Archive for the ‘Gifts’ Category

Helping those in need

Whoever gives to the poor will not want, but he who hides his eyes will get many a curse. —Proverbs 28:27*

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating effect on US and global economies. Hundreds of thousands of businesses have closed for varying pandemic-related reasons. The food service industry here at home has been hit particularly hard.  Thousands of restaurants have closed, with most having no hope of reopening. The middle class is shrinking, leaving a fractured nation that is increasingly becoming a land of haves and have nots. History has demonstrated that as the middle class shrinks and the lower class grows, civil unrest often increases.

To survive, many American families have had to dip into retirement savings, placing the future in question.  When savings are exhausted, losing a job can mean losing nearly everything.  The ability to pay a big mortgage, something common for young working couples today, often depends on the salaries of both spouses.  If even one of them loses their job, foreclosure becomes a distinct possibility! To stay afloat they must negotiate with lenders, which in the long run usually means increasing the size of their mortgages and/or tapping into short term savings and retirement accounts. Early retirement withdrawals are usually accompanied by additional fees.

On top of pandemic problems, even before COVID-19 economic globalization had given rise to thousands of large companies that are loyal to neither to their country of origin nor to their employees.   Workers, especially blue collar ones, are increasingly being treated like disposable commodities that are brushed into the trash bin like rubbish on a picnic table. Highly educated and skilled working professionals who lose their jobs and end up turning to the government for assistance are common today.  In my job working with the unemployed, I heard many lament, “I never imagined that I could end up in this situation.”  This can and must change.

Churches, especially those in large urban areas, are often unaware of the financial struggles of individuals and families in their area—even when those affected are members of the church. Many churches have lost touch with early traditions. The scriptures speak frequently about caring for those who share the faith.  This is an essential part of discipleship that helps the church set its own house in order.  In Acts chapter 6, the Apostles appointed seven deacons to assist in the distribution of food to local widows, who were followers of Christ.  James 1:27 tell us, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”

Even clearer instruction comes straight from the mouth of our Lord in John 13:34-35: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Building a healthy church family is essential to serving those in need outside the church.  Brett Eastman has served as the small groups champion in several of the largest mega churches in the country including Pastor Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church.  Eastman writes:

“If you want to create a church community that really cares for one another, the best way to do it is through small groups. When small groups become the vehicle for care-giving, the whole church gets involved in sharing one another’s burdens—a much more personal approach than relegating the task to a committee.  The whole congregation should be making hospital visits, taking meals to people when they’re sick or something’s happened, doing childcare when someone’s in crisis and giving money when somebody’s lost a job.”

Small groups in churches set the conditions for encouraging personal intimacy and trust building—essential elements of loving Christian relationships.  Only by sharing our hopes, fears, cares and concerns do we really get to know other believers well.

Small groups also enable churches to develop outreach ministries. One way for small groups to quickly make a difference is by reaching out to Christian charities in their church’s local area.  Charities are always in need of volunteers, financial supporters, prayer warriors and other resources.  The possibilities are endless. You can’t take care of everybody, but you can take care of somebody.  The closest ministry filed for any church is the one inside its doors. The largest ministry field for every church is the one just outside the church doors.   

Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed. —Proverbs 19:17

*All Bible quotes are ESV.

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)

The Joy of the Holy Spirit

christmas-2017

This is the month, and this the happy morn, Wherein the Son of Heav’n’s eternal King, Of wedded Maid, and Virgin Mother born, Our great redemption from above did bring; For so the holy sages once did sing, That he our deadly forfeit should release, And with his Father work us a perpetual peace. —John Milton, from his poem ‘On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity’

The word Joy is a much-overused in secular communications around Christmas time.  One sees the word frequently on secular Christmas tree ornaments, gift wrapping paper, greeting cards and the like. Joy is an extremely important word for Christians; it appears frequently in the Bible, in both the Old and New Testaments. Galatians 5:22 tells us that joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit, along with love, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (NIV).

According to one Jesuit explanation of this, a fruit of the Holy Spirit is “an observable behavior in people who have allowed the grace of the Holy Spirit to be effective in them.”  With this interpretation, two things become clear.  First, the fruits of the Holy Spirit do not appear automatically once a person accepts Christ as his or her Savior.  To reap the fruits, we must surrender our right to ourselves and allow the Holy Spirit to work in us.  Secondly, Christian joy is not the same as happiness.  Christian joy can be experienced in the midst of pain and sadness. In fact, James 1:2-3 (NIV) tells us, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.”

In Philippians 4:4, the Apostle Paul tells us to “rejoice in the Lord always.” He penned this epistle from prison.   Some people confuse joy with happiness.  They are not the same.  Christian joy comes from within, while happiness stems from external sources.  I’m happy when my wife bakes her famous apple pie.  I’m joyful in the knowledge that Christ is my Savior. I can savor Christian joy even in difficult times, just like Paul writing words of encouragement from prison.

I recently visited a friend who is quickly approaching death. He’s the godfather of my children and a friend of over 35 years. While it was sad knowing I probably won’t see him again in this life, it was also joyful to know that he is secure in his salvation through Jesus Christ and we will see each other again in God’s eternal kingdom.  

But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. —Luke 2: 10-11

My prayer for you is that you will allow the joy of the Holy Spirit to work in your life. May your heart be filled with the joy and peace of Jesus Christ during this Christmas Season and in the coming New Year!

What can I give Him, poor as I am? If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb; If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part; Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart. —Christina Rossetti from her poem ‘In the bleak midwinter’

 

 

Is your God this big?

HubbelHubble Space Telescope Image

The heavens declare the glory of God;
    the skies proclaim the work of his hands.  —Psalms 19:1*

During my 24-year U.S. Army career I deployed to the Middle East and the horn of Africa for extended stays.  Much of my time there was spent in very remote areas of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq and Somalia.  While I can’t say I enjoyed my time in these places, the deployments were great learning experiences that I wouldn’t trade for anything. 

One thing that I did enjoy, however, was the nighttime sky in the desert west of Kuwait City and in the plush south Jubba River valley of Somalia.  With no man-made light to interfere with my vision, I could look upward and literally see billions of stars.  God has created an unfathomable universe that defies human description. As the Psalmist says, truly the heavens declare the glory of God. 

My God can alter this vast universe in the blink of an eye. Is your God this big?

In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth,
    and the heavens are the work of your hands.
They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment.
Like clothing you will change them and they will be changed.
But you remain the same
 and your years will never end.  —Psalm 102:25-27

The King James Bible of 1611 paints an image of God reflecting the social order of Jacobean England—a king sitting on a throne, surrounded by throngs of courtiers. Many Christians have grown up with this image of God. God truly is our king; however, he is much, much more. English clergyman and Bible scholar J.B. Phillips is probably best known for his epic book, “Your God is Too Small.” Published in 1952, he might have just as easily called it, “Your Mind is Too Small.”  Phillips encourages us to set aside the limits human reason places on God and instead embrace Him as the omnipotent, omnipresent creator of the universe. Rather than having God conform to a man-made image of Him, which Phillips calls “God in a box,” Phillips challenges us to open our minds and embrace God’s reality—the creator of the universe, who is unconstrained by our concepts of time, speed, distance and space.

When I consider the work of your fingers, the moon and stars which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?—Psalm 8:3-4

Perhaps what’s most amazing about my God is that the creator of the limitless universe is also the God who cares for you and for me as individuals.  As our father and creator, God knows our thoughts, our fears, our weaknesses and our individual needs. He wants to care for us.

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! —1 John 3:1

The glory of God can shine through us as individuals when we are in a right relationship with Him, but because of mankind’s fallen state, we cannot even look God in the face (Exodus 33:20). Therefore, our creator sent us a savior, His only begotten son Jesus Christ, who willingly set aside his heavenly glory and took on human form, being born of a virgin, for the express purpose of dying on the cross for your sins and mine. By his death and resurrection, we can be restored to a right relationship as children of God.

But the cross wasn’t the end, it was the beginning.  Through His glorious resurrection from the dead, Christ banished death and opened the gateway to eternal life for all who put their faith in Him as savior. There is nothing we can do by ourselves to be restored to a right relationship with God; it is a gift that must be accepted. Jesus Christ offers forgiveness and eternal life freely to those who confess their sins and trust in Him. Do you want to trust Jesus?  Click the link to find out how. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P8qWlN7c3lQ

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. —1 John 1:9.     

*All Bible quotes are taken from the New International Version.

Enduring Truths for Recent Graduates

 

Graduate [2]

Seven 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:  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.

Enduring Truths for Recent Grads

Graduate [2]

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.

Living by the Calendar

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The here-and-now is no mere filling of time, but a filling of time with God.         

I work in the tech industry on a virtual business team.  We have people located across the country from Virginia to Hawaii and many places in between.  The team is run by the calendar.  It’s difficult scheduling conference calls with a team spread across five time zones, so we have to schedule carefully and stick closely to the schedule.

Personally, I would be pretty lost without the Microsoft Outlook calendar on my laptop. Between my work, volunteering, doctor appointments, shuttling grand kids around, birthday reminders, weddings, funerals and the like I simply couldn’t keep track of where to be when without a calendar.

While most adults in the Western World are familiar with calendars, there is one calendar that’s terribly overlooked in many circles.  I’m speaking about the Christian liturgical calendar.  The liturgical year (or Church year) is a continuous cycle of Christian seasons that include various feast days that mark celebrations of the Church.  The liturgical year also has a set list of readings for every day of the year.  Observing the liturgical calendar is highly enriching, providing a continuous commemoration of key events in the life of Christ and the church.  Sadly, many Christian denominations hardly recognize the liturgical calendar at all. 

According to the website The Voice, “The Christian calendar is organized around two major centers of Sacred Time: Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany; and Lent, Holy Week, and Easter, concluding at Pentecost. The rest of the year following Pentecost is known as Ordinary Time, from the word “ordinal,” which simply means counted time (First Sunday after Pentecost, etc.)  (http://www.crivoice.org/chyear.html).

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Let’s take a short tour of the Church liturgical year.  It begins with Advent, which occurs in December.  Advent commemorates Israel’s wait for the birth of the Messiah, which was promised in prophecy.  For modern Christians, it is symbolic of our waiting for Christ to “come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,” as many Christians frequently recite in the words of the Nicene Creed.

Advent is followed by Christmas on December 25, and Epiphany in January.  Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, Israel’s promised Messiah and God’s only begotten son–the savior of the world.   It is followed by Epiphany, which is translated “appearance.”  Epiphany commemorates the visit by the Magi (or three wise men) to baby Jesus, when they reveal that Jesus is the Messiah and bring him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.  Gold represents the kingship of Jesus.  Frankincense, which is sweet incense, represents His earthly priesthood.  Myrrh, a sweet spice used in preparing bodies for burial, represents Jesus’ coming crucifixion and death on the cross for the forgiveness of the sins of the world. The later part of January and the month of February are ordinary time on the liturgical calendar.

Lent, Easter and Pentecost follow the ordinary time in February. Lent is the period of 40 days from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday, commemorating Christ’s final journey to Jerusalem, where he will be crucified. It is a period of penitence and alms giving for the church.  On Ash Wednesday, many Christians have their foreheads marked with ashes in the sign of the cross.  

Palm Sunday occurs the Sunday before Easter.  It commemorates Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem and his final journey to the cross. He rode into the city on a donkey while the crowds shouted “Hosanna,” which is translated “save us,” and they laid palm leaves in his path. Modern day Christians often celebrate Palm Sunday by waving palm leaves during a processional at the beginning of their church service.  Palm leaves from the Palm Sunday service are burned and the ashes collected to be used during Ash Wednesday of the following year.

At the end of Lent comes a period of three days called the Paschal Triduum, which begins on Maundy Thursday, proceeds through Good Friday, and ends with a liturgy on the evening of Easter Sunday.  These all fall inside Holy Week, the week ending with Easter.  

Maundy Thursday marks the night before Christ’s crucifixion, when he celebrates the Last Supper with his disciples, giving us the gift of the Holy Eucharist.  Good Friday commemorates the crucifixion of Christ for the forgiveness of our sins and his burial.  Easter celebrates Christ’s glorious resurrection and his victory over sin and death.  Christ taught his disciples for 40 days following the resurrection, then he miraculously allowed them to see his Ascension into heaven, which occurred before their eyes; meanwhile, angels promised the disciples that just as they saw him ascend into heaven, they will also him descend back to the Earth to reign in glory forever.

Following the Ascension comes Pentecost. Pentecost commemorates God’s gift of the Holy Spirit to his disciples and marks the beginning of the Church.  Following the season of Pentecost, the months of June through November are ordinary time on the liturgical calendar.  At the end of November, on the Sunday before Advent begins, we celebrate Christ the King Sunday, a day reminding Christians that they owe their first allegiance to Christ, not earthly powers or rulers.

So there you have it.  Observing the Church liturgical calendar is a beautiful way of celebrating Christ’s birth, crucifixion, resurrection and the establishment of Christ’s Church on Earth.  If your personal tradition doesn’t observe the liturgical calendar, consider adopting it to add a new level of richness to your worship.  In doing so you you’ll find inspiration and hope.

 

 

 

Give Thanks to God

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May love and laughter light your days, and warm your heart and home.

May good and faithful friends be yours, wherever you may roam.

May peace and plenty bless your world with joy that long endures.

May all life’s passing seasons bring the best to you and yours!

                                                                             An Irish Blessing

Father Desmond O’Donnell, a Roman Catholic Priest in Northern Ireland, recently told the Belfast Telegraph newspaper that Christians should abandon the word “Christmas,” noting that the name has been “hijacked by Santa and reindeer” and commercialized to the point that it is virtually meaningless.  “We’ve lost Christmas, just like we lost Easter, and should abandon the word completely,” O’Donnell said.  

Just go to a mall today and see what he means.  You’ll find Christmas on display everywhere, even though we’ve yet to celebrate Thanksgiving. Check your mailbox today and you’re apt to find a pile of Christmas sale catalogs and flyers.  The Christmas theme is clear—buy, buy, buy!

Sadly, we can say the same thing about losing Thanksgiving.   What was originally a day set aside for Americans to thank God for our many blessings is now often referred to as “Turkey Day,” a time to overeat, over indulge in alcohol, and watch football on television. Indeed, a number of Thanksgiving Day football matches across the country are referred to as the “Turkey Bowl.” Thanksgiving has become irreversibly connected with Black Friday, the day Christmas buyers literally battle one another in malls and big box stores to get super bargain prices on anything and everything.  Some stores have even resorted to open at midnight on Thanksgiving to maximize the Black Friday “spend fest.”    

For many Americans, it might appear that there isn’t too much to be thankful for.  We see reports of multiple mass shootings; police officers are gunned down in our streets; there are dozens of reports of sexual misconduct by politicians and Hollywood celebrities; natural disasters hammer the land; and we have a government run by two feckless political parties that seemingly can’t even agree on when to hold the next meeting.  Sometimes it seems as if our whole system, our entire way of life, could be swept away in an instant (and it can, but that’s the Book of Revelation, which I won’t go into today).

So what does America have to be thankful for?  The answer is truly simple, although not necessarily obvious.  What a pity more Americans don’t travel abroad to Third World countries and countries with oppressive regimes like Afghanistan, Iran, and North Korea.  In such places it takes very little time to recognize how truly blessed we are.  I was blessed that my military career allowed me to see so much of the world. It changed me forever.

America isn’t perfect, but it is great enough that many people around the globe dream of coming here.  If you take time to thank God this coming Thursday, thank Him for these simple blessings:

  • We can go to the faucet and fill a glass with clear, clean water. In Somalia I watched people drink water drawn straight from the muddy Jubba River, where it was not uncommon to see the carcass of a hippopotamus or other large animal floating down the river. Diarrheic disease kills Somalis and other Third World citizens by the score.
  • Our country is relatively free of deadly infectious diseases like plague, cholera, and malaria that devastate many other countries.
  • We light our homes with the flip of a switch. Following the long civil war in the Former Yugoslavia, I was deployed to Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina. Most of the city was without electricity when I arrived, and much of it was still without when I returned home 13 months later.
  • We are well-fed compared with much of the world. Even many people living below the poverty level in America are better fed than people in some Third World countries.
  • One can travel freely in America. Oppressive regimes around the world control movement of the population. They use checkpoints with armed officials to prevent unrestricted movement about the country.
  • Americans can speak freely without fear of reprisal by the government. Sure, sometimes there are bad consequences for speaking freely, such as libel suites, but we aren’t silenced by the government.
  • While there is a problem with homelessness in America, most of us have a roof over our heads nevertheless. In Kuwait, Iraq, Somalia and Bosnia I saw thousands of people who had been violently forced from their homes or had their homes destroyed by war.
  • We have the freedom to worship God in the way we choose. While many Christians grumble about losing religious freedom (and some rightfully so), we enjoy more religious liberty than most of the world.

Truly America has its problems, but our country is blessed in many ways.  Despite its faults, it is still a place where many oppressed people dream of coming to.  Take time to pause and thank God for blessing America. May he continue to do so in the coming year!

‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free

‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,

And when we find ourselves in the place just right,

‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.*

*Lyrics from “Simple Gifts,” a traditional Quaker Tune

A New Beginning

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The New Year has arrived and for many it’s a time for making resolutions and new beginnings—trying to set aside bad habits and/or adopt new, beneficial routines. Unfortunately, for most people it’s nearly impossible to succeed in such endeavors. 

A Forbes Magazine article published in January 2013 reported on a study conducted at the University of Scranton. It indicated that only about 8 percent of people who make New Year’s resolutions achieve their goals. Looking at this a different way, 92 percent fail!

Despite the slim chance of succeeding, many will continue to make New Year’s resolutions year after year.  I confess that I’m guilty.  Last year I made a resolution to lose 10 pounds—I now have only have 15 pounds to go (sigh).

The Bible is full of promises and stories about new beginnings. (all citations ESV)

  • Jeremiah 29:11 – “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”
  • Ezekiel 36:26 – “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.”
  • John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
  • 2 Corinthians 5:17 – “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”
  • Ephesians 4:22-24 – “…the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”
  • 1 Peter 1:3 – “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”
  • Revelation 21:5 – “And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’ Also he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true’.”

Fortunately for us all, God makes new beginnings and he never fails if we will simply let him do His work.  His greatest new beginning was foretold in the Old Testament, described in the Gospels, and recounted in the Epistles. It was God’s gift of His son Jesus to save us from our sins.

Christ’s salvation of mankind was completed over 2,000 years ago through Jesus’ crucifixion. His resurrection from the dead on the third day is evidence of Jesus’ victory over Sin and Death.

Jesus died to cleanse all mankind from their sins.  For those who don’t already know him, that salvation is like a beautifully wrapped present sitting beneath a Christmas tree.  The present has no owner until someone opens it, takes what is inside, and makes it their own.

St. Paul describes how to do this in his epistle to the Romans. There is no long list of do’s and don’ts.  God’s plan of salvation is beautiful in its simplicity, requiring only confession and sincere belief.

“…because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.”  Romans 10:9-10

Martin Luther wrote about what it means to be “justified” before god, saying that justification is a “… righteousness that God gives freely by His grace to people who don’t have righteousness of their own.”  Even though those who have accepted Jesus’ gift of salvation will continue to sin, because of Christ’s sacrifice they remain righteous in the eyes of God.

It is my hope that you have already received this free gift.  If not, however, please consider making it your own today!

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor,
Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace there
will be no end, on the throne of David and over his
kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice
and with righteousness from this time forth and  
forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

                                                                                            Isaiah 9:6-7