Marines.Together We Served

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.”

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Brats

             Bobby was a brat. He was also an eighth grader. The year: sometime in the late ‘60s. The place: Oslo, Norway.

Being the mischievous type, Bobby and his buddies decided they wanted to investigate an old German bunker situated atop a hill overlooking the Oslo Fjord in Norway. The door into the bunker was locked with steel bars. They had to figure a way to blow the door off. No problem! Copious amounts of gunpowder should do the trick. After all, there were potentially wonderful things to be discovered inside. Who knew what Nazi paraphernalia might be just lying there waiting for some curious teenager to discover.

Well, Bobby and pals lit the fuse and Boom! The door sailed out the opening of the bunker allowing the young scamps to wander into the long-enclosed bunker. The interior of the bunker was much larger than they had realized with one room revealing large maps of various parts of planet earth. In the process of enjoying their discovery, alarms went off, accompanied by Danish soldiers who were part of the United Nations security force for this particular bunker which was part of the NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) defense system. “NATO is an intergovernmental military alliance based on the North Atlantic Treaty which was signed on 4 April 1949. The organization constitutes a system of collective defense whereby its member states agree to mutual defense in response to an attack by any external party” (read: Russia).

So the boys are standing there in the bunker with these Danish soldiers pointing their rifles at them. The general in charge of this NATO facility comes in and the boys are interrogated at length. The general is British and gives the boys a severe tongue lashing before releasing them to their fathers.

Bobby, dutifully chastened by this time, knows he’s in for it. He sits quietly in his father’s car as they drive home. Knowing he’s probably not going to see another sunrise, he finally asks his dad as they arrive home, “Well, what are you going to do to punish me, dad?” His dad, an Army special forces senior NCO turned to him and said, “Nothing.” Dumbfounded, Bobby says, “Nothing? You’re not going to punish me?” “No,” dad says. “Well why not?” asks Bobby. “Because,” his dad said, “I’ve been trying for a long time to convince these fools that they need to beef up their security.” “But the general was really mad!” Bobby replied. “Yes, he was. But, son, do you think he’s going to write a report about this where he would have to admit that some thirteen year old boys broke into a NATO bunker? Not on your life!”

This story was shared by Bobby Murphy last week when Isaura and I were attending the 28th Annual Overseas Brats Reunion in New Braunfels, Texas. He had us practically rolling on the floor in laughter with the telling of this escapade.

Overseas Brats are, by definition, folks who at some point in their lives attended a DOD school (Department of Defense) somewhere around the globe while growing up. Most of these folks were the children of at least one career military parent. Occasionally, as in my case, you were civilians living in a foreign country because your dad worked for an American corporation. We would be allowed to attend the school, which in my case along with my sister Joy, was the Oslo American School (OAS). Our brother, John, being older, attended Dreux (pronounced: drew) Air Force Base in France for his senior year in high school.

Every year for the past 28 years since the organization of Brats was formed, folks have been gathering to reconnect, sharing a special bond that is unique to the military brat. Interestingly, but not surprisingly, many of these brats grow up to be career military people themselves. For instance, Bobby Murphy retired as an Army Ranger. Bart Bartlett retired as an Army colonel. Pat Cavanaugh retired as an Army major general. And I retired as a Navy captain. There are many others, but you get the idea.

One of the unique aspects of Brats is they are pretty good at laughing at themselves. They know their life experience growing up is very different from kids in America. They can usually expect to experience at least six to ten moves by the time they graduate from high school. Friends are made quickly when you arrive at your next duty station because you know the likelihood of being together more than two years is remote. Oddly enough, those friendships tend to last. That’s why it is such an uplifting experience to get together again with other Brats.

So for you Military Brats out there, get connected with us and reunite with old friends. http://www.overseasbrats.com/

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Rain

         Rain! Glorious rain!

Those of us who live in the Central Valley of California, geographically known as the San Joaquin Valley, enjoy the abundance of farming that the Valley is best known for. However, the past couple of winters have produced little to no rain, placing our state in a perilous condition. We rely on a significant wet season to replenish the snow pack in the Sierra Nevada mountain range, along with our innumerable dams. “There are over 1,400 named dams, and 1,300 named reservoirs in the state of California.”

Now, for some of you reading this article you may be thinking, “What’s the big deal? So you haven’t had a lot of rain – you obviously still have water – right?” This is true. However, the levels of the dams in our region of California from which we draw our water and power are perilously low. One of the complaints that you will frequently hear is the need for more dams to be built. This may be true, but it does cause me to stop and consider: Do we really need more dams when the state has 1,400 of them, plus 1,300 reservoirs? The answer may well be yes. I’ll leave that to the experts. Another part of the argument centers on the need for new dams. You will often hear the complaint that we haven’t built a new dam since the 1970s (this is not true). This always sounds like a legitimate argument, and it may well be. But what leads to this thinking is the contentious debate over the proper use of the water that we have.

Our home backs one of the major rivers that runs through the Central Valley – the Stanislaus River. There are days-on-end when the level of the river is at its highest point. The reasons given for this, when we are in the midst of one of the worst draughts we’ve had in decades, usually revolve around 1) the aforementioned reservoir/dam issue, 2) politicians in Sacramento (a favorite target for complaint, deserved or otherwise), 3) saving certain fish from extinction, 4) preventing the encroachment of saltwater inland, and 5) certain farmers/growers use too much water anyway. Blood pressure and tempers tend to spike over these endless arguments. One thing is for certain: the Central Valley desperately needs water this winter.

The Central Valley, “the land of a billion vegetables,” covers a distance of around 450 miles running northwest to southeast, from Sacramento to Bakersfield, safely sandwiched between a coastal range of low mountains to the west and the Sierra Nevada Mountains to the east, roughly 40-60 miles wide. This geographical area covers 22,500 square miles. To drive through the Valley is to witness some of the most productive, yet diverse agricultural area anywhere in the world. “The valley became widely known in the 1920s and 1930s, when farmers arrived from Virginia or Armenia or Italy or (like Tom Joad, [John Steinbeck’s, “The Grapes of Wrath”]) Oklahoma and wrote home about the clean air, plentiful water and cheap land. Now the valley yields a third of all the produce grown in the United States. Unlike the Midwest, which concentrates (devastatingly) on corn and soybeans, more than 230 crops are grown in the valley, including those indigenous to South Asia, Southeast Asia and Mexico, some of which have no names in English. At another large farm, I saw melons, lettuce, asparagus, cabbage, broccoli, chard, collards, prickly pears, almonds, pistachios, grapes and more tomatoes than anyone could conceive of in one place (The valley is the largest supplier of canned tomatoes in the world too.)” (New York Times Magazine, “Everyone Eats There,” Mark Bittman, October 10, 2012).

So, without overstating the obvious, rain is essential for this area not only for California, but for the nation and the world. Ripon, where we live, has the best conditions in the world for growing almonds. Yet the largest market for almonds is Asia and India.

Despite the rancor over the need and use of water for the valley that swirls in the corridors of the capitol in Sacramento, we haven’t learned to create water. So perhaps we should take the matter of humbling ourselves before God, imploring him to provide us with the required amounts of water, “the elixir of life,” and focus our attention on the Creator who ultimately causes everything to grow.

Here in our area we’ve had rain twice in the past 48 hours. I trust this is a positive harbinger of a winter of rain to come. Despite the fact that it interrupted, and ultimately canceled a golf tournament I was in, it was glorious to experience the sensation of rain.

It has been said that when you pray for rain, carry an umbrella.

Amen.

Psalm for the Day