"So here's what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering." (Romans 12:1, MSG)

Monday, May 25, 2020

Memorial Day

"The legacy of heroes - the memory of a great name, and the inheritance of a great example."
- Benjamin Disraeli

In recent days, I have spent a lot of time reflecting on the power of names and their meaning to our lives. Our names are a part of who we are in life and, as the above quote reminds us, a part of how we are remembered in death and beyond.

Memorial Day summons Americans to remember the more than 1.3 million military men and women who "gave the last full measure of devotion" in service to our country during times of war and conflict. Every year, I remember my great uncle, SSgt Francis Waldschmidt, who was killed in action when his B-17 bomber went down over the North Sea on the 3rd of September 1944. Not only does his name live on in the memories of my family, but his name is etched on the Tablets of the Missing at Brittany American Cemetery in St. James, France, ensuring his name will long be remembered.

Many of our traditions for observing Memorial Day surely look different this year, not the least of which was the Presidential proclamation ordering flags to be flown at half-staff over the weekend to honor those who have died from the coronavirus pandemic. I find it fitting that across the nation we were given, as it has been called, a visual expression for our grief. 

You see, what has sparked my recent reflection on the power of names are the trackers we see as part of the 24/7 media coverage of the pandemic. This morning's tracker is reporting 97,722 deaths in the United States. That total has meaning of its own, but takes on far greater significance when one considers that each number contributing to the sum is a person with a name who will long be remembered by their families and loved ones. The editors of the New York Times clearly understand this considering the front page they ran this weekend with the names of 1,000 individuals who have died...a mere 1% of the current total.

As tragic as the loss of life has been and will continue to be, not to mention the economic losses and the impact on our collective psyche, our country has risen to overcome national tragedies before and this one will be no exception. 

I am proud to wear the cloth of our nation and grateful for the opportunity I have been given to serve the men and women of the US Navy. My prayer this Memorial Day is in the spirit of Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address; that, we, the living, whether or not we wear a uniform, will rededicate ourselves to the unfinished work which those who have gone before us fought to nobly advance. May we take increased devotion to that cause for which so many gave the last full measure of devotion. May we resolve that they shall have not died in vain. May this nation experience a new birth of freedom. 

O God, let it be so.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

My Winding Road of Grace

Several years ago, my grandmother gave me something I never knew existed – a photograph of my baptism, officiated by a Roman Catholic Navy Chaplain in the chapel at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on July 4, 1971.

Today, this unexpected gift maintains permanent residence in my Bible, nestled within the first pages of Jeremiah:
"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you..." (Jeremiah 1:5, NRSV)
This image serves as a stark reminder of my parents’ love for me and that they raised me in faith. More than that, it captures the very moment that God staked God’s claim on my life through the sacrament of baptism. This was the beginning of my 46-year journey along a winding road of grace.

Much of this journey included growing up the proud son of a Navy submariner.

The day we left Hawaii.
Years later when my grandmother brought my Dad's seabag down from the attic.
Like many sons, I looked up to my father and hoped that I, too, would one day wear the uniform of a naval officer.

My Dad and me when I was a cadet officer in Green Run High School's NJROTC unit.
As often happens, however, my path took some rather unexpected turns. And so, instead of following in my Dad's footsteps as an officer, I enlisted in the Navy as a submariner...the same way his career began.

My Dad swearing me into the Navy on June 2, 1991.
The Navy connection my Dad and I shared continued for several years.

On my way to Basic Enlisted Submarine School in 1991.
The day of my Dad's retirement ceremony in 1998, after nearly 30 years of naval service.
By the time I separated from service myself in 1999, the Navy had been an integral part of my identity for 28 years of my life. 

My last official photograph.
In the years since my naval service, God has been at work in my life through the United Methodist Church. For more than eleven years now, I have sought to faithfully live into God's calling by serving the local church, studying in seminary, and submitting myself to the rigor of ordination in my denomination. 

The past five years, in particular, have helped mold me and shape me as I have served as an associate pastor at Trinity UMC in Gainesville. The love, encouragement, and support I have received from the congregation and staff, as I have sought to grow in my faith and as a pastor, has been all I could have hoped for and more.

My commissioning as a provisional elder in the United Methodist Church.
This past summer, I began to sense God calling me to a new season of ministry, in an altogether new direction - Navy Chaplaincy. 

For several weeks, I prayerfully pondered what Eugene Peterson calls "the pastor's question." About this question, Peterson writes: 
"Who are these particular people, and how can I be with them in such a way that they can become what God is making them?’ My job is simply to be there, teaching, preaching Scripture as well as I can, and being honest with them, not doing anything to interfere with what the Spirit is shaping in them."1  
I discerned without a doubt that the men and women of the United States Navy, and their families, are a "particular people" with whom I can relate. I also discerned that my gifts for ministry are well-suited for the work of a Navy Chaplain. More importantly still, my family and I discerned that, if given the opportunity, we would embrace life together as a Navy family.

In mid-December, I was granted an interview at the Pentagon with the Navy's CARE (Chaplain Appointment and Retention Eligibility) Board. Just before Christmas I received the amazing news that I have been selected to serve as a reserve Navy Chaplain.

I cannot convey in the space of this post all that my selection means to me. I will say, however, I am confident that the winding road of grace I have traveled has led me to this very moment. In some ways, it seems I have come full circle. 

In the weeks ahead, I will be commissioned as a Navy Chaplain; and, like he did so many years ago, my Dad will again administer my oath as I swear to support and defend our country. I look forward to sharing that moment with the people of Trinity during a commissioning service to be held at our church later this winter or in early spring.

Some of the details about where all this will ultimately lead remain unclear. For now, I know I will be continuing my pastoral ministry at Trinity while fulfilling my naval reserve obligations in Jacksonville during my appointed weekends. I also know that the next step on my journey travels through Fruitland Park, FL, on January 22nd at 6:30pm when I interview with the Board of Ordained Ministry, seeking their recommendation for ordination in full-connection. 

No matter where God leads me and my family from here, of this much I am certain - it will be the greatest honor and privilege to wear both the cloth of my nation as an officer in the United States Navy and the cloth of my faith tradition as a representative of the United Methodist Church in the Navy Chaplain Corps. To God be the glory.

1 Eugene Peterson, The Contemplative Pastor - Leadership Library (Carol Stream, IL: Christianity Today, 1989), p. 11-12.

Monday, August 8, 2016

A Word of Prayer - Our Unhappy Divisions

This summer, Lenora and I had the privilege of preaching a message series guided by Steve Harper's Five Marks of a Methodist. For those of you who have not had the opportunity to read this wonderful little book, it is an exploration of the five distinguishing marks identified by John Wesley in his 1742 treatise, The Character of a Methodist, that "confirm our identity as genuine and fruitful disciples and followers of Christ." These marks are:
  1. A Methodist Loves God
  2. A Methodist Rejoices in God
  3. A Methodist Gives Thanks
  4. A Methodist Prays Constantly
  5. A Methodist Loves Others
As someone who has felt deeply troubled and grown weary from the relentless reports of horrific violence around the world, as well as the violence of words I read every day on social media between those who disagree (on matters of politics and religion, in particular), this message series was a timely and refreshing reminder of how we should live - especially those of us who call ourselves followers of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. 

And so, at the conclusion of the series, it occurred to me that a Methodist who bears these five marks, in word and deed, should have the propensity to bear one more mark - A Methodist Seeks Unity. 


Defined as “the state of being one; oneness; concord; or, harmony,” unity is not a word that could sanely describe the state of our world today. 

Still, our unity is what Jesus fervently prayed for that night in the Garden at Gethsemane, saying “I pray they will be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. I pray that they also will be in us, so that the world will believe that you sent me.” (John 17:21, CEB)

Moreover, each week in worship we pray, "By your Spirit make us one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to all the world."

These prayers notwithstanding, disunity abounds.

Maybe it's because of our tendency to confuse uniformity with unity. Or, maybe it's because we're afraid that the pursuit of a more perfect union with those whose beliefs differ from our own will somehow compromise our beliefs. 

Whatever the reason, it won't change the fact that we are called to "oneness." As such, I believe we are called to bear what John Wesley called a “catholic spirit.” Wesley wrote in his sermon of the same title, “Though we can’t think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without all doubt we may.” 

Indeed, we don't have any room to doubt that we can "be of one heart," in spite of our differing opinions, because that kind of unity is not something we manufacture. We couldn't if we tried. Rather, that unity is an existing reality, because of the saving work of Christ, in which we must choose to live throughout the course of our everyday, ordinary lives. 

Hence, what troubles me most these days is the incessant and reckless rhetoric that perpetuates our disunity and fails to reflect what we, as followers of Christ, claim to believe. This is why, instead of continuing to painfully bear witness to the discord and disunity that has become prevalent on social media, I am taking a leave of absence from Facebook and choosing to pray the below prayer every day between now and November 8th. 

You might not feel the need, as I do, to leave Facebook for a season. Nonetheless, let me encourage you, dear reader, to rise above the rhetoric and join me in praying this prayer every day, beginning now:
O God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, our only Savior, the Prince of Peace: Give us grace seriously to lay to heart the great dangers we are in by our unhappy divisions; take away all hatred and prejudice, and whatever else may hinder us from godly union and concord; that, as there is but one Body and one Spirit, one hope of our calling, one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of us all, so we may be all of one heart and of one soul, united in one holy bond of truth and peace, of faith and charity, and may with one mind and one mouth glorify thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (Book of Common Prayer, p. 818)

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

A Word of Prayer - A Prayer by St. Augustine

It has been some time since I posted to the blog, but after seeing this appear on Facebook as a memory from five years ago, I felt it appropriate to post it here.

A Prayer by St. Augustine

God of our life, there are days when the burdens we carry chafe our shoulders and weigh us down; when the road seems dreary and endless, the skies grey and threatening; when our lives have no music in them, and our hearts are lonely, and our souls have lost their courage. Flood the path with light, run our eyes to where the skies are full of promise; tune our hearts to brave music; give us the sense of comradeship with heroes and saints of every age; and so quicken our spirits that we may be able to encourage the souls of all who journey with us on the road of life, to Your honour and glory. Amen.

Monday, February 8, 2016

A Word for the Everyday - Walking by Faith

Today on "Everyday, ordinary worship" I want you to meet my very good friends, Trey and Larissa Genser. They are a missionary couple with Overland Missions who are raising support for their ministry in Mozambique (a neighboring country to my beloved Malawi), so I've invited Larissa to share on my blog a bit of their story.
"In the past year I was called to walk by faith in a way I had never done before. Shortly after I began dating my husband, who has been a missionary for five years, I realized God was calling me to the mission field as well. In May 2015, I boarded a plane for Zambia to begin a 3-month intensive missionary training program with Overland Missions called Advanced Missions Training. During those three months I learned practical skills such as vehicle mechanics, GPS navigation, Wilderness First Responder training and a Come Back Alive course where I learned how to find food, water, and shelter where there is nothing. While these skills are important, they did not compare to the spiritual aspect of the training, being filled with the Holy Spirit, and the conviction about my calling to be a missionary. 
 During the training, I went on three "expeditions," which is what Overland Missions calls their short-term mission trips. On expeditions we go into the Bush and sometimes drive up to fourteen hours on rugged terrain to reach a remote village. On these expeditions you walk hut to hut and share the love of Christ with the people. Overland Mission’s ultimate goal is to reach those who have never heard the name of Jesus and share with them the Gospel message. On my last expedition I was in a small village called Sikelele. During our stay, we held several night meetings which include personal testimonies, singing, dancing, and sharing the Gospel around a campfire. At the end of one of the night meetings, a woman named Penlope came forward and requested prayer for her daughter who was ill.  We prayed for healing over her daughter and asked the Lord, in the name of Jesus, for her daughter to be well when Penlope got home that evening. The next day, Penlope came to tell us that her daughter was well when she arrived home the night before. We praised God! This is just one example of how God moves and is continually building our faith. 
 My husband Trey and I are now beginning our journey together as missionaries with Overland Missions in Mozambique. We have committed ourselves to spreading the good news of Jesus and building disciples for Christ. We are SO excited to be doing the work of the Lord. We cannot wait to follow His direction and watch as He opens the hearts of the people of Mozambique. Before we can enter the mission field we must be fully funded so that our focus is only on doing God’s work and not worrying about how we will pay our bills. This can be a scary process, but God is so AWESOME and we have faith that He will meet our needs. This is definitely a season of walking by faith but it is so sweet to see God fulfill His promises by building the perfect team of partners to send us out! After reflecting on the past year, I am completely convinced that it is worth taking every leap of faith to watch God move in miraculous ways! - Larissa

My family is proud to be on Trey and Larissa's team of partners. They are a blessing to all who know them here at home and I know that God is going to use them in powerful ways in and through the Kingdom-work set before them in Mozambique.

If you missed them sharing in church this past Sunday for our Mission Box offering, then I want you to know a couple things. First, I had the distinct joy and privilege of officiating their wedding ceremony in December. It was pretty amazing, as you can see from the special ordered ray of sunlight shining on them as they took their first steps together as husband and wife.

I also want you to know that Larissa (Johnson) is a "home-grown" member of Trinity. She was baptized here, received her 3rd grade Bible here, confirmed here, and went on several home repair mission trips that inspired her to major in construction in college. As she put it on Sunday, God has brought it all "full circle" and is now calling her to the mission field of Mozambique. 

As members of the church, we are called to equip and send those whom God calls to the mission field. That being said, Trey and Larissa are looking for additional partners for their team, willing to provide prayer and financial resources for their ministry. If you would like to know more about what the Gensers are doing, visit their Facebook page where you can also send them a message for additional information.

Mulungu akhale nanu (God be with you),


Friday, January 8, 2016

Foto Friday - Rousseau Family Winter Retreat 2016

Thanks to our very dear friends, David and Carolyn Williamson, we again enjoyed the privilege of retreating to their cabin in the mountains of western North Carolina for a time of rest, renewal, and reconnection as a family. 

We think this might be our fifth visit but it is the first time it occurred to me to use my tripod for a family photo.
The kids love having the freedom to roam outside, taking in the cold mountain air and beautiful surroundings.

They also loved a silly string fight in the woods.
Lenora enjoyed her newfound love of sketching word art...

...while I enjoyed taking my usual long-exposure creek photographs right outside our cabin.

Along with this random inspiration:

This will be a symbol among you. In the future your children may ask, "What do these stones mean to you?" - Joshua 4:6
This was the first trip I ventured away from the cabin in the dark of night in an effort to capture the Milky Way. After being dissatisfied with the results from a trip to Nantahala Lake, I drove the next night along a nearby scenic byway and shot this from the side of the road.

My primary photographic objective for this retreat, however, was to shoot the sunset over the mountains. I had researched a couple locations online that looked amazing and drove to both, only to discover they were closed for the season. 


Refusing to give up, I drove into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park from the entrance in Cherokee, NC. When we started it was 4:40 pm and I had no idea where I was going. I was simply hoping and praying we would find a west facing scenic overlook sometime before the 5:34 pm sunset.

At 5:04 pm, just beyond mile marker 18, my prayers were answered when we happened on an overlook somewhere near 5,000 ft that was directly facing west with Clingman's Dome on the horizon. 

I could not believe the view. And, I knew from the look of the clouds we were in for a real treat. These shots are the photographic highlight of the trip!

God has blessed me beyond measure, with a beautiful family and an incredible vocation, and I am so grateful. Here's to all that 2016 has in store for us - and to next year's winter retreat! 

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Foto Friday - Y-Malawi, Day eleven: Liwonde National Park

Before I left for Malawi, I bought an all-in-one camera lens so I would have the ability to shoot wide-angle landscapes and zoom close on subjects in an instant. As I packed my camera bag, I dreamed about what it was going to be like to see God-created African wildlife in their native surroundings.

It was an amazing experience to be sure.

What I could not have known at the time, however, was how desperately I was going to need the time in Liwonde National Park to decompress and process all that I had seen and heard during my time with the people of Nkhoma/Chilenje and the Y-Malawi ministry partners. Those nine days in the mission field had left me undone in ways that I could not have expected.

When reviewing my shots from the safari for this blog, I was strongly reminded of the overwhelming feelings of God's peace I had while encountering God's creation in the "warm heart of Africa." I share these photographs with you from a place of deep gratitude for such a God-filled, once-in-a-lifetime experience.

The African crocodile is a fair bit more frightening than the American alligator.
Hands down the best shot of the safari!
Elephants are one of Africa's "big-five" game animals. The adjective that best describes my impression of these animals is "majestic."
Who doesn't love a baby elephant?
I find this photo particularly fascinating- elephants, crocodiles, and hippos quietly existing together in one place.
This crocodile was prehistoric in its proportions. I could have reached over the side of our boat to pet it - but would never have dared to do so.
The zebras were shy.
So were the kudus. It took me all afternoon to get a shot like this.
The sunsets were breathtaking.
Knowing that there would not be any light pollution whatsoever in the night sky, one of my hopes for the trip was to shoot the Milky Way. I had no idea that the Milky Way would actually be visible to the naked eye! It looks almost cloud like - the detail you see here is brought out in processing. This is the riverside cabin where I stayed at about 9pm. I didn't stay out in the dark very long - especially after my compadre, Will, spotted a large crocodile lurking in the bush about 10 yards behind us.
Well, we're almost at the end. My next post will conclude the Foto Friday series of my time in Malawi!

Mulungu akhale nanu (God be with you),