Real Manhood

MetaxasI spoke recently with a man who spent some time as a jailer.  He concluded that most men are in jail because they never learned how to control themselves.  They might be tough guys, but that doesn’t make them real men. 

 In his book, Seven Men, Eric Metaxas refers to the C.S. Lewis essay, “Men Without Chests” to explain that real men have heart.  By that he means “the courage to be God’s idea of a real man and to give of yourself for others when it costs you to do so, and when everything tells you to look out for yourself first.”  He presents biographies of such real men, each of which sacrificed something important for the benefit of others. 

 After the Revolutionary War, the Continental Army wanted to install George Washington as American King George I.  They lost confidence in the Continental Congress over back pay.  Believing this exposed the weakness of the republic form of government, they circulated the Nicola and Armstrong letters which advocated military rule.  Washington summoned his officers and in a speech that moved many to tears, appealed to their honor and patriotism to never overthrow the newly-won American liberties.  In refusing their overtures, he gave up power and fortune for the good of his fellow citizens.  King George of England declared that if the man that defeated the most powerful army on earth stepped down, he would be “the greatest man in the world.” 

 Perhaps you saw the 2007 movie, “Amazing Grace” about William Wilberforce.  He was elected to the British Parliament at 20 years old.  He became politically powerful and quite popular in London society.  Early in his career, he vacationed with Isaac Milner on the French Riviera.  The young politician was moved as Milner talked about faith.  Given that high society took offense with anyone serious about God, it was no small matter when this political prodigy converted to Christ.  His old friend John Newton, the former slave trader and author of the hymn “Amazing Grace,” encouraged him.  So he took up the cause against slave trading and slave holding, which meant reforming culture itself.  What did he give up?  He could have been Prime Minister, but he spent his political capital elsewhere.  He could have remained in high society, but chose the cause of the lowly instead.  After decades of personal sacrifice, days before his death he learned that his cause was finally successful. 

 These are but two of the biographies Metaxas collected, but to what end?  He writes, “I hope you would want to study these lives – and not just study them but emulate them.  It is my prayer that those who read this book would be inspired to become real heroes, to become great men in their own generation.”  May more Real Men step forward. 

Memorial Day 2015

Baptism at Iwo Jima

Baptism at Iwo Jima

 In 1983, on the 50th anniversary of John Craven’s enlistment into the Marine Corps, Commandant General P. X. Kelley declared him a “Legend” who served with the Marines longer than any other chaplain in American history. 

 Born in 1916 in Missouri, Craven enlisted in 1933 at 17 and completed boot camp at Parris Island.  While serving on the USS New Mexico at Pearl Harbor, he sensed a call to ministry.  He left the Corps to earn academic degrees in theology.  He returned to active duty in 1942 as a Southern Baptist chaplain. 

 He served in many high-casualty combat campaigns in WWII including Marshall Islands, Saipan, Tinian, and Iwo Jima.  He accompanied Marines on amphibious landings through the Pacific and witnessed the raising of the American flag atop Mt. Suribachi at Iwo Jima.  The Fourth Marine Division knew him as “John the Baptist.”  Four men accepted Christ on the boat before landing on Iwo Jima.  He baptized them as soon as possible after they survived the bloody landing.  The imagery of them being buried with Christ into death then raised to new life is captured in historic photos. 

 In Korea, he was with the Marines during the landing at Inchon, the battle for Seoul, and suffered severe frostbite while urging his Marines to endure the bloody retreat from the Chosin Reservoir. 

 Tom Brokaw in The Greatest Generation Speaks retells stories of Chaplain Craven praying with wounded Marines.  Chaplain Craven believed that the Lord’s Prayer is the most effective medicine for shell shock. 

 In 1963, he ministered to the grieving family of President John F. Kennedy at Bethesda Naval Hospital.  He was Fleet Chaplain during Vietnam, and ended his active duty career at Headquarters Marine Corps in Washington, D.C. serving for five years as the Chaplain of the Marine Corps. 

 Chaplain Craven retired from active duty in 1974 after more than 30 years of military service, decorated with the Silver Star and Bronze Star.  But he was not finished.  He returned to Okinawa as a missionary, and later ministered in Norfolk Virginia. 

 In his latter years he served as chaplain at Vinson Hall Retirement Community for Navy and Marine Corps Officers in McLean, Virginia, not far from the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial depicting the iconic flag raising at Iwo Jima. 

 This “Legend” died in 2001 at the age of 85 and is buried with our nation’s heroes at Arlington National Cemetery.  In his memory, the Navy created the John H. Craven Servant Leadership Award, given to the chaplain that “exemplifies the essence of the chaplain for whom it is named,” honoring effective spiritual leadership. 

 I am grateful to my college roommate, U.S. Navy Captain Terry C. Gordon who is also a USMC Chaplain, for informing me about this Legend.  Join me in remembering the legacy of CAPT John H. Craven, CHC, USN, a true American hero.  On this Memorial Day, let us remember all who died for freedom. 

Love Your Neighbor

Hospital Albert Schweitzer, Haiti

Hospital Albert Schweitzer, Haiti

Before I begin this story, you need to know that it does not end well.  But only a persistent pessimist would not try to find some meaning in a tragedy.

In 1991 I accepted a 2-year assignment to develop drinking water sources in Haiti, sponsored by a hospital.  Living there with my young family was a cultural delight for me.

I traveled the countryside in a raggedy, diesel-burning Land Rover truck.  Most days I was with my crew, working on pipelines and wells.  Some days I ventured out solo, interacting with various communities and meeting people.

One Saturday, I had been to the market in Verrettes.  With many more people traveling than vehicles to convey them, it was not unusual to turn down many friendly appeals for a free ride.  But what I saw in the road in front of me was not that.

Two women were frantically waving their hands.  They looked terrified and desperate.  I stopped and then realized that they had laid a child, about 10-yrs old and unconscious, in the roadside grass and were trying to get him to hospital.

We quickly loaded the child and sped toward the hospital. Arriving there, the usual front-door crowd parted as they saw me running with this limp form.  Inside, I laid him on a gurney as my co-workers responded.

In a nearby office I waited out the adrenaline.  It was but a few minutes and a friend stepped in to tell me that I had carried in a dead child.  Cause of the tragic death was AIDS or malnutrition.
I felt helplessness and pity for that child.  In time I realized that I may not be able to change a culture, eradicate a disease, or implement effective public policy.  But I could do something for one village, one family, one person, a neighbor.

Christians are particularly motivated to serve our fellow man.  Our Lord Jesus set the example in the way he lived, and in his sacrificial death on our behalf.  We follow his example and teaching.  He said the greatest commandments are to “love the Lord your God,” and “love your neighbor as yourself.”

As our country declines into immorality, defines religious freedom as bigotry, and devalues the natural family, it is tempting to retreat.  Yet even if you can’t change these by yourself, you can respond within your ability to the needs of people around you.  We know God is at work to bring about His purpose in each person’s life.  As we demonstrate the love of God, we participate in His work.  And He can change people, families, and nations as they come to know and obey Him.

I would that you never carry a dead child in your arms.  But what will you carry in serving God and your neighbor?

Beatitudes for Mothers

New Mom 5/6/15

New Mom 5/6/15

Mothers’ Day is a reminder that every mom needs a prayer, and a blessing that can only come from God. Rare is the mom who really feels up to the task. So to that end I offer these beatitudes about mothers.

Blessed is the mother-at-heart who never could have a child. May you find meaning in nurturing those that are in your life.

Blessed is the one who grew up without a mother. May that relentless longing be fulfilled in the love of family that you do have, and of your heavenly Father.

Blessed is the mother that adopted a child, for you are providing a loving, nurturing, safe home that another mother could not.

Blessed is the expectant mother. May you find peace and contentment that displace your fears about the child’s health and delivery.

Blessed is the single mom. May Jehovah-jireh (“God will provide”) strengthen you as bread-winner, homemaker, and caregiver.

Blessed is the mother that had an unplanned baby. May your choice to give life be returned to you as the greatest choice you ever made, next to believing in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Blessed is the mother of a sick or special needs child, for you can cast all your cares on Him who cares for you and your child.

Blessed is the mother of a rebellious child. May you have tough love, patient endurance, and wisdom beyond your years.

Blessed is the mother whose nest is newly empty, for you have not stopped being a mother, only entered a new chapter of life.

Blessed is the mother whose grown kids are not living the way they were raised, for you gave them your best and now they are responsible for their choices, not you.

Blessed is the mother whose kids turned out well. May you have grace for your sisters since, ‘but for the grace of God, there go I.’

Blessed is the mother who has a son or daughter serving others in harm’s way. May God be near them and bring them back safely to your arms time and time again.

Blessed is the mother who mourns a child for you shall be comforted. May the anger, desperation, and grief you feel give way to love, peace, and a heart to bless others.

Blessed is the grandmother raising her grandchildren. Once again, you’re standing in the gap, and may both generations “rise up and call you blessed” (Prov. 31:28).

Blessed is the great-grandmother. May you be strong in body, mind, and faith for all your appointed days, and may you never know loneliness.

“A Mother’s love is something that no one can explain,
It is made of deep devotion and of sacrifice and pain.
It is far beyond defining, it defies all explanation,
And it still remains a secret like the mysteries of creation.” – Helen Steiner Rice