Marines.Together We Served

Monday, October 29, 2007

On Being Blessed

As I write this article, I am sitting in a bungalow on the beach in the Dominican Republic (DR), a brief respite for the mission team after a tough week working at a church in Santo Domingo, the capitol.

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:

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

One more bit of nonsense and misguided legalism arose in our nation’s Capitol in last week’s news.

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

Occasionally life allows you to witness certain special events. I was privy to just such an event this past week.

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

There is a part of the human character that simply does not want to see 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

I am forever intrigued with the people who were uniquely involved in establishing the framework of the United States. Dubbed “The Grand Experiment,” the birth and development of the United States remains an inscrutability to all other nations. Why is the United States referred to as “The Grand Experiment”? Because it is a young country and remains a work in progress.

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.