Three Questions about Isis

GhandhiI am probably not the person who should be writing this blog concerning Isis. I find that my opinion about Isis does not come from a long debated or informed study of the issues, but rather I am more reactive than I am responsive. My reactions are just that: A reaction to the latest threat or news of Isis and their evil being carried out on the innocents of the world.

In addition to that, my reactions run from the peaceful, informed words of a Jimmy Carter to the wildly uninformed male bravado of a Donald Trump. At one moment I want to do all for peace and understanding. And then I want to bomb the hell out of them. I think there are more of us feeling this confusion than we want to let on. So what do we do when our feelings run so deep and so far afield of what should be a more proper response to this most difficult and threatening evil?

I think there are three questions that need to be asked and answered.

ONE: I think the first question is a Faith question that needs to be answered by the leaders of the world’s religions. My suggestion would be something like a Vatican III, where the Pope gathers all the Faith leaders to a summit to discuss what should be the religious response to the evil that is being wrought upon the innocents of the world by these so-called religious zealots.

TWO: I think the second question is a political question where all the political leaders of the world, including those in question, gather to discuss and debate a political and/or military solution to the evil of Isis. We simply must come to some kind of consensus about how we are going to proceed with this battle.

THREE: The third question is much more personal and involves you and me. If we are honest with ourselves we know that within the human heart lingers the real possibility of evil but can become cultivated into a darkened evil in which genocide of people different from us becomes a real possibility, even something we understand as good.

So, that means we all need to look within and start becoming a Christian in deed, not just words alone, a Christian who reaches out to uplift the world and not just a bumper sticker Christian. It is time we all put ourselves to the old Gandhi test. Remember the story: Gandhi stayed with a Christian for six months to see if he wanted to become a Christian. Unfortunately after that six months he stayed a Hindu because he didn’t see anything attractive about being Christian. We all need to start living in such a way that others will want to become Christian people – they will know we are Christians by our love.

Seeing Gandhi live, the Christian missionary E. Stanley Jones asked him: “Mr Gandhi, though you quote the words of Christ often, why is it that you appear to so adamantly reject becoming his follower (Christian)”? The latter’s reply was clear: “Oh, I don’t reject your Christ. I love your Christ. It is just that so many of you Christians are so unlike your Christ”.

So we need to put away the bumper stickers and start living as people filled with the love of Christ. Whatever the answer is at least part of it from our perspective must be our living out this part of the Prayer… “Thy Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.”

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Each New Chapter is Better

CS LewisToday we had the privilege of being in worship with James Howell at Myers Park UMC. He shared with us a sermon using the text for Christ the King Sunday, the book of Daniel. In his sermon he referenced the time when C.S. Lewis was dying and his long-time friend professor JRR Tolkien came to visit. They talked as two old writers would… about stories.

In their conversation Lewis says about his future: “Each new chapter is better than the one before.” James used this illustration to bring comfort to all of us on this last Sunday of the Church year.

I was deeply touched by James’ preaching, as I always am. Today he caused me to think about the chapters of my life, and that God was in each of those chapters… whether I knew it or not.

God was there in that chapter of my life when born premature I had to be taken from Annie Penn Hospital to Baptist Hospital in order to survive. God was there in that chapter.

When in my growing up years as a four year old, needing iron, eating dirt to fill that mineral deficiency in my body… God was there helping to write that chapter.

When in my teenage years, when seeking to find a way in a most confusing world – without any direction – God was there to help write that chapter.

In my war years in the Marine Corps serving in Vietnam – during very scaring and unreal times in an unreal place, God was there to write that chapter of my life.

In my family life when I sought to marry and raise a family, not knowing how to do either, God was there to help write that chapter.

When struggling with and answering the call to ministry, through all of my fears and doubts, God was there to write that long, long chapter.

In my retirement years, when there is a rediscovery and re-identification of who I am away from ministry, God is there helping to write this chapter.

In the last few months, when most exertion of energy leads to shortness of breath and light-headedness… when I can’t do much of anything, God is here now to let me know that we are still writing chapters of my life together. And God will be with me in the next chapter as well.

As I look back over my life I can truthfully say that all the chapters of my life have been meaningful, enlightening, full of purpose and overflowing with God’s grace.

Thank you God for walking with me in this long journey and holding me close every single day… especially when I didn’t know you were there.

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Republished from Nov. 19, 2014

IMG_4698Please allow me to repost this blog from last November 19th. This week our family, especially my cousin Alicia and Aunt Louise, remember the passing of my Uncle Charles Martin. All my cousins, aunts and uncles are very special people. As the 19th draws nearer and our grief seems to resurface and bring tears to our eyes, please allow the memory of this good man to warm your soul and bring a smile to your being. We miss you Uncle Charles.

Philippians 1:3-7a
3 I thank my God every time I remember you. 4 In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. 7 It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart;

Shirley and I are big Elvis fans. I like the older, more mature voice while Shirley just likes Elvis period. We have been to several concerts and were very pleased with them all. We even had a wreck on the way to seeing him at the coliseum in Greensboro and Shirley wanted the EMT’s to take her to the coliseum instead of the hospital.

In his Aloha From Hawaii special he sang one song that I dearly loved: “I’ll remember you.” It talks about remembering someone long after the present day is through. Even though it has romantic overtones, I believe it is fitting for calling us all to remember people of special quality long past the present day or circumstance.

Today I visited with my Uncle Charles in the Hospice unit in Wentworth. Last time I saw him and he was able to talk with me was in his home after being released from Cone Hospital. This afternoon, as I stood there, sat there, I remembered the special times we had together. I remember that when my brother and I were about 7 and 9 (I think) the doctors told our dad that our mom would not live much longer. My uncle Charles and aunt Louise kept us in their Madison home for six months. We stayed with them and went to Ball Hill School for that six months. I know my brother and I must have eaten them out of house and home… two extra boys to feed is quite a task to accomplish. We missed our mom and dad terribly but Charles and Louise made a welcoming home for two little boys.

I don’t think I got into much trouble while under their care, probably just put a strain on them more than anything. Sundays were just like the summer Sundays, after church we would all head to mama Martin’s for lunch and all the stuff the cousins were going to do that day.

I remember that in those days, in Madison, many people had a party line. We had never heard of such a thing. A party line meant that more than one household used that line. It would ring a certain number of rings for each party. If it was your number of rings then it was your call and you answered it. The fun part for two little boys (at least the younger one) was to gently lift the receiver and listen to what the ladies down the street were talking about. It was the 1950’s version of Facebook.

I remember that Charles and Louise, in fact, all of my family was very involved in Mayodan Methodist Church. The Martin’s and Sechrist’s even had pews so designated by their names engraved on a brass plate at the end of the pews. I thought that was the most special thing I had ever seen. We had been in plenty of churches but never have we had our own pew.

Of all the things I remember about Charles and Louise, it would be that their warm, open hearts rang so true to who they were as people and how they sought to live their lives every day. Today, as I looked at my Uncle Charles, I remembered his big ole heart that was so filled with love that it made room for two little boys to rattle around in his house for what must have seemed the longest time. That is the Charles Martin I love and remember. And I will always thank God for you and all you taught me…and the way you lived Jesus before me. I will always remember you.

Dear Lord, there is a timetable for all of us, I guess. A time to come and a time to stay, and finally a time to go. Thank you for the family you have given me; Uncles, Aunts, cousins, parents, grandparents, great grandparents… all those people you brought across my path that I might see you in their living and become the person you called me to be. You sent some mighty good people, cause I needed a lot of work and a lot of care. I thank you every time I remember them… for they all touched me and made me better than I ever could have been on my own. In and through Jesus. Amen.

Why was I Spared in Vietnam?

vietnam-khe-sanh-920-21A Vietnam story taken from my Devotional book: Daily Moments with Pastor Steve.

It was Easter Sunday 1968. I was a Marine machine gun team leader in Vietnam. Our idea of celebrating Easter was to retake hill 881 for the fourth time. I remember it was a cold, wet morning as we moved into place at the bottom of the hill. As we traversed up the side of the hill mortar fire was directed toward us. I was about fifteenth in the column. The mortars hit about fifty feet in front of our point man. The next one hit our point man. The next one hit about seven men back in the column. The fourth one would have been in my lap. It didn’t come. Why? I have no idea. There were bullets whizzing through the grass next to our heads as we hugged the ground.

That afternoon, after the battle was over, we were all counting the cost. All around us were the dead NVA soldiers uncovered and disrespected. Back down the hill, in a neat row, respectfully covered were our men who had been killed.

I remember praying: “God, I have seen enough, I am ready to go home.” What an uneducated and presumptuous prayer. However, the next week I was wounded and airlifted to Japan. After a month in the 106 General Army Hospital and two months on Okinawa, I was sent back to the states. I later learned that many in my platoon were killed in a battle at “Happy Valley.” Why was I spared? I am sure those other guys were praying just like me. Some who died were within days of going home. It bothered me for years. I tried to put it out of my mind. It kept coming back. Even at Hinshaw Memorial UMC, in Greensboro back in the 90’s, there was a lady, Ruby Wall, who lost her son in that war. I could never be around her without having feelings of guilt. I came home but her son did not.

I wish I could tell you that the clouds opened up and God gave me the answer. Even to this day I still do not know why I was spared. However, in my prayer and devotional life, in seeing people live lives of faith and courage, I have come to know that there are some things I will never know…. Some things will remain a mystery. I have concluded that since I have been given this second, even a third life to use it the way God would have me use it – to give myself to God daily, that through me God may uplift the lives of those who need the touch of our heavenly Father.

Dear God, help me to know that I will not know all the mysteries of faith. There will always be questions. Rather, help me to not let those questions keep me from being your disciple today and sharing your love and grace with those I meet. Help me to live by faith. Amen

I hope you will take the time to check out my books on Amazon. Just click into my blog site (clicking on the title of the blog) and click on the book you would like to see. Check out the preview pages and give it a try. I hope you find strength and comfort through these books.

The Reluctant Hero – Uncle Joe

Uncle Joe Melvin 1First let me give a shout out to all my Marine Buddies on this 240th Birthday of the Marine Corps. We chewed a lot of the same dirt, been to the same places, and fought some of the same battles. Semper Fi, my brothers. Semper Fi!

November 11th is Veteran’s Day when we take the time to honor our veterans for the service they have given and the sacrifices made to and for our country. I, like many of you, served in a war (Police Action) as we grew out of our teens and into our early twenties. It was not something most of us wanted to do… it was something required of us by the draft. Our number was called and we went. I enlisted in the Marines. I didn’t know much about Vietnam… it was 1965. Needless to say, I found out much more about that place during my fifteen week boot camp at Parris Island, SC. And a whole lot more was learned when I ran out of the back of that C-130 on the Khe Sanh airstrip during the Tet Offensive in 1968.

I must admit I didn’t care for war (real war) all that much… really overrated in the movies. I thought even less of it when the bullets, rockets, and mortars were not ping pong or nerf… folks, they were actually the real stuff designed to kill you or at least mess up your whole day. I remember laying down – no – better term hugging the ground as the bullets whizzed beside us in the grass, or the mortars where walking their way toward our column, or we received seven rockets into our tents at Quang Tri. I was doing my duty and would have all the way… but it was not fun. I stayed scared most, no, all the time.

We have a real hero in our family. He is one who put his life in danger many times to rescue people on the ground. My Uncle Joe Melvin is a veteran of both Korea and Vietnam. In Nam he was a crew chief on a helicopter. In April 2002 Congressman Howard Coble presented my Uncle Joe with 51 medals for his service in Vietnam. Among his honors were; two Purple Hearts, three Bronze Stars, and an Army Commendation Medal with Valor which he earned during his six tours as a helicopter crew chief with the U.S. Army. He served in the Army for 22 years.

On December 20th, 1965 Joe was with the 1st Aviation Brigade, “Nguy Hiem” when the Viet Cong shot down another chopper during the battle. Joe and his men were sent to the crash site to look for survivors. None survived. Joe had been drinking beer with the pilot of that downed chopper the night before. He grabbed the pilot’s body, slung him over his shoulder, while a fellow soldier grabbed the other victim and they ran across the rice patties back to their chopper. At lift-off Charlie started firing as my uncle stood in the door firing back some heavy suppressive fire. Because of Joe these families received the remains of their loved ones. In response Joe said: “They would have done the same for me.” Howard Coble, handing the military records to Joe’s grandchildren, said; “I hope you all appreciate this. I’m sure you do, but I want you to embrace it. When you get to be as old as I am (71 at that time) you need to remember it.”

photoI remind you of this local hero – my Uncle Joe Melvin – hoping that you will remember him, what he did, the very good soldier he was and all the good soldiers out there who are still living with the effects of the war. Take the time on this Veteran’s Day to say; “Thank you for your service.”

And Uncle Joe – thank you for the honor of being in your family and serving with you in Vietnam. You are, indeed, my hero!!!

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“It’s like deja vu all over again.”

way-back machineThis morning we headed for Winston for a Doctor’s appointment at the VA clinic. While we were there we met with Mrs. Melba Tesh who asked me to sign some of my books for some of her friends and mine. It drew me back to remember all the good old times we had at Pine Grove and the special people who made that such a good place to serve. It was a heart-warming experience. And as Yogie use to say:“It’s like deja vu all over again.”

When coming from the Dr.’s office and heading for lab work I stop dead in my tracks when I saw a couple of old Jarheads wearing tee shirts that indicated that they had been in Khe Sanh back in ’68. I stopped to talk with my band of brothers cause, as they say, we chewed some of the same dirt. I was in 3rd Battalion, 26 Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division. We secured the perimeter of the Combat Base at Khe Sanh. The two Marines I met served with 2/9 who secured Hill 951 just to the right and out front of our position. Both of them had been wounded at Khe Sanh during the Tet Offensive in Apirl ’68. I was wounded the night we were airlifted from Khe Sanh to Quang Tri, when seven rockets hit our tents around midnight. I am surprised we didn’t see each other at the 106th Army General Hospital in Yokohama, Japan. We may have and just didn’t know it. It is amazing all the feelings, both good and bad, that short conversation brought to my mind. It was as Yogie said: “It’s like deja vu all over again.”

My trip to the VA included fasting blood work. My appointment was at 9:00am but we got there the usual thirty minutes prior to the scheduled time. So they took me a little early. Not eating also meant no medicines until I could find some food to protect my stomach. I decided (don’t really know why) that since it was getting near 11:30, that we could eat a late breakfast at What-A-Burger in Greensboro. We walk into this place and it was like going back in time… like the rest of the morning had been. They had an old television set on the end of the counter. Guess what was on? Yep, Bonanza. Mr. Peabody, set the way back machine to the 1960’s. The booth we sat in was old, tattered and tight. It reminded Shirley and me of the time we moved to Triplett UMC in Mooresville. The first Saturday night after moving in we went to the What-A-Burger Drive-In and parked at one of those window side speakers. And yes, the music they were playing was all the hits of the 1960’s. Wow, those were some good times with that family of great church people. One of the funny things that happened was as we were in the midst of unloading the old U-Haul truck, Pete Belk (Chairperson of the Trustees) came by and called me out into the yard. He said, with a hint of mischief in his eyes: “ Preacher, we are in the midst of a drought. It hasn’t rained in seven weeks. You have two weeks to make it rain or you are out of here.” I will never forget these special people. As Yoggie said:“It’s like deja vu all over again.”

I’m not going to tell you that longing for the past is bad and you shouldn’t do it. Don’t live there or let it negatively affect your life. Let it have that positive influence on you because it contains a lot of people who helped to make you who you are; teachers, friends, family, church life, special events that brought clarity to your vision of integrity, honor and self-assurance.

Let me suggest that we take the time to stop our busy lives for a moment and set your Way-Back Machine to special times and events of your past which changed your life, and walk with people who made the difference because they crossed your path. And let it be as Yoggie said:“It’s like deja vu all over again.”

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Lollipops Are Needed Sometimes

lollipopsThis afternoon on the way to pick up the grandkids, we stopped by the bank to make a car payment. I handed the teller the check and the payment slip for her to validate. She took it and said: “Just a minute” as she walked away from her station through an open space that took her into the bank proper. In a moment she comes out and says: “Thank you, Mr. Martin.” I just sat there because I haven’t received the receipt. She looks at me as if to say why aren’t you driving away, and says: “You want a lollipop?” I quickly answer “No.” It is then she notices that she hasn’t extended the drawer holding my receipt. I take my receipt and drive away wondering if I should have taken the lollipop???

From time to time we all may need that lollipop; that momentary throwback to our younger days, that sweet sugar high that brings just the little comfort food we need. We can just sit there and enjoy this sweet treat as we contemplate our situation or condition.

Perhaps, just perhaps, our meditation will lead us to think a little more about Jesus stepping into our troubles, bringing the sweet and comforting grace of God. Every night I struggle with sleep as I deal with atrial-fibrillation – the uneven, flopping heart beats keep me awake, especially as the pounding increases and my heart rate slows down to somewhere in the low 40’s.

We all deal with circumstances everyday that would welcome the grace of God to just bring sweet relief. Hang in there and hold on as you welcome a friend into your troubles.

I Didn’t Sign Up For That

Ordination 1983

Ordination 1983

Earlier today I was reading a blog by a young clergy person who had just returned from a conference on “Where The Church is Heading.” The point she was making is that not only were many of the laity becoming part of the category of church goers known as the “Dones” or “Almost Dones.” These are the people who are almost or are Done with the institutional church. They are still spiritual but are not coming to the church for those spiritual needs to be met.

The very same thought was voiced by Charlie Rose on this morning’s CBS Morning Show. New numbers from the Pew Research Center show that millennials are losing their faith. Less than half say religion is very important to them, and just half say they believe in God with absolute certainty, compared with nearly 70 percent of baby boomers.

“The world is changing so rapidly that religion is kind of being relegated to a back seat,” Lowenstein said. “I don’t believe that it has to be that way, but so many of the millennials don’t even want to give us a chance.” Thirty-five percent of millennials – Americans between 19 and 34 – identify as nonreligious. That’s compared to 17 percent of baby boomers and just 11 percent of those over 70. Lowenstein believes less religion will have an impact. “I think people will grow up and they won’t feel a connection to anything. And to me, the thousands of years of history of the Jewish religion give us the tools that we need to combat any challenge that we face today,” he said. The Pew study did have some good news for believers. Although fewer Americans affiliate with a religion, those who do, do so with conviction — two-thirds of adults who identify with a religion say they pray every day.

In the clergy person’s  blog she said some of the clergy in her group stated that they were among the almost dones. One even voiced his belief in these words: “I was called to be a pastor, not someone who puts out the toilet paper, locks and unlocks the church, turns the lights on and off, etc., etc. etc. I didn’t sign up for that.”

Wow, what a revealing comment that may just be the slip that hits the problem on the head… Our call is not fleshed out. Before accepting my call… while I was still running from it, I went for an interview at a bank. The VP  gave me the best job description I have ever heard: He said: “Your job is to do everything you can to enhance the image of this bank as people who care about all their customers. That means sweeping the floor, picking up trash, running errands, help customers with their needs…whatever it takes that is what you need to do.” I carried that thought into ministry… easy to do because my father was a Methodist minister before me… his example led me.

I remember the early days when I was a student pastor… going to college and serving two churches, and dealing with a District Superintendent who was a very bad example of servant ministry. He was supposed to be my mentor/example of pastoral leadership. Because of him and his behavior I wanted to quit about every month. Then it grew to wanting to quit every week. Finally, I wanted to quit every day. This man treaded me so badly that it was affecting my work, my life, my calling. So much so that one day the chairperson of our Admin Board told me I need to find another job… that I wasn’t supposed to be a preacher. That really tore me up – – – just to think that I was so affected that people I was called to serve had the opinion that I didn’t belong in the ministry.

I went deep into myself… asking God for an answer to this question… what should I do. I prayed and prayed and prayed some more. After about two weeks the answer came… not in a voice I could hear but in a clear impression of what God was saying: “Get all the way in or all the way out.” So I need to quit complaining… stop feeling sorry for myself and get on with the task of ministry… to the extent that I was in for the long haul… no matter what.

I must tell you that after that day I never wanted to quit again. Yes, I had some really bad days, where I wasn’t respected and treated awfully. I felt bad at times, but I never again wanted to quit. What we need today are pastors who will do anything needed to do the hard work of ministry and proclaim the love of Christ… no matter what. Stop thinking about what you thought the job was you signed up for and surrender yourself to being all in the work of ministry. That is the way God will change the church… through dedicated servants who are willing to lay it ALL on the line for the privilege of serving.

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