Wednesday, December 19, 2012

One Day Closer to the Grave

Every day, I am one day closer to dying.

Heck, it could be today, I suppose. In many ways, I hope not. But, if that train pulls into the station, I’m ready to board.

As I have aged, I’ve left a lot of things behind.

For example, I don’t play hide-and-go-seek too much, unless you include trying to find my car keys each morning.

I also don’t play the Hokie Pokie too much. At my age, it’s not safe to keep putting my left foot in and taking my left foot out. You know, broken hips and all.

I’m getting better, though, at playing Freeze Tag. Whenever I’m sitting in a chair or laying on the bed, I’m finding it is getting harder and harder to get my back and knees to unfreeze from their laying down position.

But, even as I age and leave things behind, there’s one thing I haven’t forgotten nor left behind. It’s the simple words to a simple children’s song:

“Jesus loves me! this I know, For the Bible tells me so’
Little ones to Him be-long; They are weak, but He is strong.
Yes, Jesus loves me, Yes, Jesus loves me,
Yes, Jesus loves me, The Bible tells me so.”

Then, the third verse really touches my thoughts today:

“Jesus loves me! loves me still, Thou I’m very weak and ill;
From His shin-ing, throne on high, Comes to watch me where I lie.
Yes, Jesus loves me, Yes, Jesus loves me,
Yes, Jesus loves me, The Bible tells me so.”

My friends, Jesus loves you! No matter who you are. Where you are. What you’ve done. What you’ve said. Or not said.

His love for you never fails.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Learning to Keep Our Mouth Shut

Do you ever sit back and listen to someone talk about an event you saw and experienced first-hand, but you know they didn’t see first-hand?

Ever listen to the details they share about what took place, pieced together not from their own experience, but from countless bits of gossip or conversation they’ve heard since the event took place?

Isn’t it amazing how those events can take on a life of their own? Somewhere in their retelling of the event, there’s some truth in there, but there’s also a lot of falsehood thrown in for good measure. Not that they would intentionally pass along falsehood. Then again, maybe they would.

As a police chaplain, I’m often a first responder to events taking place in the community. Sometimes, I’m a second responder, coming after law enforcement has arrived on the scene and determined that a chaplain is needed. Either way, I see, hear, and experience many situations first-hand, many that I’d just soon not see, hear, or experience.

And, more than likely, you’ll never hear about those experiences. Well, at least not from me. You might hear about them on a local TV or radio station’s newscast. You might see someone post about it on Facebook. If you live in this area, you might hear about it through gossip at the barbershop, work, salon, or even in the church you attend.

But, you won’t hear it from me.

That’s a promise I made to myself when I began as a chaplain. Keeping a confidence is important. It is important in law enforcement. It is important to the person injured, arrested, or under investigation.

It is important to me as a minister of God’s kingdom.

In our nation, we could use a good dose of keeping our mouth shut. Less talking to the news media about what we saw or didn’t see. Less gossiping about what we heard or what someone told us to be true. Less sticking our noses where they don’t belong.

Sadly, I don’t think that’ll happen. We humans tend to like our 15 minutes of fame, or with instant technology today, it’s more like 15 seconds of fame. Just read Facebook posts or go to many Wednesday night church prayer meetings, you’ll see what I’m talking about.

Today, practice staying silent. Don’t gossip. Quit sharing details that you know. Or don’t know. You’ll be a better person for it.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Do What You Say

“If you have integrity, nothing else matters. If you don’t have integrity, nothing else matters” (Alan Simpson).

A good policy (and a cliché, I suppose) to follow is this: Say what you mean and mean what you say.

I don’t know who said that first, but, I’ll use it here. I like it.

Keeping your word is not always easy. It should be—but, it’s not.

We learn from an early age to tell “a little white lie” to get out of a problem. We can be tempted to “cheat just a little” on our taxes, because everyone else does it. We can cut corners because no one is really going to check behind us.

But, is that the point? Do we lie because it is easy? Do we cheat because everyone does it? Do we cut corners because no one checks behind us?

I’ve never seen the top of the Statue of Liberty, at least in person. I am told that the top of the statue is finely crafted, as is the rest of the statue. The statue was designed by Frédéric Bartholdi and dedicated on October 28, 1886, as a gift to the American people. The date of dedication is important to note, 1886. That’s long before airplanes. Or helicopters. Or even people climbing on buildings without permission, often called buildering.

So, why not cut corners? Why not leave the top (which at the time no one would see) unfinished? Roughed in? Doing so would have saved time and money.

But no. It was finished. Crafted. And completed.

How I wish my life could be like that. Complete, finished, and crafted, both inside and out, the parts seen and those never seen by anyone else.

What a goal for me. And, maybe for you too. Do what you say you are going to do. Complete the work placed before you. Be a good steward of your time, energy, money, etc. Give everything your very best effort. Honor what you say you will do.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Dirty Jesus

At first glance, Evan’s theology might need a little work.

This past weekend, we hosted several friends at our house for a little Christmas fellowship. Evan grew more and more excited about our guests as their arrival time approached.

He was especially excited about the idea of playing “Dirty Santa.” You know the game, right? Everyone brings a small gift or ornament. The gifts are placed in a pile and are opened one at a time. When it’s time for the second person to open a present, that can “steal” the gift previously opened or can open a yet unopened gift. It continues that way until all gifts have been opened.

The game is fun. It usually brings laughs. And, maybe even a little good nature competition.

As Evan was talking about the game, he couldn’t remember the game’s name. Finally, he said, “You know, that game. Dirty Jesus.”

We couldn’t stop laughing when he called it that. Neither could our guests when they heard what he’d said. Neither could those who read about it on Facebook that night.

Dirty Jesus.

But you know, the more I’ve thought about what Evan said, he’s more right than wrong.

Jesus came from heaven to be born in a dirty stable, with common dirty animals, and was placed in a dirty hay trough. I’ve been in barns. Trust me. Dirty.

Jesus spent His early years as the son of a carpenter, getting saw dust under His finger nails and probably hitting His thumb with a hammer. I’ve been in many workshops. Again, trust me. Dirty.

When Jesus’ earthly ministry was ending, a woman washed His feet with perfume and scrubbed His feet with her hair. When the woman's actions were criticized by those around Jesus, He said that not a single one of them remembered their manners and washed His feet when He entered the home for a meal. Calloused feet. Dirty. Stinky feet.

Jesus walked every where He went. His feet were often dirty. His feet may have been dirty more than clean. Jesus worked with His hands as a boy and dirt and mud were often found on Him and His clothes. Lava, Gojo, Mr. Clean, Ajax, and Tide or Gain hadn’t been invented yet.

Jesus experienced dirt firsthand. Jesus got His hands dirty.

That gives new meaning to “God becoming flesh.” Or, “God among us.” It’s amazing how much God loves us—He even sent His Son to live on our dirty planet and to be like us. And, to experience dirty firsthand.

Dirty Jesus. I’m so thankful for God who allowed His Son to play in the dirt.

And, I’m thankful for my son who reminded me again what Christmas is really all about.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

High Expectations

“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything—all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure—these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important” (Steve Jobs).

How high should our expectations be?

For our children? For our family? For our job? For our church?

How high is too high?

How low is too low?

I will admit that I struggle with determining expectations, both for myself and others. I’ve always set high expectations for myself. Whether it was with my education or my work or even in my hobbies, I’ve tried to always aim for impossible heights. I figure if I don’t set high expectations for myself, no one else will.

But, should I have the same high expectations for other people? Maybe. Maybe not.

In truth, other people are responsible for what they do and don’t do in life—that’s not my job. In truth, other people determine how much education they get or high they climb the ladder in their chosen profession or how they live their every day life. Again, that’s not my job.

I have no right to place my expectations upon others. Not upon coworkers. Not upon my wife. Not upon my friends. Not upon anyone else.

I do think, however, that there is an intersection, where expectations meet. If I hire someone to do a job for me, they should do the job as I expect it to be done. If I am empowered to do a job, others should respect the work I’ve done and the decisions made. They may not agree with the decision, but they should respect my efforts.

Do I think our world would be a better place if everyone set higher expectations for themselves? For their work? By all means, yes! Do I have a right to enforce those expectations? By no means, I don’t.

So, we are left to decide what falls to the side and what things we set as priority. That’s a personal decision.

But, I challenge you to believe in yourself so much that you believe you can reach higher than ever before!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Life Happens

Life happens.

Startling reality for some people, especially those who believe someone, something, or some Higher Power is responsible for rescuing them from it.

Yet, life happens.

I had a heart attack 4 years ago, when Evan was 8 months old. That really wasn’t fair. I was in good shape. I exercised daily. I ran. I tried to eat right. Having a heart attack was just plain wrong. It was totally unfair.

Yet, life happens.

Three years ago, when Tonya came up for tenure, she was terminated. I’ve since learned that’s a pretty common occurrence, even for someone who had been nominated as "Teacher of the Year" in our country! As a matter of fact, every teacher in her school who came up for tenure that year was terminated, even a teacher who had moved here three years prior with her husband and who was two years from retirement, was terminated. Not fair! But, very painful!

Life happens.

It’s 14 days before Christmas. Two weeks. Yet, over the weekend, our septic tank alarm system went off. Water level was too high in the tank. Upon examination, our pump is dead and the tank needs to be cleaned out. We’ve delayed washing clothes. We’ve taken very fast showers. And, Evan has had permission not to flush after every bathroom visit. Really not fair to have to spend this kind of money so close to Christmas.

Yet, life happens.

But, where am I promised that life will be filled with roses, clear skies, and happy days? Only on the TV show Duck Dynasty does life seem to be “happy, happy, happy.” Real life, is never always happy. Nor, should it be expected to be.

Life happens.

Yet, even as life happens, God remains in control. And, He teaches us things through our life experiences—both the good ones and the ones we think are so unfair.

I have no clue what today holds. I haven’t the slightest idea what’s coming for you or me. But, I know God. And, I know He’s in control.

While I may not like everything that happens and I may think it’s unfair, what does that really matter in the grand scheme of life?



Monday, December 10, 2012

Throwing a Fit

I sometimes sit and watch my son, finding myself shaking my head at his behavior. Evan is such a good child, most of the time. He probably averages 80% good, 20% terror. That’s not a bad average.
I never expect perfection from him—he’s only 4 ½ years old. He’s learning new things every day. He’s testing his limits. He’s finding his way in the world. Evan has so much to learn.
While I don’t expect perfection, I do have certain expectations on how he should act and how he should react.
One of his new “behaviors” was picked up from another child at school—I’m not making excuses for his behavior by blaming another child. But, it’s important to note that this was a learned behavior from watching someone else.
What’s the behavior? When he doesn’t get his way, he’ll literally throw himself on the floor and begin wailing. You should know there are no tears being shed. Oh, there can be screaming and kicking the floor. But, it’s more of an act that being heartbroken.
When he reacts/acts this way, we respond with discipline. The discipline varies, depending on a number of factors.
Most of the time, if not all of the time, his little “fit” only lasts for a few minutes.
I have to admit that what Evan does seems frighteningly similar to how I react to situations in my life. Or, how I react to God saying “no” when I want something.
Now, I don’t literally throw myself on the floor, kick, or scream. But, I’ve been known to throw a fit or two. And, in truth, my fits are just as wrong as Evan’s. And, I suppose, if anyone were watching, they’d think I was being as childish as a four-year-old who isn’t getting his way.
I’m not four. Not even close.
I have to grow up. I must mature. I must continue learning from God’s discipline and instruction. I must stop watching others and behaving the way they do. God doesn’t call me to be like anyone else—He wants me to be like Him.
I don’t like God’s punishment any more than Evan likes my discipline. But, the discipline is necessary—if I want to mature and become more like God.
I want to grow up! I must grow up!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Thrown Under the Bus

“Ariel, listen to me: The human world is a mess. Life under the sea is better than anything they’ve got up there!” (Sebastian, The Little Mermaid).

Do you ever “get thrown under the bus?”

Maybe that’s a phrase you aren’t familiar with. To be “thrown under the bus”, at least by my definition, means to sacrifice someone else, usually someone who is undeserving, to cover for something you have done or are thinking or something you’ve experienced in the past.

One day recently, I was thrown under the bus by two different people, relating to two different situations.

One person is a friend. The other person I only know by reputation.

One threw me under the bus to cover up something they had done.

The other person threw me under the bus because they were transferring their emotion for something in their past, that I was no part of, onto me.

Neither situation was pleasant. Neither enjoyed. And, quite truthfully, neither was deserved.

I long ago learned that you can only defend yourself so far. Before long, it appears you are protesting too much.

For example, someone says, “Do you still beat your wife?” How do you answer that question? If you say, “Yes, I still beat my wife,” you should go to jail. However, if you say, “No, I don’t still beat my wife,” it tends to imply that you once beat your wife.

You can’t win for losing on that one.

When you are thrown under the proverbial bus, you never really win.

In the first situation I mentioned above, I just took it and didn’t reply.

In the second situation, I told the person that it was best I not respond, because no answer would truly satisfy them.

That’s how I responded. Hopefully, I’ll continue to always remember that, at times, (maybe most times) it’s just best to keep your mouth shut and not reply at all.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Vanishing Dream

“You don’t even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? It is a mist that appears for a little while. Then it disappears” (James 4:14).

During much of my life I’ve had a singular goal. My goal has been to be used by God to make a difference in the lives of the people I come into contact with.




Even complete strangers.

Whether in person, through a sermon preached, a blog, a Facebook update, or a written word, I’ve desired for those, in some form or fashion, to have an impact upon other people.

The older I get, the more I realize that my opportunities to make a difference are running out. I’m aging. Eventually, and sooner than later, I’m going to die.

In the days after my death, someone will come along and box up all of my personal effects for my wife to take home. If I am lucky, in a few months after that, someone will see something I worked on or remember something I said and they’ll say, “I remember Steve…”

But, those memories won’t last long. I doubt anyone will be quoting me as they do George Washington or Martin Luther King, Jr. or Jeff Gordon or even David Letterman.

It’s somewhat demoralizing to realize how little impact we actually have on this world, and for the short time we have any impact upon it.

At this moment, the reality of just how short life is and how little time we have to make a difference is sitting heavy upon my shoulders.

I guess I’m supposed to say that I’ll just need to redouble my efforts and do a better job in the time I have left.

But, at some moments in time, thinking that and doing that are two different things.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

A Line in the Sand

“Setting boundaries is not a more sophisticated way of manipulation—although some people will say they are setting boundaries, when in fact they are attempting to manipulate. The difference between setting a boundary in a healthy way and manipulating is: when we set a boundary we let go of the outcome” (Robert Burney).

My four-year-old son is testing boundaries right now.

He’s doing so almost all day every day about everything.

I know he’s growing up and pushing boundaries is a part of growing up. I’ve got that. I don’t need to be reminded of that. Honest I don’t. I do remember being a child.

Evan will ask me a question twelve times when he doesn’t get his way. Each time, I’ll tell him no and why the answer is no. Finally, when he realizes that I’m not giving in, he’ll go to his mother and want to begin the questioning again with her.

Fortunately, Evan’s mother and I are on to him. And, we work as a team.

Don't misunderstand. Evan is free to ask questions. He’s free to challenge our answers. We encourage his independence to grow (when he’s thirty, we don’t want him still living at home with us)!

But, his constant pushing wears on us. And, yes, at times, it wears us down. Almost to our wit’s end. Even to the point of anger and frustration.

I look at that little boy—who I love with my entire being—and I want to say, “Son, grow up! Accept the boundaries your mother and I set for you! We are doing what’s best for you. Accept it. Move on!”

Then, as I look into his eyes, I hear God’s voice speaking to me. I’ve been the master of pushing boundaries many times. I’ve been known to go back to God again and again and again. Each time with the same question. Each time getting the same answer from Him. But, with me asking just once more. Hoping He’ll do what I want!

I’m really no better than Evan at taking no for the answer.

Yet, God patiently loves me. Disciplines me when I need it. And continues to do what is best for me, even though it’s not what I always want.

I certainly need to pay more attention to God’s parenting skills as I parent my son. God’s the expert.

I’m still pushing the boundaries I’m afraid.

Monday, December 3, 2012

We the People...

“A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed” (Amendment 2, United States Constitution).

While watching Sunday Night Football last night on NBC, I was surprised that heading into their last break before coming back for the 3rd quarter, I heard Bob Costas give a personal 90-second anti-gun rant (or what sounded like a personal rant), related to the murder/suicide committed by the Kansas City Chiefs player over the weekend.

What took place in Kansas City was terrible. No way around that. Countless lives, including a 3-month old baby’s life, will forever be changed by what took place.

But, for Bob Costas to give a rant about guns was unnecessary, uncalled for, and unprofessional. I don’t remember Costas condemning players who have raped, murdered, and assaulted people over the years. I don’t remember him condemning Michael Vick for killing dogs. Maybe he did and I just don’t remember.

But, football is about football and not delivering the personal political agendas of a sportscaster or network. If I want political agenda, I’ll tune in MSNBC, CNN, PBS, or even Fox News. I expect it there. I don’t expect, nor want to watch it while I watch sports.

I fully understand that neither NBC nor Bob Costas care what I think. I got that.

But, I made my decision last night. After Costas’ rant, I turned off Sunday Night Football. No big deal. No huge protest. Just my personal choice. How will my protest last? Time will tell. At this point, I won't turn it back on in the foreseeable future.

Believe what you want about guns, gun controls, or gun owners. I know the old cliché may be tired, but it’s people that kill, not guns. All we need to do is to look at the city of Chicago to verify that. Chicago has one of the tightest gun control laws on the books in the United States. Yet, so far this year, they’ve had 508 murders and over 2,475 shootings recorded, as of December 1.

So, clearly more is involved in stopping crime, murders, and shootings than just taking away weapons.

I don’t have all of the answers. I just know that for a sportscaster to rant about taking away guns doesn’t really help the discussion, nor offer any reasonable answers.