17 February 2010

Driven to Temptation

"The Spirit immediately DROVE Him out into the wilderness." --Mark 1:12

Interesting.  The Spirit drove Jesus out to the wilderness for His temptation.  I thought they walked everywhere. (rimshot)

Seriously, this word in the Greek is the same word that is used of Jesus' activity with demons.  As Jesus drove demons out of people so also the Spirit drives Jesus our to wilderness where He fasts and is tempted for forty days.  Can we say, though, that He was led into temptation?

I find myself scrambling to my Catechism, Small and Large, to look at the Sixth Petition of the Lord's Prayer: And lead us not into temptation.  There I find a beautiful paragraph that helps to explain it all:
This, then, is what "leading us not into temptation" means: when God give us power and strength to resist, even though the attack is not removed or ended.  For no one can escape temptations and allurements as long as we live in the flesh and have the devil prowling around us.  We cannot help but suffer attacks, and even be mired in them, but we pray here that we may not fall in them and be drowned by them. (The Large Catechism, para. 106)
 Yes, the Holy Spirit cast Jesus out into the wilderness but did not remove His presence.  Jesus wasn't abandoned to the wilderness to fend for Himself throughout the forty days of His fasting and temptation.  God's presence was there, tangibly.  The angels were ministering to him (Mark 1:13) but, more importantly, the Spirit was there to comfort and to save.

Temptations are all around us.  "And lead us not into temptation...for we can find ourselves," the old joke goes.  Thanks be to God that His Spirit is there with us in the midst of them.  May we lean upon Him unswervingly.

07 October 2009

Today's Reading: Acts 1:6-11

"...why do you stand looking into heaven?" --Acts 1:11

The work-a-holic in me asks if spending an hour or so each day reading God's Word, praying for His direction, seeking His will for life and ministry is just standing around looking into heaven. By the way, the irony of the fact that this happens after Jesus' ASCENSION into heaven is not lost on me.

On the one hand, this message from the angels is a bit of a kick-in-the-kiester to the apostles. Jesus' ministry is complete...for now. Now is the time for their ministry. His final charge to them is be His witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth. Now is there time. Let's get going!

On the other hand, they are supposed to wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit "in power" before they take off. I know that without the Holy Spirit and the power that He brings, there is no way that I can do ministry on my own. It's not about me; it's about Jesus. If it's about Jesus, then I had best "check-in" each day and receive the power that He gives.

Therefore, this time is only standing around looking vacantly into the heavens if effects of this time stay hidden and private in my study or my home. If others can't see the effect of this time, then I am just looking vapidly into the heavens. But, as I use this time to receive the power and strength of the Holy Spirit, it is invaluable and necessary time. It allows me to witness to His grace and mercy in my life.

Lord, bless this time that we have each day. Use it to strengthen me and lead me to witness for you. In Jesus' name. Amen.

19 May 2009

The End of an Era

On Friday morning, I sent a text message to my dad that said, "I just got promoted to civilian."  My Army career is officially over.  No Reserves.  No National Guard.  Just me, Pastor Civilian, with my records, memories, and scars.  

There's a small part of me that would have liked to do a full twenty years, make rank, and retire with a decent pension.  If I were more of a long-term thinker, that would be the smart play.  The only hitch in the giddy-up is that I don't want to leave my wife for longer than a week ever. EVER.  As I look at things, it seems that the mobilizations are here to stay and I don't want to leave my wife again.

However, truth be told, I suck as an Army officer.  Believe it or not, my moral standards are too high for me to function well in that environment; I'm not an "ends justifies the means" kind of guy.  The means are just as important as the ends.  Likewise, I'm far too independent and don't take orders well.  This probably comes from a bit of arrogance or hubris, thinking that I know best.  I like to think of this as confidence...when it's held in proper perspective.

I could go on and write a ton about how the Army changed during my brief nine-year career or how senior leaders are going to break the Army or how the chaplaincy is setting itself up for failure but I won't.  The simple truth of the matter is that I'm still a bit too bitter to be even remotely objective.  Therefore, I'll reserve judgement on that until later.

As I see it, the bottom line is this:  My country needed me.  I stepped up, served with honor, and now, like the "Greatest Generation" I'd like to go back to my regular life and do what I was called to do.  I'll take my experiences, memories, and scars and use them to love the people of Ascension Lutheran Church in Madison, Tennessee and be the best pastor I can be for them.

God help me in this endeavor.

26 February 2009

Deep Thoughts on Ash Wednesday

"Know that you are dust and to dust you shall return" --traditional blessing for Ash Wednesday

Yesterday was Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. Lententide is a time for each Christian to focus on the suffering passion of Jesus Christ so that, in my opinion, we can put some of our own sufferings into perspective. It also provides a dark backdrop for the glorious resurrection to help make Easter stand out that much more in our lives and in our souls.

As a military chaplain from a traditional church, I offered a special service to kick off the Season of Lent. We had about 60 trainees from here at Fort Benning join me at Regimental Chapel for a service of Imposition of Ashes. It was a time for us to rend our hearts in confession to God, to admit our sorrow for our sin, and to once again be reminded of His love for us in Jesus Christ.

Part of the service is the traditional signing with ashes. As the pastor, I asked each individual in attendance to come forward and, with ashes, I made the sign of the cross upon their forehead and spoke the traditional words, "Know that you are but dust and to dust you shall return." A reminder to each of us that we are mortal and not long for this world.

Except, with this congregation, there was an irony that was not lost on me. In fact, it moved me deeply as I applied ashes to the foreheads of these young men. "Know that you are but dust and to dust you shall return" is a phrase that each of use to remind ourselves of our own mortality. But everyone that I signed last night, save my wife, was in an Army Combat Uniform (ACU) and was at some point of preparing for war. If the present operations tempo continues, all of my constituents last night will see warfare. They will deploy to an area of the world where people will seek to do them harm. Some of them may return to the dust sooner than others of us.

Sure, I realize that anyone reading these words could meet with an untimely event that ends our life but most of us take precautions to avoid such things. The young men that I signed last night will take precautions in their missions as well but still, for the freedom and security of our nation, they will seek out harm and danger.

A pastor friend of mine once commented on how difficult it was to sign his infant son and say the words, "Know that you are dust and to dust you shall return." After last night, I believe I know what he meant.

11 February 2009

Yesterday's Joke...which actually happened.

So, there I was, no s#!t, sitting in my brigade unit ministry team (UMT) meeting and we're talking calendar. Suddenly, this little thing called "Easter" popped out and began to cause trouble. What are we going to do about Easter?

Tradition holds that all the General Protestants combine into one mass service and hold a Sunrise Service. Animated discussion ensued on who we should get as a guest speaker. (Because the service was so large and we had a humongous audience, it only holds that we should get a guest speaker; none of us could be good enough.)

The first suggestion was a guy who had lost his arms and legs in an automobile accident and has a "great testimony." The second suggestion was a guy who had been seriously wounded in Viet Nam and "was a good preacher." The third suggestion was a former Special Forces guy who had written a great book and is now a pastor of a church in Iowa.

The discussion of timelines (do we have enough notice to get one of these guys), logistics (is it just our brigade or will we include our sister brigade across the hill), and finances (can we just do a special offering on Easter for the speaker) then ensued and hit a fever pitch. The whole time I sat back and observed.

Finally, after a few minutes, the brigade chaplain looks at me and asks, "Tom, what do you think?" I replied, "I think we should preach Jesus Christ and Him raised from the dead." Everyone in the room looked at me as if I had just farted.

All of us in that room are CHRISTIAN chaplains and this is arguably THE BIGGEST day of our year; it's the day that we remember the peace and hope for this life given through the resurrection of our Savior. It's the whole reason to do one, big, mass service...so that we can emphasize the importance of the day! It's not about great speakers, good programs, or special offerings. It's about realizing that death has lost its sting, God wins, and we all get to live happily ever after!

Add this to the list of reasons why I am leaving the chaplaincy: we have lost that which separates us from every other staff officer. We have lost our ability and commitment to preach the Gospel and to change lives with its power. We'd rather be "relevant" and "inspirational" than be prophetic or apocalyptic. No wonder we are marginalized so much.