Marines.Together We Served

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

The Reason for Thanksgiving

As a kid I used to wonder why turkey was only prepared during the holidays, Thanksgiving being the holiday of choice for the stuffed bird. Ham seemed to win out during Christmas.

I love turkey, especially the white meat. I guess traditions die slow, painful deaths, but at least today turkey is another food available all year round. Yeah! Even still, there is nothing quite like having the smells of turkey in the oven reminding me of the days when my senses were overwhelmed with the sights, sounds, smells, taste and feel of such glorious gluttony.

History records that the official day for Thanksgiving was established by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. Our nation was in the midst of the worst war of our history, the Civil War. Attempting to somehow bring the nation together, the president authorized the fourth Thursday of November as a national holiday for Thanksgiving. Many states had recognized a day of Thanksgiving dating back to 1621 when our forefathers rejoiced at having endured their first harsh winter in America. They invited the Wampanoag, a local tribe, to join in the feast. Since these native Indians had assisted the colonists in planting, they shared the bounty together.

In 1789 our first president, George Washington, officially recognized Thanksgiving for our new nation.

I also remember how Christmas decorations and sales events appeared the day after Thanksgiving. But did you know that in 1939 President Franklin D. Roosevelt moved Thanksgiving back one week to the third Thursday of November? This lasted for three years before it was returned to its present fourth Thursday. Why did FDR do this? Because he was trying to extend the Christmas shopping season. Some of you will remember that we were slowly emerging from the devastating Depression of 1929. It may appear to have been a blatant attempt at crass commercialism, but it seemed reasonable to the president, and you can hardly blame him for attempting to jump-start our sluggish economy. Of course, World War Two took care of the remaining effects of the Depression.

So I found myself asking the question, “Why have Thanksgiving at all?” I mean, what is the point of giving thanks? To whom? For what?

Well, you might be thinking that I’ve slipped a cog since I’m a preacher of the Gospel. Why would I ask such questions? Simple. The answer has everything to do with why any of us should recognize Thanksgiving.

The giving of thanks implies that there is someone to thank. True, you can express that thanks to some non-descript entity, or ethereal being, or some other deity of your own choosing. But by implication, giving thanks is personally, specifically directed to someone. For instance, if a friend takes me to lunch at my favorite Mexican Restaurant and picks up the tab, I would not then walk out on the sidewalk, lift my hands in the air and proclaim in a loud voice my thanks to whoever might be listening among the gods, or pedestrians passing by for that matter! My friend would no doubt look at me with grave concern for my current mental condition, while all the while wondering why I didn’t simply express my thanks directly to him.

Recognizing that God has blessed the land that produces the crops we harvest, a process many of us living in the heart of the San Joaquin Valley fail to remember, we should turn to Him and offer our thanks just as the Pilgrims did long ago. But more importantly, we should be thankful that God has ultimate control. Nothing takes him by surprise. The harvest may not be so good this year. We are to be thankful anyway. He knows what He’s doing and what He wants to accomplish in the affairs of our fallen race.

The Bible says in I Thessalonians 5:18 that we are to give thanks in all circumstances. This is an act of faith. It doesn’t mean you understand why your crop failed this year, or why an early storm wiped out your plans for a huge harvest. It doesn’t mean you know why your husband has left you for another woman, or why you blew an engine the month after the warranty expired. It doesn’t mean you can even begin to consol your best friend when she miscarried. And it doesn’t mean that God is not there simply because you don’t see Him, sense His presence, or hear His voice.

The reason there is a Thanksgiving is to acknowledge God’s presence despite how you feel, trusting Him regardless of your circumstances. He loves you and desires to draw you to Himself.

Try it. You’ll be glad you did. Oh, and don’t forget to thank Him!

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Constitutional Amendment

I’m more than a little bit interested in the current clamor to repeal the United States Constitution’s position prohibiting foreign-born individuals from running for the highest position in the land – the President of the United States.

Of course, this is all a swirl because of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s meteoric rise in the world of politics through his ascendancy to the governorship of California. He emerged from a veritable menagerie of political hopefuls to defeat then Governor Gray Davis. By most accounts, “The Governator,” as he is affectionately called (a spin-off of the title for his successful trilogy of blockbuster movies, The Terminator), has performed in an exemplary fashion since taking office a year ago.

Schwarzenegger is considered to be a fiscal conservative and a social liberal. Curious then that he was faced almost immediately as governor with the out-of-control attempts by social engineers to force gay marriage upon the people of California who had already voted that this was unacceptable. How would the new governor handle this liberal social issue? To his credit, he backed the law.

Then there was the speech Schwarzenegger gave in support of President Bush’s reelection at the Republican National Convention. No argument. It was a real stem-winder! Think about it! Who else could have invoked the name of former President Richard Nixon and gotten away with it? He attributed his becoming a Republican to Nixon. He says shortly after arriving in the U.S. he couldn’t even speak English, but a German speaking friend he was staying with in 1968 translated the presidential debates between Senator Hubert Humphrey and former Vice-President Richard Nixon. Arnold said his reaction to Humphrey’s policy ideas sounded Socialistic, like what he’d left behind in Austria. But when he heard Nixon, he asked his friend what party Nixon represented. His friend said, “Republican.” Schwarzenegger responded, “Then I’m a Republican!” It brought the house down at the Convention.

Arnold could speak the name of Nixon and not be brutalized in the media, or even shunned by fellow-Republicans, because he was addressing the steps he had taken in the eventual process of becoming a solid American citizen. How do you attack that? So he stood on the platform of the Convention receiving the applause and adulation of his party.

Arnold’s popularity has taken on a new life with a concerted effort to bring about a change in the Constitution by modifying, or eliminating the “natural born citizen” clause. A political group has been formed solely for the purpose of overturning this clause. They are well organized, applying pressure on lawmakers to revisit amending the Constitution. They are currently involved in a bumper sticker campaign – “Amend for Arnold.”

You will hear a lot more on this in the months ahead, especially the closer we get to the presidential election of ‘08. Take a moment to read what the founding fathers wrote in Article 2, Section 1, Clause 5 of the United States Constitution:
"No Person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President; neither shall any Person be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States."

It’s important to know what it would require for such an amendment. Constitutional amendments require passage by two-thirds of both the House and the Senate and then approval by three-fourths of the states. Since California is likely to make this amendment an issue, given that Arnold is our governor, and with the clout that California wields with 55 Electoral College votes, you can be sure that the rest of the nation is watching to see what the Golden State does.

Space does not allow for me to address the differing arguments on this amendment proposal, but I suspect we’ll be hearing a great deal from all quarters of the political spectrum. In fact, this discussion has already begun in earnest on the Internet and talk shows. This discussion will also have intense interest on the world scene. Imagine those immigrating to the U.S. armed with the knowledge that they could possibly become the most powerful person in the world!

I heard on a radio talk show today that the governor has asked that he not be made the issue for amending the Constitution. Good for him. We certainly do not want amendments made based on personality or popularity. I wonder how much momentum there would be to amend if there was no Arnold, who, besides being the governor of the most populated state in the Union with an income that ranks fifth in the world, has enormous star power from his body building days and Hollywood career.

And don’t forget this bit of information – Arnold is a Republican married to a Democrat. And not just any Democrat. Maria Shriver is a Kennedy. This amendment has all the makings of a real strong bid for Arnold to be allowed to run for the presidency in 2008. Mark my words.

I’ve not personally decided where I stand on this. I’m still researching what the founding fathers meant. But I ask you – Is this a great country, or what?

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Chicken Little Died

The presidential election is over. Even hardened news junkies are glad to see this campaign season come to an end.

Reflecting on the rhetoric that has been used and abused the last two years, I’m reminded of the story of Chicken Little. You remember – the little chicken who saw something fall from the sky, made an illogical assumption, panicked, then ran around telling everyone that the sky was falling.

The following are some of the Chicken Little shriekings that we were subjected to during the campaign:

· President Bush talks to God. Oh horrors! Can you imagine, the most powerful man in the world actually says he talks to God! Interesting that a recent poll indicates seven out of ten Americans want their president to be religious. Keep praying, Mr. President!

· Wrong war, wrong place, wrong time. Really? Based upon what? And who attacked who anyway? Right now the bad guys are coming to us in Iraq, and dying in large numbers. Beats having to kill them in our own backyard.

· The tax break is for the wealthiest Americans. Uh, this is simply wrong. The wealthiest among us pay the majority of the taxes. If not, the burden on the middle class would be enormous and impossible. The poor are normally exempt. This is a crass attempt at fomenting class warfare.

· Minorities, particularly blacks, are discouraged from voting. Oh, I see. That’s why the president carried the Catholic vote. He garnered forty-two percent of the Hispanic vote. And twenty-four percent of the Jewish vote. The women’s vote? Huge. Blacks? Major shift for the president.

· The president is dividing the country. Now, hold on. Have you seen the voting results listed by county on the red and blue map of the United States? Amazing! The whole country looks RED (as in Republican). A record turn-out of voters, and the largest winning margin, taking almost every county in the country, and the country is divided? I think not.

· The rest of the world hates us. The truth is – they don’t. It wouldn’t matter if they did. Of greater importance is whether the rest of the world respects us. Ask yourself – “If the rest of the world hates us, why are so many people attempting to come to America?” Hmmmm?

· This administration will bring back the draft. This, too, is not true. It was actually two Democratic Congressmen who proposed this idea about two years ago. It was flatly rejected by the administration. Our “All Volunteer” military is doing just fine.

· The war in Iraq is about “blood for oil.” Sure it is. That’s why the prices of oil have steadily gone up since we took Iraq! The real story is that France, Russia and the United Nations will no longer be able to steal oil from Iraq. We still buy our oil from the countries of the Middle East – at fifty plus dollars a barrel!

The American people have spoken, and spoken loudly, in this election. Values, morals, and doing what is right is more important than placating European nations, pacifying terrorists, or molly-coddling the Liberal Left.

There will always be Chicken Little’s in the world, wailing that we are doomed. I see it entirely differently. I believe God has shown mercy to us by having a strong, God-fearing, resolute leader in the White House.

God has blessed America – again.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

An Encouraging Word

Encouragement is so vitally important in our lives. The effect it has on a person is impossible to measure, but it is clearly evident.

I don’t know if kids still sing, “Home on the Range,” but there is a line in the song that I always found peculiar. “O give me a home, where the buffalo roam, where the deer and the antelope play. Where there seldom is heard, a discouraging word, and the skies are not cloudy all day.” I don’t know who wrote this song, but obviously he was aware of the power of encouragement.

What is the ratio of encouraging words to discouraging words in your life? Perhaps 10:1? 4:1? Or is it the other way around? 1:4? 1:10?

As a pastor, I visit a lot of people. I’m in there homes, I see them in church, I run into them around town. Most of the parents I know are very conscientious in the way they raise their children. But, others have fallen into the trap of using a negative approach to parenting. What I mean is, they are in a constant mode of correcting little Johnny. “Johnny, don’t touch that!” “Johnny, do you want a spanking?” “Johnny, your room is a mess. Clean it up.” “Johnny, can’t you do anything right?” “Johnny, you’ll never amount to anything.” “Johnny, you’re stupid.”

My wife, Isaura, works for a foster family agency, training adults to be foster parents. She loves her job! Unfortunately, most often the children they receive for placement in foster homes are terribly damaged emotionally and psychologically. Prior to working with foster families, Isaura worked in a group home for juvenile boys. These boys, some as young as ten or eleven, would be brought into the group home exhibiting hostility, anger and hatred. Typically, they couldn’t care less about anything or anyone. Let me put it like this: Many of these boys had committed crimes that would have placed them in prison had they been adults.

I remember Isaura telling me of one young teenage boy who was a “Skinhead.” Skinheads have bought into the racist vileness of Hitler’s Naziism. This young lad quickly discerned that my wife was a Christian, and proceeded to call her a foul name. Over the next number of weeks and months, she encouraged him every day. There was always something, however remote, that she could say to encourage him. One day she found him standing in front of the window, staring outside. She asked him if he was okay. He said he was. Then he said these words to her which will forever be in my heart. “If you had been my mother, I would never have had to come to a place like this.”

It is said that King Solomon of Israel was the wisest man to ever live. We certainly see some evidence of this in the Bible. One verse comes to mind, found in Proverbs 12 and verse 25. It says, “An anxious heart weighs a man down, but a kind word cheers him up.”

Each year the month of October is Pastor Appreciation Month, a time in which church congregations have the opportunity to openly express their love and appreciation for their pastor. I have truly been blessed by the folks in my church, many who have gone out of their way to share encouraging words.

One family of nine, which includes seven children, two of which are adopted, gave me a plastic jar filled with post-it notes, thirty-one in all. I was instructed to take one out each day of the month and read it as a word of encouragement. What a priceless treasure! Allow me to share some of them with you.

This is from Daniel, the fourteen-year-old. “Thank you for being a good pastor.” Sixteen-year-old Nathan says, “I like the way you tie in stories in your messages.” Dustin, ten, wrote, “I like how you preach to us.” Jake, the eldest at nineteen, wrote, “Wow! What a singing voice you have.” The middle child, Andrew, twelve, says, “Dear Pastor Chuke (sic), I like how you give me hugs on Sunday.” Eleven-year-old Hannah writes, “Your teachings are really great.” Hannah’s twin, Rachel, writes, “Dear Pastor Chuck, Each time I see you on Sunday I can’t wait till after the sermon, thinking, ‘I’m going to give him a hug!’ But while I’m listening to you preach I can feel a little seed growing every day. And you and God put it there.”

I could go on sharing what the rest of the family wrote, but you get the idea. Do I need encouragement? Of course! And you can bet I’m going to keep every last one of these thirty-one notes.

Do your children hear encouraging words from you? How about the people you work with? Are they glad to have you in the office? Or the clerk at the store? Or the waitress who brings you coffee? Or your aging parent?

Today, decide to be an encourager. It’s lots more fun, and everyone benefits!