“For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” 2 Timothy 1:7.
For the first two days, the Army didn’t know what to do with us. The FBI was “vetting” everyone to make sure we weren’t undercover terrorists. My Chaplain Assistant and I didn’t let all this red tape stop us. Instead, we went out visiting several heavily guarded monuments, talking and praying with people as much as we could. There was fear, anxiety, and uncertainty pressing on everyone’s minds.
On the third day, we finally received clearance to enter the AO – a term the Army uses meaning, “Area of Operation.” We were told to arrive around 2:30pm and be prepared to stay for at least one night as DC would be on lockdown before the big day, the Inauguration of the 59th President of the United States. Before January 6 and the chaos witnessed at the Capitol, our mission was rather ordinary: provide ministry support for Presidential and Pentagon staff during and after the events of the Presidential Inauguration activities, or PI 59. But after January 6, the mood quickly shifted. PI 59 quickly morphed into “Operation Capitol Response” with over 25,000 troops deploying on US soil to help defend the nations’ Capitol, House, Senate, Supreme Court and national monuments. Something the news/media has sadly left out is that EVERY Army soldier and Air Force Airmen VOLUNTEERED for this operation, including myself. We willingly agreed to help defend the historic occasions of PI 59 and protect our political leaders, even if we agree/disagree on where they stand.
As we made our way to the AO, we were assigned to Task Force House and would provide ministry for everyone inside an area that housed over 3,000 soldiers, and yes, we slept in the parking garage of the House buildings WILLINGLY – not because we had been “banished” from the Capitol or were being mistreated. To safely get there, we had to take alternate routes which required us to flash our newly crafted ID badges so we could drive down picturesque highways with no one else on them – a very strange sight to experience in the metropolis of DC where traffic is normally a nightmare! From there, we made our way through three checkpoints with armored trucks and 8-foot-high fence with barbwire weaving through the top of its latticed slots.
By the time we completed all the hurdles just to get to the AO, it was after 4:00pm! In the parking garage/TOC (Tactical Operation Center), my Chaplain Assistant and I met up with an Army Chaplain and began making rounds. All along the perimeter of the House and Senate, there were soldiers fully armed and protected, keeping watch every three feet. The National Guard put their troops in sections by state, so the first state we visited with was South Carolina, then on to Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, and Montana (who particularly enjoyed making fun of us as we shivered like leaves while it was 28 degrees out, where the native Montanans said it was “wonderful weather” and commented they were too hot in all their outdoor gear). There were soldiers and Airmen from all over the country! I even spoke to three Security Forces Airmen from Guam! The display of courage, bravery, commitment, and dedication to protect our country truly left me speechless. Seeing so many men and women armed, ready to take on whatever came their way, was surreal.
Later that night, as we began making the final turn back to where we started over five hours ago, we found more soldiers from up north, like Nebraska and the Dakotas. I began talking to a soldier from Nebraska. He saw my Chaplain cross on my jacket and began sharing about his faith and how he wanted to be a better example. We had a wonderful conversation that ended with me praying for him, his family, and his safety. As we were saying our goodbyes to visit the next soldier three feet down the fence, the Nebraskan said with a smile: “Keep spreading Jesus.” I thanked him for his words and for the rest of my time in DC, I recited that phrase as my motto and motivation to witness for Christ.
My dear church family, this is my last monthly newsletter article. As I’ve said before, words can’t express enough how much I’ve enjoyed being your pastor. I never thought I would be an Active-Duty Air Force Chaplain, but the Lord is diligent and His plans for us always prevail. When I first shared the news with you back on Sunday, December 13, I shared a story about how I’d been arguing with God, like Moses, for almost a year about not wanting to go. Sometime this week, read Exodus 3 and 4 and count all the objections Moses raises for not being the one sent to Egypt to rescue God’s people! I was acting the same way – UNTIL I was working on a sermon and checking some Bible verses to cross-reference. I use the same website weekly for this sole activity. As I was scrolling down, there on the left, was an ad that I believe God placed there intentionally because I haven’t seen it since and this website never uses ads. When I saw it, I began to chuckle because I knew God was answering my objections and heeding me to do this for you, my family, my country, and for God’s kingdom.
The process has been long, but Roberta and I have tried our hardest to remain faithful while listening to God’s calling. We’re excited to become Texans and live in San Antonio for however long the Lord needs us to stay! You will always be dear to us, as New Covenant was my first church to pastor when I was fresh out of Seminary in December of 2015. We love you and had some great times together. I’ve enjoyed teaching through the Bible on so many different topics. Before we leave, I’ll have preached over 250 sermons before you! Don’t worry, I don’t remember what all of them were about either – but one thing I do hope for, is that in our time together, you could see how the Lord was using me to “keep spreading Jesus.” I hope He has encouraged you through me to “keep spreading Jesus” too – and if not, I pray that the next shepherd at New Covenant will. Our last Sunday is February 21 and I do hope to see you in worship, masked or unmasked. But if not, as the old hymn sings:
“God be with you till we meet again; by His counsels guide uphold you, with His sheep securely fold you, when life’s perils thick confound you, put His loving arms around you, keep love’s banner floating o’er you, smite death’s threatening wave before you: God be with you till we meet again,” Amen.
“How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! Through your precepts I
get understanding; therefore I hate every false way. Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.
I have sworn an oath and confirmed it, to keep your righteous rules.” Psalm 119:103-106
Simeon was a very righteous and devout man. He was told by God that before his death, he would see the Messiah in God’s Sanctuary. Day after day, he waited to meet the Chosen One. The only dilemma Simeon faced is that he wasn’t given any details. He didn’t know how old the Messiah would be, his name, what his parents would look like, or what time of day he would come to the temple. All he could do was trust in the promises of God and live for Him unconditionally – even when it seemed like living in the dark.
After waiting day after day without reward, Simeon walked into God’s temple as he had done hundreds of times before, and there, he came across a young couple he’d never seen. They looked worn down, out of place, and apprehensive. By law, this woman named Mary, was required to be in the temple for her religious purification. It had been over 40 days since her son, Jesus, was born. When Simeon saw her and Joseph, the Lord intervened and told him that this couple and their child were special. They weren’t there by chance or coincidence. Today was the day where Simeon’s life would be changed forever: he would meet the Messiah as an infant less than 50 days old! We can only imagine the joy and excitement Simeon had that it was finally time to see the promises of God unfold!
Without fear or delay, he walked up to the transient couple and said: “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” Although the exact age of Simeon is unknown, his words seem to indicate that he was ready to go home and be with the Lord. All Simeon needed to see was a child, less than 2 months old, to know He was his Savior!
Simeon wasn’t nearly as privileged as we are. Simeon didn’t know of Jesus being tempted in the wilderness for 40 days. Simeon didn’t have a favorite parable he heard Jesus teach, or a favorite miracle he witnessed – YET, he BELIEVED with all his heart that Jesus was His only SAVIOR and this wasn’t just HIS secret anymore! Where does our faith stand in comparison? Do we believe in Christ without knowing all we know from the New Testament? Simeon saw the salvation of the Lord and a beautiful promise for us is that we too will SEE our SALVATION in Jesus, in eternity. Through Simeon’s joy, he says in Luke 2 that Jesus will be a “light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” Jesus is the true LIGHT for all people. Without His light, LIFE isn’t normal – we wander in the dark and aren’t living the way we’re meant to live.
Roberta and I experienced our first power outage with Vivian and Iris back in October when one of the big storms rolled through. The power went out at about 2:00am and didn’t return until about 12:00pm. This was the first time we had to explain to Vivian that “the power was out”. As a 3-yr old, she had no idea what this meant. She kept telling us to turn on the lights, the TV, the record player – anything to resemble normalcy! We’d reply, “We can’t right now dear, the power is out. It’ll come back on in a minute.” We got out flashlights, hoping this would make some of the constant questioning go away, but still, she didn’t understand why we weren’t flipping the lights on like we do every day. It wasn’t until the power was restored that she began to understand that we relied on this “electricity” and the source had been temporarily taken away.
We can have the finest Bibles, Bible Study’s, worship services, online resources, all sorts of programs – but if Christ isn’t in it, there’s no point – we’re trying to live our daily modern lives with the power out. We need our hearts to be molded, shaped, and refined by the light of Christ. I pray that for 2021, our complacent hearts will be set on fire to not only be “hearers” of the Word, but “doers” of the Word. Jesus tells us: “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock” Matthew 7:24. With Christ we’re meant to live by trusting in His sovereignty and walking by faith, not by sight. Like the wisemen in Matthew 2, “so may we” seek our Savior and Lord this new year without fear, shame, or timidity.
I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart; I will recount all of Your wonderful deeds.
I will be glad and exult in You; I will sing praise to Your name, O Most High.” Psalm 9:1-2
Meet our new Pianist at New Covenant, Mr. Jason Lawrence, who the Lord brought to us officially on Sunday, August 16! We’re excited to have him and hope you’ll take a moment to get to know him better. Jason grew up in the Bahamas, on the island of Trinidad, where he is the middle child, having both an older and younger sister. He grew up in the Seventh-Day Adventist church, where his mother was the Assistant Church Keyboardist and eventually the Music Director. His father joined the church later in life and provided Jason and his sisters with a solid, Christian education. Jason remembers coming to Christ when he was 9 years old.
His parents were adamant about his success academically that they didn’t allow Jason and his sisters to have a television in their home. Instead, Jason found himself reading books to spark his creativity. During high school, he began focusing on economics and nutrition. He earned his first bachelor’s degree in Trinidad from the University of the Southern Caribbean in nutrition and dietetics. After graduating with his nutrition degree, he continued participating in school choirs and playing piano. While his love for playing piano continued to blossom, a fellow soloist recommended that he apply for a piano program at the University of Trinidad. Jason followed the soloist’s advice, and pursued musical study with an emphasis on voice and piano. After completing one year of piano, Jason felt led to switch his degree to focus on vocal performance with Dr. Leah Brown, who had many connections to other professors in the United States. Dr. Brown was influential in leading Jason to Alcorn State University in Lorman, MS, where he focuses on piano and vocal performance, while still practicing cooking as a dedicated hobby.
Before Jason first came to the US, his uncle (a New Yorker), warned him that the US is “big” and it takes “a really long time” to drive anywhere! Jason actually thought they had gotten lost when he was on the way to Alcorn the first time. He remembers being surprised by the rural setting of many MS towns, reminding him of rural Trinidad and comforting him. The hardest challenge adapting to MS life was learning how to speak “Southern”, because his Caribbean accent was hard for people to understand at first. Jason has at least two more years at Alcorn studying vocal and piano performance. He hopes to start either in an opera studio/vocal performance program or start his Masters in Collaborative Piano after his undergraduate at Alcorn. His love for working with other musicians and seeing how they appreciate music, as well as his ability to accommodate different styles of music makes collaboration very appealing to him.
New Covenant is thrilled to have Jason be a part of our team and we have been blessed exponentially already having him lead us in giving praise to God the Almighty!
“And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church.
He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.
For in him, all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.” Colossians 1:17-19
If I was given a dollar every time I read or heard this word over the past six weeks, I could probably buy my own beach house in the Cayman Islands by now. It’s a word that’s been strategically used to help mankind “cope” with the corona virus situation. It’s a word that’s been abused at every turn, causing society to use all sorts of reasons to put their lives on hold. Sometime this month, challenge yourself to see how many times in a day you hear the word, read it, or dare I say, you speak it!. You’d be surprised how contrary this particular word is to the Word of God!
Have you ever attempted reading the entire Book of Isaiah? It is quite a challenge! It’s one of the longest books in the Bible with 66 Chapters. Isaiah was a prophet to the Northern Kingdom of Israel in the 740s BC before their deportation by Assyria in 722 BC. If someone were to ask you what the book of Isaiah is about, what would you say? As avid students of the Bible, it’s always rewarding to articulate our faith and beliefs in a few short words when people are curious. An easy answer to this question is: “Isaiah is about the sovereignty of God.” Isaiah the prophet does everything he can to remind God’s people of the kind of God they serve – there is no one else like God! The sovereignty of God is a doctrine absolutely crucial to our faith. Without believing in the sovereignty of God, everything else collapses. How can we DEFINE God’s sovereignty in a nutshell? It’s a topic we could spend years discussing and only begin to scratch the surface! Check out these verses from Isaiah 40:12-18 about God’s sovereignty:
“Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand and marked off the heavens with a span, enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure and weighed the mountains in scales and hills in a balance? Who has measured the Spirit of the LORD, or what man shows him his counsel?
Whom did he consult, and who made him understand? Who taught him the path of justice, and taught him knowledge, and showed him the way of understanding? Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket and are accounted as dust on the scales…all nations are as nothing before him, they are accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness. To whom then will you liken God, or what likeness compare with him?”
As soon as we say that GOD isn’t in control of something, or doesn’t have the infinite foreknowledge of EVERYTHING, then He is no longer completely sovereign. The world we live in is His universe – He makes the rules because He is the Creator of all things. Through His almighty providence, “He does uphold, direct, make willing, and govern all creatures, actions, and things – from the greatest to the least” (Westminster Catechism). Do we really believe this, friends? The word I spoke of earlier that should never be used in the same sentence as God is “UNCERTAIN”. NOTHING ever has been, is, or will be uncertain with God! Even before we existed, God knew us. As David reminds us in Psalm 139, “Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.” God knew us before we even knew ourselves.
As we continue to wait patiently for the all-clear to return to worship together, I encourage you this month to remove the word “uncertain” from your vocabulary. NOTHING is UNCERTAIN with God! The only thing uncertain about the corona virus is how humans respond to it with our finite brains. We can doubt, or we can continue to trust in our Creator who has a plan that’s far beyond our control and understanding, and yes, even for our good (Romans 8:28). I’m thankful it is up to God’s Son, Jesus Christ, to deliver us from this current, strange season of life and not myself! Because of Christ, we can have peace – whether we get the virus or not, peace is on both sides of life and death with Jesus. What did Jesus say when He saw His followers for the first time after His resurrection, most likely in the Upper Room? “Peace to you” (John 20:19). So, grab a pen and sticky note and write: “Nothing is uncertain with God!” Send this wonderful news out over text, email, Facebook, or whatever other platform you can think of to reassure yourself and others this month that God HAS NOT and WILL NEVER lose control of all His creation! “All your works shall give thanks to you, O LORD, and all your saints shall bless you” (Psalm 145:10).