Do Not Harass The Alligators!

Recently my wife and I had a wonderful visit with our son and daughter-in-law in Augusta, Georgia.  They both are medical professionals serving the Army and Veterans Affairs—I could not be prouder of both of them for their professionalism and compassion!  They are also very fun to be around 😊

 We were able to see many of the sites around Augusta (beautiful area by the way), including a quick drive-by of the Augusta National Golf Club. I was able to get a picture of a fence surrounding it with what I believe to be the club house roof behind it.  If you attempt to get close to the course, security guards will “politely” ask you to leave. Apparently, they do not want someone like me who has held a golf club trying to borrow a green jacket. 

 Despite that disappointment, we still had a great time.  Our son took us to the Phinzy Swap Campus where you literally walk on a wooden bridge through a swamp—it was beautiful in a swampy way. As we approached the park, I saw the sign that accompanies this post and had to take a picture.  It made me chuckle, thinking “do people really need to be reminded not to harass the alligators?” Well, apparently so or the sign would not exist.

 The next day it was time to fly home and I do a lot of thinking at 35,000 feet; my mind went to that sign “Do Not Ever Feed or Harass the Alligators”.  I do not know much about alligators but did remember reading that their jaw muscles exist to bite and grip their prey in order to perform their “death roll” a term I will not elaborate on!  However, that is all I needed to remember to know not to harass the alligators. If I feed into or harass an alligator, I am inviting it into my life and ultimately am taking an invitation to the “death roll” as the main course.

 What are the “alligators” we face? Lust? Overindulgence? Greed? Apathy? Vindictiveness? Envy? Pride?  To me it is anything keeping us from growing our relationship with God and with other people.  Paul tells us clearly about the “alligators” we face, those things determined to place us in a “death roll” in Ephesians 6:12 “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”

 Do not feed them. Do not harass them.  Turn to the One who defeats them!

 

Garage Ball

Yesterday we had the blessing of having family members in our home for a Thanksgiving meal and a time for fellowship. It was a wonderful day and the fact that no one has reported having food poisoning is always a blessing!

I am the “chef” of the house when we host holidays; it is nice to give my wife a break and I love doing it and she always contributes even in ways she does not know. I enjoy the challenge of making sure each recipe is just right and the timing is spot-on. You can relate—you want your home to be as close to perfect when you have people over. Note to self…next time make more gravy!

The best part of being busy in kitchen was listening to the conversations and laughter throughout our home. The people here were people we love and enjoy time spent with them. A particularly wonderful part of this year is that both of our grandsons were here. So, being Grandpa, I of course arranged the first Garage Ball “Turkey Bowl”. If you have never played Garage Ball it is an interesting activity. There are virtually no rules, except the ones you make up and change during the game. It involves the activities of wiffleball, bowling, frisbee golf, soccer, scavenger hunting, dodge ball, lots of running and anything else a participant wants to add in. Scoring is at the discretion of the senior official (me). I give style points—Tristan got some for an awesome bat flip and Oliver did a headbutt to a wiffleball that was ESPN highlight worthy!

Garage Ball is quite literally chaos, it is a lot of fun, but it is chaos! To play it with my two grandsons is a memory I will never forget, but the fun of the game had to end; we had to get back to the “real world”. I am thankful that both these boys have loving parents who give structure to their lives and limit the amount of chaos in their lives, well as much as you can for 3-year and 16-month old boys.

Structure and security of consistency is important in our lives. Hebrews 13:8 states, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” I find great comfort in that as I grow in my relationship with Him. God does not change. He does not change the rules. I do not have to guess about what I am to do. The stakes are high; this is about our eternity so it is not the time to play Garage Ball and make up our own rules—it is all laid out in the Bible and will never change.

By the way, as the senior official I had to declare a victor in this very close and hard-fought match. Oliver got the nod with consideration that he did not have the benefit of training camp like Tristan. Tristan was very gracious with this decision but demands a rematch!

2,019 in 2019

In January I accepted the challenge of 2,019 miles in the year 2019—this week I crossed that finish line and to my surprise I still have a month and a half! This challenge equates to 5.5 miles a day; 38.8 miles a week; 168.3 miles a month. I do not share this to boast (okay maybe a little bit) but rather to share the wonderful feeling you have when you accomplish a goal—when you finish the race. Yes, during that path there were struggles and pain, but this journey has been life-changing for me.

Some of these miles were accomplished doing a job where at times I felt my feet were going to protest and quit. Some were accomplished with training runs where I felt my whole body was going to protest and quit. Some were accomplished with people I love and admire in official races where I was so joyful and thankful to be part of the experience.

Reflecting on those 2019 miles the journey was quite interesting. I got to run the outfield warning track at Kauffman Stadium; finish on the 50-yard line at Arrowhead; share wonderful experiences with my wife Cilla who finished her first 10K and half-marathon; commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing dedicating it to my grandson Oliver; take my other grandson, Tristan, through the KC Zoo and complete the 23.2 mile Camelot run to honor his first birthday; carry a 50-pound jug of water for 6K with some dear brothers; and most recently conquered the hills of the KC Marathon to help provide safe drinking water to children in need.

In all these races I never crossed the finish line first; quite honestly, I was never even close. I always joke with myself in the long runs that the first-place finisher is home, showered, and having lunch before I even finish. But I run the best I can to receive the prize. But my prize is not a medal. My prize is to finish and most importantly to glorify God in what I am doing.

One aspect I cherish about running is I find it to be quality time with God. Yes, I pray a lot while running. Sometimes those prayers are for strength to get me through the challenge but most often I just have a conversation with God without the distractions of the world. The finish line I am striving for is the one of eternity. 2 Timothy 4:7 states, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

I am confident that someday I will cross that finish line with arms raised in victory and will hear “Well done good and faithful servant (Matthew 25:23)! There is no gold medal that even comes close—I pray that I will see you at that finish line!

Duct Tape

My Dad is never far from my heart or my thoughts—I miss him very much. This time of the year he is particularly on my mind as we remember his birth, reflect on God calling him home, celebrate the years he had with the love of his life, and as always honor the positive impact he had on everyone whose path he ever crossed.

I will never forget the lessons he taught me with Duct tape (and yes, for a long time I thought it was “duck tape”). In recent times I used this magical invention to fix heating vents, secure ceiling tiles, hold down carpet, secure a broken door lock, move a top-heavy object, make some electrical wiring safe, change the dimensions of a screwdriver, muffle a hammer, fix a computer monitor, and put up warning labels.

Duct tape seemingly does it all—and it does…for a time. As powerful as Duct tape is, its strength is not permanent. Eventually its adhesive power will fail because of the elements or just the decay of time. It does great at what it is intended to do, but it does not last forever.

I think we sometimes put Duct tape on the issues and challenges we face in life. We find something to cover them up and maybe even secure them for a time, but we neglect to go back to the root issue. therefore, the problem is not solved it is only delayed and will someday rear its ugliness and destruction in our lives.

That is why I seek permanency in my security. After many years of trying to find this through myself (along with many failures) I have learned for me I must rely on God’s grace and strength. I love Psalm 18 to remind me of His promise, if you have not read that recently I highly encourage you to do so. Just the first three verses of what David wrote is enough to give us that comfort, “I love you, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies.”

That is eternal Duct tape!

45-Degree Tilt

By now we have all heard of the dangers of texting and driving, yes that 45-degree head tilt is a dangerous idea while operating a vehicle at any speed. Yet, it seems like daily there is a tragic story of death, serious injury, and destruction because someone felt they could handle the 45-degree tilt. Guess what? We can’t! It is an unnatural physical position for the serious responsibility we take when we get behind the wheel. While we might get away with it for a while, I encourage all of us to not play against the odds and stop doing this unsafe behavior. Enough on that soap box.

There is another soap box I am going to get on and it also includes the dangers of the 45-degree head tilt, I call it “45-degree disengagement syndrome”. I have seen this in restaurants where people at the same table are engaged in their cell phones for a lengthy time; I am not talking about a minute to do something fun like “check-in” or posting a picture of your incredible steak dinner, but rather the focus is on the electronic device and not on the person sitting across from them.

I observe the 45-degree tilt in a most troubling way around the school I work at. Youth practice on an adjacent soccer field regularly and I see parents in their cars doing the 45-degree tilt totally oblivious to what their child is doing on the field (and yes, I understand some coaches might prefer this). But the point is, often when we employ the 45-degree tilt we are disengaging from people because of our self-interests.

Initially I thought this is a relatively new syndrome that can be blamed on the smartphone, tablet, or other electronic devices and even a generational trend. However, the more I thought about it the more I realized this is not new, we just have new delivery systems. Back in the “old days” newspapers, books, and table games with a block of wood and golf tees caused the 45-degree tilt. Yes, sometimes the old and new devices were the source of good conversation and laughter—and that is a good thing!

The issue is not generational or communication devices, the problem is the value we place on others when we engage them. Paul addresses this in Philippians 2:3 – 4 “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”

When I value and look to the interest of others, my head must be at 0-degrees to be fully engaged with them; 45-degrees is engaged with myself.

But God

It is amazing and reassuring how many transitional words are in the Bible. Some examples are “then”, “but”, and “however”. The commonality I am focusing on are the passages where something was happening to a person or a group of people that was usually not very good, but then God’s Word takes us from that situation to a situation of hope and promise. This hope and promise come from faith and obedience!

Over the past month I was facing the possibility of being diagnosed with cancer. The original diagnosis concerned my doctor, so he referred me to a specialist and my understanding was that the appointment was for a biopsy. I confess that me being me I overthought the situation and while not panicked I was distracted not only by the impending procedure but what to do if the results were not positive. Apparently, there was some misunderstanding on the purpose of the referral visit as it turned out it was for further examinations and tests to see if the specialist felt a biopsy was needed. I praise God and thank Him that the second visit determined me to be very low risk and no biopsy was necessary.

However, the experience gave me a different perspective because this was nothing like I had ever faced. I had a myriad of emotions and thoughts, finding comfort in prayer and talking with some people very close to me who I confided with. I am thankful for a great medical team, but I serve an even greater God! Did I have cancer and God took it away? I do not know; but I know He can. Did God place this experience before me to give me insight and empathy towards others who are inflicted? I do not know; but I know He can.

I am seeking what God wants me to do with this blessing and His deliverance—a second chance if you will. Do I do what I often do and thank Him and move on? Or do I take the lesson He showed me and use it to help others? At this stage all I really know is this…But God…When His Word states that He has a plan and I pray I can learn to listen and respond better.

Psalm 73:26 reads, “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever”. Even in my weakness, “but God” steps in and is in control. I trust He is going to use this experience for His glory and purpose, despite my over-analysis. I believe we need to examine all aspects of our lives and see where He is intervening and then honor our Creator through faith and obedience.

The Sky Stood Still

This week we paused to remember the events of September 11, 2001. As with most events of this prominence we thought about where we were and what we were doing as the horrifying news broke. We also reflected on how we reacted in the aftermath. There were no empty church pews that week—sadly there are plenty now. Some went to the recruiter’s office to sign up while others went to their police and fire departments to do the same. Politicians from all parties stood arm-in-arm to show solidarity. Some were glued to their television watching the newly introduced bottom of the screen scroll waiting for the next bit of information. Some stockpiled survival rations in anticipation of further attacks. Others just sat in disbelief. We all reacted differently according to what we felt would help us understand the non-understandable. How could this happen? Why did this happen? What are we going to do about it? History has answered these questions for the most part, but at the time we were in a mental, emotional, and spiritual fog.

I was in the military at the time and my family and I had been recently assigned to Langley Air Force Base, Virginia, in the Norfolk area. On that morning, I was meeting my new Commander for the first time. We were having a good discussion when he said some words I will never forget, “That’s not right, those are our alert jets!” I had no idea what he was talking about. We stepped outside to see two F-15 Eagles launching—he had heard the engine noise and knew they would not be going out on a training mission. At that point his aid busted into the room and told him to turn on the television. What we saw was a change in what we knew and something we will never forget.

This area is one of high aircraft traffic, both civilian and military, I became accustomed to seeing frequent and many contrails in the sky, to the point where I quickly began to take them for granted. If you are not familiar with them, a contrail is the trail of condensed water from and aircraft or rocket and is seen as a white streak against the sky. Seeing those two jet’s contrails changed me—the gravity of the situation changed me.

I was assigned to the Combat Control Center and was so new that I did not even have the right uniform with me. I was not ready for this, I did not feel properly trained, I was not qualified for what they were asking me to do. Having a bit of a “pity-party” after a particularly long and intense work shift, I sat outside and was contemplating all that was happening. Then it happened; I looked up and noticed the sky was still—there were no contrails where they should be. I knew the President had suspended all air traffic accept essential military missions but observing the blankness of the sky brought it home to me.

The world I lived in changed…the world our children would grow up in changed…the world changed. Many lives were lost that day and many more were and are still being lost because of the events of that day. But the contrails are back, the sky is no longer still, our resolve (despite some of our differences) is strong. I believe in the American spirit!

Through the turmoil, fear, uncertainty, and all the other emotions of these past 18 years I find peace through God—I cannot even imagine what would have happened to me without Him. Paul sums it up perfectly in Philippians 4:13 when he says, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”

Who is your strength as you face your 9//11s? Who will walk with you and carry you after your 9/11s?

Dangerous Beauty

The photo accompanying this blog is an original. As I was recently tending our garden, I saw this spider guarding our crops (its web was pretty full of victims). I was amazed at the colors and the physical form of this spider—of its beauty. I almost wanted to touch it, but then realized I had no idea what was beneath that beauty—it could be poisonous—even at best it would defend itself and give a nasty bite! I decided to admire the beauty of this creature from afar and thank it for its work in the garden.

This scene made me think about the dangerous beauty we face is our lives and the more I thought about it, the more scenarios I came up with. Let me share a few:

– How many failed relationships are based on physical attraction alone?
– How many financial distresses are the result of us just having to have that dream house beyond our means?
– How many careers have been ruined because the only motivation was the paycheck?
– How many arguments have been caused just because we wanted that shiny new thing?
– How many goals have not been met because we took the appealing shortcut?
– How many health issues are the result of us choosing those things that are not good for us, but give temporary pleasure?
– How many dreams have been shattered because we listened to someone with nefarious motives who made it look good?
– How many times have we rejected God’s plan for us, because something else looks better?

God created many beautiful things in the universe. Indeed, people have to capacity to create beautiful things—I often marvel at the artistic ability of some people, the creative genius of a gifted architect, and the harmonious splendor that a skilled musician can produce. But I have also seen artwork that is hateful to a certain group of people, structures designed unsafely, and have heard music that glorifies evil. Even we can create things that are dangerously beautiful.

1 Peter 3:3-4 states, “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quite spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.” While Peter was specifically addressing wives in this passage, the message applies to all of us. When our focus is on external beauty, how we look, it can become dangerous because it can easily lead to greed, vanity, and misdirected focus. God cares about our inner beauty, that of a “gentle and quite spirit” because there is nothing dangerous about that kind of beauty.

Incidentally, this morning as I watered the tomato plants, I noticed our spider had a grasshopper in its clutches—it was dangerously beautiful!

New Beginnings

This past Wednesday was the start of a new school year in the district I live and work. I was in several unique positions to observe the emotions of that significant day. In the morning I went out for a run and the course takes me by an elementary school in our neighborhood. It so happened on my return trip the students were showing up for their first day. Since I am not the fastest runner in the world, I had opportunity to observe some of the parents who brought their children to school. I could easily tell the parents of kindergartners because they were walking slowing away from the school and a few tears were shed. I could also easily tell the parents of the older students who had been through this before. They were almost skipping through the parking lot with smiles on their faces, high-fiving each other and making plans to celebrate the first day of school. There were new beginnings going on everywhere!

When I went to work that afternoon the shock waves of the beginning of a new school year were even more evident. There were students (and even a few new teachers) who were lost and needed directions to get to where they wanted to be. The younger students were smiling and enjoying their new beginning (although I could tell some were missing their Mommy), but some of the more veteran students were already counting the days until Christmas break. I believe this held true with some of the staff also. One only had to witness the chaos of the first day of school dismissal time to realize that this is a new beginning!

I don’t know about you, but I face new beginnings constantly. I either attempt to stop doing something I want out of my life or start something I want in my life. Often it is just an attitude adjustment and a life-style change. The one consistency I have found is that new beginnings are not easy. As humans we are creatures of habit. We get comfortable with the status quo. And when we change something fundamentally that is part of us, we take risks. “What will my family and friends think?”, “This is going to be tough!”, “It’s what I have always known.” Believe me, from personal experience, there are plenty of excuses to go around!

One of the most beautiful things when a person gives their life to Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior is that while yes, it is a new beginning, we have the promise recorded in 2 Corinthians 5:17 “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” This is not a “hall pass” that everything will be perfect in our lives, but rather it is a comfort that we do have a new beginning and our past failures have been erased.

I daily look for the “new things that have come” through the blessing and power of God.  My new beginnings, while still a challenge, are obtainable but I have to have my skin in the game. I am unfinished but press forward with confidence with new beginnings because I know I am not doing it alone.

Power of Presence

Earlier this week I reported for jury duty. And yes, I know the joke, “I wouldn’t want anyone on my jury, who didn’t know how to get out of jury duty.” But despite being somewhat of an inconvenience I was happy to fulfill my civic duty and vowed to do the very best I could, should I be selected to sit on a jury.

I was not selected to sit on a jury. They do a computerized random selection process and my number did not come up to even be interviewed. As the other non-selectees were leaving, I overheard several say how it had been a waste of a day.

Admittedly, when I received my summons and prepared to report I was basically in that mindset. However, a judge addressed us earlier in the morning and somethings he said had a profound impact on me. He said just the presence of the 240 of us showing up and coming through that door had already made a huge impact on the judicial system. He explained that the attorneys and involved parties were aware of just our presence and they had no idea what each of us potential jurors were bringing through that door. He stated that about 90 percent of all cases are settled out of trial the morning the jurors walk through the door—that is impact! Incidentally, there were three cases on the docket when we walked through the door—only one went to trial…the other two were settled.

This experience reminded me how powerful of an impact presence can be—both positively and negatively. Each of us possess the powerful impact of presence on others and I contend in today’s world that extends to our presence on social media. I will never be the fastest man in a marathon, nor the smartest person in the room, or the wisest on a Facebook discussion, but one thing I do have is my presence. My attitude, behavior, and treatment of others determines if my presence is a good thing or bad. I am good with that!

One of the reasons I love to read the Bible is that from cover to cover I get to experience God’s presence in my life! He reveals himself to me through the accounts of others and how His presence impacted their lives. He assures me He is with me even when I feel like I am “walking through the valley of the shadow of death” (Psalm 23). He reminds to “not fear” (Isaiah 41:10) because He will strengthen me because of His presence.

I remember times in my life when I when I was not walking closely with the Lord when I felt lonely, felt I was facing unbeatable forces, and when I was living in fear. While I still face those challenges of life (as we all do) the power of the presence of God has made the difference in my attitude and behavior in facing those challenges and I can assure you it brings me great peace and comfort and confidence. I often think of Jacob and the promise God made to him and to you and me:

Genesis 28:15 “Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”

That is the Power of Presence!