This week I am preaching at a conference at Fort Jackson, SC on “Renewing Your Passion for Preaching” to chaplains from all over the world. Many chaplains have flown to Fort Jackson for the conference, and a host of others are watching via the worldwide broadcast through the Army. It is an inconceivable honor to proclaim the unsearchable riches of Christ to this magnificent group. Before me are those who have either just returned from combat or are headed there. Others lead major installation chapels around the Army. Others are in advanced training. These are the heroes of our nation and also heroes in the faith. To stand before them and preach is as if I am outside of myself looking in. The sense of all-consuming blessing to be with them defies my best attempt at description.
Well, the Chief of Chaplains of the US Army, CH (MG) Douglas Carver, was in “my congregation” on this fine South Carolina morning. I preached a message on recovering your call from your personal encounter with Jesus Christ from Peter’s experience with Jesus in John 21. After I finished, the Chief came to the pulpit. He asked for a moment to gather himself together. He wiped tears from his eyes. He reflected on the message and how God had called him. he spoke of our common childhood of hearing the Gospel from evangelists in sawdust chapels. He told me that sawdust smelled like heaven. I will never forget that. I have always thought that too.
Then, completely unexpectedly, the Chief of Chaplains referred to the RTS succession plan! He then asked me to sit in the chair and as he and others laid hands on me for the work of Chancellor/CEO Elect. He prayed for RTS and thanked God for all of our RTS campuses. Then he prayed for Mae, by name, and thanked God “for Aunt Eva who never stopped praying” and pleaded with God for revival.
I wanted to know how he knew about Aunt Eva and my wife’s name and was able to speak to the gathering about me so intimately. He said that he had just read What God Starts, God Completes. Amazing. He had read it as he was going through the time of burying the young chaplain who was killed just days ago. The force of all of the events seemed to have moved the Chief greatly. He began to preach extemporaneously with power and in the Spirit, lifting up Jesus and calling on us to be soul winners for Christ. It was a tremendous time!
I am still shaking from it all, literally. I am thankful to the many who have been praying for these days of ministry. The Lord is moving in a powerful way in this conference.The Chief said that it was a turning point in our chaplain corps. That was not a reference to the poor preacher, but to the new focus that he has put forward and the Spirit has blessed and that is a passion for preaching and a love of our calling as ministers of the Gospel and, speaking more broadly, as religious leaders in our communities. I had talked of “romancing your call” and this was what the Chief was focusing upon. But I would have never imagined that I would begin this new phase of ministry by a laying on of hands by the Chief of Chaplains with a great number of the US chaplain corps watching! Praise God. May it translate into greater service for Jesus Christ and greater ministry opportunities for our beloved seminary.
I just had to tell the story. It was a surprising act of grace. We should all be thankful that the senior chaplain in the US Army is a soul winner for Christ! To God be the glory!