Happy To Welcome You To The Hallelujah Chorus

I will exalt you my God, the King, I will praise your name forever and ever. Every day I will praise you and exalt your name forever and ever. Psalm 145:1-2

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

"Recollections #6 - Cruise Ship OR Warship?"

My first week or two after I "came aboard" the Mt Mac were all about finding my way around in the confined environment. Although there were shipboard diagrams in all the passageways I still had to learn how to get to where I needed to go. But, that lasted only a few days because its a lot like learning to speak another language, hands-on practice is the key to rapid skill development.

This week it all came back to me in waves as I watched a show on the National Geographic channel about the USS Ronald Reagan, our nations newest aircraft carrier. The one hour special held me totally spellbound because as they toured the enormous ship (the length of two football fields) interviewing some of the crew and discussing the ships primary purpose and how each division contributed to that purpose, I was in awe of the commitment of the men and women who proudly serve our country. It is so different than the two aircraft carriers I had been on, for one thing when I was in the Navy there were no women aboard any naval ships at sea.

It also made me think of our mission as disciples of Jesus.

There is a universe of difference between a "warship" and a "cruise ship". Having been on two pleasure cruises and numerous warships, I can surely testify to the fundamental differences. Every person aboard a US Navy warship has a single purpose carried out in many different ways. You never lose sight of that purpose regardless of what job you perform. There is always an acute awareness of why you're there and how what you do affects that ultimate purpose. But, on a pleasure cruise, most of the people on board are there to relax, eat well, play games and just have fun.

In my 50+ years of ministry in the kingdom I have met more Christians who think they are on a pleasure cruise than realize they are riding a warship with a singular purpose. For many well meaning people, church is about socializing, potlucks dinners and weddings, none of which is bad or wrong. UNLESS, we forget that we are at war every day with an enemy that never sleeps or fails to carefully watch and listen.

Jesus has called us to PARTICIPATE in the singular mission he came to set in motion, a mission that God had planned before he even spoke our world into existence. That mission can include those activities that draw us closer together as family, but those activities can never become a substitute for the mission. We MUST NEVER allow our attention to be diverted away from HIS mission by political, social or spiritual division. Jesus is always Lord, his word is always law and his love is always our prime motivator.

You may think this a weird parallel but for me, the sight of that flag flying every day off the fantail of the ship was a reminder of what I was about. In a similar way the Bible is a daily reminder of God's love for all his human creation and how desperately he longs to see all of us in his kingdom. Every day when I see his word and pick it up, I remember that I'm not on a pleasure cruise, but a very special kind of warship. HALLELUJAH!

Monday, September 12, 2011

"Recollections #5 - USS Mount McKinley AGC 7"

Growing up in a rural area of western Kentucky, I was very familiar with large farm machinery and spent many hot, dusty days on a tractor, hay bailer or a combine. But, my experience was nothing compared to what I faced as I stood on pier 4 looking up at that huge ship and trying to work up the courage to walk up the gangway. I guess I thought once I made that short walk, I might never see the light of day again.
The MtMac was a command flagship, 460 feet long with this huge gun protruding over much of the forward deck and smaller guns around each side. When I had been there the night before as she was docking, she didn't seem nearly as intimidating as now in the light of morning. I was unable to go aboard the night before because they still had to complete all the paperwork to transfer me to the ship. So, now here I stood with all my worldly possessions in that large seabag, working up the courage to go aboard.
Guys were coming and going and I watched to see exactly what they did so that I would not make some stupid mistake and say or do something wrong. Finally, after nearly two hours, I hoisted my seabag, walked up the gangway to the quarter deck, saluted the OOD and asked for "permission to come aboard - Sir!" To my sheer relief he saluted me back, smiled, said "Welcome aboard sailor" and took the folder of papers I handed to him. He asked where I was from, how long I had been in the US Navy and if I had eaten lunch. He then summoned a nearby seaman to help me find my quarters and show me to the chow hall.
For the next year and a half, this beautiful, sleek warship was to be my floating home and a great contributor to the education I would need later on in service to my God and Father. I am forever thankful for the education I received growing up in a Christian family and the many things I learned as a student in a Christian college. But what I learned about ME in a far different environment, would eventually draw me to a life of commitment and service in the Kingdom of God that I might not have ever achieved had I not walked up that gangway into a new world of risk, challenge and opportunity. I didn't fully realize it at the time, but God was with me every step I took, even when I went in the wrong direction.
David wrote -
"Who then is the man that fears the Lord? He will instruct him in the way chosen for him." Psalm 25:12 NIV

Friday, September 9, 2011

"Recollections #4 - Movin' On"

The three months I spent in boot camp were a crash course in US Navy history, tradition, terminology, knot tying, weaponry, survival at sea and IN the sea etc. We even had several days of fire prevention and fire fighting training because fire is the greatest enemy of a ship at sea.
As boot camp began to wind down, I started to think about what my first active duty station might be. Having completed all kinds of testing to determine where my skills might be most needed, I had thought I might be assigned to some further training in a school somewhere. But, that wasn't to be, at least not yet.
Three days before I graduated from boot camp, I learned that I would be assigned to the USS Mount McKinley out of Norfolk, Va to work as a "deck hand". I had hoped to go to electronics school in Maryland but was told that I might have the opportunity down the road. But, I was excited to think about life aboard ship, especially an attack flagship that carried all the top brass into battle along with a large contingent of US Marines.
After graduation and spending a few days back home with my family, one of my boot camp buddies from New Jersey drove down to Kentucky in his very cool, candy apple red, '57 Chevy and we drove to Norfolk together. I was to board the Mt Mac at pier 4 and he was to catch his ship at pier 6. But, when we arrived in Norfolk and he dropped me off at pier 4, my ship wasn't there. I learned that she was still in the Mediterranean and wasn't expected back until sometime in January. So, I was assigned a bunk in the nearby barracks and given a job in the chow hall. Those were long days in a very noisy environment but I ate well!
Finally, just before Christmas, the Mt Mac sailed into port ahead of schedule. I had heard about her expected arrival and was standing there on the pier late that night when she docked. That was such a sight to see. As I stood there, a country boy from western Kentucky who had hardly been out of that state, I was overwhelmed by the sight and sounds of that huge machine. To see all the guys dressed in their blues, standing at attention around the deck, singing, still gives me goose bumps just from the memory. But that's for my next Recollection.

Monday, September 5, 2011

"Recollections #3 - My First Sunday In Boot Camp"

These words of David have meant a lot to me for many years because they tell me of a God and Father who wants me to succeed - but I have to pay attention:
"Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in his ways. He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way. All the ways of the Lord are loving and faithful for those who keep the demands of his covenant." Psalm 25:8-10 NIV
Every day of boot camp was crammed with classes, marching, studying etc, except Sunday, our one day off. My first Sunday there was my first time ever to not "go to church" as I had done all of my 19 years. I learned that there were church services for Protestants, Catholics and Jewish folks, but no "Church of Christ". Since I had no real idea what a "Protestant" was and knew I wasn't Catholic or Jewish, I decided not to participate in what was clearly not a "Church of Christ". Having been reared in a well meaning but short sighted tradition that "condemned" everyone but "us", I took the first tentative step that would lead me in a wrong direction. From then on I would follow a downward path away from God for the next 3+ years.
My grandfather had warned me before I left home that he feared I would get away from home and end up in a bad place. Over time I came to realize this was why he tried to bribe me to continue my college education in the safer environment where I had grown up. But, what he didn't realize is this was something I HAD to do for me even though there were risks involved.
In my Dad's house there was no tolerance for cussin', drinkin' and wild livin'. So I grew up with little knowledge or experience of the world outside the safe "bubble" that kept me away from much of the world's evil. I'm not complaining about it nor even being critical of that lifestyle, but as a young adult I truly believed I could make good decisions for my own life. Within a few weeks at boot camp however, I began to think, talk and act like virtually all of my shipmates, proving my grandfather's fears to be true. It would get worse.
Eventually God would rescue me but I had a long way to go before I was ready to truly hear him again.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

"Recollections - #2 Boot Camp"

My first full day of boot camp was spent receiving and collecting the wardrobe I would wear for the next four years. They outfitted me from head to toe with everything I would need along with the "seabag" to store and transport everything from dungarees, chambray shirts, white hats, underwear, socks, even the heavy wool dress uniform with the famed Navy peacoat. I loved it all!
That first afternoon we endured more physical testing, completing endless forms and sitting through a long lecture about what it means to be a "shipmate". I just sat there for several hours absolutely mesmerized by the opportunity to actually be part of something very special that I had hardly paid attention to up to that point in my life. Some of my "shipmates" seemed to be mostly bored with it all. Over time I also learned that several of them were there because a judge had given them the choice to join the military or go to jail.
That night I began to get acquainted with some of my "shipmates" as we sat around the barracks playing cards, writing letters or whatever. Some were more easy to talk with than others because we came from such varied and opposite backgrounds. That night was the first time I ever met a human being with the name "Jesus". He was a very brown, skinny kid from Spanish Harlem in NYC and I was intrigued with his name. He didn't seem to mind too much that a country boy from Kentucky was curious how he got that name. I asked him how it made him feel to be named after the Son of God. He told me he never really thought about it because his name was common in his heritage. Getting accustomed to calling him by that name was kind of awkward for me at first but after a few days I got over it.
Two guys stand out in my mind because both of them were married and every night they lay in their racks and cried because they were homesick for their wives. We all could hear them sobbing and trying to cover it up and I felt kind of sorry for them. I never really experienced any homesickness until I went to sea several months later and even then it wasn't a big thing. But those two guys just got worse and I learned about two weeks later that they had gone AWOL one night when we all were asleep. I never heard what happened to them but the MPs came and packed up all their gear the next day so they probably were caught somewhere and arrested.
God blessed me with some really good friends early on so my time there wasn't very hard at all. Learning to function together as one unit was a great lesson for all of us that has impacted all of my life in some critical ways.
Even today, when I see men and women wearing the uniform, I feel a special kinship with them because some of them may have sat in that same seat I did on my first day of boot camp.
David wrote - "Remember, O Lord, your great mercy and love, for they are from of old. Remember not the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways; according to your love remember me for you are good O Lord." Psalm 25:7 NIV
Today I can look back more than half a century and definitely identify specific days and moments in my youth when God disciplined me, chastened me, comforted me, trained me and forgave me. His mercy and love are truly greater than all the "sins of my youth and my rebellious ways." I am grateful to David for reminding me. HALLELUJAH!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

"Recollections" #1

Fifty one years ago today in the early morning, my Dad and Mom drove me to the Greyhound bus station in Paducah, Ky to begin an exciting and a little scary new adventure. I had just turned 19. My maternal grandfather, Sid Darnall, wasn't real happy with my decision to join the US Navy. He suggested that what I really needed was a new car to drive back to school and offered to buy me whatever I wanted if I would continue my college education. But, after long discussion with my Dad who told me, "I understand", I just couldn't face school any longer and had to get out from under the somewhat suffocating environment of Marshall County, Ky.
We arrived in Louisville in late afternoon and a Navy bus transported 9 of us to the State Induction Center. After two days of being stuck, probed and tested and finally pronounced healthy and fit, I boarded another bus to Chicago and finally arrived in the very early morning hours at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center.
At 5:00 that same morning we were awakened to march to the chow hall in below freezing temps, me in a light short sleeved cotton shirt, my chinos and loafers. We had to stand outside for what seemed like an eternity in the cold, frosty morning, but by the time I got inside the warm chow hall I was ready for anything they had prepared for our breakfast. Or so I thought.
I had never eaten navy baked beans, corned beef hash and boiled eggs for breakfast but as I sat there with all those other guys the realization hit me hard that I could not put my feet under my Mom's table for a long time. I tried to concentrate on the fact that I was not the first guy who had ever sat in the very seat where I was sitting. So, I made up my mind that if all those who preceded me there could make it, I could too. And I did.
David wrote - "Show me your ways O Lord, teach me your paths; guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are my God and my Savior, and my hope is in you all the day long." Psalm 25:4-5 NIV
That cold morning just outside Chicago, I had no real perception of the strong truth of David's statement. The faith I possessed then was pretty much my family's faith, which isn't a bad thing. Over the next four years however, I would gradually build my own faith and learn to listen to my Father's guidance as he did for me what David asked of him.
So, for the next few weeks or months or whatever, I invite you along on this journey of recollection, a journey from youthful ignorance to a place of mature surrender to the love of God. In fact, it may only be a repeat of your own journey. But, I pray it may bless each of you in some small way. HALLELUJAH!