Marines.Together We Served

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Foundational Faith

Picking up from last week’s article, “Curiouser and Curiouser,” I would like to continue to develop this approach of belief that we refer to as faith.

After Alice fell headlong down the rabbit hole into what was Wonderland, she experienced a vast assortment of strange and peculiar encounters causing her no end of confusion and consternation. Trying to make sense of it all, she was reported to have exclaimed that all of this nonsense was, “curiouser and curiouser.”

The question from last week that I would like to address is, “Is there a God?” Some will want what is referred to as empirical proof – that is, proof that is provable, reproducible, and therefore irrefutable. This may work well enough in science labs with beakers, Petri dishes, microscopes, and Bunsen burners, but such items are of little use in “proving” the existence of God. If God were so easily proven, it would have been done long ago. And, I would suggest, such “proof” would more likely fail to prove his existence, for God is not reduced to such simplicity.

Consider this: The Bible (the holy scriptures of both those of the Jewish and Christian faiths – in whole or in part) was written so as to record God’s interaction with mankind. The Bible makes no attempt to prove God’s existence. Instead, his existence is assumed from the very first verse in the Bible, Genesis 1:1 – “In the beginning, God . . .”

One particularly poignant argument for you and me to consider about God’s existence is found in Romans chapter one. Some of you at this point may be sensing that I am appearing to contradict myself by suggesting the Bible is offering proof of God’s existence. This is where an understanding of the book of Romans is essential. Paul, the author of Romans, was writing to the newly-established church in Rome. The congregation was predominantly Gentile, that is, Romans who had been converted to Christianity. The mindset of the Roman people of that time was quite different than the Jewish manner of thinking. Romans were more like Sergeant Joe Friday from the old 1950’s TV show, Dragnet. When questioning a person about a crime he would cut to the chase by saying, “Just the facts, ma’am.” In fact, Romans was written almost like a transcription from a court case. The prosecutor would present his argument with rebuttal coming back from the defense attorney.

So it makes sense then, that the main problem that exists between God and man is sin. It presents itself in a lot of ways, but most frequently in the act of rebellion. We don’t want God to tell us what we can and can’t do. Even when we know we’re making serious mistakes, we pursue this path of error with a willfulness that is chilling. That’s where the argument for the existence of God is found in chapter one of Romans. “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be made known about God is plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”

We are without excuse because God has made everything in such a way as to cause us to be in awe – wondering at the incredible creative abilities of God. In the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes, we are told that, “God has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.”

Because God is who he says he is as reported in the Bible, he is under no obligation to present himself in the way man may expect or demand. But because God wants man to know him personally, faith becomes the determiner. “Blessed are they who seek him with all their heart.” And “Those who seek me find me.”

The best way to prove the existence of God is to seek him. The wise men sure did on that long-ago Christmas two thousand years ago. And, wonder of wonders, they found him! So can you.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Curiouser and Curiouser!

Many of you will remember this famous line from “Alice in Wonderland,” written by Lewis Carroll in 1865. Poor Alice! She couldn’t figure out what was happening to her as she traveled down the rabbit hole. Everything she looked at was distorted and nearly unrecognizable.

Perhaps it’s just me, but in a similar vein, I see many of the events surrounding Christmas, the birth of Jesus Christ, as “curiouser and curiouser.” Faith, by its very nature, deals with what can only be described as strange and unbelievable. Looking at the various elements of faith, we must conclude that only that which is extraordinary could be associated with faith. Faith requires that we believe in those things which are outside of our normal experience. Otherwise, if what is ordinary is also central to faith, can we really call it faith?

Now, faith is not simply the choice to believe in something that is outside of that which is normal just for the sake of believing something that is classified as unbelievable. Faith requires solid reasoning in any belief in the extraordinary. For example, someone may say they believe the moon is made of cheese. Two factors are at play here: 1) What do we know? Well, we know what the consistency of cheese is, and that it is a dairy product, therefore subject to fairly rapid spoilage. We can safely assume that this ball that circles the earth in the vacuum of space is not made of cheese. We deduce this because of our understanding of what we know to be true. 2) Who makes the claim? More importantly we recognize that there is no credible evidence to support the belief that the moon is made of cheese. For example, who says it’s made of cheese? Are they believable? Based upon what? What is their character? What proof do they present?

You may be saying to yourself, “Come on, Roots! Nobody in their right mind believes the moon is made of cheese!” Okay, maybe not. So let’s go back to a time when man believed that the world was flat. (Contrary to contemporary thought, only a small number of people actually ever believed the world was flat.) Those who held to a flat earth idea had no proof to support their ill-conceived belief. On the other hand, belief that the world was round came rather easily because those who studied the “heavens,” soon witnessed natural events which allowed them to draw accurate conclusions. Case in point: eclipses, both solar and lunar. In both cases, we see a shadow gradually move across the surface of another object. The shadow reveals that the shadowing object has an arc, thus leading the observer to recognize the object to be orbital in shape.

Following this line of logic, let’s suppose there is a God. What do we know of this God? In what manner has he revealed himself? Is he believable? If so, what proof is there that makes him believable? Is this apparent proof credible? Do the claims he makes about himself and the rest of creation convincing?

Because I have limited space to address this very complex subject, I will address this further next week. So allow me to come to the point. There is indeed a God. This God has revealed himself to the world in a number of ways that are both natural and supernatural. He has also expressed a desire to have a personal relationship with you and me.

Focusing in on the miraculous of Christmas, we must first recognize that this singular, unique, historical event is fraught with that which is unbelievable, extraordinary, odd, strange, astonishing, amazing, and any other adjective associated with wonder that you care to use. First, the birth of the Christ didn’t just happen. It was foretold by the prophets of old. Second, they knew specifics about the birth of Christ. Particularly, they knew the child would be a male (Jesus) born to a virgin (Mary). They also knew what town he would be born in (Bethlehem). That there would be an attempt on his life while still a toddler (King Herod). That he and his family would be forced to leave their home and reside in Egypt for a couple of years before returning. And they knew where he would grow up (Nazareth).

These prophecies of the Christ are both ordinary and extraordinary. The ordinary is that he was born in the normal way of man. That is, he didn’t just appear as a full grown man ready to take on evil men and corrupt governments. Other ordinary aspects of his birth have to do with where he was born and spent his youth. On the other hand, the extraordinary in his birth is primarily centered on the way in which he was conceived. His mother, Mary, engaged to be married to Joseph, was a virgin. Why this is difficult for some to accept is hard for me to understand. Let me ask this question: How would you expect God to come? As a baby conceived in the normal manner? Why would that cause anyone to take notice? What would separate him from the rest of us? This is where the extraordinary enters in. If God is pure and holy, he could not be tainted by sin – a condition you and I are afflicted with through conception due to being from Adam’s line.

Such matters of faith are indeed, curiouser and curiouser! But that’s what makes them special during this time of the year when we celebrate and acknowledge the miraculous birth of Jesus Christ, the Savior.

Have a Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

My Most Memorable Christmas

The past several weeks I have been working on sermons relating to the Advent Season. Christmas – that magical, mystical time each year that conjures up exciting moments when as children we marveled at the Christmas tree all lighted with colored bulbs and festooned with a wide assortment of decorations. Alongside the expensive ornament made of crystal purchased at a boutique hangs your handmade color paper-chain. Both hold a special place in your heart.

When our girls were young, and I was pastoring my first church, we couldn’t afford many frills. We needed a new star for the top of the tree, so I grabbed an old Frisbee I found tucked away in a corner of the garage and cut it into the shape of a five-pointed star. Then my daughter, Laura, and I wrapped it in tinfoil. Even years later when we enjoyed a more lucrative income, we continued to use this tinfoil star for many years. Somewhere along the line, no doubt during one of our many moves, the star disappeared. The girls and I still lament its passing.

There is something unique and extraordinary about Christmas. It is ready-made for countless memories. I often will ask people during Christmas what their most memorable Christmas was. I have any number that I could recount, but there is one which is indelibly imprinted on my mind. The year was 1972. I was a sergeant in the Marine Corps and had just returned from Vietnam the week before Christmas. Even though my parents had moved to a new location, home was still where they were. I was single, unattached, and enjoying my first few months as a Christian. I was now looking at Christmas in an entirely new way. Because of my decision to trust Christ as my Savior, I now was looking at Christmas for what it actually is – the birth of Jesus the Christ, the Savior of the world, and the Son of God.

I was on leave throughout Christmas that year of ’72, anticipating checking in with my new (and final) command, VMA-133 (a.k.a., the “Dragons”), at Naval Air Station Alameda. Relaxing in my parents’ home was a luxury. I enjoyed the festive environment in our home with friends and family coming and going. But it was in the evenings after things settled down that I would sit alone in the living room just looking at the Christmas tree with the growing pile of presents under its boughs. This scene had a settling affect on me, leading to a touch of melancholy. There I was – safe, comfortable, and with the people I love. With this contented sensation, the realization that many of my fellow servicemen would never be coming home again. They would never experience the loving embrace of a mother or the firm handshake of a father as I had when I walked down the portable steps of the “Freedom Plane” at Travis Air Force Base. These patriots who sacrificed their lives for us would never again enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of the Christmas Season at home. While sipping a chilled glass of eggnog, my thoughts would focus on what that first Christmas was like. God loved me so much that he was willing to sacrifice his Son so that I might have eternal life. Jesus says in John 15:13, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”

Just as our American warriors are willing to lay down their lives for love of their family and country, Jesus loves you and me so much that he was willing to lay down his life for us. The birth of Jesus has significance only because of his eventual death and resurrection. It is this hope we experience at Christmas that causes rejoicing each December.

It was with this thought in my heart that long-ago Christmas of ’72 that I took a blanket and pillow and curled up by the Christmas tree, falling into a sound sleep. Not only was I safe in my home, I was safe in the arms of God. That is cause for a Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

National Security?

I have been waiting to hear from our media regarding some very troubling comments made by President-elect Obama back on July 2. In a stump speech he said, “We cannot continue to rely on our military in order to achieve the national security objectives we’ve set. We’ve got to have a civilian national security force that’s just as powerful, just as strong, just as well-funded.”

When I first heard this uttered, I was stupefied. Surely the then presidential hopeful was not suggesting that we need a national police force! He couldn’t be thinking that our military is not up to the task of providing for our national security, could he? I know candidates will say a lot of things for effect while on the campaign trail in order to garner votes, but they frequently don’t mean it. In another speech Obama said we have to stop “air-raiding villages, killing civilians.” He knows we don’t do this. As a United States Senator he is briefed routinely on our national defense and what our military is doing. But such calculated comments, implying our military simply enters into wanton killing with guns blazing, are dangerously libelous and seriously naive. Our military operates according to what is called “Rules of Engagement,” an official document that spells out the when, where, and how force will be used in any situation. This is why we can always be proud of our military. They are trained to conduct themselves appropriately, as you would expect.

But what about this apparent need for a civilian national security force (CNSF)? This first raised in my mind the specter of brown-shirted, jack-booted thugs patrolling our towns and neighborhoods, reminiscent of Nazi Germany seventy years ago. That is a frightening image! As I have researched this topic, I’m of the opinion that what Mr. Obama suggests is that the United States be reinvigorated through volunteer agencies such as doubling the size of the Peace Corps by 2011; expanding AmeriCorps, USA Freedom Corps, VISTA, YouthBuild Program, and Senior Corps. Plus, he proposes to form a Classroom Corps, Health Corps, Clean Energy Corps, Veterans Corps, Homeland Security Corps, Global Energy Corps, and a Green Jobs Corps. This may be best explained in the following comment from Obama: “Because the future of our nation depends on the soldier at Fort Carson, it also depends on the teacher in East L.A., the nurse in Appalachia, the after-school worker in New Orleans…”

There is a significant difference between the use of the military and the use of a civilian national security force (CNSF). The role and responsibility of CNSF is to help strengthen and maintain the infrastructure of the country. On the other hand, our military is trained to take up arms in defense of the nation against aggressors. These men and women willingly place their lives in jeopardy so you and I can continue to enjoy our rights and freedoms – all of which have been purchased with the blood of patriots.

In the days ahead we may see some of the plans suggested by the Obama Team. Their intent is to reduce the military budget by nine billion a month. The budget for the Department of Defense (DoD) for 2008 is $482 billion. Once the DoD has been pared down, Mr. Obama intends to spend an equal amount of money on the CNSF. Let’s say the DoD ends up with a budget of $350 billion, a huge cut by any standard. Now, the new CNSF receives an equal amount. That’s $700 billion. Where does this money come from? Right! Mr. and Mrs. Taxpayer.

I haven’t been able to sort this out just yet, because very little has been said. Nothing more is coming from the Obama Team about a CNSF, and the press has been unwilling to ask the appropriate questions that would provide you and me with answers. But I’ll be keeping an eye out for anything further on this.

As I said in a recent article, I want Mr. Obama to be a successful president. I will support him when I believe he is making the right decisions. Likewise, I will speak out when I believe his decisions are detrimental to our nation and its security.

In the meantime, our nation is well served by our all-volunteer military. We are also a strong nation because of the strength of the American people.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Enjoying Your Job

The other day I was speaking to a friend who asked me how I was enjoying my retirement from the Navy. I told him I was loving it, especially since I don’t have to make flight arrangements anymore, or spend countless hours in airports and planes. Don’t get me wrong! While traveling I always have some work to do, or a book I’m trying to finish. And, of course, naps are always in order. It’s never wasted time. Gratefully it’s behind me now.

So my friend asked me what I was doing with myself. I reminded him that I am still the pastor of the Ripon Free Methodist Church. “It’s my job,” I said. “Actually, it’s more of a joy than it is a job.” I’d never expressed my pastoral ministry in those terms before. When I said it, something clicked. It was like the cartoon character that has the brilliant idea where the speech balloon pops up over his head with a lighted bulb indicating he’s just made a sparkling and insightful discovery.

This got me to thinking about my job as a pastor. It really is a joy! I remember my step father telling me to find something I like to do and then figure a way to get paid for it. I can’t say that I followed his advice because I was the furthest thing from a minister, a “man of God,” in those days. After surrendering my life to Jesus in 1972, I began to see the direction the Lord was leading me in. I became increasingly more aware of the way in which he wanted to use me.

I could go on for some time about the joys of pastoral ministry, but here are a few examples. Preaching each Sunday morning in two services is a lot of fun. You develop a relationship with the congregation so that there’s a lot of good-natured give and take between me and the folks in the pews. I remember preaching about communicating with God. At a certain point I looked up toward the ceiling as though speaking to God. The moment was broken by the ringing of a cell phone. I stopped my sermon, and just looked at the lady, smiling. She’s a real character, so you never know what to expect. With everyone looking at her to see what she will do, she ducks behind the pew, out of sight, only moments later to pop right back up with the phone to her ear and say, “God? Is that you?” The congregation dissolved into laughter, including me. It was priceless! I managed to finish the sermon but no one was listening. I’m quite certain the Lord and all the angels of heaven were still laughing too!

There was another time when I was doing my Sunday morning children’s sermon. I had about a dozen or so of our kids up front where I was really into the message. I told them how when you know Jesus as your Savior, he has promised that we will be joining him some day in heaven. But that’s not all! I told them how we’ll all sit down to enjoy a feast which the Bible calls the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. The boy standing on my left was from a very poor family. He tugged on my sleeve to ask a question. I looked down at him and said, “What’s your question, son?” He said, “Pastor, will there be an all-you-can-eat-buffet in heaven?” I said, “Man, you know it! There’ll be so much food you won’t know what to do with yourself.”

Each week I have the pleasure of studying the Bible; teaching an adult Sunday school class; talking to folks about their relationship with Christ; praying for people; leading a men’s Bible study; discipling those who are new Christians; helping counsel folks, especially restoring marriages, and so on.

You see, I believe that God created us to enjoy life. This means we are to enjoy all aspects of life, which obviously would include our vocation. If you’re not enjoying your job, then be honest with yourself and ask the question: What’s my problem? Lack of education? Paid too well (including benefits) at your current job to leave? Afraid to venture out into another field? Family to provide for? Your boss is driving you nuts?

Yes, I’m recently retired from the Navy Chaplain Corps, but I’m hardly sitting around! The church is alive and well, and I’m enjoying myself thoroughly.

Do you enjoy what you’re doing?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Mustangs, Uniforms, and Old Marines

There is something very special about a military uniform. It was my privilege to have worn two uniforms of our nation’s military during the past forty years: Marine and Navy. Now that I’m retired from the Navy I have a mess of uniforms that I don’t need and that are taking up space. I’ve been considering just how to properly be relieved of them.

As a young Marine it was a tremendous thrill to wear the blues on those special occasions such as the Marine Corps Birthday Ball held each November on the tenth, or as close to the birthday of the Corps as is practical. I was reminded of this last Saturday night when I attended the Ball held at the Stockton Sheraton. This is an event hosted by the 4th LSB (Landing Support Battalion) out of Lathrop and the Stockton Marine Corps Club. Last year I was invited to be the guest of honor – something that I never even dreamed of when I first attended these Marine Corps events at the start of what would become a circuitous and long military career.

Anyway, at the Ball this year, the guest of honor was a friend of mine, Colonel Al Cruz. His speech that night was a real stem-winder! It was both inspirational and motivational. As an enlisted man Al was an artilleryman, completing two tours in Vietnam. Al is what we call in the military, a “Mustang,” as am I. Now for those of you who are unaware of this term “Mustang,” allow me to explain it to you. Someone who is labeled a Mustang began their time in the military as an enlisted man. Should this enlisted man prove himself a leader on the field of battle, he might receive a direct commission as an officer. Should this man demonstrate particular skills in a chosen area he might be selected for a commission as an LDO (Limited Duty Officer). Should this person earn a college degree while still an enlisted man he is then eligible to be commissioned as an officer. Or this man might be selected for OCS (Officer Candidate School) whereupon after successfully completing this rigorous training the man is commissioned as an officer. “A mustang is defined by continuity in military service from enlisted to officer (i.e. no break in military service). However, being a slang term, there is no precise definition or set of criteria to determine which officers can properly be called a "mustang"; however generally accepted mustangs are those who earned a Good Conduct ribbon or have completed 4 years of enlisted service prior to earning their commission.”

When I completed my seminary training I was then qualified to become a military chaplain. Even though I never intended to go back into the military, the Lord had other plans! Because of my ecclesiastical training and education I was able to be commissioned as a naval officer rather quickly. This occurred in December of 1983, nearly twenty-five years ago. Since I had become a Navy Chaplain I knew I could no longer wear the Marine dress blues – unquestionably the best looking uniform bar none. At my first duty station as a chaplain I knew I needed to part with my blues. I met a Marine built much like me who was also a Staff Sergeant with two hash marks. I sold him my blues for fifty bucks. This was a dark day!

Now back to the Marine Corps Birthday Ball last week. At every Ball there is an official cake cutting with a sword. The guest of honor receives a piece along with the oldest and youngest Marine present. I believe the youngest Marine was nineteen – born in 1989. That was depressing! However, the oldest Marine there was a major, born in early 1915. He joined the Marine Corps in 1933. And get this – he was wearing his uniform that night, looking very fit and spry. With all the Marines there, most being twenty-five and younger, there was a great cheer as this old Marine major came to the front of the room to help cut the Marine Corps Birthday Cake. That was motivational!

I’m still undecided about what to do with all my uniforms. But this much I know: This old Mustang is keeping his Navy mess dress uniform just in case he attends a Marine Corps Birthday Ball when he’s ninety-three.

Happy Birthday, Marines. Semper Fi.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Loyal Opposition

Loyal opposition is “the concept that one can be opposed to the actions of the government or ruling party of the day without being opposed to the constitution of the political system.”

Since working the polls on November 4 I have been thinking a lot about the election and its outcome. To say it was historic is clearly an understatement. The United States of America has elected its first black president. I am both enthralled by this turn of political events, and dismayed at the same time. I will explain this later.

I wish to establish a particular point before going any further: On January 20, 2009, President-elect Barack Obama will be sworn in as the 44th President of the United States. On that day he will be my president, the president of all Americans. To state otherwise flies in the face of the founding fathers who crafted our system of government. They knew what it was to live under the crushing weight of a monarchy (the King of England). They determined never to allow Colonists/Americans to be subjected to such tyranny again. Thus they established what can only be described as a form of government that is truly genius. The seat of government was set up in order to establish a balance of powers. This is where we get the three branches of government: The Executive Branch (The Presidency), the Legislative Branch (Congress – makes laws), and the Judicial Branch (The Supreme Court – interprets laws). Even when one party has control of all three branches, not to worry! They still can’t get along!

The next part of the genius of our founding fathers is the establishment of the election system. Even though there were only the original thirteen colonies which became the first thirteen states, the people were given the power of the ballot box. We were empowered to select the person we wanted to lead the country through “one person, one vote.” To prevent this means of voting from becoming simply a popularity contest, the Electoral College was created to give every area of the country a voice in the election of our president and vice-president. This system still works as well today with fifty states (and a few U.S. territories) as it did in the late 1700s.

What all this means is that every four years we the people have the opportunity, right, and privilege to cast a vote for the leader of our country. So even when you watch your choice for president lose, it isn’t the end of the world! Remember: monarchs, tyrants, despots and the like always rule for life. The people do not have a choice.

I mentioned earlier that I’m enthralled with the selection of Barack Obama as our next president because of its historic import. Even though I have personally believed the United States has been ready to elect a person of color, or a woman, to the presidency for quite some time, I wasn’t sure if I would ever see it happen. Conversely, I am dismayed because Barack Obama holds to political positions that I am, in many instances, diametrically opposed to for moral, theological, philosophical and ethical reasons. Case in point: President-elect Obama is in favor of a woman selecting abortion as late as the third trimester, something that even Roe v Wade does not permit. Further, he was in favor of allowing a baby to die that had survived a botched abortion. This is unconscionable!

Referring to the definition for the Loyal Opposition at the start of this article, I am now a full-blown member of that loyal opposition. That is to say, I want President-elect Obama to succeed as our president. That’s the loyalty part. I will be praying for him and his administration for the next four years. However, where I believe he is wrong, I will work through our political system to try and encourage him to change his mind. This is the opposition part. When he takes what I believe to be the correct course of action, I will applaud him and his efforts. When he moves in a direction that I believe is detrimental to our nations interests, I will say so.

Historically, the loyal opposition has been the political party that is no longer in power, often referred to as the minority party. That would be the Republican Party beginning January 20.

But regardless of who is president, I love my country and its form of governance, and will defend it as long as I am able. I will also call it to account when it oversteps its bounds. I believe that is what the founding fathers intended.

God bless America!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The American Warrior

The American Warrior is a strange phenomenon in the history of the world. Most military men in history were out for fame and glory along with the acquisition of land conquest and war booty. Not so the American Warrior.

The other evening our church was hosting an early Thanksgiving dinner for the families and kids of those children who are involved in our Junior Jammer Program. Armando, a young man seated at a front table in the Fellowship Hall, saw me wearing my black leather Marine Corps jacket and asked me if I was a Marine. I mentioned I’d served in the Corps many years ago. He asked where I got the jacket. I told him it was available to those who were members of the Stockton Marine Corps Club. His sister then chimed in, saying, “He wants to go in the Marines!”

Well, the sister’s comment got my attention. I directed my gaze at Armando and asked him if this was true. He assured me it was. His mom was also sitting at the table, so I glanced at her to see if discussing this with her son was okay. Before she could say anything, the sister piped up again, telling the mom, “This is good for him to hear from somebody who knows about the Marines.” Mom reluctantly sighed in resignation. I was surprised to discover that Armando was only thirteen. He certainly was big for his age and did not look like a baby-faced thirteen-year-old. We talked for a while at which point I told him to keep an eye out for military recruiters on campus when he gets to high school. I then invited him to look me up when he’s seventeen if he still wants to go in the Marine Corps, but recommended he complete college first before signing up for the military.

This got me to thinking about the American Warrior: What makes this particular war fighter so different from other war fighters in history?

Here are some of my personal reflections on this issue which are in no particular order. First, the United States of America was founded on the basis of Freedom. This freedom was garnered through the bloody fighting that occurred during the Revolutionary War, 1775-83. Colonists first came to America to flee from the tyranny of British imperialism in the early 1600s. But the British throne followed these ex-patriots to the shores of the New World. Over the ensuing years, the colonists grew increasingly frustrated with an intrusive and abusive British master. The banner and slogan that I believe best depicts American resolve for independence and freedom is, “Don’t Tread On Me.” This is at the heart of the American Warrior spirit: Leave us alone! It was with this in mind that the Monroe Doctrine was established to protect not only the United States, but all of the Americas from European influence and dominance.

Second, Americans are content to live at peace with their neighbors. In the 233 year history of our nation we have often fought wars in various climes and places around the world. Yet, even though the adage is true, “To the victor go the spoils,” the American Warrior cares nothing for this. Land acquired through hard fought battle is returned by the victor (the American Warrior) to the one conquered (fill in the blank). Consider the Philippines. This island conglomerate was acquired by the United States as part of the surrender of the Spanish at the end of the Spanish/American War in 1898. The Philippines was then conquered by Imperial Japan in 1942. American forces liberated the Philippines three years later. Then in 1946, the United States gave the Philippines independence. In addition, Pacific Islands that American men fought and died for in World War Two were returned to Japan years later. This is particularly telling since two of those islands were very costly in American lives: Iwo Jima and Okinawa.

Third, Americans have a basic sense of decency which comes from the foundational teachings of the Bible and Judeo/Christian principles so derived. Not only do we value our own freedom and liberty, we encourage it in others. And as often as not, our American Warriors will quickly volunteer to fight for someone else’s freedom. This is why we see pictures of large numbers of American Warriors in Iraq and Afghanistan amassed for reenlistment ceremonies so they can continue to serve in those far off countries. They truly delight in setting others free from tyrants and thugs. With the Golden Rule as the backdrop, it is virtually impossible for the American Warrior to sit still when some other nation or people group is in trouble.

There are many more reflections on the American Warrior that I would like to expand for you which time and space will not afford just now. However, we’ve just celebrated another Veterans Day in America. Remember: it’s always the right time to offer a word of thanks to a veteran.

The American Warrior is one of the reasons America is a great country. Never forget that!

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Smaller Government, Please!

If ever there was a time when I longed for smaller government it is now. The craziness of the past several weeks regarding Wall Street and the bailout plan to keep your retirement fund from evaporating overnight, has been nothing short of breath-taking.

The disturbing aspect of all this has to do with our government maneuvering to control more of our lives. Case in point, we are taxed beyond imagination! Our forefathers started a revolution that birthed this nation because of over-taxation by a greedy, ravenous British Empire. Over a period of years increased taxation vexed the colonists who had little say since the British Parliament made their decisions without appropriate representation of the colonists. Thus, the phrase, “No taxation without representation!” emerged as a rallying cry throughout the colonies.

As I write this article, we are mere days away from the presidential election. Despite the Main Stream Media’s attempt to assure everyone of the election already being a foregone conclusion, I’m not buying it. As I stated in last week’s article, it’s too close to call.

I know you’ve all read the statistics that say we work each year from January to May in order to pay our portion to the government, both federal and state. Are you kidding me? When did we the people go to sleep, allowing the government to grow so large that those whom we have elected to office believe they can stick their hands into our pockets with impunity?

John Locke, an early seventeenth century political theorist, said, “The purpose of government was to protect life, liberty, and property.” What ever happened to that simplicity? Now I realize it can’t be as na├»ve and simple as all that. However, the way our government operates today is frightening. It has run amok.

Are you not just a little bit disturbed by the comment made by Barack Obama to Joe the Plumber that we need to “spread the wealth”? You can call that whatever you like, but it still boils down to socialism. Here’s a quick definition of socialism: Any of various theories or systems of social organization in which the means of producing and distributing goods is owned collectively or by a centralized government that often plans and controls the economy.

Did you get that? Under socialism the “centralized government” will “plan and control the economy.” Remember: The government is what got us into this current financial crisis! Show me one thing the government can operate efficiently. Do you really want the government to have control of the banking industry? Social Security? Welfare? Health Care? Shall I go on?

I just heard Obama announce to a cheering crowd that we’re only a few days away from “fundamentally transforming America” What fundamental transformation might that be, Senator Obama? Or is it now Mr. President? Unless you plan to dramatically and drastically reduce the size of government, I’ll pass, thank you. And let me remind you that the Constitution, which you have taken an oath to preserve, defend and protect, is the greatest document created in the world.

The people of the United States are the most generous people in the history of the world. And yet we are roundly criticized for being lazy and spoiled. Really? Whenever there is a crisis in any other part of the world, the U.S. government offers assistance and money from the coffers of taxpayer funds. We’re okay with that. What is rarely mentioned is the enormous amount of money that comes into non-profit agencies from private citizens further helping in the crisis. These are the same people who sacrificially give in support of our military by sending boxes of candy and snacks along with toiletries and personal items, notes and cards. I know because I have seen the countless number of boxes in Kuwait, Iraq and Djibouti, shipped at personal expense by citizens of this country who love the men and women of our military. I’ve also seen first hand the way people answer the call for assistance, particularly: Hurricane Katrina. So many people traveled from around the country to assist in the evacuation and recovery that word had to be sent out asking that no more people come to Louisiana!

We the people do not need to be taken care of, especially by an out-of-control government. What we need is for the government to stay in their lane; function in the way in which they were established; and work for the people – not the other way around.

It’s time to return to a government of “We the People.”

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Too Close to Call

I’ve been watching the national elections since the Nixon/Kennedy presidential race of 1960. Even though we had moved to Paris, France in July of that year, I still followed the campaign through the newspaper (The International Herald Tribune) and the endless dinner table conversations with opinions flying!

One of those memorable moments in life for me was in the spring of 1961. Just a few months before Jack Kennedy was sworn in as our thirty-fifth president, he made a trip to Paris paying a call on President Charles de Gaulle. They made a drive through Paris in an open-aired car, circling the Etoille around the Arc de Triomphe and down the Champs Elysees. My mother and I took the bus into Paris to get a glimpse of our new president. The crowds were massive! As a twelve-year-old I was too short to see over the crowd, so the best I could do was catch a quick look at the top part of JFK’s head as the limo rolled by. For a young American kid in a foreign land, this was an exciting moment.

As I write this, the pollsters are all over the board in their predictions on the presidential race. Today, thirteen days out, one pollster, Pew Research, has Obama ahead by 14 percentage points nationally. Then there’s the Associated Press with Obama ahead by 1 percentage point. I realize that there are any number of ways to conduct these polls, and that these polls are not scientific. One pollster described it as an “art.”

Over the years I have learned not to take the polls too seriously. Why have I come to this conclusion? Simple. Every presidential election in my lifetime has come down to the last day of the election with the news anchors and pundits intoning that “The election is too close to call.” This, despite the blowouts in several elections, namely: Johnson over Goldwater in ‘64. Nixon over McGovern in ‘72. Reagan over Mondale in ‘84. Bush over Kerry in ‘04.

To listen to some of the news sources today you’d think that Barack Obama and the Democratic Party have this election salted away. Perhaps they do, but I’m betting the day of the election will, once again, be declared “too close to call.”

There is a marked increase in voting this time around. Here in California there has been an increase in registered voters by nearly a half-million since the 2004 election. At present there are 16.2 million registered voters in the Golden State setting a new record for the state. Registered Republican voters make up 32.3 percent, while there are 43.9 percent of registered Democrats, and 19.49 percent of registered voters that fit in the category, “Decline-to-State.”

My concern through all of this is for those of us who live out west. The polls on Election Day close at 8:00 PM. But with the three hour difference, and the absolutely ravenous appetite of the Main Stream Media for feeling the need to be the first to proclaim victory for the next president, the election is often decided before those of us out west even get to the polls after work. This may not have a significant affect on the presidential election, but everything else is still in play. There are many state and local offices up for grabs, as well as ballot measures. Knowing the results of the presidential race early can be a discouragement to those who have not managed to get to there polling station until later in the day. Let me encourage everyone to vote regardless of the national election results. The state and local are every bit as important and need to be decided by you, the voter.

Don’t let the early results of the polls dissuade you from making the effort to exercise your right to vote. Remember – on Election Day in 2004 the TV news stations made a lot of premature predictions using inaccurate exit polls to declare John Kerry the runaway winner of the presidency. Obviously, these projections were wrong.

So, expect that the race will be close, in fact, “too close to call.” That’s okay. Just make sure you cast your vote. It’s the American thing to do!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Chattanooga Choo Choo

I’ve been doing further research into writing about my great grandfather’s participation in the Battle of Corinth, Mississippi in 1862. So, if you will, allow me to share one of the most fascinating occurrences in the War Between the States.

Railroads were critical for both the Union and the Confederacy. This may be more than obvious; however, it is important to remember that trains were still a relatively new invention when the Civil War began.

The forerunner to the train was an invention in Germany called Wagonways. Horse-drawn wagons were still the means by which to haul people or goods. What set wagonways apart was the development of wooden rails for the wagons to roll on. This was far superior to the rough dirt roads of that time in the 1550s. England produced the first steam-powered locomotive in 1803. This replaced the need for horses pulling the heavy loads of ore out of the coal mines. Some twenty years later trains became a means for passenger travel. The father of American railroads is John Stevens. The first American steam engine was built in 1830 called the Tom Thumb.

With the advent of the American Industrial Revolution, trains quickly became a mainstay in the ever expanding new nation. It is what literally connected the east and west side of the nation. Prior to the train, the quickest means of travel from New York to San Francisco was by sailing ship, traveling south around the southern tip of South America. Needless to say, such a trip took a long time.

Some thirty years later the United States was fully immersed in a civil war. The industrialization of the northern states developed an extensive layout of tracks for train use. The southern states had remained more agrarian, thus were not as interested in crisscrossing their land with steel rails. This would prove to be a detriment to the Southern Cause.

The Iron Horse, as trains were affectionately named, would play a major role in the War. And as it turned out, this would be a decisive role.

In the early spring of 1862, Union forces were moving into western Tennessee to attack several Confederate forts and key geographic locations – specifically Corinth. Why Corinth? Because it was the main crossing of two railroad lines: the Memphis & Charleston Railroad Line and the Mobile & Ohio Railroad Line. Union forces under the command of General O. M. Mitchel, developed a daring plan to strike deep into the heart of Dixie. Volunteers were called for to engage in a very dangerous mission. Twenty-four men stepped forward. It was then that they were informed of the mission. They were to dress in clothing that was common to southern men; then proceed by whatever means available into the south until they arrived in Marietta, Georgia. They then rendezvoused at the Marietta Hotel in final preparation for their daring plan. They were to seize control of one of the trains in the train yard nearby and drive it north in an attempt to cause as much damage along the way as possible. But the primary purpose was to disrupt commerce flowing in and out of the city of Chattanooga.

The train was successfully hijacked and the race was on! If all went well, the boys from the Ohio regiments conducting this raid would be able to cut the telegraph wires as they moved north. Another part of the plan was to stop at each railroad bridge and burn it so as to discourage enemy pursuit, and disrupt southern use of their rail system, or at least until it could be repaired.

Over the next couple of days the chase given by the southerners in a pursuing train was high drama, to say the least. The Confederates were so close on the heels of the northern boys in the hijacked train, that there was no time to stop and cause the damage originally intended. Telegraph lines were cut frequently, but that was about all. The northern boys threw all manner of items onto the tracks to slow down or derail their pursuers, but to no avail. They even set rail cars ablaze and left them sitting on the tracks in hopes of delaying the enraged enemy. The southern engineer just blew on through the blockade, pressing hard on the fleeing northerners. Finally, with no chance to stop for more wood and water for the engine, the boys from Ohio literally ran out of steam. Everyone was encouraged to scatter and fend for themselves. All but two were captured within a week. The leader, James, J. Andrews, and seven others were executed. The remaining fourteen made a daring escape from their captors in Atlanta, Georgia. Eight managed to return to their units in the north, while the remaining six were recaptured and eventually returned to their units in an exchange of prisoners in 1863.

The author of the article of this great adventure was William Pittenger of the 2nd Ohio Volunteers, circa 1880. He would later become a minister.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

What Terrorists Say (Part II)

Picking up from last week, allow me to continue on this theme of terrorists and what they think.

I am drawing heavily on the comments of Aaron Klein, “the Jerusalem bureau chief for the right-wing news web site, and a columnist for the equally conservative Jewish Press.” This is the description of Klein by Ruthie Blum, the author of the article in the Jerusalem Post.

One of the beliefs that terrorists supposedly embrace is the idea that dying for Allah will gain them automatic entrance into paradise. Klein replied, “The suicide bombers themselves . . . absolutely believe they’re going to paradise, where they will be met by 72 dark-eyed virgins.” But Klein follows up with this observation, “What is interesting about the 72-virgin thing that recruiters [of terrorists] and would-be bombers repeat all the time is that it is not in the Koran.” He continues, “The Koran describes a paradise for martyrs as having virgins and full-breasted maidens, but the number 72 doesn’t appear. That comes later, in the Hadith [the Islamic oral tradition].”

Now, I want you to pay close attention to this next observation by Aaron Klein. He continues on the 72-virgin theme: “Once I was meeting with senior leadership of al-Aksa Martyrs’ Brigade in Nablus (a Palestinian city about forty miles north of Jerusalem), and I brought along an American radio host, Rusty Humphries. And Humphries kept pushing them to show us where the bit about 72 virgins appears in the Koran. So they began flipping through the pages, pulling out all sorts of verses that had nothing to do with 72 virgins. Ultimately they conceded that it wasn’t in there. But they didn’t like being challenged, and they told me later not to bring Humphries back there ever again.” Klein then makes a very cogent observation: “This underscores the heart of the problem – that at its very foundation there is no argument for terrorism. It’s so easy to deconstruct. But most of the media out there take the terrorists’ lying responses and move on to the next question without challenging them.”

This raises an important question: How much of what you read or hear from the media do you accept, a priori, as truth?

Some in our country believe we should sit down for formal discussions with these Islamic terrorists. Klein replies to this by answering the question, “How informed are the terrorists you’ve come in contact with about American and Israeli politics?” He offers a fairly lengthy response, so allow me to present a few of his thoughts. He said, “Many are well-versed [in American and Israeli politics]. When it comes to American politics, they understand the difference between Democrats and Republicans, but they don’t know so much about the particulars of the U.S. presidential candidates. They consider all Americans as infidels, but they’re going to support whichever political party in America they believe will help them achieve their short-term goals – and the Democrats are more outspoken on withdrawing troops from Iraq. Furthermore, Barack Obama is talking about sitting down with the Iranian president, so they’d all prefer to see a Democrat win the presidential election. In fact, I did an interview in April with Ahmad Yusuf, the chief political advisor to Hamas in Gaza, in which he endorsed Obama and compared him to John F. Kennedy.”

Following this, the interviewer asks Klein, “What are you saying then – that these terrorists want to negotiate? You claim they view all Americans as infidels, yet Ahmad Yusuf compared Obama favorably to Kennedy.” “They support negotiations with the West,” Klein says, “because they see negotiations as a sign of weakness on the part of the West – as a sign that they’re bringing the West to its knees.”

Here’s the final question in the interview with Aaron Klein. “How do the terrorists envision their own society, in the event that their goals of defeating Israel and the U.S. are achieved?” Klein replies, “That’s just it. They have no plan beyond jihad.”

It is obvious that these terrorists are intent on one thing: Our death and the destruction of our nation.

Regarding what terrorists say, Klein says, “It’s necessary to educate people.”

You have now been educated.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

What Terrorists Say

In the course of a normal day for me I will read a variety of material. I’ve often been heard to say, “There are simply not enough hours in the day for reading!”

This morning I was reading through a copy of the Jerusalem Post that a friend left for me at the church office. One article in particular caught my attention. It is entitled, “Out of the Mouth of Bombers.” The author is Ruthie Blum, and she’s writing about Aaron Klein. Klein is the Jerusalem bureau chief for the right-wing news web site,, and a columnist for the equally conservative Jewish Press. He is the author of the best-selling book, Schmoozing with Terrorists.

A few weeks back I picked up a book written by Michael Yon, a former Green Beret. Yon has become a self-made journalist, traveling at his own expense to Iraq, Afghanistan and any other hot spot to provide as unbiased a view of the conflict as possible. I have been receiving Yon’s periodic e-mails from Iraq since early last year. He calls it like he sees it and does not hesitate to criticize even our own military when it demonstrates inept leadership, foolish battle plans, or bullheadedness when dealing with Iraqi locals. His book, Moment of Truth in Iraq, came out earlier this year and is a terrific look behind the scenes of all that has been happening in that Middle Eastern country. The picture on the cover is of an American Army Ranger holding a little girl named Farah. This precious child heard the American soldiers drive up, so she ran out to greet them knowing they would be passing out candy. A couple of dozen children were gathered around a Stryker (A Stryker is one in a family of eight-wheeled all-wheel-drive armored combat vehicles). At that moment a terrorist driving a bomb-laden car rammed into the Stryker. Out of the flames and smoke emerged a woman carrying a bloodied and severely injured Farah. Major Mark Bieger scooped little Farah into his arms and rushed her to the Army medics. At moments he would stop and hug the child, whispering to her. Perhaps you’ve seen the picture. Later, while Farah was being treated at the hospital, she died.

Shortly after Farah’s death, the picture made the rounds in Iraq and the effect has been devastating to the al Qaeda terrorists. Iraqi’s are fed up with the terrorists and have turned against them, while at the same time they have come to the realization that we are in their country to help them.

We Americans have a difficult time understanding why these terrorists can be so vicious. We are fed a line of rubbish about these people being so poor that they have nothing, thus they are driven to acts of violence. Both Klein and Yon say this simply is not so. Klein believes it is necessary, “to educate people on what the war on terrorism is really about,” by giving a genuine glimpse into the psyche of suicide bombers and their recruiters.

Ruthie Blum asks Klein, “What makes terrorists tick?”

“That’s a good question,” Klein says. “A lot of people think that terrorism is about pieces of territory. Others think that Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the whole alphabet of Palestinian terrorists simply want to destroy Israel or that al Qaeda wants America out of the Middle East. But one thing that has really been driven home to me in all my talks with terrorists – which is the thesis of all my work – is that they are looking to serve Allah by spreading Islam around the world. That’s what makes them tick.”

Blum then asked, “It is often said of terrorists that desperation and poverty – sometimes mental illness – is at the root of their actions. Is there truth to that?”
Klein responded, “It’s true that if you watch CNN or read The New York Times, you would get that impression. Because whenever there’s a suicide bombing in Israel, right away they present human interest stories about how the bomber is poor and living under Israeli occupation. And this is in spite of the fact that in the history of modern civilization, there’s no other instance of people under occupation blowing themselves up.

“But, about a year and a half ago, I met with a 22-year-old Palestinian who had been recruited to become a suicide bomber for Islamic Jihad and his recruiter in Jenin, and I specifically asked them whether they were carrying out their operations because of poverty and desperation. Their response was to get offended and to call it Zionist propaganda. They explained that suicide is forbidden in Islam, and that blowing oneself up in the midst of innocent men, women and children does not constitute suicide, but rather jihad for Allah – that therefore it is not only allowed, but it is the creed.”

Next week I will address this topic further. My purpose in writing about these Islamic terrorists is to allow you to see how we are being misled by the media in understanding what is really at the root cause of their behavior.

As Aaron Klein says, “It’s necessary to educate people.”

Consider yourself being educated.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

My Thoughts on Proposition 8

Without a doubt, California has placed itself squarely in the national spotlight once again with a ballot initiative addressing the definition of marriage. Californians have the opportunity to vote this November 4th on this seemingly endless marriage debate, otherwise known as Proposition 8.

Here’s what the ballot is attempting to do: If it is passed, it will amend the California Constitution with a new section that would read, “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.” The ballot is called, “The California Marriage Protection Act.”

Remember the 2000 election? That’s when we had Proposition 22. With that proposition California voters determined overwhelmingly that “marriage is to be between one man and one woman.”

So if Prop 22 was passed eight years ago, why do we need Prop 8? Good question! The answer is, at the same time, simple and complicated. Allow me to venture into this morass.

Since the passage of Prop 22 there have been a number of laws passed that address domestic partnership and same-sex marriage, thus eroding the value of traditional marriage. In other words, same-sex couples are afforded the same rights and privileges as traditional heterosexual couples. San Francisco’s mayor, Gavin Newsom, decided he would take it upon himself to perform marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples. These marriages were eventually annulled by the courts.

You may recall that earlier this year a measure was presented to the California Supreme Court, successfully striking down Prop 22 in a 4-3 vote. As a result, all bans against same-sex marriage were overturned. At the same time, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed approval of two same-sex marriage bills. But do not be fooled here. The Governator has made it clear that he is personally opposed to Prop 8. He said, “I respect the Court's decision and as Governor, I will uphold its ruling. Also, as I have said in the past, I will not support an amendment to the constitution that would overturn this state Supreme Court ruling.”

California Attorney General Jerry Brown wrote an amendment which states that Prop 8, “ELIMINATES RIGHT OF SAME-SEX COUPLES TO MARRY. INITIATIVE CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT. Changes the California Constitution to eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry in California. Provides that only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California. Fiscal Impact: Over next few years, potential revenue loss, mainly sales taxes, totaling in the several tens of millions of dollars, to state and local governments. In the long run, likely little fiscal impact on state and local governments.”

Senator John McCain, Republican nominee for president, had this to say about Prop 8: “I support the efforts of the people of California to recognize marriage as a unique institution between a man and a woman [...]. I do not believe judges should be making these decisions.”

Senator Barack Obama, the Democratic presidential nominee, had this to say in a letter to the Alice B. Toklas LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) Democratic Club's Pride Breakfast about Prop 8: “As the Democratic nominee for President, I am proud to join with and support the LGBT community in an effort to set our nation on a course that recognizes LGBT Americans with full equality under the law [...]. I oppose the divisive and discriminatory efforts to amend the California Constitution, and similar efforts to amend the U.S. Constitution or those of other states.”

Now here are some sobering statistics regarding this proposition. As of September 14, a field poll taken on this issue showed some startling results. Of those polled, 38% were in favor of Prop 8; 55% were opposed; and 7% remain undecided.

I find it rather disturbing that an issue of this magnitude has not generated more response from the electorate. If the polling data is correct, Proposition 8 will be roundly defeated in November. Marriage will become whatever people decide it should be. Without a standard that supersedes man’s laws, I see a future that will allow marriage to be a relationship with whatever a person decides is right for them. There are already attempts to legalize the marriage of humans with animals.

Marriage is sacred in the eyes of God. His view of marriage is the view we should all take. Why? Because God has the correct view on everything.

“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24)

As Joshua said, long ago, “Choose this day whom you will serve. As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Train Hard!

Last year I was preaching through the book of First Corinthians. It was great fun! Then in March I took a group of twenty-five on a trip to the Holy Land with a stop in Greece first. Besides visiting the ancient city of Athens, we also toured the ruins of Corinth.

This year I have been preaching through the book of Second Corinthians. This current series will end in the middle of October. In my most recent sermons we have been addressing the topic of “spiritual warfare.” Now, you may be saying, “Hold on, Roots! Spiritual warfare?” Yup. Every day.

If there was ever a man who understood the day-to-day struggles in living the Christian faith, it was Paul. He ran into every type of opposition there is. “I've worked much harder, been jailed more often, beaten up more times than I can count, and at death's door time after time. I've been flogged five times with the Jews' thirty-nine lashes, beaten by Roman rods three times, pummeled with rocks once. I've been shipwrecked three times, and immersed in the open sea for a night and a day. In hard traveling year in and year out, I've had to ford rivers, fend off robbers, struggle with friends, struggle with foes. I've been at risk in the city, at risk in the country, endangered by desert sun and sea storm, and betrayed by those I thought were my brothers. I've known drudgery and hard labor, many a long and lonely night without sleep, many a missed meal, blasted by the cold, naked to the weather. And that's not the half of it, when you throw in the daily pressures and anxieties of all the churches. When someone gets to the end of his rope, I feel the desperation in my bones. When someone is duped into sin, an angry fire burns in my gut.” (II Corinthians 11:23-29)

But it’s spiritual warfare that we are involved in. Before Jesus even began his earthly ministry he was engaged in this spiritual warfare. Immediately following his baptism by John the Baptist in Matthew 3, he was led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness where he would fast for forty days and nights. Then the enemy, Satan, came to him and began to tempt him. Jesus responded by quoting Scripture. After the third attempt Satan withdrew because he was defeated each time by the power of God’s word.

Here’s an important principle for anyone claiming to walk with Christ: You must know the tactics of the enemy. And you must know how to use the weapons the Lord has made available to you. These weapons enable you to defeat the enemy. To neglect these weapons is to invite disaster.

You see, Jesus knew only too well the tactics that Satan uses. We first see it in the Garden of Eden: Lying and Deception. Jesus said, “There is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” The devil even tried the same tactics on Jesus! He does the same thing today. If he was bold and audacious enough to challenge Jesus, what’s to stop him from spewing his hateful lies at you?

Spiritual Warfare for the Christian is when we are engaged in battle against: lies, deceit, dishonesty, double-dealing, two-facedness, insincerity, and untruthfulness. Add to this: deception, trickery, cheating, shams, frauds, and con-artists. All of this is directed against the person and work of Jesus Christ. The lies and deception of the devil will always call into question a Christian’s faith in what Jesus said and did. This can be very unsettling – at least until the Christian realizes that God has provided two weapons to use in battling these attacks against the faith.

What two weapons would these be? God’s Word, and Prayer. In Ephesians 6:17-18 we read these specific instructions, “Take the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God. You must pray at all times as the Holy Spirit leads you to pray.” Let me repeat again: Here are the weapons in your arsenal – God’s Word, and Prayer. How well do you know how to use them? If you are not familiar with God’s Word, the Bible, then you cannot know lies when they come at you. You are like those that Paul describes as going after “other gospels.” You are simply incapable of recognizing a lie from the truth. But when you study God’s Word you become laser-sharp in identifying lies because you know the truth from God’s Word.

By the same token, as you develop a prayer life, that is, learning to speak comfortably with God, hearing when he speaks to you, allows you to develop spiritual discernment. This is when you gain insight from the Lord that would otherwise be unavailable to you. It occurs as you develop a relationship with Jesus. He does not want you to be ignorant or blind to the enemy’s tactics. That’s why he’s placed these two weapons in your hands so that you can learn to use them well, defeating the forces of darkness, pulling down spiritual strongholds. Then you will be able to say, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

How are you doing in spiritual warfare? A little rusty in the use of your weapons? It’s always the right time to take them up again!

Train hard!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The American Dream

Politicians are particularly given to mentioning the “American Dream.” They intone the term sonorously as if to convey to the masses that it is simply a pipe dream, unattainable to the average person living in America. My reply: Nonsense!

Historian and writer James Truslow Adams coined the phrase, “American Dream,” in his 1931 book The Epic of America; “The American Dream is that of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement. It is a difficult dream for the European upper classes to interpret adequately, and too many of us ourselves have grown weary and mistrustful of it. It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.”

So then, whether or not a person actually improves their lot in life, they can still be reaching for the stars, in a manner of speaking. The journey of life may well offer a person the opportunity to achieve higher education through scholarships, talent and hard work, or a fabulously wealthy income for services rendered or talents rewarded. Or it may be something as simple, yet profound, as escaping from tyranny and despotism in order to breathe the intoxicating air of freedom. How many immigrants to these shores were gratified in knowing their progeny, their offspring, would have advantages to succeed in life, regardless of race, creed, class, or religious belief.

Consider the fact that anyone in America can rise to the top of the social/political chimera by hard work, grit and determination. They can rub elbows with the rich and famous. They can eat in the finest restaurants; belong to the most exclusive clubs; and drive the sleekest car into the garage of the most elegant of homes.

The American Dream is identified and defined differently by each individual. For many, it is a matter of escaping the oppressiveness of governments that refuse to allow people to worship as they choose. For others it is to have a new start in life because their old country opportunities for bettering oneself are hampered due to class or economic status. The American West of a hundred and thirty years ago was still very wild and untamed. Yet there were men and women who risked everything to have a chance of living in a free land. It was not at all uncommon to encounter men and women from various pedigreed European royal blood lines living as common dirt farmers in the ever expanding west, enduring the hardships and dangers of this new land right along with the displaced Irish potato farmers who left the Emerald Isle because of the devastation of crop failure and famine.

Regardless of what a person considers to be the American Dream, it is almost always associated with life opportunities that are virtually impossible in any other time or place. The Horatio Alger story of rising from rags to riches was popularly referred to by those living in the latter half of the 19th Century and early 20th Century. The companion phrase, “Only in America,” carries with it the sense of achievement through opportunity and hard work. And, of course, the symbol of the American Dream, for immigrants as well as natural born Americans, is the Statue of Liberty. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

One of the beauties of America is the practiced principle that, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

So, let me ask you – What are you doing with your life? Are you taking advantage of the opportunities available to you by living in America? Life’s uncertainties along with unforeseen circumstances may hinder you from reaching for that next rung on the ladder, but you are free to pick yourself up and try again, to persevere even when the odds are against you, with your efforts seemingly fruitless, futile and wasted.

Remember: You are an American! You do not need the government to rescue you from the ravages of life. “In God we trust” is more than a clever slogan. It is a way of life. My American Dream is realized in the freedom to worship God every day without fear of personal attack or reprisal.

Thank God for our freedoms!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Coming Home with Honor

The phrase, “coming home with honor,” has been bandied about for the past several years by politicos, pundits, military leaders and elected representatives. From conservatives to liberals each has proclaimed the importance of bringing our troops home with honor.

What exactly does “coming home with honor” mean?

Allow me to bypass all the foolish talk from some quarters that suggests we can pack up our troops and bring them home without winning the war against terrorism. Coming home with honor can only mean one thing: Victory!

As a Vietnam vet, I can assure you that coming home safely does not mean coming home with honor. Sure, I was glad to be home. All of us were, despite the death of more than fifty-eight thousand of our fellow warriors. But coming home without a victory is bitterness and gall. We answered the call of our nation, crossing the pond (euphemism for the Pacific Ocean) to fight in a country most Americans couldn’t locate on a map. Over a period of nearly ten years American forces won every battle in Vietnam. To then come home without a victory is beyond exasperating. That is not coming home with honor.

There is no substitute for victory. Soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines do not join the military to be safe. They join the military to keep the rest of us safe. They have counted the cost, deciding some things in life are more important than their own personal safety. One of the great remarks in the acceptance speech made by the Republican vice presidential nominee, Sarah Palin, was when she said, “There is only one man in this election who has ever really fought for you.” The obvious answer is John McCain. After five and a half years as a POW in the Hanoi Hilton he returned home as a hero, but the nation he had left had dramatically changed.

Recently in a town hall meeting in New York, McCain said, "We will win the war in Iraq. We are winning that war. Our troops will come home with honor and victory." That’s the kind of talk I want to hear. That was music to the ears of Sarah Palin, whose son is heading for Iraq with the Army infantry on September 11. It should also be music to the Democratic vice presidential candidate’s ears, Joe Biden, as well. His son, Beau, a captain in the Delaware Army National Guard, heads for a tour of duty in Iraq next month. John McCain has two sons currently in the military. His oldest son from his first marriage, Doug, previously served as a Navy pilot. Son Jack is scheduled to graduate from the Naval Academy next year, following in the footsteps of his father, grandfather, and great grandfather. His youngest son, Jimmy, has already served a tour in Iraq as a Marine. If you watched the Republican National Convention, you would have seen that Cindy McCain was wearing a bejeweled pin on her lapel that said: NAVY USMC. I loved it!

In Sarah Palin’s acceptance speech, she made this telling comment about John McCain, “He's a man who wore the uniform of this country for 22 years, and refused to break faith with those troops in Iraq who have now brought victory within sight. And as the mother of one of those troops, that is exactly the kind of man I want as commander in chief.”

Let me be clear. During the primaries I was not a fan of John McCain. However, he is a patriot who understands the importance of allowing our military to finish the job. He knows that our nation is under assault by radicals who are determined to destroy us. Denying our troops the opportunity to win the fight is tantamount to emasculating our military. We did this once before with Vietnam. We dare not do so again.

Victory is the only answer. Then, and only then, can we bring the troops home with honor.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

This is Getting Good!

As I write this, Senator McCain is about to announce his vice presidential running mate. Like many of you, I had become bored with the election process and all of its over-blown hype with its accompanying Armageddon-like cloud of dread that seems to be the message of many in political circles.

I just watched Senator McCain introduce his vice presidential running mate, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin (Pay-lin). This was great drama! History was made, not because she is a woman running for vice-president (Geraldine Ferraro holds that distinction), but because regardless of which ticket wins, you have an election that will establish history. On the Democratic side you have an African-American presidential candidate in Barak Obama. On the Republican side, you have a woman vice-presidential candidate in Sarah Palin. Thrown into the mix is the fact that, if elected, John McCain would be the oldest first term president in history (Ronald Reagan was sixty-nine when he became president). Interestingly, McCain would not be the first president who had been a prisoner-of-war. That distinction is held by Andrew Jackson, who, at age thirteen, was captured by the British during the American Revolution. Because he refused to polish the boots of a British officer, he was severely beaten, leaving a permanent scar on his cheek.

The next two months leading up to the election on November 4 will be lots of fun! I can’t wait for the debates between Senator Joe Biden and Governor Sarah Palin. This should be good!

It’s fun watching the media try to find out about Governor Palin, a virtual unknown. Here are some things we do know: She is happily married to her husband has been for twenty years. They have five children. Their oldest is currently serving in the Army and is leaving for Iraq on 9-11. Their youngest child was born this April. Even though they were informed before the birth that the baby is Down’s syndrome, they chose to have the baby because every person is precious and valuable. She is a “Hockey Mom.” That’s Alaskan speak for “Soccer Mom.” She was a tenacious point guard for her high school basketball team, earning the moniker: “Sarah Barracuda.” She also was a beauty queen. Coached her children’s hockey team. Is a member of the union. Is married to her high school sweet heart. Her husband is a native Alaskan, a member of the Yup'ik Eskimo tribe. She was an active member of the PTA. Ran for city council, eventually becoming the mayor of her small town, Wasilla. With her conservative values, she ran for governor and won. Her parents were school teachers. Her father used to take her hunting at three o’clock in the morning. She is a life member of the National Rifle Association (NRA). Now, get this: She was appointed to chair an investigation into the ethics in Alaskan politics. It is said of Sarah, that the countryside of Alaska is littered with the bodies of those who have crossed her. DC and the Beltway Crowd have to be nervous.

Concerning her political career, she said, "It's always safer in politics to avoid risk . . . but I didn't get into government to do the safe and easy things." She added: "The people of America expect us to seek public office and to serve for the right reasons. And the right reason is to challenge the status quo and to serve the common good."

So, after a painfully long election, starting in earnest right after the mid-term elections in 2006, this news of Sarah Palin as McCain’s vice-presidential running mate is quite refreshing. The next two months will be a real donnybrook, pitting the two political parties against each other for the most important office in the land. This is going to be fun!

Is this a great country or what?

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Hooray for the USA!

I’ve been watching the Olympics, as time has allowed, these past two weeks. It is always a wonder to see these athletes perform on the world stage which the Olympics provide. I admit that I become something of an Olympics junkie during this two-week period every four years. I marvel at the discipline of the athletes who train their bodies to do things that leave me breathless.

Take, for instance, Michael Phelps. This six-foot four-inch swimming machine has re-written Olympic swimming. In the process he has become larger than his sport; larger than the Olympics; even larger then life. And he comes across as a very nice guy. His mother, frequently picked out of the crowd by a cameraman, is wonderfully expressive during her son’s record-setting swims. Phelps is the same guy who earned six gold medals in the 2004 Olympics. What is not mentioned very often is the fact that Michael gave up an opportunity to earn a seventh gold in those Olympics because he felt that a fellow swimmer was better at the relay swim than he was. He stepped aside for the good of the team. Now that’s refreshing!

And how cute is Shawn Johnson! This pint-sized gymnast is the picture of competitiveness. Her smile lights up the arena. But, man, can she perform! Her coach is a Chinese man born and raised in Beijing who later immigrated to the United States. How ironic is that! A young, precocious six year old walks into the gym of a recently arrived immigrant, and ten years later they arrive in Beijing, China to capture gold medals. What a great country we have!

Then you have Shawn’s fellow gymnast, Nastia Liukin, a young girl who was born in Russia. Her parents were both Russian athletes competing on the world circuit. Her father was an Olympian. They immigrated to the United States when Nastia was a little girl, settling in Texas. The grace and form of this girl is magical! She fairly floats through her routines, making the impossible look simple, representing the United States.

I could go on listing the various athletes and the varied stories that they each have and the means by which they arrived at the pinnacle of their sport. How about Phil Dalhausser? This six-foot nine-inch giant was born in Switzerland, moving to the U.S. as a boy with his parents. Being old school, his folks wanted him to get a job when he graduated from high school. He had been introduced to volleyball, which he initially derided as being a “girls game,” but accepted the challenge to try it. He loved it! When he started making money playing this game his parents decided maybe this wasn’t so bad after all. The whole family is now avid volleyball fans. He and his playing partner won gold yesterday.

Amidst all this competitiveness was a fawning, sycophantic media that couldn’t control themselves in support of these amazing U.S. athletes. The giddiness of these television broadcasters was amusing. The story of Phelps’ attempt to earn an unprecedented eight gold medals was the story of the Olympics. Everyone wanted to interview this phenomenal athlete. They could not contain their glee! Everything was about the American athletes. You could hardly accuse them of being unbiased.

Pardon me for noticing, but aren’t these the same TV personalities and media types who wouldn’t dare compromise their standing as news people by showing a bias for American forces in Afghanistan or Iraq? Or choosing not to wear an American flag pin because it would compromise their so called objectivity? Or show support for our military that is engaged in a war to protect our freedoms? I’ve read that some national broadcasting company’s have passed policy that even forbids their employees, particularly on-air personalities, from wearing the American flag pin.

I’m thrilled and proud of our American athletes. I’m impressed with their dedication to their sport. I love to watch them grab an American flag and drape it over their shoulders, or wave it high over their heads after winning their event. It’s beautiful! But I am more proud of our military young men and women who raise their right hand and pledge an oath to our nation: "I, _____, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God."

These patriots then engage in a period of training that prepares them for war against the enemies of our nation. These are the men and women who voluntarily go into harms way; who help keep the wolf from the door; who protect us and our way of life so we can continue to enjoy our freedoms.

Who are these people that comprise our military? They are our sons and daughters who come from American homes all across this land. They are amazing! They put the importance of the nation’s security ahead of their own personal pursuits. They place on hold any future plans for a family, education, or career opportunities.

These are the ones who deserve our thanks and respect; who should have parades in their honor; yet who expect none of these things in return for their service to our country.

Hooray for them! And God bless America.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

All Over But the Shouting

Well, the time has come. After nearly thirty-four years of military service, the end of this chapter of my life is closing as of September 5 – my 60th birthday.

Every career military person knows that day will come. It’s accepted as part of the inevitable movement of time. While finishing up my time here at the 4th Marine Aircraft Wing headquarters in New Orleans, I ran into a friend and fellow chaplain of many years, Calvin Reynolds. We decided to have dinner together at one of New Orleans’ finest restaurants, located in the French Quarter, called Dickie Brennan’s.

Cal and I lingered over our meal discussing many of our experiences over the past twenty-five or so years while serving at various times with the Navy and Marine Corps. We both came away believing we have been truly blessed to have served.

In looking back on where I’ve been the past forty-odd years, I marvel at the hand of God, especially when I didn’t have a clue as to what was going on. In my late teens and early twenties I was adrift. This is one of the reasons I was seriously considering joining the Marine Corps right out of high school in 1966. That quickly became a bad idea, not because the Vietnam War was well under way, but because my brother, John, had enlisted in the Marines in 1964. As I was graduating from high school, he was completing flight school where they made him a helicopter pilot. Vietnam had quickly become a helicopter war. I seemed to recall hearing that Marine 2nd lieutenant helicopter pilots had a life expectancy of two minutes in a combat zone. I wasn’t the brightest light on the street, but I could see that both of us being in the Marines at the same time was potentially very risky. I decided to forgo the Marines until I knew what would happen to my brother. John left for Nam in February of ’67, returning home thirteen months later. I asked him if he planned to stay in. He said that he wasn’t. After he left active duty in 1969, I went ahead and enlisted in the Marines.

During those three years since high school graduation, I had bounced around in junior college, making a general mess of things. I was tired of school, didn’t know what I wanted to study, or even what direction to take with my life. My college grades were so bad . . . “How bad were they, Chuck?” . . . They were so bad that at the end of the Spring Semester in 1969, I received an official post card from the school strongly recommending that I not register for Fall classes! Now that’s bad!

So Marine Corps boot camp, here I come! I enjoyed the training, but most especially the camaraderie Marines share. I applied for the officers program but didn’t seriously believe I had a chance simply because my college grades were . . . well, as I said, Bad! So the Marine Corps decided I should fix jet airplanes. This I did for the rest of my time. Because of this, I was eventually sent overseas with “Orders to WestPac,” a euphemism for Vietnam. Thirty minutes after landing in Da Nang, South Vietnam early in the Easter Offensive of 1972, we were hit with a rocket attack. In scrambling for shelter, I was hit square in the chest with a piece of shrapnel, measuring about two inches by a half in. It had lost its penetrating velocity, falling harmlessly at my feet. Had it hit me four inches higher in the throat, or thirteen inches higher in the eye, this would be an entirely different story.

Six months later, I wandered into a Christian Servicemen’s Center where I heard the gospel preached with such conviction and clarity that I knew I had to make up my mind. Up to this time I had been living pretty loose and free, using God’s name, and the name of Jesus, as swear words. Now I was being confronted with a choice. Would I accept Jesus as my Lord and Savior? Or would I risk an eternity in hell by walking away from him? For me, it was a simple choice.

The message of the Gospel finally clicked with me. I’d heard preaching before. I’d even read portions of the Bible. But I hadn’t understood how much God loved me, and how much he was willing to sacrifice for me through the life, death, and resurrection of his son, Jesus, in order to free me from the ravages of sin. The epiphany for me was the discovery that Jesus really does love me! This was absolutely wonderful! And it’s why the Gospel is called the “Good News.”

So learning to follow the path the Lord laid out for me was not difficult because I knew he always had something special just ahead. This has consistently been true in my life, no more so than the opportunity that I was given to serve as a chaplain in the United States Navy these past twenty-five years. The Lord has allowed me to share this very same Good News with the men and women of the Navy and Marine Corps. These men and women are the ones who willingly place themselves in harms way every day so you and I can live free. Who better to share God’s message of love and sacrifice with than those who already understand self-sacrifice?

It has been a joy and a privilege! To God be the glory!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

A Visit to Corinth

Nope, not the Corinth in Greece that I visited last March. This Corinth is a small town in northeastern Mississippi where Tennessee and Alabama connect. You say you’ve never heard of Corinth? Well, unless you’re from the area, or you’re a Civil War buff, or your great granddaddy fought there, you wouldn’t have reason to have heard of this place. I spent the weekend traipsing around Corinth and Shiloh. What a time I had!

In the annals of the American Civil War, Corinth is prominent. The name of the town, the battle that took place there, and the significance has been lost upon most Americans, overshadowed by such names as Gettysburg, Shiloh, Vicksburg, and Bull Run. But make no mistake: Corinth was critical to the Southern Cause. Why was Corinth of such importance? Because it was the juncture of two railroads that were vital for the Confederacy to move men and supplies from the Mississippi River to the south Atlantic, and Kentucky to Florida. The two railroads were the Mobile & Ohio RR, and the Memphis & Charleston RR.

Corinth was the military training center for all Mississippi recruits from the outset of the War in 1861. Thousands of soldiers descended on this small town where they learned the skills necessary for combat with the Federals (a name often used disparagingly of Union troops). In early 1862, troops marched out of Corinth twenty-two miles to the north to a place soon to be known as Shiloh. Picture two heavyweight fighters standing in the boxing ring and landing one powerful punch after the other on the opponent. For two long days these enemies threw everything they had at each other. The combined number of men from both sides was 98,000. After the battle ended on April 7, the number of killed, wounded, or missing was 23,746. It was tough on both sides, but more so for the Southern boys. Their beloved leader, General Albert Sydney Johnston, was killed during the battle on April 6, bleeding to death from a bullet lodged in his leg. Ironically, an unused tourniquet was later found in his coat. General P.G.T. Beauregard, who aggressively opposed the attack on Grants forces at Shiloh, was appointed successor to Johnston. As the day drew to a close on April 7, the severely battered Confederate troops withdrew from the field, straggling back the twenty-two miles to Corinth. The Union troops under General Ulysses S. Grant were equally as spent, and simply let their southern cousins slip away, too exhausted to pursue.

Now comes Corinth. Except for the train crossing, this town would be like any other agricultural southern town of that time. Whoever controlled Corinth, controlled access to the Tennessee and the Mississippi Rivers. General Beauregard knew General Grant would be coming to Corinth to wrest the town from southern control. He was heard to say, “If we lose here (Corinth), we lose the Mississippi Valley, and probably our cause.”

Of particular importance to me is the military service of my great grandfather, Reverend Daniel Thatcher Lake. He joined up with the fledgling 27th Texas Cavalry in early 1862. They soon were off on their first campaign, participating in the Battle of Pea Ridge in northwestern Arkansas. They then were ordered to Memphis, and then almost immediately to Corinth. They had heard of the defeat at Shiloh, so they knew Corinth would be the next place for battle. General Beauregard built up the defenses around Corinth, but withdrew before a shot was fired. He was certain that it would be another battle lost should they take on the northern troops again so soon after Shiloh.

Months later in September, the Confederate Army knew they must regain control of Corinth. They were near desperation because the Union Army was squeezing them from all sides. On October 3-4, a horrific battle took place with nearly 8,000 dead from both sides. The news of this battle spread across the land, horrifying all Americans, both from the north and south.

At the end of the day, General Grant’s army was victorious and retained control of this vital railroad junction. One of his generals in the field, Major General William Tecumseh Sherman, had this to say: “The effect of the Battle of Corinth was very great . . . It was, indeed, a decisive blow to the Confederate cause in our quarter . . . I could see its effects upon the citizens, and they openly admitted that their cause had sustained a death blow.”

My great granddad was seriously wounded during a raid on Union forces in late December 1862. He was medically discharged and sent home in January of 63. For him, the war was over.

Corinth remained in Union hands, which allowed Grant to move his army down the Mississippi River unmolested where he would launch a siege on the Confederate stronghold in Vicksburg in the spring of 1863. The outcome of the war was in little doubt at that point, but it would rage on for two more years with tens of thousands more dying at the hands of their brothers and fellow countrymen.

The 27th Texas Cavalry would continue to fight throughout the remainder of the war, finally surrendering on May 4, 1865, nearly a month after Lee’s surrender at the Appomattox Court House. Of the 1,007 men who originally made up the 27th, only a handful was still standing by war’s end.