Marines.Together We Served

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Well, I Declare!

With a New Year upon us, I thought there was no better time to address the course of our nation than when we are looking at a fresh start each New Year provides for us.

Every month I receive a publication, provided free, entitled, Imprimis, (Latin: in the first place) from Hillsdale College located in Hillsdale, Michigan. The slogan for the school reads, “Pursuing Truth – Defending Liberty since 1844.” Each publication prints one article, usually an extrapolation from a speech given at the school by a guest lecturer. Make no mistake – this is a conservative school, thus a conservative publication. The December issue has the school’s president, Larry P. Arnn, addressing the concern many have today in the denigration and disdainful dismissal of the Constitution of the United States as antiquated and out-of-date.

Within the article, I was struck once again by the opening words of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.

“When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bonds which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”

Please note if you will, the very clear reference by the founders of our nation to the basic assertion that there is a God, and God’s laws ought to prevail in all the affairs of men. This is the foundation upon which the founding fathers of our nation then crafted the entire Declaration and Constitution. Neither of those documents makes sense without the solid belief in a God who is supreme over man.

Here’s why this is important: First, if we accept the premise that there are laws in nature, called Natural Law (A law or body of laws that derives from nature and is believed to be binding upon human actions apart from or in conjunction with laws established by human authority), then it can be safely assumed that these laws were instituted by a God who is responsible for establishing these laws. The Britannica says Natural Law is “in jurisprudence and political philosophy, a system of right or justice common to all humankind and derived from nature rather than from the rules of society, or positive law. The concept can be traced to Aristotle, who held that what was ‘just by nature’ was not always the same as what was ‘just by law.’"

Second, following this line of thinking in what is called deductive reasoning, you would have to draw the conclusion that since God created natural laws for the physical world, then he must have also created laws for the spiritual world. It is in these laws that God has established the value of humankind. It is intentionally designed for us to be protected from one another.

For instance, when you look at the divine laws established by God, the Ten Commandments are the bedrock for all other divine (or spiritual) laws which follow. Let’s suppose you had neighbors living all around you. If you knew that they all believed in and lived by the Ten Commandments, you could leave your house unlocked, your garage door open, and the keys in your car. However, it only takes one person as your neighbor who does not adhere to the Ten Commandments for you to then change the way you look after your property.

There are still some of us who remember not having to lock our doors. We could leave our bikes outside. The keys to the car were perfectly safe sitting in the ignition. Some folks are still around who remember when cars didn’t have locks and didn’t require keys for the ignition. Just step on the pedal located on the floorboard and Vroooom! Off you go. Have you ever asked yourself why that was?

In the establishment of our nation, the vast majority of the people were God fearing. That is, they believed in the Laws of Nature as being provided by a God who ultimately holds each one of us accountable for our actions.

That’s something to ponder as we start 2010. More on this next week.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Merry Christmas!

There has been a lot of rancor over the improper recognition of Christmas in recent years. I’ve watched all of this while attempting to not allow others to define the reason we celebrate the birth of Jesus.

On my way to the church office today, I saw a man standing on the freeway overpass holding a large festive sign that read, “Happy Birthday Jesus! Thanks for Your Forgiveness.” I smiled and waved to him as I pulled away from the stop sign. I have no idea how long he stood out there with his hand made sign, but he was conveying the simple message of Christmas and why we celebrate it.

I’m not one of those who get upset because employees of department stores and local businesses may be told they are not to say “Merry Christmas” to their customers. I can usually tell when some hapless clerk is saying “Happy Holidays,” when they really want to say “Merry Christmas.” Listen! They work there. There are always things we are asked to do in whatever job you have that may not be entirely to your liking. And in today’s economy having and keeping a job has become pretty important.

Think about it. If the owners of a particular business do not want their employees to engage in personalized greetings for Christmas, that’s their option. They may also be atheists, or believe in the tenets of another religion, or have some personal angst with Christians, etc. I have some options too. One of those is I don’t have to shop there. That is not an option I have ever chosen to use. Why? Because it doesn’t accomplish anything, except perhaps to offer some sort of silly, surreptitious sensation that “I showed them!”

Instead, as a Christian, as a believer in of Jesus Christ and his sacrificial, atoning death on the cross for my sins, I believe my attitude should be to shop in the store regardless of whether they greet me with Merry Christmas or not. I, on the other hand, am perfectly at liberty to express my beliefs openly by saying “Merry Christmas” to whomever I choose. Often in these store situations I will say Merry Christmas to a frazzled, overworked employee, only to have them momentarily pause, glance up from their task, and with a look of surprise mixed with a bit of mischief, they’ll look me in the eye and say “Merry Christmas.” It’s like I’ve engaged in doing something naughty with them and we got away with it. I can tell it lifted their spirits, and I walk out with a smile on my face.

Another one of those Christmas Season issues in recent years has been the displaying of a crèche on the town square, or somewhere centrally located in the community. This manger scene is another example of the Christian faith and its strong early influences on our nation. Sadly, we have moved a long way from those influences, even in the sixty-one years I’ve been on planet Earth. Even as a kid, I really had no idea what all that manger scene stuff was about, other than it looked cool for a few weeks in December. Maybe your town doesn’t have a manger scene or an official tree-lighting any longer. Okay. Here’s what you can do. Set up your own manger scene in front of your house, and decorate a Christmas tree somewhere in the yard festooned with lights and any other items that please you. Then encourage your friends and neighbors to do the same thing. Christmas decorating in neighborhoods has become a big deal in several places we’ve lived over the years. In Fresno, California where we lived in the early 80s, they have a stretch of homes in an exclusive part of town that goes all out at Christmas. Night after night throughout the season, cars cruise along “Christmas Tree Lane” oohing and ahhing at the spectacular displays on and around the homes of these upscale homes. It is one of the “things to do” when you live in that city.

When we lived in Turlock, California in the mid-90s, we discovered a neighborhood only a few blocks from the church where I was serving at the time that decorated each year what is called, “Candy Cane Lane.” With headlights off, cars poke along this two block area with faces peering out at the Christmas displays, enjoying the amazing creativity some folks have. Others park and stroll along the street simply taking in the beauty of the scene. It was magical!

One last thought. As a Christian, I want everyone to take pleasure in the joy of Christmas. I want them to know this Jesus who was born to die for their sins. But more importantly than whether a store employee says Merry Christmas, or manger scenes are authorized, is the attitude you display to others. They are far more likely to be drawn to the beauty of Christ when you demonstrate his love in both your attitude and your actions than if they see another crèche, or are greeted with Merry Christmas. Think about it.

And have a Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Tiger - Meet the Lion

Where do I start?

I’m referring to the trials and tribulations of Tiger Woods. When first I heard the story about his having a car accident, ironically, I was on the golf course. My mother called me on my cell phone. I didn’t answer because I was in a foursome and didn’t want to be a distraction, plus we were teeing up on the 18th tee box so we’d be finishing in the next fifteen minutes anyway. I did listen to my mother’s voice message that said, “I suppose you’ve heard what happened to Tiger. Talk to you later.” No, I had not heard anything about Tiger. So as soon as we finished play, I called my mom to find out about Tiger.

Well, this sordid tale has grown to the point that most people are already weary of any further details. How many more women need to come forward claiming to have had a tryst with Tiger? That his marriage is in trouble is an understatement. That his children will have to endure years of snickering and tasteless comments is a given. That his persona as a professional golfer/athlete is forever tainted is the enormous price to be paid when such personal indiscretions are made public.

Like most of you, I was hoping that Tiger’s early morning incident was nothing more than an easily explained fender-bender. Alas, such is not the case. I have been a Tiger fan since he emerged on the professional golf circuit thirteen years ago. I never thought I would see anyone as good as Jack Nicklaus. Tiger simply took the PGA by storm. I truly believed he would be the one to break Jack’s record of eighteen major championships. As much as I like Tiger, in my personal estimation, only Bobby Jones would be in a class by himself. There are two reasons for this. First, Jones played during an era when American golf was first gaining world-wide recognition. The British golfers owned the sport up till then. Jones changed all of that. He was also the consummate “Southern Gentleman” from Georgia. Bobby Jones also played in an amateur status because of the negative image professional athletes had in that era. On top of that, he always played with golf clubs that were made of hickory wood, hitting drives 350 yards. Secondly, Bobby Jones only played competitively for eight years, concluding his career by winning the Grand Slam in 1930, a feat accomplished only once since then by Tiger Woods. Purists will say that Tiger didn’t really win the Grand Slam because the four events, though won in succession, were won over two seasons of golf (2000-2001). But more importantly, Bobby Jones kept a promise he made to his wife, a promise to leave competitive golf at the end of 1930, allowing him to return to his law practice where he would be home with his wife and five children. Bobby had his priorities straight – family first.

I hear the question asked, “Will all of this trouble of infidelity affect Tiger’s golf game?” Whether it does or doesn’t is irrelevant. The man has fallen into his own personal hell, a condition he created for himself. Arguably he is the most famous athlete in the world, and the most recognized. He has built an image for himself that comes across as someone who is clean-cut and in control. He seems very likable when interviewed by the media, and has rejuvenated professional golf at a time when it needed rejuvenating.

However, Tiger is now facing the crumbling of his world. Endorsers are pulling out, starting with Gatorade, with rumblings of others to follow suit. Tiger has made far more money through his endorsements than from playing golf. He is the first billionaire athlete. True, money is no object for him, but he is now being subjected to the ramifications of his actions. In a sport where cheating is regarded as the unforgivable sin, his extra-marital affairs will forever stain his image in the minds of sports fans – golf fans in particular. He has sullied the game of golf. Sure, he may go on and win future tournaments. He may even play better than ever. And he may yet grasp the golden ring in breaking Jack’s record of eighteen majors. But how empty that will be! He will have lost the respect of his peers in his profession, his name will be a byword throughout the sports world, and he will have left a legacy for his family that will be the source of jokes and ridicule for years to come.

It is my prayer that Tiger will seek the Lord. Why? Because it is the Lord who created him, and who established and ordained the act of marriage. In Hebrews 13:4 it is the Lord who instructs us to “honor marriage, and guard the sacredness of sexual intimacy between wife and husband. God draws a firm line against casual and illicit sex.” Paul describes in the Letter to the Galatians that “it is obvious what kind of life develops out of trying to get your own way all the time: repetitive, loveless, cheap sex; a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness; trinket gods; magic-show religion; paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants; a brutal temper; an impotence to love or be loved; divided homes and divided lives; small-minded and lopsided pursuits; the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival; uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions; ugly parodies of community. I could go on.”

Tiger can yet be a hero to his children and his wife by allowing the Lord to cleanse his heart and soul from the ravages of sin, and loving their mother as God intended. “Husbands, go all out in your love for your wives, exactly as Christ did for the church—a love marked by giving, not getting.”

There are consequences to our actions in life. Tiger may be regarded as the greatest golfer of all time, but many will never see him as anything more than an adulterer. Ah! But God loves Tiger and is in the business of restoring lives. He wants to restore Tiger’s.

Nothing would bring greater joy than to know that Tiger has been introduced to Jesus. And by the way, Jesus is described in the Bible as a lion. In fact, he is the Lion – and this Lion always wins. Tiger has met his match!

Update on Tiger, Saturday, December 12:

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Sturm und Drang

For those of you who speak German, or are otherwise up on your international idiomatic expressions, you will recognize this phrase, Sturm und Drang. The meaning of this expression is “storm and stress.” The implications are that the conditions you are presently faced with would be best described as turmoil and upheaval.

Let’s see – What things are going on that might cause a universal/national sense of Sturm und Drang?

1. I have serious concerns about this president. In particular, his apologizing to the rest of the world for America’s existence. Since when did we need to apologize for coming to the rescue of nations that were mercilessly attacked and ravaged by the likes of Germany and Japan? Or for halting the spread of Communism in Southeast Asia? Or the liberation of an entire nation from the brutality of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, and the vile regime of the Taliban in Afghanistan? What nation have we ever conquered that we didn’t also eventually surrender it back? We did not keep any of the blood-soaked islands of the Pacific. We rescued a thankless France from the Germans twice in the last century! We returned all lands acquired during the Spanish/American War - not the least of which was the Philippine Islands. What about the emergency funds from America, both private and governmental, that have always flowed immediately into the devastated regions of the world when crises occur? Why do we send billions of dollars to the Palestinians, yet Saudi Arabia right next door hasn’t lifted a finger to help people of their own faith and culture? Nor has the fabulously wealthy Saudi Arabia attempted to provide assistance to their neighbors in Iraq? Yet America sends her young men and women, plus astronomical amounts of financial support to Iraq and Afghanistan to set them free to choose how they wish to be governed. Where is the aide from Islamic nations? Since we are not sure of where this man spent his formative years, I am left to wonder how much of America he has incorporated into his soul. We are still the last, best hope in the world for those who yearn to be free. People continue to risk their lives to come to America.

2. The Stimulus Bill scared me to death! The president and Congress were in an absolute lather to get this bill passed because our nation was in danger of financially collapsing if this stimulus was not enacted immediately. Two concerns leapt out at me when this bill was introduced. First, I asked the question, “What’s the big hurry?” I was taught growing up to not make hasty decisions, but rather to step back, take a deep breath, and evaluate the situation before making any decisions. Second, I’m no whiz when it comes to math, but I was taught that you don’t spend money to save money. And now our geniuses in Congress want to pass another Stimulus Bill, even though the first one nine months ago was a flop. I would love to see Special Agent Gibbs from the hit TV show, NCIS, walk over to the Halls of Congress, starting with Pelosi and Reed and begin slapping each one of them on the back of their heads, which is his trademark means of getting his junior agents’ attention.

3. Since when does the president, in cahoots with Congress, take over private industry? For General Motors to roll over, and the media to not raise the roof, is simply beyond understanding. How was this possible? Have we become so weak as a people that we don’t even object when the Constitution is simply ignored? The government has no right to interfere with the business community. And who is this 31-year-old character that was placed in charge of revitalizing the auto industry? I don’t care that he’s only 31. The problem is he doesn’t have the credentials to take on such a task.

4. Now we’re facing a passage of a National Healthcare Bill that will radically transform the way you and I are treated for our maladies. This is socialism in its most blatant form, make no mistake. Reform is necessary in the healthcare industry, I grant you that. But have the government run it? Please! Remember this: Anything the government runs is always going to work on the basis of the “bottom line.” They will continue to cut costs until what you thought you were getting is gone. The government does not know how to effectively run anything.

5. I will conclude with our military. We are at war. Point of fact, we are at war with Islamic fundamentalists. They are cowardly, conniving, and utterly reprehensible. Yet our leaders in government are submitting our military to conditions that are unacceptable.

Due to space constraints, I must draw this article to a close. I may return to this, as there are many more issues I am concerned with, such as taxes, illegal immigration, etc.

As Americans we must wake up and get involved. America is worth fighting for, against all enemies foreign and domestic.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

The Importance of Religion

Religion is a topic that has prompted great debate during the history of man. Such debate has not been without severe disagreement, even violence, and sadly, war. None of these outcomes should deter us from seeking the truth about religion, faith, and God. Why? Because, if there is in fact a God, then you and I are directly answerable to this God. If there is no God, then the debate is at best an academic exercise, and at worst a delusion of man’s hope of making sense out of this world.

American history is filled with some of the most colorful characters to be found anywhere. Lew was born in Indiana in 1827. He had a dislike of school, and a love for fishing. He even patented a new type of fishing pole. He served in the Mexican-American War of 1846, and earned his law degree in 1849. A couple of years later in 1852 he was married to Susan Ellston. They had their only child the following year. At age 29, he was elected to the Indiana State Senate where, among other things, he organizes the Montgomery Guards, a state militia unit that will mark him for later appointment as a Colonel of the 11th Indiana Volunteer Infantry at the outbreak of the Civil War. This is fortuitous because he is promoted the next year in 1862 to Major General (two stars), honorably serving the Union throughout the remainder of the war. Most notably, he leads troops into the fight at the Battles of Fort Donelson, and Shiloh, both in Tennessee. In 1864, Lew successfully defends Washington, DC from Confederate forces advancing on the capitol. With the war over in 1865, Lew is assigned to be the judge over the assassination case of President Abraham Lincoln, and also over the trial of Henry Wirz, Commandant of Andersonville Prison where so many Union soldiers were abused and killed. In 1881 he served as a government minister to the nation of Turkey under President Chester A. Garfield.

You would think this was more than enough service and acclaim for one man in life. But, these are not the things Lew is best remembered for in our nation’s history. Among his many interests and pursuits, Lew was also a writer. He published his second novel in 1880. The name of this novel? Ben Hur! The official name of the book is: Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ.

So how did Lew Wallace come to write this book of faith which became the most popular book of the 19th Century?

While on a train ride in 1876, Major General Lew Wallace had a chance meeting with a Colonel Robert Ingersoll (I use their military titles because at that time in our history a man often used his military rank even after his military service was completed. It was considered to be a sign of respect and recognition of accomplishment.). Ingersoll was a well-known atheist. In his own words, Wallace says, “I confess that my attitude with respect to religion had been one of absolute indifference.” Born and raised a Methodist, the importance of religion in his life to this point, failed to make an impression on Wallace. Here is the dialogue (in part) between these two men.

"Is there a God?"

Quick as a flash, he replied, "I don't know: do you?"

And then I --- "Is there a Devil?"

And he ---"I don't know: do you?"

"Is there a Heaven?"

"I don't know, do you?"

"Is there a Hell?"

"I don't know, do you?"

"Is there a Hereafter?"

"I don't know, do you?"

Wallace then explains what happened next. Ingersoll had been asked to explain why he was an atheist to a group of folks on the train which he did for the next two hours until they arrived in Chicago. Wallace says, “I sat spellbound, listening to a medley of argument, eloquence, wit, satire, audacity, irreverence, poetry, brilliant antitheses, and pungent excoriation of believers in God, Christ, and Heaven, the like of which I had never heard.”

Lew Wallace was ashamed to admit that he could not even begin to defend his religious beliefs or explain what little he knew of his own Christian upbringing. He set out on a course to remedy this situation. “To lift me out of my indifference, one would think only strong affirmations of things regarded holiest would do. Yet here was I now moved as never before, and by what? The most outright denials of all human knowledge of God, Christ, Heaven, and the Hereafter which figures so in the hope and faith of the believing everywhere. Was the Colonel right? What had I on which to answer yes or no? He had made me ashamed of my ignorance: and then---here is the unexpected of the affair---as I walked on in the cool darkness, I was aroused for the first time in my life to the importance of religion. To write all my reflections would require many pages. I pass them to say simply that I resolved to study the subject. It only remains to say that I did as resolved, with results---first, the book "Ben Hur," and second, a conviction amounting to absolute belief in God and the Divinity of Christ.”

How important is your faith to you? Do you know what you believe about God, Christ, Heaven, Hell, Eternal Life, the Hereafter? If not, this Christmas Season is a great time to begin again. Dust off your Bible, and go to church.