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There’s Only One Hope

Everybody seems to have something to say about the recent death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the resulting riots there and in other cities around the country but something that even many of the most righteous church people seem to be neglecting is the spiritual aspect of all of this.
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It’s easy to write a moving Facebook post. It’s easy to condemn privileged white people. It’s easy to defend the actions of law enforcement placed in difficult situations. It’s easy to call for justice and declare it a Scriptural mandate. It’s easy to sympathize with (and even support) the rioters as using whatever means they can to be heard…even illegal ones. It’s easy to protest in solidarity with the apparent victims.
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But what is needed isn’t more laws or an assurance of justice. What is needed isn’t more cops fired and jailed. What is needed isn’t giving the victims a pass to be law breakers. What is needed, at least as a first step, is a recognition of the sinful world we live in which will never be fully redeemed until the finality of God’s restoration of His people and planet.
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We will never see the U.S. fit the vision that so many dream of in the coming Kingdom of God. We can take everyone’s guns. We can jail every racist. We can resist violence and insist on nonviolence. We can put into action everything that is suggested in the thousands of “inspired” Facebook posts, but sin will continue and with sin, hatred and with hatred, racism.
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Can we do anything to make a difference? Not as long as we think in worldly terms like “rights” and “justice” and “legal” and “privilege” and all the rest. Sure, you can make a case for using these terms from Scripture, but all of them on their own are powerless and useless. We may take racists and haters off the streets and put them into the jails but that won’t change who they are or why they hate, or remove the hatred from the hearts of those who haven’t yet broken a law.
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What is needed in our country, and what few seem willing to encourage or pursue (likely for fear of being offensive or being labeled as “judgmental”), is a Christian outpouring of the Holy Spirit of God.
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This Sunday is Pentecost Sunday, a day on the Christian calendar when we remember -even celebrate- the gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church and Christ followers. What Pentecost did in Jerusalem was a reversal of the judgement at the Tower of Babel, bringing together people of all nations and races who had been separated since the confusion of languages at Babel-those who had considered each other enemies and saw others as beneath them or even less-than-human. Pentecost initiated the work of the Holy Spirit through the people of the Church to reconcile humankind to God and to each other.
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It is only the Holy Spirit who can change the hearts of men and women who now only see violence against each other as the answer. It is only the Holy Spirit who can effectively check a police officer when he/she begins to go too far in subduing a subject. It is only the Holy Spirit who can convict rioters that their actions accomplish nothing but bringing pain and suffering to their own community. It is only the Holy Spirit who can cause people of different colors and different nationalities to love each other (really love) and care about each other’s welfare (really care). It is only the Holy Spirit who can give wisdom to those who would rather continue dividing our nation and stirring things up with their posts and platitudes than actually making a difference.
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Could we see the Holy Spirit work like that in the U.S.? Pentecost will never be repeated (so don’t expect “the sound like the blowing of a violent wind” or tongues of fire to rest on your head!) but the Holy Spirit given at Pentecost remains available to us. The 120 who first experienced Pentecost didn’t just show up and receive Him but prepared for the gift that Jesus promised. I suggest that we can prepare for a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit in a similar way.
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First, the 120 were obedient, they did what Jesus told them when he promised the Holy Spirit. Second they praised God, they went to worship and they met with the Church. Third, they prayed (and prayed and prayed). Fourth, they were together, more than just geographically but in mind, heart and spirit. They were unified with a common goal that flowed from their obedience and desire to receive what Jesus had promised.
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What do you think would happen if instead of taking sides or taking to the streets or taking out our neighbor with a well-crafted argument, we came together and in obedience, got on our knees and prayed -not for our enemies to be defeated- but for our enemies to be overwhelmed with the matchless love of God? What do you think would happen if instead of the Church forming sides like political parties, we became bipartisan in our pursuit of holiness and in our desire to see our communities converted and filled with the Holy Spirit? What do you think would happen if instead of urging our government to act and attempt to legislate what only a commitment to Christ and the infilling of His Holy Spirit can accomplish, we took to the streets -not to protest- but to love, to share the Gospel in word and deed, to call others to a commitment to Christ and to urge them on to perfection through the power of the Holy Spirit?
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I’ll tell you what would happen: God will be empowered to act by our prayers. God will work through our actions. God will draw sinners, haters and racists to Him and change their lives and hearts. God will make our communities -our nation- examples of His grace and love poured out on people who seek Him, who desire Him, who crave Him, who realize that He is our only hope.
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The Sting of Not Being Promoted

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I recently had to avoid Facebook for a while because it was just too painful to be there. Not because of the waste of time that is inherent to Facebook or the idiocy that so many people display in their posts and comments but because, at least in my military/chaplain circles, there were too many posts of “congratulations!” and “I’m humbled at being selected…” and “I feel do blessed…”

You see, the Chaplain, Lieutenant Colonel, Promotion Board results were officially released on Monday and (you guessed it) my name was not on it. There were several chaplain friends who reached out to me with their condolences and words of encouragement, which was kind but as much as I appreciated it, was often not helpful (sorry). Sure, words of affirmation are usually encouraging, but they seldom reduce the sting of being passed over for promotion.

If you have never been in the military, you may not fully understand why being passed over is so painful. I can’t say for sure what others feel, but I can share what I feel and thought that some of you might want to know.

  1. Being passed over makes you feel like a failure because if you weren’t a failure, you would have been promoted.
  2. Being passed over means you won’t be considered for assignments of greater responsibility, so you’re stuck in positions tied to your current rank.
  3. Being passed over means you have to watch many of your peers (and sometimes subordinates) advance beyond you and become your “superiors.”
  4. Being passed over means you won’t be included in discussion groups, advanced training and chaplain teams that are gathered to consider the future of the chaplaincy.
  5. Being passed over means you won’t be asked as much for your advice or opinion, because you’re not viewed as successful like those who have been promoted.
  6. Being passed over means your pay (and your future retirement pay) remains at a lower rate.
  7. Being passed over makes you wonder if everything you have done for the Army, for the Chaplain Corps, for the Church, has been worth it.

Even though you’ve worked for years to try to effectively minister to the Soldiers and Family Members in your unit; you’ve train and mentored your subordinate chaplains and chaplain assistants; you’ve done your best and poured yourself out, often neglecting time with your family along the way; you still aren’t recognized by the promotion board as having potential to serve at the next higher rank.

Let me explain how promotions in the military work, at least promotions in the Chaplain Corps. Every year, officers are evaluated (called an Officer Evaluation Report, or OER) by their superiors, usually with their 1st line supervisor being their rater and their rater’s supervisor as their senior rater. If neither of those are chaplains (which is often the case) you also have an “Intermediate Rater” who is a chaplain who can speak more specifically to the performance of a chaplain. The rater and senior rater have an option of where to place you in relation to the other officers they rate, similar to getting a grade in school except only a certain number can get an A, the others have to get a B or a C. This is supposed to be based on your performance the past year but sometimes is more based on the percentages. Your rater just has so many “A’s” to give (referred to as “Top Blocks”) so everyone, regardless of how well they performed, can’t get one.

Every few years, chaplains’ “board files” (mainly their annual OERs) are reviewed by a Promotion Board. To be competitive, a chaplain needs to have at least a “heart beat” in their OERs: a Top Block then a “center mass” then another top block, then a center mass, etc. If there aren’t a sufficient number of top blocks, the promotion board will assess the officer as not being of sufficient caliber for promotion and they’ll be passed over.

Sometimes chaplains just don’t do a good job so they don’t get enough top blocks. Sometimes, the chaplain may do a great job, but not better than the other officers of his/her rank that the senior rater rates, so can’t get a top block. Sometimes the senior rater saves his top blocks for officers in his/her own branch. Other times, it’s just the timing and the assignments, like not being in a position long enough to get a top block.

As you can imagine, nearly everyone who gets passed over has an explanation for why they didn’t get promoted. Sometimes they’re just reaching for some way to explain their failure, sometimes they have legitimate reasons. I won’t go into my explanations here, not much point to it, but regardless of whether one’s explanations are legitimate or delusions, the pain of not getting promoted is real.

Many will offer what I have already told myself, that my work as a chaplain is doing God’s work which He sees so I don’t need what the “world” has to offer (a promotion and higher pay). Others will contend that the rank really doesn’t matter, it’s the cross we wear as ministers/chaplains that matter. Still more will console, “you’re a great chaplain, those who have worked for you and with you know it.” And one that I have told others recently, “God called me, not the Army, so I’ll keep doing my best anyway.” All of these sentiments are true and maybe for some they may relieve the pain, but for many who have been passed over, or at least for me, the pain continues.

The good news is, the pain won’t last forever. Like any loss, one works through the stages of grief and eventually gets to the point where things begin to feel normal again and life goes on; that is until the next promotion board results are announced, or they encounter one of their peers who has been promoted, or they look in the mirror with their uniform on.
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Move to Alaska-Day 11

My last travel day, from Beaver Creek into Fairbanks, Alaska!

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Move to Alaska-Day 10

This morning video begins in Haines, Alaska as I leave for Beaver Creek in the Yukon Territory, Canada.

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Move to Alaska-Day 9

On the ferry in Juneau then on to Haines. Here’s the morning’s video when it was 14 degrees!

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Ketchikan & Waxman Alaska

The first ferry stop after boarding in Bellingham, Washington (over 30 hours into the trip) was Ketchikan, Alaska which is a historic town known for it’s long (and sordid) history as well as being the salmon capital of the world.

Above are photos of Ketchikan with the statue and rainfall scale from the waterfront and Creek Street from in town a few blocks. In Ketchikan’s early history, Creek Street was the location of the homes of women of ill repute.

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Above are pictures from Totem Park in Saxman, a few miles south of Ketchikan.

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Move to Alaska-Day 8

We had a brief layover in Ketchikan, Alaska, where I filmed my Day 8 video at Totem Park in Saxman:

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Move to Alaska-Day 7

I wasn’t sure that I would be able to post anything while on the ferry, but I got out my Day 7 video, filmed onboard!

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Jimi Hendrix Grave, Renton WA

I stayed Thursday night at my cousin Steve’s, and his family’s home (and had a great visit, to include a game of Shanghai!). Just 10 minutes from their house in Renton, Washington is Greenwood Memorial Park where Jimi Hendrix is buried. When he first died in 1970, he was buried in a modest grave in the military section (he was in the 101st Airborne) but that location proved to be an ideal spot for fans to party and leave messes over the other veteran’s graves so a new and more significant gravesite and memorial was built nearer to the road and park entrance which allows law enforcement to keep a better watch over the area. Here are a few pictures of the gravesite and memorial, including a video I filmed there:

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