Monday, December 27, 2010

White Christmas



The forecast for a white Christmas in the North Carolina mountains called for nearly 3-5" of fresh powder to fall beginning on Christmas eve. As we watched the local weather expectantly, we began to wonder if we'd really see our first white Christmas since moving to Hendersonville nearly 18 years ago.

Granted, we've seen our share of snow since we relocated to the mountains after living for 11 years in the deep south. Just a month after our arrival in 1993 we were greeted by the arrival of the "blizzard of 93" that dumped a foot and a half of snow followed by 75 mile per hour winds. And this past winter we witnessed a total snowfall of 36", the whitest winter in decades. But we were skeptical of the forecast, especially as it evolved; snow on Friday; no, snow beginning on Saturday. 3-5", or maybe just 1-2".

We bedded down Friday night after listening the the 11 o'clock forecast of 1-2" thinking we'd enjoy our little snow. Anything that could be considered a white Christmas would be just fine. And, when we awoke Saturday there was no sign of snow. Mary Beth commented that it was much like the day before the blizzard hit - no sign of anything resembling snow. But then it began; and it continued to snow all day and most of the night. When all was said and done we had depths of 7-10" across the county.

Fortunately, and thanks to our daughter, Kimberly, we made it through the snow in her 4wd SUV to the base of Davis Mountain where we were greeted by our son-in-law, Steve, in his Polaris Ranger all terrain vehicle. We threw our luggage and gifts under the tarp in the back and piled in, snaking up the snow covered road to our daughter Kara's and her husband, Steve's mountain home. And, the next day we made it safely home again in the same manner.

Here are a few photos of the snow from our perspective.




Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Prayers for Pearl Harbor Day

I've been asked to provide the invocation and benediction for my community's Pearl Harbor Day observance. It's an honor that I don't take lightly. As an offspring of an Army Air Corps veteran and the grandson of a soldier injured in WWI, I understand the meaning of military service for one's country. The examples of my father and grandfather, as well as my wife's father, a combat engineer in Germany, enabled me to answer my country's call to serve as a combat officer in Vietnam. My desire is that all our nation's brave men and women in uniform will be honored for their sacrificial service.

INVOCATION

Heavenly Father, we gather today in remembrance. On this day we remember the shock of an infamous, unprovoked attack. But we also remember the resolve and courage of a nation that knew it must stand and fight for its cherished values.

Today, on this 69th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, we honor the memories of the 2400 brave Americans who gave their lives, as well as all those who stood in our defense.

This day of remembrance is a time look back and recount their sacrifice for the cause of freedom.

But we also must look forward and ask for your grace and guidance as we face another foe in the form of radical Muslim terrorists bent on our destruction.

Let us also look inward to find the character and courage to stand for the life and liberty with which you have endowed us.

Finally, Lord, we look upward in praise and thanksgiving as we acknowledge that you have shed your grace on us.

May all we say and do today bring honor to those who have so nobly served, and bring glory to your Holy Name. Amen.



BENEDICTION

Again, Father, we thank you for this occasion to pause and remember these heroes. Help us to draw courage from the example of the brave Americans we honor.

As we go from here, may we be ever vigilant and ever valiant. Steel us to stand, Father, for this land and this lighthouse that is the United States of America.

As in the words of these great hymns of faith, we pray “Guide us, O Thou Great Jehovah,” and we ask that you grant us wisdom and courage for the facing of this hour.

I ask all this in the name of your Son and my Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Advent, A Time of Preparation

It’s the Advent season, a time celebrated by many churches in anticipation of Christmas. Advent begins the fourth Sunday before Christmas, so today, November 28, 2010, is the first Sunday of Advent.

Traditionally, the first Sunday of Advent is devoted to preparation; making ready for the miracle of God coming to live in our midst.

This morning I listened as my pastor, Ryan, shared a message based on the Christmas carol, Joy to the World. His first point emphasized how important it is to rid ourselves of the clutter in our lives. I was reminded of a small devotional book that I read a number of years ago. Written by Robert Boyd Munger and published by Intervarsity Press, this book is a reminder of the preparation that followers of Christ need to make in order to make room for him.

Every follower of Christ has, at some point, made the choice of inviting Christ into his or her life. And he moves in as promised. Paul describes it as “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Colossians 1;27) But, as Munger notes, there’s more to what Christ wants to do once he moves in.

In the booklet the author likens his life to a home with various rooms. At first he invites Christ into the study, which symbolizes his mind. As we allow him to, Christ transforms us by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12).

Secondly, the Lord is invited into the dining room, the place of appetites and desires. As we allow him into this part of our lives, he gently reminds us that he will grant us the desires of our heart, meaning that he will show us what is truly important and give us a thirst for righteousness the he alone can satisfy.

As he goes from room to room the Lord transforms the life of this new believer, until the Christian comes to the realization that what he needs to do is to give Jesus the title deed and turn the entire dwelling over to him.

You can read the entire treatise online. I encourage you to search for it.

As you prepare for Christmas, let me encourage you to make room for the Lord this year.

"Oh come to my heart, Lord Jesus. There is room in my heart for Thee."

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Believing God

Abram was perplexed. God had promised him an heir and, late in his life, he was still childless. He expressed his concerns to God in Genesis 15:3. “You have given me no children.”

God answered him by taking him outside to look up at the night sky. Then God spoke to Abram. “Your descendants will be like the stars in the sky.”

Then, in what is one of the key verses of the Old Testament, it states that “Abram believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Genesis 15:6

Imagine that. Before the law had been given, and before Abram had undergone ritual circumcision, God had already declared him righteous. In other words, Abram was righteous in God eyes, not on the basis of anything that he had done, but simply on the basis of his belief in God’s promise.

It’s a cliché, but it’s true nonetheless. In essence Abram declared, “God said it, I believe it, and that settles it.”

The same is true for us. God says that he loves us and that he has sent his Son, Jesus, to offer his life as a sacrifice for sin. If we believe him, and place our faith in Christ, God says he will declare us righteous.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Veterans Day for Second Graders, The Sequel



Thanks for fighting for our country. And protecting our country, Mr. Lt. Fendley. And I think you’re very brave for fighting in the Army.

So reads the first of the two dozen letters I received today from Mrs. Fendley’s second grade class after my visit to talk about the meaning of Veteran’s Day. Mrs. Fendley, my son’s wife, is in her third year as a public school teacher, and she wanted her class to understand why we celebrate this day each year. I was all too happy to accept her invitation to come and talk to them.

I arrived at the school right as they were returning from lunch, carrying some of my trinkets – medals and memorabilia – and a few photos. I hoped I was prepared to explain to these second graders the significance of this day we set aside to honor all our veterans.

As I began, I held up the words to that great statement of our rights from the Declaration of Independence and asked for a student to volunteer to read it. A dozen hands shot up. I called on one of the students. I had to help him with a few words – self-evident, created, endowed, Creator, and unalienable - but otherwise he did great.

Next I translated this statement into language that second graders were more likely to understand.

It is easy to see that God gave us rights that can’t be taken away. They include the right to live, to be free, and to be happy.

"Veteran’s Day," I said, "is a time to say thank you to the men and women who have served in the military to protect us, our country, and these rights.”

Then I told them about my experience as a combat commander and showed them some of the memorabilia.

"This pin lets you know that I was an infantry officer. That’s what these crossed rifles represent. And this silver bar is my insignia of rank. It means that I was a first lieutenant. And this pin that says ‘Follow Me’ represents the infantry school at Fort Benning."

I showed them other pins and ribbons: the Vietnam Service Medal, Bronze Star Medal, and unit pins, plus one of my dogtags. Then I put my CIB under the projector lamp. As it showed up on the screen, the children let out a collective "ooh."

"This," I said, "is the most special pin I own. This is the Combat Infantryman’s Badge, which every infantry soldier receives for combat service."

And, of course, I had to show pictures. I didn’t have any that were taken out in the boonies, but I did have photos that I took after being reassigned to a fire support base in command of the battalion heavy mortar platoon. Among the pictures were a Chinook helicopter carrying supplies in a cargo net, a Huey loaded with supplies and a few soldiers, a photo of one of the 4.2” mortars being fired, and lots of shots of sandbagged bunkers. I also had a few that I had taken while seated in a Huey – again, after my redeployment to LZ Maude, our firebase.

This was followed by questions.

"How many weapons did you fire?" asked one of the boys.

"Well, let’s see. M14, M16, 45 caliber pistol, 50 caliber machine gun, M72 LAW, 40mm grenade launcher, M60 machine gun, 81mm mortar, 4.2” mortar. I think that’s everything." With every one I named his eyes grew wider.

"Did you go in helicopters?"

"Yes, in Hueys, Chinooks, Loaches, but mostly in Hueys. My platoon was carried by Hueys from the rear out into the mountains and dropped off there. Then a couple of weeks later they would come back and pick us up, returning us to the rear for a few days of cleanup. Then we’d pack up our rucksacks with food, ammo, and clean clothes, climb back onto the helicopters, and fly out to some other area in the mountains."

One of the girls asked, "Did anybody get hurt?"

"Yes. Some got hurt very badly, and some got killed. If you go to Washington DC you can see the names of over 58,000 young men and women who were killed in Vietnam. One of the names is a first cousin of mine who was in the Marines. Another is a dear friend from high school, and another is the name of my radio operator who was killed on my daughter’s third birthday."

Mrs. Fendley sensed that it was time to move on, so she asked the class to read the Veterans Day poem in their poetry book. Then we sang the first verse and chorus of America the Beautiful, followed by my quoting of the third stanza:

Oh beautiful, for heroes proved,
In liberating strife;
Who more than self their country loved,
And mercy more than life.


I ended my talk by suggesting three things they could do to honor veterans, not only on Veterans Day but any time they encountered one of us.

1. Be thankful. If you see someone in uniform, or wearing something that let’s you know he or she is a veteran, and your mom says it’s okay, tell them thank you for your service.

2. Be patriotic. Say the pledge of allegiance like you mean it. Stand tall and still when the flag passes by, with your hand over your heart. Stand tall and still until the last note of the Star Spangled Banner.

3. Be a good citizen. You honor those who fought for your rights and your liberty by following the rules, and obeying your teacher and your parents.

I hope I left them with a better understanding of Veterans Day. But I know that they left me feeling blessed by the book of letters they gave me. I’ve got to share a few more, edited and spell checked. These are second graders, after all.

Thank you for sacrificing for our country and keeping is safe. We are happy that you were fighting. You are brave and bold. We thank you for all you do. When you fight you are brave. You are a good person. And we hope you do not change. THANK YOU SO MUCH.

Thank you for sacrificing your life for our country. You are very brave to go in the Army. Thank you for fightiing for our rights.

It must be hard to do things to fight for the country. We thank you for doing that.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Veterans Day for a second grader

I’ve been asked by my daughter-in-law, who teaches second grade in public school, to come to her class tomorrow and do a presentation about the meaning of Veteran’s Day. It’s a daunting challenge.

Now I’ve never been one to shy away from public speaking. However, notwithstanding my thirty years of ministry as well as preaching and singing in front of large audiences, I find myself at something of a loss when it comes to addressing an audience of seven-year-olds. How do you explain an abstract concept such as liberty to little concrete minds? How do you relate to them the meaning of the values we hold dear?

I asked on Twitter for suggestions. One that I value came from a fellow Army vet, Laura, who is known on Twitter as @ConchoQueen. Being a former 2d grade teacher herself, she prepared me for what to expect. Her recommendation: follow who, what, when, where, why. They'll ask if u shot/killed anybody if they get a chance if things haven't changed. (I don’t think I’ll give them the chance – if I can help it.)

Another of my “tweeps,” @JoetheMailman, sent me a youtube link to Kennedy’s “ask not what your country can do for you” speech. It inspired me to talk about the sacrifices made by our men and women in uniform. But, there again, sacrifice is an abstract, so I’ll have to come up with a more concrete definition.

So, here’s my game plan. First, present the Declaration of Independence statement on basic human rights. I’ve printed it in large, arial font that a second grader can read. I’ll have them all read it aloud.

Then, I’ll break it down into language they can better grasp.

It is obvious that God gave us the right to live, be free and be happy. And they're our rights to keep. These rights are worth fighting for, which is why I, and thousands of others, have worn the uniform and have served our country. And thousands still are serving today to protect our rights to be alive and free.

Finally, I will challenge them to never pass up an opportunity to say thank you to our veterans and those who protect us today.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Of Care Packages and Such

I’ve been participating in a project conducted on Twitter by Operation Gratitude designed to send care packages to our troops. And doing so has brought back a flood of memories about my own experience with care packages.

I spent the second half of 1971 in the mountainous jungles of Vietnam commanding an airmobile rifle platoon. Our routine was to patrol for a couple of weeks at a time, then return to the rear for three days of R&R, which included washing clothes, cleaning weapons, and packing rucks for the next mission.

Our rucksacks contained just about everything a grunt needed for living in the boonies: socks, ammo, grenades, stationery, and, perhaps most importantly, C-Rations. These meals, packaged in tin cans, were the staple of the GI diet during Vietnam. We would pack three or four days worth of rations into our rucks before we climbed into the Hueys to fly out to the jungle. And, pending weather or other circumstances, we counted on being resupplied by helicopter every three days. On resupply day, the drill was to clear a landing zone and secure it with a defensive perimeter so that the Huey could set down and we could offload the food, ammo, and the all-important mail. As dangerous as it was, this was Kumbaya time – passing out the mail, wondering what meals we were going to get, and trading certain foods for cigarettes, which came in a pack of four in every box of rations.

This is how the quartermaster of the Army described C Rations:

"The Meal, Combat, Individual, is designed for issue as the tactical situation dictates, either in individual units as a meal or in multiples of three as a complete ration. Its characteristics emphasize utility, flexibility of use, and more variety of food components than were included in the Ration, Combat, Individual (C Ration) which it replaces. Twelve different menus are included in the specification.

Each menu contains: one canned meat item; one canned fruit, bread or dessert item;
one B unit; an accessory packet containing cigarettes, matches, chewing gum, toilet paper, coffee, cream, sugar, and salt; and a spoon. Four can openers are provided in each case of 12 meals. Although the meat item can be eaten cold, it is more palatable when heated.

Each complete meal contains approximately 1200 calories. The daily ration of 3 meals provides approximately 3600 calories." (from http://gruntfixer.homestead.com/files/crats.html ) The description still makes me salivate. Yeah, right.

Some of the Charlie-Rats were better than others. Or, I should say, there were some meals that no one cared for. Ham and limas anyone? And I think no one would argue that the beans and weiners (beenie weenies) were the universal favorite.

On one of our forays into the jungle I was delighted to receive a box that arrived on the resupply chopper. I recognized my wife’s handwriting, so I couldn’t wait to tear into it. What a delight to find candy, other edible treats, stationery, a love letter, and a bottle of Tabasco sauce accompanied by what was labeled “The Charlie Ration Cookbook.”

The cookbook, replete with cartoons, contained a number of recipes designed to make the C Rations more palatable. Some of the titles were: Foxhole Dinner for Two, Breast of Chicken Under Bullets, and Battlefield Fufu. My theory is that the recipes were designed so that the grunt would shake so much Tabasco sauce into the food that he essentially cauterized his taste buds. As I tried the various recipes it wasn’t long until I had gained a reputation as a C Ration master chef. Soon the men wanted to sample my dishes.

My method was to take an empty tin and place a small amount of C4 explosive in it, light the C4, then put the C Ration entrée into my canteen cup, season to taste with Tabasco sauce, and heat. Many of the ingredients in the cookbook weren’t available in the jungle, so I used the field expedient method of blending in whatever I could find that seemed to suit the dish. Elephant grass was not one of the ingredients of choice. Nor were leeches.

If you’re interested, here is a link to the actual cookbook.

http://www.1stcavmedic.com/tabasco_cookbook.htm

Let me encourage you to be a part of sending care packages to our troops. Let our brave men and women experience the same delight that I had some forty hears ago. The hashtag is #cinnabonsaysthx, and the sponsoring organization, Operation Gratitude, goes by @OpGratitude.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Jerusalem Pot Luck

In the early church the believers would regularly gather for a meal called the Agape, or Love Feast. They pooled their resources, much like today’s believers. Who has not enjoyed a pot luck dinner either at church or a friend’s home? That was the scene in the young church as it seems everyone brought his or her favorite dish to share with the gathered fellowship. Growing up a Southern Baptist, I’ve enjoyed my share of such gatherings and I’ve sampled the favorite dishes of scores of saintly cooks.

The idea of the Love Feast was to portray the togetherness of the young church. The membership at this time was made up largely of Jewish converts, but there were an increasing number of Gentiles that were coming into the fellowship through their faith in Christ.

Into the midst of this effort at togetherness crept some legalistic, narrow Jews who insisted that God’s plan was for the Jews and that Gentile believers were in some way second class citizens of the kingdom.

Even Peter and many, if not most, of the church leadership were influenced by this prejudice. Paul states that Peter was more than ready to associate and sit down at table with Gentile believers on most occasions, but that when these narrow Jews were around, Peter would separate himself from them.

Paul confronted Peter and all the others who were being hypocritical and took them to task for showing such partiality. The account is in Galatians 2:11-13.

Sadly, today many who profess to follow Christ show the same sort of partiality, although it often follows racial or socio-economic lines. Our youth and I got a lesson in our oneness in Christ on a trip several years ago. I posted this a couple of months ago, but again, here’s the story.

Some years ago we took our youth choir on a singing tour up around the Great Lakes. One of the last stops was at the New Rose of Sharon Baptist Church on the south side of Chicago. When we arrived we didn’t know what to expect. All we knew was that this was an African-American congregation located in what Jim Croce referred to as “the baddest part of town.”

As we stepped down from the bus we were greeted by the pastor, James Butler, a slight, 60-something gentleman, and a young man who introduced himself as Mark. I asked Mark, a rather round type with a ready smile, if he also was on staff. He explained that he was a “deacon-in-training.” Judging from his Christlike demeanor and his eagerness to help, I would say that he had already mastered the art of “deac-ing.”

After enjoying the meal the ladies of the church had prepared for us, we made our way to the sanctuary for the evening’s celebration...and what a celebration it was! Our kids sang their hearts out. And the dear saints of the New Rose of Sharon Baptist Church responded with rejoicing. And the more they rejoiced, the better our choir sang. In fact, from my vantage point at the sound board in the back of the sanctuary, I noticed that Wally, our choir leader, was getting into it also. I’m not sure that he had both feet on the floor. Dancing, for us tighty-whitey Baptists, was strictly taboo. But throwing caution to the wind, we all entered into the celebration. We were having church!

When it came time for me to conclude the service with a brief message and altar call, I felt impressed to share the account of heaven in John 14. In this passage Jesus tells his disciples that he would soon be preparing for each of his followers a room in the Father’s house. I shared my interpretation of the passage, which is that we will all be one huge heavenly family living under one roof and dining at the same banquet table.

After I had concluded the service (so I thought), Pastor Butler came forward and expressed appreciation for our choir’s presentation and announced that their choir would like to respond in an appropriate fashion. It was at this point that we began to have church. It was amazing the sound that came from this 20-voice choir, accompanied on a Hammond B3, Leslie speaker and all. They started with a mellow song about how Jesus takes our burdens. Then, after an up-tempo song about joy, they launched into “O, Happy Day,” with deacon-in-training Mark singing solo. Wow! I’d never heard it like that before. By the time they finished their last song, we thought the roof might fly off.

What a taste of heaven it was. And that’s what heaven will be: all the saints of all the ages, red and yellow, black and white, gathered round the throne singing the praises of the Lamb. And sitting down as one around the marriage feast.

Friday, October 15, 2010

God Won!

Who has not been riveted to the screen watching the rescue of the Chilean miners? And now that they’re safe the debate has begun about who was responsible for freeing them from their deep grave.

"I was with God and I was with the devil. But God won," said one of the miners.

And the Chilean president affirmed the families of the miners, acknowledging that they “maintained faith – this faith that ended up moving mountains.” (Christian Today)

Others have argued that it was the effort of the rescuers that freed the men.

So, who gets the credit for the rescue? God? Or people? The answer is a resounding “yes.”

There is no doubt in my mind that God was there with the miners, as he is with anyone who invites him near. I’ve experienced the presence of God in good times and bad, in mountaintop experiences and in deepest valleys. He was in the jungles of Vietnam, in my intensive care room, in the delivery room for the births of our four children, and in the waiting room with a nervous father. He’s in the laughter of grandchildren and in the beauty of fall. God is all around. It just takes spiritual sensitivity to recognize his presence.

David realized this. In Psalm 23 he expressed his sense of God’s presence, even in the valley of the shadow of death. And in Psalm 139 he declared that there is nowhere that one can go where God isn’t.

Everywhere I go I see your face through the cloud.
Everywhere I go I hear your voice clear and loud.
Everywhere I go you are the light that I seek.
Everywhere I go you have found me. (Amy Grant)

And, as for the rescue, I’m certain that God had a hand in that as well. After all, he is the author of all truth and source of all knowledge, and I have no doubt that he was at work in helping the engineers come up with a plan of rescue and at work giving strength and encouragement both to the rescuers and the trapped miners.

If you look back through biblical history, often God accomplishes his will through his followers. Notables come to mind such as Abraham, Isaac, Noah, Moses, Joshua, Gideon, Deborah, David, and hundreds of others. And remember, if he can speak his message through Balaam's ass, I'm sure he can use scientists as well.

Of course, some will argue that God has allowed other miners to perish as a way of explaining away his presence and power. I confess that I don’t understand God’s ways or his sovereign will, but I trust him and I trust his word that he is always at work for good. (Romans 8:28)

So I will join with others of faith and declare: The miners are safe. Praise the Lord!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Insubordination

There are times when one must stand for what is right regardless of the repercussions or consequences.

I faced such a time as a junior officer in Vietnam. As a rifle platoon leader, I was given command of three dozen young men, mostly conscripts, in a hostile territory. Our area of operations was the mountainous region west of Danang, where we battled both the enemy and the elements.

On one particular mission the company command post traveled with my platoon, which meant providing security for the company commander and his gaggle of staff. While we were making our way through our assigned area, the CO was contacted and ordered to move the company to another location by a certain time. It was fairly early in the day and I knew that we could easily reach our destination long before nightfall.

However, the CO, a West Point grad and captain, wanted me, for whatever reason, to lead my platoon down an open stream bed in order to arrive at our destination a few hours sooner.

I asked for a word in private with the captain. Here is the gist of our conversation.

“Sir, with all due respect, there is no need to subject my platoon to unnecessary danger by exposing them to a possible ambush while we’re out in the wide open.”

“Lieutenant, are you questioning me?”

“Well, sir, all I’m saying is that we can take a safer route by cutting a trail through the jungle and still reach our destination before nightfall.”

“Lieutenant, you will follow my order.”

“Sir, with all due respect, I refuse to subject my men to such an unnecessary hazard. We can cut trail and still get where we need to go in plenty of time.”

This conversation quickly devolved into a “yes you will,” “no I won’t” battle of wills.

I was fully aware of the consequences that I faced for being insubordinate, but in that moment I felt that what I was standing for was right, and I was unwilling to relent. I stood my ground.

We cut the trail.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

God speaks

I was at a wedding rehearsal dinner last Friday night and heard a young man who is an ordained minister give a little talk to the groom about his memories of their childhood and high school years and their time playing college football.

He started by telling some humorous anecdotes and cracking on the groom about the way his mother used to dress him.

But, in the midst of this little talk, he began to preach, and to share with the groom, also a minister, about the spiritual bond they share and how he envisions God will use him.

It was one of the most impressive, inspiring impromptu sermons I’ve ever heard. Truly, I sensed that God was speaking.

In chapter one of Galatians Paul declares that Jesus Christ revealed the gospel message to him shortly after Paul’s conversion. And I believe him, because I believe that God still speaks.

In Experiencing God, the author, Henry Blackaby, asserts that God speaks by the Holy Spirit through scripture, prayer, circumstances, and through other people.

The other night I heard God speak through a young preacher boy.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Dashboard Madness, Or How I Learned to Drum and Drive

I don’t know the exact moment that I discovered rock and roll, but my earliest memory is from seventh grade. Back then there was no such thing as FM radio, at least not in a popular, affordable format. (I can hear you GenXers gasp in amazement.) My radio was a little handheld transistor model that I carried around next to my ear. I’m sure that people who saw me thought it was a growth on the side of my head.

But a few years later I got my driver’s license and my world changed. Suddenly my radio was in the dashboard, with a single speaker mounted inside with little holes for the sound to come out. It was then that I really got into music and found that I had a unique skill – playing the dashboard or the steering wheel in time to a tune. Having been in band since 4th grade, I had developed some rhythm skills that, when the time arrived, I was more than ready to hone while driving.

Now there are two techniques for playing the dashboard. The first is the “through the steering wheel” technique. In the sixties most cars had a steering wheel that was large enough to easily reach through with both hands extended to the dashboard. I became adept at playing along to “Wipe Out” and steering with my forearms. You can hear the announcer with the disclaimer: “Professional dashboard drummer. Do not try this at home.”

The second technique is the “grasp the wheel between your thumbs and and palm” method. This approach frees up the other digits to keep time on the wheel. A variation on this is to steer with the heels of both hands and whale away in time to the music. With the size of today’s sportier steering wheels, this has become my second favorite method.

As I was driving today, though, listening to Sirius 14, Classic Vinyl, I played along to “Swingtown,” reaching through the wheel and playing the plastic just behind, which makes a nice, percussive sound. And I got to thinking about my favorites dashboard madness songs of all time; those that make it the most fun to play along. So here’s my list.

10. Wipe Out. This is a great oldie with a really simple rhythm. Your hands have to be fast enough to keep up with the sixteenth notes in a method that drummers call a paradiddle. Once you master the basic form it becomes simple to add a little accent. But a caution – this song is tiring. Even the drummer on the original recording breaks with the rhythm as he’s running out of gas toward the end of the song.

9. I Saw Her Standing There. Granted, this song is best known for the incredible Paul McCartney bass riff, but it’s great for pounding the dashboard as well.

8. Bits and Pieces. The Dave Clark Five seemed to be formed around the drummer, maybe because Dave Clark was the drummer. Playing the triplets at the end of each verse requires some additional skill as the wheel actually has to be released to do it properly.

7. I Feel Good. Everybody plays air snare on the rim shot at the end. “Hit me!”

6. Devil With A Blue Dress On. “Fee fee, fie fie, foe foe, fum.” This songs makes me want to drum.

5. The Letter. This is another oldie with a famous air drum rim shot at the end. I perfected this song on a table at a pizza joint near my college campus. Wore out the jukebox too.

4. Born to Be Wild. Cranking the car was not the only way to get the motor running and head out on the highway. Great tom tom beat in this one.

3. Dance to the Music. All we need is a drummer. Happy to oblige.

2. Call On Me, one of my favorite Chicago tunes. Love the latin rhythm. Even us anglos can get down.

1. And at the top of the list is a tie: (Dashboard drum roll please) Santana’s Black Magic Woman/Gypsy Queen, and Chicago’s Beginnings, both of which end with an incredible latin percussion outro.

The truth is that this list is totally arbitrary. I could make a list of just Hendrix tunes. ’Scuse me while I kiss the sky. Duh-duh-duh, duh-duh-duh, duh-duh-duh.

To paraphrase a little proverb: Sing as if no one is listening, and drum as if no one is watching.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Like A Mighty Army

2Chronicles 20 gives the account of a time in the life of King Jehoshaphat when the nation of Judah was threatened by the forces of Moab and Ammon. This was a vast army, according to the report given to Jehoshaphat, and the threat first struck fear in the heart of the king, then drove him to action.

Whether we like it or not, we’re in a struggle ourselves, not against Moabites or Hittites or any other “ites,” but against spiritual forces of darkness in high places. There is much we can learn from how God’s people responded to this threat.

The first thing we note is PREPARATION. As soon as the king got word of the attack, he prepared by declaring a fast and inquiring of the Lord.

The Bible tells us that we also need to prepare. In Ephesians 6:10-18, Paul exhorts us to put on the whole armor of Christ: the helmet of salvation, the breastplate of righteousness, the belt of truth, and the shoes of the gospel. Then he reminds us that we are to take up the shield of faith and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. Thus armed, we are ready to meet the foe. Paul reminds us, in 2Corinthians 10:4, that our weapons are not worldly but mighty. Our only weapons are the Word and prayer, but what else could we possibly need?

After the preparation the king called the people together for PRAYER. And his prayer is an earnest plea to God for guidance, wisdom, and strength. Note the honesty of the king as he pours out his heart. He prays, “we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you." When we come honestly and earnestly before the throne of grace, God hears and answers.

After the prayer came the PROCLAMATION. God spoke to the king and the people through the prophet. His words were, “Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God's.” He goes on to declare, “You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the LORD will give you, O Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Go out to face them tomorrow, and the LORD will be with you."

Emboldened by this promise from God, the people began to PRAISE. Moreover, obeying God’s command, they went out to meet the foe with such confidence of victory that they put the choir in the front of the army, singing and shouting,

"Give thanks to the LORD,
for his love endures forever."

When they arrived at the battlefield, they found that the Moabites and the Ammonites had destroyed one another because of the Lord’s hand. God’s people were victorious because of their prayer and their praise.

At the sign of triumph Satan's host doth flee;
On then, Christian soldiers, on to victory!
Hell's foundations quiver at the shout of praise;
Brothers, lift your voices, loud your anthems raise.

Like a mighty army moves the church of God.
Brothers, we are treading where the saints have trod.
We are not divided. All one body, we.
One in hope and doctrine, One in charity.

Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war,
With the cross of Jesus going on before.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Bar of Righteousness

In 1984 Sergey Bubka set the world record in the pole vault. And almost every year for the next decade he set a new record. The record now stands at 6.14 meters, which is 20 feet and almost 2 inches – over twice the height of a basketball goal. I get a nosebleed just thinking about it.

Other athletes continue to take aim at Bubka's record but it still stands.

A record setting athlete might be tempted to bask in the glory of his accomplishment. I can think of several track stars who have held various records and often demonstrated a smug self-confidence due their feat. Jamaican sprinter and 100 meter world record holder Usain Bolt comes to mind. The lasting image is of him mugging at the camera and seemingly taunting his competition at the 2008 Olympics.

In Jesus’ day there was a self-righteous sect known as the Pharisees who had their own form of smugness. These religious zealots prided themselves on how well they kept the mosaic law, even going so far as to construct nearly 640 laws around the Ten Commandments in order to protect them. The Pharisees were proud of their accomplishments and were ostentatious in their devotion to the law. They liked to be noticed and lauded for their faithfulness.

In the sermon on the mount Jesus seemed to be speaking directly to the Pharisees as he reinterpreted the law.

“You have heard it said that you should not commit adultery. But I say, everyone who looks on a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:27-28) He also addresses mosaic laws on murder, divorce, and false witness. Then he says this, “Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:20)

In my mind, what Jesus was saying is this: No one can enter the kingdom of heaven by keeping the law, because no one can keep the law. In other words, Jesus raised the bar above even Sergey Bubka’s ability to clear it.

I can hear the Pharisees murmuring to themselves, “Who can possibly enter heaven with the bar set that high?”

But then, the Bible tells us, Jesus himself did just that, as he lived a sinless life as God the Son in our midst. And in so doing, he fulfilled the law then offered himself in our place as the perfect sacrifice for our sin.

For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteousness, that he might bring you to God, after being put to death in the fleshly realm but made alive in the spiritual realm. (1Peter 3:18)

And then, according to scripture, Jesus offered to us the victor’s laurel wreath. And, by our faith in him and the acceptance of his gift, we are pronounced forgiven and victorious, not based on our merit but based solely on our faith in the victory that Christ himself won.

Friday, September 17, 2010

One's Life Calling

The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet. Frederick Buechner

Paul, the apostle, in his salutation to the churches in Galatia, states emphatically that he was called and sent by God to be an apostle. (The word apostle, by the way, means "sent," particularly on a mission.) There were many detractors who questioned Paul's authority and his calling, but it's evident that his mission and ministry made a huge difference for the kingdom of God.

If you google or do a Bing search for the words vocation and calling, you'll get sites galore, many of them posted by colleges, seminaries, and churches. Catholics seem to lead the way, especially with youtube videos about calling. Do a search and see for yourself. So it's a definite area of interest, especially to persons of faith.

I can remember the experience of being called to vocational ministry as a teenager. I can also remember trying to run away from the commitment I made, only to be led back gently by God upon my return from Vietnam. There was nothing dramatic about it, but God seemed to orchestrate circumstances to point me in that direction and to even provide funds via the GI Bill for me to complete college and seminary.

Now, before I go any further, let me state emphatically that there are many callings and many vocations in which God can use us. We aren't all called to be missionaries or ministers, but we are all called to make a difference for Christ's sake, even in vocations such as airline pilot, home builder, teacher, banker, or butcher.

The questions to ask are the ones that Buechner's quote above raises: Is this vocation personally satisfying and am I touching lives with the love of Jesus?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Dancing with Grands.

Somewhere, in the course of aging and grandparenting, a regression toward childhood takes place in otherwise mature, relatively responsible adults. At least that's my experience.

This behavior manifest itself today while spending time with a couple of the grands. It started innocently enough with Mary Beth and me taking Emma to soccer practice, accompanied by Gabe, her two-year-old brother. Their other sister, Julia, was at a meet-the-teacher open house at her school, so Nana and Papa were called on to take care of the other two. Which was just fine with us.

We took our daughter's car since it already had Gabe's carseat and Emma's booster seat. As we buckled them in and took off, I noticed that a cd that I had made for them was playing. The cd, that I had titled "Ahab and Friends," is a collection of novelty songs by Ray Stevens, Roger Miller, Weird Al, the Coasters, Jim Stafford, and others. We listened to Ahab the Arab on the way to the park and I did my best Ray Stevens impression. Then, on the way home, Gabe asked for Eat It. I obliged. Then we sang along to the Great Mississippi Squirrel Revival.

When we arrived home I felt an urge to continue the party while we waited for the parents. I hooked up my laptop to the receiver and speakers and found some of my favorite dance-ables on iTunes. Gabe didn't get the steps to the Cupid Shuffle, but he didn't need to be taught to "shake it." Moving to music is natural for a preschooler. It's only as we age that we become stiff and self-conscious.

We next tried the Cha Cha Slide, which Emma knows. We took it back now, y'all.

At my age I'm still stiff (it's called arthritis), but I'm getting over my self-consciousness, thanks in large measure to the grands.

Their mom arrived all too soon to retrieve them.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Being A 100% Christian

I grew up in a traditional Southern Baptist home, with parents who were very active at church. My dad led music and my mom taught and sang in the choir. I can’t remember ever not being in church as a child. As a friend of mine likes to say, the only drug problem I had was that I was always being “drug” to church.

Back in the 1950’s, the golden era of Christianity in the 20th century, we Baptists came up with a record keeping system that gave us extrinsic motivation for being “good Christians.” Each week we would dutifully bring an offering envelope to church, which also doubled as a record-keeping system. There were a number of items that we were encouraged to check off. The list included the following achievements:

1. Present
2. On time
3. Staying for church
4. Studied the lesson
5. Brought an offering
6. Invited someone else to church
7. Brought our Bible

If we were able to check off each item we were considered to be 100%; good little boys and girls with whom the Lord must really be pleased.

We became very pharisaical about our achievement, and those of us who were consistently 100% tended to look down our noses at those who weren’t. There’s no telling how many boys and girls became discouraged with church simply because they couldn’t check all the boxes.

I became very adept at working the system. Many is the Sunday that I would skim over the lesson on the way to church, bum a nickel from my mom to stick in my envelope, and roll down the window on the way to church to yell an invitation to church to anyone in earshot. Whatever it took to be 100%. Later this motivation to please God showed up in other areas, such as “Sword Drill” and the Sunday night youth program. I was an eager beaver, anxious to prove myself to God.

And in church this mindset of pleasing God was reinforced with songs like “Satisfied With Jesus” (But the question comes to me as I think of Calvary: Is my Master satisfied with me?). As I grew older and began to understand sin and my own nature, I was consumed with concern that God must be really displeased and dissatisfied with me.

Then, I read Galatians, and came to realize that through faith in Christ I was dead to all the rules that I thought Christianity was all about. I read verses that told me that Christ had set me free (Galatians 5:1), and that I was dead to the law and alive through faith in Christ, and only through faith in Christ. (Galatians 3:26-29)

Many people today, as in Paul’s day, believe that salvation is something to be earned and that in order to be accepted by God they need to be 100%, or at least get a passing grade. And others fall prey to cults and certain religious groups that teach some kind of legal regimen necessary for pleasing God. What bondage, and how unnecessary.

The truth is this: When a person comes to Christ he is immediately justified (made right with God) and receives freedom, liberty, sonship, the spirit of promise, and becomes a new creation. My right standing with God has absolutely nothing to do with my merit. I couldn't earn it if I tried.

Is Christianity Different?

Is Christianity different from other religions? Does it really matter what you believe? Do all roads lead to heaven? Are the claims of the Bible true? These questions are more relevant today than perhaps ever. Students and others are being challenged to understand what Islam really teaches and how the teachings of the Qur'an compare to what the Bible teaches.

According to theologian Dr. Timothy George, in the post-September 11 world there's been an outpouring of good will that is expressed toward the unity of all people and away from the kind of divisiveness that so often rears its ugly head. The problem, George points out, is that we're seeing an over-reaction -- a kind of easy-going ecumenism that would amalgamate different faith traditions into a single homogenized whole. (breakpoint.org) One evidence of this is the bumper sticker that reads “coexist,” the letters of which are made from symbols of many of the world’s religions.

We see this tendency to boil every belief down to some sort of common denominator throughout our culture. Popular television programs, especially shows like “Oprah,” would have us believe that all roads lead to the same place. Her guest list reads like a “Who’s Who” of New Age religion, with the likes of Deepak Chopra, whose teachings come out of Hinduism, and Gary Zukav, who espouses reincarnation.

So should we who follow Christ be theologically inclusive and open our arms to embrace every religious view? Should we consider every religion on earth as equally valid? Are we being narrow minded to claim that Jesus is the only way to God? Is it possible to be so open minded that our brains fall out? Are the claims of Christianity exclusive?

Let me borrow some thoughts from Paul Little, whose book, "Know Why You Believe" should be a must read for every Christian.

For the Christian it is impossible to be theologically inclusive. The cornerstone of the Christian message is Jesus Christ – God come to earth. Without this basis, every other part of the Christian faith lacks meaning. In fact, a multitude of verses in the New Testament assert this basic belief. (Know Why You Believe, pp 132-133)

So, what does the Bible teach about Jesus?

First of all, the Bible states that Jesus is God. Jesus Himself said, “If you have seen me you have seen the Father.” (John 14:9) “I and the Father are one.” (John 10:30) We cannot settle for what many people want to consider Jesus today – simply a great teacher, a good man, or a prophet. No one who claims to be God and isn’t could be considered a good teacher. He would either be a liar or a lunatic. (hat tip to C.S. Lewis) Our only choice, since Jesus Himself claimed to be God, is to take Him at His word or disregard Him as crazy.

Secondly, the Bible teaches that Jesus is the means of salvation for the entire world. In John 3:16 Jesus states, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.”

In Acts Peter says emphatically that, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

Again, Jesus declared, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6)

The Bible teaches that Jesus is God and became a man; that He lived a sinless life; that He died in our place, taking our sin on Himself; that He was buried; and that, three days later, He arose from death and even now lives as King of kings and Lord of lords. (see 1Corinthians 15:3-4)

This is a truth that cannot be watered down nor compromised, because it is at the heart of the Christian faith.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Ties That Bind



This past weekend, Labor Day, a friendship that began 40 years ago was rekindled. Eleven of us, who lived and served together in Germany during our stint as infantry officers and wives, gathered in Chicago for a reunion. We've been meeting fairly regularly since the early 70s. And we've hardly changed since then. Well, not the essence of who we are. Sure, we're all a little gray and I've developed something of a paunch, but none seem to mind.

This reunion was an occasion for me to give some thought to the factors that make for such an enduring friendship. Here are just a few thoughts.

First, for the 18 months we lived together we were a family. All of us were young, most were married, some had children. But all of us were thousands of miles away from our extended family back in the states. We naturally gravitated toward one another. From the time each of us arrived, we had a connection. For one thing, we each had a couple who "sponsored" us, showing us around, making us feel at home, helping us settle in. We very quickly began to hang out together: at the officer's club, at one another's apartment playing spades and bridge, in the back yard of our complex playing volleyball (jungle rules).

Not only did we hang out together as families, but every couple of months we officers spent 30 days in the field training with our entire battalion. We bonded as we served together at Grafenwoehr or Hohenfels. And while in the field we met regularly in the officers' mess hall in the evening to play cards and talk about the day's activity. In addition to the junior officers who served as mechanized infantry platoon leaders, and those of us in headquarters company who commanded recon and mortar platoons, there were other officers who joined in - company commanders and executive officers, and battalion officers such as our battalion commander and his executive. I credit much of this to our battalion commander, LTC Eugene Cocke. He was a leader in every sense of the word, and he worked at making sure that we lieutenants not only knew our stuff, but that we melded into a unit, which was essential for effectiveness in such an environment.

While we were in the field, our wives were getting together for various social activities. They became fast friends as well.

If there is such a thing as an idyllic military experience, I think ours came close. So, is it any wonder that we continue to get together in what we hope will increasingly become a regular, annual gathering.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

If I were a presidential speechwriter

If I were a presidential speechwriter, here is the copy I’d put in front of the POTUS as he announced the end of combat operations in Iraq.

My fellow Americans, I am proud to declare that the surge worked. My predecessor was right.

God bless our troops.

And God bless America.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A Taste of Heaven

Some years ago we took our youth choir on a singing tour up around the Great Lakes. One of the last stops was at the New Rose of Sharon Baptist Church on the south side of Chicago. When we arrived we didn’t know what to expect. All we knew was that this was an African-American congregation located in what Jim Croce referred to as “the baddest part of town.”

As we stepped down from the bus we were greeted by the pastor, James Butler, a slight, 60-something gentleman, and a young man who introduced himself as Mark. I asked Mark, a rather round type with a ready smile, if he also was on staff. He explained that he was a “deacon-in-training.” Judging from his Christlike demeanor and his eagerness to help, I would say that he had already mastered the art of “deac-ing.”

After enjoying the meal the ladies of the church had prepared for us, we made our way to the sanctuary for the evening’s celebration...and what a celebration it was! Our kids sang their hearts out. And the dear saints of the New Rose of Sharon Baptist Church responded with rejoicing. And the more they rejoiced, the better our choir sang. In fact, from my vantage point at the sound board in the back of the sanctuary, I noticed that Wally, our choir leader, was getting into it also. I’m not sure that he had both feet on the floor. Dancing, for us tighty-whitey Baptists, was strictly taboo. But throwing caution to the wind, we all entered into the celebration. We were having church!

When it came time for me to conclude the service with a brief message and altar call, I felt impressed to share the account of heaven in John 14. In this passage Jesus tells his disciples that he would soon be preparing for each of his followers a room in the Father’s house. I shared my interpretation of the passage, which is that we will all be one huge heavenly family living under one roof and dining at the same banquet table.

After I had concluded the service (so I thought), Pastor Butler came forward and expressed appreciation for our choir’s presentation and announced that their choir would like to respond in an appropriate fashion. It was at this point that we began to have church. It was amazing the sound that came from this 20-voice choir, accompanied on a Hammond B3, Leslie speaker and all. They started with a mellow song about how Jesus takes our burdens. Then, after an up-tempo song about joy, they launched into “O, Happy Day,” with deacon-in-training Mark singing solo. Wow! I’d never heard it like that before. By the time they finished their last song, we thought the roof might fly off.

What a taste of heaven it was. And that’s what heaven will be: all the saints of all the ages, red and yellow, black and white, gathered round the throne singing the praises of the Lamb.

Monday, August 23, 2010

A On A Roll

With our eldest grandchild headed off to college next week, I felt compelled to dig out an article I wrote ten years ago. The truths still apply.

A On A Roll

Our granddaughter Kathryn misses her uncle Tim, who is away at college most of the time. During the first semester of her third grade year she sat down at the computer and typed him a note.

Dear Timbo,
I miss you very very much.
Today was very nice because I got on the A on a roll.
How are you? How are Josh and Bryan?
I miss you all.
The A on a roll means that I got all A’s.
I like third grade a lot.
It is fun.
My first nine weeks have gon pretty well.
Today I got chased by Jordan.
Not a boy I like at all at all.
He gave me ten seconds to run anywhere I wanted on the field.
Boy did I beet him.
But he got me finally.
I forgot to tell you if he catches me he torchers me.
I screamed.
He realy can tickel.
I have to chalenge him tomorrow.
Well now you no about my life today.
Your nese,
Kathryn

Aren’t children wonderful? Life is so simple for them. Can you remember when your only concern was being chased by a boy? Or a girl? Or perhaps your worry was that you weren’t being chased. I don’t have to tell you that children are impressionable. How parents react to their child’s report card or test scores makes a lasting impression, as does the way a child is treated by peers. Many children grow up in a performance-based environment. They feel like they must work hard to please others. Often these feelings and behaviors are carried over into adulthood.

Does your present behavior reflect your “formative years?” Perhaps you were the class clown, because it gained you much-needed attention. It could be that you were the class klutz, with no athletic skill whatsoever. Maybe you share the sentiments that Janis Ian wrote about in “At Seventeen.” She sings of “those whose names were never called when choosing sides for basketball.” On the other hand, possibly you were the all-A student whom the teacher loved – the one who always raised her hand to give the answer. You might have grown up with a sibling who was the “golden-haired” child that could do no wrong, while you felt like the black sheep.

I’ve been reading The Message version of Acts. In chapter 10, after Peter realizes that the good news is for everyone, he exclaims, “It’s God’s own truth, nothing could be plainer: God plays no favorites!” (Acts 10:34) Now, in its original context, this meant that the gospel is for both the Jew and the non-Jew. But I believe that there’s another truth at work here, and that is that God doesn’t keep score of rights and wrongs. In other words, our standing with God has nothing to do with our performance, and everything to do with His grace.

Let me share these words from The Search for Significance, by Robert McGee.

The moment you trust Christ, many wonderful things happen to you:

 All your sins are forgiven, past, present, and future (Colossians 2:13-14).
 You become a child of God (John 1:12; Romans 8:15).
 You are delivered from Satan’s domain and transferred into the kingdom of Christ (Colossians 1:13).
 Christ comes to dwell within you (Colossians 1:27; Revelation 3:20).
 You become a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17).
 You are declared righteous by God (2 Corinthians 5:21).
 You enter into a love relationship with God (1 John 4:9-11).
 You are accepted by God (Colossians 1:19-22).

Look at it this way. God wants us to stop trying to please Him and to start trusting the fact that, once you put your trust in Christ, you are already fully pleasing to God. If you’re a follower of Christ you’ve already received your gold medal and Jesus is the One who won it for you. You’re a winner in God’s eyes. So rejoice in the fact that you’re on the winner’s stand and you will never be anything less than a champion, simply through trusting Jesus. Grace is God’s work, and you can’t add anything to what He has already done for you.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Cozy Cottage

My wife and I have spent the previous three weekends on the road; first at our daughter's house in the Shenandoah Valley, then to south Georgia for a wedding, and finally to Suffolk Virginia for another wedding.

It's nice to have a Saturday with no agenda. Sweetie is across the room on her laptop, and we're watching the little league world series and following our friends on Facebook.

There's a gentle rain falling, watering our thirsty grass and garden. What a great afternoon to spend doing little or nothing in our cozy cottage.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Of Hueys, Cobras, and Chinooks

One of my twitter friends posted a video of some of the helicopters used in Vietnam, particularly the Cobra gunship. Watching the video, I found myself reminiscing about my experience with helicopters, especially the ones that I either flew in or came to know and appreciate.

My first flight came during a wargame exercise in Germany dubbed "reforger." At the time I commanded the recon platoon of the 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry, the "Blue Spaders." As a part of this weeklong exercise, my platoon was chosen for a demonstration of air mobility. For this exercise we drove my command track under a Sikorsky "sky crane," the chopper that looks like a praying mantis. We secured it under the chopper by cables, climbed inside, and off we went. My favorite part of this whole deal was watching the notables in the bleachers when we landed. It was hilarious to see them grab their hats and toupees as the prop wash blasted over them.

A year later, when I arrived in Vietnam, I was assigned to command an airmobile infantry platoon. Our "ride" both into the jungle and back out again was the UH6, Huey. We would fly in lifts of six birds, enough to carry the 30-35 men of a rifle platoon. My platoon's assignment was to secure the landing zone, so I flew on the first bird, followed by the rest of my platoon in the other five Hueys. The first chopper carried me plus my radio operator, our platoon medic, a Vietnamese scout, and the "pig" (M60) team. We sat in the door with our feet dangling, flying along at 120 knots and 2000 feet. As we flew, we could see Cobra gunships at both flanks. They provided security for our lift and also "prepped" the lz with miniguns, rocket launchers and 40mm grenades before landed. Every airmobile insertion was another 4th of July.

As we touched down I slid out and directed my platoon into position in order to secure the landing zone. Once the entire company was on the ground in our new area of operations (AO) we moved out in various directions to sniff out any evidence of the movement of supplies along the Ho Chi Minh trail and to interdict any enemy troops.

Every third or fourth day a Huey would fly out to our position with resupplies. And occasionally we had to call on them for the evacuation of a wounded soldier.

We came to be able to distinguish each helicopter by its sound. We could tell a Huey from a Cobra, from a Chinook, from a "loach."

The best sound of chopper blades, though, was that fortnightly "whop-whop" sound of the Hueys that were on their way to extract us to carry us to the rear for a three day stand down.

I grew to greatly admire the brave young men who flew these great birds. They were some of the real heroes of Vietnam; daring, courageous, driven to do their job with the utmost of excellence under the most difficult of circumstances.

Recently I had a chance to meet one of these pilots, who now is a guide at the infantry museum at Fort Benning. I told him much I appreciated his service and how much I was in his debt.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Lessons learned from a lifetime of work

I’ve had the opportunity to do a lot of different types of work during my life. Of course, if you’ve been in the workforce over 45 years, this is not saying a lot. Recently I had the occasion to reflect on some of the life lessons I’ve learned from my work experiences. Here are a not-so-dirty dozen of them.

1. Furniture store, age 15-16. Job – keep the store clean, polish the wood furniture, and assist with deliveries. Primary lesson learned – one should have his driver's license before making deliveries in the company truck. Or have some pull with the police department.

2. Independent grocery story, age 17. Job – assist in the meat department, bagging whole fryers, packaging and pricing cuts of meat, slicing ham and turkey rolls. Primary lesson learned – pay attention at the slicer, especially if a cute girl is in the aisle in front of the meat department window. If I had paid attention, I’d still have the tip of my left index finger.

3. Large, national grocery store, age 19-20. Job – work in the produce department. Primary lesson learned – If your mouth is large enough you can get almost two dozen grapes in there without choking or swallowing. (You really don't want to know.)

4. Electrolux, age 19-20. Job – sell vacuum sweepers door to door. Primary lesson learned – Be careful where you try to demonstrate your sweeper’s power. Small objects, such as fine jewelry, are easily sucked up.

5. Tobacco farm, age 15-17. Job – cutting, housing, and stripping tobacco. Primary lesson learned – being covered in dirt and goo from wet tobacco plants is not a deterrent to smoking. Chewing maybe.

6. Shoe salesman, national department store, age 18-19. Job – assist customers in trying on and purchasing shoes. Primary lesson learned – I’m not a “foot” man.

7. Fast food restaurant. Job – manage the operations from 4-close. Primary lesson learned – grease is hot.

8. Life insurance company, age 22-23. Job – sell and service life insurance. Primary lesson learned – people shy away from salesmen like they’re lepers. Even family members and friends.

9. Pipeline construction, age 22-23. Job – lay gas, water, and sewer lines. Primary lesson learned – when using non-electric blasting caps, leave enough fuse so that, after yelling “Fire in the hole!” you have enough time to run and get behind something before things begin to explode.

10. US Army, age 20-23. Job – command troops in combat. Primary lesson learned – if you treat people right they’ll get your back, and do what’s right. And, it does indeed roll downhill.

11. Investment advisor, age 59. Job – help clients make investment decisions. Primary lesson learned – to do this job well, you must be comfortable handling other people’s money.

12. Christian minister, ages 18-59. Job – lead worship, direct educational and discipleship ministries, administer the day to day affairs of churches. Primary lesson learned – there is no higher calling than making a positive difference in people’s lives, especially when it has eternal significance.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Old Soldiers and Czar Berwick

I spent part of the morning at the VA hospital for my annual physical. As always, I was impressed with how smoothly the whole system runs. As soon as I arrived I checked in and within five minutes I was downstairs at the lab. Soon I was called in for the blood draw. Zip/zop, I was in and out of the lab within 15 minutes.

From there I headed to my primary care clinic. After a short wait I was called back for the initial exam by a nurse who took vital signs and then asked about my drinking habits, my mood (“have you been sad lately?”), and tried to determine if I was suicidal.

She led me back to the waiting area, and within 15 minutes my primary care physician appeared and called me back to his office. Dr.P is a slightly built black man not much younger than I. He’s the father of a college student who’s studying nursing at UT, and he rides a Harley Sportster. And he wears Western boots.(I conducted my own exam.) Initially I sat next to him as he updated my health history, asking about my mom’s hip replacement surgery, my exercise habits, and aches and pains.

Then came the snap of latex and the requisite poking, prodding, head turning and coughing. Then we sat back down and Dr. P finished with his recommendations. “Cut down on salt, think about swimming for exercise, call me if you need me. Otherwise, I’ll see you in a year.” We shook hands, exchanged pleasantries, and I was headed home, all within two hours.

While we sat and visited I began thinking about what healthcare might look like in 5 or ten years as Obamacare becomes a reality. It occurs to me that it’s quite possible, under the leadership of Donald Berwick, the new health czar, that old guys like me might be treated like McArthur’s old soldiers and be left to just fade away. I lived for years on C Rations. I don’t want to have to try and exist on healthcare rationing.

Then I thought of my special friend, Clifford, who just represented our community at the national Special Olympics in Nebraska. What kind of care would be afforded to him and those who are less than “perfect?”

In the light of the return to privatization of the British health care system, a system over which Czar Berwick drools, we need to take a long hard at where Obamacare is taking us. It’s a system destined for failure, as the collapse of the British system demonstrates.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Ronald McDonald fights back

I just watched a new McDonald's commercial featuring children eating Happy Meals. The announcer promises that a portion of the proceeds from each Happy Meal will go to provide hope ("hope," the children respond), for persons staying in the Ronald McDonald house. And the kids weren't munching on chicken nuggets or fries, but rather on dried fruit, obviously a ploy by the McDonald's corporation to thumb their corporate nose at the POTUS and the FLOTUS.

Admittedly, I'm not a fan of the Happy Meal. But the dollar menu? That's another story. As soon as the First Lady starts messing with my dollar menu, I'll do more than thumb my nose. I think she should concentrate on helping her husband stop smoking, and leave me alone to eat what I wish. It's my arteries, after all.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A letter from Kenya

With today’s mail came a letter from Kenya, hand-written by a young 5th grader named Reul Kalo. My wife and I sponsor Reul through Compassion International. Here’s some of what he wrote:

“I take this time to write to you again. Here at home we are very fine. How are you? I’m happy because I was promoted to standard (grade) five in primary school. Please pray for me because I’m not doing very well. My new teacher is teaching us very well.

I’m trying to read very hard so as to improve in science. Kiswahili (the local language) is my favorite subject. Do you know kiswashili?

When I’m free I play football (soccer) with my friends, who wish to become great footballers when they grow up.

I would like to sincerely thank you for the support you send. I’m very happy. Thank you for the blanket I received. The gift I got made me recall the story our Christian education teacher taught us about the miracles of Jesus.

Please pray for me so that I can pass my exams.

From your child, Reul.”

Mary Beth and I got teary-eyed as we read the letter. We can’t wait to write back and send pictures and a little extra gift. We’re thinking of trying to send a soccer jersey as well.

We westerners are so blessed, and take so much for granted. It’s really quite simple to share with others who are less fortunate. Compassion International gives us a chance to do something voluntarily to bless someone else, and in doing so to share the love of Jesus. I’d encourage you to follow the link on this page and find out how you can experience the blessing of sponsoring a child.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Baptizing A Cell Phone

Over the course of three decades I’ve done scores of baptisms, which, for a Baptist minister, means dunking a person under the water. All the way under. But yesterday was a first. I baptized my phone. All the way under.

I know you’re dying to hear the rest of this story.

Yesterday afternoon, following the funeral service for my son-in-law’s grandparents, who had been married over 70 years and who died within 36 hours of one another (this is a story in itself), I took off, at my daughter, Kara’s, request, to pick up her 2-year-old, Lucy, who had been staying at her aunt Laura’s house. Leaving the church in Kara’s suv, I tried my hand at multitasking. Nothing major, mind you. Simply adjusting the air conditioning while holding my Blackberry and driving. Big mistake. Next thing I know, my Blackberry is at the bottom of a large cup of water – totally submerged.

With my catlike reflexes, I grabbed the phone and immediately held it in front of the air conditioning vent. Within seconds the screen fogged over. I knew it was a life-or-death situation.

As soon as I could I pulled over and removed the battery, then, turning up the temp on the passenger side, I held the open back side of the phone in front of the vent for the remainder of the 15 minute ride to Laura’s.

After retrieving Lucy, we headed back to the church to join the rest of the family for a meal that the church had prepared. Not wanting to ignore my granddaughter in the car seat behind me, I decided to forget about my phone and engage her in conversation. We talked about cows, trucks (a word she mispronounces), clouds, and the fact that we’d be to where Mommie is in just a minute.

At this point, I had given up on trying to revive my phone. I was resigned to having to undergo the painful process of visiting the cell phone store and going through the agony of waiting on being served, then having to endure a sales pitch for a new phone, knowing full well that the salesperson would be determined to put me into the latest model of smart phone after they assured me that my old phone was beyond help.

A couple of hours later, after Mary Beth and I returned home, I decided to make one more valiant effort to revive my phone. First I took a hairdryer to it, only to learn later that doing this could have fried all the circuits and melted the wiring.

Mary Beth said, “Have you thought about putting it in rice? I read somewhere on the internet that this works.” Upon which she googled several sites that mentioned this means of resuscitating a dead phone, including one Wikipedia article that said that the rice method was a waste of time.

Waste of time or not, I decided to give it a go. Following the directions in one of the articles, I dug out a Tuppermaid or Rubberware dish with lid, set my phone, the battery, and the back in the bottom of the dish, and poured in the Uncle Ben’s. Saying a little prayer, I put the lid in place.

The instructions said to leave the phone in the rice for a couple of days, assuring me that the rice would absorb all the remaining moisture deep within the phones inner workings. However, within a few hours, unable to bear the suspense, I dug the phone out of the rice, blew it off, put the battery in place, attached the back, and hit the red button. The screen flashed white, and the hourglass began to turn its flips, indicating that the phone was booting up. I was pumped. The rice remedy had worked. Then, as soon as it lit up, it turned dark again. I found myself rehearsing the conversation I was going to have with the zealous cell phone sales person.

Now, I’m not sure if what motivated me to try the rice again was a never-say-die attitude, or just the desire to avoid a visit to the cell store. But back into the bed of Uncle Ben’s the phone went, with the battery alongside. After I covered them with a cozy cover of rice, I snapped the lid back into place, burped it (You ladies will understand what I mean. Guys, ask your wife or SO.) and turned in for the night.

This morning I tiptoed into the kitchen, almost afraid of what I might find when I dug out the phone again. As I pried off the lid, all the while praying, “Lord, please make it work,” I noticed that the phone was still cozily buried in rice. I dug it out, blew it off, and put the battery in place. Even before I got the back replaced, the red light was on, indicating that there was, indeed, life. As I held my breath, I pushed the red button to power it on. The screen turned white. Then the little hourglass appeared and began to flip. I was encouraged. No, I was elated. As I watched with sweaty palms and an accelerated heart rate, the phone began to come alive. But the test would come when I tried texting and pulling up emails and tweets.

I felt like exclaiming, like the lady in the parable who found the lost coin, “Rejoice with me!”

Now, several hours later, it appears the phone is alive and well. Tonight it will sleep on the nightstand beside me. And I will sleep, peaceful in the knowledge that I’ve avoided the cell phone store.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Wee-sponsi-biwwity

During my youth ministry days I developed a character named Leroy, a lovable, Elmer Fudd type of guy with a fudd-like speech impediment. Leroy likes to tell how he went to “Detwoit” and got a job on the “assembwy wine.” One of the lines of this sketch has him recounting the instructions he receives from his foreman. “Weewoy, I had to way somebody off today. I’m gonna hafta give you some mowah weesposibiwity.”

The sketch uses motions to convey how Leroy juggles the various responsibilities that are placed on him as he takes on more and more. He has to “skwew skwews with his wight hand, skwew skwews with his weft hand,” etc., until finally he has it up to here with weesponsibiwity.

re·spon·si·bil·i·ty The state, quality, or fact of being responsible.

re·spon·si·ble Liable to be required to give account, as of one's actions or of the discharge of a duty or trust (dictionary.com)

We live in an age of irresponsibility. When I originally wrote this a few years ago we had witnessed the trial of a mother who drowned her children. Her defense was that, since she was mentally unstable, she was not responsible for her behavior.

There is a great tendency in our society to blame others for our misdeeds. It reminds me of the Flip Wilson character, Geraldine, who, when she got into trouble, claimed, “The devil made me do it.”
The truth is that, whether or not we are willing to assume responsibility for our behavior, we will each be held responsible for what we do. We will someday stand before God and give an account of ourselves.

I shared this idea with a group of public school teachers during an inservice on character development. I told them I wanted to give them another interpretation of the 3 Rs, an understanding that I had learned from the psychiatrist William Glasser. In his book, “Reality Therapy,” Glasser explains that his 3 Rs are reality, responsibility, and right-and-wrong.

The first R, reality, means that we live in a real world with real struggles and real consequences for our actions. We’re not in Mayberry or in Disney World. Children are kidnapped and murdered. There are wars and rumors of wars. People do inhumane things to each other. We live in a world that is often mean and ugly, because our world is fallen. The events of 9/11 and since make this all too clear.

The second R stands for responsibility. We have already touched on this, but let me share a quote to underscore my point. The need for personal responsibility was expressed eloquently by Vaclav Havel, the president of the Czech Republic, in a 1999 magazine article. He wrote, “The salvation of this human world lies nowhere else than in the human heart….The only backbone to our actions, if they are to be moral, is responsibility. Responsibility to something higher than my family, my firm, my country, my success—responsibility to the order of being where all our actions are indelibly recorded and where, and only where, they will be properly judged." (quoted in christianitytoday.com)

The final R is for right and wrong. The prevailing philosophy on many of our campuses today is that what is right or wrong depends on the situation – that there are no moral absolutes. Everything is relative. I hate to burst this bubble, but the Bible clearly states that there are moral absolutes, established by God Himself. After all, God didn’t give us “The Ten Suggestions” now did He? God has a standard, called the law, by which he judges everyone. In God’s eyes right is right and wrong is wrong. And whatever is wrong the Bible calls sin.

Now, concerning sin I have good news and bad news. The bad news is that you have already broken the law and done wrong in God’s eyes. “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) The good news is that Jesus has already taken care of our sin problem.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Fitting Punishment?

The kerfuffle over the remarks made to Rolling Stone magazine has been at the top of the headlines for a couple of days now. The resignation (forced?) of General McChrystal and the naming of General Petraeus to take his place has raised a number of questions in my mind.

1. Does our commander in chief have any understanding of the way the military operates and the importance of having a relationship with a theater commander that provides an open door for the sharing of concerns? Apparently not.

2. Can a president without any military background (much less any real leadership experience) effectively serve as commander in chief?

But the greater issue in my mind is this: What was McChrystal thinking in sharing his thoughts publicly? That is a huge blunder.

From day one of a person's military experience he is deluged with reminders of the chain of command and the importance of respecting one's superiors and following orders. This was certainly my experience during my time of service, back when Richard M Nixon was the commander in chief.

Certainly, McChrystal may have been frustrated, especially with inept civilian higher-ups such as Joe Biden (for whom he has little respect, apparently) and Karl Eikenberry, US Ambassador to Afghanistan. But he had other channels to voice his disdain and displeasure. Doing so publicly was just not smart.

I recall serving under four different battalion commanders during my time as an infantry lieutenant. I served under two of them during a stint in Germany, and the other two during my time as a rifle platoon leader, then later a mortar platoon leader in Vietnam. Two of the four were men I gladly served under. The other two I endured. One of them I would have followed charging hell with a water pistol. And one of them I would not have crossed the street to shake hands with. But, even if I didn't respect a ranking officer as an officer, I respected his insignia of rank, and dutifully saluted and deferred to his leadership.

The only time I actually took a commander to task was on a mission in the mountains west of DaNang. My company commander and his little gaggle of followers patrolled with us for several days during this mission. Under orders from the battalion headquarters to move to a designated place by a designated time, the CO told me to do something that I considered extremely dangerous and unnecessary - take the 35 men of my rifle platoon down a dry stream bed in order to reach our destination in time.

I asked for a word in private, and proceeded to tell the captain that I thought his idea was dangerous and unnecessary.

"Sir, with all due respect, there is no need for us to subject these men to this danger. We can reach our destination in time by continuing to cut a trail through the jungle."

What ensued was a "yes you will" - "with all due respect, sir, I will not" argument. At the risk of court martial or other punitive measures, I did not relent. The CO finally saw that I wasn't going to subject my men to such danger without cause, and he backed down. I'll save the outcome of this situation for another time.

The point is this - there is a right way and a wrong way for one to air one's grievances with higher ups in the chain of command. Every soldier knows this. McChrystal did it the wrong way. However, I think Obama went way overboard in his handling of the situation, if he indeed asked for McChrystal's resignation. We won't know that until the next issue of Rolling Stone.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

One Starfish At A Time

Loren Eiseley, while writing his book The Unexpected Universe, was walking along the ocean in Costabel early one morning. It was shortly after a storm had subsided and as he continued walking, he noticed that thousands of starfish had been washed up on the beach. Ahead of him was a gigantic rainbow of incredible perfection shimmering into existence. At the base of the rainbow stooped a little boy, gazing fixedly at an object in the sand. Eventually, he flung the object far beyond the breaking surf.

Eiseley went up to him and asked, "Son, what are you doing?"

The little boy answered, "I'm throwing starfish back into the sea because if I don't they're going to die."

"But there are thousands of starfish. In the larger scheme of things you're not going to make much of a difference to all these starfish."

The little boy looked up at him, stooped down again to pick up another starfish and, gently but quickly, flung it back into the ocean. "It's going to make a big difference to that one," he replied.

Eiseley was embarrassed, uncomfortable with the contrast of the little boy's youthful, innocent love for the living with his own hardened, "mature" indifference to death. He had nothing to say and left, continuing to walk on the beach but unable to get the picture of the little boy out of his mind. It was a moment of truth for Eiseley, of deep soul searching and self-confrontation.

In time, he returned to the star thrower, silently picked up a starfish and spun it far out into the waves. "I understand." he said quietly. "Call me another thrower."

Together, still under the hues of the rainbow, they spent hours throwing starfish back into the ocean. (via The Creative Communications Center)

Last year, at a concert, my wife and I decided to sponsor a young African boy through Compassion International. For just the value of one nice meal out, we can provide this young boy with nutrition, school supplies, and other essentials.

Reul Kalo is a ten-year-old Kenyan who lives with his parent and loves soccer. We keep a picture of him on the refrigerator, and, in addition to providing monthly support, we correspond with him occasionally. At Christmas we sent a little extra gift along with Christmas wishes. In his thank you letter, he said this, through an interpreter:

“Accept happy new year’s greetings from your sponsored child, Reul Kalo. The child says ‘thank you’ for the Christmas gift he received from you. The child says he bought school shoes, socks, shoe polish and a ruler. The child says he will be praying for you.” Along with the letter was a picture he drew of shoes, socks, shoe polish and a ruler.

It’s not much, but sponsoring this lad is something we can do. Others are adopting children from third world countries and from China, where girls are at serious risk.

The point is this: None of us can singlehandedly make a difference in the lives of all children in need. But, Mary Beth and I are blessed to make a difference to this one.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

My story of hope

One of the campaign themes of 2008 was Hope and Change. But the order should be change then hope. To underscore that truth, let me share my story of hope.

I came to know Christ as a teenager when I put my trust in him and invited him into my life. I had the assurance that my sins were forgiven and that I had begun a brand new life.

A few years later I sensed the Lord calling me to ministry. I made a public commitment, but then I spent the next several years trying to run away. Jesus never left me, even though I strayed away.

Then came Vietnam. I served as an infantry officer commanding a rifle platoon in the jungle. Even there, on the other side of the world, in the midst of an ugly war, Jesus was right there. He’s always been there, wherever I was, whatever situation.

But the story that I want to relate happened 20 years ago. On December 30, 1990, a Sunday, I had emergency surgery to have my colon removed – the whole thing – because of a grave medical condition. My colon had perforated, and the surgeon gave me less than a 50/50 chance to survive. I remember, the second day after surgery, lying in the bed in intensive care with three iv poles at the head of my bed dripping meds, blood, and narcotics into a port right under my collar bone. As I lay there, I felt as if my life was slipping away.

Now, I had faced death before as a combat officer in Vietnam. But in those days, with bullets whizzing by, I was able to face death as a well-armed, well-equipped, confident warrior. But now I lay helpless in a hospital bed, unable to lift my head off the pillow.

I remember quietly calling out to the Lord, and sensing him standing there beside me. A peace came over me, and I experienced the Lord saying to me, “I’m here. You’re in my hands and I’m not going to leave you. I have wonderful things prepared for you when you meet me face to face some day, but it’s not going to happen today. You’re going to get well. I’m not through with you yet.”

Thirty-seven days and three surgeries later, I was released from the hospital, and the following Sunday I stood before the church I served with a new confidence that God wasn't through yet with my life on earth.

One of my favorite gospel songs expresses this confident hope.

I’m possessed of a hope that is steadfast and sure,
Since Jesus came into my heart.
And no dark clouds of doubt now my pathway obscure,
Since Jesus came into my heart.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Sacha Whiner

The man went into the restaurant and said, “Do you serve crabs here?”

And the waiter said, “Why, yes sir, we serve anybody here.”

I’ve been around crabs. Haven’t you? These are the people who are constantly complaining about everything. Whiners, we call them. No matter what happens, or how good something might be, the whiners will find something to complain about.

The story is told about a monk who joined a monastery and took a vow of silence. After the first 10 years his superior called him in and asked, “Do you have anything to say?”

The monk replied, “Food bad.”

After another 10 years the monk again had opportunity to voice his thoughts.

He said, “Bed hard.”

Another 10 years went by and again he was called in before his superior. When asked if he had anything to say, he responded, “I quit.”

“It doesn’t surprise me a bit, said his superior. “You’ve done nothing but complain ever since you got here.”

Maybe you’ve met the Whiner family. There’s Ima Whiner. He’s the head of the clan. Born in the objective case and baptized in lemon juice, he’s always grumbling about something. When people see him coming they turn and go the other way rather than being subjected to his "complaint-of-the-day." His wife, Stella Whiner, not only whines, she nags as well. Someone has said that living with a nagger or whiner is akin to being nibbled to death by a duck. Ima and Stella also have a son, Sacha Whiner. He, bless his little heart, has the whining genes from both sides of the family. He also has few friends. Duh! Who wants to be around someone who is always arguing or complaining? Most of us want to tell such people, "Build a bridge and get over it!" Or our reaction is like the old Bob Dylan song:

I wish that for just one day you could stand in my shoes.
Then you’d know what a drag it is to be with you.

Whining is nothing new. Apparently there were members of the Philippian church who liked to grumble or whine on occasion. Imagine that – whiners all the way back in the first century.
The Apostle Paul addressed this negative attitude when he admonished his friends in Philippi to “do everything without complaining or arguing.” (Philippians 2:14) He was concerned about their ability to relate to one another in genuine love, and their ability to relate the love of Jesus to those around them.
This reminder from Paul to the Philippians applies to you and me as well. The world watches how we live. Your roommate, suitemate, classmates, workmates….all your "mates" are watching how you live – especially how you react to difficulty. You have a choice. You can shine like a star, as Paul states in verse 15 of Philippians 2, or you can be a dark cloud. I like the slogan one of our secretaries has posted in her office. You can be humbly grateful or grumbly hateful.

You and I both know that life can be hard. It is sometimes tough to live a life of faith and to be positive even in adversity. It helps to be reminded that God will help us. Submit yourself to him and let him work out his purposes in your life. As you yield yourself to him daily you will become increasingly winsome and warm. Then others will want to be around you. On the other hand, if you’re a whiner, don’t expect many friends.

How you live is up to you. What will it be: grumbly or grateful?

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Call Me A Moralist

Okay, so I’m a moralist…and proud of it. Though some, particularly those of a liberal persuasion, might use this as a pejorative term, I believe it is a badge of honor to be called a moralist.

A moralist believes in the moral foundation of the law, and the importance of taking a stand informed by those moral convictions. Here’s what I believe.

1. Our nation, under God, is one nation, although made up of many. As a pluralistic society, every person, of every persuasion, is welcome here. Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, and persons of no faith whatsoever, work side by side, live next door, worship as they choose, or don’t worship if they choose.

2. This country was founded on moral principles. Indeed, every law ever passed is based on some moral conviction. Our basic laws are based in the Judeo-Christian ethic. This ethic values life, liberty, and justice.

3. I believe in a free church in a free state. One of the rights that early citizens established is the right to freedom of religion. And Christians led the way in this cause. In fact, it was a Baptist preacher in Virginia, John Leland, who was one of the chief proponents of religious liberty. His influence on James Madison is well documented.

4. It is the moralists of our society that stand for truth. These people of conviction care about human rights and ministering to the needs of the marginalized people of society. These people care about those enslaved in Sudan, persons suffering from AIDS, and the sanctity of all human life. We moralists stand for the traditional American family.

5. Moralists like me believe in revealed truth. Jesus, in his high-priestly prayer in the garden, said, “Father, sanctify them in the truth. Your word is the truth.” (John 17:17) In other words, all truth comes ultimately from God.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Consecrated Ground

President Lincoln stood at the battlefield at Gettysburg and declared that that ground had been consecrated by the blood of the brave men who struggled there. For centuries valiant Americans have struggled, bled, and died in defense of freedom and the values for which this nation stands. As a result, there are hallowed places across the world that have been consecrated by the blood of those who have fought for liberty and justice.

At places such as Flanders Field, Normandy Beach, northern Africa, Somalia, Vietnam, the Philippines, Eastern Europe, Central America, Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as on the waters of the Atlantic and Pacific, Americans have made the ultimate sacrifice and have thereby consecrated those sites.

As a combat commander who led a rifle platoon into battle, I especially want to acknowledge the more than 58,000 young Americans who laid down their lives in the effort to enable others to live in freedom. I've walked in the mountains and valleys of that farflung part of the world, on ground consecrated by brave warriors. Let us never forget them or the thousands of others who have who have given all for us.