Nothing but Christ, Everything Else is Just a Thing

Early Years

Let me tell you a bit of my story…my testimony…

Well it all began while my parents were on their honeymoon in Williamsburg…oh, that’s too much information!!

But, I can tell you that my parents ensured me and my other 3 siblings, went to Sunday School and Church every Sunday in our local Methodist Church in Damascus, Maryland. The only thing that would preclude us as children from attending was a bona fide—no kidding—infectious sickness. Snow, rain, sleet, broken down vehicle, or vacation—didn’t matter—we went to church.

We sat in the same pew each Sunday, and I remember counting how many panes were in each of the Sanctuary windows or how many light fixtures in all the chandeliers…for you know, sometimes church is a little long for young ones.

Their dedication ensured I had all the basics, not only in the elements of worship, but all the principle Bible stories and beliefs of the faith. I was confirmed with my contemporaries, I even took on the task of reading the entire Bible given to me at confirmation.

I was growing up as most kids of the day…we went to our places of worship on Sunday, went to school, couldn’t wait for summer, did our chores, belonged to the scouts, played ball, rode our bikes, hiked the woods and played in the creeks and streams.

Beginning of My Spiritual Walk and Development

The fall of ninth grade, Bobby, a friend and classmate from elementary through high school (and by the way, a Baptist), invited me to a prayer meeting a bunch of them were having before school. Well, it was a bit early, but after a few invitations I went to the gym, where in the corner, on rolled up wrestling mats, other students (some I knew and some I was about to know), sat. The facilitator was the daughter of one of the pastors of a local Baptist church; she shared a few thoughts and then asked everyone to go around the circle to pray.

Well, I’ve prayed the prayers in church, the Lord’s Prayer, and grace before meals, but never prayed “off the cuff,” but, not remembering anything I said, I prayed out loud and in the open for the first time. When I left, I was still the same kid pimply kid in jeans, but I left with a presence that has never left me since.

I began attending other groups and churches other than my own, you name it, I attended it. I was not just reading the Bible, but was learning and understanding God’s word. I began asking pastors what certain passages meant, particularly Acts chapter 2 and 1 Corinthians 12 which deal with the outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit at Pentecost and the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. I wanted the experience I read in the Bible, but I didn’t get the answers I wanted. However, I still pursued, until I had my own Pentecostal experience later that spring.

My Calling

By age sixteen while reading a book about a missionary in Communist China, I received my calling to ministry. It wasn’t a calling to a specific ministry, such as, being a pastor, a chaplain or a missionary; it was simply and clearly a call to “relieve the despairing.”

After high school I attended Asbury College in Wilmore, Kentucky; got married, had 2 dear children, painted as a source of income, became a volunteer firefighter and later attended the seminary across the street, was ordained a deacon, and after 7 years total in academics was appointed my first charge at Ebenezer UMC in White Marsh area. During the next 7 ½ years my teeth were cut in pastoral ministry, had another sweet daughter, completed 2 years of intern training as a pastoral counselor, and was convinced in receiving a commission as an Army Chaplain in the Maryland National Guard.

Calling Shifts

Life happens, regardless of calling and no matter how hard I labored fulfilling my call to relieve the despairing of others, I was helpless to relieve the despairing in my marriage. At this juncture, I decided to answer the call to go active duty which began a new phase of life and ministry.

At Fort Lewis, Washington, though I grieved over the fracture of my family; the experience of serving God with soldiers and families opened up new venues I never thought would occur for me.

I was assigned to motorized infantry battalions within the then 9th Infantry Division. While there, I became a SCUBA instructor and dove throughout the Pacific Northwest, even B.C.; was certified in Winter Survival Training in the Cascades; ascended the summit of Mount Rainier; completed the Seattle to Portland Bicycle Classic (200 miles in 2 days) 2 years in a row, became an accomplished downhill and cross country skier, deployed with my units to assist the firefighting efforts in Yellowstone National Forest and Bend, Oregon, as well as, being in my best shape ever exceeding the physical fitness standards of the 18 year olds in my early thirties.

Oh, and there, I met a beauty, my lovely Kim…and healing in my broken trust with personal relationships began.

The Division Chaplain took a liking to me, and instead of sending me to Korea for my second tour, he recommended my next assignment to an isolated part of Turkey, called the US Field Station, Sinop—a dormant volcano; sitting 700 feet high on an isthmus jutting out into the Black Sea. It was during the first Gulf War, the weather was dismal, and we were on lockdown for the first couple months I was there.

The burning of my despair from not only my children, but now also from Kim at times seemed unbearable. But, in those next months I pastored the Protestant congregation, managed the installation chapel program, which included pilgrimages tours throughout the ancient Biblical sites of Turkey and Israel. During the season, I linked up with the Turkish Fisheries School and Central Texas College and was able to provide training and certification for soldiers and sailors each weekend in the Black Sea. I was able to show them God’s underwater creation, while at the same time prevented them from killing more brain cells from drinking their weekends away in the community club or the local Turkish Raki.

While there, I believe I experienced more that year than most experience in a lifetime. Yet, the agony of separation never went away.

Funny thing isn’t it; while experiencing some of my most deepest despair I was able to lead others out of their despair to Jesus Christ. Years later I found that those I spent time with on the boat or in conversation with in the community club, who had never set foot in the chapel; sought me out to thank me, for that time I invested in them led them to their relationship with our Savior and turned their life around.

Upon return from Turkey, I picked up Kim and Chakita from Washington and brought them with me to Fort Monmouth, NJ, where we were later married in the cantonment chapel housed in the museum of the Chaplains School while I attended the Chaplain’s Advance Course.

The next assignment was Fort Bragg, NC with the 82nd Airborne. At 36, nearly double the age of most of the trainees, I ventured to Fort Benning, GA where I received my Airborne training, pinned on my wings and returned as a Paratrooper at glorious Fort Bragg. Though only there a little more than 2 ½ years, I received my fair share of jumps and rigorous training despite one bad night jump where I broke an ankle causing me to convalesce for 3 months.

A great unit, great training and great esprit d ’corps, but I was then asked to change tours to a new assignment in Germany. So, Kim, halfway through her pregnancy, along with Chakita, are off to Baumholder and the 1 Armored Division.

Within the next year, our youngest would be born between Grafenwoehr and Hohenfels training rotations, and I would deploy with my Mechanized Infantry Task Force to Bosnia-Herzegovina—the place I remember as the land of the living dead. So many years of brutal conflict and warring amongst the factions left vacant and empty faces on the local people—talk about despairing—we were living in the middle of it.

Calling Shifts again

While deployed, the division chaplain (brother of Gen. Stanley McChrystal) hand selected me to fill the 1st Brigade Chaplains slot in Friedberg. After a successful stint with the Brigade, we were called off of active duty after 12 years and returned to parish ministry with an appointment to a Cooperative Parish in Brunswick, Maryland.

I continued my service as a Brigade Chaplain with the 29th Aviation Brigade, 29th Division Support Command, and 3rd Infantry Brigade. The brigade was re-designated as the 58th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, with whom I deployed in 07-08 to Baghdad.

Reflection

Through all this time, I’ve preached, counseled, visited the sick in dying, baptized, married and buried too many to count, but each one remembered. Some have come to know Christ as Savior, while many others found relief from their despair by the healing hand of Christ and now walk that deeper walk with Christ.

All our children graduated high school, 3 finished their undergraduate, 2 their graduate studies and one begins her undergraduate studies this fall. All are successful in their own right. 3 I have had the privilege to officiate at their weddings and celebrate the joining, coming and receiving of 2 Sons-in-Law, 1 Daughter-in-Law, and 5 grandchildren with one on the way. Yes—God is Good—God is Good—All the Time!

And, now, the sleeping on the ground in adverse conditions in war torn lands is behind me and I’m able to assist our state’s senior Chaplain in the Yellow Ribbon events across Maryland as well as develop chaplain candidates for future ministry.

Oh, about that burning agony that attended me for so many years, I haven’t forgotten it, but it is no longer there. I guess God saw fit to take it away and allow me to use that experience to help others too.

The Reason

I share these things with you for 1 reason, to demonstrate the power of the 1 single thing that existed and prevailed through each and every episode of my life—Jesus Christ and Him Crucified.

The power of the Cross sustained me at my highest and at my lowest, during the pinnacle of success and the defeat of seeming failure—whether it was diving the World’s deepest seas, jumping over 400 foot crevasses, scaling high summits, jumping out of perfectly good airplanes, traversing through minefields, surviving missile attacks, or comforting those whose lives became fractured—the Cross of Christ sustains me.

So with Paul I can attest as he writes the Church in Corinth, 2For I decided that while I was with you I would forget everything except Jesus Christ, the one who was crucified. Without what Jesus Christ accomplished on the cross by breaking the shackles of human agony and despair caused by sin, guilt, brokenness and shame, I would not be here today and I certainly wouldn’t have accomplished or achieved the experience and blessings of a full life and that of possessing a wonderful family.

It is at the cross Jesus made possible for me to be forgiven the many ways I’ve fallen short of not only Him, but those He’s put in my life…and even more so, by the power of His redeeming love, He’s given me the ability to allow healing from the wounds I’ve experienced from others.

As I look back on the things that shaped me into what I am today, I recall Paul’s wisdom shared to the Philippian Church in chapter 3 where he writes, 7I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. 8Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ 9and become one with him…

Our Focus

So, Church, you now see where I stand. It’s nothing but Jesus Christ and Him Crucified for me…everything else is just stuff and just a thing we can work through.

When we keep our focus on the Cross the other things that seem important aren’t really that important after all. It was on the Cross God demonstrated the vastness and the depth of His love for you and me. God loved me enough that he took on all my brokenness, faithlessness, distrust, heartbreak, offensiveness, blame, faults and shortcomings and obliterated them forever.

With that as my focus, with that as your focus, with that as our focus we can do anything through Christ who strengthens us. Nothing can get in the way. Not a mortgage on a new building, not a changing community and demographics, not “this is the way we’ve always done it,” not too many expenses and not enough income, not too much work and not enough people, not the regrets of the past or worries of the future.

We can do all things when we keep our eyes, our thoughts, our emotions on the Cross.

The Challenge

By our focus on the cross we see that despite our limited and constrained faithfulness that God is Great in His Faithfulness—for his faithfulness

  • doesn’t change with the season,
  • it doesn’t change on the rise or fall of the stock market,
  • it doesn’t change on what the latest unemployment figures,
  • it doesn’t change when our moods change,
  • or when death comes
  • for God is the same yesterday, today and forever—that is, God remains constant in an ever changing world.

His love for you, His love for me is 100% the same no matter our state or our station. He even loves me when I don’t love Him in return—now that’s faithfulness.

So I ask you to peer, focus, incline, direct your eyes to the Cross in which Jesus Himself defeated sin and death revealing to us God’s faithfulness to ensure our past is forgiven, that we’re given a purpose for living and an final home in heaven.

And, if you’ve never embraced the cross of Christ, now is as good of time as any.

Or, if you’ve lost your focus on the cross because you’ve been distracted by the mindlessness of your own self-defined world, then as we sing, turn to the God who is faithful and who can restore your vision on Him.

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