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Sunday, December 04, 2016

A Civil War Christmas

Roots in Ripon
Chuck Roots
5 December 2016

A Civil War Christmas

The American Civil War, despite its savagery and enormous loss of life, still was the cause for many changes to our nation, which has been largely forgotten in the historical telling.

The celebration of Christmas during wartime is always interesting, and particularly so during horrific encounters between the Union and Confederate forces during this nineteenth century four-year societal carnage.

The thought that first comes to mind is: Christmas is a time of celebration, a reminder of God’s intervention in the world of man to bring peace with God through Jesus, to give and receive gifts and cards with family and friends alike, and a time to gather with family around a table loaded with sumptuous quantities of food and conversation. Yet, we’re engaged in a war of attrition, killing off our countrymen, and even family members, at a frightening pace. How could Christmas be enjoyed in the midst of this hellish war?

As it turns out, we humans have an amazing adaptability, especially during the most traumatic and stressful of times.

Christmas was a well-established special time of the year in the United States leading up to the start of the Civil War. However, the war itself would cause many to reflect on its continued recognition and enjoyment. Both Northerners and Southerners made the most of this special day throughout the war, even though battles and military maneuvers continued unabated. In 1870, five years after the war ended, then President Ulysses S. Grant made it official that Christmas would henceforth be a national holiday, in part in an attempt to further heal the rift that still festered between North and South.

Ever wonder how the image of a jolly fat man with rosy red cheeks, an expansive girth, and a bright red suit of clothes came about? Once again, the Civil War takes center stage. One Thomas Nast, an editorial cartoonist for Harper’s Weekly, was asked by the editor, Fletcher Harper, to make a drawing for the Christmas edition which hit the streets January 3, 1863. Nast had a complete mental block as to how to go about fulfilling his assignment. He spent an evening with his school teacher sister who was visiting him for Christmas, where they reminisced about the Santa character, known as Pelznikel from their native Germany. Later that evening Nast had the inspiration for the cover for the paper. Santa was center stage in the drawing, visiting soldiers in the field, handing them presents. This began the evolution of the Santa character to what we have today.

Tom Nast did something a bit different for the Christmas edition of Harper’s Weekly in 1864. The end of the war was coming to a close, with the North victorious after the long and bloody conflict. The title of the article was, “The Union Christmas Dinner.” The drawing showed an openhearted President Lincoln extending his arms to Confederate President Jefferson Davis and General Robert E. Lee, welcoming them back into the fold of the United States.

Another Civil War addition to Christmas had to do primarily with decorating the Christmas tree. Hanging items on the tree was nothing new, for this had been done for many years. However, due to shortages, and lack of decorative items due to the demands of wartime, creativity took over as men in their camps would hang such items as were available. This even included hardtack (what sailors called a ship biscuit), a tough, durable, saltless biscuit that had a nearly endless shelf life. Often, soldiers would receive trinkets or other items from home which would end up on their unit’s Christmas tree. The men were encouraged to add items to the tree that were more colorful, in hopes of brightening the spirits of the men in an otherwise dreary and drab setting.

One soldier wrote his thoughts on Christmas Eve in a lengthy poem, entitled, “Christmas Night of ‘62”. William Gordon McCabe, a Confederate, was in a melancholy mood, clearly wishing for a return to hearth and home. Did he survive the war and return home? I don’t know. But you can sense his yearning, as all who wear the uniform of our country so yearn when far away from home during Christmas.

“My thoughts go wandering to and fro,

vibrating ‘twixt the Now and Then;

I see the low-browed home again,

the old hall wreathed in mistletoe.

“And fairly from the far-off years

comes borne the laughter faint and low,

the voices of the Long Ago!

My eyes are wet with tender tears.

“I feel again the mother kiss,

I see again the glad surprise

that lighted up the tranquil eyes

and brimmed them o’re with tears of bliss.

“As, rushing from the old hall-door,

she fondly clasped her wayward boy –

Her face all radiant with joy

she felt to see him home once more.”

Monday, November 28, 2016

Why I Go to Church

Roots in Ripon
Chuck Roots
28 November 2016

Why I Go to Church

Today’s society is not a church-going crowd. At least it seems that way to me.

Growing up in the 50s, going to church on Sunday mornings was an activity many Americans engaged in. It was expected, even required in some instances. Some businesses asked you what church you attended as part of the employment evaluation. School teachers were likewise expected to attend church if they were going to work in the school system teaching young Americans.

My mother and father grew up attending a little Methodist church in their home town of Marshall, Texas. After they married in 1933, they moved to New York City. From what I can gather, church quickly fell by the wayside. Later, after my mother married my step father, they spoke often of attending church. So off we’d go on a Sunday morning to fulfill some societal expectation, more than likely. We’d attend for two or three weeks, then begin to miss going until we stopped altogether. My brother, sister and I were always glad to see these church sprees end.

This was also a time in our nation when divorce was still rare, and one did not discuss such a topic in polite society. In fact, some families did not allow their children to play with me because I was from a divorced family. It was not uncommon to have a teacher ask why my last name was different from my parents’. Like I said, it was a different time.

In any event, I never got into the habit of attending church. In fact, I was 24 years old when I surrendered my life to Jesus. Only then did I realize that I needed to attend church.

If you will indulge me, I will list, in no specific order, some of the reasons I find attending church not only important, but essential in my life.

1.   I am a traveler heading for Heaven. As an old hymn says, “I’m just a
poor, wayfaring stranger.” Another says, “This world is not my home.” As a follower of Jesus, I know there’s a better place waiting in Heaven. But as long as I’m here on planet Earth, I need to be surrounded and embraced, literally, by others who are on this pilgrim road as well. The people in my church are familiar to me. I was their pastor for sixteen years. My wife and I love these folks, and we are loved by them in return. This is why when I retired from the pastoral ministry a few years ago, Isaura and I wanted to continue attending there, with the proviso that the new pastor was comfortable having the previous guy hanging around.

2.   I need encouragement and refreshing. Living for Jesus is fraught with
challenges regardless of where you live on this celestial ball. Coming together with others who face life’s daily challenges allows us to draw strength from one another, realizing we are not alone in the journey. As we grow in the Spirit, we lift each other up through prayer, and sharing verses of Scripture, and a thoughtful and timely word of encouragement. These weekly encounters in a designated place, such as the church, opens up opportunities to gather together around the table to share a meal, such as a church pot luck; or lunch at a nearby restaurant; or having folks over for a home-cooked meal. After all, in Christ, we are all brothers and sisters.

3.   I need the blessing of worship. This begins for me each Sunday
by singing the old hymns. After finishing seminary, I was serving as youth pastor at a church in San Jose. Our daughter, Laura, was about three at that time when one of the men in the church asked her, “What does your daddy do?” Laura spoke right up, saying, “My daddy wears a suit, and sings loud.” That about summed it up! And it hasn’t changed. Singing, particularly the old hymns of the faith, is nourishment to my soul, and gives life to my bones. I can never get enough of it. I serve in the church on the worship team in both morning services. We have a great time together.

4.   I need the challenge from God’s Word. I know one thing for sure:
Without the teaching and preaching of God’s Word, I would surely shrivel up and die spiritually speaking. Through pastors who faithfully proclaim God’s Word I am invigorated because the Bible rings true in my soul, and I must align my life in accordance with that word of instruction. At times, I am under the conviction of God’s spirit, pointing out areas in my life that need his correction. Other times, I’m simply enjoying God’s Word. I recount the many blessings I have enjoyed from his gracious hand. Still other times, I am greatly encouraged by standing on the promises of God.

5.   I need the life of the church. I’m not talking about a building. I’m
referring to the people who are God’s church. Several times during the week we have the opportunity to come together in fellowship. I’m comfortable coming into the church because I am a sinner saved by God’s amazing grace. And I get to be with other sinners who have experienced his amazing grace as well. I am far from perfect, and so are we all. That’s why I need to be with others who know Jesus. He’s the one who is perfect, and he leads imperfect people to Glory.

          Believe me when I tell you this: You want me to be regularly attending church. Why do I say this? Because when I begin to ignore my walk with Jesus, my old nature has a way of worming its way back into my life. Those things that plagued me before I accepted Christ have a sneaky way of reappearing, such as impatience, a short temper, selfishness, a foul mouth, and various and sundry sinful behaviors that need to always be under the blood of Jesus. If I slip in my walk with the Master, (what used to be called, “backsliding”) then I am not someone you would want to be around.

          This is why at Advent Season, I am so glad Jesus came some 2000 years ago. He came to save me from the ravages of sin by dying on the cross. I will serve him because he loves me, and I love him. He is the Head of the church, and that’s where I belong!

Monday, November 21, 2016

Always Thankful

Roots in Ripon
Chuck Roots
21 November 2016

Always Thankful

Thankfulness is a decision of the heart. It is an attitude that you decide to embrace in the face of all that life throws at you. This is one of the reasons why I have always appreciated this passage from the Bible which says, “In everything, give thanks, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

I will admit that this passage threw me for a loop in my early days as a Christian. I was twenty-four, knowing little about the Bible or Jesus or anything else pertaining to living a life for God. Thankfulness was one of the first sensations I experienced the moment I accepted Jesus as my Savior. As a sergeant in the Marine Corps I was not exactly a boy scout. I didn’t grow up attending church except on rare occasions with the family. And the church we attended at those infrequent times wasn’t even Christian.

The thankfulness that I experienced was harbored deep in the soul as I began to fully realize how much God in Christ was willing to sacrifice so that I could be free from the penalty of sin. Jesus paid that price once and for all – and I accepted his forgiveness with my entire being. The dark night of the soul that had been nipping at my heels for far too long was now over. Thankfulness blossomed in me like the burst of sunshine at dawn.

It is not my intent to portray myself as some sort of super holy person. I am not that at all. In fact, I am flawed, walking with feet of clay. Knowing my personal weakness could be quite damaging to my state of being were it not for the fact that God’s promises are not contingent upon how successful I am in my walk with Jesus. It is my desire to live for him in all that I say and do, despite the many times when I fall woefully short. He has declared me to be his child; to be an heir of God’s kingdom; and to have an address in heaven waiting for me.

This may sound to some like so much “pie in the sky,” but I assure you, based again on God’s Word, that such a reality for those who have accepted Jesus as their Savior is a promise which God says is true.

Here’s what always gets to me and why I am thankful in all things. If God is in fact God of the universe and everything that exists, then his power is beyond incredible. It could only be described as being beyond our finite understanding of what we know about this time-and-space stage we live upon for such an oh-so-brief moment in eternity.

So, I boil this down to my life and what takes place each and every day. As both good and bad come my way I can easily find myself worked up over bad situations and equally bad people, seething over circumstances and problems I have no control over. Truth be told, it’s better that I would not have control over such circumstances for fear I would choose to handle them in a way that might make things even worse. You see, if God is as big as I believe he is, and as powerful as I’ve mentioned earlier, then it only makes sense that he can take care of any trouble in my life. If I don’t believe this about God, then I have, in essence, shrunk God down to the size of a lesser god, or a superman, if you will. Such a personage can still do many great things, appearing to be the answer to our problems, but they yet lack the mantle of God who is All-knowing, All-powerful, and Everywhere at once.

It is in these same scriptures that we are told to, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; and don’t lean on your own understanding.” I may think I’m really smart, and according to the way the world measures being smart, I guess I would be considered pretty smart. With a bachelor’s, a master’s, and a doctorate degree most folks assume I’m smart. But, compared to what? In my 68 years, I have spent well over twenty years earning an education. The education I have received is no small matter, and I am very thankful for the privilege. But even the Bible warns against too much education: “Much study wearies the body.” How true this is! But the greater concern is to not be caught up in our own academic achievements. We are not to think more highly of ourselves than we should. When it comes to my need to trust God, I am cautioned not to rely on my own understanding. Why? Because I may well have the wrong picture of who God really is. I certainly had a distorted view of God growing up. Had it not been for his mercy, I would have continued on through life believing God to be something other than, and therefore lesser than, who he actually is.

So, this Thursday I will gather with family and friends around the table, thankful to God for the multitude of blessings I have received from his gracious hand. But, if I lost it all on Friday, I would still praise him with a thankful heart for one simple reason: He alone is God, and he will always do what is right. I may not think so at the time. But my view of things is skewed, whereas God’s view is perfect. But even as Job suffered much, he spoke these words: “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him.”

God may yet lead me into situations I do not understand, but with my trust fully in him, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. Regardless of what happens, I will either still be here on earth, or I will be in heaven. And, it’s God’s decision where and when my time on earth ends, and my new residence in Glory begins!

I am always thankful every day for God’s promises.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 14, 2016

Reflections on the Election

Roots in Ripon
Chuck Roots
14 November 2016

Reflections on the Election

Well, now! This is a fine kettle of fish we find ourselves in. The presidential election is over and the winner will assume the mantle of President of the United States in about 70 days. The election process, as outlined in the Constitution, still works just fine whether or not your choice of candidate won.

As is the case in all elections, not everyone is happy with the outcome. Expectations run high, hoping your candidate wins. But let’s face it: about fifty percent of the folks who vote are going to be disappointed with the outcome, and rightly so. But good for you for engaging in this wonderful process of voting. Remember – four years from now you will have the opportunity to vote again for the highest office in the land. That’s what’s so beautiful about our American Republic.

And this is where I want to take this article. Far too many Americans are under the mistaken impression that the United States of America is a democracy. It is not. It is a republic. You may be asking, “What’s the difference?” Glad you asked!

A nation working in a clear democracy operates on the basis of a simple majority (50.1%) to elect candidates or enact legislation. In the history of the world such a system has never succeeded for long. Our Founding Fathers knew this which is why they set up a different process to protect America from the ravages of majority rule. You see, majority rule is only good if you are the one in the majority.

According to Webster’s Dictionary, by definition, a democracy is “a government by the people; especially: rule of the majority.”

Now, in contrast, what is a republic form of government? Once again, Webster’s Dictionary tells us that a republic is “a country that is governed by elected representatives and by an elected leader (such as a president) rather than a king or queen.”

Just as the Continental Congress was wrapping up its efforts at establishing a new form of government for the United States in the late 1780s, Benjamin Franklin was approached by a woman asking what sort of government was decided upon. In his pithy, yet direct manner, Franklin replied, “A republic, madam, if you can keep it.”

Therein lies the rub. The success or failure of this new government would not rest on the elected leaders or politicians. Instead, it would reside squarely on the shoulders of the American people. A republic is made up of folks who vote to elect their representatives. Ever notice the words in the Pledge of Allegiance? “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands . . .” Did you see that? To the republic?

Now this is where the Electoral College comes in. What is the Electoral College anyway? Just as many Americans do not know that we are a republic, and not a democracy, a frighteningly greater number seem to have little or no knowledge of the purpose and function of the Electoral College. Every election cycle I will hear people call for the elimination of the Electoral College. This would be disastrous to America. It is the sole safe-guard that the Founding Fathers inserted into the Constitution so that every person’s vote would count.

The History Channel reported on the Electoral College, describing it this way: “The Electoral College was created for two reasons. The first purpose was to create a buffer between population and the selection of a President. The second as part of the structure of the government that gave extra power to the smaller states.” “The Founding Fathers were afraid of direct election to the Presidency. They feared a tyrant could manipulate public opinion and come to power.”

I would postulate that though a tyrant certainly could coerce voters to support them, the second reason for the Electoral College, at least in my way of thinking, is most important. The smaller states have a very definite say and influence despite the huge populace vote from larger and more heavily populated areas.

The Electoral College is a body of elected officials who choose who will be the President and the Vice President. These elected persons, known as electors, are chosen by election by the people in each state. So, the electors in any state are, at a minimum, three. That would be two senators (each state has two regardless of population size), and each state has at least one representative (serving in Congress). Depending on the size of the population, a state that is much smaller in size may have a large population, such as Florida. Whereas a state of significant geographic size, such as Alaska, has a relatively small population. The number of representatives is determined by the number of people in the state. Wyoming has a ridiculously small number of people compared to California with its two enormously populated cities of Los Angeles and San Francisco. Yet, the smaller population of Wyoming has more power in voting in the Electoral College because each representative in Wyoming has more people it is representing compared to the number of citizens a representative in California is responsible for.

And this is why every Electoral College vote is valued by the candidates. One of the hits on Hillary Clinton’s campaign was not paying closer attention to the “Rust Belt” where she hardly made any personal appearances. Politicos and pundits are speculating that this is one of the reasons she lost her bid for the White House.

So, in conclusion, I hope you see why the Electoral College looms large in the election process. Otherwise, if we functioned purely on popular vote, the large cities would always dictate the outcome, leaving smaller populated states out in the dark. And candidates would pitch their tents in the large urban areas, and would ignore the rest of America.

Is the Electoral College a perfect system? No. But it was genius on the part of the Founding Fathers, many of who never lived long enough to see it work.

The next time you vote, remember that the Founding Fathers set this election process up so that every American who votes has a say in the outcome.

Is this a great country, or what?!

Monday, November 07, 2016

Congratulations, America!

Roots in Ripon
Chuck Roots
7 November 2016

Congratulations, America!

As you read this we will be most likely in the midst of Election Day Tuesday, November 8, 2016. This means our Constitutional system of government is still intact. No person, or party, or military strongman has taken over the government to establish a dictatorship, a socialistic government, or a junta.
Regardless of how the election results turn out, America is the winner because our nation continues to move along following the political and philosophical dreams of our Founding Fathers. Now, don’t misunderstand. Everything is not all lollypops and roses in our country. I have attempted to highlight many of the problems in the past several weeks. But America has not had to endure the endless cycle of government takeovers, or changes, with new or rewritten constitutions the way many countries have. Last I read, Italy has changed governments (not just leaders within their government, but restructure of how their country is run) 19 different times since the end of Mussolini and World War II. Here in America we have had one government for the past 240 years, with the Constitution being ratified by all 13 original states in 1790, our nation has moved along fairly well by staying within the Constitutional guidelines.
Since the end of World War II we have had 12 presidents. The 13th will either be Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. And in line of succession, our newest president will be the 45th president of the United States.
If you reflect on this achievement, it is quite spectacular that our nation has been able to stay focused on the importance of the rule of law as laid out in the Constitution. The office of the president is still bigger than any single person. Each elected candidate to this highest office of the land is awed and humbled by the role and responsibilities associated with the position. Some men have been crushed by the sheer weight of the job. Others have managed to keep their heads above water (barely, in some cases), and yet others seem to have been born to the job.
My pastor delivered a sermon this past Sunday, entitled, “Being a Christian in an Election Year.” It was very well done. I am going to share the gist of it, hopefully doing it justice.
The basic premise of the message was this: During an election year, we tend to be, 1. Fearful, 2. Prideful, 3. Selfish, and 4. Divisive. These are not necessarily stand-alone characteristics. Instead, when you allow fear to enter into your thinking, the other three (pride, ego, and division) are nipping at your heels. I would share with you a passage written by the Apostle Paul in which he admonishes us to focus on the right things. Read this section carefully. Philippians 4:6-9:

"Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.
Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies." [“The Message” Translation]

This is great encouragement because regardless of the election results, a lot of people are going to be unhappy. So then, based upon this Bible passage, if God is seated on his eternal throne, then all is well, and we need not fear anything. However, if God is not on his throne, then he does not exist and we should be full of fear because we are all in a world of hurt.
The naysayers from both political parties foresee the worst-case scenarios should their candidate lose. It’s easy to get caught up in this fearmongering and forget that God is still very much involved in the affairs of the human race.
As for me, I choose to trust in God. He has blessed the United States of America, and I believe he still wants to, in spite of our wandering hearts as a nation.
So, that’s why I say, Congratulations, America! Now watch and see what God has yet to accomplish. Be prepared to be amazed!
God bless America!

Monday, October 31, 2016

Just Do the Job

Roots in Ripon
Chuck Roots
31 October 2016

Just Do the Job

There is no way a Hollywood screenwriter would have been able to come up with the crazy shenanigans “We the People” have been subjected to during this presidential election season. Seriously, have you ever seen the like?

My wife and I are finding that we are experiencing “newscycle fatigue”. I don’t know if this is an actual term or not, but it certainly describes the way the two of us are feeling at this point with eight days yet remaining before election day. If I see one more “Breaking” news banner announcing another woman has come forth accusing Donald Trump of unwanted sexual advances, or a new batch of emails uncovered concerning Hillary Clinton, I may just have to seclude myself in a quiet room with copious amounts of comfort food until November 9.

The Scottish bard, Sir Walter Scott, famously wrote this insightful ditty that most of us have heard at one time or another: “O, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive!” Such practiced deception seems to be standard operating procedure throughout our government.

From my private pristine perch in the Central Valley of California I am able to critique the political blathering nabobs who inhabit the far country known as Washington DC. Someone might point out that all the politicians are not bad. And I would agree. However, they have all been infected. The political game is seriously flawed. It is virtually impossible for a right-hearted person to be a genuine re-creation of Mr. Smith from the movie, “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” played by the one-and-only Jimmy Stewart. In one scene, Stewart, as Senator Jefferson Smith, says, “You see, boys forget what their country means by just reading ‘The Land of the Free’ in history books. Then they get to be men they forget even more. Liberty’s too precious a thing to be buried in books, Miss Saunders. Men should hold it up in front of them every single day of their lives and say: I’m free to think and to speak. My ancestors couldn’t. I can, and my children will. Boys ought to grow up remembering that.”

The infection the politicians of every party and stripe experience is known as Power. Because the money collected from Americans flows into the coffers of our nation’s capital, the idea that these taxes can be used for whatever the political establishment desires is heady stuff. The Republicans want this power, and so do the Democrats. Political groups and special interest groups all want to sit at the table with the powerful heads of government. Several phrases come to mind that highlight this condition evidenced inside the DC Beltway. “Live by the Golden Rule! Because he who has the gold, makes the rules.” Then there’s this one, “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” You get the idea.

Many a well-intentioned, aspiring politician from small-town USA has been sent to our capital by their constituents with high hopes of making a difference by shaking up the entrenched establishment, and poking a finger in the eye of the good-old-boy system that has been, and continues to be, a cancer within the hallowed halls of the three branches of government: the executive (president), the legislative (Congress), and the judicial (Supreme Court).

The political power brokers will quickly explain the rules of the game to any new freshman senators and representatives. It is very simple. It goes something like this: “If you want to get anything done in this town, you will go along with the way we do things. If you fight us, you will find yourself unable to get any legislation passed through Congress that would otherwise benefit your constituents. You will find yourself being a one-term Congressman.”

This corrupt system of running the world’s most powerful and financially muscular nation needs a good housecleaning. And this is yet another reason why I wholly reject Hillary. She is bought and paid for many times over, contributing to this wretched system currently in place. The depth of her corruption is staggering and, according to the FBI, is still under investigation, possibly extending well into the next presidential term. “The Donald”, on the other hand, is a total outsider who, as a businessman has learned how to work within this system, as well as outside of it, in order to build a most impressive real estate empire. However, he fully recognizes the rottenness that is at the core of this DC good-old-boy game. And Trump is not beholding to anyone. In other words, he’s not a politician.

Of all the presidential candidates that I have watched march across the stage of life in their quest to become the President of the United States, Trump is the only one who has the toughness of character and desire to get into DC where he can begin to rock the city to its very core. He has already made a list of conservative constitutionalists who he would select for the Supreme Court of the United States. The Court would once again do its job which is to interpret the law. Congress would do its job by creating law. And the president would do the job of protecting and defending the law.

This is why I want to see Donald Trump become our next president. He understands the job of the president as outlined in the Constitution: “The President is both the head of state and head of government of the United States of America, and Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces. Under Article II of the Constitution, the President is responsible for the execution and enforcement of the laws created by Congress.”

All of the foolishness of this election aside, I believe Donald Trump is the candidate for president who will change Washington DC by first simply fulfilling the duties of the job. Now that would be refreshing!

Psalm for the Day