Marines.Together We Served

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Salvation is not a Racial Issue

If you’ve been paying attention at all to the news you are aware of the brouhaha involving Senator Barack Obama who gave a speech in defense of his twenty-year relationship with his pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright. The most egregious comment the pastor made in a sermon was, “Not ‘God bless America.’ No, no, no! Not ‘God bless America,’ but ‘God damn America!’” I, like many of you, found these remarks to be vitriolic and hateful.

In Obama’s comments regarding Rev. Wright’s disturbing diatribes during his sermons, he said, “Did I strongly disagree with many of his political views? Absolutely – just as I’m sure many of you have heard remarks from your pastors, priests, or rabbis with which you strongly disagreed.” Uh, excuse me, senator, but these are frighteningly inflammatory remarks, and this is not normal speech for a sermon given by any pastor I know. And I’ve known more than a few pastors and chaplains of all faiths in my time.

Have I made such remarks when I preach Sunday after Sunday? No. But I do make outrageous statements each week when I preach. I’m frequently heard to proclaim: “God loves you!” “Christ died for your sins.” “Jesus said, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No man comes to the father but through me.’” “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, for he is risen, just as he said.” I could go on, but you get the picture.

Perhaps it would help if I explained the doctrinal position of the Trinity Church of Christ. Rev. Wright became its pastor in 1971, embracing what is known as Black Liberation Theology (BLT).

The message of black theology is that the African American struggle for liberation is consistent with the gospel – every theological statement must be consistent with, and perpetuate, the goals of liberation. This theology maintains that African Americans must be liberated from multiple forms of bondage – social, political, economic and religious. This liberation involves empowerment and seeks the right of self-definition, self-affirmation and self-determination.

The modern American origins of contemporary Black Liberation Theology can be traced to July 31, 1966, when an ad hoc group of 51 black pastors, calling themselves the National Committee of Negro Churchmen (NCNC), bought a full page ad in the New York Times to publish their "Black Power Statement," which proposed a more aggressive approach to combating racism using the Bible for inspiration. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_theology)

In an article "An Investigation of Black Liberation Theology," Dr. H. Wayne House wrote, “Black theology (and liberation theology in general) seeks to speak to ‘this-world’ problems, rather than ‘other-world’ issues; to concrete circumstances, rather than abstract thought; to the sinfulness of man’s plight in a ghetto, rather than sin in man’s heart; and to a savior who delivers man from earthly slavery, rather than a Savior who saves man from spiritual bondage. This is black liberation theology in a word.” (http://wooq.blogspot.com/2005/09/black-liberation-theology.html)

It’s important to understand that this theological position is not typical of Black churches in America. Black Liberation Theology (BLT) grew out of the 50s and 60s when many blacks were attempting to make sense of the racial tensions that still existed in America. During this era we saw the rise of the Black Panthers, the Black Muslims, and numerous other groups that related to a shared experience of racism amidst the growth of the Civil Rights Movement. I first became aware of BLT when I signed up for classes at the College of Alameda after returning from Vietnam in 1972. While there I befriended one of the founders of the Black Panthers. We spent hours discussing political and philosophical views. This alone was an education in itself.

While taking a class in African American History from Dr. Malcolm LaPlace, an African American who served in WWII as an officer in an all-black army unit, I gained an insight into the experience of many blacks from that era. He invited me to his home for dinner on several occasions where he would share many of his life’s experiences with me. I cherished those times together! One day at the end of class he announced that two members of the class who were Black Muslims would be sharing their beliefs with us the following week. This caught my attention! I had only been a Christian for a year at this point, but I still approached Dr. LaPlace after class and asked if he’d give me equal time. He said “Sure! We’ll have a debate.” I wasn’t looking for a debate, but at least I’d have a chance to speak to the entire class about Jesus!

The next week the debate began. The Black Muslim guys, dressed in their black pin-striped suits and top hats, were up first. They accused me of being a racist, along with numerous invectives and diatribes, all the while attempting to explain their belief system. Of the 65 students in class, all but three were black. When it was my turn to speak, I simply shared the Gospel of Jesus Christ, explaining how he died for our sins so we could have eternal life. This really set off my opponents! The debate had been scheduled for one day. It lasted three! As I was making my concluding remarks on the final day, one of the Black Muslim guys angrily ran to the front of the class, pointed his finger in my face and shouted, “I believe you’re the devil. Prove to me and this class that you’re not the devil.” I said, “Okay. That’s simple. I used to serve the devil. But last year I gave my heart and life to Jesus Christ. The Bible says when you trust in Jesus you become a child of God. So, you see, I can’t be the devil.” My misguided friend lost complete control and began ranting and raving about how God was actually black; that the white man is the devil; but this black God made the white man to dominate the black man, etc, etc. The class began to laugh, picked up their books and walked out.

I share this story because it illustrates what’s wrong with Black Liberation Theology. In this theological construct blacks are victims in life, and salvation is being freed from white dominance and influence. The truth is, as sinners, we are set free from sin and death through the blood of Jesus Christ.

Now that’s a sermon worth preaching!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Cardo Street

As my group of twenty-five has traversed the nation of Israel we have been seeing things and learning about things that really make the Bible come alive. What do I mean by that? Allow me to explain.

We have traveled to numerous sites and locations that were mentioned in the Bible both in Greece and Israel. We stood on the same spot that Paul did when he was accused of heresy in the city of Corinth, Greece. The exact location of the agora, the Greek word for market, is still fully in view, including the bema (a stone platform known as the “judgment seat”) where complaints were heard and judged. In the Book of Acts, chapter 18, verse 12, it says, “While Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack on Paul and brought him into court.” This was done in the market place, out in the open for all to see.

Later we stood atop Mars Hill in Athens as I wrote about last week. Here also Paul stood and addressed the Athenians publicly regarding their religiousness (Acts 17:16-34).

Ah, but here in Israel we have been privileged to see places that go back so far in antiquity. Today, for instance, we visited the ancient City of David (Jerusalem), or at least the archeological remains that have been excavated. Then there was the Western Wall (often referred to as the Wailing Wall) which was part of the outer wall of the city of Jerusalem built by King Herod around 50 BC. Up north we visited the town of Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee. There we saw the foundation of the synagogue that stood there during the time of Jesus, and about fifty yards away are the archeological remains of Peter’s home where his mother-in-law was healed by Jesus.

Back in Jerusalem, we walked up the steps Jesus and the disciples would have used to enter the gates into the city. They’re still there! We saw the recently discovered Pool of Siloam where Jesus healed a blind man, instructing him to go and wash in this very same pool where he would regain his sight (John 9). There is also the possible location of Caiaphas’ home where Jesus was taken on the night he was arrested. Here he was mocked and beaten by Caiaphas’ goons. The home is no longer there, but the steps are. Jesus walked up those steps as he was finally led to the Roman judgment seat held by Pontius Pilate.

Our guide, George, made an interesting observation. It was this observation that got me thinking about writing this article. Though he’s much more a philosopher than a theologian, George said that archeological finds have always substantiated the Scriptures. He also said that no archeological find has ever contradicted the scriptures. As a teenager in the early 70s George worked summers on archeological digs in Jerusalem. At one site today, he described the dig where they discovered Cardo Street. Cardo in Latin means heart. This was a Roman Street built shortly before Jesus’ time. It was the equivalent of our Main Street. Rome built a Cardo Street in every town they conquered, and each one was a replica of the previous one. No matter where you traveled in Ancient Rome, you knew that every Cardo Street was the same. Merchants and sellers of all kinds would set up on these streets. George told us of the leader of their dig who was his mentor. This man would bring in a bunch of lemon pop sickles at the end of their day and give one to each of the young people helping in the dig. Then he would go into detail about all the things they had discovered that day. As George put it, “He didn’t have to do that. But it’s probably the reason I’ve been a tour guide for the last thirty years.”

George has done many things in his life. He is currently completing his Ph.D. He served in the Israeli military in what would be the equivalency of our Navy Seals. He has traveled extensively, including the United States, and has met some of the most notable people in the world. His work as a tour guide is normally done for private parties, so we were most fortunate that he agreed to take our group.

In a couple of days we’ll be winging our way back home to the U.S.A. I’ll be returning to my office at the church on Main Street. But I’ll also remember another Main Street, discovered by archeologists dating back to the time of Jesus, in the Holy City of Jerusalem.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Yondering Again!

By the time you are reading this article my travels to Greece and Israel will be nearly over. Wish you were here!

I’m sitting in my hotel room in the city of Tiberias with a view overlooking the Sea of Galilee. I’m hosting 25 people from my church on a two-week tour of the Holy Land including a couple of days in Athens and Corinth, Greece.

So, let me bring you in on some of the fascinating experiences we’ve had to this point. In Athens we had the opportunity to visit Mars Hill where the Apostle Paul complimented the Athenians. Standing atop the hill he said to them, “Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.” Paul then proceeded to preach to them about salvation through Jesus Christ. Mars Hill offers a commanding view of Athens. We also visited the Parthenon atop the Acropolis. For a piece of more recent history, we stopped by the Olympic Stadium built for the 1896 Olympic Games.

Our flight to Tel Aviv, Israel took less than two hours but was unfortunately in the middle of the night. We left Athens at 1:30, arriving at 3:15 a.m. Ugh! Our Tour Guide for our time in Israel met us at the airport, making sure everything was in order. We boarded our tour bus and made the short drive to our hotel where we slept for about three hours before beginning our first day in the Holy Land. The more notable places we have visited in the past couple of days have been the top of Mount Carmel, where Elijah the Prophet challenged the prophets of Baal and the Asherah as to which of their Gods was the true God. Awesome story and the view was a panorama of the Valley of Jezreel where the Apocalyptic events of the Battle of Armageddon will be played out just before the Lord Jesus returns to earth, bringing an end to man’s earthly reign.

Later in the day we stopped at the one place on the edge of the Sea of Galilee where it would be possible for the herd of swine to race over a cliff and drown. You could just see Jesus commanding the “Legion” of demons to come out of the man and go into a herd of swine, causing them to go nuts and race off the edge of the short cliff. One of our pilgrims asked why there would be a herd of swine there since this was Israel. Our guide explained that it was not Jewish territory then. It belonged to a people known as the Gerasenes.

We ended our day with a baptismal service at the Jordan River where it was my privilege to baptize fourteen people from our group of twenty-five. The setting is rather commercialized, but it makes it very convenient to get in and out. For a small fee you are provided with a white robe and a towel. There are a number of places for different groups to all be doing baptisms at the same time. Now, the weather has been fabulous, ranging well into the 70s each day. But the water in the Jordan is cold! It is melted snow from Mount Hermon making its way to the Sea of Galilee in the north end, then emerging at the south end where we were. While changing in the dressing room, I met a U. S. Army chaplain who was there to baptize several of his soldiers. He and his unit are currently assigned to serve with combined forces in the Sinai. Having already completed my responsibilities, I stayed to watch as this chaplain baptized these soldiers. It was wonderful! I went to him after he was done and shook his hand. I said, “Normally I would say, ‘Go Navy! Beat Army.’ But this time I want to say, “Go Army!’”

Let me share a thought or two about our guide and our driver. Our guide’s name is George. He is a Jew and lives in Tel Aviv. He has been a tremendous blessing to us. He really knows the territory – literally! Tonight at dinner he shared that his twenty-six year old daughter is just finishing law school, intending to be a judge. He then told us this story: When she was twelve, she was riding the city bus to school. A Muslim suicide bomber got on board and blew up the bus. Of the twenty-two people on board, his daughter was the only one to survive. She didn’t even have a scratch.

Now let me tell you about our driver. His name is Mohammed. He is a Palestinian. The first day he drove us he announced that his wife was about to deliver their fifth child. The next morning he told us she had delivered a son (number four). We all clapped and congratulated him. Since they had not picked a name for the boy yet, I suggested Charles. Well, today he informed us that his little son has been given the name Adam. We took a collection amongst ourselves and presented it to him along with a card as we ended our pilgrimage for the day. It is very interesting to watch these two men who are responsible for our time and safety while in Israel. One a Jew, the other a Muslim are delightful and are obviously very good friends. I only wish you were here with us to experience all of this!

We have another week where much of our time will be spent in and around the Holy City, Jerusalem, and then it’s back home. Soon our yonderings will end. But, Oh, the memories will last a lifetime and beyond!

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Iwo Jima Remembered

The other night I watched a movie that I had not actually intended to see. “Letters from Iwo Jima” was released in December of 2006. The reason I had not intended to watch the movie is mostly due to the fact that I did not want to see a human side to these Japanese soldiers. It was these same Japanese soldiers who had tried to kill my step father, a Marine, fighting this war in the Pacific. The irony of this is not lost on me when I look back on my own life’s journey. It was in Japan where, as a young Marine in 1972, I gave my heart and life to Jesus Christ. God has a sense of humor.

This past week, February 19, was the sixty-third anniversary of the invasion of this small, yet critical island. The island was effectively used as an airfield by the Japanese in launching waves of aircraft against our Navy fleet. After American forces took back the islands of Guam and Saipan, the next target was to be Iwo Jima.

This island would be very costly to both the Japanese and Americans. However, the purpose of capturing this island was critical for American forces as they slowly closed the noose on Japan, forcing the Imperialist forces back to their mainland. When you look at this island your first thought is, “We lost more than six thousand Marines for this?” This is where an understanding of the tactics of war is helpful. You see, because the Japanese were able to attack our fleet with impunity, launching from the three airfields on the island, it became essential that we take it away from them. A secondary reason, which was equal to the primary reason, was for American forces (read: Marines) to take Iwo Jima from the Japanese so we could use the airfield to attack mainland Japan. It was very difficult for our pilots to fly to Japan, drop their bombs, and return without the ever present danger of running out of fuel. Taking Iwo Jima would eliminate this concern.

These Japanese soldiers were sent to Iwo Jima knowing they were going to die there in defense of their homeland. Letters were written to their loved ones, sending their final words of love, as well as expressing the hopelessness of their situation. They knew the Marines were coming. The reputation of the Marines had long been established, so these soldiers of Imperialist Japan understood that this small island located in the middle of the ocean 650 miles south of Tokyo and about the same distance north of Saipan, would be the place they would die. Notably, it would be the first time American forces step on Japanese soil, and also where they would raise the American flag. This is historically recorded through the most famous picture of all time, taken by Joe Rosenthal, and commemorated with a statue depicting the five Marines and one Navy corpsman raising the flag on Mount Suribachi. This picture was taken weeks before the outcome of the battle for Iwo Jima would be determined. A book written by James Bradley, son of the Navy corpsman, wrote the now best selling work, “Flags of our Fathers,” in 2001. Movie icon, Clint Eastwood, took this book and produced it into a movie of the same name in late 2006.

The commanding general of Iwo Jima was Lieutenant General Kuribayashi. He was aware that he did not have the resources necessary to prevent the American forces from taking this island of his homeland. He also went against the accepted practice of his fellow generals who believed suicide attacks, what became known as “kamikaze raids,” were effective against the enemy. Instead, Kuribayashi believed such attacks were counter-productive, creating an irretrievable and regrettable loss of life. He also dismissed the tactic of facing the enemy on the beach, fighting to the death an invasion of even one foreign enemy. He instructed his men to dig trenches and caves, allowing his men and weaponry a place of refuge from the artillery shelling inflicted by the American Navy. The general’s overall plan was not so much to defeat the American forces attacking Iwo Jima, but to inflict so much death and destruction on the Marines that America would reconsider attacking mainland Japan. It could safely be said that he was successful. Following the costly losses at Iwo Jima (US and Allied: 6,825 killed in action, 27,909 wounded), our forces prepared for the attack on yet another island belonging to Japan. This would be a far more formidable task. This island was called Okinawa. The United States would suffer more than 72,000 casualties. Of this number, 12, 513 were killed or missing.

American Forces knew they would have to invade mainland Japan at some point. The loss in lives would be very costly. Conservative estimates began at 1.5 million. It was further believed that if we were forced to invade the mainland, we would not only be fighting what remained of Japan’s military forces, but we’d also be fighting a fearful yet motivated Japanese citizenry.

Much debate has been expressed as to the moral/ethical decision to use the atomic bomb on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, forcing the Japanese government to capitulate to U.S. demands of surrender. I was stationed in Iwakuni, Japan in 1971-72, I became friends with a Japanese school teacher who lived in Hiroshima, a forty-five minute train ride from Iwakuni. One evening while sitting over a bottle of warm sake, I asked my friend what the Japanese thought of the U.S. using the atomic bomb against his nation. He replied, “If we would have had the bomb, we would have used it on you.”

It’s good to remember the many Americans who have given their lives for our freedom. This is why we honor these patriots every year on the date of the battle for Iwo Jima. Let’s also remember to honor those brave patriots who have given their lives in the War on Terrorism, defending us against an equally determined enemy today.

Psalm for the Day