Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ category

Getting Past The Didn’ts

August 13, 2022

“This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:22-24)

Some of the students I’ve taught or coached have razzed me about arriving at a point in my life they classify as “ancient status.” In fact, one young buck who just hit 20 gets a big smile on his face anytime he sees me and calls me “Old Man.”

Those of us who have achieved ancient status also are beginning to have regrets about all the things we “didn’t” do that he hoped to do. “The Didn’ts” have the potential to minimize us and let shadows fall over our lives. We see that the cups of our lives are half-filled. We see the empty space instead of what is still in it or remember what has been poured out of it into the lives of others.

For instance, I was fortunate to coach on 4 different high school basketball coaching staffs, but never was able to sit on the team bench at a state tournament game. It was on my bucket list, but didn’t happen. Or I have a multitude of books in my study that I haven’t gotten around to read. My tendency to add to my library is at a greater speed than my available time to read them. Now, just to clarify, those events don’t haunt. They are two of those insignificant “didn’t” events that just are.

Larger, more troubling didn’ts occur in relationships where the intentions are to reconcile, but it never happens. Or, desiring to see old friends that we’ve lost connection with, but it never comes about. Those are examples of the didn’ts that keep a person from being away to sleep at night.

As the scripture in Romans indicates, we all have failures that remind us of our imperfect condition. We fall short in achieving what God desires for us. The grace of God covers over a ton of didn’ts. Jesus lifts my spirits out of the mud, brushes me off, and points me toward the possibilities of a better tomorrow.

Even though I’m ancient in status, I’m a new creation…daily…because of Him. even though the footsteps behind me are now much more numerous than the amount yet to take, I am blessed to know Who walks closely with me and assures me that there are a number of “did’s” in the journey ahead.

The Worth of It All

August 10, 2022

Philippians 3:8 “What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ.”

At the end of 2015 I kinda retired after 36 and 1/2 years pastoring American Baptist churches in Michigan and Colorado. To say the least, it was an interesting time. Suddenly, I switched out of a role that a congregation of people had become accustomed for me to be in. No longer did I have the challenge of crafting a message for that coming Sunday morning, or assembling bible studies for the groups I led, or visiting the hospital rooms of those who were afflicted or healing from some surgery.

On the other side of things, I was still coaching high school basketball and middle school basketball and track. At that time I was still officiating high school basketball and a few small college games each season. I started putting more time into writing my first novel and constructing more Words From WW blogposts.

In this weird period of my life, the question that I ponder more and more is where do I find my worth? Let me rephrase it a different way: Are there certain responsibilities or tasks I hunger for simply because they give me a sense of value, a degree of worth?

I think we all have this hunger to be needed, whether that means the accolades given to a parent who has cooked dinner for the family, or my Starbucks barista who brings a smile to my face as she fixes me a perfect cup of Pike Place coffee, or the person who is delighted by the squeals of the six-year-old soccer team when they see what she has brought for the post-game snack.

We all are addicted in some way to being needed. It’s where we so often find our worth attached. At about this time the past two school years I’ve received a call from the middle school where I’ve coached and substitute taught asking if I would begin the year teaching a language arts class? I’ve really enjoyed the experiences, building relationships with kids, and coming to the point where they depend on you. This year, however, the middle school is more adequately staffed, so the phone call has not come.

And it has occurred to me that my need to teach may be an ingredient in the recipe of my self-worth. I’ve enjoyed it immensely, just as I’ve enjoyed coaching kids, but is its value determined by how it fulfills my need for worth?

The Apostle Paul wrote that knowing Jesus gives us worth. Knowing how unworthy I am to receive a sense of worth in Christ is hard to explain, and even to comprehend. So often my eyes are on something or someone else, instead of the Lamb of God who is worthy to be praised. Hard as it to believe, God found me worthy enough to give His Son up as a sacrifice for me.

That thought brings me back to my foundation and Who it is that my life is an anchored to. I remind myself of that as the school’s need for me to teach drifts into the past. God never sees me as a once-was or a has-been. He never sees me as someone who was worth something at one time, but is no longer of the same value.

Knowing Jesus gives my life all the worth it needs.

$1.60 An Hour

August 7, 2022

The past few years have brought the issues of wage disparity and unequal pay to the surface. Teachers, who have more and more demands put upon their time while seeing their salary inch up like a one-legged worm walking uphill, have gathered at state capitals to voice their frustrations. Of course, the problem isn’t as much with stingy local school boards as it is with state governments who really hold the combination for the money vault.

And then there’s been the revelations of unequal pay that have shown the gap between women and men, and even different pay structures according to race.

Those fairness issues are justified. They are steps toward treating people with respect and showing that they are valued.

And then there’s the other side of pay philosophy that has raised its ugly head. On one side there’s the rising number of exorbitant salaries being paid to professional athletes. I acknowledge that most athletes, minor league baseball players and such, don’t get paid much at all (probably about what a seasoned teacher makes). We don’t hear about those minor league salaries. The ones we do hear about, however, are now extending to nine figures to the left of the decimal point. One baseball player, Juan Soto is reported to be on the verge of being the first player to sign a $500,000,000 contract. Can you imagine? Hey, I don’t disparage him for being blessed with such high wages. I’d just like to see a professional sports team decide to lower ticket prices as a way of saying their fans are also valued.

My first summer job after I graduated from high school was working in the Rollyson Aluminum Products factory in South Point, Ohio. The owner, Jim Rollyson, was a good friend of my dad’s. That was the only reason I got the job, because I had no resume to impress anyone with. I worked in the summer heat and humidity, being paid $1.60 an hour. After taxes, my paycheck for the week said $55.32! I was rich! Actually, the money went to help pay for the upcoming college expenses…slightly!

The thing is it was my first work experience. I didn’t deserve anything more than $1.60 an hour (Well, maybe a couple of dimes more!). Simply put, I needed to learn how to work, how to function as a part of a team and how my responsibilities were important for the completion of the product. That summer I learned that whining doesn’t get things done, that showing up for work on time was the expected not the exception, and that no matter what the pay is the work needs to be done well.

In essence, I learned what a good work ethic involves, and I showed up Monday-Friday from 7:30-4:00 and helped assemble insulated aluminum window frames. The next summer I was moved to a different department that worked the second shift, and usually 12-hour days, received a bump in pay to $2.00 an hour ($3.00/overtime) and worked harder than I ever had. I needed the extra hours. College tuition was going up faster than my dad’s blood pressure.

I think about those days and sometimes even smile. They taught me lessons that have affected me for the rest of my lifetime. As I think about them I also think of a generation of first-job workers who are receiving starting pay wages that are elevated. When I adjust my $1.60 an hour pay in 1972 to what it would equal today it comes to $10.85 an hour. However, fast-food restaurants are advertising $15-$17 dollars an hour…and they’re having a hard time finding workers!

And I think back to that first job I had, the lessons I learned, the importance of being responsible, and I ask myself, “How are a new generation of workers learning work ethic, team responsibility, and the importance of showing up every day?”

The ripple effect of the entitlement mentality has made its way into the workplace.

Crowd Following

August 4, 2022

“So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him,  rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.” (Colossians 2:6-7)

Everyday there is some kind of poll I hear or read about that tells me who prefers what, who, where, why, or how. For example, during the pandemic when schools were doing eLearning, there would be frequent inquiries of the general public about what the preference was: In-person, hybrid, remote, online academy, or other?

Or, it might interest you to know that 74% of Americans prefer cheese on their hamburger.

Of course, businesses and institutions use information about what people want and don’t want to dictate how best to deliver their information, or predicting profitable product lines, determining sales strategy, and even what items should be more prominently displayed in their stores. That makes sense. No one stays in business by offering something that nobody is interested in using or buying. Think 8-track tapes and transistor radioes. They once were the cat’s meow, but now they aren’t even rummage sale fodder.

Sometimes, however, a trend begins that doesn’t make sense, yet it gains momentum and becomes a preference. Think bell bottom jeans from the 70s that, unbelievably, are making a sorta comeback. Bell bottom jeans became the thing that in the day, even though they were uglier than sin. They were a fashion trend that teens and young adults developed a craving for. The flair at the bottom was cool! Looking back at it, I can’t figure out why bell bottom jeans didn’t catch on with the older crowd to help with the discomfort of and hide swelled ankles.

My discomfort, dare I say my uneasiness, grows out of the lack of rootedness that an increasing number of people have in this day and age about what makes sense versus a herd-of-pigs’ mentality that goes with the flow, even though the edge of the cliff looms ahead. Simply because the pig in front has the loudest voice, doesn’t mean that everyone should fall in line behind.

Our culture seems to be more driven by extremes than wisdom, more dictated to about what is politically correct than what is humane and compassionate. The lack of rootedness creates an openness to all kinds of ill-guided weeds. My backyard is a good analogy of crabgrass gone wild. It’s to the point that I’m having a hard time deciphering what’s the bluegrass that I seeded in the ground a couple of months ago and the crabgrass that has butted into the natural. The less attention I give, the more the crabgrass muscles its way into the lawn.

Jesus has become a planter instead of the plot, a mention instead of the Messiah. And, quite frankly, a decreasing percentage of our population know Him, or even know what He taught or how He changed things. His teachings about treating everyone with respect, loving the unloveable, and identifying the faults each of us has before focusing on the failures of others are jaw-dropping to more and more people who think of Him as the baby we sing Christmas carols about and put on our new Easter dresses and suits because of.

People are more influenced these days by social influencers and YouTube videos about Minecraft tricks than they are the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

If my generation fell for bell bottom jeans, how gullible are we to accepting the next off-the-wall nonsense of the lead pig on the edge of the cliff?

The Downside of Winning

July 31, 2022

What would I have done if Carol the l and I had won the mega-millions $1.3 billion lottery? I’m sure millions of people daydreamed about that. I mean, just think about it. With $1.3 (and some change) billion you could pay off the orthodontist and still have…what..$1.25 billion left? Heck, you could pay the cost of braces for the children of some small country!

I know, I know…if you decided to take the money in one lump payment, after taxes, the bundle would drop to about 738 million or so. You’d still be able to take a vacation to a location other than the Koa Campground, maybe get new tires for the Civic, and stop having to buy your deodorant at Dollar General.

You may think I’m looney, if you haven’t already, but I wouldn’t want to win such a lottery. Since I didn’t buy a ticket there was no “chance” of that happening anyway. Carol and I talked about this yesterday. We kept coming up with the downside ripple effects of winning it. Oh, it would be nice (but unnecessary) to pay off the mortgages for our children and do other nice things for people and worthwhile ministries. Our good fortune would result in the gain for Judson University (especially their RISE program with intellectual disabilities), Northern Seminary, the SOAR Ministry that our friends Wendell and Heather Garrison spearhead, Young Life, The Navigators, Care and Share Food Bank, First Baptist Church of Simla, Colorado, and American Baptist International Missions.

But money also does things that are unforeseen and destructive. Regardless of how Reverend Ike used to paraphrase the verse by replacing the word “love” with “lack”, the wise words in the New Testament letter to Timothy from the Apostle Paul should warn us:

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” (1 Timothy 6:10)

Jesus seemed to have empathy for the poor, and was wary of the well-to-do. He noticed the widow who put two coins in the temple offering, talked about how she gave out of her lack instead of the rich who gave out of their plenty and sought to be noticed.

Money has a way of making us think we’re more than we are and heading us toward unreasonable decisions. It’s a false measure of our importance. Carol and I talked about the imbalance that $738 million would bring to our life. The numerous adjustments that would have to be made. It’s not like we’re unsatisfied with our lives. We just celebrated our 43rd wedding anniversary this past week. We’ve been blessed with three kids and five grands. Our dissatisfaction with life revolves around mundane items like weeds in the flower beds, bread that has gone stale too quickly, and my snoring.

Our simple satisfaction include things like listening to the Cubs’ games on satellite radio (Carol), teaching and coaching middle school students (me), my stool at Starbucks for writing, the grandkids, and long walks while listening to The Bible Project podcasts.

We’re simple folk who would feel out-of-place knowing that people would be seeing us as the mega-rich. I mean, our extravagant purchases each day include my cup of Pike Place coffee at Starbucks and Carol’s Diet Coke from the local convenience store fountain. We’d probably have to start having Uber deliver our simplicity to us.

If someone asked me if I was even tempted to buy a lottery ticket, I’d tell him, “No.” I’m a happy camper. My number one need is to follow Jesus, followed closely by being a responsible father and grandfather to my family. Those two tasks take enough time as it is. $738 million would simply be a distraction.

Character Coaching

July 27, 2022

It’s been on my mind for a while. I’ve tossed it around like a beachball, sometimes drifting away from me by a sudden gust of wind and other times right there to grab on to. It’s about character, building character, recognizing character and the absence thereof.

Last year, coaching four different middle school sports gave me an up close view of the need, the void. Values such as respect, fairness, trustworthiness, empathy, and responsibility were as absent as the supermarket shelves a day after a run on toilet paper (Remember that?). There were exceptions to the void, but, as a coach, I hope there will instead be exceptions to the majority who display character.

The cause of the shortage can be attributed to a number of factors. I struggle, however, with whether identifying the reasons kids have not learned how to respect others is much help at all in solving the dilemma and taking care of the need.

I saw a short interview with Stacy Slobodnik-Stoll, the Michigan State University women’s golf coach. She made the comment that when they look at who they will recruit the order of criteria begins with “character”, then looks at academics, and finally at talent.

So often parents sell their kids on the idea that those three should be reversed; talent first and, if there’s even any conversation at all about it, character last. Quite honestly, if middle school kids don’t grasp the important of character in those early teen years, before they hit high school, it might be too late. There are too many sad stories of kids who stalk off the court in high school because the coach doesn’t see that they are future professional athletes and, more tragically, are like a virus to the health of a team.

So this year I plan to intentionally focus on character-building. It won’t be a certain time slot in practice, but rather flow through each practice without the team even knowing it. Middle school seasons in our area are short, no more than 7 weeks long from start to finish. I’m able to teach fundamental skills, insert simple basketball offenses and defenses, and talk about game situations. There is rarely a game where I don’t use all of my timeouts because I need to teach players about changes that we need to make.

How I react in difficult moments of the game, how I talk to the officials, and how I communicate to the other coach and players at the end of each game, win-or-lose, says volumes. By no means am I perfect, but they need to see that as well.

Finally, as I tell people with outstretched hands with dismay written all over my face, “It’s a middle school game, for crying out loud!”

Camp Talk

July 24, 2022

At Starbucks this morning, an older gentleman who sits and talks with me on a regular basis asked where I had been the last week. A few minutes before that Bill, the barista, had asked me the same question. I reiterated to the retired Air Force gentleman that I had been at middle school church camp since the previous Saturday.

He replied, “You’re an extraordinary person, working with kids that age!”, to which Barista Bill echoed, “I can’t talk to middle schoolers. They drive me crazy!”

“I love working with middle schoolers. Maybe that says something about my maturity level.”

Maybe it also says something about the hope I have for the younger generation. I focused my teachings on the first words that Jesus says to several people in the gospels, like Nicodemus and the woman at the well. I had enough Smarties and Dum-Dums close at hand to keep their attention. After the first day or so most of the campers saw me as something different than just an old guy with shorts on. They listened, were ready to ask questions I would throw out to them, and came to see the teaching times as unpredictable, diverse in presentation technique, and, for many, thought-provoking.

It’s about the umpteenth time I’ve been middle school camp pastor. At our camp, the middle school age group is for those who are entering 7th, 8th, and 9th grades. They are as different as types of fruit, and yet similar in so many ways.

The past two school years have seen me become a regular fixture in our middle school classrooms, teaching 7th graders from start to finish year-before-last, and probably half of this past year with 8th graders. They’ve taught me as I’ve tried to teach them. Church camp is simply an extension with open dialogue about Jesus, and middle school kids are unpredictable as my teaching styles.

For instance, the first night I was leading a prayer time. I asked them to be silent for a few moments and offer their personal prayers to the Lord. Ten seconds into the quiet one of the boys did a rat-a-tat-tat with unmistakable farts. There was no need to launch into a spoken prayer after that. I simply said, “The Lord speaks in different ways.”

The boy who couldn’t contain his “explosions” had one of the best weeks of his life. Flatulence aside, which resonated all through the night in his cabin room, he showed a love for Jesus, respect for the leaders, and a caring spirit toward his fellow campers. A couple of the teachings I gave were put almost immediately into action in how he lived out the camp days.

Another boy, whose youth pastor was one of our counselors, according to his pastor had the best week of his life. The young guy came from a dysfunctional family situation. Camp was a time of experiencing community, having fun, and not being minimized. He hugged me as he was about to leave and asked me to sign his camp t-shirt.

Talk was a dominant part of camp. Talking to kids as they rock climbed, encouraging them to keep going. Talking to kids at the meal tables. Talking to kids in the midst of our group games. Talking to kids on the basketball court. And talking to kids as we hiked to the top of Soldier’s Peak. As I told our staff at the beginning of the week, most kids need to see that the counselors care enough to get to know them before they come to the point of knowing that they care. Late night conversations would reveal fears, deeper questions about life and Jesus, and the importance of having peers walk beside them.

As one young lady said yesterday morning, “why can’t camp be two weeks?” It’d be great, although my body might really, really, really be screaming at me more than it already is. However, I am still getting a bit misty-eyed thinking of each one of these young people in the faith that I was privileged to walk with these past seven days.

I am more blessed now than I was a week ago…and more exhausted!

50TH Class Reunion

July 16, 2022

Yesterday I mailed my registration back to Ohio for my high school class reunion that takes place this October. It’s been fifty years since the Ironton High School Class of 1972 gathered in Tank Memorial Stadium on a sun-drenched Sunday afternoon to culminate our time with that red-bricked institution. Each one of us, 212 in all, marched in, tried to look grown-up and worthy of the occasion, and, about 90 minutes later, marched out again.

And now, some of those same eighteen-turned-sixty-eight-year-olds, will gather once again to see how old we look, ask how life has been treating us, remember those who are no longer with us, and laugh about where life has taken us. There will no longer be a need to impress one another with our resumes, make the latest fashion statement, and use the popularity card. Instead, there will be the sharing of grandkid pictures, the showing of surgery scars, and gasping about cholesterol levels.

A few will drink too much and, potentially, say some things that will cause most of us to find a different area of the banquet hall to drift toward. The spouses present who are not from Ironton will find each other, like soccer moms gathered together on the sidelines watching their kids playing.

There will be a hint of sadness in the room, as we realize there has been a loss of what was and seeing what is. We’ll view the absence of youth and the emergence of our senior years (a different type of senior years). It won’t be as striking for those from the area who have lived in the area their whole lives, but for those of us who have lived elsewhere, it will be painfully obvious and a bit depressing.

We’ll get over it! The stories will begin to be told and retold of the stupid things we did, the conspiracies of a few of us who looked to prank the administration, and the rumors about our teachers that we have turned into even more whoppers in the five decades since we last saw them. And, quite frankly, we had some doozies for teachers. The memory of them has stayed vivid within our minds.

I’m looking forward to seeing people who helped shape me, who I could count on to be there for me, guys of character and grace.

And two days later, my wife and I will return to our lives, our kids and grandkids, and the reality of what our lives usually entail. It will be nice to visit IHS, but we know we can no longer live there.

Putting A Parable Moment

July 11, 2022

“But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was; and when he saw him, he had compassion…” (Luke 10:33)

God has a way of “putting a moment” in your path. There are numerous people who read the Scriptures and live their lives, and never the two shall meet. Scripture never becomes real or relevant to them. It’s just stuff. Harry Potter is more true-to-life for some folk than the biblical Jonah or David with a slingshot.

But, at a moment’s notice, God puts a moment in a person’s path that connects with what had just been read in the Word with what is happening right now the block. It’s an opportunity to “live the Word.”Such it is for me.

Here it is.

I’m getting ready for middle school church camp that begins in a few days. One of the daily themes revolves around the parable of the Good Samaritan, a story rich in cultural details, intriguing characters. and confusing decisions.

As I’ve been reading and re-reading the story, trying to see it from this angle and that angle, God put me in “a moment” to let me live out the parable.

Now, please don’t think I’m trying to equate myself with the compassionate Samaritan, but I do believe God orchestrated the moment to allow me to live out how the Samaritan responded to the robbed and beaten man he encountered on the road between Jerusalem and Jericho.

If you’re not familiar with the biblical story that appears in Luke 10, it tells us of two different people to see the man in need of medical attention and compassion, but keep on going. Their religious occupations adds another dimension to the story, but i’d scoot by that.

The third person to come by is a Samaritan, the least likely person to stop, and probably the one least obligated to help. But he is the one who stops and goes the extra mile in helping the helpless.

Yesterday morning I was leaving our neighborhood, heading to Starbucks for my morning dose of Pike Place (Cream and raw sugar, please!). As I turned left onto the next street up from ours, I noticed our neighbor, an 83-year-old retired Navy Chief Warrant Officer, kneeled down on one knee on the sidewalk. I rolled down my window and asked him if he was okay.

“I can’t get up. If I try to get up, I’ll fall over.”

I pulled over and went to help him up. It only took a moment, a “God putting a moment in my path”. I helped him back inside his house and we talked for a moment.

“I saw this painted rock on the side here and I wanted to see what it was. So I kneeled down, but, since I forgot my cane, I couldn’t get back up. Here’s the rock.”

He showed me a small, painted stone to me and turned it over for me to see the bottom. On the bottom was written the words “Kindness is Love!” And then he looked at me and said “You’re my kindness.”

I helped him back inside and checked on him later on in the day and he was doing okay. He had been kneeled down on the sidewalk for about five minutes before I stopped. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus doesn’t indicate that the Samaritan had nay knowledge that others had passed by and not stopped to help. The point: God will put a moment in our path that requires a personal act of kindness, a decision to be an agent of compassion.

I thank God for those “moments”, and I’m humbled to think that my neighbor believes I’m that “rock”, that kindness that still lies to the side of his front sidewalk.

The Value of Balance

July 9, 2022

When I put my pants on in the morning, I make sure no one is watching. I’m at that age where trying to balance myself on one foot while the other foot is seeking the correct leg sleeve is like an American Ninja challenge for me. It was just a few years ago that I could do that regular part of the dressing process without any difficulty. I took it for granted. Now I’m thinking of putting a chair in the closet to keep me from tumbling over.

Balance is undervalued. A person doesn’t realize it until he falls without provocation on his right or left side and grumbles at the injustice of it all. Balance comes into play in most areas of our lives. Out-of-balance can lead to some serious negative repercussions. For example, a college classmate of mine went the whole summer eating only Captain Crunch cereal. It fit his unique personality that included a time when he pretended to be a wolverine. With a Captain Crunch diet, he had to wean himself back onto other foods and I wouldn’t say he was a picture of health during his foray into the Quaker Oats cereal section. (Reference previous wolverine impersonation)

A balanced diet, balanced schedule, balanced priorities, balanced relationships, balanced perspective. Extremes have a way of leading a person or group to that awkward, tenuous standing-on-one-foot situation. Extremes lead to trouble, chaos, and uncertainty.

I’d even say that extreme positions become power-thirsty, never able to quench their need for more. In our culture of extremes, there seems to be historical amnesia about the balance that was crucial to our Constitutional reasoning. The framers of the Constitution talked long and longer about how this new nation would operate. There was the need for a leader, but not a monarchy; a need for the people to be able to express their voices; and the need for a justice system to provide wisdom and interpret the law.

It was a balanced system that left everyone a little unhappy and a little satisfied. It required that each branch of government respect the others, saw the value and purpose of each to keep the new nation from yielding to whoever talked the loudest, made the most extreme threats, or had the most resources. It was never meant to be a perfect form of government, but rather one that fit with our founding principles and purposes.

Like I said, balance is undervalued. The wisdom of a balanced perspective is often overshadowed by an irrational hyper-movement.

I’m rethinking the value of a four-legged chair now, before I fall hard on my keister.