Marines.Together We Served

Wednesday, April 25, 2012


It finally happened! At this point in my life I was beginning to despair that I would ever experience the thrill of the moment.

          Yes, I finally made a hole-in-one! This coveted shot that all golfers long for is now checked off my list of things to accomplish in life, or what is commonly referred to as a person’s “bucket list.”

          Last week my brother, John, flew out from Virginia to join me in a marathon of golf which we have been known to do from time to time. We have been planning this trip for months. My brother refers to us as being “golf junkies.” Our step father introduced us to this ancient of games when we were kids and it has stuck. I still remember the times the three of us would play a round together, using all types of clever ways to psych the other ones out so as to gain an edge and thereby win the round. Bragging rights would be upheld until the next round was played.

          Those of you who live in my area of Central California are all too aware of the extreme weather we had last week. Wow! What a mess. Gale force winds, rain in buckets, hail and sleet, and cold. But like the postman’s creed, “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds,” we laughed at the elements and soldiered on. We’ve played in worse conditions than this!

          I picked John up at the San Francisco Airport (SFO) just after noon on Tuesday. We arrived back in Ripon and went straight to Spring Creek Golf and Country Club. We managed to get in 18 holes before heading to the house. We had a delightful time with family all coming over to visit.

          Last October for “Pastor Appreciation Month” I was presented with a certificate for two people for two days of golf and an overnight stay in one of the bungalows at the Saddle Creek Resort in Copperopolis. Since my wife, Isaura is not a golfer, she suggested I use this gift with my brother, under the condition that I would then take her to Monterey soon.

          The next morning John and I drove to Saddle Creek to meet up with two friends, Dave and Hank, for a 9:00 tee time. The course was beautiful and also quite challenging. You did not want to have your ball stray from the fairway or you’d find yourself in trouble. We worked in two rounds that day, finally getting caught by a rain storm during the second round that afternoon. That evening after a hot shower and dry clothes, we all met for dinner at a restaurant nearby.

          The next morning we were up and at it again. After breakfast we went to the first tee box to start our round. Dave and Hank were planning to leave after this morning round, but we would be joined in the afternoon round by Tony and my grandson Daniel. The afternoon round was going well but Tony and Daniel decided to head out at the end of the 10th hole, wanting to get back to Ripon before the anticipated afternoon storm hit. Undaunted and indefatigable, John and I pressed on to complete the final round at Saddle Creek.

          As John maneuvered our golf cart to the 14th hole, we immediately noticed a rafter of wild turkeys sauntering across the tee box. There were ten hens and two toms, both of which were spreading their tail feathers in all their splendor. We quickly took some pictures with our cell phones. While my brother was still fussing over the turkeys, I stepped up to the tee and proceeded to take my shot on this 185 yard hole. I used a three iron and immediately knew I’d hit a good shot. I watched it land on the front of the green but could not follow it after that. The sky was darkening as the afternoon was waning, and the storm clouds continued to threaten. John then made his shot which was just short of the green.

          When we drove up to the green we easily saw John’s ball sitting there, but there was no sign of my ball. I looked over the entire green but there was no white Titleist ball. I assumed I’d hit the ball more firmly than I’d expected, so I grabbed my sand wedge and walked to the back of the green fully expecting to see the ball lying in the bunker. But, No! There was no ball in the sand trap. I stood there musing over this, concluding that since I had seen the flight of the ball all the way to the green, and it wasn’t anywhere in sight, then it had to be in the hole.

          With a fair amount of trepidation I approached the flag stick, looking into the hole. Could it be? Yes! There it was, my ball lying there in the cup smiling up at me (or at least it seemed that way to me). I stood by the flag looking at my brother who was busy preparing himself to make his shot, all the while oblivious to my discovery. He finally looked up at me and noticed the Cheshire cat grin on my face. He said, “Is it in the cup?” I nodded in the affirmative.

          We took a few quick pictures then headed for the next hole since daylight was rapidly becoming an issue. To record an ace you have to play a complete round of golf. We walked off the eighteenth green with very little light left. In fact the club house was completely closed. So we loaded our clubs in my car and began our drive home.

          We had a wonderful time, but to have made my first hole-in-one playing with my brother was the pièce de résistance!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Just Bubba

There are just some topics that I must constantly return to, in the same way as the swallows return each year to the Mission at San Juan Capistrano. For this article I am addressing two of my favorites: Golf and Jesus.

This past weekend was a real doozy! Yes it was Easter, and that was glorious, to be sure. But it just so happens that the Master’s golf tournament was held that same weekend. This annual event is, in my estimation, the golf event of the year. Played at the pristine Augusta Golf Course in Georgia, the home of legendary Bobby Jones, only the very best golfers are invited to participate. So many great golfers have walked the rolling fairways of Augusta in its seventy-six year history that it has become a golfer’s haven, genuine hallowed ground in America in tribute to the ancient game.

The tournament is played the same way at Augusta as it is anywhere else, except there is that certain “something” that Augusta has. You can always anticipate that special things will happen on and off the golf course on this weekend. The Masters outdid itself this year!

The four-day event began on Thursday with all the “pre-game” hype, analysts prognosticating as to which of the notable golfers would rise to the top and play their best game and win the prize. Oddly enough, the prize for winning the Masters is an article of clothing. Specifically, it is a semi-bright green sport coat, although the deans of the game refer to it as the “Green Jacket.” I’m not sure it is a jacket that would be worn anywhere else but at Augusta. Yet it is an item so highly coveted among professional golfers that it makes all the other jugs, bowls, and platters presented as prizes at other tournaments seem like so many baubles, bangles, and beads.

For the uninitiated, golf is full of terms, idioms, and expressions that make absolutely no sense unless you have been immersed in the game for some time. For instance, in scoring you want to shoot par, which is really an average score. I know this sounds rather odd – that shooting an average score is good – but it is difficult enough to do, trust me on this! If you score better than a par on a certain hole, say the hole is a par 5, but you manage to shoot 4, this is called a birdie. These are highly favored among hackers like me. Now suppose you shoot a 3 on that same par 5. This is called an eagle. Such a score is worthy of many hurrahs for weeks by duffers and hackers. To shoot a score of 2 on that same par 5 is called an albatross! An albatross is also called a double eagle. The odds of making a double eagle are about one million-to-one for the average golfer. The pros obviously are more likely to make such a shot, but even then it is very very rare indeed. The likelihood of a hole-in-one is much greater than the albatross.

On Sunday during the final round of the Masters, the guy who came in second made a double eagle 2 on the second hole, a par five. It is a shot that will be talked about for years to come and will have a permanent place on the sports highlight reel. Along with the albatross, there were two eagles on Sunday, and just any number of amazing shots made by these professional golfers that leave you scratching your head in wonder.

But it was the shot that Bubba Watson made during the second hole of the sudden-death play-off that amazed the viewers. His drive was buried deep in the trees with no view of the green. He made the shot hitting the ball with a severe hook that caused it to land in the middle of the green. The place erupted in shouts and loud clapping. The cheers Bubba received as he walked up to the green were thunderous. He won the hole, and thereby won the tournament. He is now the newest member of the Green Jacket Club.

But I was impressed with Bubba’s humility in winning. He spoke of his father, his mother, his grandmother, his wife and their newly adopted son, but he said practically nothing about himself. His openness and honesty was refreshing. His first comments were to thank all the University of Georgia Bulldog fans who had supported him. And then he said, “And I want to thank my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.” On his tweet page later that evening he wrote, “To God be the glory! #Masters.”

Other Christian athletes contacted him to offer their congratulations, including Tim Tebow who is now with the New York Jets, and Jeremy Linn of the New York Knicks. In an interview following his victory, he was asked what he was thinking about at that moment. This was his reply, “All of these people that influenced me throughout my life, that’s what I’m thinking about, not really me winning a golf tournament. I’m thinking about all of these people that influenced me in the right direction to get to where I am today as a person.”

On his Twitter page he describes himself as a “Christian, Husband, Daddy, Pro Golfer.”

I’d say this young man has his priorities straight. God bless you, Bubba!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

God is Gone (Again)!

Here we go again!

An elementary school in Massachusetts has made the decision to remove the word “God” from the immensely popular Lee Greenwood song, “God Bless the U.S.A.” The phrase was changed to “We love the U.S.A.” Parents immediately objected to this outrageous move on the part of school officials. The song was to be sung in a school program, but due to the reaction from parents over the change of the wording, the school unwisely chose to cancel the use of the song altogether. The reason given for this decision? The principal says they hope to ”maintain the focus on the original objective of sharing students’ knowledge of the U.S. States, and because of logistics, will not include any songs.”

May I suggest to this principal that if you want to “focus on the original objective of sharing the students’ knowledge of the U.S. States,” then you will have to include God. Read the Mayflower Compact which is the blueprint for the state constitutions of the United States. God is equally acknowledged and revered in virtually every state logo, as well as state constitution. Yet there is an increasingly growing number of folks in the academic arena who are trying their level best to change the history of our nation. Still, if you are doing a history of the various states, you simply cannot leave out the impact of God. Unless, of course, you are intentionally being dishonest in your presentation of the facts.

The following statement was provided by singer/songwriter Lee Greenwood concerning this mishandling of his famous song. “Maybe the school should have asked the parents their thoughts before changing the lyrics to the song. They could have even asked the writer of the song, which I of course would have said you can’t change the lyrics at all or any part of the song. The most important word in the whole piece of music is the word God, which is also in the title, God Bless The USA. We can’t take God out of the song, we can’t take God out of The Pledge of Allegiance, we can’t take God off of the American currency. Let us also remember, the phrase God Bless the USA has a very important meaning for those in the military and their families, as well as new citizens coming to our Country. The song is played at every naturalization ceremony behind The National Anthem. If the song is good enough to be played and performed in its original setting under those circumstances, it surely should be good enough for our children.”

Mr. Greenwood is correct when he says the song, “God Bless the U.S.A.,” has a “very important meaning for those in the military and their families.” I remember well when I was serving as the Command Chaplain on board the USS White Plains. We were on a WestPac (Western Pacific) in December of 1987. We pulled into port on the tiny island of Diego Garcia (D-Gar, for short), situated some 1,200 miles south of India in the center of the Indian Ocean. It was December 23rd, and we were all thinking of home and family, realizing there would be no gathering with families for us this year. Unbeknownst to us, Bob Hope and the USO Show were on the island preparing to perform for us that evening in one of the large storage buildings on the dock next to where we were tied up. It was a special time for us having someone of the stature of Bob Hope, an icon of immense proportions, at that time in his late 80s, bringing the USO Show to little known outposts like D-Gar.

The performance was just as you might have expected. Mr. Hope was very much on top of his game, cracking jokes, and inviting various entertainers and guests onto the make-shift stage. I was seated no more than twenty feet from him. The highlight of the evening, for me at least and I suspect for all of us, was when Lee Greenwood was brought out to perform “God Bless the U.S.A.” There wasn’t a dry eye in the place. The song epitomized who we were as Americans and why each of us was willing to be thousands of miles away from the ones we loved. We all stood and cheered at the conclusion of the song, high-fiving and backslapping each other. We cheered for America, being made aware once again that the freedoms we have enjoyed for more than 200 years are freedoms provided by a loving and providential God.

 So, this school (and others) may continue to remove God from the halls of academia, but God is not so easily removed. He has a way of making his presence known. God has a way of speaking to your heart!

God Bless the U.S.A.!

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Risen Indeed!

In preparing for Easter, my thoughts naturally focus on the death and resurrection of Jesus. Of course there are those who discount this historical event as being fantasy, or religious wishful-thinking. That’s when I look at the Scriptures and read once again the account of those who were eye-witnesses, or had heard the stories from those who had been there.

I read a news article today which announced that Fort Bragg in North Carolina would be hosting a concert on the base geared to those in the military who are atheists. This is a first in the history of the United States military! The “Rock Beyond Belief” concert will have bands, speakers and events intended for families and young children. The key note speaker is noted British atheist, Richard Dawkins.

I suppose it stands to reason that as a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ I would be quick to come to the defense of the biblical account of the death and resurrection of Jesus. And that would be a correct assumption. But that assumption is based not upon growing up being taught the dictums of the Christian faith, nor attending endless numbers of weekends of Sunday school and church services. None of those things occurred in my life. No, instead it centers on my personal encounter with Jesus at age twenty-four while a sergeant in the Marine Corps. Having had a very close call during a rocket attack after only being in Vietnam for thirty minutes, the reality of my own mortality and the potential suddenness of my life ending violently, forced me to evaluate what I was doing with my life.

One night several months later while in Yokosuka, Japan, I walked into an Overseas Christian Servicemen’s Center (OCSC, renamed Cadence International) where I heard the story of how much God loves me. There I learned that the manner in which God showed his love for me was to allow his Son, Jesus, to die for my sins. This seemed too good to be true! I made my decision that night and have never looked back.

So as Easter rolls around each year at this time, I find myself reading over Paul’s defense of the resurrection in I Corinthians 15, known as the “Great Resurrection Chapter.” What makes this passage of Scripture so intriguing is the references to those who actually witnessed the event of Jesus being crucified. Then three days later, just as Jesus had said, his tomb was empty. He had risen, just as he said! Those who were there would not be silent about what they had seen. They quickly faced societal rejection, threats, banishment, and even death. Instead of silencing these witnesses of the resurrection, it seemed to rather embolden them to speak out all the more.

It has been said that, “The man with an argument is always at the mercy of the man with the experience.” In other words, you may choose to not believe there is a God, and you may call a person who does believe a “fool.” But for someone who has had a personal encounter with Christ, who knows their sins are forgiven, and that Jesus has gone to heaven to prepare a place for them, rests on the assurance of that experience. A person with such an experience may never become a great biblical scholar or theologian. They might even have difficulty simply articulating their experience to someone else’s satisfaction, but it does not negate the truth and reality of their experience.

Consider these words of testimony from the Apostle Paul in I Corinthians 15. “I told you the most important part of the message exactly as it was told to me. That part is: Christ died for our sins, as the Scriptures say. He was buried, and three days later he was raised to life, as the Scriptures say. Christ appeared to Peter, then to the twelve. After this, he appeared to more than five hundred other followers. Most of them are still alive, but some have died. He also appeared to James, and then to all of the apostles. Finally, he appeared to me.”

The Bible is full of such testimonies from those who have encountered Christ. The Church Era is a continuation of the same story of people whose lives have been transformed from meeting Jesus.

Jesus loves you. He died for you. And it’s for this reason that Christians celebrating Easter around the world declare with one voice, “He is risen!”

The chorus of voices from heaven and earth replies, “He is risen indeed!”