Saturday, December 20, 2008

Rig for Church!

Approximately one month ago, when it appeared increasingly inevitable that Woodcreek Bible Church was going to close, I asked two questions of God:

1. What will you do with Fate?

In other words, how will you see that our community is ministered to with a missional church presence? Our church has prepared much of the ministry "soil" with outreach efforts and visible presence. My concern was that our closing would leave a ministry vacuum in the community.

2. What will you do with us?

In other words, since I thought being a pastor might very well have been the career I was looking for, what could be my rightful role now? I've volunteered in many ministry settings, performing many different tasks for churches I have served, but having a family means that I'll have to eventually get paid for the ministry I perform (1 Cor 7:33). What ministry career could be both a good fit for me and a good means of supporting my family?

God answered the first question by providing a friendship with Pastor Trent Brown of Gateway Fellowship in nearby Royse City. Because of the common vision for the community, our common ministry philosophy and personality compatibility, I was very comforted that God had supplied Gateway not only for Fate, Texas, but also for any of Woodcreek's people who desired to remain and have an impact in this area.

Simultaneous to that though was God's answer to the second question. This he did by inspiring me to reflect on this year, and what I have learned about myself and how God has designed me. Though pastoring did not yield "successful" results (I covered this in "Defining Success"), serving as a fire chaplain concurrent with that was an extremely good fit. Not only did the fire department receive me warmly after earning their trust, but the Federation of Fire Chaplains felt like "home" as well. What this told me was that a career as a chaplain would be a wise pursuit, given what I've learned through all of this.

However, paid fire chaplain positions are extremely rare. Therefore, if one wished a career as a chaplain, the military was then most logical place to look. The problem was, I had served in the United States Navy in my late teens, having been honorably discharged after ten months of service for medical reasons. The medical reason was a psych eval following my stress-related breakdown. I was in way over my head in the nuclear power program. Nevertheless, the psych/medical reasons for the honorable discharge in 1988 resulted in an RE-4 reenlistment code, which are very difficult to reverse. This code typically prevents anyone from ever re-entering the military.

Following my service in 1988 though, I had another psych eval performed by a psychologist in Gig Harbor, WA who determined I was mentally fine. To remotely consider waiving the RE-4 code, the Navy would need a more current eval also declaring me fit. Just before thanksgiving I found a local Dallas psychologist to perform an evaluation. I turns out that he, too, was a former Navy psych and new just what to test for. He declared me not only fit, but well suited for the Navy chaplain calling. However, even though my pastoral, chaplaincy and military experience all combined to make my resume' more attractive, it was the medical waiver that would be the greatest initial hurdle. Would a medical review board waive my previous medically produced RE-4 code, or would it stand, keeping the Navy door closed?

On Friday, I received the call from my recruiter informing me that I had been cleared by medical to proceed with my application. This was monumental news coming on the 20th anniversary (this week) of my discharge from the Navy in 1988 (Dec 15th to be exact). There are still more requirements that must be met (not the least of which is graduating from DTS in May), but this was a large hurdle the outcome of which was totally out of my control. It was very encouraging, and redeeming news. 20 years after I was medically released from the Navy (with the expectation never to return), I have been medically cleared to apply to return for the purpose of ministering to those under the same pressures I once succumbed to. God is fun.

At this point I don't want to presume to declare with certainty this to be "God's will." Many evangelicals throw around such phrases rather irresponsibly. However, because of the seemingly Providential nature of these events, I'm confident I should boldly proceed. I have preached that God will find the right place for all of the people of our church, and it would seem this applies to our family as well.

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