Marines.Together We Served

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas Joy

              For several weeks my granddaughter Alyssa has been singing different Christmas songs that she’s been learning in her kindergarten class at Colony Oak. She dutifully informed Meema and me about the Christmas program that she was to be in so we could put it on our calendars. Of course we would attend because we wanted to see her perform.

The Friday before Christmas was the big day, so Meema and I joined Laura and Ken (Alyssa’s parents) on the bleachers in the school gym. Good thing we got there early because it was standing-room-only. Lots of parents and grandparents were packed into the bleachers while the kids filed in by grade and classroom and sat on the gym floor starting with the youngest sitting closest to the stage.

Two kindergarten classes were putting on this production, which initially caused me to wonder whether I was wasting my time. I could envision myself sitting there constantly glancing at my watch, anxious to see this over so I could leave in order to get on with more important matters. A pleasant surprise awaited me.

The first thing to arrest my attention was how well behaved all of the kids were. And I’m not just talking about the kindergarteners. Watching the classes file in by age group was a coordinated process with a minimal amount of fooling around. The school runs from kindergarten through 8th grade (K-8), so the potential for misbehavior increases at an exponential rate, especially as you hit the 6th–8th grades. The noise factor increased as adults and kids were all talking. However, once the principal came to the microphone, everyone – and I mean everyone – quieted down and respectfully remained attentive throughout the hour-long program.

The kindergarteners on stage were positioned on risers waiting for the prompting of their teacher. One of the two kindergarten teachers was seated on a chair down on the gym floor. She was like the band master. I never once heard her say a word, yet she was “directing” the kids. The other teacher was in the wings off stage.

The program was entitled, “Christmas Around the World.” Four countries were chosen for representation: England, Germany, Holland, and Mexico. This was understandable since the vast majority of the children would have their ancestry traced back to these countries. Early in the program the children sang a beloved Christmas song, Silent Night, in both English and German. They also sang Jose Feliciano’s famous rendition of Feliz Navidade.

Throughout the performance, various kids, either individually or in pairs or more, would, on cue, approach the microphone to recite their part. I must give credit to the teachers for helping these kids understand the importance of standing still, speaking up, and remaining disciplined throughout. Yes, there were a couple of kids who didn’t get the memo. For instance, one little girl stood on the risers with her classmates constantly swinging her arms back and forth like a world-class runner warming up, all from nervousness I suppose. And one little boy on the front row was mugging for the audience from time to time. Otherwise, the fifty or so kids were amazingly poised.

My wife and I came away from this experience greatly encouraged by all that we witnessed. Even when the program was over, the kids seated on the floor of the gym enthusiastically cheered and clapped for their littlest school mates. Eighth graders clapping for kindergarteners? Yup! I saw it with my own eyes.

Kudos to Principal Marlon Gayle, and kindergarten teachers Ms Sherri Huff and Ms Dana Phelps. Thank you!

So, Merry Christmas everyone!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Celebrating Christmas

              I guess it’s fair to ask the question: Why does anyone celebrate Christmas anymore? After all, there are an awful lot of folks trying to rid the United States of its Christian history and roots.

So, why then celebrate Christmas at all? It would seem logical to cease such a celebration since our President has declared unequivocally that the United States is no longer a Christian nation. Is he right? I don’t know for sure, but I’m guessing Mr. Obama has miscalculated the power and influence of God’s Holy Spirit that is still very much at work in the hearts and lives of countless Americans all across the “fruited plain.” There is no single person, organization, religious group, or government that will ever be able to thwart the plans of God.

Then there are the atheists. They have rallied in recent years and are flexing some political and organizational muscle. A coalition of eight atheist groups ran a campaign of ads this past October on the New York subway system which transports more than five million passengers per day. The ads appeal directly to people who do not consider themselves to be religious or affiliated with any specific religious organization.

During this Christmas season the American Atheists are running electric billboard ads in New York’s Times Square that asks the question, “Who needs Christ during Christmas? Nobody.” There has been a running debate in the media over the question of whether or not there is a “War on Christmas.” Again, I don’t know for sure, but it certainly seems to be more targeted and aggressive than previous years. Does it bother me? No, not really. You see, God does not force anyone to believe in him. It is a matter of choice.

That brings up an important point about atheists. They often profess not to believe in God. This is not a basic tenet of atheism. For a person to state that they do not believe in a god leaves open the possibility that there is a god to believe in. An atheist, by strict definition, believes there is no god to believe in, even if a person wanted to believe in a god. The word “atheist” is a Greek word that literally means “no god.”  What atheists should say is, “There is no god to believe in.”

So then, back to whether we should celebrate Christmas. The president of American Atheists, David Silverman, claims that Christmas, celebrated on December 25, is really a Winter Solstice celebration and has been around longer than the Christian faith. I would agree with him. However, he than advises, “Don’t go to church.” Here’s where I disagree. If you read my article two weeks ago, “Is Christmas Christian?” you will recall that I wrote about the various influences on the celebration of Christmas, and that regardless of what day Jesus was actually born is of no matter. What Christians celebrate is his birth and his purpose for coming to this planet we call earth. Not only is it unlikely that December 25 is the birth date of Jesus, it has been fairly safely projected that he was born between 3 and 7 years earlier than originally determined. That would mean instead of my being born in the year 1948, I would actually have been born between 1951-1955. Weird! But so what? I’m here nonetheless. And just as Jesus was born about 2000 years ago, the exact day and year are of no consequence. He was here in the flesh.

Christian religious groups have chosen to enter into the billboard wars with the atheists. Here are some of those replies: “To all our atheist friends — Thank God you’re wrong.” and “You Know It’s Real. This Season Celebrate Jesus.”

And that’s the reason I celebrate Christmas – It’s REAL. Knowing Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior means my life has been changed – transformed – made new. That happened because of an encounter I had with Jesus on September 8, 1972, and my answer to him then was “Yes!” And my answer to him today is still “Yes!”

My son-in-law, Ken, is a sheet metal worker and a master in his craft. My wife asked him to make a sign with the words “Jesus is the Reason for the Season.” He finished it the other night and mounted it on top of our church marquee. He boxed in the sign so that the letters that he cut out would have lights inside to shine so as to illuminate the letters. It has become an attraction on Main Street with people stopping to capture its beauty in pictures.

Because of my own experience in knowing Jesus I could not for one minute discount the stories of countless millions of people over the past 20 centuries who have also had a personal encounter with him, whose lives have been changed by this God-Man Jesus.

When I celebrate Christmas, I don’t just celebrate Jesus being born in a manger two thousand years ago. I also celebrate his being born in my heart 41 years ago.
And that, my friends, is worth celebrating!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Is Christmas Christian?

              The first Sunday of the Christmas season I took a different angle in presenting the biblical message. Typically a sermon is focused on a main point that I, as the preacher, hope to communicate, usually providing numerous Scriptural references to support and defend the point of the message. Not so last Sunday.

Over the years I have heard innumerable accusations leveled against Christians and the church, criticizing us for our celebration of December 25 as the birthday of Jesus, and other targeted derogatory comments which, to be honest, are frequently valid criticisms. So in my preparation I decided to do some research of various beliefs and practices associated with the celebration of Christmas. I will present this through a series of questions, and then the answers.

Is December 25 the actual birthday of Jesus? The answer is: We don’t know. The Bible does not provide a date for his birth. We can surmise, however, that it is not December 25. Shepherds would not have had their sheep out on the hills in the dead of winter. They would have been closed in a pen near town to be fed from feed set aside for the winter months. Shepherds typically took their sheep out to graze in the spring. Once the fields had been worked over throughout the spring, the shepherd would have moved the sheep up into the mountains where there was fresh, green pastures, and also predators (see Psalm 23).

So why December 25? Good question. First, the birth of the Jesus was not even celebrated for the first 300 years or so following his death and resurrection. It was actually Pope Julius I who chose December 25. Julius was the bishop of Rome from 337-352 AD. It is commonly believed that the church chose this date in an effort to adopt and absorb the traditions of the pagan Saturnalia festival. Saturn was the Roman god of agriculture. Beginning in the week leading up to the winter solstice and continuing for a full month, Saturnalia was a hedonistic time, when food and drink were plentiful. Also around the time of the winter solstice, Romans observed Juvenalia, a feast honoring the children of Rome. In addition, members of the upper classes often celebrated the birthday of Mithra, the god of the unconquerable sun, on – you guessed it – December 25. It was believed that Mithra, an infant god, was born of a rock. For some Romans, Mithra's birthday was the most sacred day of the year.

Second, in Germany, people honored the pagan god Oden during the mid-winter holiday. Supposedly Germans were terrified of Oden, as they believed he made night-time flights through the sky to observe his people. Then he would decide who should prosper or who should perish. Because of his foreboding presence, many Germans chose to stay inside. Oden sure sounds a lot like Santa Claus, only Santa is kindly and not so inclined to whack people! The flying around at night, and checking on who’s been naughty and nice makes you wonder.

The church went through some periods of time where the celebration of the birth of Jesus was outlawed. Martin Luther was not in favor of this practice, and the early Pilgrims in the Massachusetts Bay Colony would fine anyone who was showing any indications of celebratory activity around December 25. The fine was 5 shillings – no small sum for that time. One of the reasons for not celebrating Jesus’ birthday is that of the two other birthdays mentioned in the Bible, Pharaoh and Herod – bad things happened. And then the prophets, Jeremiah and Job, mention cursing the day of their birth.

The Christmas tree is considered by some as Christianization of pagan tradition and ritual surrounding the Winter Solstice, which included the use of evergreen boughs, and an adaptation of pagan tree worship. Saint Boniface (634–709), who was a missionary in Germany, took an axe to an oak tree dedicated to Thor and pointed out a fir tree, which he stated was a more fitting object of reverence because it pointed to heaven and it had a triangular shape, which he said was symbolic of the Trinity.

By 1841 the Christmas tree had become widespread throughout Britain. By the 1870s, people in the United States had adopted the custom of putting up a Christmas tree.

December 25–Christmas Day–has been a federal holiday in the United States since 1870.

People often confuse Santa Claus and Saint Nicholas (St. Nick). Here’s how to remember one from the other. Santa Claus is a fictional character at best. Saint Nicholas was a real person. He was born in a part of Greece which is now in modern-day Turkey. His parents were Christians and very wealthy. During a plague the parents died and the young Nicholas was left in the care of his uncle, also named Nicholas. Stories abound about the life of young Nicholas. Most prominently, he was known for tossing small bags of gold (from his inheritance) into the bedrooms of those in need. Supposedly, he heard that someone was waiting to see who was doing this, so Nick dropped it down the chimney whereupon it fell into a girls stocking which was hanging to dry over the warm embers.

Just remember – Christmas is a celebration of God coming to earth in the flesh, revealing himself to us in his Son, Jesus, our Savior. That’s worth celebrating!

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Feeling Fine

              It has been six years now since I began my medical journey. After a life of nearly sixty years in which I experienced very few health problems, I found myself faced with two life-threatening health problems.

The first was detected in December of 2007. Over a period of several years I was experiencing an increasing lack of energy with accompanying tiredness. I figured I was just getting out of shape. But when I would make an attempt to go for a run I’d be out of breath within a quarter of a mile. I remember slowing to a walk and thinking, “I’m in worse shape than I thought!”

What brought this problem to a head was the afternoon I went out to play a round of golf. I would carry my bag while walking the course. On this day in December I was dragging around the course, not enjoying my outing. After finishing nine holes I simply wanted to lie down on the grass and take a long nap. Even though I still had enough daylight to play a few more holes, I opted to stop. I was exhausted! When I got to my car I called the office of Dr. Rutgers, my personal physician. Since it was after hours I left a voice message. I received a call the next day asking me to come in and see him. Once I was there they ran an EKG on me. It revealed nothing definitive. While discussing my symptoms, Dr. Rutgers informed me that he wanted me to see a cardiologist to see if there might be any heart problems. He called and made the appointment for me.

The next day I was in seeing the cardiologist. They administered another EKG coming up with the same results that Dr. Rutgers office had determined. Again I found myself in consultation with another doctor. Dr. Hussain didn’t believe I had heart disease, but he wanted to run me through more advanced tests to eliminate this as a possibility. So I was scheduled for an echo cardiogram, to be followed by a nuclear stress test. Bingo! The nuclear stress test revealed that I had several blockages in the arteries of my heart. The doctor called me and wanted me in right away to perform an angiogram (sometimes called, Coronary Angiography). Two days later I was at the hospital signing a consent form for bypass surgery if my heart needed such a procedure. My wife, daughters and other family members were joined by many people in my congregation who were gathered in prayer in the waiting room. It turns out I had six blockages. Stents were inserted and I did fine for a number of months. However, during a check-up a year later, it was determined that one of the stents had been rejected by my body. So back in I went for two more stents to open the closing artery. I’ve felt fine since.

The second health issue had to do with an incorrigible prostate. The symptoms were standard: frequent need to vacate my bladder, and an irregular stream. I mentioned this to Dr. Rutgers during my annual check-up, so he referred me to a urologist. My PSA was 7.5, so he scheduled me for a biopsy. Wow! Was that ever painful! The result was that eight of the twelve needles that penetrated my segmented prostate revealed cancer. This came as no surprise for two reasons: First, my brother, John, had already had prostate cancer with follow-on surgery. And, second, the number of Vietnam Vets exhibiting the symptoms of prostate cancer far exceeds all other male groupings. It is supposed that we were all exposed to various levels of Agent Orange.

I’ve written about the cancer problem previously, but here’s a synopsis of what my wife and I decided. Initially I scheduled a date to have my prostate surgically removed. After discussing this with Isaura, we decided to look into alternatives. Bottom line: we did not care for any of the medical options – surgery, chemo, or radiation, or a combination of those three. Instead we opted to try a holistic approach. We did an enormous amount of research because we knew that if we went this route it would be a significant life-style change for us.

We connected with a holistic doctor, Lisa Hunt, in Modesto. Dr. Lisa is a D.O. – a doctor of osteopathy – or in English: a holistic (whole body) doctor. Osteopathy is a form of drug-free non-invasive manual medicine that focuses on total body health by treating and strengthening the musculoskeletal framework, which includes the joints, muscles and spine. Its aim is to positively affect the body's nervous, circulatory and lymphatic systems.”

My symptoms associated with prostate problems, and in my case, prostate cancer, are gradually clearing up. Plus my entire body is functioning much better.

Many of you have asked me how I have been doing, so perhaps this report will answer this for you. I so appreciate the concern expressed that I felt it was time to let you know where things stand with me concerning my health.

To put it concisely – I’m feeling fine!