Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Facing Disappointment

Well, I finally had a chance to appear before the Navy's CARE (Chaplain Appointment Retention and Advisory) board last Thursday out in Washington DC. Sat before a panel of 6 senior chaplains and one line officer and answered a series of questions relating to my military service, ministry experience, views on the chaplaincy, etc. One of the last questions I was asked was "If you are not selected by this board, what will you do?" I answered that I would continue to seek appointment as a chaplain - whether in the Army or National Guard - because I feel strongly that the Lord has called me to this ministry. If the military door was irrevocably closed, I would likely pursue a career as a hospital or prison chaplain.

Well, it seems as though that answer is now being put to the test, as my chaplain recruiter called today to inform me that my name was not on the list of those recommended for active duty by the CARE board. Although I've heard no specific reason for their recommendation, my hunch is that it is related to my ministry experience, or lack thereof. You see, the military wants its chaplains to have a minimum of two years of full-time experience - preferably post-graduate - and I have to admit that I barely meet that requirement. Even though I've been an associate pastor at my church for the last two years, it appears that they don't consider that as being "full-time" enough, and would like to see more post-graduate work.

Of course, this is disappointing news for a number of reasons. First, this is what we've been aiming for for the last several years, so getting turned down now means that plans must be shelved and priorities rearranged, not to mention the fact that I must now find some other means of full-time employment. Second, it's frustrating to have come so far in the process only to be told that you're not quite there and that you need more time & experience. Finally, there's a tendency towards self-doubt; a wondering if maybe I've been pursuing this for my own reasons and maybe have misinterpreted God's directions for me in this matter.

On the other hand, we know that God is in control of all things, and that nothing happens that is a surprise to Him. We still trust in the message of Jeremiah 29:11: "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."

So what does this mean for us now? Well, after talking with Tamara we've decided to go ahead and pursue appointment as a National Guard chaplain. Not only will this allow me to stay engaged with the military ministry, but there's a distinct possibility that I can/will be deployed with them in the next year or so, which would go a long way towards meeting the "experience" part of the equation. Hopefully, in another year or so I can reapply for the Navy and go from there, but for now we're just committed to seeing where God can use us best in the meantime.

Still resting in His hands.
Adonai is STILL Semper Fi.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Physical Fitness

Soon after I started this blog, I was in a bad motorcycle accident that left me with a broken right ankle and badly shattered left wrist. I endured two surgeries, and many months of therapy to regain use of both limbs. For most of 2009, I was unable to do much physical exercise, as it hurt to run for any distance and my wrist wasn't strong enough for lifting weights.

Originally, my surgeon had told me that he thought I'd never be able to do pushups again, as the flexibility and joint stress needed to perform that exercise would probably be gone. I set out to prove him wrong.

I persisted at doing as many as I could manage - even if it was only 4 or 5 at a time while on my knees. Eventually, I worked my way up to 20, then 25. It hurt my wrist some, but not badly, and I knew that the bones were strong enough to handle it.

Running was another story. Every time I would go for a jog, I would get about 1/2 mile and then end up limping on my bad ankle. Instead, I began to use the elliptical machine at our gym, which allows you to run in a non-impact way. With Tamara's encouragement, I also enrolled in the "Boot Camp" class at our gym, which provides a solid cardio workout, which I desperately needed. I even did CrossFit for a few weeks, though it's a bit more expensive and I didn't have as much time to devote to it as I would have liked.

Then I came out here to Ft Jackson for their chaplain school. A week after I arrived, we had our first "diagnostic" Physical Fitness Test (PFT). I had a waiver for the 2-mile run portion, but had to do the pushups and situps. For my age, 34 pushups and 38 situps are considered a passing score. The situps were no problem, but my grader only counted 25 pushups - apparently, he thought that I wasn't going down low enough, despite the fact that my chest was touching the ground on each repetition.

Last Wednesday, we took the PFT again - this time for score. And, I'm proud to say, I did much better this time. 45 pushups, 60 situps, and a 2-mile run in 16:57. I didn't know how I would do on the run, and even though an 8:30 mile pace isn't too fast, it's much better than I thought I would do, considering that I haven't run in such a long time.

Praise God for allowing my body to recover to such a degree, and for continuing to provide me with the strength and stamina to push myself. I'm not yet where I want to be physically (who is?), but it's great to see some positive improvements in that direction.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Navy Chaplaincy update

So, here I am sitting at Fort Jackson, SC finishing up the Army's Chaplain Basic Officer Leaders Course (or CH-BOLC). It seems somewhat strange to be going through the Army's course when my sights are set on becoming a Navy chaplain.

I arrived out here on 17 July, having sent off my Navy chaplaincy packet a few days earlier. I knew that they had another Navy Chaplain Basic Course (NCBC) starting up in mid-September, but didn't know if they would require me to do the 5-week Officer Development School (ODS) as a prerequisite, or if they would waive it in light of my 16 years of experience as both a Marine Corps and Army officer.

A few weeks after arriving, I met the CO of the Navy's chaplain school, CAPT Langston. He's a chaplain, but was a Marine infantry officer for 7 years prior to putting on the cross. All of the services now have their chaplain schools co-located here at Ft Jackson, so I was able to ask him about ODS and switching over to the Navy. He told me to make an appointment to see him in a few days, and he would have some answers for me.

When I came back a few days later, he informed me that I would have to attend ODS, as only former Navy officers - or those Marine officers who attended the Naval Academy - can get a pass on going through the course. Then he dropped a bombshell by saying that if I wanted, he could get me into the next ODS class (starting in 10 days!) and then back down here for the NCBC class in September! To say that I was surprised would be a vast understatement, but I quickly agreed. I quickly began informing my Army chain of command of my intent, which was met with some good-natured jabs, but mostly with an understanding that this is what the Lord has called me to do.

A couple of days later, as I was following up on this new course of action, I was informed that the Navy had used up all its quotas for active duty chaplains, so there was no way I could be accessioned by the board this fiscal year. So, now I'm basically back to where I was before. My packet is all set to go before the board, but now it will have to wait until October, when the new fiscal year begins. Assuming I'm accepted by them, I'll be commissioned in mid-October, then will have to wait until early January 2011 to go to ODS, and then on to NCBC in February. After I complete NCBC I'll be assigned to a fleet unit - hopefully with a Marine battalion somewhere.

In the meantime, I'm somewhat relieved to not have to jump through a series of hoops in a short period of time, and glad that I can stay here and finish the class with the friends I've made. And, since the armed forces is moving toward ever more joint operations, I'm sure that I'll be seeing some of my classmates down the road at some point. And with two chaplain schools under my belt, I'll be about the best-trained chaplain out there!

Ordination + Graduation = Celebration!

I realize that this post is horribly out of date - that the events listed occurred several months back. In my defense, I must offer up the fact that I have been extremely busy over that time with making sure that these events were in fact going to occur, and have been diligently preparing for the life changes that will come about as a result.

That said, here's the skinny:

On May 22nd, an Ordination Council was convened at our church. I was fortunate to be able to select those individuals who would play a part, and so had a number of good friends there to evaluate me on my capabilities. I had prepared my Statement of Faith well beforehand, and a copy was given to the 12 council members. Then, for the next 3 hours, we went page by page through my statement, pausing after each section for them to ask questions of me. Somewhat surprisingly, there was not much in the way of doctrinal questions, as most of the queries involved the practical application of what I professed to real world situations. I have to admit, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, as talking about what I believe comes naturally to me.

After the questions were through, Tamara & I were sent out while the council deliberated and then voted. We were called back in a short while later to find that the vote had been unanimous - I was to be ordained as a minister in the Baptist General Conference!

Several days later, on May 26th (also my anniversary), I was officially ordained during the evening service at our church. Our pastor, Craig Harrison, explained the process of ordination and then called me up on stage to interview me. After this, I was given the mike and made some remarks of my own before being presented with my certificate. One of the most powerful parts of the ceremony came after this, when family and friends came up on stage to lay hands on Tamara and me and pray for our future ministry.

As thrilling as the ordination was, I was still busy with school and with finishing up my final round of classes. Those of you who know me know about the trials and tribulations that have come with my attempts to learn Greek, and this final quarter was no exception. I was in the middle of Intermediate Greek and it seemed as though I was just keeping my head above water. I eventually took my final exam, and even though I didn't score very well (I think I got a 55%), it was enough to earn me a C- for the course. Not one of my better grades, but as they say, "C's get degrees!"

I ended up with a 3.26 GPA, which is much better than I did in college, and no doubt expresses the seriousness with which I am undertaking my new profession as a chaplain and minister of God's word.

Finally, on June 12th, Bethel Seminary held its commencement exercise at College Avenue Baptist Church in San Diego. My folks flew out for the graduation, as did my oldest brother Tim, which was quite a welcome surprise for us. It was a great feeling of accomplishment, as it was the result of four years of hard work and sacrifice - both in terms of time and finances.

The day after graduation Tamara & I left for a well-deserved vacation while Mom & Dad willingly looked after Rachel & Dash. We took the train up to Santa Barbara and spent several days up there relaxing and sightseeing. What a gorgeous area! We had booked our stay at the Doubletree Resort, and due to a minor mishap were offered a free upgrade -- to a ginormous suite overlooking the beach! We were so thrilled with our new accommodations that we had to call back and see if we could have an extra day to enjoy ourselves, which was graciously given.

So, May and June will stand out in my memory as transformative months - from student to pastor, from struggles to success. We humbly give God the glory for the great things He has done, and we look forward with eager anticipation to see where He will guide us from here.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Another Answer to Prayer

As some of you may know, we've been struggling with finances over the past several months ever since I was laid off by the California National Guard back in October. Thankfully, the Lord has continued to provide for us in unexpected ways so that we have always managed to have enough to meet our needs.

One example of that occurred yesterday.

Back in October, I had filed for unemployment insurance right away, but was unable to complete the application as I had not yet received my DD214 (discharge papers) from the Guard at that time. The agent told me not to worry, that I could call back when I got them and my claim would be processed with the original filing date. I finally received my DD214 in December, and immediately tried to complete my application - only to be told that they had no record of any previous filing and that my "start date" for benefits would be that day - nearly two months later. I was told that I could appeal their decision, which I did.

Other issues came up around Christmas, as several unemployment forms (the first they had sent me) arrived the day after we left for Virginia to spend Christmas with our family. After our return, I dutifully sent in the forms, only to be told that they had arrived after the two-week period had ended, so no benefits were payable for the month of November. When an agent called to find out why I had been late sending them in, I explained that I had been traveling and was unable to receive my mail during that time. Unfortunately, I used the term "vacation," which must've signaled to her that I was either unwilling or unable to look for and/or accept work during the two weeks I was gone. Thus, more appeals had to be filed.

What I did not realize was the the unemployment department apparently has a policy not to pay ANY benefits as long as there is a pending appeal - which meant that I would not receive any money until I could have my day in court and get these matters cleared up. That day finally rolled around on April 27th, and I went down to San Diego to appear before an administrative law judge to present my side of the story on these three separate appeals. After presenting all of my evidence, I was told that a decision would be made and sent to me - but no indication of how soon that would happen.

Fast forward to Wednesday night. Tamara and I are getting ready for bed, and are discussing our financial situation and some upcoming bills that need to be paid. Ever the wise woman, she suggests that we take a moment to pray about it. We do - trusting in God to provide for our needs and asking Him to continue to fill our little jar of oil.

The next day (yesterday), the mail arrives - and in the pile is a large manila envelope from the San Diego Appeals Board. I rip it open and begin to read the documents, soon skipping ahead to the DECISION paragraph at the bottom of each appeal. In each of the appeals, the result was the same:

"The department determination is reversed. The claimant is eligible for benefits..." Benefits are payable, provided the claimant is otherwise eligible."

Now, not only will we begin to receive our monthly benefits, but we will also be receiving all of the moneys owed to us backdated to October 11th - the date that I originally filed the claim. At $1800/mo. x 7 months, that adds up to quite a lot of back pay! More than enough to carry us through until my chaplain school begins in July, and enough to allow us to take care of some car & house repairs that had been put on hold.

Please take a moment to thank God with us for his miraculous provision, and for His continued reminder that He cares for us deeply.

Adonai IS Semper Fi!!

In other news, please keep these dates on your calendar:
May 22nd - My ordination council meets from 0900-1200.
May 26th - Ordination Service at Gateway Church at 1900.
June 12th - Bethel Seminary San Diego graduation at 1000.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

More Sketches

Ok, here's a few more caricatures I've done over the years:

This one was done for the retirement of Col. Spencer - a good friend of mine and the leader of the Officer Christian Fellowship at Camp Pendleton for many years. As you can see, he's leaving the 2-star headquarters where he worked to pursue his love of surfing & fishing. I thought about having him wearing a tropical-themed swimsuit, but decided that that would probably demean the uniform. This was probably the first one I did for an individual, and I think it's probably my best work in terms of what he actually looks like.

This one was done for a good buddy of mine, Capt. Phill Bragg. He's now been selected for Lieutenant Colonel and is the acting Regimental XO for 11th Marines. Here, he was the CO of Romeo Btry, 5th Bn, 11th Marines and had just returned from OIF. Note the old-school M198 howitzer (the Marines now use the M777 Light Towed Howitzer) as well as the frosty pint of Guinness (for strength!).

This one was done in Germany for the Staff Judge Advocate at MARFOREUR. I think I overdid it on his neck length, though. If you click on the picture and enlarge it you can read the book titles.

This is one of my favorites, and also the one that took the longest to do. "Lex" is the host of Neptunus Lex, and I've been privileged to meet him on a handful of occasions. When he posted something on his blog about retiring a few years back, I figured that this was the least I could do for him since I had been enjoying his website so much over the years. As it happened, I was able to come to his retirement party at an Irish pub in San Diego and present it to him in person. The toughest part was surreptitiously finding current unit's patch (all the others are on his site) and then getting all the details right, even down to the "piddle pack" behind his ejection seat!

This last one is also my most recent, presented just yesterday. Eric Knowlton is an old friend of mine - we went through The Basic School together as 2nd Lieutenants back in 1994-95. While I was going through artillery school at Ft. Sill, I got a request from Eric wondering if some of us would be able to drive down to Dallas to do the sword arch for his wedding. That was the last I'd seen or heard from him until I ran into him at the Miramar PX a few months ago, where I learned that he was the Maintenance Officer for the new V-22 Osprey squadron. Last Friday, I took him up on his offer to show me around and brought the family down to the squadron. Eric was an excellent tour guide, and took us all out to the flightline and let Rachel and Dash climb up inside one of the Ospreys and look around. He then took us over to the simulator building and let us each take turns "flying" one of them around San Diego. As a token of my appreciation, I drew this for him and presented it to him yesterday afternoon.


I've always loved to draw. Ever since I was a kid, I would draw whenever I got the chance. Usually, that ended up being in class - where the teachers were none too impressed with my budding artistic talents. Later, I would go on to major in graphic design in college, even though I knew that it would have little bearing on my chosen career as a Marine officer.

However, I was soon to discover that everyone appreciates someone who can draw. Even in my profession as an artilleryman, I found that my terrain sketches were admired - not just because of how nice they looked, but because anyone could pick them up and immediately identify the various targets and reference points because they matched the terrain in front of them. Also, I found myself in constant demand to do t-shirts, coins, tattoos, etc. for the various units I was a part of. I even painted a few murals that are still up at Fort Sill and outside the T-Hutte in MARFOREUR headquarters.

My first effort into doing caricatures occurred during my second deployment. One of my buddies had asked me to do one of him, and it quickly evolved into a large drawing that involved all of the principal staff and officers in our Battalion Landing Team. It got so popular that people would come by my stateroom to see it and provide suggestions on how I should draw some of their buddies. By the end of the float, everyone wanted a copy, so I ended up going to Kinko's and making a bunch of color copies and then hand-colored each one so it looked pretty close to the original. I then sold 'em for $20 apiece, and I think I made somewhere around $400 or so.

Several years later, I began doing these sorts of sketches on an individual basis - either for retirements or end-of-tour gestures. I also did a few on my own of some of the well-known figures in Marine Corps lore.

Here's one of legendary Marine Lewis B. "Chesty" Puller, 5 time recipient of the Navy Cross:

Here's the original source photo that provided the inspiration:

I also did another one of Major General Smedley Butler, well-known to legions of Marines as being the only officer to ever be awarded two Medals of Honor for two separate acts of valor:

Sadly, both of these original drawings have disappeared; probably stuck in some forgotten folder somewhere. Fortunately, I was smart enough to scan them into my computer before they lost themselves in the depths of my file drawer.

I guess that's enough for now - I'll post more of them later when I have a bit more time.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

8 Simple Words

Today I received some rather surprising news.

I have a friend whom I've only met but once. He and I frequent the same blog, and over the years we've become "regulars" on there. Several months ago, I received an email from him, asking if I was up for some counseling as he was in need of some help.

My reply? "Sure thing - what can I do you for?"

8 Simple words.

I sent my message back, sent a follow-up email with my phone number in case he wanted to call, and promptly forgot about it. Waited to hear back from him. Never did.
I wondered if maybe he'd gotten help somewhere else or had reconsidered his request.

Oh well, I thought, I guess I wasn't much help to him.

Several months later, I heard from him again, this time expressing gratitude for my help. "What help?" I thought to myself. I didn't do anything - just made an offer, which was apparently declined.

Fast forward to yesterday. I was corresponding with him, and casually asked what had been going on that had prompted his original request, and his later expression of thanks.

"It was suicide," he told me. "You were there. That was enough. That was just enough."

Life and death just an email apart.

8 simple words: "Sure thing - what can I do you for?"

Sometimes the times where we think we're the least effective turn out to have the biggest impact.

No, I didn't do anything. But I was there when he needed someone.

And in the end, that was enough.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Combat Medical Ministry

So I just spent the last two weeks in San Antonio, at the Brookes Army Medical Center (or BAMC, pronounced "bam-see") which is to be renamed San Antonio Military Medical Center - North (or, you guessed it, SAMMC - or "sam-see"). In a rare cooperative effort between the medical corps and chaplain corps, they run a course for chaplains and their assistants to train us to provide ministry and pastoral care to severely injured patients as well as to their family members.

Much of the time was spent in the classroom, learning about trauma, crisis, grief, resiliency, and a host of other things. There were 31 of us in attendance - 18 chaplains and 13 assistants, with a fair mix of genders and ethnicities. Active duty, Reserve and National Guard. Some (like myself) who have yet to pin on the cross, others who were only recently commissioned, and still others who have served for many years and completed several deployments "downrange" in Iraq or Afghanistan.

I would love to share some highlights, but am unsure as to what would be appropriate, given both the medical/chaplain confidentiality. Suffice to say that I dealt with patients who had cancer, were burn survivors, were involved in horrific vehicle accidents, or who were dealing with thoughts of death - some by their own hand, other by the ravages of time.

It is a precious thing to be with someone in their moment of crisis - to hold their hand as their eyes widen in fear and confusion, to ask if you can pray with them as they eagerly nod, tears forming in their eyes. To finally leave, entrusting their care to the medical staff yet knowing that their life is in the hands of the Almighty. Feeling frustrated that you could not do more, yet knowing that you did your best.

I'm not sure that I would choose to be a hospital chaplain - such assignments can have a way of taking their toll on the caregiver - but this course confirmed beyond a shadow of a doubt that the chaplaincy is where I am called to serve.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Goin' Navy

Well, I'm now in the midst of putting my package together for the Navy chaplaincy. Just stopped by the recruiter's office yesterday to drop off my Application for Commission & my resume so that he can submit my name to be "scrolled," which apparently is some sort of pre-approval for the later commissioning to take place. Can take 2-3 months, so I'm told.

I also completed the 18-page SF-86 National Security Questionnaire, which is a very detailed document that requires you to list all residences, jobs, friends, family, etc. for the past 7-10 years. Required in order to receive a security clearance. Finished the whole thing only to find out that it probably isn't going to be necessary, since I had a Single Scope Background Investigation done back 2003 for my Top Secret clearance. Even though the TS clearance expires after 5 years, it then reverts to a Secret clearance for another five - so I should be good through 2013. Still, I wish my recruiter had told me that *before* I filled out the form...

Most of the rest of the forms I need depend on someone else - references, recommendations, transcripts, etc. So for now I just have to bide my time and hope that the individuals concerned complete these things in a timely manner. And, I've got enough homework due in the next few weeks to keep me quite busy, thankyouverymuch.

Still, it's nice to see things coming together.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Boasting in Weakness

Here is a study of II Corinthians 11:15-29 that I preached on this evening:

Background: The Corinthian church had been infiltrated by false teachers who were challenging both Paul’s personal integrity and his authority as an apostle. While it’s hard to say exactly who his opponents were, they were very likely Jewish Christians who disagreed with some element of Paul’s teaching and who were attempting to sway the church by discrediting Paul in his absence. They had accused him both of stealing the money they had sent for Jerusalem as well as claiming that his word was untrustworthy.

Paul defends himself against these charges, and in the last few chapters of the letter he addresses both the false teachers as well as those who have been led astray by them. Since they apparently are swayed by “outward appearances,” Paul resorts to “boasting,” though clearly this is not his preferred method:

"I repeat: Let no one take me for a fool. But if you do, then receive me just as you would a fool, so that I may do a little boasting. In this self-confident boasting I am not talking as the Lord would, but as a fool. since many are boasting in the way the world does, I too will boast. You gladly put up with fools since you are so wise! In fact, you even put up with anyone who enslaves you or exploits you or takes advantage of you or pushes himself forward or slaps you in the face. To my shame I admit that we were too weak for that!

What anyone else dares to boast about - I am speaking as a fool - I also dare to boast about. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they Abraham's descendants? So am I. Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles, in danger in the city, in danger in the country in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and i do not inwardly burn?

If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness."

Weakness isn’t exactly a very popular subject – especially here in America. We tend to praise the ones who have overcome some difficulty, who have pulled themselves up by the bootstraps or otherwise made themselves strong. In the Marine Corps, weakness was seen as the enemy – a common slogan at the gym was “Pain is weakness leaving the body.” If you’re watching the Olympics right now, you see young men and women from all over the world who are at the peak of their physical abilities competing to see who is the best. But behind these stories of success and victory, there is often an element of weakness or inability that makes the story more powerful.

Drew Brees is a great example that our pastor shared about a few weeks ago – extensive damage to his shoulder, but he persevered and is now sporting a Super Bowl ring on that hand. At the New Orleans press conference before the big game, Drew was asked about overcoming adversity.

He said, “The injury happened in the last game of the 2005 season, my fifth year in San Diego in which I did not have a contract after that. All of a sudden here I am thrust into free agency two months after a right shoulder dislocation, which I was told by some doctors that I had a 25 percent chance of coming back and ever playing. Only two teams were interested in me in free agency to be the starting quarterback – Miami and New Orleans. That was a defining moment in my life and one that brought me to New Orleans with a sense that this is a calling for me, an opportunity that I have to not only come to a city and be a part of the rebuilding of the organization, city, community and region. This was an opportunity that really doesn’t come along for most people in their lifetime, and yet here it is staring me in the face. So it was much more than football and I felt it was destiny that God put me there for a reason. At times, God is going to put you in a position to wonder why this is happening to me or to us, and yet you know it’s happening for a reason. It’s there to make you stronger and to give the opportunity to accomplish something later on – and here we are.”

So what is weakness?

An inability to do something; a lack of strength; things that are beyond our control or influence.

Why would Paul boast about his weaknesses?

Paul boasts about the things that are out of his control, because it opens the way for him to experience the strength of God’s grace.

How do we boast about our weaknesses?

It means that we learn the lessons that God intends for us throughout our period of weakness and share our stories with others as a means of encouragement and to point them towards God’s strength and sufficiency.

Personal example:

I lost my job with the Guard last October, yet God is providing for us financially. Specifically, in the past week we’ve received:

- $2900 from National Guard selling back leave days that were thought to be lost.

- Over $10,000 in tax refunds.

- $7500 from someone we’ve never met who runs a charitable endowment and heard about our situation from a friend.

Did I do anything to earn this $20,000 gift? Well, maybe the taxes… but the point is that all of this came about at a time when I could do nothing for myself – when it was all we could do just to pay our bills each month and wonder if I would be able to stay in school and graduate this June. I was weak financially, and there were no good prospects on the horizon that indicated any kind of change. So am I boasting now? Well, yes – but it’s not about me. Instead, it’s about pointing to God and showing how He works in the midst of our weakness and inability. And when God makes us strong, He does so in order that we can help those around us who are weak. In our case, we were able to help provide scholarships for our church's Men’s Retreat and Youth Retreat.

So here’s what I want to leave you with, gentle readers:

- Weakness in some area is an opportunity to see God’s strength and faithfulness.

- Weakness causes us to turn to God and renews our faith in Him.

- The blessings and experiences we gain from our weakness enables us to support and encourage others.

Your challenge: Identify at least one area of “weakness” in your life and pray that the Lord will teach you what He wants you to learn so that your faith may be strengthened and it may be added to your testimony.


Friday, February 5, 2010

Thoughts on Forgiveness

I've been having another discussion over on Neptunus Lex, this one dealing with the nature of salvation and forgiveness. This is interesting, as it comes close on the heels of my having recently finished a book by Andrew Farley titled The Naked Gospel which profoundly challenged my thinking on the matter.

I won't go into all the issues the book talks about, but the one that caught my attention was his section called "Cheating on Jesus" that deals with the subject of forgiveness.

The issue at stake here – and it is a major one – is whether or not we are saved by grace, by keeping the law, or by some curious mix of the two. If it is by grace, then we must confront what it means to be truly forgiven by God.

Under the old covenant (Abraham, Noah, Moses - up until Jesus’ death) righteousness was obtained through keeping the Law. If one sinned, the shedding of blood in the form of animal sacrifice was required to bring about atonement, for “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22). This had to be done continually. They believed that being Jewish (God’s chosen people) was what made them part of God’s family, and that keeping the Law was what *kept* them in His family. If you didn’t keep the law, you were outside the faith.

With Jesus’ death, his shed blood provided the perfect sacrifice for all of humanity – there was now a means by which I could be made right with God, if only I avail myself of the grace (gratia) that He has freely (gratis) provided. This offering on our behalf was a “once for all” proposition – Hebrews 9:25-26 tells us, “Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. Otherwise Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But he has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself.” A few verses later we are told that “Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those that eagerly await him.

The message of the cross is that my past, present and future sins have already been forgiven when I put my faith in Christ. That’s it. There’s no more forgiveness that’s going to be poured out – the full measure was already given 2000+ years ago. Do you still ask God to forgive you when you fall short or fail from time to time? If so, why? What good does your asking do when the act has already been done? It’s like me asking my wife to marry me each evening before we go to bed – my continual asking doesn’t change our marital status one whit. You’re either forgiven – and live in a continual state of forgiveness as a believer – or you’re not. No middle ground that I can see. Attempting to add some works-based efforts on our part only serves to return us to bondage under the law.

So let me ask you this: If you're a Christian, and you commit a sin, what is your standing before God? If you die before you confess that sin, where do you go? I don't believe that my sin (as a believer) separates me from God or breaks my fellowship with Him. If the Spirit lives in me - if I am supernaturally fused with him in my soul - how can I be separated from what is now part of myself? This does not mean that I am free to sin - Paul makes that quite clear several times - but the struggle between my godly nature and my flesh has no bearing on my salvation.

According to Dr. Doug Moo, “genuine faith…always and inevitably produces evidence of its existence in a life of righteous living.” This is what James is talking about when he writes of the necessity of works as a natural result of one’s faith. Yet even though this is (or should be) the natural process of regeneration that follows true conversion, it is not in itself a necessity for salvation. Recall the criminal who was crucified on the cross next to Jesus – where were his “good works?” He had faith, and that was enough. To add works as a requirement for salvation is to return to the Law that governed the Israelites under Moses – and we have been set free from that law through the shed blood of Christ.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying that I don’t understand why people ask for forgiveness. I do; I did it for years. Confession is one thing; in confessing, we essentially agree with God that we are sinners and that we still do wrong things. But usually this is followed by asking for forgiveness, which makes sense in human relationships where a rift has been torn, fellowship has been broken, and forgiveness is necessary to repair/restore the relationship.

With regards to us and God, I don’t believe that last step is necessary, at least from His point of view. Oh, we may still do it, and I don’t think it bothers him that we do – but I think it would be a mistake to think that our asking for forgiveness suddenly brings down this rain of grace, as though God were holding it back until we asked for it.

The danger is that over time, we get into this pattern of confession/asking for forgiveness, and think that it’s the only way that we can get our slate “wiped clean” with God. We take what may be an understandable (yet wholly unnecessary) practice and elevate it to a necessity – to the point where we feel as though we’re not forgiven unless we’ve asked God for forgiveness. Now that quaint little habit begins growing into a millstone around our necks, and we preach to others that they should keep “short accounts” with God – as though He’s up there tracking our every sin and tallying it up on a celestial scorecard.

What I’m proposing isn’t really all that radical – it’s what Paul & the writer of Hebrews preached nearly two millenia ago:

Salvation by faith.

Forgiveness from God.

Freedom in Christ.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.” -Ephesians 2:8-9

Saturday, January 16, 2010


My last post was about God's provision and how He's been taking care of us over the past several months after I lost my job with the National Guard. Since that time, we have continued to be overwhelmed with the way God has continued to answer our prayers, in ways great and small. This was made abundantly clear to us after a few phone calls we received this morning.

The first was from my wife's brother. He's a Navy officer, and is in the spiritual process of what I call "searching." His wife was raised in the Lutheran church, and he's begun going with her fairly recently - maybe in the last few years. Their talk this morning had a lot to do with the what the Bible says and the differences between various denominations. Ultimately, he decided, he would just have to read the Bible for himself.

This is huge.

When we first moved out here to California back in 2006, one of our prayers was that we would be able to have a spiritual influence on Tamara's family, of whom only her mom really professes to be a Christian. In the last year, we've seen her dad read the Bible from cover to cover, her sister has begun talking with her daughter about Christianity, and now her brother is asking questions! Praise God!

The second call we got was from a friend of mine in Palm Springs. He had heard about our situation last year and had already sent us some money. Awhile back he told me about a friend/patient of his who runs a low-key endowment program and asked me to write up my experiences so he could talk to him about me. He met with him yesterday, told him about who I was, what I was going through and what my goals were, and the fellow told him to "set it up" and he would contribute to it. We don't yet know the exact dollar amount, but we were told it would likely be at least $10,000.

Naturally, when my friend told me this, I was absolutely floored. I had no response that could adequately describe my amazement and joy at this news. It's like the woman sweeping her house looking for her lost coin, and instead she finds a huge diamond. When I told him that I didn't know what to say, he said, "Just say 'Praise God!'"


And now you know why I chose the title for my blog - because Adonai truly IS Semper Fi!