Israel . . .

I have long believed that the Nation Israel is a very important nation. It occupies an important and special place in world history (read the Old Testament). It is a small nation that has always had many enemies . . . it still does today. It seems that it has no greater enemy that Iran . . . the old nation of the Medes and Persians, which today boasts that it will one day blow the nation of Israel from the face of the earth. I cringe each time I hear those religious thugs make such vile boasts.

I have long been a fan of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He was a war hero and clearly loves Israel, as well as her defense and well-being are his primary and foremost concerns. Tragically, there are allegations against the Prime Minister about bribery and corruption. I hope and pray those charges are not true . . . he denies the charges and calls the on-going investigation “a witch hunt.”

The Prime Minister was recently here in the States and met with our President. I am glad those two men are friends. I still believe in and practice the call to pray for peace in Jerusalem. I believe that Israel plays a major role in God’s plans for the future. I believe God’s promise to Abraham in which He declares the He will bless those who bless Israel and will curse those who curse her.

The Hershey Hotel ..

I was living in Beeville when the Hershey Hotel was built in Corpus Christi. Like most everyone else, I would drive by the site when I had to travel into Corpus. It was really something to behold . . . a beautiful white luxury hotel being built on the waterfront. I have pretty much always been a little kid who loved to watch things being built. Once the construction was finished and the hotel was in business, Sandy and I enjoyed going there for dinner. It had a magnificent dining room on the top floor overlooking Corpus Christi Bay . . . excellent food in a most charming environment . . . the service was impeccable. It was an upscale place and that was drilled into the staff.

After a couple of years, we moved from Beeville to the Aransas Pass area. At that time I was serving on the board of directors of a statewide developer’s association of some 400-plus members. The Convention committee expressed an interest in holding its annual convention in Corpus and asked me during a board meeting in Ft. Worth to try to identify a suitable hotel that could accommodate our group. Upon returning home from the board meeting, I called the Hershey and scheduled a meeting with the sales director. Over the next few months, I would have a number of meetings with the folks at the hotel and representatives from the developer’s association. It was during one such meeting that I was introduced to the hotel’s General Manager, Bill Boyd. Bill and I took a liking to each other and we became fast friends. He would invite me to the hotel for lunch and I would take him fishing. As our convention drew near and I got to know Bill better, I invited him to be on our program and tell his story . . . and the Hershey story to our folks, which he agreed to do. Our folks loved it.

Mr. and Mrs. Milton Hershey were a childless couple who adored children. Mr. Hershey had a dream of being a candy-maker. The story is that he had several failures along the road to success. When he finally found success he head-quartered just outside of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania . . . a quaint little community that would come to be known as Hershey, PA. It was there that the Hersheys would place their orphanage. The kids that came to live there found the Hersheys to be loving, kind, gracious, and quite generous. After some time, Mr. Hershey took the company public, but retain 40% of the stock for the Hershey Foundation . . . which operated the orphanage. The Foundation helped young folks discover themselves and find their way through life . . . and even provided for their education. My friend Bill Boyd was a Hershey kid . . . he went to school and studied architecture, and ultimately became a licensed Architect, and then went to work as such for the Foundation. The Foundation looked for investments to help keep it solvent . . . and liked real estate investments. At the time, Corpus Christi, Nueces County, and the State of Texas were making plans to open what was known as the Packery Channel, a waterway between Corpus Christi Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. Hershey planned a large-scale development as part of the Packery Channel project, and the downtown water-front hotel was simply phase one . . . it provided the Foundation with a presence in the community. The hotel was a terrific convention hotel and was arranged as such . . . primarily made up of double-occupancy rooms and a wide arrangement of meeting rooms. It soon became a successful venture . . . a beautiful hotel located in a great area which folks enjoyed visiting.

Bill spoke to our group and was a big hit. Later that day, I served as the convention speaker for the group . . . and Bill sat in on my speech. Little did I know then that it would later lead to my becoming something of the Hotel’s “in case of an emergency” fill-in speaker. As the hotel became well-known and accepted as a convention hotel. It all began quite by accident . . . Bill was hosting a convention and the group’s guest speaker was flying in from Boston and his connecting flight into Corpus was cancelled and the group had no one to step in. The group presented their dilemma to Bill and he called me late on Friday afternoon and asked me to run home, put a suit on and come running . . . I had like 45-minutes to be there and be ready. There was a nice fee involved and it was something that I would do a number of times over the years. I learned to ‘keep one in the barrel.’

Times change . . . years come and go and we all move on in the life experience. The Hershey Hotel was sold to Marriott and is now an Omni Hotel. The government entities reneged on the Packery Channel project, and the Hershey Foundation decided that the Corpus hotel was too small and too far away from headquarters to be operated as a ‘stand alone’ deal. My friend Bill Boyd moved on . . . we stayed in contact for a few years and then lost touch. Me?  I don’t do much public speaking these days . . . I limit it to teaching my Sunday school class and doing a couple of seminars a year.

I just woke up this morning with fond memories of those years . . . and the Hershey Hotel. Actually, I saw a Texas ad for Stouffer Foods before going to bed last night, and I was reminded of doing a few seminars and conventions at a Stouffer hotel (when it was owned by Nestle’s). My favorite was located on the waterfront in downtown Mobile, Alabama; it always reminded me of the Hershey.

Media Bias . . .

I have been hearing that quite often, but last week I saw it. Last night South Korean National Security Adviser, Chung Eui-yong, announced at the White House that Kim Jong Un of North Korea has requested that the President of the USA meet for talks. He stressed that Kim is interested in denuclearization and that sanctions would remain in place until an agreement is reached. “Kim Jong Un talked about denuclearization with the South Korean Representatives, not just a freeze.

This is the first time in his six years in office that he has raised his head above the trees, and will certainly be his first meeting with a leader of another nation. Each morning I read a considerable amount of on-line news. One would think this was a major news story for a world at risk of nuclear war, but there is not much about it in print.

There are, however, several stories about Obama in negotiations with Netflix about directing some films. Go figure . . . 

Different Beliefs . . .

As I got in the pool, I spoke to my lovely friend, Pat. She introduced me to her friend Tracie. I inquired about the whereabouts of our sweet friend, Shirley. Pat told me that Shirley and family had traveled to the Houston area to attend funeral services for her niece. I inquired about the niece and was told that the young lady had been quite ill for several years.

I said that in my faith such a passing was something that I pretty much viewed as a blessing. I told the ladies that I believe that “absence from the body is to be present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5: 8) means that when a Believer passes from this life he or she immediately enters into Heaven. My friends are LDS and I wasn’t certain of their beliefs about the afterlife.

The ladies quickly replied that they do believe that “absence from the body is to be present with the Lord” does indeed mean that the person immediately enters into the presence of the Lord, but they did not view that presence as occurring in Heaven proper, but rather in “the spirit world” where the person “continues to improve until perfected.”  I found their comment and belief quite interesting, but still I prefer my own belief as I see it as being “that a Believer is made perfect in Christ.” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

None of my rambling is meant to slight these dear ladies in any manner. I am extremely fond of each one of them and greatly enjoy their company in the Pool. I love their willingness to share their beliefs and openly discuss them with me. I always appreciate their kind, cordial willingness to listen to me as share my faith . . . and I genuinely believe they give me a fair hearing.

I chuckle and often think that typically LDS ladies and evangelical Baptist Sunday school teacher dudes don’t often become dear friends . . . but that sure has been our story. I don’t know that much will ever really change for any of us about any of our beliefs as we go forward in time, but I do think that our kindness and respectful regard to and for each other models the Master’s command to “Love you one another.”

I certainly don’t have all of the answers, but I do know that the Lord is not pleased when folks are rude and caustic with one another. I am glad . . . I really do like my sweet friends . . . I really do like their kindness and gentle nature. I know they love me . . . and I sincerely appreciate that.

Charley . . .

I met Charley in the pool this afternoon. He is an affable fellow with a midwestern accent. As we got acquainted during our water walking work-out, I learned that he is a farmer from Illinois visiting here for a couple of months. His farm lies alongside the Mississippi River and his crops of choice are corn and soy beans. He is a well-read, well-traveled fellow, and it was pretty obvious that he was well off financially . . . he just had that certain reserve about him that speaks of such.

As we talked, I told him that I had spent time and had traveled to Chicago many times over the years. I told him that I had done my seminars at the Ambassador West Hotel . . . he was well familiar with the grand old hotel that had been located on State street, just a couple of blocks south of Lake Michigan. We spoke of favorite dining places . . . with both of us particularly fond of Mike Ditka’s steakhouse.

I chuckled and told him about having once been bumped down a couple of floors because of Dennis Rodman renting the top two floors of the hotel. He was well familiar with the Bull’s and Rodman’s years there.

Charley told me that he had been studying the crime spree in Chicago for some 60 years. He educated me about notable crime figures from days gone by including Al Capone, Dean O’Banion, Bugs Moran, and Tony Accardo. He was quite knowledgeable about Chicago crime, the prohibition era, and the mafia. He spoke of the evils of that era and how the media and Hollywood had tried to make it seem romantically interesting and something of charming folk lore. He spoke of the evil democratic politics of the times and how poor people were exploited. He said that there wasn’t much difference in then and now . . . except that was organized crime back then . . . while today Chicago is tragically impacted by thugs, gang violence, murder, and drugs.

It was interesting hearing a fellow who had observed it all over a lifetime speak of his observations and opinions of it all.

Regardless of which era it occurs in, it is all sin and speaks of the evil and cruelty men inflict on others. Actually, quite a sad commentary of the human race.

Wisdom . . .

Paul wrote two letters to the new Believers in the ancient city of Corinth (a cosmopolitan city in Greece) . . . they were people who placed a high value on wisdom . . . and were proud of their wisdom and world view. In chapter 6 of the first letter (vs 6) he says, “I speak to your shame,” and then he asked them, “Isn’t there one wise man among you?”

What did Paul mean with that question? Did he simply want to shame them? Of course not . . . he was challenging them to put on their thinking caps and seriously consider who they now were “in Christ.”  He knew they needed to understand that things were significantly different within the Kingdom of God than they are on earth and in typical human reasoning.

He then described a variety of people and lifestyles in verses 9 and 10, and said that many of his readers had once been just like that and had lived in that lifestyle. But he declared that the Lord converts that sort of folks described in verses 9 and 10 into the kind of folks he described in verse 11. He declares that the Lord accomplishes that in a confessing sinner’s life by first “washing” that confessing sinner, then sanctifying him, and then by justifying him before the court of God. He isn’t just implying that a Believer is simply declared not guilty . . . but rather declared as “Just” . . . meaning just as if I had never sinned!

This morning as I study for the series I am teaching, I am struggling to get my mind around the troubling truth that the numbers used to measure cultural norms – actually the ways and more ways of our generation actually reflects little difference for those who are church member as opposed to those for non-church members . . . A new Barna Group survey says that areas such as divorce rates, folks admitting to viewing graphic sexual materials, treatment of others, and work ethics is not much different between the two groups.

It seems to me . . . that is true because many Believers today are just as ignorant as those confused Believers in Corinth all those years ago. I would argue that the Church has not been nearly as effective in teaching morals, doctrines, and sacrificial living as the culture needs to it to be.

What do you think?

Pray for Peace in Israel . . .

. . . the instruction in Palms 122:6.

President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held talks on Monday, March 5, in Washington, D. C. that offer a chance to project a common front against Iran . . . one of several sworn enemies of Israel. Over the past couple of years, the corrupt and evil religious thugs of Iran have vowed to “blow Israel off the face of the earth.”  Moreover, Iran has invested itself heavily in Syria and its warring factions . . . simply because it provides a border with and easier access to Israel’s mainland.

You can rest assured that not everyone is in agreement with King David’s instruction in the Psalm cited above. But here are a few reasons why a Cristian should agree with King David’s call for pray for peace in Jerusalem:

  1. Because Jerusalem is the center of the universe from a Biblical perspective. It occupies much of the attention of the Bible as it zooms in on geography. It is the place where Jesus spent much of His time on earth . . . it was the place of His crucifixion, and according to the last book of the Bible, Revelation, it is the precise place where He will come at His Second Coming.
  2. Because the re-establishment of Israel is a testimony and sign of the faithfulness of God.
  3. Because many of the Jewish people are coming to the Messiah. Hebrew-speaking congregations are growing, and many younger Israelis are coming to faith in Jesus the Messiah!
  4. Because it was through the Jewish people that God gave the Bible and the Savior to the world. It seems to me that as Believers, we owe them a debt of loyalty and appreciation. Even further, the Jewish people’s history, hard-heartedness, and rebellion, has served as a model of ‘what not to do’ for some 2,000 years of Church history.
  5. Because Israel is by far our best ally in the Middle East and the only one upon on whom we can really depend in that area. Israel has for 70 years faithfully demonstrated that loyalty and friendship.
  6. And last, but certainly not least, is because the Jewish people are and have always been “The chosen people of God!”  You might say, “I don’t get that” . . . to which I would reply, “Nor, do I,” but I do accept it and acknowledge it. See Genesis 12:3 . . . I believe God never abandons a promise He has made. I don’t need to understand it all, but I believe I will do well to accept and believe . . . even when I can’t understand.

As they gathered in D.C to try to hammer out a path forward in this dangerous and troubled world, both of these great leaders were under dark clouds of suspicion and allegations created and promoted by their political enemies . . . which I fear testifies that the enemy does not want peace on earth and goodwill amongst men.

Pray for peace in Jerusalem . . .

Counter-Culture . . .

In the late 1960’s various sociologists, behaviorists, and leaders in academia took note of how my generation rejected many of our parent’s generation’s norms and traditions. Theodore Rozak introduced the term counter culture-in his book The Making of a Counter Culture. Major shifts in the American culture and attitudes occurred as those of my generation moved into places of authority and influence. Not everything that followed was good . . . but then again not all of it was bad either. As I look back on it, I realize that morals dipped to a new low for individuals, but collectively there were some gains on the moral front. The ‘free love’ thinking, the ‘If it feels good, do it mentality,’ Woodstock and war protests, and the lure of illegal drugs resulted in serious problems for many individuals and families, but that generation went to work on addressing the sinful treatment of Americans of color.

My generation had a large impact on the world in several regards . . . morals, policies, practices, norms, behaviors, culture, education, and music.

Do you know that the Church, in many ways, has always been called to a counter-culture movement? When Jesus prayed in John 17 that His followers would be In the world, but not Of the world, He set the Church on a counter-cultural course. He called for His followers to have holy attitudes and Godly lifestyles that run counter to the self-centered, selfish life styles prevalent in in worldly culture. Paul wrote in Galatians 5:24, “Now those who belong to Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.”

It is a sad commentary of the Church that many individuals and congregations do not strive to live up to this high calling. Sadly, rather than serving as a counter-cultural force in the world, we are looking like the world . . . more and more. Studies show that there is little difference in areas such as divorce and common-law cohabitation between Church members and non-Churched folks. There is unquestionably a steady increase in the acceptance by Church folks of premarital sex, abortion, homosexuality, and pornography in entertainment. We surely have a higher tolerance, injustice . . . and we get caught up in the materialistic drive for wealth, fame, and power.

Last Sunday I started a new study of Paul’s two letters to the First Baptist Church at Corinth. The Church was young at the time Paul wrote his letters, and the members were immature. The city was a cosmopolitan area with serious moral problems . . . it was a prominent city in Greece in which the main religion in town had long been practiced in a sinful temple in which sex was openly accepted and prostitutes were openly offered to those who came to ‘worship.’  For the life of me, I always think of the City of New Orleans as I think about Corinth.

Our communities desperately need to see us, as the Church, living and behaving as if we are expecting Jesus to return any day . . .

The Second Amendment . . .

I support the Second Amendment (actually I pretty much support all of the amendments). I am a gun owner and own several dozen guns ….. hand guns, long guns and shotguns. In my 50 years of gun ownership I have never once used a gun in an unlawful manner, or in any way that endangered life, health or property ……. mine or others.

I support and appreciate the NRA.

Al of that being said, I want to add my two cents to the National debate about guns. I think:

….. There must be improvements in background checks process
….. there must be restrictions on gun ownership by the mental ill
….. automatic weapons sales should be limited to select individuals
….. schools should be made safe (more on this below)
….. the military should conduct self defense training for citizens
….. gun free zones are a joke and should be eliminated

The military could be instrumental in training the average citizen on how to be prepared to step in and help in troubled situations. Moreover, that process could help to identify, screen, and weed out the troubled amongst us who have an inclination toward weapons and things related to warfare.

I am confused over the struggle to make schools safer. It seems to me ….. that entry into a school ought to be limited to one entry point which is controlled and monitored by video surveillance. The use of bags and backpacks should be denied. It seems obvious that in implementing such a system, a potential danger could be spotted and confronted long before he reached the entry door. Israel took action after a school shooting 40 years ago and their system has worked well. We ought to study and that implement that model.

In spite of my support of the First Amendment, I would argue that so called celebrities ought to be instructed to shut up on this matter. They certainly ought not have any influence in the debate as they live with armed guards in their gated havens.

I am glad to get that off of my chest.

The Pool . . .

I meet the most interesting folks in the pool. I am unable to use my own unheated pool during the cooler months so I use the large, heated community pool . . . 75’ x 75’, in Rockport. When we are at the Burnet house, I go to the YMCA which has two large indoor, heated pools. There are a few lanes reserved for lap swimmers, but much of the pool is left open for water walkers and those just doing general work-outs such as Yoga and aerobics. I like the water walking. I usually walk within a group and use water weights. Sometimes there are only a couple of us but other times there are several . . . today, there was about 40 of us.

This time of the year there are folks here from all over the country. As I parked my car, I spotted a very large man and his wife getting out of their pickup truck. As we walked together from the parking lot to the pool, we got acquainted a bit. His name is Steve and her name is Cindy and they are from Minnesota. Steve, while a nice, friendly fellow is truly a giant. As we worked out, he told me that he was 7’ tall . . . I estimated his weight to be about 425! He wasn’t really a fat guy, he was just very large. As I watched him move, I could see that the load had taken a toll and slowed him down . . . his movement was both guarded and measured. He was not the largest fellow I have ever been around . . . but he is certainly the largest in many years.

I was reminded that when I was a high school kid, the Church I attended in El Paso brought in a fellow to meet with our large youth group. He was billed as the Christian Giant . . . and he was truly a giant . . . 7’8” and 465 lbs. He actually played in a number of monster movies in those years along with traveling the country visiting Churches and sharing his testimony. As I shook hands with my new friend Steve, I was reminded of that morning 50 years ago when several of us big strong football players went up to hang out with the Christian Giant. I remember him reaching out that huge hand . . . actually larger than a baseball glove. When I shook hands with him, I felt like an infant must feel when he places his little hand in an adult’s hand.

The Lord makes folks in all shape, sizes, and colors.