Marines.Together We Served

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Locks of Laughs

I’m sitting on the porch of a beach cabin overlooking the ocean on the southern shore of the Dominican Republic. The evening breeze is comfortable as it blows in from the water. Five palm trees loaded with coconuts are gently swaying in the breeze.

Earlier in the day, Nilda, the Dominican lady who is cooking for us had her young son climb one of the trees to bring down some fresh coconuts for us. This was served along with fried fish, fish soup, a traditional rice dish, and batter-fried bananas. This day at the beach is our reward for working hard all week painting the Free Methodist Church in Santo Domingo, the capital of this island nation.

My church plans short-term mission’s trips every year. When I was appointed to be the pastor of the Ripon church I challenged them to go on annual mission’s trips. They accepted my challenge. Our first two-week trip was to Ethiopia, Africa in the spring of 2002. There we worked in a new medical clinic in the capital of Addis Ababa. We also helped register children in a church run school in the truly remote village of Arbagona (You can’t get there from here!). Our next trip was to Malawi, Africa where we built a church for a Free Methodist congregation in the northern town of Mzuzu. This was all brick and mortar work. Last year we traveled to Tacna, Peru in South America near the Chilean border, where we again helped construct a church.

Our group of sixteen brave souls left Oakland International Airport Sunday, March 19 just before midnight. It was Jet Blue’s “red-eye” to Fort Lauderdale, Florida where we made a connecting flight on Spirit Airlines to Santo Domingo.

More than half our team is on their first mission’s trip. To volunteer for such a trip is pretty involved. You have to have a current passport; you have to pay your own way (anywhere from $1500 to $3000 per person); you need to make sure you are up to date on any shots that the host country may require (I had to get Typhoid, Tetanus, and Yellow Fever updated, as well as get my doctor to authorize me to take Malaria pills – something each member is to take coming to the Dominican); you have to fill out a raft of authorization papers which in turn must be notarized before you can go; and there is of course the obligatory requirements for each person, making each one aware of the responsibility they have to support the team and be a good ambassador for the Lord Jesus as well as for our nation. In addition, some folks take vacation time to go on these trips. This year four married couples came knowing our housing was not adequate to allow couples the luxury of having their own room. In fact, the men’s quarters are a ten minute drive from where the ladies are.

Some of the humorous things that take place on such trips are usually the most memorable. You are probably aware that the Dominican Republic is on the eastern side of the island they share with Haiti. Well, the two peoples are not very fond of each other, and it’s obvious. Haitians are Negroid, and Dominicans are Hispanic. Since the Dominican Republic was once a Spanish colony, and Haiti was a French colony, each country speaks the language of their one-time European colonialists. So the other day we men are leaving our apartment to start our work day when we realize the keys were left back in our room. The security guys for the building are Haitians. Not speaking Spanish, I attempted to communicate with them in my long-unused French. They in turn would convey my message to the apartment manager in Spanish. We went back and forth like this until it was understood and agreed as to what the problem was. It was comical! The owner of the building was the only one with extra keys, and she worked clear on the other side of the city.

Elwood Cooper and I decided we simply had to figure a way to get the door open before our guys were done for the day, knowing they would want to come back to the apartment to shower and get cleaned up for dinner. There was a Mormon church next to the apartment complex, so Elwood went over there to see if he could borrow a ladder, while I attempted to pick the lock with my Leatherman (a multi-tooled device carried on the belt). Though I came close in getting the door to open, Elwood was successful in obtaining the ladder and a piece of PVC pipe. By reaching through the louvered second story window, Elwood snagged his trousers with said PVC pipe from off the chair, thereby managing to get the keys out of the pocket, finally gaining us access to the apartment. Taking pride in the security provided for the apartments, the owner was very interested in knowing how we managed to gain entrance. I thought it prudent not to mention I was trying to pick the lock!

We all found great humor in this event, something that is essential when embarking on mission’s trips. A sense of humor is a must, and you have to expect the unexpected.

We’ll be back on April 2nd with many more had-to-have-been-there stories. In the meantime, I’ll just sit here a while longer enjoying the cool tropical breezes off the coast of the Dominican Republic.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Taming the Tongue

In a few weeks I will be completing a twelve-week sermon series on the book of James. In the third chapter James talks about the trouble the tongue can cause in our lives.

Years ago I read a story about a woman in a small village in France who was known as the town gossip. Her tongue was always wagging about the latest bit of juicy news. Eventually, her conscience began to trouble her so she went to see the priest. She poured out her heart to the kindly old father. After listening to her tale of woe, he said, “My child, this is what I want you to do. Pluck chickens until you have filled a flour sack. Then walk throughout the village tossing the feathers into the air until you have emptied the sack. When you are finished, come back and see me.” Thinking this to be a rather odd request, the woman nonetheless, did as the priest asked. When she went back to see him, he gave her an additional assignment. This time she was to walk throughout the village just as before, only this time she was to pick up all the feathers she had tossed about. Stunned, the woman looked at the priest feeling she had not heard him right. He smiled kindly and assured her he was perfectly serious. The woman replied, “But Father, that would be impossible!” “Exactly!” he replied. Once you lose control of your tongue and speak badly of others, you cannot take it back.”

The amount of heartache that the tongue has caused is known only by God. James is right on the money when he says, “The tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.” How many times have you found yourself saying, “I didn’t mean it” or “Why did I say that?”

As kids we were taught to think first, then speak. This goes right along with the admonitions of Scripture. James says, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” Now that’s wisdom! Just think! If you and I would discipline ourselves in first learning to listen, how much trouble we would avoid. And while you’re listening, I mean really listening, you won’t be occupied with preparing a rebuttal, or waiting for the other person to take a breath so you can jump in. To listen at that level means you would take your time in responding, assuming a response was even necessary. Further, you avoid the emotional trap of reacting too quickly. Instead, by listening well, the initial emotional reaction passes, therefore giving no opportunity for your anger to take over.

With the tongue we are able to “slice and dice” another person. We can harm a person in the very depths of their soul with a simple well-timed word. We Roots men are slow to grow to our full height. We eventually get there – it just takes a while. Anyway, I remember being much shorter than all the other kids as I was growing up – including the girls! The bigger boys used to call me names until the day I decided I wasn’t going to stand for that anymore. After decking the kid who’d been giving me the most trouble, everyone left me alone. But to this day I can still hear the hurtful comments as if it was yesterday. Like you, I heard the old adage, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” That’s utter nonsense! Like the woman in the story who spread the feathers, it was impossible to gather them back. Those words spoken some forty-five years ago are still with me.

Finally, James says, “No man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” Ouch!

So let me ask you. How are you using your tongue? Do you constantly criticize your spouse, or make fun of them in front of others? Do you take time to compliment your employees, thanking them for the job they’re doing, or do you endlessly berate them? Is your child a target of your criticism? Can they do anything right in your eyes? Do you constantly spill out poison, spreading hurt as you walk through your village?

Consider Paul’s words in the book of Ephesians: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Now that’s sound advice! Let no unwholesome talk come out of your mouths. That word “unwholesome,” literally means “rotten.” Be done with rotten talk. Instead, use words that build others up, which in the Greek, literally means to “build a house.” Catch the imagery?

It’s your call – positive or negative – using words that encourage or discourage. If you have trouble with your tongue, that’s okay. You see, God knows, and he’s the best one to help you clean up your act, starting with your tongue. Just ask him, and see what happens!
You’ll like the change!

Monday, March 13, 2006

Know Your Rights

I read a disturbing but not surprising article that said the vast majority of Americans cannot even name the rights listed in the original Bill of Rights. Hmmmm.

So, here’s where we’re going.

First question: How many rights do we presently have according to the Bill of Rights?

Second question: How many rights were Americans originally granted?

Third question: What are these rights called?

First, there are 27 rights. Second, there were originally 10. And third, our rights are called Amendments. These are attached to the Constitution.

Most of the rights in today’s arguments are centered on the original 10, specifically: Amendment 1 - Freedom of Religion, Press, Expression; Amendment 2 - Right to bear Arms; Amendment 3 - Quartering of soldiers; Amendment 4 - Search and Seizure; Amendment 5 - Trial and Punishment, Compensation for Takings; Amendment 6 - Right to speedy trial, confrontation of witnesses; Amendment 7 - Trial by jury in civil cases; Amendment 8 - Cruel and Unusual punishment; Amendment 9 - Construction of Constitution; Amendment 10 - Powers of the States and People.

Okay, that’s the short version, perhaps looking familiar to you from your days in high school Civics Class. If you look through a copy of today’s newspaper you will quickly notice that several stories pertain to these rights. The First Amendment seems to always be in the news. So, what does this amendment say? “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.” Let’s look at the first part of this right: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

Why did our founding fathers feel the need to establish this as a right? And why was it the first amendment? For the answer, you need to understand the strong historical influence of British laws. The primary reason pilgrims left England in the first place was the issue over the freedom to worship as one pleased, which became the greater cause we call “Freedom of Religion.” At that time (the mid-1700s) there was an established Church in England. It has been this way for centuries. Consider John Bunyan, the author of the much beloved classic, “Pilgrims Progress.” Bunyan was a Baptist street preacher in Merry Old England when it was illegal to preach on the streets without being a member of the Church of England. For his crime, he was placed in jail. It was twelve years before he was released when a new king removed the restrictions against Protestants. The year was 1672. It was this sort of state run abuse that our founding fathers sought in protecting a fledgling America.

Today, there are countries where you are expected to be a member of the state run religion. If you are not, then you can plan on being persecuted in any number of ways: you may not own property; you may not work in any government job (including the military); you may not even be allowed to purchase food items in a store; and of course, you may be tortured and/or killed for believing differently from what the state approves. The First Amendment protects us as Americans from such abuse. Each American may worship as they choose. Or they may opt to have no religious belief. People of faith are to be involved in all aspects of life, knowing that by their involvement they affect a positive force.

Consider the words of Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black in an opinion he wrote in 1947: “The ‘establishment of religion’ clause of the First Amendment means at least this: Neither a state nor the Federal Government can set up a church. Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another.”

Simply put, the freedom of religion provided in our First Amendment is to protect you and me as individual citizens from the uninvited and unwelcome pressures of a meddling government.

You may not like what other people worship or believe, but in America it’s each person’s right – a right that is insured and protected through our Constitution.

And it’s the first of your 27 rights.

Is this a great country, or what!

Monday, March 06, 2006

What's That I Hear?

This last week has had some pleasant news amidst the normal gloom and doom.

The governors of two states have had placed before them a bill to ban abortion, except in the case of a woman’s life being endangered.

Governor Mike Rounds (R-South Dakota) signed his state’s anti-abortion bill Monday, and Governor Haley Barbour (R-Mississippi) has said he fully intends to sign his state’s bill as well.

This hideous practice of abortion-on-demand has been a blight on the landscape of America for too long. Many who are opposed to this practice have been intimidated into silence by a very vocal minority, supported by the agreeable complicity of the main stream media (MSM).

Will there be an attempted backlash from those who have profited most – namely the abortion industry and the feminist agenda? Yup! And it will be shrill. Count on it. But, thankfully there are those like Governors Rounds and Barbour who have taken a stand for what is right, knowing they will be lambasted, impugned and otherwise have their character assassinated in the press.

Some will argue a woman’s rights. There are several problems with this argument. First, the rights of the unborn child are ignored. Anybody ever stop to ask the baby in the womb whether they’d appreciate having a chance at life? I suspect the answer would be a resounding “Yes!” In the Bible, the Psalmist David says to God: “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body.”

Second, the baby in the woman’s womb is a human being. Always has been – always will be. Unless of course, we sanction the tampering of DNA between animals and humans. Be very careful when you hear justifications such as, “All in the name of science.” As I recall from reading history, Hitler authorized human experimentation with a virtual carte blanche to his scientists/doctors. The victims in this case were Gypsies, mongoloids, the mentally and physically retarded, Jews, and anyone else who did not fit neatly into the demented Fuhrer’s world view. The unborn baby is not merely a “growth,” or a hunk of protoplasm, or a dog, or some other such nonsense.

Third, a woman has always had the option of aborting a baby if it was a threat to her own life. This was true before Roe v. Wade in 1973. I find it interesting that the dissenting opinion on Roe v. Wade on the Supreme Court was given by Justice William Rehnquist who died last fall while serving as the Chief Justice. In his dissent, he states that though most of the 50 states had restrictions on abortion prior to Roe v. Wade, abortion in special circumstances was always permitted. This, he said, was a precedent going back at least 100 years in our country.

Fourth, abortion conveniently became a means of birth control. With the rise of the 60s “free love,” relationships, unhampered by the constraints of traditional stodgy old values of morality, faced a basic problem: What to do with unwanted pregnancies? Try acting responsibly and commit yourself to the relationship by legalizing it. It’s called marriage. For decades now, we have reaped a terrible price for allowing unrestrained sexual activity.

Fifth, having an unwanted child is worse than abortion. This is nonsense! If the person or couple having the child does not want the child, then don’t punish the child by ending its life. Carry it full term and then put it up for adoption. That would be the mature thing to do. My wife works for a foster child agency and sees plenty of children who are not wanted, abused, and otherwise rejected. The world is not always a pretty place. But killing the unborn child is merely compounding the problem. And I can’t begin to tell you how many people would love to adopt children, but face nearly insurmountable bureaucratic obstacles, often giving up in frustration.

Lastly, there is the argument as to what to do with a child that is not “normal.” This is nothing more than a values concern. The child only has value if it is healthy, or normal. Not according to God. Every single person is of immense value. Our physical or mental frame does not give us worth. God determines the worth of an individual. We would do well to see things as God sees them.

So, what’s that I hear? It’s the sound of people stepping forward to do the right thing. It may not be real loud right now, but as it grows it will become a thunderous roar of approval all across this beloved land. It is also the sound of babies who will be allowed to have life because someone had the courage to say: Enough!