Tag Archives: Marines

Freedom … for you

Every Memorial Day weekend for decades has found me somewhere across our country, addressing audiences regarding the purpose of this hallowed time of remembrance.  Sunday, 27 May 2018 was no exception.  To my heart, spending time with Pastor Bill Herald, his wife Phylis, and their congregation had special meaning for this Gold Star dad.

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Although yesterday’s morning service was at First Baptist Church of Crystal Lake (IL), almost twelve years ago, on Sunday, 01 October 2006, I had also spoken for Pastor Herald at First Baptist Church of Sparta (IL).  You see, it was after the third service of the day that Bill, Phylis, and I were awaiting our late-evening meal at a local restaurant, when I received a phone call that would change my life.

My daughter-in-law Patty, after asking where I was, if I was alone, and if I was driving, broke the news to me that her husband—my oldest son Justin—had been killed that morning in Al Anbar Province, Iraq.  I will forego any attempt to describe the impact of that brief phone call.

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However, as I spoke to the wonderful congregation yesterday in Crystal Lake, there was an inexplicable chemistry in the auditorium as I spoke, but one that comes when an audience knows that the speaker really understands experientially the subject of his address.  Also, the day was special to my heart because I was sharing time yesterday with the two friends who were there for me when I received that devastating news.

As I’m composing this essay, another friend—an OR nurse from Commerce Township (MI) texted, asking “How do you separate your pride from your pain?”  My answer: “I think it’s inseparable on a day like this.”  Perhaps that harnesses the very purpose of Memorial Day—meditating on the pride in the shared values that have made America the greatest nation in human history as well as the painful price that has been paid.

Reality is this—one percent of Americans shoulder the responsibility of the military safety and security for the remaining 99%.  Some of the 99% will mistake Memorial Day as a time to celebrate freedom … and I understand.  However, that is the purpose of the 4th of July.

Others of the 99% will thank the men and women in uniform for their military service.  While that is well and good, that is the purpose of Veterans Day each 11 November … and I understand.  A few (and I hope it is no more than a few) may celebrate the holiday but forget altogether the sobering significance of this day.

However, on this day there are families across this land who truly understand that America should observe, not celebrate, Memorial Day.  They have no trouble remembering because they can never forget … and I understand.

DALE BEN AT GLNC 2006

Neither our Fallen nor their Gold Star families want your pity or sympathy.  We want your respect, your remembrance, and your gratitude for the freedom you enjoy, purchased by so few to benefit so many and at such great cost.  Parents have been deprived of their offspring to make that purchase for you.

Lonely spouses embrace soft pillows at night rather than the rock-hard bodies of their life mate, crying themselves to fitful sleep—a price they paid for you.  Children graduated from kindergarten, high school, and college, but without a parent to cheer their accomplishment.  They did not ask to pay the price, but the price was still paid—for you.

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Patty and Caitlin Peterson

BTW, do you pray?  If so, wouldn’t today be an excellent time to press the ”Pause button” for a few minutes of your day, try to imagine the sacrifices of others—for you—and speak your gratitude to the ears of The Almighty God?  I know that the extended Peterson family would appreciate your remembrance of U.S. Marine Corps Captain Justin Dale Peterson.

Now … as soon as I hit the “Publish” button, I think my wife and I will fire up the red ’65 Cutlass and drive up to Great Lakes National Cemetery and express that gratitude in person.

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I Do Solemnly Swear …

Veterans Day is that one special day when all America pauses in gratitude for and honor of those living men and women who have taken an oath to ” … support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”

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While the young men and women who make this affirmation come from varied nationalities, differing socio-economic backgrounds, and religious experiences, but they all come together in this common oath.  The basic training provided by each branch of the United States military, the length of training, and certainly the MOS (military occupational service) training all vary, but all towards the fulfillment of a singular goal—the support and defense of the Constitution of the United States of America.

Although a growing number of politicians, from the president to congress, seems to have forgotten either the constitution or the oath they swore when taking office, the vast majority of the men and women of our armed forces—Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Navy, and Marine Corps—put their very lives on the line daily.  These who have so seriously taken their oaths deserve the utmost of respect from all Americans.

BTW, do you pray?  If so, here are a couple of things about which you can pray.  First, after thinking quietly about whom these men and women are and what they do to make our freedom possible, thank God for them—from the young recruits to the most elderly veterans.  Second, ask God to sustain these troops and their families.

And to my own veteran son, USMC Sgt. Joshua D Peterson—you will never know how proud you and your older brother USMC Capt. Justin D Peterson have made your father, even at great cost.  Semper Fidelis!  The same can be said of my son-in-law USN Lt. Brandon Geddes!

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Celebrating Freedom with a Hero

Celebrating Freedom with a hero, Joe Hutchins 

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LET THE CEMETERY SPEAK

Since childhood, I’ve been privileged to periodically visit Arlington National Cemetery (Arlington, VA), and for those experiences, I will be eternally grateful, because the foundation of respect and values established in the formative years of my life.

Because of my own parents’ values, they made certain that my siblings and I were exposed to the rich geography and history in America, which included numerous visits and vacations in Washington, D.C.  While I was energized many times by running up the stairs to the top of the Washington monument, and intrigued by the wonders of the Smithsonian Institute, I think I was most impacted and influenced by Arlington National Cemetery. 

Ralph, Hazel & Dale Peterson, circa 1954

 

As we walked in silence amongst the headstones, it was as though I could hear the silent shouts of those who had paid the ultimate price for the freedom that I enjoyed, but did not understand at that time.  Of course, there were no audible voices, but in my mind I imagined who these men and women had been in life, the circumstances of their deaths, and the loneliness of their families left behind. 

Visits to Arlington always included the solemn changing of the guard at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier where, in the 1950s and 1960s, when the reverent silence was only broken by the brief and staccato-like voices and crisp clinks of the guards and their boot heels and weapons.  Regrettably, these days there seems to be little reverence or respect, but rather constant movement and even boisterous voices throughout any audience that gathers. 

It’s at times like my last such experience at the Tomb of the Unknowns, which happened to be with my oldest son Justin, a USMC Captain, that I wonder if very many people grasp the significance of such moments and places anymore. 

On this Memorial Day 2011, it would behoove all Americans to set aside some time—at least a few minutes—to quietly but deliberately walk through a national cemetery, not just to see it, but to reflect on what is represented by those rather plain, uniform headstones.  Parents, you could use this holiday for one of the greatest lessons you ever teach your children by a one-hour visit, pointing out numerous lessons and explanations, answering questions, and most importantly exemplifying the respect due to America’s fallen who, by their service and sacrifice, have insured our freedom. 

On that last visit to Washington, my son Justin and his wife Patty took Debbie and me, along with their son Jayden, to the World War II memorial.  As we spoke in hushed tones about what we were seeing and thinking, Justin spotted a young lad, perhaps nine or ten years of age, climbing on one of the memorial’s walls.  As quickly as a flash of lighting, Justin was standing by the young boy, ordering him off the wall, and with the demeanor of a USMC drill instructor (sans the volume) let the unaccompanied minor know that was not proper behavior and that this was not a playground. 

Yep, I was proud of Justin—then and now. And I plan to make my annual Memorial Day stop at the Great Lakes National Cemetery in Holly (MI) for a time of reflection in Section 5 at Site 595.  Debbie and I will talk softly.  We will probably laugh quietly.  We will cry.  We will pause to gaze across the acres of graves on what was once the property of Mr. Bryson Dexter Horton, the inventor of the “Square D” electrical switch, and remind my precious wife Debbie that what we are seeing is “the price of freedom”—yours and mine—and paid for with the lives of the sons, daughters, fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters of those represented by each simple headstone.

Memorial Day at Arlington

Let’s not forget that represented also by each grave marker is an empty seat at dinner tables, a son or daughter whose parent will not teach them how to catch a baseball or swing a bat, a spouse who now bears the family burdens alone, and a parent whose dreams for their son or daughter now reside with honor and respect (as in my own case) in a section and site rather than on a street and in a city. 

Neither let us forget that for those who, like Justin, put their faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ, we who are alive and remain behind have an awesome hope and expectation—we expect to see our loved ones again and therefore do not sorrow because we lack hope. 

Although the world joked and laughed this past week when the prophecy of an unwise preacher who set dates and times for the rapture, I for one still anticipate that great event at any moment.  And since no one knows the day or the hour, I plan to live in such a manner as to be ready to catch up with my son—in a moment—in the twinkling of an eye!

BTW, do you pray?  If so, why not take this Memorial Day 2011 to exercise the discipline of prayer?  Thank God for the countless airmen, sailors, soldiers, and Marines who paid for your freedom?  Ask God to encourage and preserve those who serve, as well as their families who must make-do in their absence.  Appeal to the Lord on behalf of those who have an empty seat at their table, especially for those whose sacrificial experience is still fresh in their hearts and minds. 

And for all Gold Star families in Michigan, coming soon to a Michigan Secretary of State office near you will be a special Gold Star license plate.  Here’s a link to read about it: http://www.michigan.gov/sos/0,1607,7-127–256829–,00.html

Cheers!

Debbie & Dale Peterson

AMERICAN TROOPS & WASHINGTON

Five years ago today, my oldest son USMC Captain Justin D Peterson, deployed to Iraq, where six months later he was killed while returning from a mission.  This time of year will always be special in my mind, and I traditionally use “milestone moments” for introspection.  Justin’s deployment with a small border transition team is one of those times, in part because it is surrounded with other important family events.

 For example, Justin’s only daughter, Caitlin, was born on 6 April 2006, only hours before his deployment, which had already been pushed back allowing him to be present for her birth.  How could I ever forget that day, since Justin and Patty had been gracious enough to let me stay with them in the birthing suite at Huron Valley Hospital until I had to race to catch my flight to Great Britain?  Forty minutes after saying goodbye to Justin, who had left Patty long enough to walk my wife Debbie and me to the car, he called to say, “Well, Dad, Caitlin’s here!”

Patty and Caitlin Peterson

However, today as I reflect, I am not only recalling tender moments like the one that I have just described, but also realizing the quagmire in which America has sunk, especially relative to those brave men and women in uniform who hazard their lives to keep us safe, and to the families whose fathers or mothers make additional sacrifices in our stead.

As I write today, the “highest leaders” in our land are embroiled in a budgetary stalemate inside the Beltway, and in what has become their standard modus operandi, they play their political games on the backs of and at the expense of the very people they are charged constitutionally with leading. 

Not only does the “establishment” (which includes both Democrats and Republicans) continually operate in such a manner that our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren will be laden with an unsustainable debt, they also are quite cautious to take steps to protect their own interests, salaries, and eternal benefits!  It’s time that every elected official at every level of government, especially Washington, D.C., throws himself or herself into a new caution—a caution to truly protect the populous whom they are to represent—even if it means throwing themselves on their own swords, as it were.

The latest political ploy—a government shutdown—appears to have little meaning to Washington.  Oh, I know—they trot themselves in front of cameras at every opportunity and talk—spewing a rhetoric that has worn terribly thin with the grassroots who pay not only their absorbent salary and benefit packages while they (in particular the Obama administration) are now threatening the meager paychecks of our troops and their families. 

Let me be clear—this gets personal, especially when I watch my five-year-old granddaughter blowing out her birthday candles, and I fight back the tears, realizing that this little girl will never know her daddy, other than the pictures and stories that others tell her.  Her mother and brothers are now being threatened with a cash flow shutdown by the very president that swore to uphold the constitution with a genuine concern for the people of this nation—including little girls whose daddies go off to fight for freedom!  

Maybe it would be a great idea for America to stop paying the people that we have elected to represent us in the House, Senate, and the White House until they establish a sustainable budget for each fiscal year.  And when they vote on bills for which they do not appropriate adequate funds, reduce their take-home pay by that same amount—in other words; let the fiscal irresponsibility be borne by the fiscally irresponsible people who fail at doing their jobs. 

Oh, and while we’re at it, why not scrap the special health care and retirement programs they all enjoy at this time and run them through the VA hospitals and Social Security?

Yes, as I reflect today, I’m very proud of my son Justin and his contribution to America.  However, I am ashamed of those men and women in Washington who, under a guise of caring about this great nation, are continually making choices and casting votes that are undermining this country and violating the very principles that lead to God’s blessings and the prosperity of our nation. 

And, just in case I have been too vague, that means that I am ashamed of much of what Barack Hussein Obama has done and is doing as my president.  The same is true for my Michigan Senators Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow. 

BTW, do you pray?  If so, would you join me in praying that somehow, by His miraculous working, God would so speak to the hearts and minds of those we have elected, that once again common sense, honesty, and truth would begin to prevail inside the Beltway, in state capitols, and in local municipalities? 

(Ezekiel 22:30 KJV) And I sought for a man among them, that should make up the hedge, and stand in the gap before me for the land, that I should not destroy it: but I found none. 

How desperately we should pray that, as God continually looks for such men and women today, He will find such a person—in Washington, in Michigan, and in my house!

Semper fi, troops!

Heroes

(If you’re a family member, friend, or regular reader, you knew this blog was coming, so just  stop now, get your box of tissues, and then continue reading!)

If you could spend time with airmen, sailors, soldiers, and Marines who are recipients of one or more Purple Hearts, one common denominator amongst them would be this—none would admit to being a “hero.”  No matter how valiant they may have been in their own actions, each one would reserve the title of hero for those men and women who paid the ultimate price for the freedom that American citizens enjoy.

Today, my oldest son Justin would have celebrated his 36th birthday, had his life not been cut short by a freak accident in Al Anbar Province (Iraq) four years ago tomorrow.  At least from our human perspective, it would appear that way, because we now can see only through “a glass darkly” (1 Cor 13:12).  However, I anticipate seeing all things clearly one day.  In that moment when my Commander-in-Chief (and I’m not talking Obama—not even close!) points to His perfect purpose and plan for the painful events of this life, even the death of our loved ones will make sense to us—then.

My best guess is this—until then, some things are just going to hurt a bit, and 30 September and 01 October are on my list, to be sure.  Thankfully, our whole family has made adequate preparation for a grand family reunion, so we don’t sorrow unduly, as though we had no hope!  But I digress …

With only 60 years under my belt to-date, I’ve lived long enough to out-live my parents by several years, at least by using the calendar for our measurement.  I don’t know if it’s even possible to “out-live” many of my relatives if we use godly character as the standard.  I try, but sometimes feel like I still fall short of being the man I ought to be or the man that my own father was—and he is one of my heroes.

Interestingly, my son Justin has also become a hero to me.  Perhaps it’s because I’ve forgotten most of the antics he pulled growing up, but forgetting some things is a good thing; after all, our Heavenly Father has forgotten the antics, blunders, and sins that we have pulled!  “Forgiven, I repeat, I’m forgiven!” as the 70s song said—and that means forgotten—and that’s a good thing.

But as I remember Justin interacting with his boys (during the little time they had together), I saw something in him that made me very proud of him.  I cherish the pictures I carry in my mind of him wrestling with Jared or simply walking hand-in-hand with Jayden.  Maybe it’s because I didn’t do enough of that as his dad during the early years. 

Last Saturday, before leaving town to preach, I watched Jayden playing soccer in a YMCA league.  After the game as Debbie and I said our goodbyes, I hugged Jayden and whispered to him how proud his dad would be of him for playing soccer so well (because soccer was always Justin’s game).  Jayden instantly commented, “Papa Pete, I think he saw the whole game!”  Great perspective for a fatherless six-year-old, I’d say.

Then because Debbie and I were leaving right from Jayden’s game, I hugged Caitlin, who was born only a few days before her dad deployed to Iraq, and apologized for not being able to attend her game later that afternoon, but the ever- cheery four-year-old replied, “That’s okay, Papa Pete!  I understand!”  It’s tough to explain to a little granddaughter how proud her daddy would be of her—and not “lose it!”  And I cherish the few photos that I have of the two of them together—my hero and my granddaughter!

BTW, do you pray?  If so, would you pray that via His infinite grace and perfect plan, God would do for the fatherless what they need?  Would you pray for Patty as she rears the children without the mate that made them possible?  Would you also pray for “the siblings” whose lives were made rich because of their brother Justin, and who try so hard to remember him by the laughter but have those moments when they must cry?–and for a mother whose birthday celebrations will always be tempered by the memory of her son’s funeral on the same day?  Finally, would you pray that through it all, each of the Petersons would always find ways to turn our tragedy into triumph … to turn our buffeting into someone else’s blessing.  We don’t want to waste the pain.

In 1971, my friend Gordon Jensen wrote the following song that has blessed my life immeasurably and inspired the book Leave a Well in the Valley which I recently authored.  It describes how I intend to process life’s tough times.

To the valley you’ve been through those around you must go too

Down the rocky path you’ve traveled they will go

If to those learning of your trial you lend the secret of your smile

You will help them more than you will ever know

Blessed is the man who has learned to understand

To become a hand for God to those in need

Yes, then all the tears he’s shed with God’s help become instead

A precious balm that will heal the hearts that bleed

 

So leave a well in the valley—your dark and lonesome valley

Others have to cross this valley too

What a blessing when they find the well of joy you’ve left behind

So leave a well in the valley you go through

 

You see, there can be more heroes than those who die on distant fields of battle.  Each of us can become a hero to someone else by living in such a manner so as to leave a lasting positive impact upon the people within the circle of our own influence.  And since we have no promise of tomorrow, we must leave the legacy in the time we have—today.

And whenever you see a member of America’s military, take a moment to thank them for their service and your freedom!

One chapter in Dale’s recently released book Leave a Well in the Valley addresses the subject “When a Child Is Killed,” and could become a source of encouragement and strength to other parents who have experienced the death of a child.  Leave a Well in the Valley may be purchased at www.dalepeterson.org

Don’t Forget to Remember

On Monday, 31 May 2010, many American’s will celebrate a national holiday, forgetting the true meaning or purpose of the day itself.  However, throughout this great nation, thousands upon thousands of families will remember—in fact, it’s impossible for us to forget, because buried in a cemetery somewhere is a casket that holds the remains of a loved one who paid the supreme sacrifice that we might be free. 

"On behalf of ... a grateful nation," my daughter-in-law Patty

However, this day of remembrance must never be limited to a few moments of emotional energies spent merely missing  our friends and loved ones whose lives were cut short during their military service for our country.  We surely must contemplate a bigger picture and the grander scheme of the future looming before us.

For example, we must remember the principles and precepts that lead to the birth of this great nation.  As I write this, I’m seated in my hotel room in Enfield (CT).  In just a few hours, I will address an eternity-bound audience, reminding them, not only of America’s Fallen, but of the price that has been paid from the inception of America—as early as the 1620s.  The founders and the fallen so strongly believed in equality, self-governance, and the rule of law, that they were willing to pledge the lives, fortunes, and sacred honor—risking it all, sacrificing everything for freedom.  In so doing, they kept their honor.

America is a nation at-risk because we’re sluggish in remembering the critical ingredients that have made America great.  Few Americans will reflect any more than I on the people who have fallen—those for whom we have set aside this special day.  But we must remind ourselves that this American holiday is not only about remembering the personalities, but also the principles.

Here in Enfield (CT), two local high schools have scheduled graduation ceremonies in a local church facility that best accommodates  these events—parking, seating, staging, restrooms, etc.  However, the ACLU has filed suit, seeking an injunction, preventing the use of a church facility, with their usual insanity, crying “Separation of church and state!”  Somewhere along their educational track, they must have overlooked a few lessons from history class.

The first public school in America—the Boston Latin School—located only a few hours from Enfield (CT) in Boston (MA), was founded by Reverend John Cotton on April 23, 1635.  Five of the fifty-six signers of the American Constitution attended this school.  Can you imagine?  But the ACLU wasn’t around in those days to protest, threaten, intimidate, and file frivolously insane lawsuits, trying to protect young America’s students from religious symbols and the New England Primer and the Hornbook. 

But the insanity of this distorted thinking by a relative handful in America can only be exceeded by the insanity of good American citizens continually tolerating it!

Perhaps the great need of America today is not another “bailout” from Washington, D.C. but a revival of old-fashioned patriotism—a patriotic fervor built on critical personal ingredients, such as …

Great character.  The good character of leaders past will not suffice for today.  They have all run their leg of the relay race of life.  The baton has been placed into our hands, and we must boldly rise to the occasion, becoming internally what the Good Book instructs us to be, enabling us to do what people of good, godly character should do.

Great conviction.  It is high time that people who profess to know God determine to live like we actually know Him.  Like David of old, facing the giant Goliath against all odds, we must ask ourselves, “Is there not a cause?”  William Bradford thought so, but today’s history revisionists choke on his Mayflower Compact of 1620.  Barbara Fritchie thought there was a cause when she withstood Stonewall Jackson with those famous words, “Shoot if you must this old gray head, but spare your country’s flag,” she said!

Where are the men and women of modern America who are willing to stand, and having done all, stand?  Conviction is the bottom line of all my thinking.  It is what I have concluded as vitally important—important enough for which to live and die. 

Great courage.  Without character, we become dishonest and self-centered—which unfortunately and increasingly describes our country, including many of our “leaders.”  Without conviction, we lose our bearings—our moral compass.  Again, regrettably, this describes our nation—adrift morally.  And without courage, we fail to act on that which we profess to be and to believe.

In two short decades, America has gone from a nation with a president who could courageously say, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down that wall!” to one who apologizes for America to every rouge nation wherever he travels!  That makes those of us with good character, conviction, and courage rather nauseous!

As we approach this Memorial Day 2010, let’s concentrate on and honor our forefathers and the fighting men and women of this nation for their courage, their vision, and their sacrifices.  Let’s remember how precious our rights and freedoms!  Veterans, we honor your service, your courage, and your countless sacrifices at sea, in the air, and on distant fields of battle.  May God continue to bless the great nation, as we give Him reason for doing so.

BTW, do you pray?  America is in desperate need of the prayers of men, women, boys and girls who are on speaking terms with God to plead for the future of the nation we love.  May each of us be found faithful at our post in prayer!

Stabilizing the Foundations

            We live in a great nation, don’t we?  I mean from sea to shining sea, America is a great land in almost every possible way.  Although being Americans makes us better than no one, the fact that we are so blessed by Almighty God augments our responsibilities within the world community.

            Further, living under such great freedom and protection that our nation provides, we as believers also enjoy the freedom that comes through Jesus Christ—the truth that always sets men free.  But we must never forget that these freedoms were handed to us by our fore-fathers. From the earliest arrivals aboard the Mayflower in 1620, they came with a vision, a dream, and a commitment to the Heavenly Father, whom they readily identified and named in their daily prayers for guidance, protection, and sustenance.

            While our president may not know or understand the history of this great nation, I do—and let me take a few moments to remind you from the pages of our rich history, lest any of you might buy into some of what comes from the Oval Office these days—statements like “America is not a Christian nation and never has been.”

1620 Mayflower Compact – “In the name of God … having undertaken for the glory of God and advancement of the Christian faith … do solemnly and mutually in the presence of God covenant and combine ourselves together … “

1643 Constitution of the New England Confederation – “Whereas we all come into these parts of America with one and the same end and aim, namely to advance the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ and to enjoy the liberties of the Gospel in purity and peace.”

1681 William Penn stated – “Men must be governed by God or they will be ruled by tyrants.

1752 Liberty Bell – inscribed with this verse from Leviticus 25:10 – “Proclaim liberty through all the land and to all the inhabitants thereof.”

1772 Samuel Adams – boldly proclaimed, “The rights of the Colonists as Christians … may be best understood by reading and carefully studying the institution of the Great Law Giver and Head of the Christian Church, which are to be found clearly written and promulgated in the New Testament.”

1776 Declaration of Independence – “ … the laws of Nature and Nature’s God … that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights …

1789 George Washington – in his Thanksgiving Day proclamation said, “Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly implore His protection, aid, and favors … “

1820 Daniel Webster said – “more than all, a government and a country were to commence, with the very first foundations laid under Divine light of the Christian religion … Who would wish that his country’s existence had otherwise begun?  Let us not forget the religious character of our origin.”

1863 Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address – “ … that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom and that government of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

             But something has dramatically changed—something perhaps less visible than an industrial revolution—but something infinitely more damning to our nation than anything we can imagine.  America has forgotten God!  And for the many who have not totally forgotten God, there is often an unprecedented ambivalence and indifference toward His Word and His principles for successful living.

            (Psalm 9:17 KJV) The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God.

            Our national dereliction of duty God-ward has brought us to the precipice of ethical, moral, and spiritual collapse!  We have become a nation of politicians without principles and devoid of character—we have to look no further than Detroit, Michigan or inside the Washington beltway to find that confirmation!  Washington, D.C. has become a collective cesspool of dishonesty, graft, greed, and a thousand other characteristics devoid of Godly character!  But American did not begin that way.

            As the character level of America continues to drop, we have become a nation of pleasure-seekers without conviction, businesses without morality, and sciences without humanity.  We have grown fat with knowledge, while starving good character and integrity.  And even our churches are losing our passion for evangelism, while offering a vain worship without sacrifice.

            But, ladies and gentlemen, there are three timeless truths on which I base my eternal hope, as I look past the tragic political events that each day brings, and I would remind you of these three:

  • God is still on His throne—and nothing will dislodge Him
  • God distinguishes between those who are righteous and those who are wicked
  • God is holy and will certainly judge all wickedness

            What then is the great and pressing need of our day as we look at America?  If we listen to the political strategists and Washington’s rhetoric, we need more Democrats or we need more Republicans in office.  If we listen to the social engineers, we need to liberate ourselves and our children from the moralist constraints put on us by previous, prudish generations. If we listen to the secularist educators, the need is for more government money to be thrown into the black hole of humanistic education—an educational system that is increasingly void of God.

(Rom 1:28 KJV)  And even as they did not want to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient.

            The great reality is that people need the Lord!  The hope of America is not in electing different politicians, neither is it in shutting down abortion clinics, noble though that may be.  While putting the pornographer out of business and shutting down strip clubs is to be applauded, that isn’t the solution!  Joining the ranks of tree-huggers and hypocritical eco-freaks like Al Gore is wasted time and resources! 

            The solution is exactly what it has always been and where it has always been—In God We Trust!

(2 Chron 7:14 KJV)  If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal our land.

            The combined repetitive prophecies of Glen Beck, Sean Hannity, Mark Levin, and Rush Limbaugh will not turn America around—economically, morally, or spiritually. 

But if the people who know God will draw close to Him, honor and obey Him—will let their lights so shine before men—will determine to be salt with savor—we might be able to rescue perhaps the greatest nation in human history before she plunges headlong over the cliff from which there will be no return.

My pastor Dr. John Marine of the North Auburn Hills Baptist Church asked this question a few Sundays ago:  “Which side are you on?”  Are you a part of the problem or a part of the solution?

(1 Cor 3:11 KJV)  For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.

(2 Tim 2:19 KJV) Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity.

Veterans Day 2009

There are three American holidays that are perhaps my favorites – 4th of July, Memorial Day, and Veterans Day.  For almost 30 years, I toured America with a special production in tribute to our nation and our veterans – A SALUTE TO AMERICA!   And while my thoughts always turn to the many veterans, both the deceased and the living, my thoughts primarily turn to my own son, USMC Captain Justin Dale Peterson, who the morning after his 32nd birthday, was killed in Iraq on Sunday, October 1, 2006. 

I had finished preaching that Sunday evening, October 1, 2006, IL, and was sitting with Pastor and Mrs. Bill Herald in a restaurant in Sparta (IL), waiting on our meal to arrive, when my phone vibrated.  It was my daughter-in-law Patty, asking where I was, if I was alone, and if I was driving. 

Patty said, “Dad, this is going to be a memorable night for you – Justin was killed in Iraq this morning!”  Within an hour, I had checked out of my room and was driving back to Michigan – heartbroken – mind racing. 

I pondered the possibilities of what had happened in Iraq.  I wondered if my youngest son Joshua, also a Marine and in Iraq – was okay.  Did he know yet?  How quickly could they extract him from harm’s way and head him home to share his tears with our own?

Within a few hours of receiving the worst news of his life, Joshua was transported to Kuwait to Amsterdam to Detroit, where our family met him.  Justin’s body arrived only a few hours later in the afternoon.  Our extended family spent the evening inter-acting at the funeral home – processing what was happening.

After receiving thousands of families at the visitation, and after a standing-room-only funeral, Justin’s body was laid to rest in the Great Lakes National Cemetery in Holly, Michigan – with military honors. 

On behalf of the entire Peterson family, I would like to express our gratitude to you as Americans for your concern, prayers, and support of our troops.  The personal contacts & many acts of kindness & service have been received with humility, as we realized in a new way the vast volume of friends that are ours!

These expressions have lead us to know beyond description that Justin’s life, military service, and death are not in vain.

While life has always presented challenges, I think we’ve faced the largest one to-date – in the death of our oldest son.  However, I must tell you – regardless of the indescribable pain that we feel, it is matched by a justifiable pride in our Marine, as well as an eternal hope. 

 Our son lived and died that others throughout the world might be free – even in Iraq.  He volunteered for a commission as an officer, as a leader, and as an example in the United States Marine Corp – how to live, how to work, how to serve, and even how to die.  To have known Captain Justin Dale Peterson, United States Marine – would make even a liberal skeptic proud to be an American. 

You see, ladies and gentlemen, America has been a blessed nation since our very inception because of the caliber and character of the men and women who have lead us!  Add to that the fact that God has been a part of this nation from before the beginning!  Our founding fathers put the name of God on everything they built and acknowledged Him in everything they said.

While there are a comparative few in our nation who seem to resent God being credited for His contribution to America’s greatness, most Americans still understand that respect and reverence for God is essential for maintaining greatness, since “all the nations that forget God shall be turned into hell,” according to the psalmist David.

Another reason that the United States of America has become such a great nation has been the deep commitment of our men and women in uniform.

While the decade of the 60s and the Vietnam era was a tempestuous time for American patriotism, and during which period many of our own citizens showed little respect for Old Glory, the WWII generation was still alive and well.  That generation of sailors and soldiers helped this nation keep her bearings and maintain a stabilizing effect on our culture.

For Americans of my parents generation, love of country has been almost second nature.  It was passed on to many of us by our parents, our teachers, our civic leaders, and even Hollywood.  I mean, you can’t get much more patriotic than John Wayne!

We continue to hold dear the quest of our founding fathers to produce a land where all men can live freely and seek personal satisfaction.  We fiercely appreciate the sacrifice of American servicemen and women who bled and died so that we could remain free.

Further, we live in the hope that the fires of American freedom will continue to burn long after we’re gone, don’t we?  If 9/11 does nothing else for us as a nation, it should have served as a clarion wake-up call for citizens to appreciate our freedoms that have often been taken for granted, and to renew our vigilance in defending them.

I’m not sure how you think about that American symbol that is known throughout the globe as the epitome of freedom, but my heart still swells with pride at the slightest glimpse of the Stars and Stripes – Old Glory!  While a growing number of people throughout the world may hold those colors – the red, white, and blue – in contempt, they must do so in sheer ignorance of the benefits they derive from America’s positive influence upon the world.

With the unprecedented rash of global terrorism – terrorism that has now come to American soil – I think it is high time that we had a revival of old-fashioned patriotism again, as well as a renewal of our commitment to the principles and precepts that have made this nation great from her inception!

Contrary to the incessant rhetoric of our detractors, Americans still enjoy the greatest freedoms of any nation on earth.  Compare what we enjoy in abundance with the pitiful existence of many nations who have not retained God in their knowledge, and you can understand that many of them are angry because we revel in that which they themselves cannot attain.

When our founding fathers signed the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, they mutually pledged their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor, to each other and to America.  During the course of the seven-year war that followed, nine of the signers died of wounds or hardships, 17 lost everything they owned, and five were captured or imprisoned.  They risked all they had, sacrificing everything for freedom.  They all kept their honor.

Today, our nation is at war – a very different and non-traditional war against a very dangerous and elusive enemy from without.  We also must awaken to another reality – our greatest enemy may be from within our own ranks.  This enemy threatens the principles and values that freedom-loving people hold dear – equality, self-governance, and the rule of law.

President John F. Kennedy, in the midst of another struggle, once observed,  “When there is a visible enemy to fight in open combat, many serve, all applaud, and the tide of patriotism runs high.  But when there is a long, slow struggle, with no immediate visible foe, your choice will seem hard indeed.”

Today, our enemy is not always visible, for we wrestle not against flesh and blood alone, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places (Eph 6:12 KJV)  We must have patience and perseverance in this conflict to preserve our freedoms.

That will require that we as Americans, moreover as Christian Americans, that we rise to the occasion and the great need of America, and become once again a people of great character.  The good character of the founding fathers will not suffice.  We must boldly arise as men and women of faith and become internally what the Book instructs us to be.  Character is what I really am at the core of my being.

We must also become people of great conviction once again.  It is high time that the people who profess to know God determine to live like we know Him.  Like David of old, facing the giant Goliath, we must remind each other, “Is there not a cause?!”  Conviction is the bottom line of all my thinking – it’s what I have concluded as vitally important – important enough for which to die if necessary.

We must also become a nation of people with great courage.  Political correctness is no replacement for the combination of good character, great conviction, and great courage.  Without character, we become dishonest and self-centered, which unfortunately and increasingly describes our country, including many of our national leaders. 

 Without conviction, we lose our bearings, our moral compass, again descriptive of our nation – a country adrift morally.  Without courage, we fail to act on that which we profess to be and to believe.  America has gone from a president who could courageously say, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down that wall!” to one who apologizes for America to rouge nations wherever he travels!  And that makes those of us with good character, convictions and courage nauseous!

 (Jos 1:6 KJV)  Be strong and of a good courage: for unto this people shalt thou divide for an inheritance the land, which I sware unto their fathers to give them.

 Men like our first president George Washington, our first chief justice John Jay, and many others exhibited character, conviction, and courage from the beginning, as they secured for us a more perfect union.  The legions of courageous men of women of scripture and of our own national history are just that – history – and will not suffice for today.  Through the centuries they have all run their legs of the relay-race of life and today the baton has been placed into our hands.  We, like those who have run before us, must be strong and of good courage. 

  (Jos 1:9 KJV)  Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the LORD thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.

 Viewing the landscape of modern culture, I must admit, there is cause for grave concern on every hand.  However, the visible ills of America’s political and financial dilemmas are only symptomatic of the invisible and increasing immorality of character that robs us of conviction and renders us shivering cowards, void of courage, before the world that needs the Savior that we claim to own.

 On this Veterans Day, let’s concentrate on and honor our forefathers and the fighting men and women of this nation for their courage, their vision, and their sacrifices.  Let’s remember how precious our rights and freedoms and those who have secured them for us!

 And veterans, we honor your service, your courage, your countless sacrifices at sea, in the air, and on distant fields of battle.  May God continue to bless this great nation, and the past, present, and future members of our Armed Forces and their families.

Remembering Justin

Thirty-five years ago this morning (much earlier than I’m writing this), I was making phone calls and pacing the corridor in front of the nursery at Crittenden Hospital in Rochester, Michigan.  I don’t remember his birth weight.  I don’t recall his length.  However, I can never forget him

To a father, the birth of a child is special, but the birth of a son is somehow extra-special.  And for thirty-two years, Justin Dale Peterson found a special place in the hearts of those who got to know him.  His impact was larger than life to many of us—so much so that our memories of him are almost as real as life itself—only he is not here in person.

For example, somewhere in the Philippine Islands, Bob and Susan Tevault serve as missionaries.  However, in the early 1980s they were serving as principal and elementary school teacher respectively at Paducah Christian Academy, the educational arm of the Broadway Baptist Church where I served as senior pastor.  Or somewhere in Heaven, Juanita Wagers, who in the first years of Justin’s life loved him in her home for eight hours each weekday as his mother worked.  Or right here in Southfield, Michigan, just like he was doing during Justin’s junior high and high school years, Dr. Ken Hall will occupy that office at Southfield Christian School.  Certainly he will never forget the impact that Justin, a regular visitor to his office, had amongst the school family.  (Notice that I haven’t claimed the impact to always be positive, although in the big picture, that impact certainly was!)

The list of people, places, and events the lives of others intersected with Justin’s are too varied and exhaustive to write about here and now—fellow students, soccer team members at every level of soccer from AYSO through Taylor University, neighbors, friends, and fellow Marines.  However, that influence was cut short three years ago tomorrow in a freak non-combat accident in the sands of Iraq, where Justin was serving on a border transition team. 

Hold that thought (about a life of influence being cut short), and let me ask a sobering question—one that I’m asking myself on this 35th birthday of my first son.  What impact and influence does my own life have, given the way I am currently living?  You see, any of our lives could be cut short—an accident, a sudden medical problem, or a terminal illness to which we succumb.  I know, I know, thinking about dying isn’t a pleasant thought on which to dwell.  However, since “it is appointed unto men once to die,” perhaps we would be wise to use various mile markers along the road of life to evaluate how we are spending the lives we have.

That being said, how are you spending your life?  What impact is your life having on other people within the circle of your influence?  Each of us certainly has a circle of influence—some larger, some smaller.  The question isn’t how large or small, but rather “What difference does my life make in the lives of those within the circle that is mine?”  Is it positive and wholesome and beneficial for others or is my life a negative influence that drains others and drags them down?

BTW, do you pray?  If so, would you pray that both you as the reader and I as the writer, and as our lives intersect in this cyber-moment of time, will make daily decisions that will augment the positive influence of our lives to the benefit of those around us for time and eternity?  Thanks for that momentary partnership in prayer!

And since you’re already praying, why not pray for my wonderful daughter-in-law Patty and Justin’s three children, Jared (9), Jayden (5), and Caitlin (3) … and Justin’s four siblings (Charity, Jordan, Joshua, and Joy) … and … well … you get the idea.

Well, I sure do miss my boy, especially today.  And I know that I’m certainly not the only one wiping tears, swallowing lumps in my throat, and remembering … and laughing.  (You see, if remembering Justin doesn’t make you laugh, you probably didn’t really know him!)  But I don’t intend to waste the pain and ponderings.  There are many things in life that we have to go through, but it’s always a choice whether we grow through them. 

Now, let’s go make a positive impact within our respective circles of influence while we have today!  Cheers!

Justin Dale Peterson 2006

Justin Dale Peterson 2006

A Living Hero

On this seventh anniversary of one of American’s darkest days – September 11 – I am reflecting on many things … the events of that fateful day … the carnage … the hatred that was directed toward America … the innocent men, women, and children who died … the brave men and women who gave their lives trying to rescue the perishing …

But my mind had already been pondering these things for several days already.  For example, earlier this week I sat for a few minutes in the visitor’s center parking lot at Michigan’s Selfridge ANG base, waiting for a new friend to arrive.  There had been a miscommunication and my name was not on the list of visitors with authorization to come on base, so I was waiting on SgtMjr Timothy Lamar to come escort me on base.

Within perhaps five minutes of my phone call to his office, the SgtMjr passed my Suburban, yelling “Dale?” as he did so.  After parking his motorcycle, he jumped in the truck with me.  We shook hands and introduced ourselves to each other, and we headed to lunch at Mulligan’s, a small restaurant that is still (for the time being) a part of the aging military installation, operated by the National Guard, but which also serves as home to a US Marine detachment as well.  But I digress …

The United States Marine Corps has a reputation amongst Americans and the American military as a whole.  They’re known as “The Few, the Proud, the Marines,” but they can also be some of the most humble, “gentle giants” that one could ever meet.  Such a Marine is Tim Lamar … a husband, father of four … and veteran of three tours in Iraq and 26 years in the Corps … so he will dispute with me when I say this, but … oh well …

While Tim Lamar is “just dad” to four awesome children … and perhaps has a “honey-do list” waiting at home at the end of the day from his wonderful wife because he’s “just a husband” when he sheds the “utilities,” dons civilian clothes and rides that bike home … he is a living hero to me.

Maybe it because my oldest soon Justin, a career Marine of 15 years, a captain only a few months from making Major, gave his life in the sand of Iraq.  Perhaps it’s because my youngest son Joshua, is oh-so-close to making Sergeant in the USMC (Reserves).  Yes … I’m partial to the USMC … I’ll admit it!  But there are reasons far beyond my own two sons.  There are Marines like Tim Lamar.

Tim, originally from Holland (MI), has spent the last 26 years of his life as a Marine.  He’s seen the truth and realities of Iraq … you know, the kind of reality that CNN, ABC, CBS, NBC, and the like never seem to discover … or if they do happen to capture some footage, it seems to get lost in the shuffle before it hits the television screens of the world (sic).  But during our conversation before, during, and after lunch, I discovered that Tim embraces a value system that not only resonates with me personally, but a value system that is rooted in the very principles upon which this great nation was founded over 230 years ago.

What a privilege to spend a couple of hours with another of the unsung, living heroes … the men (and women) whom we as Americans often take for granted … our military.  So, the next time you see one of America’s men and women in uniform, why not take a moment to shake their hands and thank them for protecting our borders and keeping us free?

And, BTW, do you pray?  If so, would you pause right now to pray, thanking the God of Heaven for Marines like Tim Lamar, and asking Him to protect and strengthen those who keep us free?  And, if you’re already praying for SgtMjr Lamar, go ahead and pray for me.  We’re going to be working on a date when I will address the Marines stationed at Selfridge ANG in Mt. Clemens, Michigan.

Cheers!