Adventures in The Chaplaincy: “I want to be a muddy heart Chaplain”

I’ve been thinking a lot about love lately. When I first came on Active Duty I started reading C.S. Lewis’ The Four Loves. Also around the same time an album called “With Every Act of Love” by Jason Gray came out that I have found myself playing over and over. Those two works have been a sort of background music to my wrestling with the kind of Chaplain I want to be and attempting to establish ministry habits I can take with me for years to come.

I’ve also had to start coming to terms with the administrative demands of being a staff officer. They are far greater than I ever imagined and I spend a lot more time typing memos, prepping briefings, and attending meetings than I ever thought I would. But in the midst of the early mornings, the meetings, and never ending training schedule are people. Real people. Hurting people.

Hardly a day goes by when I don’t talk to a soldier going through some absolutely heartbreaking circumstances. In the short time I’ve been on Active Duty I’ve heard more stories than I can count about people facing unimaginable difficulties. Sometimes there’s a part of me that wants to put on a hard shell of armor after hearing the stories. But then I think about the kind of Chaplain I want to be. More importantly, I think about the Savior who called me to this ministry to begin with.

That’s where a song from Jason Gray has really resonated with me. It’s called “If You Want to Love Someone”

If you want to love someone
Search their soul for where it’s broken
Find the cracks and pour your heart in
If you want to love someone

In every heart there is a hollow
Locked against the pain it’s known
If there’s a key, the key is sorrow
Only a trusted hand can hold

I hear that and I hear how I want to respond to the people I minister too. I don’t want to have armor over my heart so thick that when I’m hearing about yet another marriage on the rocks that I stop caring, stop investing in their lives, and perhaps most importantly stop being broken hearted over what they are going through. I’ve learned quickly that to love someone who feels broken requires a certain willingness for you to enter into the brokenness with them. To shoulder some of the weight they are carrying and feel some of the hurt they are feeling.

Just this week I put this into practice. I allowed myself to really feel the pain of the soldier in front of me. My heart broke as I heard his story. Tears welled up in my eyes and I felt a knot in my stomach. For a few moments I felt his pain. It was draining. It would have been so much easier to stay closed off. To not allow myself to feel those things. But I know if I had done that, my ministry to that soldier would have suffered. My heart would not have been in it. It would have a check the block counseling appointment in the guise of “ministry.”

In the chaplaincy there’s a term tossed around that refers to some Chaplains as “muddy boots” Chaplains. These are the Chaplains who go where their soldiers are even if it means going with them into the most unpleasant of circumstances. I want to be more than that. I want to be a “muddy heart” Chaplain. A Chaplain who is not just physically in the presence of the soldiers but also willing to show them a love that transcends anything the world has to offer. A hope that even in the nasty things that life throws at my soldiers there will always be at least one person who they can turn to. One person who will see the brokenness in their soul and pour the love of Jesus into that brokenness. One person who can point them to Jesus and the greatest example of love in the world.

More than anything else that’s what I want. I want to be the muddy heart Chaplain.

Celebrating a Decade Since We Met

So…tomorrow my wife celebrates a birthday. That also means that it has now been ten years…one decade…since we first met over a game cards in the lobby of Agee Dormitory at OBU. I thought it might be fun to go back and find some pictures from each year, 2004-2014, and share a little trip down memory lane.

Despite how clear a picture you might think you have of the future when you are 19 and 20 years old, life has a way of throwing curve balls, speed bumps, and large woodland creatures into road you’ve set yourself driving down. As I look back over the last ten years I’m amazed by all that we’ve been through together. As I look towards the next ten years I’m excited about what our future holds. Undoubtedly there will be highs and lows, good times and bad, heartbreaking sorrow and ecstatic joy…but I look forward to taking journey with my favorite.

The Road goes ever on and on

Down from the door where it began.

Now far ahead the Road has gone,

And I must follow, if I can,

Pursuing it with eager feet,

Until it joins some larger way

Where many paths and errands meet.

And whither then? I cannot say. ~Bilbo Baggins



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A Broken World Requires a God of Love and Justice

The news has seemed loaded down with dark stories these past few months. From girls being kidnapped from their families by Boko Haram to an Ebola outbreak that is ravaging parts of Africa to the systematic slaughter of men, women, and children in Iraq. It is impossible for me to look at events like these, some brought about by nature and some brought about by human nature, and not realize that everything in the created order is still operating in a world cursed by sin. A world falling apart. A world crying out for the completion of the new creation that was inaugurated on the cross.

And that’s exactly where I end up when I see these stories: at the cross. The honest truth, and one that is not unique to me, is that that when horrific things happen in the world I often find myself asking why God would allow these things? Doesn’t he know the hurt and the pain? Why not finish the work started on the cross now? Why wait until after disease, famine, and war have ravaged creation for another two thousand years?

The cross, in all its terrible brutality helps me work through those questions. Why? Because Christians do not serve a distant god. A god unacquainted with the struggles of humanity. Christians serve a God who lived a fully human life and experienced the range of human emotions. A God who loved men and women and saw their bodies ravaged and destroyed by disease. A God who saw his chosen people oppressed, displaced, and persecuted. A God who experienced betrayal. A God who experienced an extreme amount of physical pain. Jesus demonstrated the incredible love and grace of God in his experience of life as a human and in his sacrificial death on a Roman instrument of torture. 

This God of extreme sacrificial love gives me hope in a dark world. Hope that he will finish what he started on the cross. Hope that he will one day restore the world to a state of perfection.

But what do we do about evil? The kind of evil that has image bearers of God systematically taking advantage of the weaker image bearers and in the worst cases attempting genocide? Christians are quick to point to our perfectly loving God in any number of situations but God has more than just one dimension. He is also perfectly just. For some reason we shy away from this image of God which is clearly presented in Scripture. But when indescribable evil happens in the world, evil that no human court can adequately judge, the image of the perfectly just God is a sobering reminder that while Jesus is called the Lamb of God he is also called the Lion of Judah.

From Revelation 19:11-16

11 Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. 12 His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. 13 He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. 14 And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. 15 From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.

To paraphrase from C.S. Lewis: Jesus is good but he is not tame and in a broken world we can be thankful that is the case.