Archive for the ‘family’ Category

Give thanks to God

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.  –Psalm 107:1*

Recently I’ve been pondering what it means to give thanks to God. The Bible is full of examples of thanksgiving being lifted up to the Lord.  After giving it much thought, I’ve come to several conclusions. First and foremost, thanking God is my way of acknowledging His supreme authority and position in my life.  God gave me life! Everything that is good in my life is a gift from Him.

I will praise God’s name in song and glorify him with thanksgiving. –Psalm 69:30

Second, there are multiple ways to give thanks to God.  These include praying; through the written, recorded and spoken work; in song; in giving of one’s time and treasure; and in prayerfully doing good works for others with no motive other than serving God. I write this blog as a thank offering to God. There are many other ways of thanking God that area not listed here. It occurs to me that we can thank God in almost any situation we encounter throughout the day. Continually thanking God can help one remain cognizant of God’s endless presence in his or her life.

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.  –I Thessalonians 5:16-18

Third, we are to thank God in all circumstances, both the easy times, the difficult ones and those in between.  In Philippians 4, the Apostle Paul tells us he has learned to be content whatever his circumstances. This is a tough one. In my lifetime I’ve had some real tragedies. When tragedy strikes, it is particularly difficult to discern any good at the time.  Over the years I’ve learned to pray to God for strength to get me though the difficulties and to give me wisdom to understand.  While it was difficult to discern the good at the time, in retrospect each difficult period of my life was a time of learning and spiritual growth that helped prepare me for God’s eternal kingdom.   

Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!  –2 Corinthians 9:15

Finally, give thanks to the lord for his grace in offering us salvation through Jesus Christ.

Doxology

I thank you, God, for your grace, the gift of life and my salvation through Jesus Christ.  Thank you for the Godly women who helped lead me to the Savior in my childhood. Thank you for loving aunts, uncles, and grandparents who helped raise and care for me after my parents divorced. Thank you for the churches and teachers who helped nurture and train me along the way. Thank you for giving me a godly wife to share my life with. Thank you for my children and grandchildren who bring joy to my life. Thank you for friends and family who have added richness to my life. Thank you for protecting and shielding me during times of trouble. Thank you for the work that enables me to sustain my family. Thank you for this day and all my days to come. Thanks be to God!

Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices,

Who wondrous things has done, in Whom this world rejoices;

Who from our mothers’ arms has blessed us on our way,

With countless gifts of love, and still is ours today. 

Hymn – Now Thank We All Our God:

*All Bible quotes are NIV.

Enduring truths for recent graduates

Across the country it’s graduation time. Here in South Dakota many schools have already closed for the summer. Most of those that remain open will close in the coming days. Everywhere one turns there’s another grad party. What awaits all these new grads? A decade ago I wrote an article  for my newspaper column with some advice for recent graduates. While it was aimed at high school graduates, it is also highly relevant to recent college grads. The article has become one of the most popular pieces I ever wrote. I’ve received hundreds of emails thanking me for taking the time to share it.  Therefore, I decided to  republish it annually around graduation time.  I hope some of you might find it useful.  You can view the original article in the Tribune-Democrat news at this link: http://goo.gl/LtN72

For those who are graduating high school this year and beginning the long transition into adulthood, I’d like to offer you a gift. Here are five enduring truths I have learned. They will help you through life’s journey.

Choices

“If you decide to just go with the flow, you’ll end up where the flow goes, which is usually downhill, often leading to a big pile of sludge and a life of unhappiness. You’ll end up doing what everyone else is doing.” ― Sean Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens

 Life will deal you an endless string of choices along the way.  Some will be trivial, like deciding what to wear today.  Others will be weighty and their outcomes will affect you forever.  Weighty decisions should always be preceded by much thought and soul searching.  This includes decisions about who you date or marry, what you put into your body, bringing children into the world, what you do for a living, how much debt you incur and who you associate with.

All of these decisions will have a lasting effect on your life. Therefore, make them slowly and deliberately. Often you’ll discover that the right choice is not the easiest one.  A habit of making poor choices will, as the Sean Covey quote suggests, drag your life downhill.

I was recently contacted by a young man who had just received a bad conduct discharge from the Navy.  He asked me how the discharge would impact his future employability.  His mistake was choosing to drive a car while intoxicated and hitting a pedestrian. Fortunately, the victim wasn’t seriously injured. Had it been otherwise, the young sailor would probably be in prison.  It was my sad responsibility to inform him that with some employers the discharge would be a black mark for life. Choices matter!

 Learning

“Experience is a hard teacher because she gives the test first, the lesson afterwards.”    ―Vernon Saunders Law, former professional baseball pitcher and Cy Young Award winner

Some of you will go on to college or technical school.  Others will enter the workforce.  Even if your formal education is over, don’t quit learning. Make learning a lifelong adventure.  I did my undergraduate work at the University of Kentucky.  The school offers a fellowship program for individuals aged 65 and older to attend classes tuition free. Every year numerous senior citizens walk the stage to receive degrees ranging from Associate of Arts to Doctor of Philosophy.  It’s never too late to learn.

Even if you don’t choose to continue formal learning, make it point to learn from life. Observe others; note their successes and failures; then learn from their experiences.  More importantly, learn from your own mistakes.

Some of the greatest lessons I’ve learned, particularly those while serving in uniform, were the result of having made a terrible mistake.  This sort of lesson sticks, like the first time you grab the handle of a hot iron skillet with your bare hand.  The key to learning from mistakes is owning them.  Admit your mistakes and then move on, having learned something from the experience.  Don’t let, “It wasn’t my fault,” be part of your vocabulary.

 Work

“A dream doesn’t become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work.”  ―Colin Powell, retired U.S. Army four-star general and former U.S. Secretary of State

Work isn’t always fun. If it were, they’d call it play.  Work can be downright unpleasant, but it’s an essential element of life! Along the way you’re going to have jobs you won’t like. Note what you don’t like and make it a point to improve yourself, so you’ll never again have to work at such a job.

Accepting a job means submitting to the authority of those placed over you.  Learn to work within this system.   You’ll inevitably have bosses you don’t like.  Learn to respect the position, if not the individual.

Fairness

Life is not fair; get used to it.” ―Bill Gates, founder and former CEO, Microsoft Corporation

You will hear much discussion about fairness in this life. It’s all hot air.  Life isn’t fair.  Some good people die young, while some bad people live a long life.   Disease sometimes strikes arbitrarily, for no apparent reason.  Some people prosper while others suffer failure. A death or accident can change your life forever.

There is randomness to life that can’t be avoided.  Don’t expect kindness to be returned with kindness.  Don’t expect generosity to be returned with generosity.  The best choice is to be fair and kind to others and learn to accept what they return to you.

A wise man named Harry Browne ran for president of the United States on the Libertarian Party ticket. On Christmas day in 1966, Browne wrote his young daughter a letter aptly titled, “A Gift for My Daughter.”  I encourage every graduating senior to read it and digest it. In the letter, he explains to his daughter that, “Nobody owes you anything.”  Understanding what Browne meant can truly bless you. You can find it here. https://tenthamendmentcenter.com/2009/12/22/a-gift-for-my-daughter/

Faith

“A faith is a necessity to a man. Woe to him who believes in nothing.”  ―Victor Hugo

I once had a senior Army officer tell me he preferred to work with men who possessed spiritual values, regardless of their religion.  He explained that having faith in a power higher than one’s self was an indicator of how one will perform under pressure; in this instance, the pressure meant combat.

Too many people place their faith in all the wrong places.  It might be in wealth, celebrity, good looks, talent, or even government.  Whatever the case, misplaced faith leads to disappointment after disappointment.

To avoid these disappointments, put your faith in God alone.  You, your loved ones and your friends will all inevitably let you down, but God will never fail you.

Growing old and grateful

He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favor from the Lord. –Proverbs 18:22*

*All bible quotes are NIV.

I’m old enough to get senior discounts in restaurants and movie theaters, and AARP rates on hotel rooms. These are all good, but one of the greatest benefits of getting older is that I’ve developed a clearer understanding of what really matters in my life. When I was young, most of my attention was focused inwardly, which I suppose if fairly normal. 

I was commissioned a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army in May 1977, at the tender age of 21. Fresh out of college and newly married, I loved the excitement of a soldier’s life.  I loved the comradery and having fun with friends. I also enjoyed playing all kinds of sports and outdoor recreation like skiing and cycling. Sadly, there were many things I neglected during this phase of my life. One of these was my sweet wife.

As I grew a bit older, I began to pay more attention to the incredible woman I married. I grew to realize that Linda’s physical beauty was exceeded by even greater inner beauty. I grew to admire her patience—especially with me and my antics—and her fortitude.  When she sets her mind on something, it’s going to get done.  I also began to comprehend how wise Linda is—blessed with more common sense than anyone I’ve ever known. She is also blessed with the gift of spiritual discernment. On top of all this, Linda is one of the humblest and most generous people I’ve ever known.

For me, having our first child was a wake-up call greater than any drill instructor ever delivered to a barracks full of sleepy-eyed soldiers.  It was one of those ‘blinding glimpse of the obvious’ moments when selfish me suddenly realized I’m responsible for more than just myself.  While a wife is easily neglected, a screaming newborn is an entirely different matter.  Sad that I didn’t figure this out earlier!

My newfound sense of responsibility led me back to the Church, something I’d managed to neglect since the time I entered college some seven years earlier. This sudden change of direction came as quite a surprise to my then, non-Christian wife.  Thankfully, she was eventually steered towards God. Sadly, it happened without much help on my part.  Thank you, Holy Spirit!

Over the course of my 24-year Army career there were many long deployments and other periods away from home.  During these busy years Linda faithfully kept the home fires burning, managing a busy household and doing the lion’s share of parenting our two daughters. My military travels around the world helped me develop a deep appreciation for the blessings we enjoy as Americans—something that many of us simply don’t recognize.

Fast forward to the present and I feel blessed. I thank God daily for my family, friends, freedom, and faith.  Linda and I are reaping the benefits of having honored our marriage vows all these years; we recently celebrated our 45th wedding anniversary. Our amazing daughters are both grown and successful; we have a wonderful son-in-law who is a pastor; and we’ve been blessed with three delightful grandsons. We’re fortunate to be able to see our grandsons daily. We have loving, extended families living in diverse locations around the world. We’ve made many lifelong friends along the way, all of whom have blessed and enriched our lives. Most of all, we’ve been blessed by a loving God who was willing to sacrifice His only Son to redeem our souls.

Proverbs 31:10b-31

[b]A wife of noble character who can find?
    She is worth far more than rubies.
11 Her husband has full confidence in her
    and lacks nothing of value.
12 She brings him good, not harm,
    all the days of her life.
13 She selects wool and flax
    and works with eager hands.
14 She is like the merchant ships,
    bringing her food from afar.
15 She gets up while it is still night;
    she provides food for her family
    and portions for her female servants.
16 She considers a field and buys it;
    out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.
17 She sets about her work vigorously;
    her arms are strong for her tasks.
18 She sees that her trading is profitable,
    and her lamp does not go out at night.
19 In her hand she holds the distaff
    and grasps the spindle with her fingers.
20 She opens her arms to the poor
    and extends her hands to the needy.
21 When it snows, she has no fear for her household;
    for all of them are clothed in scarlet.
22 She makes coverings for her bed;
    she is clothed in fine linen and purple.
23 Her husband is respected at the city gate,
    where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.
24 She makes linen garments and sells them,
    and supplies the merchants with sashes.
25 She is clothed with strength and dignity;
    she can laugh at the days to come.
26 She speaks with wisdom,
    and faithful instruction is on her tongue.
27 She watches over the affairs of her household
    and does not eat the bread of idleness.
28 Her children arise and call her blessed;
    her husband also, and he praises her:
29 “Many women do noble things,
    but you surpass them all.”
30 Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
    but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
31 Honor her for all that her hands have done,
    and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.

Enduring Truths for Recent Graduates

Eight years ago I wrote an article  for my newspaper column with some advice for recent grads.  It has become one of the most popular pieces I ever wrote. I’ve received hundreds of emails thanking me for writing it.  Therefore, I decided to  republish it annually around graduation time.  I hope some of you might find it useful.  You can view the original article in the Tribune-Democrat news at this link: http://goo.gl/LtN72

For those who are graduating high school this year and beginning the long transition into adulthood, I’d like to offer you a gift. Here are five enduring truths I have learned. They will help you through life’s journey.

Choices

“If you decide to just go with the flow, you’ll end up where the flow goes, which is usually downhill, often leading to a big pile of sludge and a life of unhappiness. You’ll end up doing what everyone else is doing.” ― Sean Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens

 Life will deal you an endless string of choices along the way.  Some will be trivial, like deciding what to wear today.  Others will be weighty and their outcomes will affect you forever.  Weighty decisions should always be preceded by much thought and soul searching.  This includes decisions about who you date or marry, what you put into your body, bringing children into the world, what you do for a living, how much debt you incur and who you associate with.

All of these decisions will have a lasting effect on your life. Therefore, make them slowly and deliberately. Often you’ll discover that the right choice is not the easiest one.  A habit of making poor choices will, as the Sean Covey quote suggests, drag your life downhill.

I was recently contacted by a young man who had just received a bad conduct discharge from the Navy.  He asked me how the discharge would impact his future employability.  His mistake was choosing to drive a car while intoxicated and hitting a pedestrian. Fortunately, the victim wasn’t seriously injured. Had it been otherwise, the young sailor would probably be in prison.  It was my sad responsibility to inform him that with some employers the discharge would be a black mark for life. Choices matter!

Learning

“Experience is a hard teacher because she gives the test first, the lesson afterwards.”    ―Vernon Saunders Law, former professional baseball pitcher and Cy Young Award winner

Some of you will go on to college or technical school.  Others will enter the workforce.  Even if your formal education is over, don’t quit learning. Make learning a lifelong adventure.  I did my undergraduate work at the University of Kentucky.  The school offers a fellowship program for individuals aged 65 and older to attend classes tuition free. Every year numerous senior citizens walk the stage to receive degrees ranging from Associate of Arts to Doctor of Philosophy.  It’s never too late to learn.

Even if you don’t choose to continue formal learning, make it point to learn from life. Observe others; note their successes and failures; then learn from their experiences.  More importantly, learn from your own mistakes.

Some of the greatest lessons I’ve learned, particularly those while serving in uniform, were the result of having made a terrible mistake.  This sort of lesson sticks, like the first time you grab the handle of a hot iron skillet with your bare hand.  The key to learning from mistakes is owning them.  Admit your mistakes and then move on, having learned something from the experience.  Don’t let, “It wasn’t my fault,” be part of your vocabulary.

Work

“A dream doesn’t become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work.”  ―Colin Powell, retired U.S. Army four-star general and former U.S. Secretary of State

Work isn’t always fun. If it were, they’d call it play.  Work can be downright unpleasant, but it’s an essential element of life! Along the way you’re going to have jobs you won’t like. Note what you don’t like and make it a point to improve yourself, so you’ll never again have to work at such a job.

Accepting a job means submitting to the authority of those placed over you.  Learn to work within this system.   You’ll inevitably have bosses you don’t like.  Learn to respect the position, if not the individual.

Fairness

“Life is not fair; get used to it.” ―Bill Gates, founder and former CEO, Microsoft Corporation

You will hear much discussion about fairness in this life. It’s all hot air.  Life isn’t fair.  Some good people die young, while some bad people live a long life.   Disease sometimes strikes arbitrarily, for no apparent reason.  Some people prosper while others suffer failure. A death or accident can change your life forever.

There is randomness to life that can’t be avoided.  Don’t expect kindness to be returned with kindness.  Don’t expect generosity to be returned with generosity.  The best choice is to be fair and kind to others and learn to accept what they return to you.

A wise man named Harry Browne ran for president of the United States on the Libertarian Party ticket. On Christmas day in 1966, Browne wrote his young daughter a letter aptly titled, “A Gift for My Daughter.”  I encourage every graduating senior to read it and digest it. In the letter, he explains to his daughter that, “Nobody owes you anything.”  Understanding what Browne meant can truly bless you. You can find it at: https://tenthamendmentcenter.com/2009/12/22/a-gift-for-my-daughter/ 

Faith

“A faith is a necessity to a man. Woe to him who believes in nothing.”  ―Victor Hugo

I once had a senior Army officer tell me he preferred to work with men who possessed spiritual values, regardless of their religion.  He explained that having faith in a power higher than one’s self was an indicator of how one will perform under pressure; in this instance, the pressure meant combat.

Too many people place their faith in all the wrong places.  It might be in wealth, celebrity, good looks, talent, or even government.  Whatever the case, misplaced faith leads to disappointment after disappointment.

To avoid these disappointments, put your faith in God alone.  You, your loved ones and your friends will all inevitably let you down, but God will never fail you.

The blessings of quarantine (and being out of control)

Quarantine

Just as every dark cloud has a silver lining, so too does a COVID-19 quarantine have its own hidden blessings.  Without question, the greatest blessing I’ve received so far in a self-imposed quarantine is the daily reminder that I’m not in control of my situation.  The Army trained me as a planner—to plan every detail and for every imaginable contingency.  But who could have anticipated this?  Remembering that I’m no longer in control helps me focus on almighty God, the source of all goodness and blessings in our lives.  

The gift of time is a common topic for many people these days.  I’ve heard numerous folks commenting on this—more time to read a book; to clean up clutter in garages, storerooms, and drawers; cook healthy meals; exercise; write letters and cards; sleep; and pray.

I’ve also heard a lot of discussion about more time spent together with loved ones—having sit down dinners with the family; helping the kids with their school lessons; taking family walks; popping popcorn and having a movie night; playing board games around a table; playing outdoor games in the backyard; having long phone calls with family and friends; and simply walking the dog.

I’ve been reminded how fortunate we Americans are that, even in the midst of this major crisis, our supply chains and critical infrastructures continue to function, providing for our basic needs like groceries, pharmaceuticals, telecommunications, electricity, water, and fuel. During my military career I witnessed firsthand in the Hurricane Andrew aftermath, Somalia, and Bosnia how quickly social order deteriorates when supply chains and critical infrastructures are disrupted and a population must depend upon the government, military and relief agencies for their basic needs.

I’ve also been reminded of the many wonderful people it takes to keep our daily lives running smoothly. I live in a household with three generations.  It’s been wonderful watching my daughter teach her middle school science students online while she sits on a bar stool at the island in the kitchen.  It’s been delightful watching our grand kids busily doing their school lessons on iPads while sitting around the dining room table. It’s been amazing watching my tireless wife keeping the grand kids focused, helping them with their lessons, and refereeing their occasional bouts.

I’ve also been reminded how many people are placing their own lives on the line to ensure we beat this pandemic.  Let us lift up our voices in prayer for all of them:

O Holy Spirit, we thank you for the advancements that have led to improving the health of so many. We beg you to inspire new breakthroughs in overcoming the coronavirus and all serious flu viruses. Protect, we pray, health care professionals from the illnesses they are treating, and make them instruments of your healing. Protect, we pray, emergency medical workers on the front line of the Coronavirus battle.  Protect, we pray, police, firefighters and other first responders engaged in this battle. Protect, we pray, the men and women of the armed forces who are daily receiving orders to join this battle. Pray for those who fly the planes, drive the trains, the trucks and work in the grocery stores to keep us fed and keep critical supplies moving. Dear God, as you led Moses, Joshua and David in battles against the Israel’s enemies, guide our leaders and all of us today as we fight this unseen enemy. Amen.

As we prepare to observe the most Holy Christian day of Easter and celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, I pray that God will bless, protect, comfort and strengthen you all.  Lift up your voices in prayer to the Most Holy Redeemer.

Prayer to the Most Holy Redeemer

 (Anima Christi)

Soul of Christ, sanctify me.

Body of Christ, save me.

Blood of Christ, embolden me.

Water from the side of Christ, wash me.

Passion of Christ, strengthen me.

O good Jesus, hear me.

Within thy wounds hide me.

Never permit me to be parted from you.

From the evil Enemy defend me.

In the hour of my death call me.

and bid me come to thee,

that with your saints I may praise thee

for age upon age. Amen.

May the Lord God strengthen your faith as we pass through these troubled waters. I offer you this prayer in closing.

A Celtic Prayer of Faith

We arise each day through a mighty strength:

God’s power to guide us,

God’s might to uphold us,

God’s eyes to watch over us,

God’s ear to hear us,

God’s word to give us speech,

God’s hand to guard us,

God’s way to lie before us,

God’s shield to shelter us,

God’s host to secure us.

—St. Brigid of Gael, (c.451–525)

Distracted Living

Zombie ApocalypseHas the Zombie apocalypse begun!

We’ve all heard tragic stories about distracted driving, where someone texting on a cell phone lost control of their car and caused a great tragedy. When driving, it’s absolutely crucial to keep one’s eye on the road ahead.  The advent of the internet and subsequently cell phones has created millions of distracted people.  You’ve probably seen some of them sitting at a family dinner in a restaurant—all heads down, focused on their phones and no family interaction at all.  How very sad!

According to a January 2020 article in The Guardian, a study conducted in 2014 indicated that mobile phone users receive an average of 63.5 alerts every day, most viewed within minutes whether the phone is on silenced or not. A 2016 study by Deloitte corporation found that people checked their phones an average 47 times a day, often in response to alerts. Many people are bombarded by cell phone beeps, blips and buzzes nearly every waking moment.  These distractions can even continue through the night for those who sleep with cell phones by their beds.

Unfortunately, many Christians today suffer from another form of distraction—distracted living. Distracted living is a byproduct of other distractions and cares of this world, for example partying, obsessive fitness, substance abuse, emails, texting, internet browsing, social media, television, movies, sports, and many others that that steal our time daily.

The Bible story of Mary and Martha is a perfect example of distracted living (Luke 10:38-42).  Mary and Martha were the sisters of Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from the dead. They were all beloved friends of Jesus. On one particular occasion, Jesus visited their home in Bethany. There were others present as well. Mary chose to sit at Jesus’ feet and listen to him teach, while her sister Martha busied herself serving their guests. Martha became irritated with Mary and asked Jesus to send Mary to help her. Jesus responded with a mild rebuke, saying, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.” Mary was laser focused on Jesus, while Martha was living a distracted life.

People with distracted lives may become easily agitated, they often feel overwhelmed, and they frequently neglect the essential “four-F’s” of things that really matter in this life—faith, family, friends and freedom.  Christians shouldn’t allow any of these areas to suffer neglect, but they must be especially cautious about neglecting their faith. Renowned Scottish theologian Oswald Chambers said, “Starvation of the mind, caused by neglect, is one of the chief sources of exhaustion and weakness in a servant’s life.” Evidence of faith neglect often includes finding reasons to skip church, not finding the time to read and study scripture, not praying, feeling rushed while praying, and even sometimes falling asleep while praying.

Christian churches around the globe will soon begin commemorating the holy season of Lent, which begins on Ash Wednesday (2/26/2020) and runs through sunset on Holy Saturday, the day before Easter.  I blogged about this very special church season in February last year  (https://divinesimplicity.wordpress.com/2019/02/26/lent-a-season-of-penitence-and-prayer/).   

For Christians, Lent is traditionally a season of fasting, penitence and prayer. It’s a wonderful time for Christians to practice disciplines to help them reconnect with their faith.  One of my Lenten disciplines is to prayerfully read the Seven Penitential Psalms the first thing each morning during Lent. I also find a good Lenten devotional and read a morning devotion daily. A wonderful version of the Seven Penitential Psalms can be found at this link: http://www.edgeofenclosure.org/intro7penitentialpsalms.html.  Lutheran Hour Ministries provides a new series of daily Lenten devotions each year.  Beginning on February 26, they can be found at this link: https://www.lhm.org/dailydevotions/default.asp.  I encourage you to take part in a Lenten discipline this year and, if you’re leading a distracted life, begin turning your attention back to God.

Discipline and Discipleship

Discipline - Boot Camp summer 1975Army Boot Camp, July 1975

It was sunny and warm in Louisville, Ky. on June 28, 1975. That’s the day I boarded a bright yellow school bus at an Army recruiting station for a short journey to Fort Knox, where I was scheduled to undergo Army basic training or boot camp as it’s commonly called. Only a few weeks earlier I’d been a bright eyed college student receiving his associate degree in Munich, Germany.  My mother Phyllis and stepfather Ray were still in Germany—Ray was an Army officer and second in command of a tank brigade in Friedberg, about an hour north of Frankfurt.

I had departed Germany in early June to visit family in my home state Kentucky before attending boot camp.  The last stop was Louisville, at the home of my favorite aunt and uncle, Sarah and Carl.  At the end of that wonderful visit, it was Aunt Sarah who drove me to the induction station and hugged me goodbye as I began a nervous, one hour journey to Fort Knox.

After what seemed like hours, the bus turned into the main gate of Fort Knox. Entering the post felt very familiar, as I’d lived there during my freshman and sophomore years of high school while Ray was assigned to the Armor School. The familiarity helped quell my sense of dread that had been increasing steadily since we departed Louisville. The post was sprawling, hilly and hot. The eclectic mix of architecture ranged from a beautiful state-of-the-art hospital to drab three-story concrete barracks to the low slung, pale yellow wooden buildings dating back to World War II.

About ten minutes after entering the post, the bus turned down a side street and then swung into the parking lot of Delta Company, 13th Training Battalion, 4th Training Brigade, home of the ‘Delta Demons’. Peering out the window I could see two tough looking fellows wearing olive drab fatigues and the iconic Smoke Bear hats that identified them as drill sergeants. Their fatigues were starched stiff with creases that looked sharp enough to slice an apple. They fit like gloves. Their boots were polished to a mirror finish. Not a hair was out of place. All you needed was one look at these impressive gentlemen to know that they were pure badass!

The driver opened the bus door and we were greeted by a booming voice.  ‘Off the bus and line up.  Move it ladies’.  After a clumsy exit fumbling with our bags and bumping into each other, we managed to get into something resembling a line. The empty bus quickly pulled away, leaving us feeling isolated and helpless.  It was then that we were introduced to the two gentlemen who would fill the roles of father, mother, confessor and mentor for all of us in the coming weeks.

Staff Sergeant Hunter, the platoon sergeant, stood about five feet ten inches tall.  He was built like an NFL linebacker. Drill Sergeant Hunter was just tall enough that he could press the stiff brim of his Smoky Bear into the bridge of my nose as I stood at attention while receiving his instructions.  The assistant platoon sergeant, Sergeant Anderson, stood about five feet seven inches.  He was lean, wiry and just mean looking. They immediately commanded our attention.

These fine men, as I would learn they both were, taught us so much: military customs and courtesies; how to wear the uniform and properly groom ourselves; how to spit shine a boot; how to polish brass; how to make a bunk; how to roll our socks and underwear and store them in our lockers; how to make a barracks GI clean; how to get physically fit; how to do close order drill; how to march and sing ‘jodies’, those sometimes naughty songs marching troops sing to help them stay in step; how to fire and clean an M-16 rifle; how to fire M-60 and 50 caliber machineguns; how to fire a recoilless rifle; how to throw hand grenades; how to do fire and maneuver without shooting your buddy; how to take out a pillbox; how to use a field telephone and radio; how to give first aid; and how to doctor blisters on our feet.

But most of all, they taught us about how to be soldiers—about responsibility, self-discipline, and respect for country, Army, unit, comrades, family and ourselves.  At first we listened to them out of fear of punishment. One small misstep could lead to running laps around the compound holding your rifle above your head with two arms while yelling ‘I’m a s#!thead’ or the dreaded ‘Drop and give me fifty’, meaning pushups. Even worse, you could end up pulling ‘KP’ in the mess hall, peeling potatoes, dicing onions and mopping floors.   But there came a point in time when we listened out of a sense of respect for our drill sergeants and our fellow soldiers in the platoon.  In the end, a soldier’s sense of responsibility, respect and self-discipline becomes a normal way of life.

It’s easy to learn military discipline in Boot Camp, where you’re isolated, restrained, focused and under the watchful eye of a drill sergeant.  Sadly, developing discipline in one’s spiritual life isn’t so easy.  I often wonder why this is so.  I was the picture of discipline during my military career, yet my Christian discipline suffers. ‘Disciple’ is the root word of discipline.  A disciple is a student or follower who is trained by a teacher and subsequently spreads the teacher’s beliefs.  I had a lot of training and learning as a Christian, but have I ever really been a disciple?  I think not and I believe I’ve finally figured out why. 

In his book, The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives, the late Christian scholar Dr. Dallas Willard explains that self-transformation stems, in large part, from the practice of spiritual disciplines.  He cites many disciplines, which he divides into two broad categories of ‘abstinence’ and ‘engagement’.

Under abstinence Willard includes chastity, fasting, frugality, sacrifice, secrecy, silence and solitude. These deal with our physical bodies.  Engagement includes celebration, confession, fellowship, prayer, service, study, submission and worship. These deal with our spiritual lives.  The disciplines are the means to an end; just as we practice to learn a sport, we practice the disciplines to become more Christ-like.  Willard provides many scriptural references to the disciplines in the life of Jesus and the Apostles. The abstinence disciplines focus inward and help build self-discipline and restraint; they are about habits.  The engagement disciplines look outward, helping us become servants of Christ and others; they are about building Christian character.  

Using Willard’s criteria, a quick self-analysis reveals that while I’m strong in the engagement disciplines, I have a long way to go in the abstinence disciplines before I can become a true disciple of Christ.  I have a lot of work to do, but I’m going for it.  How do you measure up? Consider leaving a reply.

 

 

 

Who can you trust?

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In his popular play All’s Well that Ends Well, William Shakespeare said, “Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none.”  This quote could introduce a number of discussions, but today I want to focus on trust.  The Miriam Webster Dictionary has several definitions of trust.  For this discussion, I’ll focus on the first, which is “assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something.”

Think about this question for a minute and then try to answer. Who can you trust?  I’ll bet you didn’t come up with a long list of people. The fact is that most of the people reading this blog aren’t very trusting. According to polls of American voters, trust in the U.S. Congress is running at near all-time lows, as is trust in many state and local governments. 

Much of this distrust is fueled by the pending insolvency of many so-called “trust funds,” like the Social Security “lock box,” which apparently isn’t locked tight enough to keep the Congress from raiding it and depleting the funds. Then there are numerous similar lock boxes at the state and local levels established to fund the retirements of teachers, firefighters and police. It seems that politicians have raided many of these as well, causing some states and municipalities to renege on their retirement promises to employees. 

Trust in amorous relationships is on the rocks. Social media is awash in “cheater” stories and videos.  Videos about catching cheaters in the act have become a popular form of entertainment. Websites with advice on how to cheat on your significant other without getting caught abound.    

You certainly can’t trust a lot information on the Internet. Internet sexual predators take on false identities to try to lure children into sexual encounters.  Internet news sites (and news outlets in general) are awash in so-called “fake news.”  Comparing the story lines of Fox News (right-leaning) and CNN (left-leaning), for instance, gives two very different views of reality.

You can’t trust advertising, especially when it comes to products like weight loss supplements, miracle cures, and get rich quick schemes.  Environmental news is questionable—global warming advocates and so-called global warming deniers are locked in seemingly mortal combat.  Do you have a financial adviser or auto mechanic you fully trust?  Do you have complete faith in your physician or dentist?  Do you trust the attendants in the nursing home that’s caring for your parent? Do you trust the weather forecaster on your TV? Do you even trust the clergyman in the pulpit?

So amidst all this distrust in the world, who can you trust?  The great entertainer Lawrence Welk, who was better known for Polkas than proverbs, might have said it best when he advised, “Never trust anyone completely but God. Love people, but put your full trust only in God.”  Scripture is full of similar advice (references are taken from the NIV):

Proverbs 3:5-6, Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.

Micah 7:5-6,  Do not trust a neighbor; put no confidence in a friend.  Even with the woman who lies in your embrace guard the words of your lips. For a son dishonors his father, a daughter rises up against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—a man’s enemies are the members of his own household.

1 Peter 2:6, For in Scripture it says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”

There are many other examples of scripture that speak to trust. The best advice I can provide is to trust in God alone.  Your friends and loved ones will inevitably let you down, but God will never fail you. You can trust me on this! 

Check out this short video – How to trust God.   https://youtu.be/OVDaq-drUh0

Enduring Truths for Recent Grads

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Several years ago I wrote an article  for my newspaper column with some advice for recent grads.  It has become one of the most popular pieces I ever wrote. I received dozens of emails thanking me for writing it.    Therefore, I decided to  republish it annually around graduation time.  I hope some of you might find it useful.  You can view the original article in The Tribune-Democrat news at this link:  http://goo.gl/LtN72

For those who are graduating high school this year and beginning the long transition into adulthood, I’d like to offer you a gift. Here are five enduring truths I have learned. They will help you through life’s journey.

Choices

“If you decide to just go with the flow, you’ll end up where the flow goes, which is usually downhill, often leading to a big pile of sludge and a life of unhappiness. You’ll end up doing what everyone else is doing.” ― Sean Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens

 Life will deal you an endless string of choices along the way.  Some will be trivial, like deciding what to wear today.  Others will be weighty and their outcomes will affect you forever.  Weighty decisions should always be preceded by much thought and soul searching.  This includes decisions about who you date or marry, what you put into your body, bringing children into the world, what you do for a living, how much debt you incur and who you associate with.

All of these decisions will have a lasting effect on your life. Therefore, make them slowly and deliberately. Often you’ll discover that the right choice is not the easiest one.  A habit of making poor choices will, as the Sean Covey quote suggests, drag your life downhill.

I was recently contacted by a young man who had just received a bad conduct discharge from the Navy.  He asked me how the discharge would impact his future employability.  His mistake was choosing to drive a car while intoxicated and hitting a pedestrian. Fortunately, the victim wasn’t seriously injured. Had it been otherwise, the young sailor would probably be in prison.  It was my sad responsibility to inform him that with some employers the discharge would be a black mark for life. Choices matter!

 Learning

“Experience is a hard teacher because she gives the test first, the lesson afterwards.”    ―Vernon Saunders Law, former professional baseball pitcher and Cy Young Award winner

Some of you will go on to college or technical school.  Others will enter the workforce.  Even if your formal education is over, don’t quit learning. Make learning a lifelong adventure.  I did my undergraduate work at the University of Kentucky.  The school offers a fellowship program for individuals aged 65 and older to attend classes tuition free. Every year numerous senior citizens walk the stage to receive degrees ranging from Associate of Arts to Doctor of Philosophy.  It’s never too late to learn.

Even if you don’t choose to continue formal learning, make it point to learn from life. Observe others; note their successes and failures; then learn from their experiences.  More importantly, learn from your own mistakes.

Some of the greatest lessons I’ve learned, particularly those while serving in uniform, were the result of having made a terrible mistake.  This sort of lesson sticks, like the first time you grab the handle of a hot iron skillet with your bare hand.  The key to learning from mistakes is owning them.  Admit your mistakes and then move on, having learned something from the experience.  Don’t let, “It wasn’t my fault,” be part of your vocabulary.

 Work

“A dream doesn’t become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work.”  ―Colin Powell, retired U.S. Army four-star general and former U.S. Secretary of State

Work isn’t always fun. If it were, they’d call it play.  Work can be downright unpleasant, but it’s an essential element of life! Along the way you’re going to have jobs you won’t like. Note what you don’t like and make it a point to improve yourself, so you’ll never again have to work at such a job.

Accepting a job means submitting to the authority of those placed over you.  Learn to work within this system.   You’ll inevitably have bosses you don’t like.  Learn to respect the position, if not the individual.

Fairness

“Life is not fair; get used to it.” ―Bill Gates, founder and former CEO, Microsoft Corporation

You will hear much discussion about fairness in this life. It’s all hot air.  Life isn’t fair.  Some good people die young, while some bad people live a long life.   Disease sometimes strikes arbitrarily, for no apparent reason.  Some people prosper while others suffer failure. A death or accident can change your life forever.

There is randomness to life that can’t be avoided.  Don’t expect kindness to be returned with kindness.  Don’t expect generosity to be returned with generosity.  The best choice is to be fair and kind to others and learn to accept what they return to you.

A wise man named Harry Browne ran for president of the United States on the Libertarian Party ticket. On Christmas day in 1966, Browne wrote his young daughter a letter aptly titled, “A Gift for My Daughter.”  I encourage every graduating senior to read it and digest it. In the letter, he explains to his daughter that, “Nobody owes you anything.”  Understanding what Browne meant can truly bless you. You can find it at:  www.harrybrowne.org/articles/GiftDaughter.htm.

Faith

“A faith is a necessity to a man. Woe to him who believes in nothing.”  ―Victor Hugo

I once had a senior Army officer tell me he preferred to work with men who possessed spiritual values, regardless of their religion.  He explained that having faith in a power higher than one’s self was an indicator of how one will perform under pressure; in this instance, the pressure meant combat.

Too many people place their faith in all the wrong places.  It might be in wealth, celebrity, good looks, talent, or even government.  Whatever the case, misplaced faith leads to disappointment after disappointment.

To avoid these disappointments, put your faith in God alone.  You, your loved ones and your friends will all inevitably let you down, but God will never fail you.

Faith, Family, Friends and Freedom

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Cornucopia, oil on canvas by Edvard Munch (1863-1944)

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And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.  Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.  –Colossians 3: 15-17 (ESV)

Besides getting senior discounts in restaurants and AARP rates on hotel rooms, one of the benefits I’ve reaped by growing older is developing a clearer understanding of what really matters in my life. When I was young, most of my attention was focused inward, which I suppose if fairly normal. 

As a new Army lieutenant, fresh out of college, I loved the excitement of living a soldier’s life.  I liked going out and having fun with friends. I also enjoyed playing all kinds of sports and outdoor recreation like skiing and cycling. Sadly, there were many things I neglected during this phase of my life.

As I got a bit older, I began to pay more attention to the incredible woman I had married. I grew to realize that Linda’s physical beauty was exceeded by even greater inner beauty. I grew to admire her patience—especially with me and my antics—and her fortitude.  When she sets her mind on something, it’s going to get done.  I also began to comprehend how wise Linda is—blessed with more common sense than anyone I’ve ever known.  She is also one of the humblest and most generous people I know!

Having our first child was a wake-up call greater than any drill instructor ever delivered to a barracks full of sleepy-eyed soldiers.  It was one of those ‘blinding glimpse of the obvious’ moments when selfish me suddenly realized I’m responsible for more than just myself.  While a wife is easily neglected, a screaming newborn is an entirely different matter.  Sad that I didn’t figure this out earlier!

My newfound sense of responsibility led me back to the Church, something I’d managed to neglect since the time I entered college some seven years earlier. This sudden change of direction came as quite a surprise to my then, non-Christian wife.  Thankfully, she was steered towards God.  Sadly, it happened without much help on my part.  Thank you Holy Spirit!

Over the course of my 24-year Army career there were many long deployments and other periods away from home.  During these busy years Linda faithfully kept the home fires burning, managing a busy household and doing the lion’s share of parenting our two daughters. My military travels around the world helped me develop a deep appreciation for the blessings we enjoy as Americans—something that many of us simply don’t recognize.

Fast forward to the present and I can’t help but feel blessed every day. Linda and I are reaping the benefits of having honored our marriage vows for nearly 40 years.  Our daughters are both grown and successful, we have a wonderful son-in-law, and we’ve been blessed with three adorable grandsons. We’re fortunate to be able to see our grandsons daily. We have loving, extended families in diverse locations around the world. We’ve made many lifelong friends along the way, all of whom have blessed and enriched our lives. Most of all, we’ve been blessed by a loving God who was willing to sacrifice His only Son to redeem our souls.

This is the day that many Americans pause to give thanks to God for the blessings in their lives.  I urge everyone to take a few moments to consider your blessings and give thanks for your Faith, Family, Friends and Freedom—the  things that truly matter in life.