Marines.Together We Served

Monday, June 25, 2007

Ready or Not

It has been said that there are two things we cannot avoid in this life: Death and Taxes!

Among the many reasons I chose to embrace the Christian faith is this matter of death. As a child, the idea of death frightened me terribly. One of the places I used to play was a cemetery a few blocks from our home in New Jersey. My reasons for playing at this location were mixed. Let me make it clear that I had no real interest in the many graves, or who was buried there. The attraction for me and my friends was the gravel drive that meandered through the cemetery. It was cool to spin the back tire of your bike on the gravel, scattering stones everywhere!

Occasionally I would notice a tombstone that had fallen over, long neglected and forgotten. Or there were headstones that were made of softer material that eventually wore away so that you could no longer read the name or dates of the person’s life. I believe it was this that frightened me more than anything else. To be forgotten! As though you never even existed! Would I simply cease to exist? Would I be forgotten by even future family members? This was unthinkable to me.

As an adult I was introduced to Jesus and the many claims that he made. But it was his ability to conquer death, along with the promise that if I would trust him he would prepare a place for me in heaven, and then one day take me there. Wow! This was great news. From that time on the fear of death was gone.

My wife is currently reading a book entitled, “The Journey Home: Finishing with Joy,” by Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ. He is also the author of “The Four Spiritual Laws” tract, and producer of the “Jesus” film, seen by more than five billion people world-wide. He quotes from the great English preacher of the 1800s, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, regarding death and heaven.
“Spurgeon, known for teaching directly from passages of Scripture, stood at the pulpit and left the Bible closed. ‘Some have found fault with me,’ he said, ‘contending that I am too old-fashioned. I am always quoting the Bible and do not say enough about science. Well, there’s a poor widow here who has lost her only son. She wants to know if she will ever see him again. Let’s turn to science for the answer: Will she see him? Where is he? Does death end all?’ There was a long pause. ‘We’re waiting for an answer,’ he said. ‘This woman is anxious.’ Another long pause. ‘Nothing to say? Then we’ll turn to the Book!’ Spurgeon then began to cite the joyous promises of God about heaven and the assurance that believers have in Christ.”
Dr. Bright went to heaven in 2003.

Sunday afternoon my wife and I visited an elderly widow in our church. Her name is Polly, and she’s 86 years old. She is an inspiration to me. Her attitude is so refreshing! She lives in her little farm house just outside of town that once belonged to her grandparents. In recent years this diminutive lady has been diagnosed with several ailments. When I asked her why she has chosen not to receive further medical treatment, or to be under the care of the medical staff in a hospital, she said, “I have three incurable ailments. Why go through the bother of being constantly poked, prodded, and tested?” Then she said something that really struck me. “People who are afraid to die aren’t ready to die.” Polly prefers to live in her home, surrounded by familiar things which bring back warm memories. Her son, Tim, lives next door with his family. She also has visits from hospice.

This Saturday there will be a large family reunion. Polly is really looking forward to this time, hopeful that she will have the energy to enjoy being with so many of her loved ones. Then she added this, “If I’m not here for this reunion, I’ll be attending another reunion in heaven!”

Jesus spoke these most comforting of words in John 14:1-3.
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”

Now that sure sounds like heaven to me! I’m ready to go!

Are you ready?

Monday, June 18, 2007

These are the Times

My wife and I were driving to our daughter and new son-in-law’s home for Father’s Day dinner. A car passed us with a bumper sticker that said, “Honor the Warrior, Not the War.” That got me to thinking.

Just how do you honor the warrior and not the war which the warrior is fighting? Besides that, our military today is an “All Volunteer Military.” No one has to join. Those who have decided to sign on the dotted line do so because they want to, not because they have to.

The draft is a thing of the past. However, not long after 9-11 there was a great deal of talk going around about the draft being brought back. Our nation did have a draft in place between the years 1948 and 1973. It became one of the main points of contention during the Vietnam War, 1964-1975. In January of 2003 Representative Charles Rangel, Democrat, New York, introduced a bill to reinstate the draft. From everything I have read this bill never had a chance.

I have been a part of the military since the late 1960s when I was in college and a member of the PLC Program (Platoon Leaders Class – a college program for future Marine officers). There is a question which every warrior must ultimately ask himself: Is my country worth defending? There can be no equivocating on this. The warrior must come down on one side of this issue or the other.

It is important to remember that all wars are at their core, political. Usually it’s as simple as one nation having something another nation wants. What follows is an attempt to negotiate the differences. If that doesn’t work, then a certain amount of saber-rattling takes place in an attempt to intimidate. If that is unsuccessful, then military forces begin the preparation for armed conflict. And if that fails, final attempts to negotiate take place. Only then do we see the inevitability of the clash of arms.

Though the warrior stands ready to defend the nation against all enemies, the whys and wherefores of how this conflict has come about are not his concern. The warrior is there to obey the orders of those who are senior, leading right up to the Commander in Chief – the President of the United States. In the history of this grand republic of ours there has never been a president who has had to order men to take up arms who has not borne the enormous burden of that decision the rest of his life. This flows right down the chain-of-command. Generals and Admirals agonize over executing these orders, knowing that men and women in the prime of their youth will face death’s door.

General Dwight D. Eisenhower wrote a letter prior to the invasion of Normandy, June 6, 1944. This strategic military plan was to be the beginning of the end of Hitler’s chokehold on Europe. It would also come at a great cost in human lives. But it spared the world of further madness from this maniacal dictator. Take note of what Eisenhower says.
“My decision to attack at this time and place was based upon the best information available. The troops [Army], the air [Army Air Corps], and the Navy did all that bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt, it is mine alone.”

Today we are facing a very serious and determined enemy that desires nothing more than to destroy our way of life and see us wiped from the face of the earth. When an enemy speaks in this manner, it is the fool who does not take him seriously. The warrior understands this and is prepared to keep the wolf from the door.

The great political writer and patriot, Thomas Paine, wrote,
“These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated.”

No true American would be willing to surrender their freedom. However, if we do not awaken to the threats of our enemies we will surely lose what we cherish most.

Is America worth fighting for? You bet it is!
“For those who have fought for it, freedom has a taste the protected will never know.”

So, honor and support the warrior by supporting the war effort. It’s the right thing to do, and it’s the right time to do it.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Frogs and Other Tough Questions

[Originally written for Wednesday, February 09, 2005]

Art Linkletter probably said it best: “Kids say the darndest things!”

As the father of two daughters, there were times when I found myself challenged more by the questions of my beauties than by the propositions professorially propounded by erudite multi-degreed Doctors of Letters.

I can’t swear to it, but I believe my oldest daughter, Laura, began her questioning about the time when she was rudely awakened to the horrifying truth that her daddy could not fix everything! Laura, my wife, and I were in the master bedroom one day when Laura was about eighteen months old. My wife was grumbling about a run in her stocking when Laura boldly announced, “Daddy fix it!” I stood there as though nailed to the floor, sheepishly realizing the enormity of the moment: My daughter was receiving her first lesson in “The Fallibility of Parents.” Every parent faces this moment, and, to say the least, it is agonizing. I noticed after this that my daughter would temper her confidence in my abilities by saying, “Daddy fix it! Right?” Thus the questioning began.

Then there was the time I was approached by my little idolizer, whereupon she presented me with a balloon that did not even have the decency to just lose air. Instead, it had burst into many pieces. She said nothing, but as she offered the pieces to me her facial expression said, “I’ll give you another chance. Can you fix this?” I could see I was falling from my lofty perch in her eyes. To say, “I can’t fix mommy’s stocking, or your pretty balloon,” while looking into those trusting, believing eyes was devastating.

While we were stationed in Guam in the mid ‘80s, my wife told me of an incident with our youngest, Jenny. I was deployed on a ship for months at a time so was not there to enjoy this special moment. Jenny was a precocious five year old who loved geckos, lizards, frogs, and hermit crabs, all of which were in abundance in Guam. She came running into the house with a look of such urgency that my wife immediately gave Jenny her full attention. “Mommy,” Jenny asked, “Do frogs yawn?” To her credit, my wife maintained her composure long enough to answer, “Sure they do,” not knowing whether they do or not. Jenny, thus satisfied with the answer, raced back outside with this newly acquired knowledge. My wife, on the other hand, laughed until tears rolled down her cheeks. Honestly, friends, have you ever seen a frog yawn?

Then there came the day when my wife violated the cardinal rule, “What to do when your child asks tough questions.” One thing for certain is you do not pass the buck. Now, here’s the scene: my wife is sitting at her desk working on the family budget while Jenny is contentedly playing with her dolls on the couch. Ah! But who can know what debilitating questions lurk in the mind of a five year old? Jenny’s small voice pierced this pastoral setting. “Mommy, if God made everything, then who made God?” Near panic best describes my wife’s broken reverie. She could have correctly replied, “No one made God, Jenny. He’s always been here.” Of course, had she given this answer she would have had to field a series of questions on this, like, “Where did God come from?” and “Does God have a mom and dad?” To have bravely answered these questions in a mature manner would have been the right and responsible thing to do. Did my wife do this? No. She panicked. She committed the unpardonable. She violated the cardinal rule. She opted to pass the buck. She said, “Ask your father.”

Now, you would think that this would be a simple enough matter for an ordained minister with a Master of Divinity degree, a Doctorate in Counseling (More than twenty years of schooling – and I’m not done!) a student of the Bible spending countless hours over jots and tittles, the truth is, a question like this still remains a mystery to even the greatest of scholars and deepest of thinkers.

When it is all said and done, tough questions about God and faith often leave us stupefied. Sure, I can present solid biblical answers with deep theologically deduced answers to the tough questions. But in the final analysis, my faith is in God and what he has chosen to reveal about himself, particularly through the Scriptures.

Then some day, I’ll get to ask God the really tough question: “Do frogs really yawn?”

Monday, June 04, 2007

What a Difference!

His name is Jim.

I first met him two months ago at our annual Men’s Advance. The camp site is located in the lush Grass Valley area of Northern California, just a short distance from Lake Tahoe and Reno.

During a break in the weekend events, I decided to clean my car. I had my spray cleaner and rags and attacked with a vengeance the wheels on my PT Cruiser. Being a Chrysler product, the front wheels always get dirtier quicker. Why? I’m not sure. I’ve been told it has something to do with the brakes.

While I was crouching down vigorously scrubbing the wheels, I became aware of someone approaching. I glanced up and saw one of the men I’d seen in our meetings. He seemed to want to talk, so I introduced myself and gave him the floor. He said his name was Jim. He stated that he was nervous because he’d never been to a church camp before. In addition, his pastor, Paul Koval, had brought Jim to the camp because he wanted him to share his recent encounter with God. Would these men from our various churches accept him? He was feeling very out of place. I assured him that he would be pleasantly surprised by their response. I know some of these men. I also know Pastor Paul Koval. If ever there was a man who knows what it’s like to live on the wrong side of society, he’s the man.

That evening, Pastor Paul introduced Jim to us and then stayed by his side while he nervously shared with us how he had lived his life hustling people, dealing in drugs and being a heroin addict. He admitted that he was still on drugs, and that he had been homeless for some time. But, he saw something in Pastor Paul and his church. Whatever these men had in their lives, he wanted it. When he was done speaking, all seventy of us gathered around him for a time of prayer, laying our hands on him, and sharing words of encouragement. You could see the surprise reaction in his face. He was probably hugged more times at that moment then he had been his entire life.

Now let me bring you to this past weekend. Every year we have our Annual Conference. This is when all the pastors, missionaries, and ministers who are part of our conference assemble to take care of business. We also have all our church delegates in attendance. These are the lay representatives in equal number to the ministers. This assures an equal balance in all matters requiring a vote. Conference is also a time for sharing – particularly what God is doing in the life of each church. Throughout the two days we have together, different pastors will introduce someone from their congregation who will then share their testimony of what God has done in their lives. I enjoy these moments the best!

Sure enough, the final morning of the conference Pastor Paul comes forward with Jim in tow. Unlike two months ago, this time Jim was fairly anxious to get his hands on the microphone. He spoke in a clear voice; didn’t stumble over words; looked out at this assembly of religious leaders; and shared the unvarnished truth of his life in drugs and hustling on the streets.

How did Jim come to be involved in Pastor Paul’s church? Well, a friend of his was attending the church, so Jim thought he’d go along – only it wasn’t to seek God. He admitted he came to hustle the church. One thing he hadn’t figured: God knew exactly what he needed.

Jim is now off of heroin and attending church every week, learning how to walk with Jesus. He is loved and accepted in this congregation in Stockton. He even brings his grandkids to church with him. He admits he can’t do much for his own children, one son currently in prison, but he can make a positive difference in the lives of these precious grandkids.

As Jim was finishing, he related how he had been a racist. “If you weren’t white like me, I didn’t even see you.” he said. But, he declared, God has changed all that. When did he know this? At the Men’s Advance! It was there that we had prayed for him, and where he had been hugged by so many of the men. The racist part, at that time, was known only to Jim, Pastor Paul and God. So after our prayer for him, who’s the first person in line to hug him? Pastor Henry Raven, our Oakdale pastor. Henry is a big guy. He’s also black, from Louisiana. He grew up on the streets. Pastor Paul said his first thoughts were, “Oh Lord, I know you’ve done a work in this brother’s life, but don’t test him too much!”

So, at the end of his comments to us at the conference, he shared how God had delivered him from his racism. All the ministers and delegates came to the front to lay hands on him and pray for him. I can’t say with certainty, but I’m pretty sure that every minister and delegate of color (and we have a lot of them) made sure they hugged ole’ Jim.

That’s the difference Jesus makes.

Jim? He was lovin’ it!