This year has been a most pivotal year for our ministry in many ways. The most eventful of which has undoubtedly been my retirement from the United States Armed Forces after thirty-two years of uniformed service. I enlisted in the Navy and served as a Top Secret Navy Linguist, just after Vietnam, at the height of the Cold War, from 1976-1978, and in the US Navy Reserve, from 1978-1982. After a ten-year break-in-service, I was commissioned as an officer in the US Army. That was 1992. I was called to Gospel ministry, desiring to be both a pastor and a professor, but I could never get the Armed Forces out of my spirit. I loved the military service members and their Families. I was compelled by the Lord to seek a way to serve. I chose the Navy. That was my background. It was my father’s life. But the Lord closed that door. He led me to an open door in the United States Army and Army Reserve. I became an Army Chaplain. And I will never regret it. Mae and I served together in many ways through these years, seeking to support our Armed Forces members, Families, and Army Civilians, even as we served the Civilian “parish” and “the academy.” From ministry to inmates at the disciplinary barracks at Fort Leavenworth to pastoral counseling at NATO in Heidelberg, from the Pentagon to the Army Chaplain School, and to Command Chaplain of U.S. Military Intelligence Readiness Command, we enjoyed a long and vocationally satisfying career.
But how so? What is the secret to being sustained in a lifetime of ministerial service, whether as a Chaplain, pastor, missionary, college of seminary theology professor, or other vocation?
I was reminded of the answer to that question, today, by a kind and thoughtful note from one of our constant prayer supporters. “Brett,” an Iowa farmer wrote me a letter. Even though I have been retired since 01 March 2018, this man of God who prayed for me through the decades was led to follow up again. He just wanted to let me know that he had not stopped praying just because I was retired. His letter made me realize, in a moment of quiet meditation and prayer, just “how” such a long career of ministry in any field is possible. God alone must get the glory. However, the Lord directs People. And People respond in faith to God by Prayer. And Prayer becomes Providence. Providence brings about Praise. And Praise yields Paradise. The remarkable chain of supernatural events, located in the Covenant promises of God in Christ, expressed through the faithfulness of God’s Saints, His Flock, saves souls, transforms lives, and is already working a Day when the sky will unfurl with the irradiant beauty of Jesus Christ gathering His children in His arms. Each of our lives, in Christ, is connected to the other. Each is a precious Christ-cut stone, colorful, beautiful, and embedded into the mosaic of the Church.
This is how ministry is effective. What did St. Paul request?
“Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints; And for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel, For which I am an ambassador in bonds: that therein I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak” (Ephesians 6:18-20 KJV).
The regular prayers, constant encouragement of people like a fine farmer from Iowa, a pastor from Kansas, a homemaker from Savannah, an insurance salesman from Fort Lauderdale, a retired hospital administrator and nurse from Chattanooga, Vietnam vets from North Carolina, and church mission committees from around the nation, who remembered us before the Lord, caused prayer to become providence and providence to become praise. If there are souls safe in the arms of Jesus because of the proclamation of Jesus Christ, in this career of ministry, then the honor of labor should go to those who prayed. Again, I think of the Apostle Paul, in the Scriptural passage that has shaped the vision for my ministry:
“For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Is it not even you in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming? For you are our glory and joy” (1 Thessalonians 2:19-20 NKJV).
God alone must get the glory. However, the Lord directs People. And People respond in faith to God by Prayer. And Prayer becomes Providence. Providence brings about Praise. And Praise yields Paradise.
My recognition of those who encouraged, inspired, and sustained my family and me in a life of Chaplain ministry is long overdue. And any mention of one name surely omits another. Yet, I want to “name names” to show “honor unto whom honor is due” (Romans 13:7 Lexham English Bible [LEB]).
Of course, I write a special thank you to “Brett” who has blessed me immensely and who letter today led to the Lord moving me to write, to encourage younger Chaplains and other ministers of the Gospel, and to give glory to God in a public way, for the sake of His own Name, and His mission in the world.
I thank my Aunt Eva (1897-1996) who reminded me that the men of our family, through the generations, and in all of the wars of our nation, have volunteered to defend what our forefathers founded. I thank my father, Jesse Ellis Milton, Commander, United States Coast Guard and Merchant Marine, World War Two. Through attacks by Nazi U-boats on his troop transport missions in the deadly marine sea-lanes of the frigid North Atlantic, in the vicissitudes of sea-going life, and the consequences of the indelible pain carved into the contours of his poet’s soul, he suffered, he persevered, and he trusted in Christ Jesus on his knees. I will always remember that day in the little country chapel, the smell of that sawdust floor, the visage of my hero on his knees before God. I became a Chaplain to minister to “him” and to a mixed-up young Sailor boy (myself). I have found plenty of both in my years of service. I love those service members.
I thank Captain Harry Faris, USN Ret., a WWII vet who became a friend, a father in Christ, a mentor, and a gentleman lawyer-farmer who demonstrated honor and service every day of his life. I had two great mentors in the Gospel ministry: The Reverend Robert E. Baxter, whose example remains a beacon of light for how to walk in faith; and the late Dr. D. James Kennedy, who preached Ephesians 2:8,9 that led me to faith in Christ, and then mentored me in ministry.
Thank you to the congregations of New Hope Presbyterian Church (formerly Olathe PCA Church), Olathe, Kansas; Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale; Redeemer Presbyterian Church, Overland Park, Kansas; Independent Presbyterian Church, Savannah, Georgia; Redeemer Presbyterian Church, Overland Park, Kansas; First Presbyterian Church, Chattanooga, Tennessee; Christ Covenant PCA Church, Matthews, North Carolina; and Trinity Chapel Charlotte Presbyterian Church (ARP), Weddington, North Carolina.
I also must thank the Chaplain Endorsers in my service, men of God, who modeled faithful service, and who led by prayer, the holiness of life, and wise counsel: the late Captain William “Bill” Leonard, Navy Chaplain, USN-Ret.; Chaplain (Colonel) David Peterson, USA Ret.; and Chaplain (Brigadier General) Douglas Lee, USA Ret. I must also mention the present endorsing agent, my beloved friend, Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Jim Carter, USA Ret. We have deep gratitude and a sense of indebtedness to Mr. Gary Hitzfeld (and his lovely wife, Diane); Chaplain (Colonel) Dewey Roberts, USA Ret.; Chaplain (Colonel) Alan Pomaville, USA; Chaplain (Colonel) Jeffrey Hawkins, USA; and Chaplain (Colonel) Darryl Fortenberry, USA Ret. Several Chaplains made deep impressions upon me in ministry. They include Chaplain (Colonel) R.J. Gore, USA Ret., Chaplain (Colonel) Pete Sniffin, USA; Chaplain (Colonel) Mark Nordstrom, Chaplain (Colonel) Chris Wisdom, and the man who will always be my Chief of Chaplains, Chaplain (Major General) Douglas Lanier Carver, USA Ret.
Throughout my ministry, I have been assisted by remarkable Christian ladies who served as unto the Lord, not unto Man. Dr. Kennedy once advised me that one able assistant is “worth two preachers!” I don’t believe he was diminishing the human worth of clergymen, but rather underscoring the irreplaceable value of administrative assistants. These individuals multiply and maximize ministry. In this regard, I want to recognize Mrs. Christine Hartung, my present Executive Assistant (who also kindly helped my wife in the reception for the retirement service); to Miss Helen Holbrook, Miss Wendy Simmons, Mrs. April Gordon, Mrs. Martha Miller, Mrs. Aggie Cooper, and Mrs. Jeannie Matson Adlington. Through thirty years, each assistant has enriched my spiritual life, given joy to Mae and our family, and served with great skill, remarkable patience (considering your boss), and holiness of life. Sermons became books, devotions became articles, services were broadcast to the nation on television and radio, and souls received healing. And, to this article, Soldiers, students, and parishioners were served for Christ’s sake. My beloved daughters and sisters: you remain models to me for what Christian service looks like. I Honor you.
Some thoughts on the retirement ceremony with hearty thanks: My old friend, Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Michael Ducharme provided a flawless narration of the ceremony. He is one of the finest ministers of Christ I have ever known. An Anglican priest, Mike epitomizes both the necessary roles of distinguished Army officer and compassionate Army Chaplain. One of the greatest Non-commissioned officers who served with me gave remarks on behalf of the NCOs of the Army, Master Seargent Raphael Wilson. MSG Wilson is one of the finest men of God I have ever known and I was proud that he was the Command Chaplain Assistant in my final assignment as Command Chaplain at the USAR Military Intelligence Command, Fort Belvoir, Virginia. Chaplain (Colonel) Jeff Hawkins was a classmate of mine in the Chaplain Basic Officers Course back in Fort Monmouth, New Jersey. I have watched this man of God through the years become the outstanding leader that he is. That he supported this ceremony with his uncommon abilities and commanding presence remains a tremendous source of thanksgiving. The Deputy Chief of Chaplains, Chaplain (Brigadier General) Commander John Anderson, Chaplain, US Navy, marked the conclusion of my military career by the Benediction. Commander Anderson, who I am honored to be a doctoral advisor at Erskine Theological Seminary, gave the Benediction, with comments that recognized my father’s World War Two service as a Commander, United States Coast Guard, and U.S. Merchant Marine. Commander Anderson also recognized that I started “Navy” and was ending with a “Navy” prayer! It was an enormously special moment.
The Retirement Ceremony was hosted by Chaplain (Brigadier General) Robert F. Pleczkowski, Deputy Chief of Chaplains of the United States Army; and Chaplain (Colonel) Jeffrey Hawkins, Commandant of the United States Army Chaplain Center and School, Fort Jackson, South Carolina. Mae, John Michael, and I were honored by the presence and good wishes of so many people and by so many undeserved official letters from those in government. We thank President Donald Trump and his Office staff for his letter. Thank you to Senators Richard Burr (R-NC) and Thom Tillis (R-NC) who each demonstrated a personal touch that is beyond anything we expected. Congressman Robert Pittenger (R-NC 9th District) wrote an especially moving note. That the Secretary of Defense, General James Norman Mattis, USMC Ret., took the time to send an official correspondence is both humbling and amazing. Thank you, Sir. Dr. Carol Folt, Chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill honored us by reminding us that Chapel Hill has produced members of the Armed Service that go back to the America Revolution. The North Carolina State President of the Sons of the Revolution (SR) sent a memorable letter that recalled the courage, duty, and service of my own Great Grandfather (fourth), Private Isham Milton, who served the 1st Virginia Artillery Regiment; his brother, Nathaniel Milton, who served in North Carolina’s Chatham County Regiment; and their brother, James Milton, Private, Woodford’s Brigade, 15th Virginia Regiment, who died at Valley Forge. My association with the SR continues to be one of seeking to educate the rising generations about our founders, and those who gave so much to bring about the birth of a nation. We were also touched by the kind sentiments from my fellow faculty members and staff at Erskine College and Seminary. The Governor of North Carolina, the Honorable Roy Cooper, conferred the “Order of the Long Leaf Pine,” our State’s high recognition for public service. Mae and I are humbled. The Commanding General of my final assignment “put in” for the Legion of Merit. Lieutenant General Charles D. Luckey, Chief of Army Reserve and Commanding General, United States Army Reserve Command, approved this nomination and gave his signature on behalf of the President. Thank you, Sir. Such awards are cherished not for one’s self, but as a possible artifact that will convey a challenge to service to a coming generation in one’s family. In this sense, the honor is incalculable.
My wife, Mrs. Mae Milton, received special recognition from the Chief of Staff of the United States Army for her support of Soldiers, Families, and Civilians through our more than three decades of ministry together. My son, John Michael E. Milton, also received a special honor from the U.S. Military Intelligence Readiness Command for his support of me in this ministry. To all of my family, Mae and John Michael, and to each child—Kim, Julie, Wayne, Amy, Jessica, Heather, Matthew, and their children—”Poppy” says thank you.
So much more could be said in a note of gratitude. But I will always remember the Soldiers. I will never forget their stories of sacrifice for the sake of God and Country. And when I die let it be said that I was a filthy sinner, saved by grace, and called to preach the Gospel I once blasphemed. I remember the words of another Soldier: the legendary Dick Winters, noted Lieutenant in Stephen Ambrose’s’ famous true story of WWII, Band of Brothers. One day Lt. Winter’s grandson asked, “Grandpa, were you a hero in the War?” The old Soldier looked out to a distant sky where memories were enshrined in clouds, “No”, he answered, “But I served in a company of heroes.”
“Grandpa, were you a hero in the War?” The old Soldier looked out to a distant sky where memories were enshrined in clouds, “No”, he answered, “But I served in a company of heroes.”
That is the way that I feel. But those heroes were not just Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, Guardsmen, and Mariners. The “company of heroes” includes “Soldiers of the Cross.” To those faithful prayer warriors, I dedicate this page.
I THANK ALMIGHTY GOD FROM WHOM ALL GOOD THINGS COME. AND I THANK MY WIFE, MRS. MAE MILTON, FOR HER UNQUALIFIED SUPPORT AND INSPIRATION, TO SERVE.
[I want to post the following official U.S. Army Military Intelligence Readiness Command page of the Retirement Ceremony for those who could not join us. Thus, I share a belated thank you to all who have been a part of the story of ministry. Thank you.]