Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ category

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.

Growing Grass

July 6, 2022

This past winter was not kind to half of our backyard lawn. It slopes slightly up from our deck to the back of the property. That equates into half of the grass getting a decent amount of moisture and half that doesn’t. Add to that a decrease in snowfall this winter and the lawn looks like the teenager I saw yesterday who had half of her hair one color and the other half a different color. It was more resembling of part of the NBC peacock. That comment is also evidence of my advanced state of old-fashioned-ism. Regardless, it always looks weird to me, just as my backyard looks weird right now.

My neighbor up the street, Mr. Kwan, has taken pity on me and made my grass-less stretch of turf his project. It could be a great storyline for a reality TV show. The title: Mr. Good Neighbor, or…here it is…”Mr. Kwan’s Lawn!”

Mr. Kwan explains the science of grass to me each day. It brings back memories of Mr. Wizard, the TV science show back in the 50’s, 60s, and 70’s where Don Herbert would show and explain various science experiments to kids. In terms of our backyard, I’m the kid and Mr. Kwan is the wizard.

Mr. Kwan has tilled the backyard, brought up dead grass that has been lying underneath the healthy part of the lawn, instructed me in the seeding of the barren area, and come down the street to check the progress each morning. He has guided me in understanding the anatomy of a healthy lawn, brought me low to the ground for a closer view and with excitement proclaimed, “There is grass! It growing!” Like fine hair on a pre-pubescent teen’s legs, I could see them, shy in their emergence and unaware of their potential. He has enthused me about my small glade.

Like little babies who can not be left by themselves, each day I’m checking on what my new blades are up to. I’m excited to see what the Kentucky Bluegrass will be. Since I was born in the midst of Kentucky Bluegrass, just a few miles outside of Lexington, it’s almost like I’m coming home again.

Growing grass is not easy. Weeds are easy. A few residents in our subdivision have given up on the grass and yielded to the weeds. Mr. Kwan shakes his head at the lack of attention. It’s a metaphor for life. What is stunning and peaceful (a Homes and Gardens lawn) requires effort, time, focus, and devotion. The weeds and winter kills of life can deceptively invade our hoped for existence and our purpose-driven journeys. Quite honestly, weeds can spring up in the midst of the immaculate. Today I pulled a creeping type of vine out of the middle of my “babies”. The Bible warns us about those who might come into our midst and lead us astray. Like weeds in the midst of the grass, they slowly inch into dominance. Or like the dryness of a snowless winter, they drain the life out.

In my lawn story, Mr. Kwan is like my turf shepherd, excited about the growth and cautious about the possible threats. He’s my Good Samaritan, taking pity upon the lack of groundskeeping education of the Baptist pastor down the street.

Stretching Freedom

July 4, 2022

I have a habit of stretching out my t-shirts and underwear. I’ll just leave the stretched underwear out of the conversation and focus on my t-shirts. Many of you are now giving a deep sigh of relief.

My wife, Carol, tells me that I tuck in my t-shirts too much, and the result is that the neckline stretches and begins to droop like someone’s double chin. After a while, the neckline is not only drooping, but also frayed. Sometime in the darkness of the night, Carol scoots some of those shirts out of my dresser and sends them to Jesus.

She makes the point that I’ve stretched them out so much that they have become an eyesore. I reply that they were just starting to feel comfortable draped over my upper body. She makes the point that my comfort is another person’s discomfort and dis-ease. I guess you could say that my “disease” causes “dis-ease”. One time she discovered that I had accumulated 120 t-shirts, half of which needed to become t-rags. The t-shirt I sleep in is from 1997. It feels broken in. All of those t-shirts that Carol removed felt fine. (Yes, a few had rips and mustard stains on them, but I was okay with that!)

Keeping that metaphor in mind, I’ve been wondering a lot lately about freedom. Is there a limit? Can freedom be only stretched so far, and then after that, usually the same words, it becomes frayed and all drooped out?

Recent arguments about the limits on firearms and reproductive rights have brought the issue of how stretchable freedom is and should be to our cultural neckline.

We’re a culture that does like to stretch the limits. Think speed limit and our understanding of what that speed limit really is! Or just go into my middle school for the last month or so of the school year and see firsthand how a number of students stretch their understanding of the school dress code. My limit in one area may be way out of the ballpark compared to your limit. My conservative view on one matter may make you start itching in its narrow viewpoint.

So does freedom have a common sense limit? If it doesn’t, does that leave the door open for people to do things like crash-and-stash stores and steal merchandise, as we’ve seen in a few places across the country? Does our personal convenience have the right-of-way when it comes to ethical and moral decisions? If so, how far can that be stretched? In a society that seems to see entitlement as a right, is there a difference between the freedoms that our forefathers envisioned and the entitled attitudes of our populace? Can we take our rights to freedom so far that we rip ourselves apart?

I know, I know, all that from a drooping and frayed t-shirt. I guess I’m thankful that I have the freedom to connect the ludicrous with our liberties.

Stop Your Whining!

July 2, 2022

Whining has made a comeback. There’s even a Whiner’s Anonymous group. Members of it are called “whineaholics”. They have a Whiner’s Annonymous Help (WAH!) 12-Step program. Evidently, some people– Correction! A lot of people– have a problem with whining and its twin cousin “complaining”.

Maybe it’s because we’ve become less tied into agriculture. I don’t remember my farming grandfather ever whining about all the work he had to do. Rising early each morning to milk the cows, feed the chickens, plant the corn, pick the corn, and whatever else needed to be done, he didn’t have any time to whine. Whining never got anything done for him. There was order and expectations in his farming mindset. In fact, one time when I showed up with my hair actually touching my ears, he asked me why my hair was so long? My response that it was the style and that “Everybody was doing it!”, was met with the response, “If everybody starts wearing girdles, are you going to wear one, too?”

At that point in my life I may have responded “Yes”, but I kept quiet, although I thought about whining.

Back to the pouting point! The price of gas has flooded the whining ranks. It, however, has not lessened the number of cars on the roadways. People look at the gas pump and have a whine-fest about “$4.99 for regular!” I can hear my grandfather’s voice. “Well, if everybody does it, do you have to do it?” In other words, was it necessary for you to make that road trip to that game and pay an arm and a leg for the tickets, go to the store three times today, and pull that fifth-wheel two hundred miles to a campground?

There’s whining because something is out of our control, like the feelings of isolation caused by the pandemic, and then there’s whining because we’re just addicted to being whiners. Whining has become a characteristic of our culture. Sometimes we have become confused on what is a just cause and what is just whining. Like the McDonald’s drive-thru customer who kept whining about a flavored drink (I think flavored coffee), and wanted it redone, and redone, and redone. The manager, taking on my grandfather’s personality, finally told him they were done with him. Find another place to get your coffee.

Whining is “entitlement turned-down”. Jesus was an advocate for treating people fairly, respecting everyone, and seeing the value in each person even when their society said they were worthless. His hearing was alert to pleading, but he reacted to the whiners of His time. Specifically, the Pharisees and teachers of the Law who came to Him complaining about the non-observance of their traditions. They usually began their whine with the words, “Why do…?” Jesus never crumbled to a whine, but he cried in response to pleading. When He came upon someone who the culture treated as an outcast, he righted the wrong.

So let’s get over our pouting, complaining, and whining attitudes. I like Step 5 in the Whiners Annonymous Help 12-Step program. Here it is with the attached scenario to put things into perspective:

5. Step out of your shoes.

Put your whine in perspective. There’s a woman in Africa living in a mud hut with a grass roof and NO indoor plumbing. She lives off of $27 a year. She is totally blind and collects sticks for firewood, hoping the next stick isn’t a snake. Now, what was your whine again?

Weirdly Connected Branches

June 28, 2022

My next-door neighbor has a mature aspen tree in his backyard that is beautiful, except for one branch. All the other branches up and down the tree seem to be synchronized in their posture and purpose, except this one. It hangs low over raised their deck, even causing a couple of taller family members to bend to the side if they have to go by it.

I’m not sure why my neighbor, a pastor just like me, doesn’t cut it back, but then I look at the apple tree in my own backyard that has a shape that resembles the hairstyle of The Three Stooges’ member, Larry. Both of them have weird branches that seem to be trying to make a run for it.

But, all of the branches, normal and abnormal, are connected to the same tree trunks. Once in a while, a strong wind, or like the 18 inches of heavy snow we received on May 18, comes along and breaks one of the branches. Curiously, it’s always one of the normal-looking branches that breaks off. The weird ones hang around like the neighbor kid who seems to always be practicing his squeaky saxophone.

In a time when people’s opinions are more heated than an Arizona sidewalk in July, it’s good to remember that followers of Jesus don’t need to look alike. They can even stand out and make people avoid them. They can even cause others to wonder why he, or why she, is a part of that church. He doesn’t vote like those other people there, and she doesn’t hold the same opinion about the possession of marijuana as the normal church folk does.

Jesus’ own disciples didn’t always agree on things. In fact, a couple of them were kinda odd. Come to think about it, most of them were about half-a-bubble off-center. But they were all connected to the trunk. A few years down the line, that trunk got sawed and shaped into the main part of a cross. Not many of the disciples were on board with that direction either.

We’ve come to a point in our world where people think they have to agree with everything, and if you don’t agree with me, or me with you, we need to part company and post about “the stupid people” on social media.

Two of my best friends in ministry, Tom Bayes and Chuck Moore, didn’t agree on a number of issues and, in like manner, didn’t agree with me. We were three American Baptist pastors leading three different ABC churches in Michigan, each of us at different points on the theological spectrum. We met for lunch every other Wednesday for 7 years at Finley’s restaurant on the south side of Lansing. We came alongside one another in the difficult times of pastoring, giving advice on how to deal with whiney, irritating people who may very well have given Jesus a migraine. We laughed with one another about the comedy of being clergy. I’ll never forget the story shared about a dog that jumped up on the couch during a pastoral visit, started humping one of our arms, and the owners sitting across the living room and smiling.

We never felt like we had to agree with one another on a variety of theological issues. However, we always were committed to respecting one another. Even today, maybe even more so, the three of us see differently on certain issues that other people separate over. At one time or another, each one of us has been that weird branch that looks like it’s heading to the beer tent instead of the sanctuary.

And you know something? I miss my two brothers. One’s down in North Carolina and the other is on his way back to Chicago after a nine-month interim pastorate in Foxboro, Massachusetts. There is a void in my spirit because of our separation by distance. Every time I see my backyard Larry tree, I think about them.