Posts Tagged ‘Relationships’

#SiouxFallsStrong: after the disaster

Tornado - SiouxFallsStrong

Tornado aftermath in Sioux Falls, SD (9/11/2019)

For most Americans 9/11 is an unforgettable date—the anniversary of the horrific terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers of New York’s World Trade Center, and the Pentagon. The residents of Sioux Falls, SD, have a new date to remember—9/10. Just after 11pm on 9/10/2019 a tornado warning was issued by the National Weather Service. Shortly thereafter three tornados touched down in Sioux Falls. They caused extensive destruction of structures, power lines, and trees. Instead of waking up on 9/11 and remembering the terrorist attacks, Sioux Falls awoke to the aftermath of a natural disaster of epic proportions.

For my family it was a good lesson.  After our cell phones began beeping the weather warning, we were too slow taking shelter, choosing instead to gawk at the spectacular storm outside through a patio sliding door. We finally came to our senses when the air rushing around the frames of our very airtight Anderson windows started making a screeching noise and it felt like the glass of the patio door buckled.

Thanks be to God, we only lost a large section of a big birch tree, but were spared damage to our home, despite one of the tornadoes touching down about 200 yards away as the crow flies.  There were also non-tornadic straight-line winds comparable to a Category 2 hurricane recorded. According to meteorologist Jeff Haby (www.theweatherprediction.com), “Straight-line wind is wind that comes out of a thunderstorm. If these winds meet or exceed 58 miles per hours then the storm is classified as severe by the National Weather Service. These winds are produced by the downward momentum in the downdraft region of a thunderstorm.” 

For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent and set me high upon a rock.  –Palm 27:5 (NIV).

The straight-line winds alone were bad enough to cause extensive damage. The tornados were like salt in Sioux Falls’ wounds. It was only by the grace of God that there was no loss of life.  Just a few blocks from our home several small children had to be dug out of the rubble after the roof and walls of their bedroom collapsed on top of them. Miraculously, they were unharmed. An employee of a heavily-damaged pancake restaurant rode out a tornado by hunkering down inside a walk-in freezer. There are dozens of similar survival stories.  

In our neighborhood alone, there were hundreds of trees and large tree limbs down, widespread roof damage, and numerous homes so severely damaged that many of them are likely to be condemned and demolished.  I saw several sturdy steel poles supporting basketball backboards that were bent at right angles by the ferocious winds.

A couple of miles to our east a hospital suffered extensive tornado damage.  Just a couple of miles to the northwest a section of a 41st street business district had an Advanced Auto Parts store totally destroyed, several other businesses severely damaged, and hundreds of structures suffered lesser damage.  

Disasters bring out the best and the worst in people. There was some scattered looting in the aftermath of the storm. A family in our neighborhood removed some valuables from the rubble of their home and locked them in their car—someone promptly broke into the car and helped themselves.  There were also stories of phony building contractors convincing several owners of damaged homes to pay advanced deposits for repairs, only to disappear with the money.

The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in Him,  –Nahum 1:7 (NIV)

While there were some bad actors in the storm’s aftermath, the disaster response was mostly a reminder that despite the bad news we’re bombarded with by the media every day, there are still many kind and loving people in this world. Volunteers armed with pickup trucks, trailers, chainsaws and other essential tools seemed to show up from nowhere and jumped right into the cleanup fray—sympathetic strangers helping the less fortunate.  

While my son-in-law and I were cutting up the downed birch tree in the front yard a nice lady named Deb saw us working.  She stopped her car, got out and offered to help.  We accepted of course and Deb helped turn a four-hour job into two hours. Similar examples occurred across the Sioux Falls area.

By September 12, the response was more organized, with scores of volunteers being directed to individuals in need of help by the local 2-1-1 Helpline. Many Sioux Falls churches provided squads of volunteer to help with the cleanup.  My wife Linda and I participated in a group from own church, Church of the Resurrection Anglican church (www.resurrectionsf.com).

For our initial assignment we were given an incorrect address and ended up helping out at another home that wasn’t on the Helpline list, but definitely needed help. We worked there to clean up yard debris and help cut up a fallen maple tree.  We worked alongside several members of the University of Sioux Falls men’s track team.

Tornado Volunteers

Church of the Resurrection Volunteers

The Church of the Resurrection finished that first house and moved to the location where we were originally intended to help. We made short work of that yard and then helped clear the next door neighbor’s yard.  A local resident with a pickup truck and trailer stopped by and let us load all the tree debris in his trailer.  He hauled the debris to one of several wood chipping sites set up by the city of Sioux Falls. The city’s overall response was fantastic! 

While we were working on these yards a roving patrol from God’s army—the Salvation Army—stopped by and gave us free snacks and cold drinks.  The Gatorade I received was a welcome relief on a warm summer afternoon. I’d seen the Salvation Army at work before, back in 1992 as an Army officer with the 10th Mountain Division doing disaster relief in the wake of Hurricane Andrew in south Florida.  I can’t say enough about the wonderful work they performed then and today.

In the aftermath of this natural disaster #SiouxFallsStrong was born. While this hashtag might seem trite to some readers, it means a lot to many Sioux Falls residents.  Just search for it on Twitter or Facebook to gain some insight to my community’s disaster response!  The true face of Sioux Falls—a thing of beauty—was clearly on display in the aftermath of the three tornados and storms of 9/10/2019. What a blessing it is to live in such a community!

Please lift up Sioux Falls in prayer.  While much has been accomplished in the almost two weeks since the tornados struck, much remains to be done.  The recovery efforts will continue for many weeks to come. Thanks be to God for those who continue to support this monumental effort.

Taming the Tongue

Politician yelling cartoon

Note:  all Bible quotes are taken from the NIV.

The single most important rule for Christians who are public figures is “behave like Christians.” This is especially true for elected officials, of whom former slave and abolitionist Frederick Douglass once said, “Between the Christianity of this land and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference.” Douglass was talking about the institution of slavery in America, but his words still ring true when it comes to American politics today.

Christianity is damaged when politicians claiming to be Christians don’t act like it. Probably the worst examples are ad hominem attacks on political opponents.  Christian politicians would do well to stick to criticizing their opponents’ policies and dispense with character assassination.

Christian politicians needn’t look far for advice; they can simply open their Bibles. Jesus told Pontius Pilate in John 18:36, “My kingdom is not of this world.” This is great wisdom reminding all Christians that we (including politicians) answer to a higher authority.  In 1 Kings 22, the story is told of the time the king of Israel had to decide whether or not to go to war against Syria. Jehoshaphat, the king of Judah, advised his fellow ruler, “First seek the counsel of the Lord” before making a decision (verse 5). This is sound advice that Christian politicians would do well to take to heart. Seek God’s guidance before seeking the guidance of man.  They should also note Matthew 5:16, “…let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

Many politicians seem to blurt out whatever comes to mind at the moment, without thinking things through. Then they often have to “walk back” their comments, leaving themselves open to criticism of being flip-floppers, liars racists and worse.  One of my former U.S. Army battalion commanders liked to remind his officers, “Engage your brain before operating your mouth.”

Ecclesiastes 5:2-3 says it even better: “Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God.  God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few. A dream comes when there are many cares, and many words mark the speech of a fool.”

Many politicians are too quick to become angry at comments from their opponents.  Proverbs 12:16 says, “Fools show their annoyance at once, but the prudent overlook an insult.”  Don’t be thin skinned!  Proverbs 17:27 says, “The one who has knowledge uses words with restraint, and whoever has understanding is even-tempered.”

I offer all politicians a final word of advice from Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.” Politicians may do as they please for now, but there will ultimately be a day of reckoning.

 

 

Discipline and Discipleship

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Who can you trust?

Trust.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Faith, Family, Friends and Freedom

                                  cornucopia-by-edvard-munch

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

­­­­­

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wounded Hearts

 Sorrow

“Here bring your wounded hearts, here tell your anguish; 

Earth has no sorrow that Heaven cannot heal.”   —Saint Thomas More

                                                                                        

If you’re a movie buff and haven’t yet made it to the theater to see “Into the Storm,” please read on.  This is not a spoiler.

Fans of disaster flicks will love this movie.  When it comes to special effects, it’s Twister on steroids. Because of the awesome special effects, which include a trip into the “eye” of a monster F5 tornado, seeing Into the Storm on the big screen is a must.

The movie has several story lines and shifts frequently from one to another. A common thread is woven throughout several of them—people in dire circumstances who are overcome with sorrow because of bad personal relationships with loved ones. All are emotionally wounded to the core as they find themselves facing almost certain death.

A teenage son laments that his last words with his deceased mother were harsh. The deceased woman’s husband looks back on the way he has raised his sons after her death and wishes he could start over.

A teenage girl, buried in rubble, is sorry she lied to her parents about where she was going when she left home that morning.

A single mother caught in the midst of the storm, is sorry she has allowed her work to get in the way of spending more time with her small daughter.

The sorrow displayed by these storm victims goes beyond simple regrets over situations and relationships in their lives that went wrong. Regret is what many male politicians display when the media catches them having an extramarital affair. They aren’t truly sorry about their deplorable behavior. They’re sorry they were caught.  Rather than being sorry for the damage they have inflicted on themselves and others, theirs is a self-centered, worldly response.  It’s a sorrow stemming from knowing they will have to deal with the public and private consequences of their transgressions.

In contrast, the sorrow displayed by the characters of Into the Storm is the sorrow of repentance—selfless sorrow acknowledging that one’s transgressions have harmed others.  It is a repentant sorrow that says, “I understand my actions were wrong; I am truly sorry for the pain and hurt I have inflicted myself and others; and I want to change my bad behavior and way of thinking forever.”

This selfless sorrow is what 2 Corinthians, chapter 7 calls godly sorrow.  “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.”(NIV)  Godly sorrow brings healing and life.

The Parable of the Rich Fool in Luke 12:13-21 tells the story of a wealthy man who lives a life of plenty.  He has all that he needs in this world—so much wealth and so many possessions that he believes he can simply “eat, drink and be merry,” for the rest of his days.  But at  the precise moment the man is gushing pride and personal satisfaction, God tells him he will die that very night.

What if you knew that today was the last day of your life? Would you regret that you haven’t done enough for yourself, or would you feel godly sorrow because of the way you have managed some of your personal relationships? More importantly, how would you feel about the way you’ve managed your relationship with God?

Today truly is the first day in the rest of your life.  Seize the opportunity to start setting things right today and embrace the family members, loved ones, friends and acquaintances who really matter in your life. You’ll have no regrets!

3Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. 5In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: 6Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; 7rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!  —Philippians 2:3-8 (NIV)

Also see: Recalling Some Life Lessons.