Wrestling With God

The thinly carpeted wood floor in the old building creaked under his feet as he walked. He made his way to the front of the room. The path was so familiar that he didn’t even need to turn the lights on that night. As he came to front of the room, he turned and looked out at the empty space. It was a familiar view but the warm memories that once accompanied it had long since vanished and all that remained was the musty smell of old lumber and old carpet.

Wrestling.

He felt the book in his hands. Like the room, it was very familiar. The guilded edges on the pages were faded and wrinkled. The fake leather cover was creased. The book had held so many promises for the man. Promises of service and sacrifice. He anticipated the first but the rapid onset of the second hit him like a punch in the gut and left him gasping. Falling to his knees. Out of breath. Out of hope. As his knees fell to the carpet the tears began to fall from his eyes.

Wrestling.

His knees ached as the carpet failed to cushion from the old wood below it. His eyes burned with tears as he questioned the plan and providence of God. He felt a dream wilting in front of him like a flower left in a vase for too long. He saw the hurt in her eyes and heard the anger in her voice. Watching him suffer was tearing her apart. He looked in his little eyes as he wondered why his daddy kept coming home sad. Who knew that part of the service would mean that they would be hurt too? His heart broke in half.

Wrestling.

With a voice broken and raspy from the tears, he opened the guilded book. Since he had no words to express the anguish in his soul, he let the ancient words speak for him. “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” “My God, I cry by day but you do not answer!” “My strength is dried up like a potsherd…I am poured out like water…O LORD do not be far off!” Please. Please do not be far off.

Wrestling.

His knees popped as he picked himself up off the floor. The book was in his hands. He had wrestled with God. He was changed. Scarred. Broken. Limping. Moving.

Wrestling.

He left the front of the room and moved between the pews as he made his way out into the warm summer night. He looked up. The stars sang their song. The same song they sang thousands of years before when another man wrestled with God.

Wrestled.

Adventures in The Chaplaincy: “Field Problems-Introvert Stretching”

Since coming on Active Duty I’ve spent more time in the field than I have in probably my entire career in the Guard. Don’t hear me wrong. We went to the field in the Guard. We just didn’t do it with the regularity that I’ve now experienced on Active Duty. Part of that is due to the type of unit and brigade that I serve in but, nonetheless, it’s been a bit of a stretching and growing experience for me.

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If you’re into MBTI, I’m an ISFJ. I thrive in quiet. I thrive in small groups of people with whom I share strong relational bonds. I really enjoy teaching (Which may seem counterintuitive but I’ve met a lot of introverts who enjoy teaching. We just need a nap afterwards.). Large groups of people draw heavily from my emotional well. Typically, after engaging with large numbers of people I need some time to find a quiet respite.

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Being in the field means being with a sizable group of people for as long as it takes for us to accomplish our particular field problem. As a Chaplain, I make an effort to get out and see my soldiers as often possible. During our last field problem, I was able to do battlefield circulation where I spoke, face to face, with upwards of half of my unit for numerous days in a row. This was absolutely fantastic for getting to see my soldiers and get to know some of them better and provide a lot of on the spot counsel. Some of the conversations were just a few words while others were much more in depth.

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What I discovered was that at the end of the day I was completely spent. By the end of the field problem I wanted to find a quiet corner, put on headphones, and read a book completely undisturbed for about 32 hours. So I’m being stretched. God is pulling me out of my comfort zone every time we go to the field. It wears me down emotionally and spiritually but what I’m finding is that it builds bridges with soldiers that never would have been there otherwise.

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It has also forced me to look for those quiet moments in the midst of our field problems where I can recharge my batteries for a bit. For me this might mean that during a lull during the day, I find a quiet tree and read and pray for awhile. It might mean that if the mission allows, I go to bed a little earlier and use the time before I fall asleep in my little tent to read a book (I always bring a book to the field with me). On a spiritual level, it has reminded me to look to God for my strength and sustenance. One of my go to Psalms for a quick field devotional is Psalm 3 which speaks of David being sustained by the hand of God when he has reached the end of himself. That’s a reminder I need all the time. To try to do this on my own, to fill my well on my own, is folly.

I’m grateful that my first experience on Active Duty has been with a unit like this. It’s forced me to start to stretch my introversion a bit and also to work to develop healthy ways to recharge in the challenging environment of the field.

Top Five Books I Read In 2014

Well, I didn’t quite hit my goal of twenty books this year. The amount of time I spent reading dropped quite a bit when I came on active duty but I still managed to read about 18 books. This year I’ll probably set a more realistic goal of fifteen books. I’ve got a stack on my shelf of some promising books and I’ll start digging into those once I finish the Orson Scott Card Pathfinder series. So with that, here’s my favorites of the books I read this year.

Surprised By Joy/The Four Loves

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I wanted to read some more Lewis so I found this to read during my morning devotions. This is a great book. Surprised by Joy has some parts that drag a bit but Lewis offers great insight drawn from the story of his life. The Four Loves is a must read for any Christian. The detailed explorations of the four types of love are challenging and eye opening.

 

 

Destiny of The Republic

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This compelling story about James A. Garfield and his tragically short lived presidency was a real page turner. It deals with the reluctance of American doctors to embrace the idea of germs and infection and how the poor medical care the president received was what ultimately killed him. A fascinating read that anyone would find interesting and enlightening.

 

 

The Last of The Doughboys

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Did you know that ten years ago there were still surviving WWI veterans? This book tells their stories. Far more than just a book of war stories. Rubin gives these incredible people, all over 100 years old, the opportunity to tell their stories. What we get to see is a picture of resiliency and people who saw and adapted to an unbelievable level of change over the course of their lives. What makes a book like this powerful to me is it is a reminder of just how close the history of past generations is. My life overlapped with these WWI veterans. Their lives overlapped with Civil War veterans. Ponder that for a second and then buy this book.

 

All Our Yesterdays

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Time travel stories are either good or bad. There’s not much in between. This was a good one. This is a YA novel that avoids a lot of the ridiculous drama and tells a compelling and well thought out story. It wrestles with the importance of the choices we make and ends up being a real page turner.

 

 

Red Rising

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A YA book with no love triangle. I’ll say it again. NO LOVE TRIANGLE! This is much like AOY in that it is a more mature YA book. I really enjoyed the fact that the main character was married and how that relationship was the driving force in the drastic actions that he took. The latter part of the book has some echoes of Ender’s Game with its pitting of teams of teenagers against each other and the explorations of their different strategies.

 

Honorable Mentions

When I Don’t Desire God

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The Stories We Tell

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2014 in review courtesy of WordPress

I enjoy these little summaries. Much less time for writing this year unfortunately.

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 17,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 6 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Top Ten Albums of 2014

Well, it’s the time of year where I share the albums that kept cropping up in my playlists again and again. A few interesting notes about this list. There are three EPs on it. I counted two of them as one album since they are two parts of a four part EP set Andrew Osenga is releasing. Also, Peter Furler makes two appearances on this list. One with his own band and one as the drummer for Steve Taylor and the Perfect Foil. Lastly, this list does not contain any “worship” albums which is a big difference from last year.

So without further delay, the albums I enjoyed the most this past year.

Andrew Osenga- Heart EP and Soul EP

Great song writing and storytelling on these two albums. Few artists can tell a story in song like Andrew Osenga.

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Jason Gray- Love Will Have The Final Word

A lot of these songs resonated with me because they touched on emotions I wrestled with upon leaving the pastorate last year. They also hit home with me as I consider the every day ministry I do as a Chaplain.

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Peter Furler Band- Sun and Shield

An all around strong pop-rock album that is theologically sound and irresistibly catchy . Give the song about Lazarus a close listen. It would rank up there as being one of my favorite songs of the year.

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Steve Taylor and The Perfect Foil- Goliath

I’m not one of those people with a history with Steve Taylor unless you count his co-writing efforts with the Newsboys in the 90s. I grabbed this album based on the high praise of reviewers and the presence of Peter Furler in the band. I was not disappointed. A throwback to early 90s rock sounds and lyrics that will have you alternating between laughing out loud and cringing.

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Andrew Peterson- After All These Years

I’ve been listening to Peterson for several years but had not heard the highlights of his earlier albums. This is a truly great album. Nary a weak song is present and it contains some of the best and most honest songwriting you’ll ever find. A great artist and a great album.

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Anberlin- Lowborn

Anberlin’s swan song is an amazing, driving rock and roll album. Lots of high energy tracks that really appealed to me when I was crafting my half-marathon playlist. Plus, if you take the time to actually dig into their lyrics you’ll find a lot of depth underneath the sonic roller coaster ride they take the listener on.

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House of Heroes- Smoke EP

House of Heroes has another winner with this EP. They write some of the catchiest songs I’ve ever heard. Vocally, their harmonies give their music a unique quality that makes them stand out from the crowd. Lyrically, they aren’t afraid to be funny and serious (sometimes in the same song) and they do both very well.

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Colony House- When I Was Younger

A great debut album from the band that features two of Steven Curtis Chapman’s sons. A solid indie-rock album with lyrics that will make you think you are listening to far more mature songwriters than their ages would suggest.

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Propaganda- Crimson Cord

Propaganda always brings the heat with his albums. I never leave a Propaganda album without feeling challenged and this one is no exception. He never shies away from tough topics but he never leaves you hanging in despair. He always bring the light and hope of the Gospel to bear on the issues he raps about.

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What about you? Did you have any favorites from this past year?

Ferguson, Justice, Christmas, and The Cross

Yesterday evening as I was laying in bed reading an alert sounded on my phone. It was breaking news that the grand jury in Ferguson had reached a decision. Charges would not be pursued against Officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown. The decision resulted in many peaceful protests as well as a number of violent riots and once again the people of America were glued to TV, computer, and phone screens asking why this keeps happening? It seems that no matter how much “progress” is made in the area of racial reconciliation and justice that we are just one small spark away from a firestorm at any given time.

Ferguson leaves many (especially white) folks scratching their heads and wondering why. We don’t get the outrage. We don’t get the protest. We see a police officer trying to defend himself. That’s all we know. We’ve never been given a second look by law enforcement because of the color of our skin or the part of town we are in. We’ve never experienced people redirecting their paths when they see us coming because we’re wearing different clothes. We don’t have a history of people in positions of authority exercising that authority over us in abusive ways. So we look at the news and maybe we try to understand. Maybe we pray. Maybe we even feel a sense of the injustices that our black brother and sisters have faced down through the centuries. But sometimes we just shrug our shoulders and look away. Sometimes we blindly follow our biases and automatically side with that which is comfortable and familiar to us without even trying to understand the plight of others. We just see one event. We just see riots. We don’t see the big picture of centuries of oppression and distrust and injustice. How can we hope to reconcile with our brothers and sisters if we can’t come to truly understand them?

So what’s a Christian to do when we see this. When we see injustice in the world. When we recognize that our brothers and sisters of different races are often treated worse than we are. Where is a rallying point where Christians across racial and social lines can join hands and show a broken world what real justice and reconciliation looks like? It’s not in white guilt or riots. In fact, in order for there to be real justice it won’t come from politicians, protests, police, or outraged posts on social media. Real justice can only come from injustice. From the ultimate injustice.

Ferguson protestsWe are on the verge of the Advent season. A time when we celebrate God becoming man. God came into a world that was divided along racial lines (Jew and Greek), political lines (Jew and Roman), and religious lines (Pharisee and Sadducee). It was a world of oppression and slavery. A world where broken people did horrific things to one another. A world that would ultimately hang a broken King upon a brutal cross and commit the greatest injustice in the history of the world.

There’s no true justice to be found anywhere else. The cross is the one place in the world, in the shadow of great injustice, where peace and reconciliation can be found. The real question then becomes, as Christians are we willing to reach across the racial and cultural divide? Are we willing to help bear the burdens of our black brothers and sisters? Are we willing to give them the benefit of the doubt when it comes to us being unable to truly understand what life looks like through their eyes? It’s a hard task. Maybe impossibly hard. But there’s still the cross where we can turn together.

The cross is a place where we can unite around the common injustice that was perpetrated on Jesus because of each of us. The cross is a place where we can celebrate our common reconciliation with God because of Jesus’ sacrifice. The cross is a place where each of us can see the sacrificial love of God demonstrated as he stepped into a broken world and instead of fleeing from the broken, the downcast, the poor, the rich, and the oppressed; he turned to them. He embraced them. And most importantly, he changed them and saved them. He didn’t tell them to no longer be Jew or Greek. He just said, “Follow me.” He didn’t tell the Roman Centurion to give up his occupation. He just celebrated his great faith. Oppressed or oppressor it didn’t matter. What mattered was would they answer the call? Would they, instead of having so many things that separated them, now have their bearing of the cross of Christ to unite them? Will we?

As Christians we should understand injustice and reconciliation better than anyone. White Christians and black Christians should be on the forefront of modeling what this looks like in every day life. But instead we find our Sundays segregated and instead of church modeling for the world what true reconciliation found in Christ can look like, too often it is the world that is the far more diverse place.

So let’s start with what we know we have in common. The injustice of the cross that saved us. Let that salvation continue to work itself out in us. To seep down into our bones and our eyes and our skin. To change us until our response to people is no longer first to see the color of their skin or the clothes that they wear or the side of town they are from but rather to see the fact that they are image bearers of God. Fallen and broken image bearers just like us who need the restorative and reconciling work of the cross just like us. And if they are Christians then all the more let us see them as fellow bearers of the cross of Christ who are given the gift of grace only because of the gift of an injustice.

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