God has interacted with me significantly since September.
Change is inevitable and as I prepare to leave here, I am changed from who I was 3 months ago. I am a better person who is ready to be a better husband and father and ready to serve God wherever the call may be!
“Whether you like it or not, you are a soldier in the United States Army.”
That was our welcome greeting earlier today as we began our training. Funny, I have been explaining just the opposite to so many people when they ask about Army chaplains but it seems I was wrong. Army chaplains are expected to do everything any other soldier in the Army does except use a weapon. While it didn’t come as a major shock, I suppose it makes a lot of sense. I observed in the chaplains who were welcoming us and leading us – they are clearly soldiers as well. We are with the troops, we wear the uniform, and we are part of the Army – I am a soldier now.
One of the things that we are encouraged to explore is a sense of our calling to the chaplaincy. I was thinking about this earlier today while I was running (I always need something to think about while I am running) and I continue to experience affirmation. While I have a deep sense of call to ministry, it never involved pastoring a church. I pastored a church but it did not feel like I was in the right place. The thought and idea of being with the people you serve wherever they go, to train with them, and to be present at critical times in their lives feels like the fulfillment of my calling. I do not wish to be in the walls of a church or office, I want to be in the field where the people are. I am a soldier now and that means something.
As I was running today, I was passed by several units of younger soldiers who were certainly running faster than I was (okay, they passed me like I wasn’t moving at all) but you could feel a sense of respect from the soldiers. I was doing what they were doing and I think that makes the difference in this ministry. I will do the same things they will do. I will be yelled at by sergeants (yes, we were yelled at by Sgt. Ramirez and she frightens me a bit but that is another story) and I will be pushed to my limit because as they are but in the end, it will make me a better person (chaplain!) equipped to minister to the Army because I am not an outsider but someone who has been through it too.
Over the past few weeks (months really) I have been having discussions with people who ask me, “Why the Army?” That is a good question and I knew the answer in my heart and I tried to answer the question but I could not find the right words to articulate what I was feeling. Today, I have a better sense of what I need to say: “I am a soldier in the US Army.” That is why I want to be an Army chaplain. I am just like they are. I am a chaplain but I am also a soldier. What better opportunity to minister is there?
A Methodist preacher, an Episcopalian celebrant, and a Presbyterian pastor share in a worship service. It sounds like the beginning of a joke but it wasn’t, it was worship today at the Main Post Chapel at Fort Jackson. I worshiped with the Protestant worship service and it was such a wonderful worship. It may sound like a cliche but I really think I had a glimpse of what heaven might be like. I was observing my fellow worshipers and there was great variety of ages, races, civilians, military (in uniform) and military (out of uniform), and retirees all gathered together to share in the worship of God.
I didn’t know what to expect but I enjoyed what I encountered. People came as they were and came together as part of the Body of Christ. The best part of the entire day was affirmation of my calling. While I was sharing in the worship, I felt a deep call that I was in the right place and just where I needed to be. God used this time of worship to reach me in a way I didn’t expect and I came away ready to face CH-BOLC.
I am not sure what tomorrow or the other days will bring but I know it will be an adventure with God and with God’s guidance. Hooah!
Greetings from Fort Jackson, SC! I made it here in one piece and I had plenty of time to think and reflect as I was driving in today. This morning as I prepared to leave, it was as tough as I thought it would be. We don’t do well at saying good-bye and it is hard to watch your wife and daughter cry as you say good-bye. I am grateful for them and for their willingness to let me go on this journey set by God. I know they are on the journey as well but their path is a bit different than mine.
Arriving on base and finding my way around wasn’t so bad and I was soon settled into my temporary home. Did a bit of shopping and basically stopped to ponder everything that happened today. Of course, you don’t want a diary entry of everything that did (I am sure) and you are thinking – get on with it, Tim! Well, okay, but be careful what you wish for.
As fellow chaplain candidates began to arrive, I found an amazing thing was happening. I had to leave my family (my support system!) behind me but so did everyone else. I may not have the company of Lisa and Sophia but I am not alone. There are 67 others who are going through the exact same thing. We don’t know what is going on. We have lots of questions and we are in this place far from home – alone – or so we thought. It turns out that God provides companions for each stage of our journey. It is a matter of going back to the Bible and we can see that Abraham (had Sarah), Moses (had Aaron), David (had Samuel), Job (okay not the best example but he still had companions), Jesus (had his disciples), and Paul (had different companions). Each of these people and others always had someone to journey with them so they were not alone in their work. I feel that way tonight as well. When I left the house this morning, I was feeling sad, lonely, and scared. Tonight, while I am still lonely and a bit scared, I realize I am not alone. The bonds that will carry us through the next three months have already started to form. There was so light-hearted banter and jabs and we spent some time watching football. It was a good way to end a tough day and I am ready for whatever is next.
I just heard Taps played so I guess it is time to call it a night and head to bed.
I probably could let this post stand just like this but you probably want to know more so here it is. I spent my morning and afternoon with my daughter. I have been planning a “Daddy-Sophia” day for the past few weeks since I know I am leaving tomorrow for three months. We had a great time and there were a few tears from me along the way. I thought this would be an easy day but in many ways it has been a hard one. I know “good-bye” is coming sooner than I want it but I can’t stop it. I am simply moving along in God’s plan.
Then a remarkable thing happened. While I was enjoying dinner with Sophia, she shared something (as four years often do) with a person sitting nearby. As I was getting up to get something, I heard her say:
That’s my daddy. He’s going to the Army tomorrow. I love him and I am proud of him.
Yup. The tears started flowing right then and I turned around and gave her a big hug. I may be going away for awhile but I am loved. I am loved by my wife and daughter, my parents, and my friends. I may be separated from them geographically but they will still be nearby. It is not going to be easy but then there are a lot of things that are not so easy in this life.
But there is something else even more remarkable. The love of my family and friends pales in comparison to the love of God. My daughter loves me unconditionally but God loves me even more. Right now, I can’t even wrap my head around that idea but it is helping me to ease into this transition. I go with the love of many and that is a good thing.
About those tears: for those that know me really well, you will know that I am an avid fan of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and the movie adaptations. There is a great line that Gandalf speaks that I thinks sums up what I am feeling:
I will not say: do not weep; for not all tears are an evil.
If I wasn’t loved and I didn’t love, I wouldn’t be crying. It will be hard but I am coming home in a few months. I will cry because I am loved.
So here I am less than 24 hours until I leave for Fort Jackson and I am having a battle of the doubts. No, I think I am done with my battle of the doubts for the moment. I am really a piece of work because I am my own worst enemy at times. I have been working towards this moment to get ready. I have been praying about this moment. I have been seeking guidance about this moment and when I had my doubts, my first thought was how can I quit! I really am a piece of work.
For the record, I am not going to quit. I am ready for this but I am both excited and a bit terrified. I really don’t know what I am getting myself into. I am leaving my comfort zone and heading off into the unknown and I don’t like the unknown. I suppose I am not alone in this.
In my times of doubt, I am comforted by the stories of men and women in the Bible who faced similar obstacles. We can discuss later whether they were real or not but in the meantime I have the story of Moses, of David, of Samuel, of Abraham, of the disciples, of Mary, of Mary Magdalene, and so many others. Each one of these had to face the unknown and in many cases, they went grumbling or arguing with God – I am thinking especially of Abraham, Moses, and the disciples. They all tried to make deals with God, or they argued their limitations, or they made excuses. Despite all of this, they did something very important – they went.
I know this and I am going tomorrow as I have planned for some time. I will face the unknown and I will be fine because this is God’s thing and not my own. I am following God’s lead and it is okay to be terrified and doubtful. It is okay to question and worry. But in the end, what really matters is that I go and do.
*Alternatively, I ask myself “Tim, What the hell were you thinking?”
Here I am, less than 48 hours until I leave for Fort Jackson, and I find I am a source of mixed feelings and emotions. I am excited to enter this part of the journey as I have been working towards it for nearly a year and a half. I am also having a “what the hell was I thinking?” feeling as I am nervous as all can be. I admit I have had the thought of resigning and walking away except I don’t quit so here I am, packed, ready to go, and not really sure what I am getting myself into.
But then, there is my family. I love my wife and daughter and I have to leave them behind for 3 months. Now, I know with modern technology I can talk face to face with them, call on them on the phone, or even send an email to them. I know this but it won’t be the same as being there. I won’t get to snuggle with Lisa at night as it gets cooler and I will miss my daily hugs from Sophia. I also think of all those wonderful family traditions I will miss this year:
- This is the first Thanksgiving I will not share with Lisa since we started dating 12 years ago.
- I will miss putting up the Christmas tree and decorating the house.
- I will miss picking out the family Christmas ornament this year.
I know all of this but a wise person told me that anything worth doing is worth a sacrifice. This is what I am called to do so I have to accept that this is worth the sacrifice to do what God has called me to do.
The funny this is that I think Lisa will handle this better than I will. She is the stronger one of the two of us and will be just fine. I have been busy finding people that Lisa can call for help in case something happens. I am doing this for my peace of mind (it is a guy thing) because I want to make sure she has help if she needs it but she handles absences better than I do. Seminary brought weekly absences and she handled them well while I am a mess when she travels.
They say absence makes the heart grow fonder so my heart will be growing fonder as we go along. This is an adventure in our journey of faith and I am looking forward to what is next even while I am going to miss my family.
Today is another in a series of getting ready for CH-BOLC. I realized my journey to this point involved discernment as I struggled to hear God’s call. Rather, I didn’t struggle to hear God’s call, I struggled to accept that this was my calling! I knew I was called to ministry and I always expected that I would be a church pastor but never dreamed that I would be an Army Chaplain. Mind you, there were moments in my life when I thought the military would be a noble profession and I always thought I may have missed an opportunity to be part of the military.
Enter the call to chaplaincy. It was there all along but I had to be in prayerful consideration of what that calling truly meant. It meant a lot of prayer, a lot of conversations, and a lot of time by myself thinking and reflecting. All paths seemed clear once I began to spend time in prayer and reflection.
Discernment is an interesting thing. We all want to know what we are doing and we want it to be as clear as possible. If the truth be told, it is not always (and usually rarely) clear. There are clues and there are markers along the way, but we need to pray and reflect to see them. Actually, I am going to rephrase that, I think the path is clear to us but we are so often wrapped up in life that we totally miss the clues. Moses was tending sheep in the middle of nowhere. He was in tune with his sheep and with his environment. He was also still for much of his time tending sheep. This allowed him to hear God’s call when it came. I honestly am not still very long and my attention span can vary greatly depending on the task. It is only when I stop and pray and reflect that I do see God’s path set before me.
In days filled with trouble, I search for you. And at night I tirelessly lift my hands in prayer, refusing comfort. -Psalm 77:2 (CEB)
Okay, so my days are not filled with trouble but the verse fits because I think we need to tirelessly lift our hands in prayers and refuse to stop. I think we need to seek God’s guidance as we seek to follow God’s plan.
So by know, you are probably wondering what I am babbling on about with discernment and CH-BOLC. That is a great question. I am still discerning God’s call for the next phase of chaplaincy. I am still discerning where this current path will lead. I may have my doubts but this is a God thing and so I continue on this path.
For God and for country. Hooah!
As I am dashing around getting ready for CH-BOLC next week, I was reminded last night that it is a good thing that God is in control. I admit that I stopped in place for a minute and thought about that.
I have been running around getting all the things I need to take, making sure my wife and kiddo have support they need, and ordering those last minute uniforms. It would be easy to feel overwhelmed and on top of already being anxious, it would be easy to simply flail and crash.
Then I was reminded that God is in control. I can scramble and run around and almost panic or I can realize that God has everything under control – even if I feel that I do not have things in control. I am reminded of Psalm 46:1:
Be still and know I am God.
That is great advice. Sometimes I just need to be still and let things up to God and not worry about them. I once read a different translation of this verse which said:
Be still and know I am God – and you are not.
Even better advice to consider. Too often, we try to be in complete control and act as if we are God and we are not. We are not in control and we are not in charge. I need to remember this in the coming weeks (and beyond) as I scramble and feel overwhelmed.
Of course, we can also take this to an extreme and just sit back and do nothing because God is in control. I don’t think that is the solution. I believe we need to be participants in God’s plan but realize that we need to follow the plan and not make it. I am on this journey because it is God’s plan. If I was in charge…well that would be something altogether different.
Thanks, Pastor Ray.
Just my thoughts this morning.