Marines.Together We Served

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Roots West Christmas 2012


Roots West Christmas 2012
 Merry Christmas!

Once again this year Isaura and I are truly blessed with the joy of family and friends seasoning our lives.

The year started out great with the arrival of Josh and Jenny’s second little one. Colson Charles Sousa was born January 8th, and what a delight he has been. He’s a very “easy” baby in that as long as his basic needs are met (food, sleep and diaper changes), he’s perfectly content. Even though big sister, Brookie, was not at all happy that her mother was having a boy, as opposed to a girl, she has fallen totally in love with her little brother. She and cousin Alyssa are constantly kissing and squeezing the little guy. I suspect at some point he’s going to let them know he’s tired of it. Alyssa and Brookie have several endearing names for Colson, but the one that seems to be most used is “Colsee.”

Jenny continues to work at 234 Bistro, an upscale restaurant in Turlock where she is the day manager. Jenny has added another wrinkle to her entrepreneurship. She has opened a small shop where she is selling furniture pieces and is having a ball. The income is proving to be quite rewarding. So much so that she has her Aunt Joy (my sister), a retired school teacher, doing the same thing where she lives in Fresno. Josh continues to work with Clark Pest Control.  He is also making progress on completing his bachelor’s degree. And he’s having a lot of fun with little Colson.

Ken continues to work for Adtek, a sheet metal company. Laura thoroughly enjoyed working in the office of California Assemblyman, Bill Berryhill and was hopeful that his bid for the newly formed State Senate Seat #5 would come through in November. But, alas! It was not to be. Bill lost his race in a squeaker to his Democratic opponent. It was almost two weeks after the polls closed before the final ballots determined the outcome. Laura has so enjoyed the energy she experienced working in a political office that she is offering her services to other politicians in our area.  Grandson, Daniel Spence, graduated from high school in June. Congratulations!

My mother, Christine, turned 97 in June and continues to purr right along. Just last month my brother, John, purchased a special recorder so we could have mom tell about her life experiences which are fascinating to say the least. Not only does this device record her spoken words, but it connects to a computer and prints out her words, thus providing us with a written record as well. Very cool! One story she told me recently was the highlight of the week for the whole family when she was a little girl. Her mother, father, older brother and she would get dressed up on Saturday afternoon and walk to the train station to watch the train come in. Once it left they would walk back home. I love it!

Isaura takes a great deal of pleasure in her work with foster children. Her agency is called, Parents By Choice, and is located in Stockton. She is on a part-time schedule so she can spend a couple of days each week taking care of the needs of my mother and her mother, as well as babysitting Alyssa, Brookie and Colson two days a week.

I’m in my 14th year as the senior pastor of the Ripon Free Methodist Church. What a wonderful congregation I am blessed with! Also, I got my first hole-in-one last spring. Yahoo! But what made it particularly special was my brother John had come out from Virginia for a few days of golf. During those several days the Central Valley was hit with one of the worst storms we’ve ever had: hail, thunder & lightening, and lots of rain, plus cold, blustery weather that was a challenge even to the most tenacious of golfers.

Several years ago when Alyssa was two she saw a TV ad for Disney’s, The Magic Kingdom, and immediately made it quite clear that she wanted to go there. We promised her that when she was 5 we would take her. So early in December we made good on our promise. Josh & Jenny, Laura & Ken, Alyssa & DeziRay, Brookie & Colson, and Isaura & I drove in three cars to the Holiday Inn next to Disneyland in Anaheim and spent three days enjoying Disneyland and the California Adventure. It has been twenty-two years since we were last there. What an amazing operation! We had a lot of fun. But the best part was seeing our grandkids faces in Disneyland.

As we look forward to 2013, it is our prayer for you that the Lord Jesus will be the desire of your heart.

Have a Wonderful Christmas, and remember to keep your eyes fixed on Jesus! (Hebrews 12:2)
 
 DeziRay with Mickey & Minnie
 Brookie & Alyssa by the Enchanted Castle
 Chuck & Isaura
 Alyssa & Rapunzel
 Alyssa - 5 years old and at Disneyland!
 Colson at Disneyland
Chuck's Hole-in-One April 12 at Saddle Creek

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Why Christmas?

           Why Christmas?

Because there is evil in the world.

Connecticut governor, Dannel Malloy, said, “Evil visited Newtown today. . . .” “This is a problem of evil,” said syndicated columnist, Charles Krauthammer. “It is unimaginable the level of evil that rolled through this town today . . . These are five year old kids who are 10 days away from Christmas, believing Santa is coming to their home. Today, the devil came to this town,” said Bill Hemmer of FOX News. “In law enforcement you confront evil all the time,” spoken by a retired police officer on the news. “Unspeakable evil on display,” opined Bill O’Reilly of FOX News.

I’m sitting in my home watching the news as the reports of the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut are played out in all of its ugly, devastating detail. In a phone conversation with a friend today discussing this tragedy, he commented that as a nation we refuse to accept the possibility of the existence of evil in our world. That caught my attention mostly because that is exactly what happens to us when we fail to remember that God took decisive action on behalf of the human race in addressing the presence of evil.

Christmas is a wonderful time when we sing carols, give gifts, and spend precious moments with family and friends. But the reason for Christmas? Christmas is God’s answer to the problem of evil in our world. “For God so loved the world (you and me) that he gave his one and only Son (Jesus), that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” It is because of the rampantness of evil that we look forward to celebrating Christmas. Why? Because Jesus, the Son of God, willingly came to die, thus paying the price for evil – what in the human condition is called sin.

As I watched the news I would hear different comments about this dastardly act. Expressions such as people are “trying to come to grips with what happened today.” Or this comment that really is foolish when you think about it: “We’re all trying to make sense out of this tragedy.” There is no coming to grips with this evil act. There is no way to make sense out of a senseless evil such as this. There simply is no understanding this wickedness.

Good and evil are rather loosely defined in our world today. Good is a nebulous term in its daily usage, often carrying a meaning of satisfaction with life, such as, “I’m having a good day.” Evil, on the other hand, is used only when the most heinous of crimes is committed, such as a Columbine, Virginia Tech, and now, Newtown.

Someone will say, “But we’ve always had these problems, you just didn’t hear about them.” Well, that’s simply not true. Such an evil action would have been the biggest story in all the newspapers in the country as far back as the 1700s. And with the advent of the radio and the telephone, such news would have quickly spread across the nation and the world. On top of that, it would not have been tolerated, because people were in fear of both the laws of God and the laws of man. At that time the laws of man reflected the laws of God. In the United States up through the latter part of last century you simply did not mess with children. And if you did, punishment was swift and sure.

In the days and weeks ahead there will emerge from the news a litany of reasons and excuses for this man’s devilish behavior in wantonly killing so many innocents. Already the groundwork for this is being set: “He’s autistic. He’s a sociopath. There was no father-figure in his life. He was on meds. He hated his mother.” All of this may be true, but what he did was evil nonetheless. Plus there are plenty of people who can say the same things about themselves, but they’re not out killing people because of it.

Any who had a perfect childhood, raise your hand. Okay, there are a few of you, perhaps. But the rest of us can point to plenty of unpleasant things that happened during childhood. This does not mean you become warped and demented, acting like a cold, heartless killer.

Here’s my point in saying that we do not want to admit there is evil in our world. It requires us to look into our own hearts and take inventory. The prophet Jeremiah wrote, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure, who can understand it?”

Bill O’Reilly stated that there is evil in the world and there’s nothing we can do about it. Well, that just isn’t so. God did do something about evil. By sending Jesus into the world to be our Savior, he was sending Jesus into our hearts if we are willing to allow him in. Evil wants to lure us into worse and worse thoughts and behavior. Whereas God’s intent is to change us and conform us into the image of his Son, Jesus.

That’s the hope of Christmas: A heart and life changed by Jesus. It makes all the difference in the world!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A Break from Reality


This past week was special!

         My wife and I had the joy of going to Disneyland with our grandkids where we spent three fun-filled days. It has been twenty-two years since we had last been to this magical place. At that time our daughters were nine and twelve.

         This trip to Southern California actually began a few years ago as a result of our then two-year-old granddaughter, Alyssa Grace, seeing a TV ad for Disney’s, “The Magic Kingdom,” declaring, “I wanna go there!” Her parents together with Isaura and me, promised to take her when she turned five. Patiently she has waited for her fifth birthday, which was just after Thanksgiving last month. True to our promise, we have been preparing this trip for months.

         Isaura and I drove down to Anaheim last Sunday after church, enjoying the uninterrupted time being together. Our two daughters and their families each drove down arriving at the Holiday Inn at Disneyland in the evening. The accommodations were quite nice, with comfortable beds and virtually sound-proof rooms.

         During the planning of this trip I was not convinced that we needed three days at Disneyland. I had been there a number of times in the mid-to-late 60s after my parents and I moved to Los Angeles from Massachusetts. That’s when you could buy a book of tickets for $17.00, if my memory serves me correctly. You remember those tickets, right? They were broken down into specific letter denominations depending on the ride or event, ranked from A to E. An E ticket was the best because you could use that on the Matterhorn bobsled ride. Yet with the addition of the California Adventure park, I was able to see the wisdom in staying for three days.

         Today it’s all different. You buy your ticket into the park and you can go to whatever attraction you desire. The lines are still long, but they seem to move folks through quicker these days. Visiting Disneyland in December is a good idea because the crowds are nothing like the summer months, and the decorations, parades and musical programs are focused on Christmas. The downside is the weather which at this time of year is always a gamble.

         Isaura and I could not get over the precision with which the whole Disneyland experience is handled. The park is amazingly clean, for starters. After each parade or street performance there is a small army of workers to pick up litter. I spoke with a number of employees during my three days and every time I asked a question, from, “Where’s the nearest bathroom?” to “What, where, and when is the Wonder of Color?” I was always greeted with a smile and an offer to be of help. Then add to that the very real statistic that there are on average 40,000 people who visit there in the course of one day! Disneyland employs 8,000 people which means there is a lot of training going on all the time. Whoever is in charge of this is doing a bang-up job!

         Because we had our eleven-month-old grandson Colson with us, I found myself tasked with finding a place to warm up his bottle of milk. I approached the first employee I saw and asked them where I might complete my assigned task. They told me to go to the Baby Care Center, even walking me to the location, insuring that I arrived at the correct spot. I entered amid a half-dozen moms with babies waiting to change diapers or tend to their little ones in some fashion. Several matronly attendants were there to assist, notifying the next mom of an open room for her and her baby. Holding the bottle I explained my need to warm the milk. I was directed into a small kitchen and advised to use the micro-wave, even instructing me as to how long I might want to set the timer. Thirty seconds later I was walking out with warm milk for my little buddy, Colson. As I passed one of the ladies working there, I asked, “How many babies do you get in here in a day?” Her answer, “On average, 1600.” I did some quick math. The park opens at 9:00 AM and closes at 9:00 PM except on weekends when it is open until 10:00 PM. Figuring a twelve-hour day, that would be roughly 130 babies an hour, or just over two babies coming in each minute. I smiled at her in admiration and then baby bottle in hand, made my way back to my family.

         I rode lots of the rides with Alyssa and Brookie, and of course, DeziRay, who at thirteen is ready to climb into most any of the more nerve-rattling rides with whichever one of the adults is willing to venture forth. The Matterhorn is a perennial favorite, but I do enjoy the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, too. There’re some serious G-forces at play as the train makes numerous sharp turns and banking movements. What a kick! It’s just long enough of a ride that my regurgitation factor does not have time to spring a surprise on me.

         Our last evening we positioned ourselves so we could both see and hear the Candlelight Procession and Ceremony which is an annual event retelling the story of “The First Christmas” through song and Scripture. It is performed twice each evening, both times after dark which enhances the effect. A choir of 3500 voices sings while walking down Main Street to the Town Square where they join with the orchestra. The narrator and Scripture reader this night was actor Kurt Russell. The sound of the musicians and the voices of the choir were magnificent. The whole of the Town Square was packed, and yet you could hear a pin drop during the hour-long program. Isaura said it would be worth coming each year just to experience again the beauty of this musical presentation of the birth of Jesus.

         Yes, we were all ready to come home after three days, but what a time we had! Before heading north to the Central Valley and home, we had a birthday lunch for Isaura at the Rainforest CafĂ© in Downtown Disney. Great place!

         Maybe we’ll do it again next year! It sure was nice to have a break from reality.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Slip-n-Slide


It is quite apparent to me that there is a concerted effort to remove all semblances of religion, and specifically the Christian faith, from not only the so-called “public square,” but from our lives as individuals. My wife and I were watching the news this evening, disturbed by a report that the governor of Rhode Island would not call a Christmas tree by its rightful name. Instead, in order to be politically correct, the tree is now referred to as a “holiday tree.”

I suppose there is an argument that such things are trivial, unimportant and not worthy of discussion. But I would disagree. There are so many attempts to eliminate religious symbols, references, and images from our daily lives that it makes my head spin, wondering when the next assault is coming.

The danger is in allowing these attempts to be successful. Incrementally we lose freedoms that were purchased for us by the blood of patriots who fought to defend our “Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic.” We are slipping into a gradual loss of these freedoms, as well as the marginalization of the Constitution to the point where some of our government leaders are declaring it irrelevant. Already there are those who have labeled this most splendid of transcripts as a “living document,” which sounds pretty enough, but it is what underlies it that is troubling. The concept of a “living document,” to those who are Progressives, implies it can be changed to suit the times. That type of thinking is disastrous and will lead our nation to socialism in a hurry. Even a cursory study of the history of European nations during the 20th Century will quickly reveal their slip-n-slide into financial oblivion. This has led them to the economic crises they are all experiencing, and none of these nations seems to have a clue how to find their way out of the mess.

But I digress.

What made the United States a great nation is the blessings of God. Yet today we are steadily rejecting his involvement in our lives as a people. Certainly there are individual Americans who are honoring God with their lives, but as a nation we are disconnecting from the divine.

There is a movement at work in our nation where people are attempting to shed the responsibility of being responsible. Let me explain.

If America is to continue to be the “land of the free and the home of the brave,” we must uphold the laws and principles that are the foundation of our nation. When as a people we push back against those laws and principles we are intentionally fracturing that foundation.

God has certain laws in place which we cannot violate without harming ourselves both as individuals and as a nation. One of the vilest principles we have been seduced into accepting is the wanton destruction of human life through the legalization of abortion. There is no possible way to justify taking the lives of unborn babies without violating God’s basic laws of life. He made us in his image and likeness and it is not for us to destroy his creation regardless of our theological leanings or philosophical persuasions. The numbers of babies “legally” murdered in the United States since Roe v Wade in 1973 is in excess of fifty million. All the wars of America combined with the loss of American lives, including the losses in the Civil War of both Union and Confederate forces may reach nearly 1.5 million. That’s about the same number as the number of abortions performed annually.

Man’s nature being such that he does not want to be told what to do by anyone, including and especially God, there is a natural tendency to rebel against the authority of God. I remember hearing the phrase as a kid, “Laws are made to be broken.” That always seemed a strange phrase to me. To push back against laws which are in place to protect us from each other, is to invite anarchy and the ultimate loss of the very freedoms people thought they were enjoying. To liberalize our laws opens us to no end of trouble. My generation opened a veritable Pandora’s Box with the whole Hippie/Free Love philosophy that literally tore down the moral fabric that once held our nation together. We became immoral, slipping down that slope to debauchery and decadence. What seemed fun, and even the right thing to do, has proven to be a moral disaster.

On the news this week the city council of San Francisco was debating the public nudity laws, replete with protestors stripping off their clothes down to their birthday suits in the council chambers. Do we actually believe we can blatantly disregard the spiritual and moral laws of God and not suffer the consequences of our own actions? It’s a wonder that we engage in debating these immoral activities in the first place. And the list of such behavior goes on.

So, for all of man’s attempts to remove God and his influence from our lives, you can be sure that God is not going anywhere. The question that remains is: What will you do with Him?

Psalm for the Day