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!
 

Psalm for the Day