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,

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.