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D-Day Anniversary message, Sembach, Germany (2019)

This was my message at our 75th Anniversary observance with Army, Air Force, and Navy personnel at Warrior Transition Program.

It’s not surprise to you why we’re here today: to remember what happened on the shores of Normandy, France – not too far from here – 75 years ago. People, like you and I, who found themselves in an extraordinary place during an extraordinary time in our world’s history.

You can only imagine what that day was like. I want to share General Eisenhower’s words to the troops before battle that day:

“Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well equipped and battle-hardened. He will fight savagely…..I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full Victory! Good Luck! And let us all beseech the blessing of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.”

It was not an easy task. In fact, I wonder if most of us think if we could do what those men did so long ago.

Here we are, some of us deployed, others returning from deployment. And those deployments weren’t necessarily combat related. We’re in this weird peace time/sustained military operations place right now. But at a moment’s notice, we could be called to the same task as those men who charged the shores of Normandy 75 years ago.

What compels a man, or woman, to do such a thing?

“Keep alert, stand firm in faith, be courageous, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.”

This passage from 1 Corinthians in the Bible might reflect why. The soldiers who stormed the beaches at Normandy so courageously, with strength, perhaps, because they did so in love.

They knew what they were fighting for: things they loved. The ideals. The people. A nation. The idea that all people should be free.

Remembrances such as D-Day are as much about the present as they are about the past. D-Day is about us, and while war might feel so far from us, at a moment’s notice, we could be called upon, just as the soldiers of Normandy were called upon. D-Day is about us: keep alert. Be ready. The world we live in is not safe and there are people who’s lives are different from ours. I’m not talking about cultural differences. I’m talking about women, children, and men who live lives in fear of tyranny and oppression, who are not free. We may be called upon…..

And in order to be ready, and to answer the call with courage and strength, we need to draw on the things we love as well. I’m willing to bet that as those AAVs came ashore, as the door were about to open, those men were able to storm the beaches of Normandy because they were thinking – no they were firm – in what they loved. Recalling what they loved, these men did extraordinary things in an extraordinary moment in time.

So let us be ready. Let us stand firm. And as we remember what happened 75 years ago – let us recall each day what each of us loves so deeply.


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Weekly Devotion 23 May

Acts 16:9-15

9 During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them. 11 We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, 12 and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days. 13 On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. 14 A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. 15 When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.” And she prevailed upon us.

This weekend is Memorial Day weekend. We celebrate those who have lost their lives in the name of defense and protection of others.

Like many of you, I’ve lost my share of Shipmates over the past 18 years of my service. I have visions of the watches we stood together, the challenges we faced together, and the lessons I learned from them. I also have visions of their families, who now are minus one, a reminder of the cost of what serving in uniform entails.

Those visions lead me somewhere. They lead me back into the world of the living. They lead me to continue to live my life in service to others and to God. To witness to God’s grace And love.

That is ultimately what Memorial Day is about: recalling visions of those who have gone before us so that we might be inspired and strengthened to continue to serve the world and its people according to God’s call.

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Weekly Devotion: 15 May 2019

John 13:31-35

31 When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. 32 If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. 33 Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, “Where I am going, you cannot come.’ 34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

It sounds simple doesn’t it?  Love one another.

But so often pushed on us as a shallow affection for one another or an intense romantic feeling.  It’s on our music, images we see everyday, and even in what we read.

But also gets twisted by other qualities.  William Sloane Coffin, a Presbyterian minister and one of my favorite contemporary theologians had this to say about love:

“Tolerance and passivity are a deadly combination. Together they allow us to tolerate the intolerable, to ignore the power of anger in works of love. If you lessen your anger at the structures of power, you lower your love for the victims of love.”

“To show compassion for an individual without showing concern for the structures of society that make him an object of compassion is to be sentimental rather than loving.”

Tolerance. Passivity. Anger. Sentimentality.  These are the real enemies of love. They divorce our feelings and actions from the people we are trying to love.  We do things, disconnected.  Such disconnection means that what we really think is love, may actually be doing quite the exact opposite. There’s no relationship needed; we love to make us feel good.

In my workshops with Sailors returning from deployment, I talk about intentionality – be intentional about the challenges you face as you return home. But intentional doesn’t mean “solve the problem on your own,” which is what most of us are good at.  That’s what they hire us for in the military: identify problems and solve them, quickly and efficiently.  We get really good at it, maybe too good.  Intentionality is about problem solving on some levels, but it’s really about problem solving together. It’s more important to recognize there is another person across from you who’s part of the whole situation, and if you can be intentional about staying connected to that person as you work through whatever is before you, you’ll be fine.

That’s the kind of love that Jesus, Coffin, and I am talking about.  Love is about living in the trenches of life together, sharing the struggles and the triumphs.  It is looking deeply at the structures that drive wedges between people and deciding to do something – together. Love is about dying and rising together….“just as I have loved you.” 

That kind of love isn’t easy.  But it’s the kind of love that does something to us.  I saves us all.


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Weekly Devotion 11 May 2019

Text: John 10:22-30

22 At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, 23 and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. 24 So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” 25 Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; 26 but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. 27 My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. 30 The Father and I are one.”

Tomorrow is Mother’s Day.  It’s always been a hard day for me, because my mom wasn’t exactly on the higher end of good moms.  She was an alcoholic, and of course that left a lot of not so great memories….from my childhood, adolescence, to adulthood.

Yet, I am so thankful for all the women that God has placed in my life, who with their very lives – their words and actions – witnessed to what I reckon is what a mother is.  Those qualities that make mothers who they are….qualities that also witness to a more complete understanding of who God is.  These women, their mothering witness, were Christ to me.

Such is life….we don’t always get the families, the parents, or the memories we want.  But what God gives us is Christ.  Christ calls, and those sheep who belong to him listen, and they follow in faith.  That call so often comes in the form of a mother’s word or a mother’s touch.  As I have done in some of those moments of greatest need for a mother – I have listened and I have followed.

Thank you mothers, all of you, who are Christ to so many.  Mothers who with their very lives nurture faith, giving us confidence and courage to live as God calls us to.

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Weekly Devotion: 2 May 2019

John 21:1-19

1 After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. 2 Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. 3 Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. 4 Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5 Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” 6 He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. 7 That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. 8 But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off. 9 When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. 10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” 11 So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead. 15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. 18 Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” 19 (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.”

I’m sure the disciples were so overjoyed to see signs, proof that Jesus was alive and among them. That’s not what catches my attention today; it’s the exchange between Peter and Jesus.Do you love me?” Jesus asks three times, and Peter responds positively. One classical understanding is that this exchange was necessary to restore Peter after he denied Jesus 3 times before his death. I think it was about restoration, but I have a different take on it.

I wonder if Jesus knew just how ashamed Peter was of his denial. Peter failed the ultimate test of faith in when the stakes mattered. One can only imagine how hard that was for Peter. Living with that failure for so many days. So Jesus restores him…..but from the shame of his failure, from the idea, perhaps, Jesus had no more use for him as a disciple.

I think we need a restoration. Like Peter, we fail in our journey of faith. Like Peter, we let those failures to define us. We need a restoration.

Jesus asks, “Do you love me?” And as his followers, we do. That’s all that’s needed. We are restored, and Jesus says to Peter, to me, to you,

“Follow me.”

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Devotion: 29 April 2019

John 20:19-31

19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” 24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin ), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” 26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” 30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

“Peace by with you.”

Yeah, right.

As I write this, I’m sitting in the news of another mass shooting, this time a synagogue in California. I think we all agree such loss of life is tragic, painful, and brings no peace. Yet, how will people respond? By pointing out how certain people were quick name the suffering of one group, but not another (people complaining Congresswoman AOC didn’t tweet about the bombing of a Christian church, but tweeted 15 times about a Muslim mosque).

No peace.

For those of us out of the country right now – myself included – serving abroad, this all feels so distant. And petty. So to find peace, perhaps, we just say, “thank god I’m not in the States right now.” But turning our heads doesn’t bring peace, living in it does.

That’s what this story is about. Jesus’ peace comes to his followers, living in chaos. Jesus’ peace releases, assures, and frees them from their hiding place. It is only one – Thomas – who chooses to deny that fact. Because of that, no peace.

It’s an interesting mystery of life: peace only seems to come when we work through the turmoils and trials of life. Arguments with kids, spouses, partners. A difficult supervisor or CO. Our questions about God and the reasons things happen in this world – things like mass shootings. Challenging and long deployments.

It is not that divine peace is conditional, but rather, when we tend to acknowledge the places and times it’s absent, it comes to us more fully and clearly. Christ comes to us. “Peace be with you.” And like for so many people and so many times before – for me and my life – the peace I long for comes to m, calming my storms, defeating my fear.

No peace, I sense it.

“Peace be with you.”

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Devotion: Good Friday, 2019

Psalm 22:1-6

1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? 2 O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest. 3 Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. 4 In you our ancestors trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them. 5 To you they cried, and were saved; in you they trusted, and were not put to shame. 6 But I am a worm, and not human; scorned by others, and despised by the people.

I encourage you to read the whole Psalm. It’s powerful, and I think it speaks to some of the deepest cries of our souls in our current time.

I think so often we just want the toxic, polarizing, crazy of this life to stop.  Can’t we all just get along? Yet life is not that simple; and the truth is we always live in between the life we despair about and the life we rejoice about.  Faith is similar. As much as we rejoice about what God has done for us, we also despair that because life carries great tragedy, God has forsaken us.

It’s not enough to say, “trust in God and it’ll all be ok.” Nor is it enough to say also, “God’s abandoned us, so get your crap together.”  I think the truth is, we live between both worlds – always.

Jesus lived and was crucified in such a world.  And today, on Good Friday, we acknowledge this.  We live in between.  Yet, once again, Christ stands with us.  Christ suffers and dies, and so God also suffers and dies.  The truth once again, we are not alone in feeling the tension between forsakenness and rejoicing.

It is enough for this day, to simply acknowledge this tension.

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