Marines.Together We Served

Monday, July 30, 2007

A Monument to God

I don’t actually remember the year, but it was sometime between 1956 and 1958 when my family took a trip from our home in New England to Washington, DC, our nation’s Capitol. It must have been in the winter or early spring because I remember it being very cold.

One of the few things I remember about this trip was our visit to the Washington Monument. The obelisk-type structure, built in honor of our first president, was completed in 1885, standing 555 feet, 5-1/8 inch tall. I also remember walking up an endless amount of stairs before reaching an area where we could look out over the Capitol.

There has been much debate over the years as to how spiritual George Washington actually was. Many revisionist historians downplay his faith, often declaring that he was a deist. For informational and educational purposes, allow me to offer a definition of deism. It could be said that deism is a belief in God whereby God created everything, set it all in motion, and then went on vacation! In other words, God chose not to interfere with what he created.

This belief simply will not stick to a man of faith such as George Washington. Why? Because in deism there are no miracles. Washington was a living miracle. When he was engaged in the Indian Wars, one Indian chief instructed his warriors to aim their muskets at Colonel Washington. Each brave did so, firing at the future first president of the United States. When the battle was over and the colonial forces had won, Washington had numerous bullet holes in his cape. The chief then knew Washington was a powerful man and would accomplish great things.

Washington was also a man of prayer. He retired to his study each evening to read the Bible and pray. He rose before sunrise and stayed in his library until called to breakfast. Along with such notable men of the Revolution, such as Patrick Henry, John Jay, and Edmund Randolph, Washington prayed with them when word was received that the British had attacked Boston, thus setting off the Revolutionary War. Later at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, a famous painting depicts Washington kneeling in prayer imploring Almighty God to deliver his men from the ravages of a harsh winter, and allow them to defeat a superior enemy.

The point is: If God is not involved in the affairs of men, then prayer is a useless exercise.

Deism also does not recognize any religious holy book. Further, its position is to stand opposed to Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

George Washington, upon being sworn in as our first president, took the oath of office on April 30, 1789 requesting that the Holy Bible be opened to Deuteronomy 28. This chapter from Holy Writ outlines what God will do if the Israelites follow him in obedience. Little wonder that Washington chose this passage, for the opening verses could not have been better suited for this new, fledgling nation, called, The United States of America.
“If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully keep all his commands that I am giving you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the world. You will experience all these blessings if you obey the Lord your God: Your towns and your fields will be blessed. Your children and your crops will be blessed. The offspring of your herds and flocks will be blessed. Your fruit baskets and breadboards will be blessed. Wherever you go and whatever you do, you will be blessed.”
Here is a key statement from Washington that clarifies his beliefs: “It is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God and to obey his will.” When the cornerstone was laid for the monument, a Holy Bible was placed inside, along with a copy of the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution.

Inside the monument are memorial plaques carved in stone presented by various U.S. states, organizations and countries. Here are some of the inscriptions: “Holiness to the Lord”; “Search the Scriptures”; “The memory of the just is blessed”; "May Heaven to this union continue its beneficence”; “In God We Trust”; and “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” And on it goes throughout the monument.

America can never deny her Godly heritage. We have been blessed by God. May we strive to live for God so that we might yet receive the blessings of God. George Washington believed this and lived it. Do you?

Monday, July 23, 2007

My Comfortable Town

It’s been a long time, but I remember a story that was required reading when I was in school. It was called “Our Town,” written as a three-act play by Thornton Wilder.

In the play, Wilder’s macabre third and final scene depicts a graveyard atop a hill overlooking the town where the dead are seated watching as the living go about their daily tasks. One resident of the cemetery remarks, “My, wasn’t life awful – and wonderful!” One recent arrival to the cemetery is Emily, a young woman who died in childbirth. She begs to be allowed to relive just one day of her life. Grudgingly, the request is granted. She decides to re-experience her twelfth birthday. At first she is thrilled with the gaiety of the party. But then something happens that changes everything. An irrefutable truth is discovered.

What got me thinking about this play was simple enough. I was at church Sunday preparing for our first service. It was a wonderfully calm, quiet, and cool morning. This moment of reverie was broken by the tolling of the church bell announcing the eight-thirty service. The Ripon Free Methodist Church was originally built by the United Brethren Church in 1878. Just as it has been done for the past one hundred and thirty years, we ring the church bell prior to each service. The thirty-five foot rope hangs from the rafters in the belfry where it waits for a pair of strong hands each Sunday to grab it firmly, yet lovingly, to perform its duties in calling saints and sinners to services.

In my nearly nine years serving as the senior pastor of the church, I have often encountered folks in the community who comment on how much they enjoy hearing the bell toll across our town. Whether they attend church or not, the peal of the bell elicits a flood of comfortable memories for them. The bell’s solid tone reverberates down the sleepy streets of our town, conveying a tone of assurance that all is well. It is akin to sitting down with an old friend over a cup of coffee.

The comfortableness of our town is perhaps best experienced by taking a casual stroll down Main Street. The part of Main Street I’m referring to includes my church. It is the section of town that will be called “Old Town” some day. You’ll see a sign on the freeway that says, “Exit Old Town Ripon.” It’s not there yet, so don’t go looking for the sign.

It’s in this part of town that you will find several eating establishments. I’m partial to Mexican food, and we have one of the best anywhere. There is, of course, the customary barbershop (two, in fact), along with a gun shop, a couple of real estate offices, ditto on nail salons and coffee shops, a tire shop, two auto parts stores, a library, a couple of doctor’s offices, a flower shop, a gym, the town newspaper, a book store, two banks, and several churches. You can walk into any of these establishments and feel right at home. These are your friends, your neighbors. It’s a comfortable place.

Now, back to Emily and the irrefutable truth she discovered in “Our Town.” After the joy of her birthday party, she quickly realizes that she took so many things for granted while she was alive, and how quickly life speeds by. She says, "We don't even have time to look at one another!" Then she asks, "Doesn't anyone ever realize life while they live it? Every, every minute?" The response? "No. Saints and poets, maybe; they do some."

One friend in town, who is retired from the Army, has as part of his e-mail signature, “Enjoying Every Breath.”

Let me ask you – How are you living your life? Are you enjoying the “every, every minute?” Are you “enjoying every breath?”

Your life is a gift from God. Jesus said you are to love God, and love others. When you do that, you’re really living!

So enjoy all of your today's.

Monday, July 16, 2007

American Patriots

I know I’m getting older. If you live long enough that’s what happens. I’m okay with that. Really, I am.

What I find unsettling more and more is the fact that I am muttering to myself a lot, which usually includes the slow, shaking of the head, a rolling of the eyes in disbelief, and the commensurate accompaniment of deep sighs.

What, you ask, has brought about this mild form of apoplexy? Actually, it’s rather elementary, as Sherlock Holmes oft stated to his side-kick Dr. Watson. My babbling to no one in particular is attributable to the amazing dearth of true statesmanship and the requisite leadership that should be evident in our elected officials. Where, I ask, are the principled representatives of the people? Where are the men and women with the courage of their convictions to stand alone if need be? Where are the elected officials who strive to be a representative of the people? Where are the patriots who could not be bought by any special interest groups, or swayed from the course of doing what is right for America?

Looking back on our history, there were men and women who helped shape this nation who were larger than life; patriots who stood up and were counted during the infancy of this new nation. There were fifty-six members in the Continental Congress who came together to forge a document that has been the envy of the world – The Declaration of Independence.

So I took some time to read about each of the signers of this historic document. Besides being awed by their courage, several things stood out. First, quite a few were immigrants. Mostly they were from England, Wales, Ireland and Scotland. A number of these men came to America when they were adults, willing to adopt a new land as their home, and then fight for its freedom. Second, more than a few were very well off financially. One man was regarded as the richest man in America at that time. All of them, to a man, invested all of their financial resources into the revolution. With one or possibly two exceptions, none of them were able to recover their wealth, ultimately dying in abject poverty. Third, a number of them were constantly on the run for their lives from the British. Some saw their families killed and their homes and fields burned during the Revolutionary War. Yet they did not lose their nerve, serving this new nation even while experiencing personal loss and devastating calamity. This was true sacrifice in action. Fourth, these men, in all but a few cases, were very well educated, more often than not in European schools as well as in America. And fifth, a large number of these men were outspoken in their opposition to slavery, calling for its swift end. They also understood that this new nation might never see the light of day if this issue was forced. Slavery was still generally accepted. But the seeds of its demise were planted by the blood and sacrifice of the Founding Fathers. I saw this quote the other day that fits these patriots: “They understood, as few others have, that our Constitution and the freedoms it guarantees are worth fighting for.” These men had sand.

Do we have such leaders today? Where are the heroes today? Can we point to any person that we would want our children and grandchildren to emulate?

I’ll tell you where the patriots are today. They are the Soldiers, Sailors, Coast Guardsmen, Marines and Airmen who are taking the fight to the enemy across the globe, hunting down terrorists wherever they are found.

These patriots are soldiers like Private First Class Edwin Burrueto. This young man is from Peru where he earned his college degree. But since the school was not accredited, his degree was not recognized in the U.S. After immigrating to the United States PFC Burrueto believed this was a nation worth fighting for. So he joined the Army and became a mortar man. During a one-year tour in Iraq (2005-06) he reenlisted, was promoted, earned his citizenship, and has taken college courses online to earn his degree. Now that’s my kind of American patriot!

Allow me to comment on one more patriot. Last week I wrote about a book I had recently read regarding Iraqi general, Georges Sada, called “Saddam’s Secrets.” Toward the end of the book, General Sada made this observation of American general, David Petraeus. Sada witnessed Petraeus up close and personal while he served as commander in charge of training the new Iraqi Army. “I can tell you that he (Petraeus) is doing a great job,” Sada said, “and he works from early morning until late in the evening. I’ve seen him there at the defense ministry until late in the evening. He’s a faithful officer, and he knows how important it is to train the Iraqi soldiers to take over the job of defending the country; I’m very proud of the work he has done.”

This is the same General Petraeus who is currently the Commander of the Multi-National Forces in Iraq. He will be reporting to Congress in September on how well the counterinsurgency is going. Be watching for this! You can go on-line to get weekly updates from the general’s web site: www.mnf-iraq.com.

With patriots like these, we will surely win this war.

Monday, July 09, 2007

When Character Matters Most

It’s no secret that I love to read.

From time to time I run across a book that I find particularly interesting. I then find myself compelled to share the book so you can benefit from what I’ve enjoyed. The book I’m referring to is,

Saddam’s Secrets:

How an Iraqi General defied and survived Saddam Hussein.

This is an autobiography of Iraqi General Georges Sada. I will admit that I was expecting this three hundred page tome to be nothing but excuses for why he served under so vile a dictator as Saddam Hussein. I was delightfully mistaken!

In the Forward to the book you discover right away why this is no ordinary man. U.S. Air Force Colonel Dave Eberly describes his harrowing ordeal of being the first American pilot to be shot down in the Gulf War. After his capture, he was taken to Baghdad’s infamous Abu Ghraib Prison where he was interrogated and imprisoned. The man who was responsible for preventing Col Eberly’s head from being separated from his body was General Sada.

When Sada first joined the Iraqi Air Force the year was 1958. His father had been career military, so Georges grew up around military air bases and loved airplanes. He would eventually become Iraq’s best pilot. Because Iraq was on friendly terms with Europe and America in those days, Sada assumed that he would have advanced training on both of those continents. Political fortunes, however, changed the landscape of Iraq, and Sada found himself being sent to Soviet Russia for his training.

Make no mistake. This is a man who loves his country, and just like our men and women in uniform, he was prepared to give his life in her defense. Following historical military precedent, Sada chose not to take sides when it came to politics. What sets this man apart from his Iraqi counterparts was his strong faith in God, and his absolute unwillingness to compromise when it came to telling the truth.

Several military coups occurred following 1958. Each time, General Sada would ride out the storm of change, continuing to perform his duties as expected. In 1969, a new leader took over Iraq. This leader had an aide who was determined to eventually be the ruler of Iraq. That aide was Saddam Hussein. It was not until 1979 that Saddam would become President of Iraq. He accomplished this feat by walking into the then current president’s office, pointed a gun at his head, and ordered him to leave the country.

Over the next twenty-odd years General Georges Sada would be retired, brought back on active duty, and retired again, used as an advisor to Saddam Hussein, a successful gentleman farmer, involved in uniting the various religious factions to form the present government in Iraq, and is now heavily involved in helping rebuild the political infrastructure of his country.

What is so fascinating about this story is the courage of one man to face up to one of the most evil men in history and speak the truth. He fully expected to be killed any number of times at the hands of Saddam. Many men were, and Sada will admit that it was only by God’s grace that he was not ignominiously dispatched like the others.

General Sada is an Assyrian Christian. Throughout his career in the military he was constantly urged to join the Baathis political party which was what all the other officers did because Saddam would frequently reward such men for their loyalty to the party. General Sada refused to join this party for two clear reasons: First, the Baathis’ are Arabs. He is not. He’s Assyrian. Second, the Baathis’ are Muslim. Sada is a Christian. Let me be quick to point out that he is not merely a Christian in name only. He takes his faith very seriously. This is why God used him in so strategic a manner.

General Sada was the only man Saddam trusted to tell him the truth. The truth often infuriated him, but he knew that Sada never sugar-coated what needed to be said. For instance, you never hear in our media of the awful plans that Saddam had in attempting to destroy Israel at the outset of the first Gulf War. He wanted ninety-eight jet planes to fly into Israeli territory and drop bombs containing chemical and biological agents. After meeting with all of his military advisors, who, in true sycophantic fashion, told Saddam this would be a rousing success for Iraq, Hussein turned to General Georges Sada and asked what he thought of the plan. General Sada told him in so many words that it would be a disaster.

In this wonderfully refreshing book, Georges Sada addresses all the issues that our media continues to bandy back and forth. What about the WMDs? Wasn’t Iraq better off with Saddam than the current so-called civil war? Shouldn’t American troops be withdrawn? You will read about his defense of a downed British pilot when an irate Qusay Hussein (one of Saddam’s sons) wanted him killed on the spot. He also reports on the question of what happened to downed Navy pilot Scott Speicher. He tells of the barbarity of Saddam, but that Saddam's sons were a hundred times more evil. You will also read his comments about mistakes America and her leaders have made in dealing with Iraq. He speaks as only one can that has lived through the challenges that faced his country. It is true that Sada has been interviewed (on rare occasion) by CNN and FOX News, but our own national nay-sayers will not take this man seriously. It is to our detriment to ignore a man who was willing to place himself in so precarious a position and then live to tell about it. It is worth your time to read this book.

Whether or not you choose to believe this man’s story, you cannot deny his strength of character.

When it’s all said and done, it is character that matters most.

Monday, July 02, 2007

God Save the United States

Happy Birthday, America!

America – as in the United States of America. We are the only nation in all of the Americas – North, Central and South – that refers to itself as America, or is referred to by others as America. When traveling abroad, I am often asked, “Are you an American?” When I reply in the affirmative, the individual then wants to know where I’m from in the United States. Their face always lights up when I say “I live in California.” Everyone around the world knows California.

Our nation celebrates its 231st Birthday today. I started doing the math and realized that this country of ours was only 173 years old in 1948 – the year I was born. My mother just turned 92 last week. That means the USA was 139 years old at her birth in 1915. My great-grandfather was born in 1828, which means our nation was 52 years old when he was born. I wonder if he had any idea of how much of an impact our country would have on the rest of the world. Especially after he had served in the Civil War when the nation was a mere 85 years old – at a time when America seemed to be hopelessly divided. What would Great-Granddaddy Daniel Thatcher Lake think of our country if he saw it today?

I’ve been reading a book written by Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the House of Representatives. The book is called, Rediscovering God in America. In recent years there have been numerous attempts to remove the influence of religion from the public square. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in 2002 declared the phrase, “under God,” in the Pledge of Allegiance to be unconstitutional. This phrase was originally authorized in President Dwight Eisenhower’s first term of office in 1954. Gingrich writes, “The term “under God” was inserted deliberately by Congress to draw the distinction between atheistic tyranny (the Soviet Union) and a free society whose freedoms were based on the God-given rights of each person. As Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas wrote in Zorach vs. Clauson just two years before the Congress added the words “under God” to the Pledge: “We are a religious people and our institutions presuppose a Supreme Being.” In Zorach vs. Clauson, “the (Supreme) Court upheld a school policy that allowed students to leave public schools to receive religious training off campus.”

It is both interesting and ironic to me that within our United States Government we have a number of traditional religious functions. Take, for instance, the United States Senate. Since 1789, the year George Washington was sworn in as our first president, there has been a chaplain in the Senate. The members of the Senate select by majority vote a clergy person to serve as their spiritual counselor and advisor. The present Senate Chaplain is retired Navy Rear Admiral Barry C. Black, a man I had the distinct pleasure of working for when he was the Deputy Chief of Chaplains for the Navy in the late 1990s. One of the responsibilities and privileges of the chaplain is to open each session of the United States Senate with a prayer.

Another religious oddity takes place in the Supreme Court of the United States. Every day in which the Supreme Court is in session begins with the proclamation, “God save the United States and this honorable Court.” This time-honored practice has been performed for nearly two hundred years. Gingrich says, “It was adopted because the (Supreme Court) justices in the 1820s actually wanted to call on God to save the United States and the Court.” Imagine that!

The Founding Fathers in crafting the Declaration of Independence, understood full well that man was endowed by his Creator with unalienable rights. “During the Constitutional Convention of 1787, Benjamin Franklin (often considered one of the least religious of the Founding Fathers) proposed that the Convention begin each day with prayer. As the oldest delegate, at age eighty-one, Franklin insisted that ‘the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth – that God governs in the Affairs of Men.’” Gingrich further writes, “Because of their belief that power had come from God to each individual, the Framers began the Constitution with the words, ‘we the people.’”

At the inauguration of George Washington as our first president, he placed his right hand on the Bible after taking the oath, and declared, ‘So help me God.” Every president since Washington (all forty-two), has said those exact same words when taking the oath of office. One thing President Washington did that has set him apart from his successors, after he stated, “So help me God,” was to bend over and kiss the Bible.

With a legacy of godliness like this, would you join me during these perilous times in asking God to save the United States? He wants to – He’s just waiting to hear from “we the people.”

Have a wonderful and blessed 4th of July!

Psalm for the Day