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Thursday, December 20, 2007
Real and Imagined
In recent years we have had the Jesus Seminar, the wildly popular Da Vinci Code (both book and movie), The Gospel of Judas, The Gospel of Thomas, etc, ad nausea. Questioning the Christian faith has become a pastime for some, and for others it is their mission in life. For my part, I welcome their scrutiny. The problem with such scrutiny is that it so frequently fails the test of credibility. Instead of producing facts to attack the very nexus, the core beliefs of Christianity, they grab on to hypothetical postulation, or as in the case of the Da Vinci Code, the tantalizing world of conspiracy theories. In every case, the element of the miraculous is ruled out, quite intentionally it would seem.
The headlines this season trumpet loudly that the leader of the Anglican Church, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Rev. Dr. Rowan Williams, has stated that the Christmas Story of Christ born in a manger is the stuff of “legend.” For example, he says there were not three magi (wise men) who came to the manger the night Jesus was born. In this he is correct. In fact, we do not know how many magi there were. The Bible says they came bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Another fact – the magi were not at the stable in Bethlehem. The Bible says they showed up nearly two years after the birth of Jesus! When they arrived they made a courtesy call on the King of Israel, Herod the Great. Herod became fearful that his rule might be usurped by this boy-child Jesus. After determining where this child should be based upon Biblical prophecy concerning the Christ, the magi went on their way to Nazareth where they found the child (no longer a baby) at home with his mother. In the mean time, Herod called out his soldiers and ordered them to kill every boy child two years of age and younger throughout Israel. This was one paranoid king! You can read this for yourself in the second chapter of Matthew’s gospel. The truth is, we don’t know who these magi were, or even where they were from. In any event, they were late for the birth of Christ.
Other comments made by the good Archbishop: 1) “There was no evidence that there were any oxen or asses in the stable.” This too is correct. The Bible doesn’t say or even suggest that there were such critters present. The likelihood that Joseph and Mary would have been squeezed into a stall with a cow or some other domestic creature is not plausible. It is more reasonable to believe that the stable was available because there were now critters inside. You will find this in the second chapter of Luke’s gospel. 2) “The chances of any snow falling around the stable in Bethlehem were very unlikely.” Once again, true. The Bible doesn’t say or suggest that there was snow. The elevation of Bethlehem is 2510 feet above sea level. The temperatures from November to March average 33-55 degrees Fahrenheit. Though this would be cold enough for snow on certain occasions, the Bible makes no mention of snow on the night Christ was born. 3) As for the star rising and standing still: the Archbishop pointed out that “stars just don’t behave like that.” Also true. But this was no ordinary star. God may well have created this star for this singular purpose. Just as I believe God created the large fish that swallowed and then latter vomited Jonah. There is no mention in the Bible of this having been a whale. A whale doesn’t have a large enough esophagus to swallow a grown man anyway. So it probably is with the star over Bethlehem. There’s another story that has a similar skepticism attached to it. In the Book of Joshua, chapter ten, the Israelites are battling the Amorites. Joshua calls out to the Lord in the presence of the Israelites, “‘O sun, stand still over Gibeon . . .’ So the sun stood still . . . till the nation avenged itself on its enemies.” Joshua then writes, “There has never been a day like it before or since.” Even he knew this was clearly out of the ordinary, and said so.
Another issue raised by the Archbishop had to do with whether Mary was a virgin when she bore Jesus. This is a no brainer. The words of prophecy regarding the virgin birth are found in Isaiah 7:14. In this passage God challenges King Ahaz to test him with something so outrageously impossible that all men would know God had done it. The King refused. So God made his own improbable, impossible challenge. “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” This prophecy regarding the birth of the Christ occurred about 700 years before Jesus was born. Matthew and Luke make a point of mentioning Mary’s virginity in their gospel accounts. Must have been important, don’t you think?
The Hallmark Card Company has made a fortune on Christmas cards depicting many incorrect images about the birth of Christ. Song and hymn writers have taken license to write their tunes portraying a scene that was most likely inaccurate. I really don’t have a problem with that.
Here’s what we do know based upon the Bible, God’s Word: Jesus was born sometime two thousand years ago, in a stable, in Bethlehem. He grew to be a man who would then die on a Roman cross for our sins, rising again on the third day, conquering both sin and death. Millions upon millions of Christian believers have embraced this truth, and many of those have died a martyr’s death, refusing to recant their beliefs.
Until someone can disprove this cornerstone of the Christian faith, I’ll go right on celebrating the greatest story ever told.
Monday, December 17, 2007
Bravo for Congressman Steve King!
Last week, this Iowa legislator introduced House Resolution 847, officially recognizing Christmas. When I first heard this as a news report, I thought, “What’s the big deal?” The House of Representatives overwhelmingly voted in favor of the resolution recognizing the importance of Christmas to Christians, 372-9 with 10 voting “Present” and 40 Members of the House choosing not to vote at all.
Again, I thought, “So what?” Well, as I read more about this story, I discovered that the House Members who voted against the resolution recognizing Christmas as an important celebration for Christians, had no problem a few months ago voting to recognize the importance of the month of Ramadan for Muslims. Earlier this year there was another resolution simply to acknowledge Hinduism and Islam as great religions of the world. These resolutions were voted on at the time of their religion’s major celebrations. I have no problem with this, nor do I think Americans across the nation would have any objection. Ours is a nation that embraces all peoples and beliefs. It is one of our strengths. It also has the potential for being a weakness. In what way can it be a weakness? Here’s how I see it: If we do not recognize and respect the beliefs of others, we fall prey to rejecting some, while accepting others.
What occurred on the floor of the House of Representatives last week was clearly an effort on the part of some of our duly elected representatives to denigrate and marginalize the Christian faith. Make no mistake – this was intentional. Had these same representatives voted against the earlier resolutions recognizing Hinduism and Islam, I would not be making this argument.
There are, by law, 435 members in the House of Representatives. Of these, nine voted against H.R. 847, 10 were present but did not vote “yea” or “nay,” and forty chose not to vote. That’s 59 representatives from across America who have failed to recognize the history of the nation and its people whom they serve. Only those who refuse to accept the truth of history would suggest that America was formed on any other basis than the Christian faith. Noted American historian, Benjamin Franklin Morris (1810-1867), wrote in his work, The Christian Life and Character of the Civil Institutions of the United States. "This is a Christian nation, first in name, and secondly because of the many and mighty elements of a pure Christianity which have given it character and shaped its destiny from the beginning. It is preeminently the land of the Bible, of the Christian Church, and of the Christian Sabbath . . . . The chief security and glory of the United States of America has been, is now, and will be forever, the prevalence and dominion of the Christian Faith". Our legislators would do well to revisit their American history.
The following is the gist of H.R. 847. There were the obligatory “Whereas’” leading up to this final summation of the resolution.
Whereas many Christians and non-Christians throughout the United States and the rest of the world, celebrate Christmas as a time to serve others: Now, therefore be it Resolved, that the House of Representatives –
1. recognizes the Christian faith as one of the great religions of the world;
2. expresses continued support for Christians in the United States and worldwide;
3. acknowledges the international religious and historical importance of Christmas and the Christian faith;
4. acknowledges and supports the role played by Christians and Christianity in the founding of the United States and in the formation of the western civilization;
5. rejects bigotry and persecution directed against Christians, both in the United States and worldwide; and
6. expresses its deepest respect to American Christians and Christians throughout the world.
Perhaps without realizing it, Congress has helped establish the Christian faith in a manner that has never been done before by giving it official recognition. Perhaps Congressman King understood this. If so I would say, “Well done.”
Monday, December 10, 2007
As a Christian, the celebration of the birth of Jesus the Christ is very significant. The Christian message is, after all, the acknowledgement of God’s fulfillment of his promise to provide the human race with a Savior. It is the singular moment in history when God steps onto the world’s stage and offers to be the sacrifice for our sin. Imagine that!
Why is there such strident offense toward the Christian faith when it is simply the story of God’s love for fallen man? It speaks of grace, compassion, forgiveness, restoration, belonging, and redemption. What could possibly be offensive in this?
Is there any person alive today who would deny that we humans are far from perfect? One look at the morning paper and whatever dream world a person lives in is shattered. When it comes to doing the right thing, standing up for beliefs and convictions, defending those who are weak and defenseless, addressing the injustices of the world, holding people accountable for their actions, and protecting the freedoms and values entrusted to us, we fall way short. All of these issues and a lot more are confronted in the Bible.
Then there is the matter of what we think. It is in this arena alone that I was convinced that I needed Jesus Christ in my life. My own thoughts were more troubling to me than anything else. Part of my prayer in accepting Jesus as my Savior was asking him to take control of my thought life – particularly my volatile temper, which I was convinced would get me into serious trouble one day. My mind would wander into paths that startled me, causing me to stop and ask the question, “Why was I thinking that?” At other times I would be downright frightened by the ferocity of my thoughts. I was not raised to think this way. In our family we were taught by example to treat everyone with dignity and respect; to think well of others; and to give folks the benefit of the doubt. So why then did these uninvited thoughts seduce my thinking? Only after I began to study the Bible did I discover that God had very specific things to say about our thought life. The good news is that God can and will cleanse that part of our lives as well.
It was in 1972 that I accepted Christ as my Savior. I was then a sergeant in the Marine Corps. I was so excited about this new relationship with the Lord that I would tell my fellow Marines about it. Many were intrigued since they now saw a definite change in me. Others wanted nothing to do with it. I wasn’t trying to convert anyone. I only shared the best thing that ever happened in my life. I was forgiven of my sin! That’s not just good news – that’s great news!
I’ve heard it described this way in sharing our faith in Jesus: I’m one beggar telling another beggar where the bread is. Let me put it another way: If I believe that I have truly found the answer for man’s problem with sin, would you expect me to keep it to myself? By the same token, if you have a different religious belief and are convinced of it, then I would expect you to say something to me if you care about me as a friend and fellow human being.
The stakes are high. The Bible teaches that man is going to spend eternity in one of two places – heaven or hell. To be silent about my faith in light of the eternal consequences would be criminal on my part. To utter no word of God’s love and forgiveness would reveal my own lack of love for either God or man. In essence I would be saying that I do not care where you spend eternity.
It is for these reasons that Christmas is of particular importance to me. I do care where you will spend eternity. So, if we should meet on the street this Christmas season, and I greet you with “Merry Christmas,” just know that it is because I want you to know Jesus, the one whose birthday we celebrate, the one who came to save us.
Monday, December 03, 2007
Ain't it Grand!
The delivery was at the Family Birthing Center, connected to Memorial Hospital in Modesto, California. Even though the distance from our home is about twelve miles, it takes a half-hour to get there. This was not a problem because we would be bringing mother and baby home in a day or two. Not so fast!
Though the birth went well, and mother and baby were enjoying those initial moments of bonding, the medical staff expressed some concern early on that Alyssa might have a problem in one of her lungs. So, with reluctance on the part of both parties, the nurses took our granddaughter to the Intensive Care Nursery (ICN). This left us sitting in Laura’s hospital room looking at each other wondering what was happening. It is at moments like this that our faith in God becomes critical. We prayed together, placing this little one in the Lord’s hands.
Over the next several hours we contacted family to inform them of the situation as we knew it. We also notified our church’s prayer chain. I also e-mailed a Navy chaplain friend who sends out an e-mail prayer list to selected “prayer warriors.” On top of that, I was to attend two military meetings that same week: one in New Orleans, and the other in Pensacola, Florida. I notified my Marine commanding general that I would not be able to attend his conference. His response: “No worries about missing the conference. You are right where you need to be and right where I would prefer you to be. All the best to Laura and Alyssa Grace. Will look forward to more good reports about them. Congratulations to all.” I also received an e-mail from the command chaplain heading up the other meeting I was to attend. He wrote: “Our prayers are with you, Isaura, Laura, Alyssa Grace and your whole family in this time of both joy and concern.” We were heartened by these words of encouragement, and by many other notes and e-mails of prayer support.
Laura spent four days in the hospital before being released to go home. She has been driving to the hospital every day to hold her baby, providing her the essential sustenance of mother’s milk. It’s hard for her to leave Alyssa each time, but she has handled this challenge with dignity and grace. Perhaps the most difficult part of this is seeing Alyssa Grace hooked up to various monitors. She has an IV in her left hand which is all taped up so she doesn’t rip it out. Then there are the electrodes attached to her tiny chest since her problem is associated with breathing. There’s also another probe attached to her foot. So holding her is a bit challenging!
As I sit watching my daughter hold her daughter, I find my eyes continuously straying to the monitor screen that shows the current heart rate, respiration, and oxygen flow. There are soft, colored, blinking lights, as well as various beeping alarms when something is amiss. Alyssa has had company this past week in the ICN, since many babies are born with an assortment of complications. I have also observed the amazing level of care provided by the doctors and nurses for these little ones who are starting out life with uphill challenges.
I’m pleased to report that Alyssa Grace is progressing very well. She has a voracious appetite which is definitely a good sign. But as I watch her sleeping contentedly in her mother’s arms, I’m reminded of that Bible verse that says,
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.
Each day I drive to the hospital and spend time just holding this small, precious bundle that is my granddaughter. The weather has become quite cold, so I’ve been wearing my black leather Marine Corps jacket. As I sit with her in my arms, I pull my jacket around her cocoon-fashion. I look at that face with its chubby cheeks, curious eyes, and cleft chin, and I am speechless. Fearfully and wonderfully made indeed! And I’m her Grandfather!
By the time you read this, Alyssa Grace may well be home. The doctor told us this morning that she is steadily improving and will soon be released. I can’t wait! We’ll make cookies on Friday nights like I did with her mother and auntie. And we’ll prepare a family breakfast on Saturday mornings which is still my tradition, to include pancakes, waffles, bacon, an omelet and various other goodies. We’ll make crepes one evening, and perhaps an Orange Julius. Won’t we have fun!
Did I mention that our other daughter, Jenny and hubby Josh, are expecting their first child, a girl, in April? Another girl for granddaddy to play with and shamelessly spoil!
Ain’t it grand!
Monday, November 26, 2007
What Price Freedom?
As I reflect on the War on Terrorism, I am somewhat mirthful when reading or listening to the news reports and to politicos. Consider, if you will, that the surge in Iraq is not only effective, it has truly changed the course of the war, thus challenging the positions held by those who have invested in our defeat. They now find themselves at odds with the American people who have no interest in seeing our military embarrassed by bringing them home before finishing the job.
When will this war be over? This is a valid question, but it is also a question that cannot be answered until we have completed the task at hand. The war is not just in Iraq – it is around the world. Muslim terrorists are attempting to disrupt all nations through intimidation and fear, believing that free nations will cower in capitulation. Also, since we in the west view the world through a lens that assumes we can sit down and negotiate any differences with those who adhere to different philosophies of life, we are always surprised when such talks end up going nowhere.
At the turn of the century in 1900, there was a common belief held around the world that man had progressed to a point where we would never experience the devastation of wars ever again. This principle was so strong that it survived the “War to End All Wars,” otherwise known as the Great War, later to be named World War I out of necessity following World War II. Those wishful of man living in peace around the globe formed an organization that would perpetuate these ideals. It was called the League of Nations. Their ineptness in understanding the threats of an increasingly muscular Nazi Germany left this group of internationalists wringing their hands, singing their sad lament, “What Went Wrong?”
The resilience of the League of Nations was proven through its resurrection from the ash heap of failed ideas, like the phoenix of ancient Egyptian mythology, in what today is known as the United Nations. Somehow, someway, we ought to be able to live peaceably, they say. Great! How will we do that, I ask? History proves over and over again that there is always someone who wants to dominate and control another person; that there is some nation that wants to conquer and command another nation; that there is some ideology that compels one sect to destroy and defeat another.
We the people of the United States must make sure that we understand the price of freedom. Not only do we bear the burden of protecting our nation from enemies bent on our destruction, but we have an international commitment to shield other nations from the aggressors that breathe out threats. We may not like it, but by virtue of the fact that we are the most powerful nation in the world, we assume the mantle of protector. To refuse would be to utterly disregard and endanger countless peoples around the world.
Our founding fathers understood this role, being prescient in their establishment of the Constitution. One such worthy remarked in the days leading up to the Revolutionary War, that we could not wish away the threats that endangered the American colonies. Patrick Henry’s words ring as true today as they did in 1775 before the House of Burgesses in Richmond, Virginia when he said,
An appeal to arms and the God of hosts is all that is left us. But we shall not fight our battle alone. There is a just God that presides over the destinies of nations. The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone. Is life so dear or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it Almighty God. I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death.
Today, Lord willing, Laura, my oldest daughter will make me a grandfather for the first time. My other daughter, Jenny, is due in April. The arrivals of these two precious gifts from God are met with great joy and celebration! But in my quieter moments, I wonder if they will grow up in a world where lovers of freedom continued to pay the price; or whether lesser men prevailed leading us into fear and bondage.
The choice we make today determines the world we live in tomorrow. As for me, I will live in freedom, or die defending it. My progeny and yours deserves nothing less.
Monday, November 19, 2007
I’m referring to several news items that have surfaced this past week wherein our liberties are challenged and thwarted. Allow me to list a few of these for you.
1) Boy Scout Troop 45 was collecting toiletries and other comfort items for our troops overseas. They placed boxes at the thirty-three polling sites on Election Day in early November around their town in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Someone complained to the city that this was a “political statement,” and the boxes were removed.
I grew up in New England, and even lived near Cambridge in Wellesley for a couple of years. This suburb of Boston has historic significance, not only for our nation, but specifically for our military. It was in Cambridge at the onset of the Revolutionary War that George Washington organized a band of volunteers in 1775 on Cambridge Common, considered to be the birthplace of the United States Army. (Let’s hear a HOOAH!). Later, using artillery captured from the enemy at Fort Ticonderoga, these American forces defeated the British and drove them out of Boston. Cambridge boasts numerous schools of higher learning, not the least of which is Harvard and MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology).
Being a kid in New England in the 50’s and early 60’s I recall people who were very patriotic. We had big Memorial Day and Veterans Day ceremonies. As a trumpet player, I remember standing on a knoll overlooking our town, Wellesley, preparing to play the “echo” of Taps played by another trumpet player down below in the center of town where the Memorial Day ceremony was held. It was a special moment, filled with the appropriate solemnity for such an occasion when remembering those who have given their lives in defense of our nation.
Even today when my wife and I travel through New England by car on our way to vacation with family in Maine, I am always awed by the massive display of the American flag flown from nearly every home (or so it seems) as we meander through the towns and back roads where so much of our history was formed. Where’s the disconnect?
2) Governor Sonny Perdue of Georgia leads out in public prayer for end of drought in his state. Yes, you heard right – the governor of this southern state dared to step out from his office and lead numerous lawmakers, public officials and ministers in a prayer to God. The region has experienced severe drought, causing various businesses and industries to be adversely affected.
The governor’s plea to the Almighty came not long after Alabama Governor Bob Riley issued a proclamation declaring a week in July as Days of "Prayer for Rain" to "humbly ask for His blessings and to hold us steady in times of difficulty." The Atlanta Freethought Society opposed the Georgia governor’s rain prayer saying in a statement, "The governor can pray when he wants to. What he can't do is lead prayers in the name of the people of Georgia." Oh really? Why not?
The hue and cry from certain quarters would lead you to think that the governor had committed the unpardonable sin. How dare he pray to God from the steps of the capitol building! Why, this is a violation of the separation of church and state! And it’s apparently an outrage that he "pray in the name of the people of Georgia."
A quarter of an inch of rain fell the next day.
3) Hotel chains have decided to remove Bibles from their guest’s rooms, replacing the Scriptures with "Intimacy Kits." I will allow you to imagine what is offered in an intimacy kit. Here’s a clue: Another name for the kit is the "One Night Stand" package. Such a package may include "concierge personnel" to assist those wanting to have a memorable evening. Wanting to entice potential patrons, Marriott Hotel spokesman, John Wolf, describes the new approach as "cutting-edge," "more urban," and "less values-oriented." Newsweek writer, Roya Wolverson, wrote, "Now, there's a marketing slogan no one's tried yet: ‘Sleep with us. Leave the values at home.’" Reminds me of the slogan used by the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce, "What happens in Vegas, Stays in Vegas." Comforting, isn’t it?
So, there you have it! Boy Scouts are not allowed to help our troops with comfort items. A state governor is lambasted for praying to God for relief from drought in his state. And Bibles in hotels are being replaced by "Intimacy Kits."
With Thanksgiving tomorrow, dare we have the audacity to raise our eyes to heaven and give thanks? Tell me again why God should bless America?
Monday, November 12, 2007
On Sunday morning, Veterans Day, Julie Smit handed me a pack of letters written from 1944 to 1945 by her husband’s Uncle John Smit who was at that time serving in the U.S. Army. Julie had mentioned to me that the family had these letters, so I told her how much I would enjoy looking at them sometime.
Private John K. Smit entered the Army when he was eighteen years old in 1944. After basic training he was assigned further training at Camp Roberts, then Fort Ord, on to Hawaii, then the Marianas Islands, and finally, Okinawa, Japan. His first letter was sent September 14, 1944 from the Presidio of Monterey, California.
In this first letter home he is exuberant about Army life. It is written to his father, a World War I veteran, who was a patient in the Veterans Administration Hospital in Los Angeles. He writes,
Dear Dad, Got a little time so I’m going to try and write a little. We just got back from taking some mental tests. I did pretty good on all of them. I’m eating more and better than I ever have. The grub is tops. The barracks are first class, and so far I like the Army pretty well. Of course, I guess I really won’t know what it is really like until I get to my permanent camp.I guess John liked the Army food because as he closed this letter, he says,
Well, we have to get some chow and I can’t miss that, so I guess I’d better close for now.
I had to chuckle at these comments about Army chow and barracks conditions. As a young recruit in 1969 the best I can say about the chow in Marine Corps boot camp was that it was digestible. Even at that, I got food poisoning. Then he says the barracks were “first class.” I would ask, “Compared to what? Fox holes?”
As John writes letters home to various family members during the next nine months, you see a subtle change. He is missing home more, wanting family members to look after things for him.
In a letter dated March 31, 1945, from the Marianas Islands, he writes,
I’d do anything to be home right now. A person doesn’t realize just how much home and everyone in it means to him until it’s too late to do anything about it. The Army was fun [during training], but out here it’s different – a lot different. A guy learns to appreciate a home, a mother and dad and brothers and sisters with who he can live and be with and know that in the real need they’ll be there to do what they can to help him. In times like this there’s a great comfort in knowing that there’s a God who knows all and can hear your prayers, and does everything for the good of those who love him.
On March 9, 1945, John received word that his father had passed away. Knowing his father was gravely ill, he wrote the family a week earlier.
Dear Mom, I’ve been putting off writing this letter because I didn’t know what to say. And I still don’t. I can’t put it into words how I feel about dad. I can only find comfort in praying for the grace of God that we will again meet each other in heaven. He’s a father I’ll always be proud of.
At that time there was a lot of talk about the war ending soon. On April 25, 1945 he writes to his brother, Clarence, offering brotherly advice.
And when you graduate, Clarence, for Pete’s sakes, stay a civilian as long as you can. The war can’t last too long anymore, and you’ve got a good chance of missing any action if you stay out as long as you can. There was a time when I thought I’d like to see action. If this boat turned around and started home – you wouldn’t hear any objections from me. Whatever you do, don’t join the Navy. They’re going to be the last ones home.
The boat John Smit is referring to was a troop transport carrying him and his fellow soldiers to an island called Okinawa. The Battle of Okinawa would be the bloodiest of the war in the Pacific. American and Allied forces suffered 12,513 killed and 38,916 wounded. Pvt. John K. Smit would be among those killed in action.
In his last brief letter home, dated April 27, 1945, John writes,
We are on Okinawa and have been assigned to the 27th District. We are going up in a day or so and will help finish off the Japs.In closing, he says those things that all warriors say prior to entering battle,
We may not be able to write very often because once we get up there we won’t come back until the battle is finished and the island is ours. So don’t worry because I’m not writing. If I’m able I’ll try and write a letter tomorrow or tonight yet. I thought I’d better write this v-mail just in case I’m not able to write again for a while. Your loving son, John.
God bless you, Uncle John. Thank you for your service and your willingness to pay the ultimate sacrifice.
Uncle John’s name is now on the Wall of the newly dedicated Ripon Veterans Wall along with his father, Henry, and two brothers, Clarence and Leon. Leon lives in Montana.
Monday, November 05, 2007
Humor in Combat
Typically when I ask veterans about a humorous event that took place when they were in combat, they’ll say something like this. “Well, there wasn’t anything very funny about combat . . . But come to think of it there was this time when . . . !”
This Saturday is the Marine Corps’ 232nd birthday, an event of significance to all who have ever served in the Corps. Marines, more than any other military service, endlessly teach their history and traditions, which in turn, is passed on in reverence to new generations of Marines.
It was my distinct honor to be asked to speak at the Marine Corps Birthday Ball for the 4th LSB (Landing Support Battalion) and Stockton Marine Corps Club at a yet-to-be-opened Sheraton Inn last Saturday night. It was a grand affair with all the traditional honors and ceremonies associated with Marine Corps tradition.
As part of my remarks to the Marines and their guests, I shared several humorous combat stories I had acquired over the years. Allow me to recite those for you in this article. The three stories below are about Marines, who, in particular, will be able to appreciate the humor.
My first story was told to me by Chuck, who, as an eighteen year old Marine in WWII, was on the invasion of Iwo Jima, February 19, 1945. For the uninitiated, this is the island where the Marines raised the flag atop Mount Suribachi, immortalized as a statue in Washington, DC. Chuck was on the first wave of Marines to hit the beach. They took 90% casualties! He and another Marine dug a fighting hole (Marines don’t call them “fox holes”) in the black sand, attempting to avoid the deadly accurate firepower of the Japanese Army. Death and mayhem was everywhere. A Marine’s life expectancy could be counted in minutes. As Chuck hunkered down in the fighting hole, he reached for a cigarette. As he was lighting up, his buddy looked at him and said, “Man, don’t you know those things are going to kill you!”
The second story was during the Battle of the Punch Bowl in Korea. My friend, Otto, was a Navy corpsman attached to a Marine command. As a side light, Otto was so impressed with the Marines, that when his enlistment was up in the Navy, he enlisted in the Marine Corps. Anyway, Otto was sitting around with his Marine pals just before all hell broke loose. He saw a Marine take a round right in the chest and slump to the ground. He raced to the fallen Marine, ripped open his blouse (that’s what Marines call their shirts – go figure!) looking for the entry wound. All he saw was an angry red mark on the Marine’s chest. Somewhat confused, he went on to care for other Marines. Later after the battle had subsided, he went back and found the Marine sitting up, seemingly unaffected. As he approached, the Marine held up a little book. “Doc,” he said, “this book stopped the bullet and saved my life.” The Stars and Stripes newspaper got hold of the story and ran a headline that said something like, “Bible Saves Marine’s Life.” What really happened is another story, or as Paul Harvey would say, “The rest of the story . . .” The little book was not a Bible. It was an address book of women the Marine was corresponding with back in the U.S. Did I mention he was married?
The last story has to do with a Marine helicopter pilot in Vietnam as told to my bother, John, during one of their squadron reunions. This pilot was tasked with inserting a Marine Recon Team behind enemy lines. After dropping them off, the pilot began his flight back to the airfield. Enroute, he received a radio call from the sergeant in command of the recon team. “Sir, you need to come back and pick us up.” The pilot thought he heard gunfire, so he said, “Are you taking fire?” “No sir,” the sergeant answered. Certain he was hearing gunfire, he asked again, “Are you taking fire?” Again, the reply, “No sir.” So, the pilot reversed course to pick up the Marines. Upon landing, the Marines began to load their wounded buddies on the helicopter. The pilot was incensed, believing the sergeant had lied to him. After reaming out the hapless sergeant, he said, “Sir, let me tell you what happened. After you dropped us off, we set up our perimeter, waiting for Charlie (the enemy) to come along. Meanwhile, an orangutan wandered into our kill zone. We didn’t want the poor critter to get hurt, so we chucked a rock at it to scare him off. The orangutan thought this was fun and threw the rock back. We threw more rocks, only to have more orangutans show up and join the fun. Only orangutans swing from trees, so when they threw the rocks back at us, they were coming hard and fast. A couple of my Marines were injured, so it compromised our mission. To rid ourselves of these apes, we fired our weapons over their heads, finally scaring them off. That’s when I called you to come back and pick us up. That’s when you heard the gunfire.” I would have loved to hear these Recon Marines explain this back at base camp!
Happy Birthday Marines! God bless you!
Monday, October 29, 2007
On Being Blessed
Each year our church plans a mission trip somewhere in the world. Our first trip to the DR was in 2006. For those of you who have been reading my articles for a while, you may recall I wrote two articles about that trip: Locks of Laughs, and Adios Santo Domingo (Check my web site for past articles at: www.chuckroots.com).
Thirteen people from our church signed on for this trip, ten of who were on the last one. Several have made all five trips since we began these short-term mission trips in 2002. We took a pass on 2004 because I was still on active duty serving in Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom.
One of the points I emphasize to the team is that we are to be a blessing to those we serve in whatever country we are in. We come as servants of the Lord Jesus Christ, helping our Free Methodist churches in various projects that will in turn, assist them in providing greater ministry in their communities. The men are usually involved in strenuous, labor-intensive work, constructing some building, or as is the case this trip, we are building an additional floor on top of the church building. We mix our own cement by hand; haul the sand and gravel in buckets using a pulley system from ground level; carry ninety-four pound bags of cement mix; form chain-gangs to pass cinder blocks or buckets of cement for the walls; and we cut and build our own rebar forms for the support structure. It is hard work! At the end of the day we are hot, sweaty, tired, and filthy. The weather is tropical, so the sun is very hot along with a constant humidity. It rains sometime every day – often more than once. At times it comes down so violently that all work stops and we seek shelter until it passes.
The ladies on the team usually are ministering to the children who come for crafts and Bible study lessons. There is much singing and memorizing of Scripture, along with Bible stories told with great animation by one of the ladies. Two sessions a day were offered to the children. The morning session averaged seventy kids, and the afternoon session had nearly two hundred! A lot of preparation went into this trip before we ever left the United States. The women would meet periodically at our church to make the different crafts that would be used for the children. These crafts would then be loaded into spare suitcases and brought down with us. Invariably the ladies always want to bring the children home with them!
The question is debated on every trip: Who was blessed more? The people we came to serve? Or those of us on the team? It has been my experience that we are the ones most blessed. Jesus said, “I did not come to be served, but to serve.” Therein lays the blessing! You are truly blessed when you serve others. That is the true heart and soul of the church.
Today as the team spent time together in devotions, Daniel, our youngest member at seventeen, was responsible for leading us. He shared from I Corinthians 13, “The Great Love Chapter” in the Bible. He remarked how we have been shown such great love by our hosts, particularly the Dominican ladies of the church who prepare meals for us three times a day, serving us with loving spirits, wanting to make our stay as pleasant as possible. They arrive early each morning to prepare a bounteous amount of food. No sooner do we finish breakfast then the ladies begin preparing lunch, and then dinner. When the men come in for lunch or dinner after slogging around in cement, we at first would remove our shoes. The ladies would have none of that! They told us to come right in and eat. They didn’t mind mopping the tile floors. It took us a couple of days to accept this, but we finally gave in.
On this trip our team accomplished three weeks of work in three days. The foreman (here in the DR they call him, “Maestro”) was so pleased with our work that he is having the whole team to his home for dinner tonight. One of the team members, Rueben, stopped to buy some gum and candy from a street vendor. The vendor observed that Rueben was not Dominican. He was curious why we were here, since we were obviously not dressed as tourists on vacation. Rueben explained that we were here to build additional rooms for the church in order to expand the children’s ministry. The man said, “For what you are doing for us here in the Dominican: No charge.”
During our shopping trip yesterday afternoon at the Mercado, Dennis was asked by one of the merchants what we were doing here. After Dennis explained to him our mission, the man said, “I see something in you that I don’t have. I might have to become a Christian.”
This is why I know with certainty that we are the ones blessed!
Monday, October 22, 2007
The Flag Flap
Maybe you missed this story – the one about a young man who is an Eagle Scout, wanting to have the American flag raised in his grandfather’s honor over the Capitol building. No problem. But as soon as he asked to have a personal message included on the certificate for the flag wherein he mentioned “God,” the letter of the law struck down the lad’s use of this divine name. Fortunately for all of us this young man has moxie. He hired a lawyer and made some noise. A number of congressmen took up the banner and were successful in overturning a thirty-year-old policy which forbids the use of any reference to God, deity, or religious expression on the certificate. The person responsible for overseeing this law, and the daily raising of countless flags in someone’s memory, is called the Architect of the Capitol.
Were you aware of this law? I sure wasn’t! You have to ask yourself the question, “What business is it of anyone to interfere with the private remarks made on the certificate by the flag donor?”
I noticed that the current Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, Democrat – California, supported the ban against using religious expressions on the flag certificates. She is the Majority Leader in the House of Representatives. What is happening when our elected officials, the very people we vote into office, will not even defend the simplest of our unalienable rights?
It has been argued that we have always had religious expressions used in and by the government since the earliest days of our nation’s inception. The use of “In God We Trust,” “One Nation Under God,” “In the Year of Our Lord,” and so forth, all mark a reference to the divine emanating from our nation’s hallowed halls of leadership. It is good to remember that in 1789, when George Washington was sworn in as our first president, that after repeating the oath, he leaned over and kissed the Bible.
Representative Marilyn Musgrave, Republican – Colorado, has expanded the flag flap to the new Capitol Visitor Center currently under construction. “We do not want our religious history sanitized from the new Visitor Center,” she said. “I expect the Capitol Visitor Center to reflect the true Christian heritage we have in this country.”
In August of this year, Andrew Larochelle, the above mentioned Eagle Scout, wrote a letter to his congressman requesting that a flag be flown over the Capitol in honor of his grandfather for his love of “God, country and family.” The written policy in use until this week when it was overturned, read, “Personalized dedications are permitted, but . . . political and/or religious expressions are not.” Representative Michael Turner, Republican – Ohio who spearheaded the campaign, welcomed the reversal. “We won a great victory for American traditions, religious freedoms and freedom of expression,” Turner said in a statement. Turner said the policy revision meant that references to God throughout the Capitol were protected.
This whole sordid affair brings up the age old argument over separation of church and state. Even the most cursory review of European history will make clear the abuses inflicted on people when religion becomes a tool of the state. Wisely, the founding fathers of the United States ensured that no such blend of secular and ecclesiastical power would be permitted in America. England ruled with such a mighty hand that the church was told what it could and could not do. This is why the pilgrims left England and traveled to Holland. Not finding Holland suitable to their culture and beliefs, they decided to try the New World in hopes of being free to worship in the manner they chose. The bottom line for our American ancestors was to give us a nation where the state would be kept out of the church – not the other way around.
What has happened over the years is that we have become apprehensive of making religious expressions for fear that we might offend someone. There is a concerted attempt in America to muffle the voices of people of faith. This is no more evident than in the current “Hate Crimes” Bill before Congress. If passed, this would open the door for ministers like me to be arrested for preaching against Biblical sins, such as homosexuality, adultery, fornication, and so on. This is what our forefathers cautioned against: the state interfering in the life of the church.
For now, the flag certificates have been restored to their proper use. But what of such restrictive bills as the Hate Crimes Bill before Congress? Will this be stopped? Will “We the people” stand up against such abuse of power? Or will we have one more freedom taken away until we awake one morning to find we no longer have any more freedoms?
Monday, October 15, 2007
Wild & Crazy
There is a couple in my church that is celebrating their 70th wedding anniversary this month. Ervan and Pearline Frisk are what you call “salt of the earth.” It has been my privilege to be their pastor now for the past seven years or so.
There are a number of remarkable things about this couple that bear mentioning. They are actively involved in the life of our congregation. Erv has been working with our worship team, frequently leading worship for our early Sunday morning service. He and Pearline also provide ministry to our Junior Jammers on Wednesday nights. What are Junior Jammers, you ask? Those are the kids who are in fourth to sixth grade. That’s the age range from 9-11. This is also one of the toughest ages to work with. Not because the kids are bad, or misbehave, so much as they are full of energy. I get tired simply watching them! Erv is a farmer from way back and is always tinkering with something in his workshop. He makes wooden train sets, cars or whatever, and then shows the kids how to assemble them. I sure would have come to church for that when I was that age! On Sunday mornings, Erv and Pearline can be found in the youth room cooking up pancakes for the kids, many of who come from broken/dysfunctional homes. They also live in Linden, which is about a forty-five minute drive from Ripon. Now that’s commitment! On Sunday, October 14th, our church hosted a potluck in their honor. A bunch of the Junior Jammers presented them with a huge card with signed pictures from all the kids. Erv loves to tell stories and quote poems. He’s always got a joke to tell. And the amazing thing is that Pearline still laughs at his jokes!
On October 6th, the Frisk family had a big party for Erv and Pearline. Isaura and I were honored to be invited. It was wonderful to see how the family paid tribute to these loved ones. Children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, and great great grandchildren. Kin traveled from Texas, Arkansas and Alaska to mention a few. My wife asked Erv what the secret was to their long marriage. He quipped, “Well, you have to live long enough.” That’s Erv!
At the start of World War Two Erv and Pearline were farming in the Central Valley area of California. With the nation at war, Erv didn’t have a second thought to signing up. He enlisted in the Army and spent the next four years in service to Uncle Sam so you and I could live in a free country. Pearline was left with two kids and a farm to tend, not to mention fifteen cows that needed milking every day. After the war was over life settled down for them and they added three more kids to the brood.
Five years ago when I was brought back on active duty for Operation Iraqi Freedom, none of us knew just how long I was going to be gone. Isaura took courage from Pearline, remembering that she had had it much worse. At least Isaura had two grown children, and no cows to milk!
When they married, Erv was nineteen and Pearline was sixteen. Her folks weren’t real thrilled with her interest in Erv, so these two decided to sneak down to the City Hall and register to be married. They figured they could go ahead and secretly get married by a local preacher before any of the family found out. There was one problem: Newspapers were run daily, so the information was fed to the paper that day, and Pearline’s brother saw the announcement that same afternoon. But by that time the couple had already stood before a Free Methodist minister and said their “I dos.”
In Erv’s unique style of humor, he often understates things. I’ll ask him on a Sunday morning during our greeting time, “How you doing, old paint?” (Don’t ask me where I came up with that expression!) Erv will give me a forlorn look, and say, “Suffering. Just suffering.” Of course, Pearline is right beside him just smiling away.
When we have our church potluck suppers, you can bet Pearline is right in there helping get everything ready, and then staying after to help clean up.
I asked Erv about the differences in their personalities. His response was, “Well, she was wild, and I was crazy.” He followed that up with a story describing Pearline’s penchant for speed. He said she loved to race cars. The only trouble was she liked to race the family car! And the one story that has always intrigued me is Pearline riding a Harley-Davidson motorcycle. I look at this lady who always has her hair done, and cheers you with a beautiful smile, the epitome of a grandmother, and my brain short-circuits picturing her roaring down some back road on a Harley! Erv had an explosive temper in his younger years.
But this couple will be the first to tell you that their lives were dramatically changed when they surrendered their lives to Jesus Christ. They will also tell you that they probably would have never made it for seventy years of marriage had they not met the Lord.
Glory to God!
Monday, October 08, 2007
See No Evil
I was in conversation with a woman at Dulles Airport in Washington, DC during my trip back east recently where I was to attend a military workshop. I was dressed in casual civilian attire – nothing to tip off to the lady that I had anything to do with the military (Okay, my hair is really short on the sides, and I’m told I walk like a Marine – whatever that looks like). But seriously, she made mention of how disheartened she was by the war on terrorism, bemoaning the fact that we are there; meaning there in Iraq. I braced myself for the Rodney King line – “Can’t we all just get along?” I said, “Could it be that there are people in this world who truly want you dead, and that there is no reasoning with them?” She looked at me as though I had three heads. Then she looked down at the back of her hand as though fascinated by the freckles she found. I got the hint. She was no longer interested in discussing the war.
It is the fool who will not acknowledge that evil exists in the world, and that people do evil things. If ever this was apparent, it was when Adolf Hitler rose to prominence in Germany in 1932. He worked diligently to rebuild a defeated and decimated Germany, still struggling after the thrashing she took at the hands of the Americans and her allies in WWI. Hitler focused on rebuilding a strong military. He then moved into various parts of Eastern Europe, reclaiming supposed lost portions of Germany by force. European leaders were understandably alarmed. So they sent delegations to meet with “Der Fuehrer” in hopes of receiving assurances from him that he would cease his conquests. After a face-to-face meeting with Hitler, Britain’s Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, was so convinced that Hitler would not continue his attacks on his neighbors that he returned to England declaring, “We have peace for our time!”
As we soon learned, however, Hitler had no intention of ceasing his aggressiveness towards his European neighbors. Instead, he moved ahead with his plans of world dominance and the establishment of the superiority of the Aryan Race. This so-called “Master Race” identified Northern Europeans as the purist race of man, devolving from ancient Atlantis which tradition says was destroyed between 8,000 and 10,000 years BCE (Before the Common Era: today’s politically correct term for BC). As Europeans populated their continent, others who were not Aryan, began to move into these areas. One such group, the Jews, are of the Semitic Race. They became the identifiable enemy Hitler and his goons needed to use as a straw man. They became the “fall guy” for all the ills of the German nation.
Tragically for Prime Minister Chamberlain, and the world, European nations, who collectively were militarily far more powerful than Nazi Germany in the mid-1930s, sought to appease Hitler. Instead, the name Neville Chamberlain has become synonymous with appeasement and cowardice.
One observer of the rise of Hitler’s Germany was Jewish scholar, satirist and essayist, Kurt Tucholsky. He was born in Germany in 1890. He moved to Paris in 1924, and finally to Sweden in 1930. He was keenly aware of what was happening in his homeland. He had many friends who were persecuted under this new Nazi regime. In a letter to a friend, Tucholsky described himself as an ex-German and an ex-poet. On April 11 1933 he wrote, “I suppose I need not tell you that our world in Germany has ceased to exist.”
Tucholsky greatly feared National Socialism, so much so, that when the Nazis came to power in 1933, his books were burned and he lost his citizenship.
At the end of my visit to the Holy Land this past March, I visited the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem. Words do not adequately describe this powerfully somber reminder of man’s inhumanity to man. One inscription on a wall caught my eye. It was written by Kurt Tucholsky. He lamented, “A country is not just what it does – it is also what it tolerates.” That got my attention!
Let me ask you then: As you look across the philosophical, political and theological landscape of America today, what do you see? Ask yourself these questions: What are we, the American people, tolerating? Have we abandoned the moral high ground? In the midst of our diversity, do we no longer speak with one voice? Is the rest of the world even taking us seriously anymore? Should they? Why?
To list the evils we tolerate today as a nation are, at the very least, an embarrassment to us as a people. At worst, it is deserving of God’s judgment. I pray we awaken from our slumber before it is too late.
Evil must be conquered – never appeased!
Monday, October 01, 2007
The Grand Experiment
The formation of the United States of America was an attempt at self-governance the likes of which the world had never seen before. Many historians have sought to explain the emergence of this upstart nation, only to find themselves flummoxed in the attempt. How could such a nation come into being?
The question is still debated today as to how a nation of immigrants and religionists could manage to formulate the most powerful nation in the world – and to do so in such a relatively short period of time. Was it the brilliance of such leaders as George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and Patrick Henry, to name a few? Or was it that this neophyte nation was able to avoid molestation by more powerful nations, protected, as it were, by two large oceans? Or maybe it was the pioneering spirit that blended well with a continent that was wide open for settlement, Native Americans notwithstanding?
What I find particularly interesting about the birth and development of our nation is the religious influence that has made an irrevocable mark on us as a people. The influence of religious belief and conviction is impregnated in the warp and woof of the American psyche. Our laws are a reflection of this basic principle that all men are created equal. Granted, there are distortions and abuses in any such system, but it cannot be effectively refuted that the formation of this “Grand Experiment” has been an outlandish attempt to provide all men with the opportunity to live in freedom. Limited government; one person - one vote; ownership of property; pursuit of education; a civilian controlled standing army; and so on, are all part of this venture in man’s freedom.
One of those who played a significant part in ensuring our freedoms was Daniel Webster (1782-1852). This American politician and diplomat is considered to be one of the greatest orators in our history. At different times he served in both houses of Congress, and served as the Secretary of State under three presidents. Consider where he gives credit for his accomplishments in life: "If there is anything in my thoughts or style to commend, the credit is due to my parents for instilling in me an early love of the Scriptures. If we abide by the principles taught in the Bible, our country will go on prospering and to prosper; but if we and our posterity neglect its instructions and authority, no man can tell how sudden a catastrophe may overwhelm us and bury all our glory in profound obscurity." Sobering words written almost two hundred years ago.
Daniel Webster had much more to say to those of us who would take up the mantle of responsibility for “The Grand Experiment.” Consider these thoughts from this learned man.
• “If religious books are not widely circulated among the masses in this country, I do not know what is going to become of us as a nation. If truth be not diffused, error will be.”
• “If God and His Word are not known and received, the devil and his works will gain the ascendancy. If the evangelical volume does not reach every hamlet, the pages of a corrupt and licentious literature will.”
• “I have read the Bible through many times, and now make it a practice to read it through once every year. It is a book of all others for lawyers, as well as divines; and I pity the man who cannot find in it a rich supply of thought and of rules for conduct. It fits man for life - it prepares him for death.”
The course of our nation is in a state of flux - yet to be determined. Our children and grandchildren will make those decisions. But how will they make those decisions? Will they know the history of our nation? Will they understand the magnitude of the role faith and religious conviction have played in our development? Or will “The Grand Experiment” wind up on the ash heap of “Grand Failures”?
The bell is tolling. It is time to halt the slide into moral degeneracy and godlessness. It is time to return to our roots where God is preeminent in the lives of our people and our nation.
Monday, September 24, 2007
Leaders Who Lead
What might that be, you ask? It is the ability of our nation to praise and criticize our presidents and our military leaders. It is understood that when a person assumes a position of leadership, criticism is part of the package. You live with it. But does it have to slide to such depths of incivility?
Here’s the strange part of this oddity. Americans love a winner! Hurray for us! But once that winner has won, and the cheers and tributes of praise have died down, get ready, because the critics are already sharpening their pencils and tongues. The barbs of the malcontents are soon to embed themselves in the conscience of the American people.
For those of you who are history buffs, let me ask you: Has there ever been a president, along with his military leaders, that has not been roundly criticized during a time of war? Even if you are not an American History aficionado, you can probably assume the correct answer: NO!
Let’s consider our first president, George Washington. He was the subject of enormous criticism, first for the manner in which he managed the newly formed Continental Army. Americans at that time were generally against having a standing army due to the prior abuses of the British Army toward the colonists. He was later criticized in his role as our first president as weak in his leadership skills.
Abraham Lincoln, our sixteenth president, was no stranger to criticism. His handling of the Civil War was daily fare in the newspapers and in the halls of Congress. The commander of the Army of the Potomac, George McClellan, and his successor, Ulysses S. Grant, were both pilloried throughout the War and beyond.
Franklin D. Roosevelt, our thirty-second president, was abused from all quarters, as was his top general, Dwight D. Eisenhower. The Normandy Invasion and its devastating losses to American and Allied forces was almost the end of Eisenhower’s career in the Army, let alone, any future political aspirations he might have had.
Our current president, George W. Bush, has been labeled and vilified in the most egregious manner imaginable. He’s lampooned as stupid, a warmonger, a terrorist, a cowboy, "in it for the oil," worse than Saddam, equal to Hitler, ad nausea. General Tommy Franks, who led the successful Iraq invasion in 2003, has had to deal with his share of criticism for "failing to plan sufficiently for the postwar phase." Most recently, General David Petraeus, commander of the Multi-National Forces responsible for the current surge in Iraq, has been horrifically criticized and mischaracterized by the same people who unanimously approved of his appointment to lead our forces. Leading up to the recent Congressional hearings, he was already being criticized for his report before it was even given. He’s a puppet for the Bush administration, was a common lament. Or, General Petraeus had to have his report edited by the White House before he ascended to Capital Hill. But the most disgusting portrayal of this honorable man was the ad by the far-left, Move-On.org, in the New York Times. In the full page ad, just below a picture of the general, in bold letters, it reads: “General Petraeus or General Betray Us? Cooking the books for the White House.”
Let me be clear on this. You do not have to like General Petraeus. You don’t have to like the military or what it represents. You don’t have to agree with the general’s evaluation of the war situation in Iraq. But you have clearly gone over the top when you question this man’s patriotism and loyalty. I do not know the general personally, but I have spent thirty-three years out of the past forty in the military. I’ve seen a lot of leaders. Most are very capable and good at what they do. A relative few aren’t worth a plugged nickel. Then there are those who are simply outstanding.
Four-star generals like General Petraeus do not obtain promotion because they sat on the softest part of their anatomy; or paraded themselves around Washington DC as a sycophant, or jingoist, or propagandist. They are men who know how to lead from the front. They are men who know only too well the horrors of war. They are men who would be willing to take a bullet for you, and consider it their duty to do so. These are men who uphold the virtue and values of the "Home of the Free and the Land of the Brave." These are men who are the defenders of our freedoms. These are men who are deserving of our eternal admiration and respect.
After the critics fade from the spotlight, these are men who will have served us well. And they will consider it a privilege and an honor to have done so.
May God continue to bless our nation with such leaders.
Monday, September 17, 2007
Do It Anyway
The book, Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light, was just released in early September. The book reveals the private thoughts and correspondences that this woman of God had for more than sixty years sharing her “dark night of the soul” with her confessors and superiors. This selfless servant felt called of God to reach out to the least valued and loved in the world. That place was Calcutta, India, a city of nearly five million people. In 2001 the city name, Calcutta, was officially changed to the native pronunciation, Kolkata. It was in this weary, war-torn environment that Mother Teresa pitched her tent in service to God and man.
It is easy to point a critical finger at someone who has struggled with their faith. There is not one single person of faith who, in serving God, has not experienced times of doubt, uncertainty, questioning, and lack of belief. In Christian theology, we believe the world is in a real mess primarily due to sin. As a result, the human race is, tragically, on a collision course with self-destruction. There will be, as the Bible predicts, wars and rumors of wars as this planet we call home careens toward it’s eventual end.
Into the midst of the world’s insanity, God has chosen certain people who are unconditionally committed to him to step into certain environments to serve him by serving others. This is a basic principle of the Christian faith. When Jesus was asked (Matthew 22:34-40) by the religious leaders of his day which was the greatest of the commandments, he said, “To love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (See: The Shema, Deuteronomy 6:4) Then he followed that up with this comparison, “There is another just like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.” (See: Leviticus 19:18). When Mother Teresa was still a young woman she knew God had called her to love those who are considered the dregs of Indian society, the outcasts that no one wanted around, but no one had a solution as to how to take care of these people who populated the streets of Calcutta.
In the late 1940s Mother Teresa knew the Lord was directing her to bring a loving, caring touch to the disenfranchised people of the city’s most poverty-stricken bergs. They are the lepers of today. No one dared touch them. They are diseased, sick with all sorts of maladies and infirmities, filthy from living on the streets, and abandoned by families simply to die in the midst of squalor. Most of us could not stand such an environment for more than an hour. Mother Teresa spent her entire adult life there helping people die with dignity.
So, let me ask you: If you knew God had called you to spend your entire life serving this refuse of society, do you think there might be times when you’ve had quite enough of bathing the festering wounds of people who could not care for themselves? Is it not possible that while holding in your arms one more emaciated, abandoned baby that you and everyone else knows will die in a matter of hours or days, it might just be more than you can take? Or is it understandable that you might just question man’s inhumanity when there are so many in the world who have so much and these unfortunates have nothing?
Mother Teresa was no Pollyanna! She dealt with the realities of life that you and I not only wouldn’t touch, but we would be more like Jonah, who when called by God to preach to “the great city of Nineveh,” ran the other way. Not me. Lord! You got the wrong guy!
I am just completing a sermon series on I Corinthians. This past Sunday I was in chapter 15, which is called the Great Resurrection Chapter of the Bible. The concluding verse says, “Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”
The special music for Sunday, sung by two of our ladies, was a song written by recording artist, Martina McBride. It’s called, Anyway. I believe the chorus of the song would make Mother Teresa smile.
God is great, but sometimes life ain’t good,
When I pray it doesn’t always turn out like I think it should,
But do it anyway,
I do it anyway.
Monday, September 10, 2007
Golf: The Siren's Song
Just like the Greek hero, Odysseus, who sailed past the Siren sisters’ alluring songs by having himself tied securely to the main mast of his ship, while also stopping the ears of his men so they could row safely past. Otherwise, they would meet the fate of so many other sailing ships that ran up on the rocks and shoals of the island where the Siren sisters lived. Golf is like that.
It all began when I was about ten years old. Ben Hogan was then at the top of his game. My step father loved golf, so he thought I should learn how to play the game. His own infatuation with the game began to develop about the time Bobby Jones won the Grand Slam in 1930. My brother, John, is an avid golfer. I’ve even heard him refer to himself as a “golf junkie.” That’s the effect this game has on you.
Though introduced to golf at a young age, I never figured to play, if for no other reason than golfers are the worst dressed people on the planet. Plaid trousers! Are you serious? Golfers wear clothes on a golf course they wouldn’t be caught dead wearing anywhere else. But once you try this game, your fate is sealed. You’re doomed.
A couple of years ago I had my game working pretty well. That spring I was beginning to feel like it was all coming together. However, I made one fatal error. I began to think (O, the shame of it all!) that this game was pretty easy. You are lulled into this manner of thinking simply because you have enjoyed the recent experience of a couple of good rounds. You allow yourself to believe that you can actually play like this all the time. You then start to think you could play even better than that if you got out to play more often. Who knows, if I could get my scores down low enough I might establish a handicap that would give me a shot at playing on the Seniors Tour! The Siren song began.
It’s about this time when the bottom drops out. Each year for the last number of summers, my wife and I have joined other family members for vacation in Maine. At these times John and I are on a mission to play as much golf as possible. Pat, a golfing buddy of John’s, vacations in Belgrade Lakes, Maine each summer. So the Roots brothers join Pat for a couple of rounds at the Belgrade Lakes Golf Course, one of the most spectacularly beautiful golf courses in the world. Only this time I was ready to play “lights out” golf! “Bring it on!” I said.
It’s important to remember that wisdom and golf are not normally used in the same sentence. Whatever game I thought I had working for me, up and left me. When swinging my club, I looked more like a Neanderthal beating his dinner to death, instead of the graceful, fluid, finely-honed sweep of a precisioned golf swing. It was painful for my brother and Pat to watch me. It was even more painful for me to watch me. As fellow sufferers, they patiently waited for me while I hacked my way around the golf course. I, in turn, had the look of the proverbial “deer in the headlights.” Then the self-talk began. “What happened to your game, Chuck? You’ve been playing so well! You’re embarrassing yourself out here! You look like a person who has never even played the game before!” My score was worse than a disaster. Shooting par for the round is 72. I normally shoot in the low 90s. On this day I shot a 133. John and Pat tried cheering me up. “You’ll be back on your game tomorrow,” they said. “You’ve got this bad round out of your system.” I desperately wanted to believe them. I almost convinced myself that I would have a much better outing the next day. Right! The next day I played even worse. I shot a 134!
Now, the Holy Grail of golf is to achieve a hole-in-one. This near perfect shot is typically performed while playing on a par 3. I have been close so many times that I’ve lost count. What’s worse is that John has made a hole-in-one. He never says anything to me about that – but then again, he doesn’t have to. He knows that I know that he has made one and I haven’t. In fact, he made his hole-in-one playing in Alaska. I was stationed in Rota, Spain at the time. I walked into the office one morning with a phone message from my brother. It said, “Have you ever had a hole-in-one?” This is coded speech for, “I got a hole-in-one! I got a hole-in-one! I got a hole-in-one! Nyaah, nyaah, nyaah, nyaah nyaah, nyaah!”
It has always been my wish to make my first hole-in-one while playing with John. Last year I was visiting him at his home in Virginia. We went out to play at the nearby country club where he is a member. The third hole is a par 3. I hit a beautiful fade to the green. The wind was blowing ever so slightly left-to-right. As I watched the ball descend ever closer to the flag stick, I thought, “Yes! This is it! John’s here to witness my first hole in one! And it’s on his course!” Alas! It was not to be. The ball hit four inches from the cup and rolled about one foot past. So close!
Recently my game has been improving. I’ve been shooting some decent rounds. I’m back in the groove. My handicap is coming down. I am also having a strong sense of foreboding. What’s that song I hear?
As a minister I guess I can best relate to comic Jim Murray’s evaluation of the game of golf. "Golf is not a game; it's bondage. It was obviously devised by a man torn with guilt, eager to atone for his sins."
Woe is me!
Monday, September 03, 2007
What's Your World View?
For instance, suppose I grew up understanding existence as merely the process of evolutionary selection. I learned in school that Charles Darwin “proved” we evolved from lower life forms. My experience normally tells me that “survival of the fittest” is how the world works. Weaker species are always at the mercy of the stronger. Therefore, my understanding of life will form my world view.
Perhaps you have a world view that says life is only what we experience here and now. What you experience in the moment is all that matters. This view says there is nothing beyond the grave. So, I might as well attempt to make as much money as possible and live in the fast lane, because when I breathe my last, I will have died with the most toys.
Enter: Jesus Christ.
Regardless of your previous world view, having an encounter with Jesus will challenge your current world view. Let’s look at some of those who had their views challenged and changed.
Abram lived in a culture that said it was perfectly fine for a man to believe in any number of gods, worshipping idols of all kinds. A man could even have many wives. But Abram (renamed by God to Abraham) had an encounter with the Lord. He was totally changed. He became monotheistic (believing in the one, true Creator God), and he committed to having one wife (monogamous), Sarah. He then moved to a strange land. Why? Because the Lord told him to. His world view was changed because of his encounter with God.
Then there’s the rich young ruler who met with Jesus. This man’s world view said that because he was so wealthy, and had prestige and power, he was already blessed of God. But Jesus burst his bubble and challenged him to change his world view. He was to go and sell everything he had, give it to the poor, and then he would have treasure in heaven. Of course, he would need to follow Jesus. He sadly walked away, refusing to change, even though Jesus offered him eternal life.
Paul is my final example. He was fully immersed in religious education and training, having been taught by Gamaliel himself. Paul was a Pharisee, and was recruited to persecute this new religious sect called Christians. He was very good at his job. He even believed he was doing God’s will. But, surprise, surprise, he had an encounter with Jesus which completely changed his world view.
So why is a world view so important? Because it will determine how you live your life. For me personally, I came to a crisis thirty-five years ago. Up to that point I had embraced a world view that went something like this: “Seek as much pleasure in life as you can.” This is called hedonism. I ran the bars, chased after women, often took unnecessary risks just for the thrill of the moment, and sought pleasure wherever it could be found. As I considered life, there was an emptiness. All the self-pleasure I engaged in left me asking the question, “So what?”
Much to my surprise, I unexpectedly had an encounter with Jesus. As the Apostle Paul experienced, scales fell from his blinded eyes and he was changed. I, too, experienced a change in my life. My eyes were opened to the truth that God loves me. Jesus died for me. My world view radically changed. Life was no longer about me. It’s about God and my relationship with him. I made this choice thirty-five years ago this week.
How about you? What is your world view?
Monday, August 27, 2007
The Fear Factor
What I mean is this: There are way too many conflicting messages being thrown at us all the time, all having to do with fear.
For instance, I remember not so many years ago scientists were warning us of a new Ice Age. You and I, and many generations of our offspring, would be long dead before this Ice Age ever arrived. But we were told, none-the-less, that we were steadily moving in that direction. Now we are informed that we are rapidly facing the inevitability of Global Warming. So which is it? Good for you? Or not good for you?
Coffee became a bad thing some years ago. It’ll cause you to have a heart attack. It will harden your arteries. It’s bad, bad, bad. So what’s this that has come out recently stating that coffee is actually good for you? Two cups in the morning is now considered to be healthy. Really? So which is it? Good for you? Or not good for you?
Then there are eggs. These were declared to be really bad for you because of the high amount of cholesterol found in the yolk of a chicken egg. More recent studies have discovered that there is also a substance in the egg that blocks absorption of cholesterol into the body. So which is it? Good for you? Or not good for you?
Then there’s my all-time favorite food – chocolate. In my personal lexicon of foods, chocolate ranks as one of the major food groups. It’s practically un-American to not love chocolate! Yet we were informed some years ago that chocolate is very bad. Not so anymore. Chocolate is actually good for you – especially dark chocolate! Yahoo! That’s my favorite. So which is it? Good for you? Or not good for you?
It seems to me that we are living in a day and age when we’re deathly afraid of everything. We’re afraid of certain foods; we’re afraid of war; we’re afraid of terrorists; we’re afraid of buildings and bridges collapsing; we’re afraid of gangs; we’re afraid of a home invasion; we’re afraid of Big Brother; we’re afraid of politicians; we’re afraid of the future; we’re afraid of meteors hitting the earth; we’re afraid of hurricanes, flooding, and earthquakes; we’re afraid of inadequate healthcare; we’re afraid of road rage; we’re afraid of increased taxation; we’re afraid of sexual predators; we’re afraid of what’s on the Internet; we’re afraid of our children; we’re afraid of cancer; we’re afraid of getting old; we’re afraid of dying; we’re even afraid of fear.
There’s something that seems to be at the root of all these things. That “something” is man’s underlying obsession with death and dying. We find ourselves in a struggle with the inevitability of death. We’re going to die some time. So we strive to avoid our own imminent demise. There’s a date in the future when it is our time to leave this world.
But we live as though we should expect never to die. We want guarantees. We even use the legal system by bringing endless lawsuits against doctors who do not make us all better. There’s a law going through Congress right now that is attempting to hold certain businesses accountable for not anticipating that their product would add to global warming. Now isn’t that something? You’re guilty because you were not clairvoyant in predicting an unknown negative effect your product would have on the environment.
Fear – fear of death in particular – can prevent you from enjoying life to the fullest. It can even paralyze a person, preventing them from functioning in life’s most basic of tasks.
The Bible has much to say about man’s concern with fear. King Saul disobeyed God. When it was revealed to him how and when he would die, he was numbed with fear. Almost without exception, when angels appear in Holy Scripture, the first words they speak are, “Fear not.” Paul tells us that God has not given believers a spirit of fearfulness, but a spirit of power, love, and a sound mind.
Best of all, Jesus said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” Why? Because he overcame sin, death and the grave. This is why Christians can smile when confronted with the prospect of death, for “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
Death in this life is inevitable, but there is eternal life – you have Jesus’ word on it. Trust him today and watch your fears disappear.
Monday, August 20, 2007
Semper Fidelis is Latin for “Always Faithful.” Recently I heard that the term was used in the past by Marines who, finding themselves in trouble (usually in a bar) and needing help would shout, “Semper Fi!” All other Marines, past and present, within the sound of the needy Marine, or Marines, were to come to their brother’s aid. This may have been so, but I’ve not been able to validate this, not to mention that it sounds a bit specious to me.
It was in 1883 that the Marine Corps’ 8th Commandant, Colonel Charles McCawley, adopted this phrase as the official motto for the Corps. Semper Fidelis is emblazoned on the banner held in the talons of the eagle on the Marine Corps seal, the Eagle, Globe and Anchor.
A few years later in 1889, the director of The United States Marines Band, John Philip Sousa, composed what has become the Marine Corps March, “Semper Fidelis.” Sousa believed this to be his greatest musical work.
In our present high-tech age with electronic gadgetry for everything, Marines I communicate with by e-mail frequently conclude their correspondence with “Semper Fi,” or the further shortened, SF. Among Marines, nothing more needs to be said.
Last night during our Ice Cream Social at church, I was speaking with the daughter of a Marine friend who recently tried out for a spot on the ever-popular TV program, “American Idol.” Allie’s dad, Dave, was a Marine, serving with the 3rd Marine Force Recon in Vietnam. Dave earned three Purple Hearts, and two Silver Stars. I met Dave in 1988 while stationed in Stockton, California. It was my privilege to introduce Dave to Jesus Christ. About ten years ago, it was my honor to be the enlisting officer for Dave’s son, Paul, who wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps. Dave died two years ago next month.
So here I am talking with Allie who, in recent years, has been actively pursuing a career in Hollywood. She has a beautiful voice and has been singing in church for as long as I’ve known her. She decided to honor her father during the auditions for American Idol. She chose to sing the Marines Hymn. You know the one – “From the Halls of Montezuma, to the Shores of Tripoli.” I would have really enjoyed being there for her as she dedicated this to her father. The judges were impressed with her performance. However, by her own admission, she said the guy sitting next to her had an incredible voice and was selected to advance by the judges. It took a lot of guts for her to sing a patriotic service song in the bowels of liberal Hollywood. But this is part of what personifies Semper Fidelis.
I know that Dave would be busting his buttons if he were here to see his daughter sing the Marine Corps Hymn. American Idol may have chosen someone else, but there’s not a Marine today who doesn’t stand just a bit taller because Allie has embodied the Marine spirit of Semper Fi.
Listen carefully and you may just hear Marines utter in response another famous sound of Marine pride – Oorah!
Semper Fi, Allie.
Monday, August 13, 2007
Our selection of a base to use is the former Navy base that was the home of the Top Gun school in San Diego. A Number of years ago it was taken over by the Marine Corps. As part of our training we had to help some of our folks pick up some uniforms. The best place for that was at MCRD San Diego. The acronym, MCRD, stands for Marine Corps Recruit Depot. This is otherwise known as “boot camp” for those who would try to become a Marine.
I first arrived at MCRD San Diego on October 27, 1969 to begin the lovely process of becoming a Marine. It’s important to note that anyone aspiring to be a Marine must earn the right to bear the title, “Marine.” In the other branches of the service the moment you are sworn in you can call yourself a soldier, sailor, airman or coastguardsman. Not so with the Marine Corps. You must successfully complete the arduous training regimen lovingly prepared by your Drill Instructors. It is their sole purpose to make life miserable for you so that you will want to quit in the midst of training. You see, if you can’t stand up under the pressure of training in boot camp, how will you ever expect to handle the pressures of a combat environment? Trust me, every recruit who arrives for training will at some point reconsider whether it’s worth it. The first time this desire to say “Forget this!” is when you are standing on the infamous yellow footprints upon arrival at boot camp while your Drill Instructor, wearing the unmistakable “Smokey the Bear” hat, is screaming at you to get off his bus and get on the yellow footprints, while at the same time informing you that he is now your mother and father and will be for the duration of boot camp. The thought that you just may have made a big mistake crosses your mind.
Along with my senior enlisted advisor, RPCS Bob Page, who is also a former enlisted Marine, and RP2 Cisneros, we made the drive to MCRD. This is now the third time I’ve been back to a base that still makes me a bit nervous, wondering if some Drill Instructor is going to pounce on me for daring to enter his domain. This is how strong an affect these men have on you when you are under their care. Nearly thirty-eight years later and a Navy Captain, I still get a kick out of having a Drill Instructor salute me. But I still watch them very closely!
We stopped in at Cash Sales where you can pick up some uniforms rather inexpensively. While RP2 Cisneros was selecting her “digital camies,” I wandered over to the shelf that had the underwear – or what we call “skivvies.” The under shorts (aka: skivvy drawers) were in bins according to size. I needed some new ones so I began to look for my size. The bins that held the most 3-pack packages were of, shall we say, a more “mature” size. The bins that were being emptied the quickest by young recruits who had slim, hardened bodies were the 30” and 32” size. Several thoughts flitted through my mind. First, I used to wear such a ridiculously small size. Second, if I even attempted to put on such a small pair I’d hurt myself. And third, I grabbed my two packs of 38”s and moved quickly to the register.
I had to work real hard the rest of the day not to feel depressed!
We stopped by some recruit barracks set up for recruits who have had medical problems during training. RPCS Page had been asked by a Marine friend of his to visit the man’s son who was there. After those two wandered off, I was invited by the Officer in Charge (OIC) to speak to those recruits who had recently had surgery (broken leg, ankle, arm, etc) and were bed-ridden for the most part. As we walked into the ward, these young, soon-to-be-Marines, to a man, attempted to climb out of their beds and come to attention. I quickly asked them to remain where they were. They relaxed back on their beds waiting to see what I had to say. I told them briefly of my time at MCRD so many years ago, and how I had had some medical issues of my own back then. I had managed to contract both strep throat and food poisoning. I told them to concentrate on healing up so they could get back to their training and graduate from boot camp. I hope my words were helpful, but I have to tell you, I was moved by their courage to persevere. I believe they did more for my morale than I did for theirs.
It is an honor and a privilege to serve alongside these “band of brothers.” Though I’m old enough to be their grandfather, we share a love of God, Country, and Corps that transcends age, gender, ethnicity, faith, ideology and even skivvy size.
You’re in good hands America.
Monday, August 06, 2007
The Mantle of Responsibility
I was reading through the list of news headlines the other day, and noticed two things that clearly stood out. First, the news stories looked just like any other day’s headlines. Second, the level of irresponsible behavior seems normative today. Allow me to give you some examples: 1) GI Guilty of Rape and Murder of Iraqi Girl, Family, 2) Man Guilty of Going to Moldova to Have Sex with Boys, 3) NYC Councilman Charged with Raping Woman in Office, 4) ‘Radioactive Boy Scout’ Charged in Smoke Detector Test, 5) Telemundo Newscaster Suspended for 2 Months Over Affair with Los Angeles Mayor, 6) Dogs Belonging to 'Pulp Fiction' Actor Ving Rhames Maul to Death a 40-year-old Caretaker, 7) House Devolves Into Verbal Fracas, 8) Pakistan Criticizes Obama on Comments. There’s Michael Vick and the dogfights that have been held at his home in Georgia; the Tour de France cycling event that is drawing more attention today for drug abuse than for sportsmanship and athleticism. Or Barry Bonds attempting to break Hank Aaron’s home run record – only Hammerin’ Hank didn’t use steroids. Or Tim Donaghy, a National Basketball Association (NBA) official who has admitted to betting on games where he officiated. Supposedly the money he made calling fouls that weren’t came from the Mob. I wouldn’t want to be in his shoes. Even golf has recently been implicated in the drugs/steroids scandal that is running rampant through all of sports. Golf? Say it ain’t so! Where’s Bobby Jones when you need him? Anyway, you get the idea.
Is it me, or does it seem that the Hollywood types and the glamoratti behave excessively badly? I realize that they are watched in ways that “Joe Citizen” could never appreciate, but that goes with the role. When you are in the spotlight, you’d better understand that you need to “Mind your Ps and Qs,” as my grandmother used to tell me. Whether it’s Mel Gibson being pulled over for drunk driving and then spewing out vile anti-Semitic hate-speech; or Paris Hilton tearfully going to jail after repeatedly driving under the influence; or Senator David Vitter using Capitol “escort services”; it boils down to taking a close look at yourself and asking some hard questions. Is my behavior appropriate for my position? Is this behavior I would accept from my subordinates? How would I react if my children acted the same way I do? If there is a God, and he has standards, should I not expect to meet with his disapproval?
The high-profile personalities we see daily come under such close scrutiny that they can’t even breathe without a camera or a microphone in their face. Most of us wouldn’t want that sort of intrusive attention. I wonder to myself sometimes just how I’d handle a situation like that. I like to imagine I’d handle it with grace and dignity even if being rudely accosted by some news reporter who’s looking for some sensationalistic angle for the next day’s edition.
Most folks have a pretty good sense of what responsibility means. But just so we have a level playing field, here’s Miriam Webster’s definition: moral, legal, or mental accountability; reliability, trustworthiness. Microsoft founder and guru, Bill Gates, discovered a new level of responsibility once he burst out of his garage and onto Wall Street. “There is a certain responsibility that accrued to me when I got to this unexpected position.” I’d love to know what changed for him. Not only is he the wealthiest man in the world (or second wealthiest), but he discovered that besides having more money than is even imaginable, and a place of power and influence unheard of, he still must be responsible in all aspects of his life.
I find this quote from Pope John Paul II, now deceased, to be rather telling, both for us as a nation and as individuals: “Radical changes in world politics leave America with a heightened responsibility to be, for the world, an example of a genuinely free, democratic, just and humane society.”
Are we a genuinely free, democratic, just and humane society? Or do the headlines tell a more sordid and revealing tale?
America’s greatness resides in the moral character of her people. Let us determine today to be the right kind of people.