Marines.Together We Served

Monday, April 30, 2007

War Talk

This morning I was interviewed by a young man who needed to interview a Vietnam veteran for a school project. The purpose of the interview was to ask my opinion about the Vietnam War. To say the least, I was intrigued.

Since I know this young man’s parents, I was curious to see how he would conduct the interview. His father is a colonel in the Army Reserve and has served in the current war in Iraq.

The interview was great fun for me because I got to talk about some of my favorite subjects: History, and War. We allowed for an hour, but it lasted almost two, and we weren’t even done! I will plead guilty since I was going back into the history of our nation and how we wound up in Vietnam. I was on a roll! To his credit, this young man is very bright and has a firm grasp of American history. Let me say right now that if more Americans knew their history like this teenager does, we wouldn’t be having so much fuss over the current war in Iraq.

This all got me to thinking about the whys and wherefores of war. Let’s take the Civil War for example (a particular favorite of mine). Asked which of the battles was critical to the overall outcome, you might hear: Gettysburg, Shiloh, Antietam, or Bull Run. Undoubtedly, all these and others were important. But in my personal opinion, the decisive battles were fought in New Mexico. You read this right – New Mexico.

You see, when President Lincoln assumed the presidency in February of 1861, the formulation of a Confederate government was already in the works. Lincoln was opposed to slavery, make no mistake. However, he was more concerned in keeping the Union intact. He knew that if he came into the presidency breathing threats against states that were planning to secede he would invite the apparently inevitable Civil War. The drumbeats of civil war had begun in earnest in the early 1830s.

Lincoln believed he could avoid the war by isolating the south. If slavery were maintained in the southern states alone, economic and social pressure would eventually force a change, bringing about the desired end of slavery. Only fifteen percent of southerners owned slaves, so there appeared to be no need to engage in a civil war. Unfortunately, southerners did not see it the same way. They felt their lifestyle and economic successes were being threatened. Here’s where New Mexico comes in.

Everyone in the United States in those days was enamored with the lands to the west. Many a family, as is well known, packed up all their belongings in Conestoga wagons and moved west. Southerners were no exception. The problem was they wanted to take their slaves with them. President Lincoln believed that if this was permitted, slavery would spread to these new western areas, thus encouraging and extending the existence of slavery in the United States.

In addition, the Union blockade of southern shipping ports was having a critical effect on the southern economy. If the south could open up a passage through New Mexico and Arizona to California, they could be resupplied from the west. This had already been tried through Mexico, but failed due to France’s own war in Mexico. Lincoln was very concerned that Napoleon III would succeed in Mexico, opening a way of providing supplies to the south, not to mention France’s violation of the Monroe Doctrine which prohibited other nations (Read: European) from gaining a foothold anywhere in the Americas. The French had their hands full with Mexico, so by the time France succeeded in defeating the Mexican forces, it was 1863 and there was no longer any incentive for France to support what appeared to be a losing cause for the Confederacy.

New Mexico battles in 1861 and 1862 were decisive for this very reason: It arrested the expansion of slavery into the western areas, and it shut off an avenue of supply that the Confederacy desperately needed.

The New Mexico Territory was originally controlled by Confederates forces, having been declared for the Southern Cause, or at least until Union forces showed up. This territory consisted of western New Mexico, most of Arizona, a small part of Colorado, and Nevada. The Battle of Glorieta Pass in April of 1862, known as the “Gettysburg of the West,” was the pivotal battle that changed the course of American history.

One amusing incident would send today’s animal rights activists into a state of apoplexy. Confederate Captain James Graydon of the New Mexican scouts and spies, concocted a rather ingenious plan. Unfortunately for the good captain, known as “Paddy,” the plan backfired – literally. Hoping to disrupt the Union forces, he took two mules that were quite old, strapped them with howitzer shells and a lighted fuse and sent them walking toward the supply of Union cattle grazing nearby. The mules instead, turned around and followed the Confederate forces back toward camp. Paddy and his boys took to flight, racing to safety. Far behind them, the shells exploded harmlessly – except for the unfortunate mules.

War, like the rest of life, indeed has its strange twists and turns.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Loving Life

History does tend to repeat itself.

In the seemingly endless stalemate between Congress and the President over funding of the War on Terrorism, some interesting comments have been made by both sides. "I strongly reject the artificial timetable withdrawal and/or Washington politicians trying to tell those who wear the uniform how to do their job," Bush said from the Oval Office after a National Security Council meeting with Gen. David Petraeus, commander of the Multinational Forces in Iraq.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, said, “We have met the enemy, and it is Bush.” Reid spoke just hours after Bush rejected the Democratic leader's suggestion that "the new Congress will show him the way" out of Iraq (This from Fox News).

As the president struggles with Congress to approve the budget for our military without placing a “get out of Iraq” timeline, I was reminded of a quote by Confederate General Robert E. Lee, arguably one of the greatest military strategists in American history. He, too, had his critics and detractors, nipping at his heels like so many pesky dogs. In 1863, General Lee, said, "It appears we have appointed our worst generals to command forces, and our most gifted and brilliant to edit newspapers! In fact, I discovered by reading newspapers that these editor/geniuses plainly saw all my strategic defects from the start, yet failed to inform me until it was too late. Accordingly, I'm readily willing to yield my command to these obviously superior intellects, and I'll, in turn, do my best for the Cause by writing editorials - after the fact."

If you’re like me, you have to be scratching your head over the continuous rancor inside the Washington Beltway. How difficult is it to see that we are in a war against a very determined enemy who cares nothing for our way of life; who has no value or appreciation for life; who has no interest in coming to any negotiating table; who sees the freedoms we enjoy as a menace and a threat to their perception of life; and who has every intention of dominating the world using every means possible to achieve their goal? This is a short list, but you get the idea.

The media today is certainly doing its part to put out the message of defeatism. Well, goodness me, folks, wouldn’t it be nice if life were nice and neat and clean? Why, we could fix all the world’s problems if we took the advice of certain media types and politicians. They have the answers, of course!

In the following quote, you get a pretty good picture of what we’re up against in this war. This is a statement by the military spokesman for al-Qaeda in Europe, Abu Dujan al-Afghani, in 2004. “We declare our responsibility for what happened in Madrid exactly two-and-a-half years after the attacks on New York and Washington. It is a response to your collaboration with the criminals Bush and his allies. This is a response to the crimes that you have caused in the world, and specifically in Iraq and Afghanistan, and there will be more, if God wills it. You love life and we love death, which gives an example of what the Prophet Muhammad said. If you don't stop your injustices, more and more blood will flow and these attacks will seem very small compared to what can occur in what you call terrorism.”

This concept of “loving death,” first came about at the Battle of Qadisiyya in the year 636, when the commander of the Muslim forces sent a message to the commander of the Persian forces in which he stated, "You should convert to Islam, and then you will be safe, for if you don't, you should know that I have come to you with an army of men that love death, as you love life."

President Bush is attempting to preserve our nation, along with the free world, from those who would destroy us. In his speech of March 19, 2004, President Bush referred to this concept: "On a tape claiming responsibility for the atrocities in Madrid, a man is heard to say, 'We choose death, while you choose life.'... It is a mindset that rejoices in suicide, incites murder, and celebrates every death we mourn. And we who stand on the other side of the line must be equally clear and certain of our convictions. We do love life.... We believe in the values that uphold the dignity of life, tolerance, and freedom, and the right of conscience. And we know that this way of life is worth defending. There is no neutral ground — no neutral ground — in the fight between civilization and terror, because there is no neutral ground between good and evil, freedom and slavery, and life and death."

Some people love their own lives so much that they will surrender, quit, appease, cow-tow, or roll-over believing this will satisfy the bad guys. It won’t. Death is preferable to such a life. Patrick Henry had it right: “Give me liberty or give me death.”

Then there are some who love life enough to defend it.

So why does our all-volunteer military go off and fight our wars? Do they enjoy killing people? Is there some gratuitous sense of glee when they bomb and destroy towns and villages? Do they take glory in the possibilities of dying on foreign soil? No, to all of these. They are patriots who love life and are willing to defend you and me so that all of us may enjoy our blood-bought freedoms.

Let us not dishonor their efforts and sacrifice. They deserve our prayers and support now more than ever.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Chocolate Bunnies

This past Easter Sunday morning I stepped into the pulpit to deliver my sermon on the resurrection of Jesus entitled, “The Showdown.” As a minister of the gospel, there is no other theme like the resurrection that excites the soul and gets the adrenaline pumping. I was ready!

As is my habit, I typically share something humorous or personal before I get down to the meatier business of preaching.

Allow me to set the stage further. The evening before, as we sat around the dinner table, our daughters put this question to their mother: “Didn’t you get us an Easter basket?” My wife is the provider of such things, so all eyes, including my mother’s, were now fixed on my wife. Her response was not what we wanted to hear. “You’re too old for such things!” Gracious! Too old? You’re never too old, especially for chocolate. To say there was a pall over the dinner after that would be putting it mildly.

You see, I always look forward to receiving a chocolate Easter bunny every year. A basket for the girls is fine. Just let me have my chocolate bunny – preferably solid chocolate – not that hollow stuff. But this year I got nothing!
At fifty-eight I am not too old. Neither is my mother who will soon be ninety-two. Our girls are twenty-eight and twenty-five. I’ve never heard of an Easter grinch, but I believe there’s one lurking in our neighborhood!

So there I am the next morning standing in the pulpit sharing chit-chat with the congregation. I casually mention (some would call it whining) that I didn’t get my chocolate Easter bunny this year. Okay, so maybe I pouted a little bit. I’m not too old! I’m not! I’m not!

When I arrive in my office the next day I find a chocolate bunny on my desk, lovingly placed there by my secretary who took pity on me. The next morning there’s another chocolate bunny dropped off by one of the church folk.

Then Sunday morning when I enter the sanctuary for our first service I notice three more chocolate bunnies. One was on the communion table, and the other two were on the pulpit. This now makes five bunnies! True to bunnies, they were multiplying!

I teach an adult Sunday school class between our two worship services, so when I came back into the sanctuary for our second service I discovered two more Easter bunnies on the pulpit. At the end of the service while I was greeting folks at the door one lady told me to stay where I was – she was going to her car to get me a chocolate bunny she had brought for me. Now I have eight!

When I arrived home my oldest daughter presented me with my ninth and last chocolate Easter bunny. I still have yet to receive one from my wife. There’s still time!

It has been said that money talks,
but chocolate sings!

This all got me to thinking. Given enough time, I’m sure I could develop a theological treatise on the Biblical evidence supporting the fact that those who will reside in heaven will be feasting on copious amounts of chocolate throughout eternity. I’m sure there are plenty of Scripture verses to support this claim. Let’s see . . . . “Open thy mouth wide and I will fill it.” That’ll work. Then there’s this one – “He that putteth his trust in the Lord shall be made fat.” Yes! And I like this one! “O taste and see that the Lord is good.”

See? I’ve already begun to exegete a theological basis for chocolate being in heaven. It’s simple. Chocolate is frequently considered to be “divine.” Well, divine means it is from God. So where God is, there has to be chocolate. Right? Following sound deductive reasoning, this would naturally lead us to conclude that chocolate is a heavenly food. Since Jesus rose from the dead on Easter and now resides in heaven, we will celebrate his resurrection every day in glory. Therefore, since chocolate bunnies are only available on Easter, and we will celebrate Easter every day in heaven, we’ll get to eat chocolate forever!

Oh, and then there’s this! In heaven “there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” No longer will we have to worry about fat grams, empty calories, high cholesterol, and clogged arteries! Hallelujah!

The future looks bright. I think I’ll have a chocolate bunny!

Monday, April 09, 2007

#1 All Time Best Seller

The Bible – hands down.

Just how many Bibles have been sold to make it the #1 All Time Best Seller in the world? Try 2.5 billion. Add eight zeros to that 2.5. That’s a lot of Bibles!

Such information has not always been available to us for several reasons. Not so very many years ago, obtaining a Bible was costly because of the expense involved in printing. Before the printing press was created in 1440 Bibles had to be copied by hand. Few could afford to own one for personal use. Once the printing press with moveable type was developed, the Bible was published soon after in 1450. This was the Gutenberg Bible, printed by Johannes Gutenberg from Mainz, Germany. It was also known as the 42-line Bible, and the Mazarin Bible. It didn’t take long for Bibles to start rolling off the presses, even though the cost was still out of reach for most folks.

Fast forward to the early 1800s. European nations were still mostly ruled by monarchs (kings, queens or dictators), whereas in the United States, with its new republican form of government (that is, a government of the people; a government by representatives chosen by the people), an emerging middle class was developing that quickly began to move up from the poverty level, and acquire significant “fruit for their labor.” Living hand-to-mouth became less the norm. On the other hand, for the average worker, he soon discovered he had what has become known as “expendable income.” Americans could now buy luxury items, items that were not essential in keeping body and soul together. As a Christian nation, a nation that revered the Bible, even using it early on in our history as a primer in the school system, Americans would buy a Bible before anything else. More due to the size of print and thickness of paper, Bibles were large and heavy. Thus, people would buy a “Family Bible,” which would be passed down to succeeding generations.

In 1815 sales records began to be kept on the sale of Bibles. Since that time, as I stated earlier, approximately 2.5 billion Bibles have been sold.

Fast forward now to 2007. A story broke last week concerning a Texas legislator putting forward a bill which would mandate Texas high schools to offer history and literacy courses on the Old and New Testaments. It is important to note that this course would be an elective. If you’re not familiar with this term, an elective course is one that is not required for graduation. Each student is authorized to take a certain number of elective courses.

Representative Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, author of the bill, is quoted as saying, “We’re not going to preach the Bible, we’re going to teach the Bible and how it affects all of our writings, documents and the formation of our government. We’re taking it as a document that has historical value. It’s the most widely distributed book in the world.”

As you would expect, there are various organizations that are opposed to this bill. However, the bill is careful to say that the courses must be taught in an, “objective and non-devotional manner” that does not attempt to indoctrinate students. That’s fair enough.

But let me ask this question: Are other courses of instruction which are presently administered in our school systems required to be taught in an “objective and non-devotional manner” that does not attempt to indoctrinate students? Let me give you an example. Despite the hysteria raised against those of us who believe in a Creator God, and that there is no verifiable evidence to support the theories of evolution, our students are indeed indoctrinated in this supposed scientific discipline. Evolution is taught in our schools as fact. And this is one of those classes that is required for graduation. It is not an elective.

I’m simply suggesting that there is no level playing field in our educational institutions.

I have enjoyed studying all my life. It is a source of joy for me. I have also made it a habit to study beliefs I do not necessarily embrace. While in seminary, I would research the beliefs of those who were opposed to the Christian faith, such as Karl Marx, Voltaire, etc. I also have found it to be most enlightening to study religious faiths that are different than my own. I also encourage my congregation to study and know more about such things. It’s called “education.”

It would seem that in our country today, too many Americans have arrived at a point where they are fearful of those with differing views. Everyone else is perceived as a threat. That’s a pity. Our students deserve better. Let them be encouraged to learn all they can so they can then decide for themselves.

What will become of the bill in Texas? I don’t know, but I’m almost certain it will become embroiled in legal deliberations.

Teaching the Bible so students can better understand our nation’s historical roots makes perfect sense. We should value the study of history, not vilify it.

And then I read today that the school system in Great Britain will no longer teach about the Holocaust because Muslim students don’t believe the Holocaust ever happened. To continue to teach it would “offend them.”

On my last day in Jerusalem a few weeks back, I spent a couple of hours in the Holocaust Museum. It was one of the most sobering experiences of my life. To say this ghastly historic event didn’t happen is beyond the absurd.

God help us.

Monday, April 02, 2007

My Easter Story

Having just returned from Israel last week, it has made me pause in my reflections on the Easter event.

Viewing the empty tomb where Jesus had been placed after his crucifixion, I couldn’t help but think that man’s need for salvation is indeed universal. I say this because of the three major theistic religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam; each is looking for a Savior to appear on the scene to make the world right.

According to the Jewish faith today, they are yet waiting for Messiah to appear. Our Jewish tour guide, Nola, mentioned that many Jews chose to be buried on the slopes of the Kidron Valley facing the Temple Mount because when the Christ arrives, that is where he will set foot. The hillside is filled to overflowing with the hopeful who want to be raised up when Messiah descends.

Now take the Muslims. In their belief, the Mahdi (also known as the 12th Imam) will return to rule the world, placing all nations under Islamic law. This Savior character, according to their teaching, disappeared down a well a little over a thousand years ago. Muslims now work toward preparing for his return.

Those of us that are Christians believe Christ has already come in the person of Jesus Christ. Instead, we now look for his Second Coming when he will return to earth to establish his earthly kingdom. This will be a theocratic rule for a thousand years.

It is obvious to see the similarities between these three faiths. Each has a firm belief that a Savior/Messiah will come to set everything in order – a spiritual Camelot, if you will.

I was not raised to believe in any one particular belief system or faith. My brother, sister and I were taught to say our prayers every night before crawling into bed. It was the same prayer that many of you were taught, no doubt: “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take. God bless mommy, etc., etc., etc.”

So why did I embrace the Christian faith? Truth be told, I wasn’t looking to embrace any faith. By the time I was twenty I had pretty much adopted a philosophy of life that was epitomized in the Schlitz beer slogan at that time: “You only go around once in life, so grab for all the gusto you can!” I did my share of that, but it wasn’t satisfying. In particular, it did not satisfy the questions of the soul. I had no problem believing in God, I just didn’t know you could actually have a relationship with him. That seemed a bit far-fetched to me.

In 1972 I was a sergeant in the Marine Corps. One evening I walked into a Christian Servicemen’s Center in Yokosuka, Japan. I heard the taped testimony of an evangelist, explaining how he had come to faith in Jesus Christ. He explained how Jesus had come to this world to take care of two things that no person can fix: Sin and Death. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus, God’s demand for the problem of sin was satisfied. I couldn’t do anything about my own sinfulness and God knew that. So he took care of it for me. As for death, I can’t do anything about that either. But because Jesus rose from the dead, he defeated the threat of death that has hung over the human race since the Fall. So if I place my faith and trust in him, my physical body will die, but I will live forever with him in heaven, complete with a new body that will no longer suffer the ravages of this sinful, fallen world.

The evidence to support the person and work of Jesus was so overwhelming to me that I simply could not deny it. That is why I became a Christian, and why every Easter is special. The tomb is empty. The angel declared, “He is not here, for he is risen!”

Two things that were completely beyond my control – sin and death – and Jesus took care of them. What a Savior! How could I not love him?

And that’s my Easter story. Happy Easter!