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Marc Lee and the Fall of Ramadi

Ramadi fell to ISIS. Sunni support, the leadership of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, and the strategy put forth by American leadership are all hanging by a thread. For his part, White House Spokesman Josh Earnest is standing firm on behalf of the administration. Despite calls from military leaders of a fresh review of American strategy in the wake of the latest failure, Earnest said, “no review of our ISIL strategy is forthcoming.” Perhaps you aren’t familiar with Ramadi. Let’s step back in time a bit. The date was August 2, 2006. Marc Lee was a Navy Seal, fulfilling his dreams that took root when he was a child in Hood River, Oregon. Abandoning his first goal of playing professional soccer, Marc overcame hellish training and pneumonia to become a Navy Seal. His fellow Seals remember him as “brawny and boastful,” but one who “openly spoke of his love for his God and his family.” His pastor and mentor, Chuck Towelcot, praised Marc for his “glorious bravery” and passion for his faith. The 28-year-old warrior was the best of who America is.

But August 2, 2006 would be a day his family would never forget. Lee was fighting beside American Sniper Chris Kyle. Later, Kyle would tell the story of August 2, 2006 in his book. “Marc Lee was at the lead, above us on the steps. He turned, glancing out a window on the staircase. As he did, he saw something and opened his mouth to shout a warning. He never got the words out. In that split second, a bullet passed right through his open mouth and flew out the back of his head. He dropped down in a pile on the steps. We had been set up.” On that fateful day, Marc Lee became the first Navy Seal to die in Iraq. He was survived by two siblings, his mother, and his wife. At his funeral, Pastor Towelcot said, “He died for other people. He died for a teammate. He died for us.” The American surge captured this key Iraqi city. Order would soon be restored. Citizens could walk down the streets. But nine years later, how things have changed. The city has been turned over to poorly trained soldiers backed by the weak Iraqi government. General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the city where Lee gave his life was “not symbolic in any way.” Josh Earnest, asked about the events of the past few days, said, “We aren’t going to light our hair on fire” over the loss of the key Iraqi outpost.

Marc’s mother, Debbie Lee, has lamented the loss of the city and the reversal of the gains her son’s unit had secured. Marc has been awarded a Silver Star posthumously. His bravery and sacrifice stand as a symbol of all that is good about our military men and women. And now, with so many of their gains reversed, the response of the White House is to not even review their strategy, and certainly to “not light our hair on fire” over the loss. A legitimate argument can be made that we never should have gone into Iraq in the first place. But we did. And with the help of the surge, the military action was considered a great success. But as the “JV Team” (President Obama’s own words, describing ISIS) takes hold of cities once secured by American blood, it is easy to understand the sentiments of Debbie Lee. And in the wake of the daily victories of ISIS/ISIL, perhaps the time has come for someone in leadership to light his hair on fire.

A Tribute to Letterman

Three years ago tonight, David Letterman took the stage at the Ed Sullivan Theater for the final time. After more than 6,000 telecasts spanning 33 years, the iconic 68-year-old former weatherman from Indianapolis called it quits, having passed mentor Johnny Carson as the longest serving late night host in history. The studio was packed with guests, including Jerry Seinfeld and Steve Martin. TV Guide ranked Letterman among the 50 Greatest TV Stars of all time. With a net worth of $400 million and dozens of awards on his mantle, Letterman rides into the sunset as the most famous of all late night comedians. There will be no more Top Ten lists, and according to Letterman, no more Letterman at the Ed Sullivan Theater . . . ever again. He told Jane Pauley, host of CBS Sunday Morning, “I don’t think I’ll ever be back in this building again. Honestly, I think it would just be too difficult for me emotionally, because I just don’t want to come back and see others living our lives.”

For a generation, Americans have debated the issues that affect humankind: Coke or Pepsi, Ginger or Mary Ann, and Leno or Letterman? The correct answers, of course, are Coke, Ginger, and Leno. I admit it. I wasn’t a big Letterman guy. But whether you liked him or not, you have to give him credit for one thing. For a third of a century he made people laugh. There is something to be said for that alone. Solomon, the wisest man in the Bible, said, “A joyful heart is good medicine” (Proverbs 17:22). King David celebrated, “Our mouths were filled with laughter” (Psalm 126:2). And Job was promised, “God will yet fill your mouth with laughter” (Job 8:23). In 1958 there was a television show called Make Me Laugh. It was reprised in 1979. The premise was that contestants would sit there and try to keep from laughing when comics got in their face and did zany things. Through the years, sitcoms have impacted American culture. We all have our favorites, such as I Love Lucy, The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Beverly Hillbillies, The Brady Bunch, All in the Family, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Happy Days, The Cosby Show, Seinfeld, M.A.S.H., Friends, and Modern Family.

Why all the shows? Why all the late night comedians? Why all the comedy clubs, popping up around the country? The answer is simple. Laughter is good medicine. Did you know the Bible mentions laughter 5,621 times? You could read a different verse on laughter every day for 15 years without reading the same verse twice. That is because laughter matters to God. Laughter makes a bad day good and a good day better. That is why, since February 1, 1982, millions of Americans have stayed up late to watch a Midwesterner named Harry Joseph Letterman opine on the issues of the day. For that we are grateful. Thanks for the memories, David Letterman. We will miss your Top Ten lists. We will miss you. Thanks for making us laugh.

Teddy Roosevelt

Teddy Roosevelt was my kind of man: smart, humorous, and a great outdoorsman. Come to think of it, we share nothing in common. But I can still appreciate him for who he was. He was President of the United States, but he was so much more. He was a cowboy in the Wild West, an explorer, and a big game hunter. He rode as a cavalry officer in the Spanish-American War. As the vice presidential candidate in 1900, he gave 673 speeches and traveled 20,000 miles while campaigning for President McKinley. And years after his presidency, while preparing to deliver a speech in Milwaukee, Roosevelt was shot in the chest by a would-be assassin. With a broken rib and a bullet in his chest, Roosevelt insisted on delivering his one-hour speech before allowing himself to be taken to the hospital. Late in life, Teddy was asked the key to success. He offered a simple answer. And his answer applies to you today. Said the ultimate Roughrider: “Spend yourself in a worthy cause.” That’s it. So you need to do three things with your life. First, find your “worthy cause.” Second, commit everything you are to that dream. And third, find someone to chase your dreams with. The ancient prophet of the Old Testament asked, “Do two walk together, unless they be agreed?” (Amos 3:3). Teddy Roosevelt was the most famous roughrider of them all. He rode high, but he never rode alone. If you are tired of chasing success and ready to chase significance, follow in his steps. Spend yourself in a worthy cause.

Response to Police Abuse

Let’s look back three years. The recent events of Baltimore, along with the deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and others, have fueled the hatred demonstrated against the police in many of our communities. Gallop recently published a national poll confirming that confidence in the police is at a ten-year low. While there are no clear statistics of the number of blacks killed by police that did not stop the Washington Post from decrying “the ever growing roster of black men killed by police.” Data supplied by the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice debunks this myth, noting that “the rate of police killings of African-Americans has fallen by 70 percent over the past 40-50 years.” Let’s consider two other sets of statistics, starting with the number of police killed in America. Two hundred years ago, in 1814, there was exactly one officer killed all year. In 2014 that number was 117. Even adjusted for population growth, these are alarming numbers. And while many black leaders, such as Rev. Al Sharpton, loudly blame the police for a “killing spree” and “open season on black men,” let’s consider the numbers some of them don’t want to hear. In Chicago, more blacks were killed in the last ten years (4,422) than the total number of American soldiers killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom (4,265). Blacks comprise 75 percent of all murdered in Chicago as well as 75 percent of all murderers. Nationally, the U.S. Bureau of Statistics finds that 93 percent of black killings are done by other blacks. The FBI says there are 17 blacks killed by other blacks each day.

There was understandable outcry over the Michael Brown shooting, given the initial reporting. But we have read far less about the 244 teenagers killed in Chicago since the death of Michael Brown. Few of us could name any of the 480 blacks who have been killed since the highly publicized death of Trayvon Martin. We have heard the names of Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin. Have you heard these names: Andrew Brown, Dough Chambliss, Gregory McKinney, Joseph Lewis, and Kyle Robertson? These are just a few young black men recently killed by other young black men in Chicago. And while I’m sure you know the names of Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin, do you know these names: Demetrius Blackwell and Brian Moore? Blackwell is the black man charged with the murder of New York City police officer Brian Moore, who was buried Friday.

Does this mean all police officers are good? Of course not. There are bad actors in every field: politicians, mechanics, executives, the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker. But police do something the rest of us don’t do (other than military and firemen). They put their lives on the line every single day. For that, they deserve our respect and appreciation. The Bible speaks to this clearly. Paul said, “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. Whoever rebels against the authority it rebelling against what God has instituted” (Romans 13:1-2). I suggest each of us do four things in regards to the police. First, pray for them. Second, don’t expect perfection from them. Third, encourage them. Fourth, recognize that their place of authority is part of God’s plan. Every life taken at the hands of a murderer is a tragic loss. But let’s keep things in perspective. And let’s keep our police lifted before the throne of God.

Unknown Revolutionary Hero

You have probably heard of George Washington. You may have heard of Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, and Paul Revere. These are among our greatest Revolutionary War heroes. Add another name to that list: John Woolman.

You remember him, don’t you? Not an outgoing, gregarious type, Woolman was a quiet Quaker from Pennsylvania. In a time when almost all men were hunters, John did not carry a gun. His hobbies included tailoring clothes and long nature hikes. Intent on learning about his fellow man, Woolman embarked on an unarmed expedition into the Indian territories. His goal was to simply learn about the natives while spreading a message of love.

As his admiration for Native Americans grew, he became conflicted on the matter of human rights. He began to question the accepted institution of slavery at a time when it was a universally accepted practice. Woolman spent 20 years traveling the colonies and journeyed back to England. He became a quiet advocate for the abolishment of slavery. His audience was his own religion. His message was universally rejected, but there was something different about John Woolman that his opponents could not easily dismiss – his character.

John was a peaceful, kind, patient man. Never rude or confrontational, he let his integrity carry his message. Woolman died in 1772, never seeing his dream fulfilled. But in just four short years, the Religious Society of Friends (aka “Quakers”) voted to abolish slavery. It would take another 89 years before the country followed suit.

You need a cause bigger than yourself. John Woolman found one. What is yours? A few years ago, Beth and I enjoyed a dream vacation, a cruise to Alaska. On one of our many hikes, we witnessed salmon swimming upstream toward their death. Sometimes, when you carry an unpopular message that is bigger than you, you will have to swim upstream. And like the salmon, you may die before you reach your intended destination.

John Woolman lived for a cause worth dying for. He was a man of character, a man ahead of his time. But this quiet Quaker was an American hero for one reason. He found a cause bigger than himself and he gave himself to that cause in the face of opposition in his new land and even from his Church. That is character. That is integrity. And that can be you.

Crazy Laws

Fortunately, our founding fathers knew the wisdom of building a nation on a set of laws. But is it possible to go too far? I think so. Let me illustrate. In Alabama, it is against the law to buy peanuts after sundown. Pennsylvania law books record a case in 1971, when a man sued Satan for his own bad luck. The case was thrown out on the grounds that Satan did not live in Pennsylvania. In Vermont, it is illegal to whistle underwater. In Lake Charles, the law forbids allowing a rain puddle to remain in one’s front yard for more than 12 hours.

Kentucky has several wise laws. You must bathe at least once a year. If you throw an egg at a public speaker, you will spend a year in jail. And females in bathing suits are not allowed on any highways unless they are escorted by two officers armed with a club. This law does not apply to females who weigh less than 90 pounds or more than 200. Nor does the law apply to female horses. Did you know the ancient Jews had hundreds of laws? They had one for every day of the year and another for every bone in the body. Then a man named Jesus arrived on the scene. He said, “I have come to fulfill the law.” When he called his first followers, he simply said, “Follow me.” Life is a journey. A good life is a journey to follow Christ. Follow him wherever he goes, but don’t visit Kentucky unless you took a bath last year.

“Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death”

On this date, 243 years ago, Patrick Henry delivered seven of the most profound words ever spoken in American history. On March 23, 1775, in the Virginia House of Burgesses gathered in Saint John’s Church in Richmond, Henry called for action against the encroaching British military force. In a speech that would not appear in print for 18 years, the planter-turned-lawyer said, “Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”

Let’s back up. Patrick Henry lived a colorful, controversial, contradictory life. He spoke for liberty while purchasing up to 78 slaves. He championed the revolution while voting against the Constitution. He was an Anti-Federalist, but at the urging of George Washington he ran for, and won, a position in the Virginia House of Delegates as a Federalist. Twice elected Governor of Virginia, Patrick Henry cared about state rights, pushing for the Bill of Rights. He was a big family man, caring for his ailing wife, afflicted with mental illness, until her death. Married twice, Henry had 17 children, most of whom became highly successful. But let’s go back to those famous words. “Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!” No one understood the value of liberty more than Patrick Henry. And no one offered liberty more than Jesus Christ.

Speaking to a Jewish audience raised on the Law of Moses, Jesus spoke of slavery and liberty. “Everyone who sins is a slave to sin.” But then he added the good news, “If the Son has set you free, you will be free indeed.” At the end of the school day, the teacher sets the students free, but not “free indeed.” After the inmate serves his term, the warden sets him free, but he is not “free indeed.” When a bird is released from his cage, he is free, but not “free indeed.” Jesus said “the truth will set you free.” But he concluded, “If the Son has set you free, you will be free indeed.” Patrick Henry cried out for liberty from the British. He spoke for colonialists who wanted, like all men, to be free. Henry would not settle for anything else. What about you? Are you content to be enslaved by your sin, addiction, job, relationship, or empty dreams? Or are you willing to sell out for liberty, for freedom? You can do a lot of things to find freedom. But if you want to be totally free, both on the inside and the outside, if you want to be “free indeed,” you must look in one direction. Bow to the only one in history who came to make you totally free, the only one who is able to make you “free indeed.”

John Quincy Adams

In his extreme old age, John Quincy Adams was slowly and feebly walking down a street in Boston. An old friend accosted him, and while shaking his trembling hand, asked, “And how is John Quincy Adams today?” “Thank you,” said the ex-President. “John Quincy Adams is well, quite well. I thank you. But the house in which he lives at present is becoming quite dilapidated. It is tottering upon its foundations. Time and the seasons have nearly destroyed it. Its roof is pretty well worn out. Its walls are much shattered, and it trembles with every wind. The old tenement is becoming almost uninhabitable, and I think John Quincy Adams will have to move out of it soon. But he himself is quite well, quite well.”

I love the Bible’s final chapter, Revelation 22. It tells me what heaven will look like. But I also like Revelation 21, because it tells me what heaven will be like. I especially like the “not to be” part. It says there will not be any death, tears, pain, or sorrow there. The “house” you live in will eventually wear out. But that is not a bad thing. It just means moving day is coming. You are about to upgrade to a better neighborhood. Read the words of John, rejoicing in his vision of heaven. “After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, ‘Come up here, and I will show you what must take place’” (Revelation 4:1). As with John Quincy Adams, you may be “quite well.” But it’s about to get even better. Moving day is coming.

The Rushmore Report: Is God a Republican or a Democrat?

Winston Churchill said, “If you are not a liberal when you are young, then you have no heart. If you are not a conservative when you are old, then you have no brains.” So where is God politically? Every society struggles with the conflict of liberals versus conservatives. These two political viewpoints seem to be built into the very essence of human nature. So where is God in all of this? Is God a Republican or a Democrat?

Let’s step back into biblical history. We find both political parties represented in the culture of Jesus’ day. The Pharisees where the Republicans of that era. They were the religious and more fiscally conservative party. They were deeply entrenched in making money and profiteering as evidenced from their business adventures in the temple. They were for big business – especially when it lined their pockets. They were not particularly known as the party which championed the “down and outs” of society.

The Sadducees were the Democrats of the day. They tended to be the upper social and economic echelon of Judean society. They were viewed as the more liberal party, who was against big business and if favor of more governmental involvement in public affairs. They were generally less religious than the other party, the Pharisees. They were more humanistic in their approach to life. The “big tent” included “sinners and prostitutes.”

They even had the Libertarians and Green Party people. These were the Essenes, a desert-dwelling, disorganized bunch. They had personal agendas and were not well-informed, beyond a few “pet” issues.

Do you see any parallels today? In broad sweeping terms the Republican Party looks a lot like the Pharisees and the Democrats look a lot like the Sadducees.

But God is an Independent, not allied with either political party. So as a Christian I am not so concerned with whether I am on the Republican or Democratic side. I am concerned with whether or not I am on God’s side.

In Joshua 5:13-15, we find the story of Jericho. As Joshua moved through the battle lines, he encountered a mighty soldier with a drawn sword. Joshua asked whether the soldier was on the side of Israel or on the side of her enemies. “Neither,” said the soldier. “I am on the Lord’s side. On whose side are you?”

At that Joshua dropped to his knees and broke out in worship.

It’s okay to have strong political views – I certainly do. But at the end of the day, what matters most is not if you are on Trump’s side or Clinton’s side. May we all be on God’s side.

About the Author

Roger Barrier is the pastor of Casas Adobes Baptist Church in Tucson, Arizona. He is also the founder of Preach It, Teach It, and an international conference speaker and prolific author.

The Faith of Jeb Bush

by Dr. Mark Denison–

John Ellis Bush was an Episcopalian for the first 44 years of his life, following the tradition of his family. Better known as Jeb (his initials are J.E.B.), he was born in Midland, Texas, raised in Houston, graduated from Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, and earned a degree in Latin American affairs from the University of Texas. It was there that he married Columba Garnica Gallo, whom he had met during a foreign exchange trip in Leon, Mexico. Columba was (and remains) a faithful Catholic. Jeb maintained his ties to the Episcopal Church until 1996, when he converted to the faith of his wife. Jeb Bush is a Catholic.

Referring to his conversion to the Catholic faith, Bush said, “My faith was strengthened when I converted to my wife’s faith. It gives me a serenity that, in a world of a lot of turbulence, is really important. It creates a moral architecture that simplifies things. There are views that I have, that are grounded in faith, that really aren’t negotiable, and it just simplifies things.” Taking an unintended shot at his former church, Bush has listed his reasons for converting: “the sacraments of the Catholic Church, the timeless nature of the message of the Catholic Church, and the fact that the Catholic Church believes in and acts on absolute truth as its foundational principles and doesn’t move with modern times as my former religion (Episcopal) did.”

Mark Leibovich, formerly of The Washington Post, wrote extensively on Bush’s religion and change. Says Leibovich, “He underwent a personal transformation that included a reevaluation of his political, spiritual, and family life.” Should Bush be elected President in 2016, what effect will his Catholic faith have on his policies? Bush says, “As it relates to making decisions as a public leader, one’s faith should guide you.” He added, “That’s not to say that every decision I made would be completely in keeping with the teachings of the Catholic Church, but it was a guide post that kept me out of trouble.” Bush has frequently tweeted quotes from Pope Francis as evidence of the depth of his faith.

Not all pundits are impressed. Bill Maher, that great defender of the faith, blogged on the subject, questioning the sincerity of Jeb’s conversion, suggesting it came rather conveniently before his successful run for Governor in a state with more Catholics than Evangelicals. (The difference is just one percent.) Maher said, “Jeb Bush converted to Catholicism in 1996 – 22 years after marrying his Mexican-born wife, Columba, and conveniently between the first time he ran for governor (and lost) and the second time he ran, and won. I guess Jeb finally noticed his wife was Catholic after 22 years.”

So what are we to make of Jeb’s Catholic faith? First, let’s be glad he adheres to a Christian faith. Second, let’s not assume the Vatican will be running the White House (a common fear when John F. Kennedy became America’s first Catholic President in 1960). Third, let’s not question another man’s faith. By all accounts, the Bushes have been faithful members of their church in Miami for decades. And fourth, remember we are electing a President, not a pastor. While I question some of the tenants of the Catholic faith, I do not question the faith of Catholics, be they family members, friends or Jeb Bush. He is not the only Catholic running for President. But more on that later.