Marines.Together We Served

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Real and Imagined

This Christmas has once again brought out the challenges to the Christian faith we have been seeing for many years.

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.

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Official Resolution

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.”

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Merry Christmas!

In some circles today it is politically incorrect to say Merry Christmas. How has it come to this? Let me offer some thoughts.

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!

Well, it finally happened! My wife and I are now officially grandparents. Our oldest daughter, Laura, gave birth to Alyssa Grace, Monday, November 26. It has been a lot of years (twenty-six, to be exact) since my wife and I had our last child, Jenny. You do forget some of those things that you were sure you’d never forget about having kids.

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!