Marines.Together We Served

Monday, May 28, 2007

Somethin' Squirrelly's Goin' On!

Sermon preparation is always an interesting exercise. Each week I sit down to begin the process of prayerful study in crafting my message for the next Sunday. Okay, okay, okay! So maybe it was hastily thrown together at the last minute in a state of sheer panic. But don’t let my bishop know!

Last week was no exception. I recently began a sermon series working my way through the New Testament book of I Corinthians. I’m taking a chapter-by-chapter approach, so last Sunday I was preaching from chapter five. The title of the sermon was, “Satan, Sin, Salvation.”

I live in a small town in the Central Valley of California. Ripon’s population is around 14,000. Around here I’m still considered a newcomer, only having been assigned here as pastor since 1998. However, in that time the town has grown by half.

Small towns are great! I have discovered over the years that not everyone agrees with me regarding small towns. I’ll hear folks say, “I couldn’t wait to move out of that small town I grew up in!” When I would ask them why, the answer usually sounded like this: “Because everyone knows your business!” This is when I would ask the question, “What were you doing that you wouldn’t want people to know about it?”

Anyway, last Friday three Marine recruiters I know in the local area picked me up to drive to Monterey where we were to play in a golf tournament hosted by an Army command. Since this was about a two-and-a-half hour drive, I took several articles I had saved in a file, along with my Large Print Bible. After about an hour on the road, comfortably seated in the front passenger’s seat with my Bible open on my lap to I Corinthians, I decided a power nap was in order.

I woke up refreshed about twenty minutes later. The Staff Sergeant driving the car looked over at me and said, “Sir, Corinthians can’t be that boring!” I chuckled and said for everyone in the car to hear, “No, it’s far from boring. In fact, let me read you the first verse from the chapter I’ll be preaching on this Sunday: ‘It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that does not occur even among pagans: A man has his father’s wife. And you are proud!’” You could have heard a pin drop!

I had been wrestling with this passage all week trying to figure out the best way to present it. The Apostle Paul had many difficult issues to address with this fledgling church he had started in Corinth, and sexual immorality was one of the biggest problems he faced.

I remembered a song by novelty singer/songwriter Ray Stevens called, “Mississippi Squirrel Revival.” It was perfect! In the same way Paul was attempting to reason with these new Christians in Corinth regarding the continued sinful behavior on the part of some in the congregation, this song, too, by Ray Stevens pokes a humorous finger at sin and forgiveness in the church today. My favorite lines in the song pretty well tell the story. A squirrel is let loose in a church service . . .

All the way down to the Amen Pew,
Where sat sister Bertha Better-Than-You,
Who’d been watching all the commotion with sadistic glee,
But you shoulda seen the look in her eyes
When that squirrel jumped her garters and crossed her thighs
And she jumped to her feet and said, “Lord, have mercy on me!”

As the squirrel made laps inside her dress,
She began to cry and then to confess
To sins that would make a sailor blush with shame!
She told of gossip and church dissention,
But the thing that got the most attention
Was when she talked about her love life, and then she started naming names!

The day the squirrel went berserk
In the First Self-Righteous Church
In that sleepy little town of Pascagoula!
It was a fight for survival
That broke out in revival
They were jumpin’ pews and shoutin’ “Hallelujah!”

So on Sunday morning at a certain point in my message, I had the audio/video guy play this song. It was a hoot! Folks were laughing and enjoying the song. Much to my surprise, there were actually some who had never heard the song before!

The point was made: Your sins will find you out. But by confessing that sin, there is forgiveness and true repentance.

The verse that reinforces this is found in Galatians 6 where Paul writes, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The man who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.”

Let me ask you: Are you hiding something? Do you worry that you will be found out? Well then, now’s as good a time as any to confess it to Jesus who is the only one that can cleanse you of sin. Trust me: You’ll feel much better.

And you won’t have to worry about some half-crazed squirrel spilling the beans on you!

Monday, May 21, 2007

God - Bless America

Memorial Day: A day to remember and honor those who have died in the defense of our nation.

For me it began on Mother’s Day. My wife and I celebrated this annual event with my mother on Saturday night so that my wife could spend Sunday afternoon with her mother.

So after completing our morning church services, mom and I headed to Ripon High School for an afternoon concert on the grassy amphitheater. It just so happened that the United States Air Force Band of the Golden West was in town. They performed a wonderful variety of musical selections to a most appreciative audience of locals who came out with lawn chairs and blankets on this warm spring day.

Concluding the performance was the song, “The Last Full Measure of Devotion.” It was a poignant reminder of the cost of Freedom. It reminded me of those days back in the 1950s and early ‘60s when we’d have community get-togethers with WWI, WWII and Korean War veterans. I miss that, but it was good to get a taste of it again.

While at the concert a poem printed on patriotic paper was being handed out to all in attendance, entitled, “Walk Proud Veteran,” written by Patty Bickle in 1988. Two verses got my attention:

Don’t be discouraged Veteran,
By those who don’t seem to care –
Perhaps they don’t understand
The reasons why you were there.
Walk proud Veteran,
With your head held high!
All America should shake your hand
When they see you passing by.

Then on Wednesday there was a funeral service for Cpl Charles Palmer. He was killed May 5th by an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) in Iraq. It seems like all of the folks in Manteca came out to show their respects. I’m told there were 2400 American flags lining the streets of town, not to mention the dozens more adorning the Manteca First Assembly of God Church where the service was held. You see, the pastor is a Vietnam veteran.

During the service for this Marine, his wife read the words he had written when he reenlisted in the Marines, November 28, 2005, in his mid-30s. It’s simply called, “Why I Want to be a Marine.”

“I, Charles O. Palmer II, reenlist in the Marines because it is home. The camaraderie, loyalty, and comfort level is not found outside of the Marines. I have attempted, and was unable at this point to find a job equal to the Marines – one that enables you to feel a sense of accomplishment that I felt on a daily basis while serving my country. I look forward to serving with others that have the sense of duty that is unwavering no matter what challenges we face."

The funeral procession drove through the town on its way to the cemetery accepting the cheers and tears of well-wishers standing among the American flags flapping vigorously in the afternoon delta breeze. Rolling past an elementary school, all the children, along with their teachers, were standing respectfully against the cyclone fence separating them from the hearse bearing the body of their local hero. Some of the children were holding up small American flags; others were quietly waving to the passing caravan; and the rest stood still, simply watching the somber event.

Well-known radio preacher Chuck Swindoll, a former Marine himself, wrote this poem, called, “A Nation’s Prayer.”

Almighty God, we pause to reflect on your character as we seek wisdom for such a time as this.
In these unsafe days, you remain all-powerful and able to protect.
In these uncertain times, you remain all-knowing, leading us aright.
In the unprecedented events we’re facing, you remain absolutely sovereign.
Our times are in your hands.
Therefore, our dependence on you is total, not partial . . . our need for your forgiveness is constant . . . our gratitude for your grace is profound . . . out love for you is deep.
We ask that you guard and guide our President and all who serve the people of these United States. May uncompromising integrity mark their lives.
We also ask that you unite us as truly “one nation, under God.” May genuine humility return to our ranks.
And may that blend of integrity and humility heal our land.
In our Lord’s name we pray,

So, as you gather together with friends and family this Memorial Day weekend, barbequing and enjoying your freedom as Americans, be sure to take time to remember and give thanks to God for men like Cpl Charles Palmer and his family.

America will remain free as long as she has men and women willing to defend her against all enemies, and as long as Americans remember the sacrifice made by such heroes who have given their last full measure of devotion in order to keep us a free people.

God – bless them. And God - bless America.

Monday, May 14, 2007

The Beloved Blankie

My wife and I are entering into new territory. Our youngest daughter, Jenny, is to be married next month. This is the first wedding for our family, so it’s really a big deal.

For weeks now everything around our house has been about the upcoming wedding. A week ago my wife hosted a bridal shower in our home. The list of things to get done for this particular event made preparations for the Olympics look like child’s play. The “Honey do” list was enough to make me consider giving the couple a large wad of cash, plus gas money to Reno. However, being a minister of the gospel, I figured that to suggest such a thing probably would not go over well.

Friends of mine are placing bets that I will not be able to get through the wedding ceremony without tears rolling down my checks and my throat constricting. I’m sure the bookies in Vegas are running 3-1 odds against me finishing the ceremony. You see, as father of the bride, I will first walk Jenny down the aisle. A long-time friend, Ed McGuigan, is a minister in Cincinnati. He and his wife Dolly are coming out for the wedding. Ed will be assisting me, particularly with the opening remarks before I give Jenny away. Once I have given Jenny to Josh, I will step into the place as minister and continue the ceremony.

We have a slew of friends and family coming for this event. Folks will be arriving from all over the U.S. On top of that, we have been notified by two former foreign exchange students that they will be traveling from Hungary and Brazil, respectively.

As the bridal shower approached, my wife asked me to write something for her to read to Jenny. My first thoughts were to write something humorous, poking fun at her in front of all the ladies attending the shower. Then it was suggested that I write something about Jenny’s blankie. When I thought about her “blankie,” I knew I had to be serious. The following is what I wrote for my wife to read about Jenny’s beloved blankie.

“We’re not quite sure, but we think Jenny was born with her blankie.

From day one she and her blankie were inseparable. In fact, life without her blankie was unthinkable. In the nursery rhyme Mary had her little lamb. Big sister Laura had her Elmo. But Jenny had her blankie.

The blankie did faithfully go everywhere that Jenny went. Whether the blankie was dragged, pulled, tugged, stretched, wrapped in a ball, or simply hugged, the blankie never complained. You see, the blankie knew that Jenny loved it. And that was enough for the blankie.

The blankie had been lovingly made by a dear saint of God, who has long since gone to be with the Lord. Because the blankie was made by loving hands, this blankie learned to love in return.

Jenny has always been practical when it comes to going to sleep. In the evening when she was tired she would curl up with her blankie wherever she happened to be and go to sleep. When mom or dad would gently carry her to her bed, it was always with the blankie tucked right alongside.

In the mornings when Jenny would first appear, the blankie would be in tow, dragged behind, sliding along, bumping into whatever was in its path, and even getting snagged so that over time the blankie needed to be mended. This is where mom would gently sew the pieces back together. It never looked like new again, but that was part of its beauty. In Jenny’s eyes this was her blankie. It may be tattered and torn, but she loved it all the more.

There came a day when Jenny’s love for her blankie was put to the test. It was during a visit to Uncle Johnny and Aunt Lynne’s in Anchorage, Alaska. Big plans were made to hike the famous Resurrection Trail with the church youth group. Would nine-year-old Jenny like to go? Not without her blankie. But Uncle Johnny said “No.” You see, we would be gone five days, carrying our own packs, so there was to be no unnecessary baggage. Jenny went to her mom in tears and said, “Uncle Johnny says I can’t take my blankie (Sniff, Sniff).” Then she declared, “I don’t want to go!” And that was that!

Well, dad took things out of Jenny’s pack and put them in his. This made room for Jenny’s beloved blankie. The trip was a hard one, but Jenny had her blankie and everything was just fine.

And isn’t that just like Jesus? When you have Him, everything is indeed right with the world.”

After my wife read this at the bridal shower, she presented Jenny with a beautifully wrapped package. Inside was her blankie, kept these many years for just such an occasion. Jenny and her beloved blankie are once again reunited. Only this time she’ll be introducing her blankie to a new family . . . . her own.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Monkey Business

The phrase, “Truth is stranger than fiction,” is proven correct once more.

The other morning I was looking through the news headlines on the Internet. I read one article which I found utterly amusing for its absurdity. It referenced a letter from the folks at PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) written to Norm Goldstein, the editor of the Associated Press.

The letter was respectful, to the point, and well written. The content, on the other hand, was a hoot! Here’s the opening paragraph: “On behalf of PETA’s more than 1.6 million members and supporters worldwide, I am writing to request that you revise The Associated Press Stylebook so that its grammatical rules reflect the fact that animals are living beings rather than inanimate objects. In magazine articles, popular literature, and advertising, writers are using ‘he,’ ‘she,’ and ‘who’ to refer to animals – instead of the outdated and inaccurate ‘it’ and ‘which.’ Won’t you consider making this transition as well?”

Inanimate objects? Who in their right mind considers animals inanimate? Allow me to offer some synonyms for “inanimate”: lifeless, dead, nonliving, inert, inorganic, to mention a few. The word “animal” comes from the Latin word, animalis, "living being, being which breathes," from anima "breath, soul." Point of fact, it was the Protestant Reformation (16th Century) that brought about the change in terms used towards animals. Prior to this, animals were referred to as “beasts.”

Here’s another paragraph in the letter I found highly amusing. “The public now recognizes that whales, who sing across oceans; great apes, who share more than 98 percent of our DNA; sheep, who can recognize as many as 50 faces after not having seen them for two years; and pigs and chickens, who can learn to operate switches in order to control heat and light in factory-farm sheds, are feeling, intelligent individuals – not objects. Our language should reflect this.”

Correction! Our language is just fine, thank you. We do not need to refer to the sex/gender of animals. Who’s checking to determine gender anyway? I have a hard enough time in today’s culture figuring out if a person is male or female. Think about it! What would we do with a word like hermaphrodite, which is an animal or plant that normally possesses both male and female reproductive systems, producing both eggs and sperm?

Now, here’s the kicker. An Austrian animal rights group, known as the Association Against Animal Factories (AAAF), is arguing in a court case the need to recognize the “personhood” of chimpanzees. I kid you not! “Our main argument is that Hiasl (pronounced HEE-zul, the main chimp in this case) is a person and has basic legal rights,” said Eberhart Theuer, a lawyer leading the challenge on behalf of the AAAF. This will be fun to watch over the next several months as this case makes its way through the Austrian court system.

This all brought back to mind a song a friend of mine, Ed McGuigan, wrote many years ago. It was 1976. It’s called “Evolution Revolution.” It wonderfully highlights the absurdity of man being like monkeys. Here are some of the lines from this parody:

Well you say that the Bible is a fairy tale,
But you like Darwin’s theory really swell;
But it takes less faith to believe in hell,
Than that the ocean produced a living cell.
And the cell crawled onto the land,
And after many years became the form of a man;
And when he finally stood up on his knees,
Well he grabbed him a vine and started swinging through the trees.

God’s word says that as humans we are to take care of everything in the natural environment. “God blessed them and said to them (i.e., Adam & Eve), ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

Ed’s final verse to the song goes like this:

Well he didn’t leave any place for his relatives,
But I guess it doesn’t matter anyway;
Because I’m sure someday we’re going to hear them say:
“We’re equal to man and we want our own way!”
Well I don’t believe evolution is the truth,
I do believe the opposite is true;
And if you look into the Bible your face will turn blue,
‘Cause you’ll realize they’ve tried to make a monkey out of YOU!