Marines.Together We Served

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Two Cups of Coffee

Got a minute?

In our high-speed, fast-lane lives, we often forget to enjoy life’s more pleasant moments. Before you rush off to your next appointment, stop and give this story some serious thought.

This past Sunday I shared this story in my sermon. My wife commented on it afterward, encouraging me to share it through my column. Enjoy!

A professor stood before his philosophy class and had some items in front of him. When the class began, he wordlessly picked up a very large and empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls. He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.

The professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls. He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed it was.

The professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else. He asked once more if the jar was full. The students responded with a unanimous "yes."

The professor then produced two cups of coffee from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar effectively filling the empty space between the sand. The students laughed.

"Now," said the professor as the laughter subsided, "
I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life. The golf balls are the important things---God, your family, your children, your health, your friends and your favorite passions---and if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full.

The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, your house and your car.

The sand is everything else---the small stuff.

"If you put the sand into the jar first," he continued, "there is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls. The same goes for life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff you will never have room for the things that are important to you.

"Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Play with your children. Spend time with your parents. Visit with grandparents. Take time to get medical checkups. Take your spouse out to dinner. Play another 18 holes of golf. There will always be time to clean the house and fix the garbage disposal. Take care of the golf balls first---the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand."

One of the students raised her hand and inquired what the coffee represented. The professor smiled. "I'm glad you asked," he said. "It just goes to show you that no matter how full your life may seem, there's always room for a couple of cups of coffee with a friend."

So, what are you doing with your life? What’s really important to you? What are you filling your life with?

If you’re honest with yourself, you’ll have to admit that the things that make your life fulfilling are the relationships you make and keep.

And, hey, when you’re next in town, stop by for a cup of coffee.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Sixteen Again

I’m in love!

No, no, not that! I’m happily married, lo, these past twenty-nine years. I’m talking about old classic automobiles, and, especially “hot rods.”

Growing up in the 50s, I used to attend car shows with my dad. They would display all the latest proto-type cars, many of which were extremely futuristic. But I always wandered over to the hot rods with their white wall tires, chopped bodies, and flames down the side. We’re talking “American Graffiti” here!

This past Saturday, Ripon held its annual “Main Street Days.” This is a slice of Americana not to be missed. The last four years has seen the addition of a car show to the event, and I’ll admit, it is my favorite part. Just walking down the middle of Main Street, from Ripon Elementary to Deegan’s Funeral Home, is a walk down memory lane. I overheard one lady comment that she remembers riding in some of those cars when they were new.

I missed the first two years they had the car show because of my being activated for Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom I & II. Last year was my first chance to experience this renewed love affair with the oldies. I’m talking about 1920s T-Buckets, ’32 Deuce Coupes (my personal favorite), all the way to the ’55, ’56, and especially the ’57 Chevy classic. Lots of chrome; white wall tires; unbelievable paint jobs; huge power plants (hemi engines); loud pipes; did I mention flames?; and fuzzy dice. No, it’s not Heaven, but you can see it from there!

The Chamber of Commerce asked me to be one of the judges for the car show, plus picking out the car to receive the plaque from the Ripon Ministerial Association. As president of the Association I had the following phrase put on the Ministerial plaque: “This car is truly divine.” So, Rev. Glen Shirk, pastor of Ripon Grace and treasurer for the Association, joined me for the walk among the cars. So many beautiful machines! I knew we were going to have a hard time picking a car for our Ministerial plaque because so many cars would be worthy recipients. Then we saw Rick Van Unen’s ’32 hot rod and it was all over. We looked at each other and nodded in agreement. Rick’s car would be our choice.

Rick was standing nearby, not knowing I was one of the judges. He yelled over to me, “Hey Chuck! They say you can’t ever be sixteen again. But after you’ve ridden in this baby, you’ll feel like you’re sixteen again.”

Sounded like both a challenge and an invitation to me. I called Rick on Sunday morning to see if he was available after church to take me for a ride in his hot rod. We met that afternoon and drove all over Ripon, the wind blowing in my hair! To use a more modern phrase today, “It was a rush!”

Rick and I share being former Marines and Vietnam vets. As a tribute to his time in the Corps, Rick had a vanity plate put on his hot rod: NAM 1966.

I have never owned a hot rod. But if I were ever to get one, I’d be looking for something like Rick’s ’32 Deuce.

Did I feel sixteen again after riding in Rick’s car? Oh, yeah! It was truly divine.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Battle Lines Drawn

As I was researching this week on the historical novel I’m writing I ran across a touching, yet tragic story that took place on a Civil War battle field.

It was December of 1862, following the Battle of Fredericksburg. Men assigned to burial details from both the Union and Confederate forces emerged onto the bloody battle field with the grim task of burying their dead. One man from each company of the 8th Ohio came out under a flag of truce to join the Rebels of the 16th Mississippi. When these soldiers returned to their respective camps that evening, it was reported that the men were “full of stories of how they had passed the day . . .,” and all had “parted on good terms and bade one another a sincere goodbye” (The Civil War Infantryman, by Gregory A. Coco, Thomas Publications, 1996).

Here were men-in-arms pitched in feverish battle. Yet they were friends and relatives only a few short months before, many having served in the U.S. military together, now separated in the bloodiest, costliest war in fatalities and injuries our nation has ever experienced (623,000 killed, and 471,000 wounded). The foul business of war, any war, but particularly a civil war, has a long-term effect.

So, recently I was out of town for eleven days on military business when the issue of a psychic coming to our community took center stage. I came home on the weekend for about twenty-four hours before heading back to New Orleans to finish my assignment. Despite doing a funeral for a ninety-three year old saint from my church who had been a missionary in India and a school teacher, plus preaching Sunday morning, I managed to get a quick look at the Ripon Record. I saw the article about the psychic coming as a guest of the Friends of the Ripon Memorial Library. I remember seeing the part about communicating with deceased loved one, and thinking, “When I get back, I’ll need to look into this.” Little did I realize what a fire storm was about to hit our town.

While in New Orleans that week I received phone calls from individuals in the community who were expressing various concerns: The Mayor has cancelled the psychic! The newspaper (Ripon Record) got it all wrong! First Amendment rights are being violated! ad nauseum. Then when I arrived home it seemed like this was the only story on everyone’s mind. I scanned the newspapers in our area, including the Letters to the Editor.

I determined to check with the people involved before I said anything. You see, I know most of the key players in this drama, working with them in various capacities for several years. I am a committee member of the Friends of the Ripon Memorial Library, and have enjoyed a very pleasant working relationship with Brigitte Long, the director. I also know Chuck Winn, Ripon’s Mayor, and have always been impressed with his reasoned approach to solving matters. I serve, or have served on different committees for the city, and am pleased to do so. Then, of course, I know Joe Franscella, the editor of the Ripon Record. We have had an excellent working relationship since I arrived in Ripon in 1998.

So after speaking at some length with these friends, allow me to offer my take on what has happened.
• The Mayor, Chuck Winn, did not cancel the psychic’s speaking engagement. What he did do was act on behalf of the citizenry, believing that using city tax dollars in support of a program that brought someone in to communicate with the dead was inappropriate. The library was certainly free to have the psychic come. The reason she did not come was because the Stockton-San Joaquin County Public Library cancelled it.
• The accusation that the Mayor “threatened” in a phone conversation with the director of the Stockton-San Joaquin County Public Library to withhold funds may or may not have happened. I was not privy to the conversation. What I can say is this: 1) As the elected mayor of our city, the mayor is well within his legal rights to act in accordance with his office. 2) The Mayor cannot arbitrarily make unilateral decisions. He can only recommend to the rest of the City Council, who then must vote yea or nay. And 3) In my dealings with the Mayor he has always demonstrated a calm, thoughtful demeanor. It would be out of character for him to huff and puff in a threatening manner.
• I personally read the news item which the Ripon Record received from the County. It states very explicitly that the psychic was going to “offer attendees a chance to communicate with deceased loved ones.” Joe Franscella did not change or manipulate the article for sensationalistic affect.

One final thought. It was said that evangelical Christian ministers raised an objection to having a psychic come to our community in a public setting to communicate with the dead. Though I was not here when this hit the fan, I would have been one of those who would have objected. Why? Because the Bible gives very clear instruction when it comes to psychics and communicating with the dead. As a Christian and a minister of the Gospel, I take seriously the teaching of God’s word.

Case in point:
• In the book of Deuteronomy chapter 18 verses 10-12, it says, “Let no one be found among you . . . who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord . . .”

As a minister I have an obligation to speak out against such things, and as long as the Lord gives me breath, I will continue to do so.

So, I say, thank you Mr. Mayor for your efforts to protect the inappropriate use of city tax dollars.

Residents of Ripon, please remember that we are neighbors, you and I. Be careful in choosing your battles. For once the battle lines are drawn and the words are spoken we may at some point need to call for a truce to recover the injured, only to walk away realizing we really do care about each other.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Are You a No Man?

It was a year ago this month that the leadership of my church unanimously agreed to engage in the 40 Days of Purpose campaign. I’d heard of it, but it had come along about the time I was being recalled to active duty. I was a bit preoccupied the next two years.

So for the past twelve months we’ve been preparing for this major campaign which draws heavily upon the time and energy of any church leadership. I have some wonderful people who have accepted the challenge to be involved in something bigger than themselves.

Pastor Rick Warren wrote an excellent book entitled, “The Purpose Driven Life.” From this evolved the 40 Days of Purpose campaign. It addresses one major question that every living person has asked at some time in their life: What on earth am I here for?

This is an excellent question, and one that should be seriously considered. Simplistic answers satisfy no one. But this is a question that strikes at the very core of man’s longing. Why am I here? Does it really matter? Does anyone even care?

The atheist, Bertrand Russell, said, “Unless you assume a God, the question of life’s purpose is meaningless.” The Russian novelist, Andrei Bitov, grew up under Communist rule. He had an encounter with God one day while riding the metro in St. Petersburg. His conclusion: “Without God, life makes no sense.”

Many through the ages have endeavored to answer the riddle of man’s existence. Essayist and philosopher, Thomas Carlyle, said, “The man without a purpose is like a ship without a rudder – a waif, a nothing, a no man.”

Interestingly, it was President Abraham Lincoln who made the obvious statement about man’s questioned existence when he said, “Surely God would not have created such a being as a man to exist only for a day! No, no, man was made for immortality.”

So then, why on earth are you here? Can you answer this question satisfactorily? Rick Warren states that man exists for five clear reasons:
1. Worship – You were Planned for God’s Pleasure
2. Fellowship – You were Formed for God’s Family
3. Discipleship – You were Created to Become like Christ
4. Ministry – You were Shaped for Serving God
5. Evangelism – You were Made for a Mission

All of these reasons for our existence are to be experienced in community. That community is God’s church.

Many people distance themselves from God and the church because they have been hurt deeply by someone, or a specific event in their lives. One thing Rick Warren said that rang with me is, “God never wastes a hurt.” What hurts are there in your life that God wants to use, and thereby bring healing to you?

In my seven years as the pastor of the Ripon Free Methodist Church, I cannot remember one time when the church has been this excited about anything. A major part of the 40 Days of Purpose campaign is the development of and involvement in small groups. This is where the community aspect of our reasons for existence comes into focus. The feedback I have been getting throughout the first week has been nothing short of exhilarating. Barely one week into this 40 Day campaign and my wife is already suggesting to me that we plan to do this again next year.

You were not meant to be a “no man.” God created you for a purpose. The primary purpose is to be in relationship with him. He already knows everything about you. He now invites you to get to know him. Care to take the challenge?

Look around. I’m certain there’s a church engaged in the 40 Days of Purpose campaign in your community. If not, they soon will be. Get involved.

You are on course to meet God.