Marines.Together We Served

Monday, September 25, 2006

Stand Down!

Well now, isn’t this a fine kettle of fish!

What I’m referring to is the outrageous personal attacks by two heads of state against President Bush while they were addressing the United Nations General Assembly recently. This is unprecedented. Any semblance of decorum and civility by these two leaders were not only absent from their vituperative attacks, they were clearly premeditated, apparently finding a ready audience in the U.N., which comes as no surprise really.

As is President Bush’s character, he chooses not to get into the personal attack mode with the likes of Iran’s current leader, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Venezuela’s president, Hugo Chavez. Some are critical of President Bush for not meeting with Ahmadinejad personally. Why should he? Iran’s leader has made it clear that he is no longer in control of his faculties. Case in point: He denies the Holocaust ever occurred and continues to call for the elimination of the State of Israel and all Jews. Do you seriously think this is someone you could sit down with over a cup of coffee and have any meaningful discussion?

Make no mistake – Ahmadinejad is a central figure in the Middle East. He holds such a position primarily because he is the loudest voice in the region with no one else able to counter-balance his strident rhetoric. He is a lone voice, barking at the moon. But for all of his talk, he is a dangerous man and should not be dismissed out of hand.

Hugo Chavez, on the other hand, is also dangerous because he controls a lot of oil. And America buys a lot of oil from this South American nation. This fellow is now running around the world befriending all of those nations that are at odds with the United States, not the least of which is Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Whatever backroom shenanigans these two are cooking up, we’d best be on our guard.

What I personally find unsettling in all of this is that no one, or at least no one of note, has denounced the personal attacks against our president. Party politics aside, George Bush is our president. I may have missed it because I’ve been traveling and don’t always stay as current with the news as when I am home, but no one has come to his defense! Are there no politicians willing to defend the Defender of the Free World? Are there no journalists who may yet have some patriotic blood coursing through their veins? Are there no ambassadors to the United Nations who are willing to receive the scorn of lesser men and women and denounce these two leaders from the very same floor of that General Assembly? If not, then I say the United States has, at best, “fair-weather” friends.

Allow me to put this in perspective. First, I will not even dignify the slanderous remarks made by these two leaders against our president by mentioning them in this article. If you are not aware of these remarks berating Mr. Bush, then sleep on. Second, though these world leaders say they have nothing against the American people, they are obviously not as smart as they think they are. America is a nation of laws. As such, we live under a constitutional government. That is to say, we elect our leaders from within the populace. We have free elections, from our local city council members to the President of the United States. In this regard, we are the envy of the world.

Having said this, Messieurs Chavez and Ahmadinejad would do well to remember that it was the registered voters of these United States that willingly voted for George Bush to be our president. So, when they attack our president, they are attacking us.

Let me conclude by speaking directly to these two heads of state:

Dear Sirs: As Americans we will continue to keep the Free World free. We have always been willing to do so, and our men and women in uniform in far off places such as Afghanistan and Iraq are evidence of our continued commitment to fight for, not just our freedom, but all who yearn to be free. Read the plaque at the base of the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost (sic) to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

You are allowed to come to these shores and say what you will about our president in the safety and neutrality of the United Nations – a safety that is afforded to you by us. I do not for a minute believe such a courtesy would be offered to our president were he to be in your country. That is a clear difference between our nations. You may consider this to be a weakness, but only to your peril. Free people are not weak, and we do not appreciate threats leveled against us. So, be very careful what you say.

In the annals of world history, the best either of you can possibly hope for is to be found in some footnote, if that. But the United States of America and her presidents will be remembered for the courage and resolve to maintain freedom for Americans and all who yearn to be free. That could hardly be said of either of you. You may want to reconsider the sort of legacy you wish to leave behind. If you choose to embrace freedom and not tyranny, you are more than welcome at the table of free nations. Otherwise, you will be relegated to the ash-heap of wanna-be’s who flickered on the world stage for a moment, and then were no more.

In the military of the United States, there is a term we use when someone is getting out of line. They are ordered to “Stand Down!” I cannot order you to do anything. But I can strongly recommend that you take heed, and Stand Down! If not, and you continue to attempt to beard the lion, you will have to answer to the nation that defends the free world.

Have a nice day.

Signed, Chuck Roots, a citizen of the United States of America.

Monday, September 18, 2006

And God Was Pleased

My brother, John, gave me a book not long ago which I was not able to get around to reading until recently. The reason for this is that it is a tome. That is to say, it is a large, hardback, 480 page doorstop. The title is, “The Grand Slam.” No, it’s not about how Denny’s Restaurant developed the popular breakfast special of that name. This book is about the greatest golfer of all time, Bobby Jones, and his quest for the “Grand Slam” of golf.

The Grand Slam for men is nearly an impossible act of athletic prowess. Typically, it means the golfer has managed to win, in consecutive order, the four major tournaments in the same calendar year (The Masters, the U.S. Open, the British Open, and the PGA Championship). The tournaments were of different names when Bobby Jones accomplished this in 1930. Tiger Woods won all four in order, but over two years. An argument could certainly be made, and has already been made, that Tiger Woods is the greatest golfer of all time. On his current pace, he has won twelve majors, not to mention having won seven tournaments this year alone, the last five in a row. There will be many who will crown him the new king of golf. Considering what he has accomplished, I would not argue.

One aspect of Bobby Jones is his absolute commitment to integrity on the golf course. You see, in golf, you play against yourself, not another golfer. The game of golf is unique in that you are measured by what you do in hitting your ball. In practically every other game I can think of, you play against an opponent using the same ball, be it a tennis ball, football, baseball, racquetball, basketball, soccer ball, or whatever. The ball is not yours, except during the time you have it under your control. Not so in golf. Each golfer plays his own ball. So in reality, the golfer is not playing against another golfer. He is playing against the golf course.

Now, before you lose interest because you’re not a golfer, hear me out. A golfer is playing his game – alone. He must be disciplined enough to comply fully with the rules of the game. This is another reason why golf is considered a “Gentlemanly Game.” It applies to the ladies too! There are so many rules that it would choke a horse. But if you are going to play the game, you are expected to play by the rules. Other golfers playing with you will expect you to know and abide by those rules.

Bobby Jones was a stickler when it came to obeying the rules and fair play. On more than one occasion he penalized himself for an infraction of the rules. In golf, your quest is to shoot as low a score as possible in order to win. When you are penalized in tournament play, it means you add a stroke, or strokes, depending on the infraction. Jones committed the merest of infractions twice during separate tournaments. Once when he was preparing to hit the ball from some deep grass (called “rough”) his club caused the grass to move which caused the ball to move ever so slightly. No one but Bobby saw it move. He knew the rules. He had committed the infraction. He stopped; motioned for one of the officials to come over, whereupon he told the official to penalize him a stroke. The amazed official did so, though he tried valiantly to dissuade Bobby from being so hard on himself, especially since he was the only one who saw it. Bobby Jones would have none of it. It cost him the match against Walter Hagen, the top professional golfer of the day. The second time was when he was preparing to putt on the green. In lining up his ball, the ball moved, but as before, no one saw it. Jones penalized himself a stroke. This time, however, he won the tournament – the prestigious United States Open Championship.

Many reporters and writers for various publications made a big to-do over Jones’ sportsmanship, humility and strict adherence to the rules of the game. This elicited a severe reaction from Bobby because he felt he had done what was right, living to the standard of the game. He said, “You’d as well praise me for not breaking into banks!”

During another golf tournament, Bobby was playing against a golfer who was very jealous of Bobby and his reputation. He had made it quite clear to anyone who would listen that he intensely disliked Bobby. In a match where they were tied after sixteen holes, Bobby made par on seventeen. His opponent had a six-foot putt for par, but the crowd around the green made a dash to the next hole in anticipation of continued play. Bobby saw that this was disturbing to his opponent, so he conceded the putt. Bobby would wind up losing the match. But as one sports writer, and a close friend, put it, “Of all the championships, I loved him best in that long and losing battle.” Such was the character of Bobby Jones.

In my book, this matter of personal integrity alone makes Bobby Jones the greatest player ever.

I have not been able to determine Jones’ spiritual standing with God from the book, but I couldn’t help but think that when he alone saw the infractions he committed for which he penalized himself, there was Someone else who also saw the ball move. Such moments are played on a far grander stage than a golf course. Bobby Jones did the right thing – and God saw it.

And God was pleased.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Hymns of Faith

In all the years that I’ve been preaching, I had never considered doing a preaching series about the Great Hymns of the Faith. Well, I dove in with both feet, taking a different hymn each Sunday for September thru October.

While attending seminary thirty years ago I remember how much I enjoyed the one class I had on Hymnology (the study of hymns). What intrigued me most were the stories of the people who wrote the hymns. More often than not the hymn was first written as a poem, later to be picked up by a song writer and published.

The question that persisted in my mind was why one hymn would catch on while so many others fell into the pile of anonymity. My findings are hardly scientific, nor am I an expert in this field. But allow me to share with you some of my observations.

 The hymns that become well loved typically have a powerful personal story behind them. The writer of the hymn would have had a life-changing event that is conveyed in the song.

 The tune of the hymn is simple to pick up because the words flow with the tune. Memorization becomes easy, enabling everyone to learn the song.

 And despite the fact that the words in older hymns may be a bit archaic, there’s a certain “something” about the song and its story that resonates in the soul. We can personalize the experience in an esoteric way.

The first hymn I researched was written by Horatio Spafford. This wealthy,
affluent American businessman from Chicago had a succession of misfortunes and tragedies. First, his only son died unexpectedly. About the same time, the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, which destroyed most of that city, also wiped out Spafford’s real estate business. For the next two years in Chicago he worked to help the less fortunate recover from their losses due to the fire. Being a friend of evangelist Dwight L. Moody, he was invited to travel with the evangelist and his entourage to England. Business kept him from leaving right away, so he sent his wife and four daughters ahead. The steamer they were on was involved in a collision on the Atlantic. Hundreds died, including Spafford’s four daughters. His wife alone survived. He sailed to England to comfort his wife in their loss. While passing the location of where the ship had sunk, he experienced a calming of his spirit. When he later saw Moody in London, he said, “It is well.” Only the presence of God could bring peace to a troubled soul after such heartbreak. The hymn he wrote that we sing today is, “It is Well with My Soul.” It begins, “When peace like a river attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows role; whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, It is well, it is well with my soul.”

The second hymn I selected was written by Reverend John Newton. This English preacher, who hailed from London, did not even grow up in church. His mother attempted to teach him about the things of God, but she died when he was quite young. His father was a sea-faring man and soon introduced his son to a seaman’s life. He engaged in the lucrative slave trade, transporting Africans to England and America. On a trip returning home, the ship was ravaged by a horrific storm, causing Newton and all on board to believe they were not going to survive. He prayed and experienced a “great deliverance,” as he put it. He did not immediately leave the slave trade, but made sure the slaves he transported were properly cared for. As he grew in his understanding of God’s love, grace and forgiveness, he realized he could no longer participate in this awful practice of slavery. He studied the Bible, learning Hebrew and Greek, eventually becoming a minister in the Church of England. He preached forcefully against the sin of slavery for the rest of his life. One congregant who sat under his preaching was a man by the name of William Wilberforce. Through the influence of John Newton’s transformed life and powerful preaching, Wilberforce became the lightening rod that brought about the end of slavery in England, and which carried over to America. Some historians believe our own Civil War was brought about sooner due to this one man’s influence. John Newton was so awed by God’s patience in working with him, he once wrote, “My memory is nearly gone, but I remember two things: That I am a great sinner, and that Christ is a great Savior.” This best-loved hymn is, “Amazing Grace.” Of course, you know the first verse. “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found, was blind, but now I see.”

The hymn for this next Sunday was written by Julia Howe. In the early days of the American Civil War she had occasion to visit Union troops in Washington, DC. She heard the soldiers singing a little ditty about John Brown’s Body, the fiery abolitionist. That night her sleep was interrupted by words she was compelled to put to the song of John Brown. What she wrote became, “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” This powerful hymn that is at the same time both patriotic and spiritual, has become a classic. When I used to preach to Marine recruits, I’d always finish the service with this hymn and challenge these hard-chargers to sing this with everything they had. When they got to the chorus, singing, “Glory, Glory! Hallelujah!” they literally would raise the roof! I still get chills down my spine just thinking about that. Wow!

Well, that’s only three of the eight that I’ll be sharing. Stop by a Christian book store and pick up a book on hymns. It’s great fun, and you’ll be blessed

Monday, September 04, 2006

Goodbye to God

In preparation for a sermon recently I ran across an interesting bit of information. I learned something about the word “goodbye.”

Now this got me to thinking. An awful lot of people seem to want to remove all vestiges of God from our society. For a nation built upon the Judeo-Christian scriptures, this would be no small undertaking. Reasonable people would see God-references and accept it as part of life. Unfortunately, there are a lot of unreasonable people who are so doggedly determined to relegate God to the “Once Was” category, that they have lost touch with reality.

Let’s just suppose for a moment that we attempted to rid our nation of anything that smacks of God – anything that makes any reference to the Almighty. What sort of things would we need to erase or eliminate in order to not violate someone’s sensitivities? Let’s make a list, shall we?

 Money – Good place to start. Everyone likes to have money. Everyone wants money. Most everyone works for money. So we’ll need to scrub our money. After all, it does say, “In God We Trust.” Every coin. Every bill.

 Pledge of Allegiance – Big brew-ha-ha over this patriotic declaration. Scrub this too. In the Pledge we intone, “Under God.” Can’t have that anymore. Of course it has always been implied in the Pledge, even though it wasn’t added until 1954 by then President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

 Jewelry – Bet you hadn’t thought about this one! Crosses in particular would be scrubbed, along with WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?) bracelets and other decorative items.

 Bumper Stickers – Think of the impact on this huge, lucrative industry! No more “God Loves You!” pronouncements from the rear bumpers. This, too, must be scrubbed.

 Music – Whoa! Here’s a problem. How would we rid ourselves of “God language” in music? Would Lee Greenwood no longer receive royalties from “God Bless the USA”? And I remember the members of Congress standing on the steps of the Capital Building on 9-11 singing “God Bless America.” Sorry! They have to be scrubbed.

 Geography – Now here’s a massive undertaking! Imagine having to scrub our maps of anything making reference to the divine? Say goodbye to American cities Saint Louis, Saint Petersburg, and Saint Paul. California? No more San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose, Santa Barbara and Los Angeles. The list is endless.

 Oaths – If those wanting to rid our culture of “God” references, then, to be fair, we must eliminate using God and Jesus as swear words, such as “Good God Almighty!” or “Jesus H. Christ!” Good luck scrubbing the potty-mouths out there!

 Language – Most of us don’t realize how many references we make to God, divinity, religious beliefs, and scriptural references every single day. No more “God Bless You” and “I hope to God.” No references to the Bible such as “Going the extra mile” (Matthew 5:41), “He’s a water-walker” (Matthew 14:29), “It’s like manna from heaven” (Exodus 16:31), “It’s a miracle!” (Psalm 77:14), “They nailed him” (Acts 2:23), and “Out of the mouths of babes” (Psalm 8:2), etc. Scrub it.

 Buildings – Travel to our nation’s capital and begin taking note of all the God references on the buildings and monuments, usually chiseled into granite. Even the layout of the capital has a religious significance. For instance, as you walk up the steps to the Capitol Building which houses the Supreme Court you can see near the top of the building a row of the world's law givers and each one is facing one in the middle who is facing forward with a full frontal view — it is Moses and the Ten Commandments!

You must think I’m overplaying this issue. I am not. There are efforts made
continually to remove all references to God wherever it resides. You may be thinking, “That can’t possibly happen in America!” Really? May I remind you that it only took one very determined atheist to have prayer legally removed from our educational system?

With the ongoing criticism of religion and religious groups, such as Jews and “Born Again Christians,” it is not beyond the realm of possibility that a charismatic figure could convince the masses that any references to religion and faith is a bad thing. Then what will you say?

You wouldn’t be able to use the word “goodbye.” That’s right! Goodbye is a contraction of an old English phrase, “God be with ye.” So, you see, no longer will you be allowed to intone this beloved term.

If you can no longer say “God be with you,” then say goodbye to God.