Marines.Together We Served

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Changes

             Here we are on the eve of a New Year – literally. A ritual of sorts takes place each year at this time where well-intentioned people make some sort of promise to themselves, and possibly others, that things in their life are going to be different. Either attitude, action, or perhaps an unkept promise will now see the light of day. We even give it a more authoritative label, as if this were going to make it happen for sure. It’s called a “New Year’s Resolution.”

The sad truth is that such boasts rarely make it into the second week of the New Year, let alone into February.

“But I really mean it this time!” we hear ourselves say. A favorite target for New Year’s Resolutions is the promise of losing extra pounds. “I’ll get one of those memberships at the club, and then I’m going to get up early every morning and work out.” The weight-loss industry in America laughs all the way to the bank, counting on such lame promises from an overweight populace that simply cannot say no to rich, fattening foods.

 Or perhaps you have come to the realization that your attitude is more often than not, shall we say, unpleasant, and you need to do something about it. It may well be affecting your marriage. And your kids are avoiding you because you always seem to be crabby. But, by golly, you’re going to fix it! Right? Yeah, sure. Good luck with that.

Now, your idea of a New Year’s Resolution may be different than the two examples I have given. But here’s my question to you: Just how do you plan to make your resolution work? Hmmm?

Such changes in your life center on your character.

During the Clinton administration, we were exposed to any number of sexual exploits and dalliances the president engaged in either during his governorship of Arkansas, or during his time in the White House. Regardless, it was an embarrassment on us as a nation. There were many of us who questioned the character of this man. Some of his shameless defenders said such drivel as, “Character doesn’t matter.” And this was said with a straight face!

One of life’s truisms is that character does matter.

So what does this have to do with a resolution? Everything! You see, as fallen human beings we are inclined to always fall short of our intended improvements in life. Sin infected the human condition causing us to strive to be better only to find ourselves frustrated with personal effort. The truth is, as creatures made in the image and likeness of God, we are incapable of conquering such challenges in our own strength.

For meaningful, lasting change, which speaks to character, it is God alone who can bring about the desired change. “You mean God cares about whether or not I join a gym? Or whether I can lose 10 pounds by February 1st? Or whether I’m loving toward my spouse and kids?” Yes, God cares very much about such things – and everything else going on in your life, too. And since he made you, he knows exactly how you work best. The only difference is whether you allow him to have control over your life or not.

I would invite you to consider the following invitation from Jesus found in Matthew 11:28-30. I’m using the Amplified Version to show the many ways God calls you to himself so that he can do in you that which you could never do. Ask yourself, “Do I want the change God can bring into my life?”

“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy-laden and overburdened, and I will cause you to rest. [I will ease and relieve and refresh your souls.] Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle (meek) and humble (lowly) in heart, and you will find rest (relief and ease and refreshment and recreation and blessed quiet) for your souls. For My yoke is wholesome (useful, good – not harsh, hard, sharp, or pressing, but comfortable, gracious, and pleasant), and My burden is light and easy to be borne.”

When God has control of your life, he changes your character so when you say you’re going to do a certain task, or make a specific commitment, it’s no longer you trying to make it happen, but God who strengthens you to accomplish his will.

If you’re serious about lasting change that will produce godly character, then surrender your heart and life to him.

I can’t think of a better way to begin the New Year!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Precious Memories

             The number is 67. That’s how many Christmases I have enjoyed. I grant you that I was not quite four months old when I experienced my first Christmas. Who knows what thoughts go through a baby’s mind when flooded with all of the sights, sounds, aromas and titillations of the senses that Christmas brings. Everything seems designed to attract the interest of the onlooker regardless of age.

The first born child is the one destined to indoctrinate the parents in all the joys and wonders of this new phase of life. Those children who follow are just as excited as their elder sibling, except the parents have seen it before.

So when we had our oldest, Laura, in August of 1978, I well remember her face as she simply stared at the Christmas tree, and particularly the low-hanging bulbs. Her little arm reached in a futile attempt to grab the pretty ball. As I enjoyed the moment, it dawned on me that the following year she would be sixteen months old, and we would have to be very diligent in keeping an eye on her.

Our first grandchild was Laura’s little girl, Alyssa. She was just a month old when we celebrated the Christmas of 2007. Our youngest, Jenny, had a little girl, Brooklyne, five months later, followed by a little boy, Colson, in January of 2012. So we’ve enjoyed being observers once again as these precious little ones experience the beauty of Christmas and all the festivities associated with it.

I’m not sure what it is about Christmas time and making cookies, but it certainly is one of my favorite things to do. Our church would have an annual mission’s auction where we would gather together as a congregation and bid on items that folks would bring in, much of which would be a vast array of goodies that were simply impossible to pass up. Not wishing to be outdone, I would make a large batch of cookies which I called, “Pastor Chuck’s World Famous Sugar Cookies.”

When our girls were old enough to hold an egg, we would have family night on Fridays which always included baking cookies. Now with three grandkids we get to do this all over again. Maybe not every Friday night, but we do it when they are here, especially if they are spending the night. I’ve already made ginger bread cookies with Alyssa a couple of weeks ago (delicious, of course). Isaura made a huge batch of cookies with her about a week ago that included bagging them to be given to friends, neighbors, and a host of other folks.

Tomorrow night (December 22nd) both Alyssa and Brookie will be staying overnight at our home which will include . . . baking cookies! It is so much fun to watch these two little ones put on their kitchen aprons, then drag out the step stool so they can reach the counter-top. Then they get all the ingredients out of the frig and cupboards. It takes nearly twice as long to prepare the cookie batter and then bake these yummy treats than if I did it all myself. But I’m reminded that my grandmother used to be very patient with me when we baked together – only she didn’t have a written recipe. It was all in her head (“a pinch of this, a dash of that”) which was called “cooking from scratch.” But I cherish those wonderful times with her.

After mixing all the ingredients together out would come the cookie sheets. The girls carefully measure a daub of dough from the bowl using two spoons, then measuring the spacing on the sheet. If they are sugar cookies then colorful sprinkles are liberally spread over the tops. The girls just love being creative in using the various toppings. The ten minutes of bake time always seems an eternity to them. They can’t wait to see their “creations.” The first cookie removed from the cookie sheet is carefully placed on a small plate and ceremonially presented by Alyssa and Brookie to Meema (my wife) as she is the queen of the home and should be the first honored with such a tasty gift. As you might expect not all of the offerings are as presentable as others, but we don’t care. This is memory time!

I want my grandkids to look back forty years from now during Christmas and smile, remembering the great times we had together baking cookies. My hope for them is that they will have little ones to enjoy at Christmas baking cookies, too!

It’s precious memories like this that make for a Merry Christmas in our home. May you and your family be richly blessed this Christmas!

God bless us, everyone!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Jesus & Me

              The Christian faith is certainly open for criticism and much of it is well deserved. The attitudes and actions of some professing Christians are often at the very least embarrassing, and at worst, hateful and could not be further from being Christ-like.

Here we are with the birthday of Jesus only a week away. What exactly are we celebrating? You might respond, “We’re celebrating his birthday!” Yes, Yes, I know that. My question is, “Why do we celebrate his birth?” This may sound like a strange question coming from someone who is a retired pastor and preacher of the Gospel.

Follow me here. The whole purpose behind Jesus coming into our world was to bring about a change in our status with him. As sinners we have violated God’s eternal laws and are therefore in rebellion against him. The die is cast. My sinfulness has separated me from any meaningful relationship with God. The tragedy is that there’s nothing I can do about it. My sin, my attitude, my willfulness has caused the split with my Heavenly Father. I can’t fix my condition either. No amount of penance, or self-sacrifice, or inflicted flagellation or any other means so instituted can put me in an improved standing with him.

This is why Jesus came. God, in his mercy and grace, reached out to you and me through his son, Jesus. He offers to forgive our sins. This offer of reconciling us to himself comes at a great cost to him – not to us. The cost to receive God’s forgiveness for my sin is really no cost at all. My part is to confess. This is experienced in two steps: First, I must confess that I am a sinner and am hopelessly separated from God. And Second, I must confess that God is the only one who can rescue me from my sinful condition.

Now, the cost to God for my being saved from sin focuses entirely on the sacrificial act of Jesus willingly going to certain death on a Roman cross. Why did he do this? Because the penalty for sin is death. And the sacrifice of blood must be from a perfect victim. That’s Jesus! It certainly is not from me, because my soul, my blood is tainted by the very sin I need to be freed from.

Jesus, the perfect Son of God, fully realized the dilemma each of us faces when it comes to the issue of personal sin and the penalty associated with it. In order for you and me to be reunited with God something quite extraordinary has to occur. Since I can’t pay the price for my own sin, someone greater than me who likewise has the power to bring about my salvation, must step up to pay the price. Otherwise I am totally lost and without hope.

Since I made the confession mentioned above on September 8, 1972 while a sergeant in the Marine Corps, I have discovered that even though my sins are gone because of the blood Jesus shed to make me clean, I am not as yet a perfect man. In fact, I am far from it. Too often the critics of Christians and the Christian faith point out the obvious hypocrisy witnessed in any church on a given Sunday. Those who gather for worship and prayer and the preaching of the Word of God are placing themselves at the feet of Jesus to learn how to be more like him. For some, they are making great strides in becoming more Christ-like. For others, they simply don’t see themselves as needing any real help. And still others could care less. Going to church for them is just one more activity in their busy week.

So when you look at me I want you to remember this: Jesus is perfect. And he has perfectly saved me from my sins. I, on the other hand, am imperfect, flawed severely more than I want to admit. In however many years I have left on this earth, Jesus is in the process of transforming me into his image. For this to be a successful transformation, I have to be willing to allow him to have complete control of my heart, mind, body and soul.

I should be much further along in the maturing process of my walk with Jesus. I should be more patient toward everyone, but particularly toward those I love the most. My temper still ambushes me without warning. The nasty old habit of using foul language threatens to invade my speech once again. And my thoughts at times frighten me.

So, for those who wish to criticize those of us who are Christians, go right ahead. Just know that I, along with so many other followers of Jesus, are wrestling every day in the expectation of drawing just a bit closer to him, fully aware that whatever change for the good that takes place is his doing.

I’m so glad Jesus came two thousand years ago to rescue me from myself. The Apostle Paul said it best in Romans 7:24-25, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

Happy Birthday, Jesus! And thanks for rescuing this sinner.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Simply Jesus

             With Christmas only days away, I thought I might address one of the bedrock beliefs of the Christian faith.

The basic belief held by Christians for two thousand years is that Jesus was born of a virgin. The passage from the Bible that underscores this belief is primarily taken from Matthew 1:18-23. “The birth of Jesus took place like this. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. Before they came to the marriage bed, Joseph discovered she was pregnant. (It was by the Holy Spirit, but he didn’t know that.) Joseph, chagrined but noble, determined to take care of things quietly so Mary would not be disgraced. While he was trying to figure a way out, he had a dream. God’s angel spoke in the dream: “Joseph, son of David, don’t hesitate to get married. Mary’s pregnancy is Spirit-conceived. God’s Holy Spirit has made her pregnant. She will bring a son to birth, and when she does, you, Joseph, will name him Jesus—‘God saves’—because he will save his people from their sins.” This would bring the prophet’s embryonic sermon to full term: Watch for this—a virgin will get pregnant and bear a son; They will name him Immanuel (Hebrew for ‘God is with us’).” (The Message translation of the Bible throughout this article).

The passage from Matthew references another passage from the Prophet Isaiah which foretells this bit of divine prophecy: A girl who is presently a virgin will get pregnant. She’ll bear a son and name him Immanuel (God-With-Us).”

Now here’s where I enter with what I call the “So What Factor.”

The “So What Factor” is the question I ask myself when I’m wrestling with truths, principles and life values. It goes something like this: Does it really matter whether I believe this certain thing or not? If not, then I don’t sweat the details. Let me give you an example. There are Bible scholars and theologians who spend their lives studying the Scriptures in an attempt to determine when Jesus is coming back; or put another way, when the Tribulation will take place; or yet another way, when the Millennium period will begin. The question I then ask is, “Does the answer to any of these theological conundrums really matter, or do they have any effect on my relationship with Jesus? If the answer is No, then I don’t trifle with it further.

In the case of Jesus being virgin born – well now . . . this is a big “So What Factor.” The Savior of the world, the Son of God cannot be just any ordinary two-legged homo sapien. This personage must be of a quality and character that eclipses any other human being who lives, has lived, or will live. It simply would not make sense for salvation to come through someone who is flawed.

So then, how would God present himself to a world that has fallen into a state of chaos and anarchy? What could God possibly say or do that would make an impression on any one of us where we might be inclined to say, “You know, that makes sense.”

Consider the irony of God’s choice in revealing himself to us. God, who is the Eternal One, created everything that exists by speaking it into existence. He is awesomely powerful. He could snuff us out like the flame of a candle. If he were to simply withhold a couple of seconds of oxygen, every last one of us would be dead in moments.

On the other hand, God did not come down on us in a heavy-handed manner breathing threats if we didn’t straighten up and fly right. He did tell us of the blessings if we turned from our wicked ways. And conversely, he spelled out the troubles we would bring upon ourselves if we ignored his council and warnings.

Instead, the most powerful being in all creation chose to present himself to us as a baby, helpless, yet perfect. Only in this way could God identify with us.

This baby would grow to manhood just as we all strive to do. He would endure and tolerate abuse, criticism and insults his whole life. This same Jesus is the one who made each and every one of us. Yet, the Bible in Isaiah 53 says we despised him. “Who believes what we’ve heard and seen? Who would have thought God’s saving power would look like this?  The servant grew up before God—a scrawny seedling, a scrubby plant in a parched field. There was nothing attractive about him, nothing to cause us to take a second look. He was looked down on and passed over, a man who suffered, who knew pain firsthand. One look at him and people turned away. We looked down on him, thought he was scum. But the fact is, it was our pains he carried—our disfigurements, all the things wrong with us. We thought he brought it on himself, that God was punishing him for his own failures. But it was our sins that did that to him, that ripped and tore and crushed him—our sins! He took the punishment, and that made us whole. Through his bruises we get healed. We’re all like sheep who’ve wandered off and gotten lost. We’ve all done our own thing, gone our own way. And God has piled all our sins, everything we’ve done wrong, on him, on him.”

          So where do you stand with Jesus? Have you experienced your sins carried by him to the cross?

          Jesus has to be God in order to take care of the sin problem. I can’t take care of my own sin. Neither can you do a thing about your sin. Only Jesus can do that. This is why I believe in Jesus, the perfect Son of God, my Savior.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Our Constitution

          As Americans we grow up hearing about the United States Constitution. We learn about its formation by the Founding Fathers in school. Those who join the military, or serve in law enforcement, or are elected to public office take an oath to “protect and defend the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic.” The President of the United States actually says something a bit more specific: “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”


The point is this – the Constitution is to be protected. Period. Why? Because the Constitution firmly establishes by law our freedom and rights. All matters private and public fall under the purview of the Constitution. It is this document that gives you and me the protection against authoritarian and dictatorial rule. The writers of the Constitution had lived previously under the extended rule and control of King George III of England. In fact, beginning with King George I in 1714, most of the colonists at the time of the American Revolution in 1775 had lived under one or more of the first three King George’s. These monarchs cared little for the colonists, considering them a nuisance to be tolerated as long as taxes were regularly received from them, thus feeding the avaricious coffers of the British Empire. When the colonists reached an end to their patience with the taxation issue by England, rebellion was in the air.

On December 16, 1773, the Boston Tea Party lit the fuse which brought about the eventual war with England, better known as the American Revolution. There was a cry from the colonists which stated, “No Taxation without Representation!” However, the furor over the shipment of tea to the colonies was not so much an issue over tea being taxed, as it was frustration on the part of the colonists in not being represented fairly before the British Parliament, and perhaps more importantly, the question as to the extent and limits which that same Parliament could impose itself in the lives of the colonists. Ironically, the Tea Act of 1772 actually reduced the tax on tea to the colonists.

The abuse of British rule over the colonies both in extending their heavy-handed approach and their unwillingness to allow fair representation became the cornerstone of our Constitution. We are a Representative Government. Thus one of the two houses of Congress, as written into the Constitution, is the House of Representatives.

What has fascinated me the most is the testimonies of the writers of the Constitution in that none of them believed that they could ever come to any sort of agreement. For instance, Thomas Jefferson was serving as the U.S. Ambassador to France at the time that the Constitutional Convention was meeting to work on the Constitution in 1787. Though he was firmly convinced that no finer assembly of men could be found, he despaired that they nearly quit and disbanded early in the process. George Washington and James Madison both declared that the crafting of the Constitution was a miracle. Neither of these men was given to hyperbole. When they stated that the completion of this document was a miracle, they meant that the hand of divine Providence was overseeing their efforts.

The use of the term “divine Providence” was favored by the Founding Fathers. One definition states that divine Providence is God’s special operation in the lives of those who seek to do his will.”

Three of the Founding Fathers, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and Benjamin Rush, each clearly acknowledged God’s hand in the affairs of state in the formation of the Constitution and thus the nation as a whole. During the Constitutional Convention of 1787 Benjamin Franklin gave God credit for “the frequent instances of a superintending Providence in our favour.”

Benjamin Rush, signer of the Declaration of Independence, ratifier of the Constitution, Surgeon General, “Father of American Medicine,” Treasurer of the U.S. Mint, and “Father of Public Schools under the Constitution,” said, I do not believe that the Constitution was the offspring of inspiration, but I am as satisfied that it is as much the work of a Divine Providence as any of the miracles recorded in the Old and New Testament.”

Two years later in 1789, George Washington was inaugurated as our first president. Later that year he gave a Thanksgiving Proclamation which was more like a prayer, intoning, “Our sincere and humble thanks for... the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war.”

These luminaries sought to do God’s will. A study of the other men involved in the establishment of the Constitution reveals godly character so that the Constitution would unquestionably be written so as to glorify God.

Ours is an amazing heritage!
 

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Seven Years Later

             Seven years ago Isaura and I were anticipating the arrival of our first grandchild. Alyssa Grace was born on November 26, 2007 much to the delight of the entire family.

I remember thinking that we’d be bringing this precious bundle home in a couple of days, only to have those expectations dashed. It seems that Alyssa had inhaled some amniotic fluid, endangering her to pneumonia. We gathered around Laura as they wheeled our granddaughter to the ICN (Intensive Care Nursery). I wrote about this in my article seven years ago: “It is at moments like this that our faith in God becomes critical. We prayed together, placing this little one in the Lord’s hands.”
 
I well remember visiting Alyssa every day in the ICN. I would enter this secure area, scrub my hands thoroughly, don a mask and then settle into a chair by her incubator. The nurse would carefully lift her out of her small sleeping area and hand her to me. I wanted to squeeze her and let her know everything was going to be all right, but she had an IV in her little hand, another in her foot, and various monitors, probes and tubes, all of which made it a challenge to even hold her comfortably. The weather had changed in recent days to more of a wintery feel, so I was wearing my Marine Corps black leather jacket. It had that leather smell still, so I would nestle Alyssa into my arms and snuggle her into my open jacket. She would sleep there peacefully for an hour or two before I would have to surrender her to the nurses for some follow-up examination or another.

After nine days in the ICN the medical staff declared her ready to go home. There was a huge blend of relief and joy. I wrote back then that once released we’d go home and “We’ll make cookies on Friday nights like I did with her mother and auntie. We’ll prepare a family breakfast on Saturday mornings which is still my tradition, to include pancakes, waffles, bacon, an omelet and various other goodies. We’ll make crepes one evening, and perhaps an Orange Julius. Won’t we have fun!”

Well, during the intervening seven years much has happened. Alyssa is a First Grader at Colony Oak Elementary School and has lots of friends. If you are a regular reader of my column then you know Alyssa is becoming quite the little golfer. I pick her up on Fridays when school lets out. We then drive a half mile to the golf club where we have a bite to eat, and then hit some balls before heading for the first tee.

Watching her grow, learning to read, make friends, try new things, and the whole experience of finding out what this world has to offer has been as equally enriching to me as I believe it is to her. She loves going to church, especially on Wednesday nights for the kids program. The pastor who succeeded me has two daughters, Jade and Lillie, little girls that he and his wife Jenny, adopted from China. They are best buds with Alyssa.

Alyssa and her cousin, Brookie (now six and a half), will frequently stay overnight at our home. The evening is not complete unless the girls come to me and say, “Granddaddy, we want you to play Tickle Monster with us!” Well, how can I say no to that? And we still do what I had done with their moms. Friday nights we make something decadent, like chocolate chip cookies. And on Saturday mornings they assist me in putting together a breakfast fit for a king. My home made waffles are a hit, and so are the pancakes. We also cook up bacon, a puffy omelet, juice, fresh fruit and whatever else we can find to enhance the meal. I allow them to dive into my collection of cookie cutters to use in creating their own designs from the pancakes we make. It’s loads of fun!

I know most parents and grandparents go through this emotional phase where they simply cannot imagine life without this little one. That’s me – permanently stuck in that mode. Since Alyssa arrived seven years ago, two more babies were added to our brood. Jenny and hubby Josh had Brooklyn Paige five months after Alyssa, and then Colson Charles three years ago this January. Isaura and I are ready for more of these gifts from God, but it’s not looking very promising at this point. Regardless, we have been blessed beyond measure.

Now that I am retired from both the Navy Reserve and church ministry, and Isaura is retired from her social work with foster kids, we both are spending a lot more time with our grandbabies. Just this morning, Alyssa’s class had an assembly for the school focusing on the theme of Thanksgiving. 
 
Thanksgiving! Yes, it is a wonderful time of the year. But I am thankful every day for God’s gracious gift of life – especially the life he breathed into Alyssa, Brooklyn and Colson. Thank you, Jesus!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Teufelhund

              I was going through a bunch of boxes in the garage last week at my wife’s request, in a sometimes vain, even futile attempt to rid ourselves of so much junk accumulated over 38+ years of marriage. Cleaning the garage and the loft (my “man cave”) are at the top of her “Honey Do List.” The Holidays (read: family and company) are upon us.

Not surprisingly, there are marvelous treasures to uncover. One item in particular was a drawing of a squadron patch of my step father’s Marine Corps squadron during World War II by famed artist, Milton Caniff. United States Marine Corps Aviation Squadron VMSB 932 Unit Insignia, 1941-1946, is of a flying bulldog. The drawing is signed by Mr. Caniff who is best known for his cartoon strip, Steve Canyon.

Marine Squadron VMSB 932 stands for Fixed Wing (V), Marine (M), Scout (S), Bomber (B), 932. As all squadrons are inclined to do, they adopt a mascot/slogan of one kind or another. There are entire books written about the names and history of squadron names and how they acquired the moniker. For VMSB 932, they were called “Teufelhund.” That’s German for “Devil Hound,” but became more popularly known as “Devil Dog,” a title one Marine attributes to another. Milton Caniff’s drawing (and later the patch) has a circled yellow background with a white flying bulldog aiming down as if in the attack mode from the air. The dog’s face is stern and business-like, wearing a spiked collar and a “campaign hat” (think Smokey Bear), used today only by Marine drill instructors and other training officers. To complete the picture, envision this robust dog sprouting yellow-orange wings.

The history of Devil Hound (Teufelhund) is a fascinating one. During World War I, the Marines distinguished themselves at a place called Belleau Wood in France. President Woodrow Wilson was loath to have the United States enter this war, but finally relented in 1917, authorizing the Army to send troops to France. When the Marines arrived, there were French soldiers wearily dragging themselves to the rear (and safety), loudly declaring to the Marines who were marching to the front, “La guerre est finie!” (The war is over). One Marine famously said, “Over? Hell, we just got here!” The first time the Marines found themselves hunkered down in the trenches, one Marine jumped out of the trench and shouted, “Come on, you SOBs, do you want to live forever?” and charged the German lines. Marines swarmed out of the trenches, screaming like banshees as the startled German soldiers looked in shock and fear. They had never seen such a display of reckless warfare before, with many of the enemy soldiers dropping their weapons and running away.

In an article written for the New York Times, June 8, 1918, entitled, “Marines Win Name of Devil Hounds,” with the subtitle, “Germans promptly gave it to them after the first clash on Western Front,” the recruitment of Marines in New York City exploded by 50%. And Congress authorized the Marine Corps to increase their force from 30,000 men to 70,000.

Make no mistake: the Battle of Belleau Wood was bloody and costly in lives lost. But it was the beginning of the end for the Kaiser’s forces leading to the capitulation and surrender long sought for by a war-weary Europe. The loss of Marines killed and wounded was 60%. In simple terms, for every ten Marines going forward to face an entrenched German army, only four survived unscathed. In 1983 I performed the funeral for one of these Belleau Wood Marines who had been shot twice and awoke in a field hospital with one lung missing from mustard gas. He came home and lived a full life, passing away at age 86, outliving two wives!

The article goes on to say, “The German (soldier) has met and named the fighting American Marine. In the past the foe who encountered the prowess of Marines received a mingled impression of wildcats and human cyclones and movements as quick as lightening. When Fritz (a pejorative term for the German enemy) was first introduced to him, he uttered one guttural gasp: ‘Tuefelhunden!’ From now on the ‘Soldiers of the Sea’ (a term used for Marines from their inception) apparently have lost their old-time name of ‘Leathernecks,’ and are to be known as ‘Devil Dogs,’ or ‘Devil Hounds.’ Take your choice. Our Marines are the third fighting unit that has been the subject of the Hun’s (another pejorative) descriptive imagination. The Highlanders of Scotland they called the, ‘Ladies from Hell.’ The ‘Alpine Chasseurs,’ that brave fighting aggregation of Frenchmen, were given the sobriquet of, ‘Blue Devils.’ We Marines are not ashamed of our new special classification.”

I should say not. We wear the title proudly.  

So now you know how the Marines became known as Devil Dogs.

Semper Fi.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Marines - God Love 'em!

              For 239 years the United States Marine Corps has been vigilant when called upon to “fight our countries battles in the air, on land and sea.” Every Marine recruit slugging his way through the rigors and demands of boot camp can tell you the birthday of this elite fighting force – November 10, 1775.

It has been my honor to count myself among the men and women of this storied American fighting unit.

For me it all began when my mother, in 1955, married my step father who had served as a Marine during World War Two. Like so many others after Germany and Japan were defeated and his services were no longer needed, he received his honorable discharge and moved on with his life. I was young and impressionable, without a doubt. But even at a young age I knew Pop had done something very courageous. You see, he did not have to go to war. He was married and well past the age limit. He was certainly physically fit enough, having been captain of his high school football team in Needham, Massachusetts, and then recruited to play for the University of Alabama from 1930-32, just ahead of the legendary Paul “Bear” Bryant.

Early in the war Pop tried to become a Navy pilot, but he had difficulty with depth perception. So, wanting to do his part, he offered himself to the Marines. At that time he was 31 years old. He jokingly would tell us that during boot camp at Parris Island, South Carolina, the other recruits, who were 17 & 18 years old, all called him “Gramps.” Little wonder then that my brother, John, and I joined the Marine Corps, each serving in Vietnam during that long and protracted war. A generation later, John’s son, Josh, would join the Corps and serve multiple tours in Iraq.

Now, some might have the mistaken impression that the Marine Corps is all we talk about when we get together. Not so. But we are each proud to have served our country as Marines. And though none of us is still serving, are uniforms still hang in the closet. John retired as a colonel with 33 years of service. Josh graduated from the Naval Academy and spent nine years in the Corps, turning down a promotion to major, choosing to return to civilian life. And I spent nine years as an enlisted Marine, attaining the rank of staff sergeant. Later I was commissioned as a Navy chaplain, retiring after 34 years of total service, many times assigned to Marine units

This past Thursday, I once again hosted the 5th Annual Marine Corps Birthday Breakfast at Spring Creek Golf & Country Club. Each year I invite a guest speaker as part of the celebration. This year I asked my friend, Colonel Al Cruz, USMC (Ret) to be our guest of honor. As part of the program, I include the Ripon High School JROTC drill units to provide a demonstration of their silent drill, under the capable direction of Lt Col Pat Dunn, U.S. Army, (Ret). We have a birthday cake which is ceremonially cut and served to the oldest and youngest Marine present.

On Friday I drove to Sacramento at the invitation of my friend, Jim Auble, a former enlisted Marine, to attend the annual Marine Corps Birthday Luncheon hosted by the members of the Sutter Club. There is much in the way of fellowship and good cheer as Marines, past and present, share around their respective tables. This is a luncheon strictly for Marines. Steak is on the menu for this event. But my favorite part of this gathering is the time allotted for each Marine to stand and give his or her name, rank, service number, and where and what years they had served. This takes a while as there are about twenty tables of eight. A birthday cake is also cut and served to the oldest and youngest Marine present.

There is one more celebration of the Corps for me, and that’s actually on the birth date of the Corps. My friend, Rick Van Unen (Recon, Vietnam), invites his Marine friends (and those who love them) to his home for a barbeque. This is a much more casual, relaxed affair, but no less significant.

Marines are warriors. They run to the sound of battle. It’s who they are. This is why the slogan, “Once a Marine, always a Marine,” rings true.

Eleanor Roosevelt had it just about right when she said this about Marines. “The Marines I have seen around the world have the cleanest bodies, the filthiest minds, the highest morale, and the lowest morals of any group of animals I have ever seen. Thank God for the United States Marine Corps!”

From that statement you can see why Navy chaplains have such a challenging job when serving with Marines! But we love them!

The following is the official prayer of the Corps, entitled, THE MARINE'S PRAYER.

Almighty Father, whose command is over all and whose love never fails, make me aware of Thy presence and obedient to Thy will. Keep me true to my best self, guarding me against dishonesty in purpose and deed and helping me to live so that I can face my fellow Marines, my loved ones and Thee without shame or fear.

Protect my family. Give me the will to do the work of a Marine and to accept my share of responsibilities with vigor and enthusiasm. Grant me the courage to be proficient in my daily performance.

Keep me loyal and faithful to my superiors and to the duties my country and the Marine Corps have entrusted to me. Make me considerate of those committed to my leadership. Help me to wear my uniform with dignity, and let it remind me daily of the traditions which I must uphold.

If I am inclined to doubt, steady my faith; if I am tempted, make me strong to resist; if I should miss the mark, give me courage to try again.

Guide me with the light of truth and grant me wisdom by which I may understand the answer to my prayer. Amen. 

Happy Birthday, Marines!

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Tanks for the Lift

             A few weeks ago I wrote about a road trip that Isaura and I made to the suburbs of San Antonio, Texas to the town of New Braunfels where we had our annual reunion of Overseas Brats – folks who at one time or another growing up as military kids attended a Department of Defense (DOD) school somewhere around the world. (http://www.overseasbrats.com/) The article was entitled “Brats.” In particular, I wrote about Bobby Murphy and his exploits as a young teenager breaking into a WWII German bunker on a hill overlooking the Oslo (Norway) Fjord.

Another one of the “Brats” (Peggy Reitman) shared an experience she had during her Air Force dad’s tour of duty with MAAG (Military Assistance Advisory Group) in Tokyo, Japan. A MAAG “is a designation for American Military Advisors sent to other countries to assist in the training of conventional armed forces and facilitate military aid. Although numerous MAAG's operated around the world throughout the 1940s-1970's, the most famous MAAG's were those active in Southeast Asia before and during the Vietnam War.”

There was no American operational military base to speak of where Peggy and her folks were in Japan. They lived in the Grand Heights housing for military families located in Tokyo. It was fenced off from the Japanese civilian community, thus affording the American families a modicum of privacy and security. The housing area was overseen by Military Police with the aid of a Japanese security force.

Peggy was in high school in 1960 and had been dating Tom Elliott, also a student attending the DOD school. To Peggy’s delight, her very strict, conservative father actually approved of Tom. Tom’s father worked for Lockheed and had been in Japan for 15 years so Tom had picked up a functional use of the Japanese language.

One evening Tom showed up at Peggy’s house to take her for a ride in his father’s brand spanking new Mercedes Benz. They told her dad they were just going to go for a drive. Peggy said they were planning to park somewhere, something her father would not have tolerated. But he liked Tom, so off they drove in the Mercedes with the clear understanding that Peggy was to be home by 10:00 PM. Not 10:05. Not 10:01. Ten o’clock sharp.

Just outside the gate to housing Tom suggested they pull into a farmer’s field where they could . . . well, you know! This particular farmer was raising corn and the stalks were very tall. The car literally disappeared from view even though “you could have stood on the rear bumper and spit over the fence into the housing area,” as Peggy told me.

One rather telling detail that neither Tom nor Peggy considered was that this was monsoon season in Japan. Torrential rains are a regular occurrence during this time of year. The ground was saturated. The shiny new Mercedes sank over the hub caps with the bottom side of the car lying flat in the mud. Any romantic notions quickly evaporated as they tried to figure out what to do with their immobile chariot. Not quite sure what to do, Tom eventually climbed out and walked over to the gate. He spoke to one of the Japanese security guards, affectionately known as a “Papa San.” He explained their predicament, being sure to mention that this incident needed to be kept from Peggy’s dad – a colonel in the Air Force - who would be extremely upset. The Papa San said he’d help them, and then disappeared.

Well, Tom returned to the car which was still very much hidden in the corn field. Not knowing what manner of vehicle the Papa San would arrive with to extract the helpless car and the hapless couple, they simply sat and waited. Peggy was growing more concerned by the minute as the ten o’clock bewitching hour was creeping closer. All of a sudden, a loud rumbling noise grabbed their attention. They were then startled by a parting of the massive corn stalks, “like the parting of the Red Sea,” Peggy says. A single bright beam of light was aimed directly at them. A behemoth of a vehicle, a Sherman tank in fact, rumbled to a stop just in front of the car. Out from the turret sprang Papa San who grabbed a length of metal chain from the tank and secured the other end to the front bumper of the Mercedes. Peggy says when the tank started to pull the Mercedes free from the mud that the car popped out with a distinctive sucking sound. The time was now 9:40. Not wishing to push their luck any further, they made a hasty retreat back inside the gate.

Once at Peggy’s home they explained to her mom that they were back a bit early to clean some mud from the car. Her mom thought this was fine since they would be out in front of the house and it was still before Peggy’s curfew. Her dad had already gone to bed anyway.

Peggy assures me that her father never knew about this incident, nor did she ever tell him. Tom’s dad, on the other hand, was none too pleased with the treatment his new Mercedes received. However, even though the two families were close friends, Tom’s folks never said anything about this to Peggy’s dad.

But really . . . a Sherman tank?!

Monday, October 27, 2014

For What It's Worth

              It was the middle of the night and I was sound asleep when I heard words of hurt and anger coming from outside our rented condominium: “And don’t come back home!”

This was thirty years ago. I had only recently completed the Navy’s Chaplain Basic Course in Newport, Rhode Island. My first duty station was Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton. We were living in town waiting for a housing to open on the base.

           I have no idea who the unhappy couple was, but one thing was for sure – they didn’t care much at that early morning hour whether anyone heard their domestic squabble or not. This is one of the unfortunate drawbacks of living in condos and apartments. Arguments, shouting matches, knock-down drag-outs are normal fare in such close living quarters, and everyone around gets to share in the experience, whether they want to or not.

          The Mills Brothers sang a song years ago that hit squarely on this issue. One of the lines in the song went like this: “You always hurt the one you love, the one you shouldn’t hurt at all.”

          We all know from experience just how damaging words are, particularly when they are spoken out of anger. Such words cut through the heart slicker than a hot knife through butter. Remember the rhyme we all learned as kids – “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me!”? To this I say, Bull! I would much prefer to “duke it out” with someone than to endure the insults and demeaning comments leveled at me which live on in my heart and soul for the rest of my earthly life.

          Interestingly, when words are aimed at another the damage to that relationship may be irreparable. Such verbal abuse takes residence in the heart of the one receiving the hurtful sayings. The ancient Jews believed that words, once spoken, had a life of their own. Now I don’t know whether such words live on in the biological sense, but they do burrow into the soul, poisoning the person’s character in what has been called more recently, character assassination. I read an article some time ago where scientists believe every sound ever made in the world still exists in our universe. These scientists say that if they could make an instrument which would retrieve all these sounds we could then hear again things we said many years ago. The only trouble is I’m not so sure I would want to hear a lot of what I once said.

          Jesus had some thoughts on all of this in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5:21-22. “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’  But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ (meaning “empty-headed,” or “numbskull”) is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.

          Apart from the dangers associated with engaging in such harmful speech, Jesus equates using ill-advised language on a par with literally murdering a person! Don’t fall into the mistaken idea that such a comparison by Jesus is a bit of hyperbole. Unlike us, he did not fall prey to the use of exaggeration.

          This couple was so angered as to share their emotional outburst with the neighbors in the dark of night. They said things to each other that may well have been beyond repair. She yelled at him, just before he sped off in his car, not to come home again. Whether she meant this or not is irrelevant. The words were said. The damage was done.

          A verse of scripture that has been a help to me in moments when I may want to say something I might regret later, is found in Psalm 141:3. “Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord. Keep watch over the door of my lips.” When my anger is stirred, and I am inclined to speak out harshly, I hold onto this verse as I would a life-line. I need the Lord’s help especially when it comes to what comes out of my mouth.

          In the book of James he writes, With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.
 
          So let me ask you: What’s coming out of your heart and mouth? Words of life? Or words of death?

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Houston: You Have a Problem!


         Last night my daughter, Laura, sent me an article from Facebook. The title of the article definitely caught my attention: “Houston Orders Pastors to Hand Over Sermons on Gays.” My first reaction was, “Oh boy! This is not good.”

I always check the source for a story such as this because there is just too much false information being flung into the airwaves, and in more recent years, the Blogosphere. The news source is credible (Newsmax), so I was confident the story was legit. The next morning I heard that FOX News had picked up the story and would be reporting on it through their radio and TV programing. Sure enough, it was a major story on the FOX evening news.

So, what’s the issue here? Well, the mayor of Houston, Texas has decided she wants to screen the sermons of pastors in the Houston area who say anything against homosexuality, gender identity, or if they even mention the mayor’s name: Annise Parker. You need to know that Ms. Parker is Houston’s first openly gay mayor. Not only is she going after the pastors for their sermons, but she is threatening to put them in jail if they do not comply. “The subpoenas came after pastors protested against Houston’s new nondiscrimination ordinance that the city council passed in June which, among other clauses, related to sexuality and gender identity, would allow men to use the ladies room and vice versa in an effort to protect transgender rights,” the article reported. On top of that, a pastors’ petition was passed around to acquire enough signatures to defeat the nondiscrimination ordinance. To get the petition on the ballot required 17,269 valid signatures. Over 50,000 signatures were gained. But the city attorney ruled more than 30,000 were invalid, thus defeating the petition.

I’m pleased to report that there is a lot of push-back over this, and not just in Houston, but from judicial and watchdog groups who are ever diligent in protecting and preserving our rights as Americans. The Constitution is still in place and remains the Law of the Land.

I would like to propose that Ms. Parker, and anyone else that is uncertain, ignorant (willful or otherwise), or simply too lazy to study the Bill of Rights, that they look closely at the 1st Amendment. James Madison, the drafter of the Bill of Rights, wrote the 1st of the original ten like this:Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

What we are witnessing here in Houston is an attempt on the part of elected officials to intimidate certain constituents who disagree with certain policies perpetrated upon the governed (i.e., the residents of Houston).

As many of you know who have been reading my column for the last twelve years, I am now retired from pulpit ministry. Isaura and I still attend the Ripon Free Methodist Church where I served as senior pastor for 16 years. We now have a fine pastor in Steve Evoy and his family who I believe will be, and already are, a wonderful addition to our community. Up until my last Sunday in the pulpit this past May, I had on occasion mentioned to the congregation that they should not be surprised if they discovered one day that I was in jail. Why would I say such a thing? Because the Bible, which I preach, and which I believe to be God’s infallible Word, speaks directly to the singular problem of the human race: We are sinners. Until that is addressed and taken care of, we fool ourselves into believing we are okay when, in fact, we are at odds with a holy God. And sinners will rail against God, striking out at the messengers. Now that I’m retired from full time ministry, do I believe I’m no longer a target of a misguided bureaucrat (like Ms. Parker) who might want to score some political points by threatening and intimidating preachers of the gospel? No, I do not.

Follow me here – God made a way for you and me to be made holy. But it’s not the way many people think, which usually centers around doing some sort of good works or penance in order to please God and cause him to see that we’re not as bad as all that. Two problems with this philosophy: 1) We are as bad as all that - and worse, and 2) We cannot do a single thing that will convince God to accept us.

This is where Jesus comes in. He is both the Perfect Man and the Perfect God who sacrificed himself for us by dying on the cross for our sins.

Houston, specifically its elected city officials, definitely has a problem. It’s a sin problem. My prayer is that the pastors of that city will stand strong in their preaching so that folks will see clearly their need of Jesus.

And I wouldn’t be surprised if God’s Holy Spirit chose this city to begin a much needed revival which could sweep across the fruited plain. God is not done with America!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

A Day with Ellie


Driving back from Texas gave us the opportunity to visit a friend of many years. Ellie (Eleanor) and Charles McKinney were instant friends when we met them in 1996. Charles was the founding pastor of the New Hope Church in Turlock, California. Isaura and I visited their church one Sunday morning while I was waiting to see where the Lord was going to send me next.

Charles and Eleanor became special friends, and even though Charles went home to be with Jesus about six years ago, we have stayed in touch with Ellie. She and Charles had retired to Albuquerque some years ago to be near their daughter and grandchildren.

When we arrived in Albuquerque last Wednesday evening we took Ellie out for dinner to a local Mexican restaurant. As we sat there catching up on all that has happened since we’d last seen each other, the joy that Ellie brings to life is downright infectious. She can make any situation seem fun. This nonagenarian woman of God is simply refreshing. Charles, though much quieter, also had a tremendous sense of humor. In fact, we have a couple of books he wrote which were a series of comical stories from his 70 years of ministry. Whenever I need a lift, I thumb through several of his stories.

So visiting Ellie was like revisiting all those fun stories. We sat together soaking in story after story which prompted Isaura to say at the close of the evening, “I want to be like her when I get older!”

Here’s a selection of what we heard from Ellie during our short stay in her home.

1.) Charles was in a rehab hospital in Albuquerque shortly before he passed away. Their son, Greg, came to see his mom, and expressed an interest in seeing where his dad died. An elderly lady who was a patient began talking to them and was upset to discover that Charles was gone. She cried out, “Why didn’t someone tell me?” Ellie replied, “It’s okay. He’s gone to be with Jesus.” The lady said, “I don’t care! I liked him!”

2.) We were telling Ellie about my mother passing away earlier this year at age 98. We also told her of a dear lady in our church who had turned 100 this past June, to which Ellie said, “I wouldn’t want to live to be 100 with your fingers curled up and big knuckles, all wrinkled and hunched over!” This comment from a 94 year old who is still blazing a trail through life! Isaura and I were tickled by this evaluation of reaching the century mark.

3.) Ellie volunteers two days a week at the Presbyterian Hospital in Albuquerque. She works at the front desk where she has first contact with patients as they enter the facility. Over the years she has had a wonderful impact on many people just through her faith and positive attitude toward life. She was recently awarded the hospital’s first “Guardian Angel Award.”

4.) A patient came in one day who seemed unsure of why he was there. Trying to help, Ellie asked him, “What doctor are you here to see?” “I don’t know!” he replied. “Well, what department are you looking for?” “I don’t know!” he said again. “What is the physical problem you’re having?” Ellie asked. “I don’t know!” he said yet again. Ellie finally asked him, “Well, do you know where you’re going when you die?” His reply? “Yes! In the grave!”

5.) Charles and Eleanor’s daughter, Pat, had a stillborn baby girl 37 years ago. About a week before he breathed his last, Charles said to his daughter, “When I get to heaven I’ll take care of your little girl.”

6.) A touching story Ellie shared with us was the time her Charles was lying in his hospital bed unable to move or speak. She noticed he had puckered his lips, so she approached his bedside and asked, “Is everything alright? Do you need something?” Again, he puckered his lips. She asked, “Do you want a kiss?” He kept his lips puckered, so she kissed him three times. Then he relaxed and was gone from this world a few days later.

7.) Ellie was seated at Charles’s bedside along with other family members when Charles breathed his last. Eleanor turned to her daughter and son-in-law and asked them, “Do you smell that fragrance?” They answered that they indeed smelled a sweet odor. There was a peace and calm in the room like nothing any of them had experienced before.

          Psalm 116:15, says, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.”

Psalm for the Day