“My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46) NOT!

You have probably heard that when Jesus was dying on the cross, God turned His back on Jesus. Some people say God did this because the sin of mankind that Jesus took on himself at that moment was too ugly for God to look upon. Others say that God couldn’t stand to watch His Son suffer so terribly for the sins of the world. I’m not buying either of these views.
Jesus knew the Scriptures (what we call the Old Testament). Actually, every Jewish man and boy knew most of the Scriptures by heart, as that was necessary for a Jewish boy to be considered a man in their society. In Jesus’ day, the Scriptures weren’t divided into chapter and verse. When someone wanted to point a person to a certain part of Scripture he would just start reading the first line or two of that section. This is what Jesus did as He was dying on the cross. A person who has been hung on a cross can’t breathe very well. Jesus wanted to give his followers some words of hope. He couldn’t very well launch into a sermon or a detailed explanation of what they saw happening before them. So, Jesus did the perfect thing for this situation—he quoted the first line of Psalm 22.
Jesus knew that most of the people at Golgotha would immediately know what the Psalm said or they would know how to quickly find it. We’re all familiar with Psalm 23, but take a few minutes now to read the one just before it. It is a psalm of David. David laments through the early part of Psalm 22 about how terrible things are for him. Several times he lists all the problems he has and how the whole world is against him and is trying to kill him. But then, notice what happens—after each of these terrible sections David says, “But God…” This is the message that Jesus was giving to his followers as he was dying on the cross. David sang of God: “But You are holy” vs. 3, “But You are He who took me out of the womb…” vs. 9, and “But You, O Lord…You have answered me” vs. 19a and 21b. This is the message that Jesus gave his family and friends as they looked on his suffering and death. It was a message of hope. It was a message of trust. It was a message of faith.
The last ten verses of this psalm are high praise for God. Regardless of how terrible things looked for David, he put his full trust in God. Jesus was telling the people there at Golgotha with him to not worry about what was happening to him but to trust completely in God.

Posted in Religious Ruminations

Why homosexual intercourse is wrong, from a biblical perspective

The simple answer is that homosexual intercourse can’t produce life.

 This article presupposes a belief in the creator God and a belief that His Word has authority in the world today. Believing this, we would acknowledge that God is all about creating life. The Bible tells us in Genesis that God created all living things. The Bible also tells us that God’s first command to His human creation was to “be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it… (Genesis 1:28).”*

God created humans as male and female (Genesis 1:27). This was given just before God told his human creation to be fruitful and multiply. The clear message is that it takes two different parts to create a new life. A human being can’t create new human life alone. Neither can humans who are the same (male/male, female/female) create new human life. It takes difference to create new life. Genesis 4:1 tells us just how this works: “Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, and said ‘I have acquired a man from the lord.’” The “knowing” that was going on here was sexual intercourse between a man and a woman which produced a new human life after God’s pattern of creation.

What is true in the physical is also true in the spiritual. Apart from God, we have no hope of spiritual life which gives us eternal life (living as one with God forever). A man who worships himself has no hope of eternal life. A man who worships another man has no hope of eternal life. And, a man who worships any god other than the creator God has no hope of eternal life (Deuteronomy 5:6-10). Eternal life comes through a spiritual relationship with the creator God. As a physical relationship produces a physical life, so a spiritual relationship produces spiritual/eternal life.

Salvation (from eternal separation from God) comes from God through Jesus, the Christ/Messiah. Speaking of Jesus, the writer of Acts wrote in Acts 4:12: “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” The writer is not speaking of Jesus the man but Jesus the Son of God—the Spirit of God made flesh in the man, Jesus of Nazareth.

The final biblical proof that eternal life comes from a spiritual relationship with God through Jesus is found in Jesus’ last prayer before His crucifixion. Jesus gave us the exact definition of eternal life when he said in John 17:3: “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” The “knowing” Jesus is talking about is man (mankind) allowing God to come into him to plant His Spirit. The only way for humans to have eternal (new) life is for them to have a spiritual relationship with God/Jesus Christ, who are spirit beings. Again, it takes difference to produce life.

Just as a man must go into a woman and plant his seed to produce a human life, so must God/Jesus go into a human and plant a spiritual seed (the Holy Spirit of God) to produce spiritual/eternal life.

Homosexual intercourse is wrong in the eyes of God because it doesn’t demonstrate the truth of life. God has given us everything in this physical life to prepare us for everything in spiritual life. In God’s economy, physical life reflects spiritual life. Homosexual intercourse, which can never produce a physical life, can never represent God’s spiritual relationship with His creation that produces spiritual life. Therefore, from a godly perspective, homosexual intercourse is against the will of God and therefore a sin in His eyes.

* All Bible quotes come from the New King James Version.

Posted in Religious Ruminations

I believe in angels!

I believe in angels. I believe in angels because an angel saved my life one rainy night on a narrow country road many years ago in Alabama.

Craig Air Force Base in Selma, Alabama, was my first permanent military assignment after basic training and aircraft maintenance tech school. I was young and employed and typically male. I worked part-time at I.D. Friday’s Texaco Station about a half mile from the Edmund Pettus Bridge (Think: Alabama State Police beating Civil Rights protesters from horseback in the mid-1960s) on Hwy. 80. My military pay and the part-time income allowed me to buy a 1958 Corvette. It was a young man’s dream come true.

The photo here is similar to the Corvette I owned (I don’t have any really good photos of my Corvette to post). Mine was white with red leather interior and it had Cragar mag wheels. The original 283 cubic inch motor had been replaced with a souped-up 327 that had a double-pumper Holley carbuertor. The transmission was a 4-speed and it had a removable hard top along with the convertible top.  It wasn’t very good from a standing start but it had a top-end speed over 120 mph (because of the gear ratio in the rear differential).

One night I was returning from Marion, Alabama, where I had gone to visit a girl who attended Judson College. It was after midnight, it was very dark, and it was raining cats and dogs. I had gone to work at the Air Base early that morning. Then, I had worked a shift at Friday’s Texaco until 9:00. I drove about 45 minutes to Marion to visit my friend and then started home in the driving rain. I was tired and the rhythmic sound of the windshield wipers put me to sleep. Suddenly, I heard a loud screeching sound and woke with the Corvette heading straight for a telephone pole at the side of the narrow country road. I quickly braked and downshifted and brought the Vette to a stop just a few feet from the pole. The windshield wiper on the drivers’ side had somehow flipped over and the metal part of the back of it had made the screeching sound that had awakened me. I turned off the wipers and shakily got out to see what had happened to the wiper. It seemed to be intact so I put it back into it’s correct position, got in the car, and turned the wipers on again. They worked perfectly. Nothing was broken on the wiper and I never replaced it. It worked perfectly until I sold the car almost a year later. I couldn’t understand what had happened that one time to make it flip over and scrape on the windshield.

I never forgot the seemingly miraculous event that saved my life that night. Years later, after I had given my life to Christ, I thought about that night and concluded that there was only one possible reason the windshield wiper flipped over and saved my life–the finger of my guardian angel had flipped it over. Since that fateful night I’ve experienced many things in my life. I’ve produced six children and I have 13 grandchildren. I’ve completed a twenty plus year military career as both an enlisted technician and an officer. I’ve received three university degrees. I’ve lived in six different states and six different countries. I’ve taught at the university level and I’ve been an evangelist. None of these things would have happened if my guardian angel hadn’t reached down and saved my life on that dark rainy night so many years ago.

Posted in Craig Air Force Base, Selma, AL. May 1970-Nov. 1972

Dave, the inventor of Popfruit!

I was an inquisitive tyke! When I was young (remember, this was before the days of the internet and all the wonderful science and discovery shows on TV) I loved to read magazines like Popular Science and Science. I also liked to read books from our school library.

When I was somewhere around 8-10 years old I read about hybridizing trees by splicing limbs from one tree onto a tree of a different sort. My genius young mind concluded that if you could do that with the limbs of trees it would be even more efficient to go all the way back to the seed level to make a new type of plant. I didn’t have many seeds available to me so I used the only ones I had that were big enough for my grand experiment. I cut a grapefruit seed open and implanted a piece of popcorn inside it. I took it to the little flower garden just outside our backdoor and planted it. I dutifully watered it and waited.

I was so proud of what I was doing that I came up with the name of my new creation before it even started to grow–I called it Popfruit! I wasn’t sure what it would look like, how it would taste, or how I would prepare it once picked, but I knew I was onto someting BIG!. I told my mother about my experiment and she did the motherly thing–she smiled that knowing smile that only mothers can smile and said it was very interesting. I next went to my Grandmother Emery’s house (just two houses away) and told her about Popfruit. I remember she laughed so hard that her whole body shook and tears ran down her cheeks. In my heart of hearts I KNEW I’d get the last laugh when my Popfruit came to fruition.

About two weeks after planting my grapefruit/popcorn hybrid seed, I saw a little green sprout pushing its way out of the flower garden! Vindication! I’d succeeded! I would be famous! I would be rich! Day after day I watched as the plant grew and grew. It looked amazingly like a normal corn stalk, but I KNEW that when the fruit came out on the plant it would be something completely new and unique. Over the weeks of that summer my Popfruit plant continued to grow. Finally, it produces two ears. I anxiously let them grow without trying to peek inside. Curiosity got the better of me and I pulled the husk of one ear open and looked inside–corn! It was just normal corn. OK, it was popcorn, but it was just corn, not Popfruit. Boy, was I disappointed. It was only later that I realized the reason for my failure. Grapefruit is a tropical fruit and I lived in Pennsylvania. I was sure that was the ONLY reason why my Popfruit experiment failed. Grandma Emery laughed again when I told her.

Posted in My early years

Historical Report on the Kaiserslautern Church of Christ

(This is a report I submitted to the Abilene Christian University Halbert Institute for Missions
soon after I arrived in Kaiserslautern in 2000 to begin my work with the church.
See my other posts on the work of the church during the years I served there.)
A fifty year-old work

Kaiserslautern, Germany, Church of Christ intiail report

Kaiserslautern Church of Christ
Kaiserslautern, Germany

The Kaiserslautern Church of Christ was begun in the early 1950’s as an effort to reach war-torn Germany with the Gospel of Christ. The first outreach efforts were conducted from rented facilities in downtown Kaiserslautern. Early efforts were aimed mostly at the local Germans. Within a few years American Christians stationed in the military bases around Kaiserslautern also began to meet together. Today the German and American Christians share a building the church owns near the center of Kaiserslautern. The church building was completed in early 1960. It has the capacity to seat about 200 people in the main meeting room. There are also two apartments, an office, a guest bedroom, a kitchen and fellowship area, and various classrooms in the building.

The American congregation in Kaiserslautern consists of 100-plus Christians. Most of the members are American military personnel, their families, or civilians who work for the American military. The Kaiserslautern Military Community (KMC) is the largest group of Americans living in one place outside the United States.

The current preacher for the Kaiserslautern church is David Emery. He is also one of two elders for the congregation. Thom Hackett, a senior civilian working for the military, is the other elder. David and his wife, Deborah, moved to the work at Kaiserslautern in February of 2000. David is a retired Air Force officer. During his military career he was stationed in five States and four foreign countries. He holds a Bachelor’s degree from Lubbock Christian University in Lubbock, Texas, as well as Master’s degrees from Boston University and Lubbock Christian University. He has preached for churches in Destin, Florida; Athens, Greece; Kleine Brogel, Belgium; Wolfforth, Texas; Callisburg, Texas; and Seven Points, Texas. He was the Director of the Grayson County College Christian Campus Center for five years where he was the campus minister and a Bible instructor. David has also done short-term mission work in Blagoevgrad, Bulgaria; Eindhoven, The Netherlands; and Athens, Greece. The Emery’s have five children and six grandchildren.

The Kaiserslautern Church of Christ has eight deacons. They serve in the areas of Information Technology, Outreach, Education, Benevolence, Fellowship, Worship, Building and Grounds, and Business Affairs/Logistics.

The Kaiserslautern Church of Christ is currently involved in several projects designed to help the Christians of the congregation develop their faith while reaching out with the Gospel or helping other Christians. The local effort involves offering free English reading and conversation classes to people in Kaiserslautern. We advertise these classes through the local newspaper and with posters. An easy-to-read translation of the English Bible serves as the textbook for the classes. We have studied with German, Indonesian, French, Chinese, Russian, Turkish and Indian people from the local area.

We are also in the process of making plans to take members of the Kaiserslautern church to Bulgaria to work with the Christians who meet in Sofia, the capital. As we are physically close to Bulgaria and we have people with various talents within our congregation we want to help the Bulgarian Christians in any way we can. We plan to offer classes, training, seminars, preaching and teaching, and Christian fellowship. We hope to take several Christians or Christian families from Germany to Sofia several times a year to help in any way the Bulgarian Christians want. We will coordinate our efforts with Tom and Sheryl Black, missionaries who work with the church in Sofia, as well as with the leaders of the Sofia congregation. We also hope to work with other congregations in Bulgaria as opportunities arise.

In addition to regular Sunday Bible study and worship times the Kaiserslautern church also offers video Bible classes on Monday and Wednesday evenings and a college-level course in “How to Study the Bible” on Thursday evenings. The video Bible classes come from the Sunset International Bible Institute in Lubbock, Texas. David teaches the Thursday evening class. On Sunday evenings various groups of Christians meet in homes on the military bases or in the villages around Kaiserslautern. They usually have a time of Bible study as well as snacks and fellowship. The congregation plans special events throughout the year to promote fellowship among the local Christians. These are usually theme dinners or fellowship picnics. Our women participate in several women’s fellowship events a year at various places in Germany or other nearby countries. We also promote and support the Christian Youth Camp at Gemunden, Germany.

Kaiserslautern Church of Christ
34 Muhlstrasse
Kaiserslautern 67659
(Use this address to mail things from civilian post offices in Europe)

Office phone: (49 – country code) 631-950221

Preacher’s home phone: (49) 631-7500678

Posted in Kaiserslautern Church of Christ, Kaiserslautern, Germany, Feb. 2000-Jun. 2006

My mother and I were conspirators!

I have always known that smoking was nasty and dangerous. My father started smoking while serving in WWII and smoked until a couple of years before he died of smoking-induced emphysema.
When I was young (1950s and 60s) Dad always smoked in the house and in the car. We didn’t have air conditioning in either so we were always exposed to his second-hand smoke. I always hated the stink of his cigarettes.
When I was young my mothers parents always gave me some kind of educational gift for Christmas. One year, when I was probably between 10-12, they gave me a chemistry set. The set included a microscope, a couple of test tubes, and a variety of chemicals with which to do experiments. The set included instructions on doing the experiments. One of the chemicals (if I remember correctly) was boron. The instructions described an experiment in which you burn a small amount of boron powder on a little metal spoon and watch it expand. It expanded quite a bit and almost reminded me of popped popcorn.
My mother and I always talked about Dad’s smoking habit. She had asked him often to stop but he said he couldn’t. One day I told her about my little experiment with the expanding boron. I told her it might help to get Dad to stop smoking if I put some in a cigarette and when it expanded he would see how dangerous smoking was and maybe he’d quit (the reasoning process of a child!). Anyhow, my mother agreed it was worth a try so I took a cigarette from his pack, removed some tobacco from the end, stuffed some powdered boron in, and replaced the tobacco. I then put the cigarette back in the pack and waited. It was only after Dad went to work the next day that I began to have second thoughts about what I’d done. I began to think that maybe the burning boron would produce a gas that would hurt my dad when he inhaled it. I told Mom and she said she’d look for the doctored cigarette when he got home. She did but it wasn’t there. Dad had smoked it.
I don’t know if the boron expanded when Dad smoked the cigarette. He obviously hadn’t suffered any harmful effects from inhaling the tainted smoke. My mother and I agreed to not spike Dad’s cigarettes again.

Posted in My early years

Church of Christ: The pros and cons of overseas military congregations of the Church of Christ–Part III

My experience with the too-strong women and the jealous men of the American Military congregation of the Church of Christ at Hellenikon, Greece (see Part II), made me a bit reluctant to get too involved with the Kaiserslautern Church of Christ when we moved to Ramstein Air Base in Germany, in the summer of 1984. The congregation at K-town (as people who have been stationed at one of the many American military facilities near Kaiserslautern affectionately call the town) had a preacher but no elders when we arrived.  I decided to stay low key at the church and instead of church involvement pursue a Master’s Degree at night from the Boston University Overseas Program.

One of the problems with overseas military congregations is that there is usually only one congregation of the Church of Christ near an overseas base and you have members of the Church of Christ from all across the conservative-to-liberal spectrum who attend. The Kaiserslautern area was an exception in that there was another congregation–the Ramstein Church of Christ–located in Ramstein Village, very near the Air Base. This congregation is what is usually referred to as an “anti” congregation, in that they are against many things that other congregations of the church routinely do. For example, the Ramstein Church of Christ is against having a kitchen in a church building and against ever eating a meal of any kind in a church building. They are against using funds from the local congregation’s account to support orphans’ homes, church colleges or universities, or any kind of collective mission work. The leaders of the Ramstein church referred to the Kaiserslautern church as one of the “institutional congregations” of the Churches of Christ. By that they meant we supported institutions outside the local congregation with funds from the treasury of the local congregation. They felt having a kitchen in the building, eating in the building, and being “institutional” made us unrepentant sinners and therefore not a true members of the “Church of Christ.” As far as I know, the Ramstein Church of Christ continues to meet in Ramstein Village and they still hold to these views. The preachers of the Ramstein Church of Christ try to draw families away from the K-town church and often write about (against) the K-town church in “Brotherhood newspapers.” The thing that has always seemed strange to me about the Ramstein Church of Christ is that they rent some rooms in the basement of a large building to use as their church building. When I last visited them there was a printing company occupying the upper part of the building. I always wondered if the printing company had any kind of kitchen/eating facility available for its workers. If they did, and since the kitchen/eating facility would be in the same building as the Ramstein Church of Christ, would that mean that there was a kitchen in the “building” and that people were eating “in the building.” Would that have then caused the people meeting as a congregation in the basement to be meeting in a building with a kitchen–which would then violate their biblical understanding of a prohibition against such? I’m still wondering about this.

We didn’t have elders at K-town while I was there from 1984-1986. In lieu of elders the men of the church formed committees to ensure the work of the congregation was taken care of.  I joined the Evangelism committee. In the early summer of 1985 the church received a letter from a native preacher in Belgium. His name was Jean-Marie Frerot. He was asking for financial support to buy a new electronic typewriter, as his old electric typewriter had burned out and he was paying someone to type documents for him. He said he wanted a new electronic typewriter because these new machines had some memory capability and were much better than regular electric typewriters. The letter was given to the Evangelism committee and we discussed it at our next monthly meeting. The K-town congregation was sending some money to an Indian (from India) evangelist every month but were otherwise not pursuing any kind of mission work. The men thought we should look into the work of this native Belgian preacher to see if he was on the up-and-up and to determine if we should help him. As I had a wedding anniversary coming up and was thinking of taking my wife away somewhere for the weekend, I volunteered to go to Verviers, Belgium, and drop in on this congregation unannounced.

We went to Verviers on the weekend of June 15-16, 1985. We didn’t call before going. When we got to Verviers (about a three and a half hour drive from Ramstein Air Base) we checked into the Grand Hotel (it wasn’t!). Then, we called the preacher’s house. He didn’t speak English very well but his older son, Daniel, was able to talk to us. I explained who we were and Jean-Marie invited us to his house that evening. They gave us a very warm welcome and explained the work of the Verviers Church of Christ. He showed us letters from many French-speaking countries, from people requesting Bible studies based on an ad the church had placed in a major French magazine. The one ad brought requests for French language Bible studies for many years. They had ongoing Bible studies (through the mail) with people from around the world. He also explained their financial support situation to us–they were supported by a congregation in Mississippi. Even with the support they received, he didn’t have money to buy the new electronic typewriter they wanted. He had sent his letter asking for help to other missionaries and American military congregations throughout Europe. The next morning we attended worship services with the Verviers church and ate lunch with the Frerot family before returning to Ramstein.

At the next meeting of the Evangelism committee I reported on our trip to Verviers. I told them that I was impressed with the work in Verviers and that the K-town church should help them. I suggested that instead of giving him money to buy an electronic typewriter we should help raise money to buy him a computer and printer. Remember, this was 1985 so home computers were in their infancy. Home computers were a novelty then and most people used them only to play games and as word processors. I thought it would be better if the church at Verviers had a new computer because the word processing capability of a computer was much more versatile than an electronic typewriter. We did some research and found that we could buy an Apple computer, a monitor, and a printer for about $1,200. That was a bit more than the K-town church was prepared to give so the men asked me to write to other military congregations in Europe to explain the situation and ask for their help. We received some money from other congregations and were able to add enough to the donations to purchase the computer system for Jean-Marie.

This began a long relationship between the K-town Church of Christ and the Verviers Church of Christ. Soon after we bought and delivered the computer to Verviers the K-town men invited Jean-Marie and his family to come to K-town for the weekend. We put Jean-Marie, his wife Susanne, sons Daniel and Philippe, and daughter Christine, up in our apartment on Ramstein Air Base for the weekend. Jean-Marie spoke briefly that Sunday at the church, with  Daniel translating. After that visit the men decided to send the Verviers church a monthly check to help with their French Bible studies by mail. This also began a family relationship between the Emerys and the Frerots that continues to this day.

I don’t remember any really serious problems within the K-town church during the two years we were stationed at Ramstein. I know there were some members of the congregation who would consider themselves very conservative and there some who would consider themselves more liberal. We were all able to worship and work together for the good of God without any serious conflicts. I preached once or twice and taught several Bible classes while we were there but as I said before, I dedicated myself to getting a Master’s degree and left most of the teaching and preaching to others. It was a good time at the K-town Church of Christ.

Posted in Religious Ruminations

Horseshoes with Dad!

My dad worked for the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company (MET) for about 18 years–all while I was growing up. Every summer the local MET office in Beaver Falls, PA, had a company picnic at Firestone Park, just across the border in Ohio. The picnic always had the traditional picnic food, as well as games for kids and adults.

Among the games for kids were water balloon toss, finding coins buried in a pile of sawdust, blowing up balloons until they burst, and etc. For adults they had games such as volleyball, softball, pop the balloon tied to others’ backs (by hitting the balloon with a rolled up newspaper) and horseshoes.

The picnic when I was twelve years old was a memorable one for me. I was still of the age that I could participate in the kids’ games–twelve years being the upper limit. I participated in the contest to blow up a balloon until it burst. I won the contest and was awarded a prize. The prize was a toy set of horseshoes. There were little wooden pegs on boards and plastic horseshoes. I wasn’t impressed with the prize.

When the kids games were over the adults began their games. Late in the afternoon the men began their traditional horseshoes championship. The men had to choose a partner and then play a single elimination competition to determine the top team. When my dad told the men that I was going to be his partner several of them groaned and said, “Come on, Howard, he’s a kid. He’ll only slow us down. Let him go play with the other kids.” My dad responded that he and I often played horseshoes together at home and his son was going to be his partner. The men knew dad was good at horseshoes but they had no idea how well I played. I often played all afternoon with my cousin, Gary Fuss, and then he and his dad played against me and my dad when the men came home from work. I was pretty good. As you’ve probably guessed, dad and I won the championship. It was one of the best father and son moments I remember with my dad.

Posted in My primary school years

Church of Christ: The pros and cons of overseas military congregations of the Church of Christ—Part II

Church of Christ.

My first permanent assignment after finishing OTS and Aircraft Maintenance Officer Course (AMOC), was at Eglin Air Force Base in Fort Walton Beach, Florida. We arrived there in the late summer of 1980 and attended the Fort Walton Beach Church of Christ. I taught a Sunday morning Bible study class for retirees and helped Russ King with the youth group during the almost three years we lived in Florida. After about a year I heard that the Destin Church of Christ was without a preacher. It seems their preacher left on very short notice and they were looking for a new one. I talked with the elders of the Destin church about filling-in until they found a full-time preacher. I would have loved to have applied for the job but couldn’t because of my military responsibilities. They said they’d like to hear me teach and preach once or twice before making a decision to let me fill-in until they found a preacher. After one or two weeks of “trying out” they asked me to continue to teach Sunday morning adult Bible class and to preach on Sunday mornings and evenings. I told them I wouldn’t be able to come out on Wednesday nights but they said the men of the congregation would take turns with those lessons. After a month or so it seemed to me as if they had stopped looking for a full-time preacher. They even listed me as their preacher in an ad they put in the local newspaper. After about six months I told them they really needed to find a full time preacher as the twice-a-Sunday drives to Destin and the lesson preparation were just too much for me. They soon found a full-time preacher. Many of the members of the Destin church were either active military or retired military. This was a very good time of Bible teaching and preaching experience.

After a couple of years at Eglin AFB I began thinking about my next assignment. The good thing about being an officer is that you have more control over your assignments than enlisted members. I knew I was “hot” for an overseas assignment so I wanted to give my input before the military just decided where it wanted to send me. I wanted to go on an accompanied assignment (one where my entire family could go as opposed to a remote assignment where the family isn’t allowed to go) in a country where I could get close to Bible history. We didn’t have any bases in Israel so that country was out. We could go as a family to Italy, Turkey, or Greece. I decided I’d like to “walk in the footsteps of the Apostle Paul” in Greece and inquired into the possibility of being assigned there. I was told there were no positions for an Aircraft Maintenance Officer anywhere in Greece. There was, however, a slot coming open for a Munitions Maintenance Officer at Hellenikon Air Base in Athens in the summer of 1983. As Munitions maintenance and Aircraft maintenance were sister fields, I was able to take a “crossover” course at Lowry Air Force Base in Denver to take the Munitions Maintenance Officer position. Prior to moving to Athens I got the address of a member of the American military Church of Christ that met in a rented storefront just outside the main gate of Hellenikon Air Base. I wrote asking about the church and he replied very quickly. He asked if I had any teaching or preaching experience. I wrote back about my degree from LCC and the experience I’d gained at the Fort Walton Beach Church and at the Destin Church. He again wrote back quickly asking if I’d assume some of the preaching and teaching responsibilities when I got there as most of the men had little or no experience. I replied enthusiastically that I’d love to do that and we headed to Greece.

The American Military Church of Christ at Hellenikon was a vibrant young group. There were more than 70 in attendance every Sunday in the early 1980s. Most of the families were young military families. There were only one or two couples who were older and who worked as civilians for the military or the US government in Athens. The good thing about the congregation was their youth, energy, and enthusiasm. The not-so-good thing was the inexperience of most of the young Christian men who attended there. Before I arrived they had a policy of rotating the preaching and teaching duties among the men. Every Christian man in the congregation took his turn. A few of the men could do a pretty good job of teaching and preaching. Some of the men wrote out their lessons/sermons and simply read them. One guy just read sermon outlines out of a sermon outline book when it was his turn. He didn’t add anything to the outlines—he simple read the outline! Clearly, everyone isn’t cut out to be a preacher/teacher. I started teaching Sunday morning Bible class and preaching the first Sunday we were in Greece.

I was very excited about being a part of this young group. I knew I had much to offer and I knew I could also gain valuable experience. There were no men old enough to be elders in this group so we operated on the “men’s meeting” system of congregational leadership—a system in place in Ephesus where Paul left Timothy to help “mature” the church, and Crete where Paul sent Titus for the same purpose. There is no doubt young churches and young Christians need to mature and sometimes need help in the maturing process. One early experience with the group in Greece points this out very clearly. The men met one Saturday every month at the NCO (Non-Commissioned Officer) Club for breakfast and to talk about the work of the church. We had been there just a few weeks when the men invited me to the monthly men’s breakfast. During the meeting I brought up an idea to change something in the meeting times. I don’t remember exactly what my suggestion was but it was something I thought would make our assembly times better for most people. I was shocked by the response of the men. When I suggested changing meeting times the other guys just sat and looked at each other. After a couple of seconds one of the guys said something like, “We need to ask our wives before we change anything like that.” I told them that we were the men of the church—in lieu of having elders—and we had the biblical authority to make decisions concerning the operation of the congregation. Again, the men told me they could make no such decision without first clearing it with their wives. I stressed our authority to make decisions for the church but I saw I wasn’t getting through to them. The downside to this story is that a couple of the more forceful wives in the congregation (I’m trying to be polite here) had it in for me the rest of the time we were in Greece. I often felt they tried to undermine me as they clearly undermined their own husbands. A couple of months before I moved from Greece to Germany (after we’d been in Greece for about a year) some of the men came to our apartment one evening with the local American missionary (who worked with a Greek-speaking congregation). They told me they thought I had too much “power” in the congregation and they wanted me to step aside and not preach or teach any more. This was like a punch in the gut to me and I believe to this day that the weak Christian men and some too-forceful wives were behind it.

Posted in Religious Ruminations

Church of Christ: The pros and cons of overseas military congregations of the Church of Christ—Part I

Church of Christ.

I have had considerable experience with overseas congregations of the Church of Christ. I spent over twenty years in the U.S. Air Force and I have seen the good, the bad and the ugly (Sorry Clint) of Church of Christ military congregations. This is my story.

I was not a baptized member of the Churches of Christ when I first entered the military in October 1969. I was stationed at Craig Air Force Base in Selma, Alabama, (my first permanent assignment) for almost two years when I married Deborah (June 17, 1972). Deborah had been raised in a strict (dogmatic) segment of the Church of Christ. I grew up attending the Evangelical United Brethren Church which joined with the Methodist Church in 1969 to form the United Methodist Church. Although I attended regularly as a child, I was not what you would call a devout Christian when I met Deborah in April 1972.

We were engaged on the third weekend of knowing each other. Her father was in the Air Force in North Dakota and she was living alone in Atlanta at the time. I had not met her parents before we got engaged. He mother was very faithful in attending church services. Her father, although baptized, was an alcoholic and provided no spiritual leadership in the family. On the day we got engaged Deborah said, “I’m not sure how my mother will take our marriage.” I probed for further information and she said, “Well, ours will be a mixed marriage—I’m a Christian and you’re a Methodist.” This floored me and challenged me. I was determined to learn as much as I could about the Christianity and the various Christian denominations. So, when I went to Thailand six months after we got married (Korat Royal Thai Air Base) I spent much of my free time in the base library (Korat Air Base had a wonderful library) reading about religion. I read about the various Christian denominations, Catholicism, Buddhism, Islam, Mormonism, and etc.

After we got married I attended a local Church of Christ with Deborah in Selma. This was my introduction to how things were done and what people believed in the Churches of Christ. When I got to Thailand I looked for a congregation of the Church of Christ on base. I found that a group of men met on Sunday afternoons in the Base Chapel. There were only about 5-10 young men who met but they seemed serious about their faith. I attended a couple of times but no one from the group asked about my religious background. On the second or third visit they were talking about a schedule of preaching. The men took turns bringing lessons. They asked me if I’d like to be on the schedule. I told them I understood that they expected people to be baptized as adults in order to be considered members of the Church of Christ and that I’d only been baptized as an infant in the United Brethren Church so I declined their offer. I’m sure they would have changed their minds about allowing me to bring a lesson after my “confession.” I didn’t attend much after that. I just continued to study on my own.

I continued to attend worship services with Deborah when I returned from Thailand. I was baptized by Gray Bortz, the Youth Minister of the Greenlawn Church of Christ in Lubbock, Texas, on October 27, 1977. I was convinced that although I’d seen and heard some things in the Churches of Christ that I believed were more denominational dogma than biblical doctrine, this group was closer to the teaching of the New Testament than any other Christian group I’d studied. Besides, I put my faith in God through Christ and not in the particular or peculiar beliefs of the Churches of Christ. I immediately let my family and friends know that I wanted to dedicate my life to working for Christ. To that end, I began making plans to leave the military after just nine years to enroll in the Bible Department of Lubbock Christian College (LCC). I got out of the Air Force in August 1978. As I already had several years of college credit from night classes in the military I only had to take classes for 18 months to finish my BA degree. I graduated in early December 1979.

My plan was to get my BA degree from LCC and to get a position with a congregation of the Church of Christ as a preacher. Reality began to set in during the summer before I graduated. I had already begun to look into possible preaching positions and found that churches weren’t very keen on hiring a relatively “new Christian” with four children (Deborah was pregnant with our fourth at the time) and no experience. Although I was carrying a straight “A” average at LCC, I couldn’t find a church willing to take a risk on me. Dr. Charles Stephenson, head of the Bible Department at LCC, helped me get an offer from the Northside Church of Christ (where he was the preacher) to be the assistant minister. They were only able to offer me a small, three bedroom house and about $700 a month in salary. That wasn’t nearly enough to support my family. I decided the best course of action for my family would be for me to go back into the military as an enlisted airman. In July 1979 I went to an Air Force recruiter and asked about going back into the enlisted force. The recruiter asked questions about my background and education and told me that I could probably go back through Officers Training School (OTS) and become a Second Lieutenant. He scheduled me to take the Air Force Officer Qualifying Test (AFOQT) in Amarillo, Texas, at the end of the first week of August. Our fourth child, Jessica, was born in Lubbock on August 8, the day I was taking the AFOQT in Amarillo. I scored well on the test and was accepted into OTS the first week of January 1980. I decided that if I couldn’t be a preacher as a civilian I’d take every opportunity to preach and teach while I finished my military career. That way I could support my family, gain experience, and help churches wherever I happened to be stationed.

Posted in Religious Ruminations