Archive for the ‘learning’ Category

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.

What do you believe?

“What are we to make of Christ?” There is no question of what we can make of Him; it is entirely a question of what He intends to make of us. You must accept or reject the story.

—C.S. Lewis

I’m a member of a parish of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA).  Each week during Sunday worship we recite the words of the Nicene Creed, a widely accepted collective statement of faith in the triune God. I’ve been reciting the creed for so many years that now it is memorized and literally flows effortlessly out of my mouth each Sunday.

I enjoy communal prayers, but with this form of prayer comes a risk—the words become so familiar they can lose personal meaning. The renowned Scottish theologian Oswald Chambers said, “When we become advocates of a creed, something dies; we do not believe God, we only believe our belief about Him.”

This begs the question, “What does it mean to believe something?” I’ve provided two definitions above.  I prefer the second one. This leads to another question, “What is the difference in believing something and believing in something.”  Surely Satan believes in God, as he has seen God face to face.

  “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.” James 2:19 (NIV)

With all this in mind, I’d like to challenge each reader who calls him- or herself a Christian to examine your beliefs in the coming year. Do you believe God? If so, what exactly do you believe and what is the source of your beliefs? Let me preface the remaining discussion by confessing that I have many more questions on this subject than answers.   

A Gallup poll conducted in May 2017 indicated that a record few Americans (24%) believe the Bible is the literal word of God (Gallup poll). A 2020 Barna Group survey published by the American Bible Society indicated that “Mainline Protestant denominations had the largest proportion of unchurched adherents (50%) with one in every two members being unchurched, followed by 46% of Catholics, 37% of Evangelicals, and 36% of Historically Black Protestants.” (Barna Group Survey).  

Where do you stand on this?  If you believe the Bible is the inspired word of God, do you read it frequently? If you answered “no,” why not? How well versed are you in the scriptures?  If the Bible isn’t the source of your Christian beliefs, what is?  If you profess to be a Christian and don’t regularly attend church, why don’t you?

The bottom line of my thought process can be summed up like this: “If you can’t articulate what you believe, how can you live what you believe?”  In the coming year, I challenge each reader to answer the following questions for themselves. Take time to research the scriptures and other authoritative sources as you formulate your answers.  Try to discuss “why” or “why not” in each of your answers.

  1. Do you “believe” God or do you “believe in” God?
  2. Do you believe the Bible is the inspired word of God or just a book of wisdom?
  3. Proverbs 9:10 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” What does it mean to fear the Lord?
  4. Do you believe the creation story in Genesis 1 is literal or figurative?
  5. Is Jesus the son of God or simply a great moral teacher?
  6. Do you believe in the virgin birth?
  7. What is sin and what is salvation?
  8. Do you believe Jesus died for your sins?
  9. Did Jesus really rise from the dead?
  10. Is Jesus the only pathway to God, as He said, or are there other paths?

Many people claim we’re presently living in a “post-Christian” era today, where Western cultures are increasingly embracing secularism and turning their backs on their original Judeo-Christian roots. More and more, we see Christians accused of being racists, bigots, homophobes, transphobes and a host of other slurs because of their beliefs. This is occurring both before the law, in the media, and in the court of public opinion. When your faith is eventually questioned by a non-Christian, as it inevitably will be, will you be prepared to articulate what you believe or will you silently submit to their accusations?

I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears.

Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame.

This poor man called, and the Lord heard him; he saved him out of all his troubles.

The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them.

Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.

—Psalm 34:4-8 (NIV)

Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through prophecy when the body of elders laid their hands on you. Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers. —1 Timothy 4:13-16 (NIV)

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.

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.

 

 

 

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.

God In a Box

Hubbel The Carina Nebula as photographed by the Hubble Space Telescope (Photo: NASA)

 I recently watched a video of the late NASA astronaut Edgar Mitchell discussing alien life.  Mitchell, who passed away in 2016, was the sixth man to walk on the moon during America’s Apollo space program. In the video, Mitchell explained his belief in intelligent alien life and encouraged the United States Government to declassify all of its UFO data. Mitchell contended that aliens are already among us and have been in contact with humans for centuries.

There has been much speculation about the possible consequences for humanity if we should suddenly find out Earth is not the only place in the universe inhabited by intelligent beings. Some of the discussions focus on mass panic, loss in faith of political systems and global conflict.  One discussions suggests that the discovery would either enrich our religious beliefs or completely destroy them.  I tend to believe Christianity might ultimately be enriched once the initial shock subsided.

English clergyman and Bible scholar J.B. Phillips is probably best known for his epic book, “Your God is Too Small.” Published in 1952, it might have just as easily been titled, “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 our understanding of the universe, we should conform to His reality—the Creator who is unconstrained by our linear concepts of time, speed, distance and space.  The publisher’s book review says:

“Phillips explains that the trouble facing many of us today is that we have not found a God big enough for our modern needs. In a world where our experience of life has grown in myriad directions and our mental horizons have been expanded to the point of bewilderment by world events and scientific discoveries, our ideas of God have remained largely static.”   

One of the book’s chapters is titled “God-In-a-Box.” It discusses the absurdity of the narrow-minded belief that God favors certain churches and denominations. Scottish Theologian Oswald Chambers also cautioned against focusing on creeds instead of on Christ and the atonement.  St. Paul discusses this in 1 Corinthians 2:1-5, saying:

“And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.”

The respected American clergyman and theologian Ray Stedman said, “When religion becomes complex, it is a sign that it is departing from Christ.”  I would like to think that the discovery of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe might end the squabbling between Christian churches and denominations, making us focus instead on the power and majesty of our Creator.

Who is to stay that Christ’s story of atonement has not already been played out on billions of planets in the universe?  To think otherwise truly puts God in a box.

“Can you find out the deep things of God?   Can you find out the limit of the Almighty? It is higher  than heaven—what can you do? Deeper than Sheol—what can you  know? Its measure is longer than the earth and broader than the sea.”     Job 11:7-9 (NIV)

 

Stretch Yourself

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“It is perilously possible to make our conceptions of God like molten lead poured into a specially designed mould, and when it is cold and hard we fling it at the heads of the religious people who don’t agree with us.”  —Oswald Chambers

Alison J. Head and Michael B. Eisenberg are the co-principal investigators and co-directors of Project Information Literacy at the University of Washington Information School in Seattle. One of the areas they study is information overload and multi-tasking.

Since 2008 the pair has surveyed over 10,000 college students. One of their most significant findings is that, “Information is now as infinite as the universe, but finding the answers needed is harder than ever.”

In today’s complex, often confusing wilderness of digital information, it’s important that people periodically take time to slow down and think!  Scottish theologian Oswald Chambers said, “Always keep in contact with those books and those people that enlarge your horizon and make it possible for you to stretch yourself mentally.”

I have to agree with his advice. I’ve found that a good way to slow down is to turn off the laptop or smartphone.  Instead, try engaging in meaningful conversations and reading.

My most meaningful conversations usually occur with my wife Linda.  She is one of the smartest people I know. Her logic and ability to find clarity in the midst of confusion have always amazed me. If she were the only person I ever talked with, my life would never lack for interesting, meaningful dialogue.

As for books, it’s hard to know where to begin, but I’d like to suggest a few good ones for Christians hoping to stretch their minds a little.  My top five, in no particular order are:

My Utmost for His Highest, by Oswald Chambers

Oswald Chambers, who died in 1917 at age 43, is widely regarded as one of the most influential theologians of the 20th century. He wrote only three books in his lifetime, but there are many bearing his name.  They are the products of his devoted wife Gertrude, a professional stenographer who recorded all of Chambers’ sermons verbatim in shorthand.

My Utmost for His Highest is a book of daily devotions written by Mrs. Chambers. It draws from dozens of her husband’s sermons. First published in 1924, it is the most popular Christian devotional ever written.  The idea of total abandonment, i.e. completely surrendering one’s life to God, is at the center of its message. As the book’s title suggests, we must strive daily to do our utmost for God.

Chambers said, “We have the idea that we can dedicate our gifts to God. However, you cannot dedicate what is not yours. There is actually only one thing you can dedicate to God, and that is your right to yourself (see Romans 12:1). If you will give God your right to yourself, He will make a holy experiment out of you— and His experiments always succeed.”

The language of the original text is somewhat challenging for modern day readers due to its use of Scottish vernacular. Fortunately, there are versions available in modern English.  Personally, I find that working through the original version simply adds to the exercise of stretching my mind. When read as intended—one short devotion per day—this book will help you stretch yourself for an entire year.

Your God is too Small, by J.B. Phillips

J.B. Phillips was a canon of the Anglican Church.  He died in 1982.  His seminal work, Your God is Too Small, was published in 1952. According to Phillips, from childhood we are taught to package God in a tiny box conforming to our personal beliefs and preferences.  Look for all of the answers and you’ll find them by turning God into something simple and understandable. Phillips calls this “God in a box,” which is also the title of the book’s seventh chapter.

Oswald Chambers cautioned us against such shaping God in our own image, saying, “Our danger is to water down God’s word to suit ourselves. God never fits His word to suit me; He fits me to suit His word.” (Not Knowing Whither, 901 R).

David wrote in Psalm 8, “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?”

Your God it too Small leads its readers through a series of intellectual exercises designed to expand their concept of the God who created the universe. If you find yourself marveling at God’s creation, unable to wrap your mind around it all, this book will help you see God in a totally different way.

The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis

Clive Staples Lewis (1898-1963) is one of the most popular and prolific Christian authors and apologists who ever lived. He penned over 30 books.  Today he is best known for his classic series The Chronicles of Narnia, which have been transformed into an extremely successful series of films.

Originally published in 1942, The Screwtape Letters is arguably the Lewis’s most unusual book.  It is written in the format of a series of letters from an uncle attempting to mentor his young nephew through an important task. This would be nothing unusual, were it not for the fact that Screwtape is a senior demon and servant of Satan.  The letters are written to his nephew Wormwood, a junior tempter.  Wormwood has been given the task of ensuring the damnation of a British businessman who is referred to only as “the patient.”  Screwtape provides his nephew a clear strategy on how to undermine the patient’s faith and lead him into sin.

Lewis’s book is a dissertation on the human condition—a deep analysis of man’s inner makeup, with all of its strengths, frailties, temptations and struggles. Screwtape, through his keen understanding of human behavior, explains to Wormwood the best methods for ensuring the patient’s ultimate demise. The book paints an in-depth picture of spiritual warfare and the ultimate triumph of God.  It is guaranteed to make you think about your own inner self.

Luther:  Man between God and the Devil, by Heiko A. Oberman 

Originally published in German in 1982, this book is considered by many German scholars to be the most comprehensive biography every written on Martin Luther (1483-1546).  Luther was the central figure of the Protestant Reformation and remains one of the most influential theologians in history.

Even without the discussion of Luther, Oberman’s book would be worth reading just for its political, cultural and religious discussion of the Reformation.  However, it offers much, much more. Unlike many Luther biographers before him, Oberman attempts to describe Luther’s thoughts and deeds as something much more than just a medieval German monk who rebelled against the authority of the Catholic Church.

Oberman contends that Luther was convinced of the reality of the devil and viewed his own life as a continuous struggle against evil. (Not unlike The Screwtape Letters).  Luther viewed the world as an enormous battleground where God clashes with Satan. Approaching him from this angle lends a whole new perspective to Luther’s theology. This book is guaranteed to stretch your mind!

Jesus Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents the Historical Jesus, edited by Michael J. Wilkins and J.P. Moreland

If you’re a middle-aged Christian like me you might recall hearing about a popular movement in the 80’s and 90’s centered on “the quest for the historical Jesus.” The movement, which still has some momentum today, was epitomized by the Jesus Seminar.  The Jesus Seminar was organized by the Weststar Institute in 1985.

According to the institute’s website, its purpose was to, “to renew the quest of the historical Jesus and to report the results of its research to the general public, rather than just to a handful of gospel specialists. Initially, the goal of the Seminar was to review each of the sayings and deeds attributed to Jesus in the gospels and determine which of them could be considered authentic.

The seminar began with a group of 30 Bible scholars, but eventually grew to around 200. Put simply, this movement was an attempt by Bible scholars, not necessarily Christian scholars, to refute the divinity of Jesus Christ by framing him in history as nothing more than a typical, popular Jewish teacher of his day.

Jesus Under Fire is a compilation of essays by eight prominent Christian apologists written to challenge the methodology and conclusions of the Jesus Seminar.  The book’s introduction describes the furor surrounding Jesus:

“Today some people say that Jesus never said most of what is recorded of him in the Bible.  Some pronounce further that Jesus never did most of what the Bible records he did.  They claim that Jesus of Nazareth was a far different figure than church history and the creeds have believed him to be.  Therefore, if we are to be intelligent people, even intelligent religious people, we must not simply accept what the Bible records Jesus claimed for himself and what the early church claimed him to be.  If we are to be truly modern in our religious quest, we must not simplistically hope that Jesus’ actions as they are recorded in the Bible are factual, or that they have any relevance for us today.  Jesus must be stripped of ancient myths that surround him as to what he said and did, so that the modern person can hear his true message.  Jesus must be brought down to earth from the status to which the early church elevated him, so that we can understand who he was as he walked under Palestinian skies and comprehend what, if any, religious relevance he has for us today.”

The chapter titles of Jesus Under Fire describe the authors’ response to the Jesus Seminar:

  • Where do we start studying Jesus?
  • Who is Jesus? An introduction to Jesus studies.
  • The words of Jesus in the Gospels: Live, Jive or Memorex?
  • What did Jesus do?
  • Did Jesus perform miracles?
  • Did Jesus rise from the dead?
  • Is Jesus the only way?
  • Jesus outside the New Testament: What is the Evidence?

This book is for serious mind stretchers only.  It is probably the most difficult book I have ever read…and reread.  I found each of the essays intellectually stimulating—the sort of stuff that makes me go back and reread each paragraph, underlining sentences as I go.  I spent about six months working my way through it the first time…and it was time well spent. I hope you will find it equally as enjoyable.

Give yourself a special gift this Christmas and start reading one of these wonderful books.  You won’t regret it.

 

 

 

 

 

A New Year’s Resolution Worth Keeping

New Years Eve Time Square

“Exercise is labor without weariness.”  —Samuel Johnson

Exercise is an important part of my life that was ingrained during a 24-year career in the U.S. Army.  I enjoy a good workout and feel out of sorts when I go too long without exercising.  In January there are always a lot of new faces in my local fitness center—mostly folks who made a new year’s resolution to exercise and lose weight.

Moving into February the numbers dwindle and by March, few of the new faces are still around.  We humans are great at making promises to ourselves that we never keep.  This year I’ve made a resolution worth keeping and it’s not the usual “lose some weight.”   Instead, I’m going to slow down.

“Adopt the pace of nature.  Her secret is patience.”  —Ralph Waldo Emerson

An Army career often requires one to maintain a “hair on fire” pace for long periods of time.  Mine was no exception. After retiring from the service, I continued the fast pace in my civilian work.  I can recall my mom continually advising me to slow down, but I never made an attempt to comply until fairly recently.  A couple of years ago I came to a realization that there are better ways to spend one’s time than to dash about in a frenzy trying to get as much done as humanly possible.

Slowing down doesn’t mean getting lazy, however.   It’s more about tempering the urgency in life and finding balance.  If I succeed at this, there won’t be sufficient time to do everything I might be inclined to do.   Therefore, I aim to re-evaluate what’s important in my life and then do my best to focus on the things that matter, while sweeping aside the trivial.

“The whole point of getting things done is knowing what to leave undone.”   —Oswald Chambers

I’ve been thinking about some of the things I can sweep aside this year.  Television ranks high on the list.  As my wife often reminds me, I watch some fairly mindless shows with no redeeming social value. Shows like ”Man vs. Food” come to mind.  If you’re not familiar with it, check it out on the Travel Channel website.  It’s about a fellow who travels the country seeking “pig out” restaurants  (www.travelchannel.com/tv-shows/man-v-food).

The “Colbert Report” is also on my “fuggedaboutit” TV list.   I enjoy the show immensely, but it truly is mindless entertainment.  There are others, but I’ll spare you the laundry list.

“Time is what we want most, but what we use worst.”  —William Penn

As a management consultant, I periodically presented time management seminars.  They were very well received by every audience. Unfortunately, I constantly find myself violating the time management techniques I know to be effective.   I aim to be more disciplined with my time this year.

One of the best techniques I know to save time is by turning off the TV.  Limiting time on Facebook and other unproductive Internet sites is also advisable.  Avoiding web surfing and clicking links on the web pages one must visit will also save an enormous amount of time.

I’m also going to avoid checking emails and messages on my phone every few minutes.  At present, I’m an email version of Pavlov’s dog—grabbing my cell phone every time an email or text message alert beeps.  (For those struggling with time management, the Mindtools.com website has a simple, 10-step approach to help you get on track http://goo.gl/RsWrQ1.)

“I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.”  —Groucho Marx

By reducing the time spent in front of the boob tube and on unproductive websites, I hope to make some time for reading.  I’m not talking about casual reading either.  Gibbon’s classic The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire has been sitting on my bookshelf for about three years.  This year I plan to dust it off and dive in.  I’m also going to try to read or reread several books by C.S. Lewis.

“Prayer does not equip us for the greater work, it is the greater work.” —Oswald Chambers

At the top of my “to do” list for 2014, however, is spending more time in the scriptures and prayer. Prayer is work and I plan to work a lot in this new year.   Romans 12:12 advises us, “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer” (ESV).  Now that’s a new year’s resolution worth keeping.

Divine Simplicity: Focus on the things that matter…sweep aside the things that don’t.

 

 

Recalling Some Life Lessons

Traffic Jam

Normal is getting dressed in clothes you buy for work and driving through traffic in a car that you are still paying for – in order to get to the job you need to pay for the clothes and the car, and the house you leave vacant all day so you can afford to live in it.   ―Ellen Goodman

Time has been called “a great healer” because it helps ease the pain of physical and emotional wounds.  Unfortunately, time also sometimes causes us to forget some of the best lessons life teaches—lessons we ought to have held on to.

Such was the case for a life lesson I recently recalled—something I originally learned while serving as a Civil-Military Operations Officer in southern Somalia some 20 years ago.

In 1993, Somalia was engulfed in civil war, much like today.  One day I visited a refugee camp run by the United Nations. Hundreds of Bantu people were housed there in small, igloo-like huts made from long bent sticks covered with plastic sheeting.

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The Bantus were brought to Somalia as slaves in the 19th century and remain so to this day. They are a small people of very different ethnicity and appearance than the Somalis.

The Bantus I saw that day were living in absolute squalor. Yet despite their situation they seemed remarkably happy.  When I asked a UN worker about the reason for the Bantus’ apparent joy, he provided a life lesson.  “These people were once slaves,” he said, “but now they’re free, well fed and together.”  The things they held dearest were freedom, family and a full belly.  They enjoyed all of these in the squalid camp where they were living.

Over the course of my time in Somalia and several other deployments during my Army career, I learned other lessons about how little we humans truly need.  For months at a time I lived with no possessions beyond what would fit in my rucksack and duffel bag.

With no car to wash, no lawn to mow, no gutters to clean, no leaves to rake, no Internet, no TV and no long commute to work, one has freedom to discover the gift of time.  Personal productivity can increase significantly in such situations, as can relaxation and renewal.

My unscientific observations suggest that as possessions increase, freedom decreases. A multitude of possessions tend to chip away at the gift of time. While I am not a practicing minimalist, I do believe it would behoove most Americans to consider reducing their material possessions.  Garages were designed for cars, not unopened moving boxes. The primary purpose of an attic is to allow proper ventilation of a house, not to store a lot of stuff.   According to the Wall Street Journal, only about 20 percent of the clothes in a person’s closet are regularly worn. You get the picture.

Relearning Some Past Life Lessons

After each long military deployment, I returned home with renewed enthusiasm for life and a deeper appreciation for my freedom, family and the many blessings God had given us. Unfortunately, the enthusiasm and appreciation always slowly faded as I became increasingly re-engaged in the daily, mundane distractions of life and work. After awhile, many life lessons just seem to vanish.  Some of us are fortunate enough to be have an opportunity to relearn some of them.

About a year ago, two major changes in my life occurred.  First, my wife and I moved from a house in Johnstown into a condo near Pittsburgh. Then, only four weeks later, I lost my job.

I had wanted more free time and I got it.  Sometimes God has a real sense of humor!

Laughing Jesus

Two of the main reasons we moved into a condo were to reduce our material possessions and to escape the workload that accompanies owning and maintaining a house. We simply wanted more freedom to do the things we enjoy.  Losing my job wasn’t part of the plan.

However, over the course of the past year I’ve relearned some valuable life lessons, ones I should never have forgotten.

First of all, I remembered that I really don’t need a lot to make me happy.  We have a lot less space and a lot fewer possessions than a year ago, but we also have more time and more freedom to enjoy life.  It has been a great tradeoff—so much, in fact, that my wife and I are already discussing another major downsizing.

Living without abundance makes one more aware of God’s daily provisions.  Instead of asking Him for specific blessings, I’ve learned to pray each day that God will provide my family and me just enough to satisfy our needs and that His perfect will may be done in our lives.

During the past year I also remembered how little it takes to make me truly happy.  We have adjusted to living on my military pension, something that seemed nearly impossible a year ago.  I also have remembered that it doesn’t take much more than my freedom, family and a full belly to make me happy–just like the joyful Bantu people I observed in Somalia many years ago,

Well, there is one other thing. The gift of time has allowed me to dig deeper into the Scriptures than ever before, bringing me closer to the only true source of joy. As the Rev. Dr. Sam Storms so clearly explains, “Joy is not necessarily the absence of suffering, it is the presence of God.”

May you find true joy and peace in your pilgrim’s journey!

“Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon the earth, where moth and rust consume, and where thieves break through and steal: but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth consume, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: for where thy treasure is, there will thy heart be also.”  —Matthew 6:19-21 (ASV)

Enduring Truths for Recent Grads

Graduate

About a year ago I wrote an article for my Tribune-Democrat newspaper column containing some advice for recent grads.  It has become one of the most popular pieces I ever wrote, with dozens of people requesting copies.   I therefore decided to publish it annually around graduation time.  I hope you find it useful. You can view the original article 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’ve 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, 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 in 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 is 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.