Archive for March, 2016


March 26, 2016


Silent Saturday, 2016.  This holy week millions of people commemorate the last chapter of the central event of history, the most amazing act of love the world will ever witness—the Passion of Jesus Christ.  On Good Friday we gratefully honor the crucifixion of Christ, God’s son, who intentionally suffered and died as an atoning sacrifice for the sins of his people.  He died as our substitute because, since the fall of Adam, we are all inherently incapable of meeting God’s requirements of holiness and righteousness, or even caring about them of our own volition.  According to a plan designed in detail in the throne room of God before time began, a sinless Christ, our Savior, was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities…and with his stripes we are healed, as Isaiah prophesied 700 years in advance.  And because Jesus rose from the dead on Easter, all who have faith in him and his work on our behalf can look forward with certainty to a similar great resurrection morning—though he die, yet shall he live forever, by Christ’s own promise. This is indeed the Gospel, so simple it is mind-boggling, the best “good news” that could ever enter the mind of man.

A key participant in this drama was a man named Judas Iscariot, one of Jesus’ disciples, who betrayed the best friend he could ever have.  Judas, a sinner not unlike you and me, turned his back on eternal bliss for cold, unsatisfying, transitory cash; Judas, a master of self-delusion, as is everyman, convinced himself the wrong thing was the right thing to do; Judas, an impatient, egocentric man, just like the rest of us, forsook waiting on the Lord and took matters into his own hands.

We do not know all the details and we can only surmise the thoughts that ran through Judas’ mind, so I have taken what is known from the biblical record and filled in the blanks with my imagination based on a lifetime of Bible study.  I cannot know the heart of another, especially a traitor like Judas, but sometimes I think I know the heart of this sinner saved by grace, and I confess I am appalled.  My thoughts are sinful almost all the time, and when my words and deeds are not, my motives are. And I know that, absent the sustaining grace, the utterly unmerited favor of God who loves me beyond my comprehension, I could have been Judas.  Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who witnessed more evil than most, said,

“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

Christ on the cross provides the only solution to this universal dilemma.  Ponder these truths and examine your own heart as you read the anguished last words of Judas Iscariot.

Let’s suppose that network news existed in first century Palestine and a TV reporter was in Jerusalem to cover Passover, the highest of Jewish holy days. The scene is the Garden of Gethsemane, outside the city’s eastern wall on the slopes of the Mount of Olives, just 24 hours after Jesus’ was arrested there. The camera is rolling and the reporter is saying:

“Jesus of Nazareth, controversial itinerant preacher, alleged miracle worker and nemesis of the Jewish religious authorities, was crucified just west of the city walls today.  Coincidentally, he died at the same time that Jews were sacrificing their paschal lambs on the great temple’s altar, a centuries old ritual.  The man who, according to eyewitnesses, last night led authorities to Jesus of Nazareth right here where I am standing, was one of his closest twelve associates, a man named Judas Iscariot.  According to those who knew him best, none of whom were willing to talk to this reporter on the record, the betrayer was an enigmatic sort, a mixture of altruism and selfishness, loyalty and deceit, patriotism and self-centeredness.  Candidly, the impression this reporter got was that he was a pretty typical person….”

Something stage left, off camera, catches the reporter’s attention.  A dejected, disheveled looking man, deep in thought with a coil of rope in his left hand, is wandering aimlessly through the garden.

“I believe that is…yes it is.”  The reporter realized with excitement that he had the news scoop of the ratings season and quit reading his prepared script.

“Cameraman, if you could pan to my left, here he is now.  Judas Iscariot!”

The man looked up, startled at the sound of his name.

“Judas, you look like a man with a tormented soul…and for good reason, I hear.  Here’s your chance to justify your traitorous act before the world.  Speak to us.”  He walked over to the man and held the microphone to his face while the man stared back angrily.

“Speak…you want me to speak?  No matter what I say you’ve already condemned me. You’re a sorry sounding sinner with that holier-than-thou tone of voice.  Who gave you the right to judge me?

“Judas, the world is watching.  You’ll never get a better chance than this to justify yourself.”

Judas looked down at the ground, took a deep breath as he pondered his options, then dropped his rope and wrung his hands.  He began in a pleading voice full of self-pity.

“Do you know what it is to long for recognition?  For acceptance?  Do you know that awful, lonesome feeling of an outsider?  You know, in my whole life no one ever said to me, ‘Judas, it’s good to see you.’  I wanted so badly to be somebody special.  Am I so strange?  Haven’t you had longings like that?  I bet you didn’t get where you are without them.  With me it became an obsession.  I’d pay any price…any price whatsoever.”  He paused and took another deep, quavering breath as he rubbed his bewhiskered face with both hands.

“Listen to my story.  I’m not asking for forgiveness.  I’m beyond forgiveness.  Let my life be a warning.  There is not a viewer out there who is not capable of doing the same terrible thing I did.” As he talked he shook a pointed finger right into the camera, then stopped, dropped his hand to his side like a dead weight and looked up into the branches of the olive trees.  With another uncomfortable pause, he resumed.

“It all began so well.  I was born in Kerioth, in Judea.  Home of God’s chosen people, home of this holy city, home of almighty God’s magnificent temple.  I alone was a true Israeli—the rest of the disciples were from Galilee.  Galilee…whose only claim to fame is that nothing good ever came from there.  And I was the only one of the bunch who had a resume worthy of the job.  That’s why Jesus made me treasurer.”  With that he threw his shoulders back and thrust out his chest.

“Like all Jewish parents, mine were so happy at the birth of a baby boy.  My father proudly announced that my name would be Judas.  That means ‘praised of God.’ Did you know that? Judas, praised of God.” A smile briefly crossed his countenance as he stared into space over the head of the interviewer.

“I was raised like all Judean boys.  I was taught to fear God and to await the promised deliverer.  That’s what attracted me to Jesus the first time I saw him.  He had that aura of authority.  I heard him on several occasions and he stirred me like no teacher ever had.  Then that amazing day came when he delivered that sermon just up the slope here on the Mount of Olives.  Wow!  I was sure that the kingdom he kept talking about was the promised kingdom we’d all been waiting for. At the close of his sermon I stood there starry eyed…transfixed.  And he came right up to me, looked deep into my eyes and said, ‘Judas, follow me.’  And I did!  He was irresistible.

“Jesus chose me.”  He looked incredulous at the thought, but his tone of voice was prideful.  “He chose me, along with a  few others…and I had the purest, noblest intentions when I shouldered my knapsack that day.

“‘Why would he chose me,’ you ask?  Why would he chose you?  Judas pondered it himself for a few seconds, then continued.

“In those early days we were such great pals.  We hung on every word that came out of his mouth.  Then, out of his presence we were always trying to guess when his revolution would begin.

“‘How to explain the change?’  I…I don’t know if I can.  It was a gradual thing.  You know we lived like vagabonds and paupers, and somehow greed and self-centeredness just crept in.  With the passage of time…what an awful lifestyle…and no move on his part to declare his kingship of Israel, I just grew more and more disenchanted. As treasurer I found myself filching coins, telling myself I’d pay them back…but somehow never did.  Jesus saw the change in me.  He warned me.  ‘Judas, beware of covetousness.  A man’s life is not measured by the things he has, Judas.  There is nothing hid that shall not be known, Judas.’

“But as terrible as my greed was, it was nothing compared to my desire for recognition.  I hungered for that more than I hungered for food.  And yet people laughed at us, called us names, chased us out of town.  I had given up everything for Jesus and they made me feel like the scum of the earth.  And the folks we hung out with—down-and-outers, lepers, cripples….  Poverty-stricken hordes dogged us day and night.  And when we complained to Jesus about it he always said, ‘My job is to do the will of my father.’  How can you argue with that?”  Judas stared at the reporter as if he were looking for agreement.  He pressed on with increased intensity.

“Well, finally I got up my nerve to make my move.  You see…I figured that if he really was the Messiah, then his legions of angels would protect him from anything.  And if he was not who he claimed to be, well…then…he deserved to be exposed, and the man doing the exposing would be proclaimed throughout the land.  Judas Iscariot!  I would be somebody!  I didn’t do it for the money—thirty pieces of silver, the price of a slave …?   Are you kidding?

“So I set it all up with the Sanhedrin for his arrest, then joined the others in the upper room for the Passover Meal.  I was so nervous….  I had never done anything like that before.  While the meal was being served Jesus did the most demeaning thing imaginable: he washed our feet.  You know in our part of the world showing the sole of your foot to another person is the most insulting thing you can do to him.  Servants wash feet,” he shouted indignantly.

“When he was done he said, ‘All of you are not clean.’  I knew who he was talking about.  He added, ‘One of you will betray me.’  Just like all the rest, I said, Is it I, Lord?  I might have fooled the others but I didn’t fool Jesus.  My heart was beating so hard I feared everyone could hear it.  So when he leaned toward me and said, ‘Do it quickly,’ I got out of there.  The man was reading every thought in my head.

“Well…you know the rest of the story.  Jesus allowed himself to be condemned in a trial that was the biggest travesty of justice Israel has ever seen.  Then he let them kill him in the most hideous way they knew how.  They scourged him—ripped the flesh off his bones till he was unrecognizable and nearly dead—and then crucified him…and he went like a lamb to the slaughter…and I knew…I had made a big mistake.”  Tears were running down his cheeks into his beard.

“Jesus was forever preaching about repentance and forgiveness…and I know I have sinned and need to get down on my knees and repent…but I cannot bring myself to do it.  I have betrayed innocent blood—I have killed the Son of the Most High God.  I can’t forgive myself.  How can I ask anyone else to forgive me?  I threw the cash back in their faces but my guilt…and my despair have consumed me…and I can’t stand it any longer.” Judas was almost incoherent now.  He buried his face in hands and great choking sobs were broadcast to the world.  He turned his back on the camera for a moment, then slowly turned around, stared straight into the camera and said in a composed, resigned voice, “I deserve no common decency.  Don’t mark my grave.  They’ll just dig me up and hang me again….

“Hmmph.  I have my recognition now.  The world will never forget my name.  But if we meet again where I am going, you are in big trouble sinners, and you will share my pain and my agony for all eternity.  Fall on your knees and repent…while there is still time.  You know not the day nor the hour.”

Judas picked up his coil of rope, studied it a moment, then turned and resolutely walked off through the trees.

“Well, there you have it, folks.  Back to you in the studio, Augustus.”

The Bible states that Judas hanged himself outside the city in a field called Akeldama, the Field of Blood.  To this day when you go to Jerusalem they will show you where he obstinately took his own life rather than ask a merciful God for forgiveness.

This holy week consider the sins of Judas, and where he spends eternity, and remember that Christ died for the sins of those who believe in his life, death and resurrection and are sincerely repentant.  There is no sin so great that Almighty God cannot forgive a truly contrite heart but for the asking, nor will the smallest unconfessed sin in thought, word or deed be overlooked by the Gatekeeper of Heaven. And human effort will never be perfect enough to earn admittance to the perfection of heaven.  Faith alone in Christ’s amazing act of love alone is our boarding pass to eternal glory with him.  Blessed is he whose…sins are covered.

The night before he was crucified, Jesus stated simply and unequivocally, I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me. His disciple, Peter, who frightfully denied knowing Jesus the night he was arrested, a few weeks later declared to the same authorities who crucified Christ, with a boldness that astounded them: …there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.

Renowned eighteenth century hymn writer, Isaac Watts, penned the best possible response to this exalted Easter passion.  May it be your response this holy week:

Love so amazing, so divine,

Demands my soul, my life, my all.




My “Hun” on a Pedestal

March 17, 2016
F100 on stick Lakenheath
F-100 at RAF Lakenheath, England  © Frank Duarte. Jr.


I just rediscovered another old love, so beautiful without bombs and rockets and drop tanks slung under her wings! She’s one of the “huns” (F-100) I flew in combat, who now spends her retirement years on a pedestal welcoming visitors to RAF Lakenheath, England, near Cambridge, my last duty station as a USAF fighter pilot and the birthplace of our son. My grey matter is more like charcoal matter these days, but I can still recall forty-seven years ago, in 1968-9, on the opposite side of the planet from Lakenheath, angel #048 took me into combat and brought me home safely every time I flew her, and if memory serves she was the one who even took a hit without flinching for me once. I was on a low angle strafing pass over the jungle of Southeast Asia when I took a 50-caliber slug in the left leading edge wing slat, three feet from the fuselage and six feet from the cockpit. I must have been diving right down the 50 cal gun barrel and it was part of my target, though I did not see its muzzle flashes nor realize I’d been hit.   

CIMG4623A 50-cal is a belt fed weapon that has downed a lot of planes in the history of air warfare. I doubt the gunner gave me “the whole nine yards” (27 feet of the ammo belt), but it’s a reasonable assumption, from where the bullet hit, that there was a lot of lead in the air in close proximity to my face that I was not aware of. But, as Stonewall Jackson proclaimed, God has numbered our days, and until they are up, he was safe in his saddle (and I in my cockpit) no matter how much lead (or steel) was in the air. I was firing four 20-mm cannon (the silver bullet above to the left of the belt of 50 cal bullets) at a rate of 1700 rounds per minute in his direction, and my bullets exploded on impact. I was doing 400 knots and jinking around while he was stationary. It was not a fair fight—the best kind in war. The enemy has my admiration for having the courage to stick to his post and fire away at me as I bore down on him. He was obviously a better than averageF-100 silhoutte headon shot—an F-100 head-on is a slender silhouette and he hit one of the slenderest parts—but I was a pretty fair shot too, so it was most likely the last thing he did on this earth. Our bombs and bullets made such a helter-skelter pile of smoldering kindling out of the jungle that we could not know for sure.

The copper-jacketed, steel-core 50-cal bullet jammed the left wing leading edge slat, rendering it inop, so my final approach to landing was a bit testy—my wounded angel kept wanting to roll left. I compensated with a few more knots of airspeed and right rudder and #048 kissed the concrete more passionately than normal, and all ended well by God’s grace. And today she resides on a well-earned pedestal and I in an easy chair, and it appears she is aging better than I.




March 2, 2016

A random compilation for the amelioration of insufferable codger conversation, composed by the chief of codger conversational sinners.

  • As the codger conclave convenes, repeat to yourself three times: I will not interrupt.
  • No more than three sentences about health issues. Organ recitals are absolutely forbidden.
  • Serious talk is encouraged, grave talk is not.
  • Three sentences, maximum, about a grandchild. One grandchild, maximum, mentioned per conversation.
  • Be abstemious with first person pronouns and superlative adjectives.
  • Listen for edification, not for an inhalation break so you can slip a word in edgewise.
  • Do not jump on a word in the speaker’s sentence to take the conversation in a hard turn down a new topical bunny trail. It is maddeningly rude and cannot be excused under the cover of advanced years. (Perhaps the canon most often violated.)
  • If you cannot stick to the thread of the conversation, take another sip of coffee.
  • Humble brags are forbidden. Bald-faced brags are grounds for banishment.
  • The purpose of conversation is not to eradicate silence. If you abhor silence, you have not yet mastered the art of conversation, and time is running out.
  • When a conversational thread is exhausted, the best way to initiate a new one is to ask a question.
  • Listening, or better yet, interviewing, makes new friends and strengthens old friendships.
  • If you realize you are the only one laughing at your jokes, cease and desist. Perhaps one in ten self-diagnosed comedians really is. Observe with discernment: if the laughter of listeners sounds politely forced, it probably is. Apply the same remedy.
  • If the conversation is scintillating, ask more questions to keep it going. If it bores you, remain silent. When all listeners are mute and/or gazing about the room, a considerate codger will cease his monologue. Such discernment with the mouth engaged is a codger’s most challenging multi-task.
  • If your expressed original idea or analysis comes back to you as established knowledge at the next codger conclave, quietly congratulate yourself—do not try to claim the credit.
  • The following are banned:
    • A mid-sentence interruption correcting an insignificant, self-evident error in the speaker’s story—a codger conversation killer.
    • A pause, mid-sentence, followed by, “I’m having a senior moment.”
    • “That’s what I said.”
    • “That’s what you said.”
    • “I bought last time.”
  • The following are allowed:
    • “Tell me again your wife/son/daughter/brother/sister’s name.”
    • “Tell me your name again?” (allowed only for the most advanced codgers)
    • “What did we decide about________?”
    • “Who bought last time?”
    • A one word interjection, when it is apparent the speaker is having a senior moment, filling in the blank in the speaker’s sentence. (He’ll love you forever for demonstrating you are paying such close attention to his story.)
  • If you’ve heard the story before, casually raise your right hand, with only the index finger extended, even with your right ear. When all listeners have their hand in the air, the talker must stop. No exceptions.
  • Debrief yourself on the way  home. If you think you might have dominated the conversation, vow to amend your ways.
  • The toughest commandment of all the canons: Before opening your mouth, ask yourself, would a majority of this group give a hoot about this subject.

If every codger in the conclave can master these canons, they’ll be bosom buddies for life—candidates for sainthood.

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