The Moon Still Sets.

soldier-on-battlefield

The sky shone turquoise after the storm, aquamarine like the ocean, translucent clouds of sea foam drifting across the heavens. A hawk soared, high above the ground, and circled back to the woods beneath. Sunbeams danced like spotlights on the tops of trees. Below, a forest of tall maples ringed a field on three sides, silver leaves glinting in the bright sunlight, a thousand shining swords waving in triumph.

On the ground, boot prints in a sea of muck ran with trickles of water mingled with streams of blood. Bodies lay strewn about the field, army green and mud brown and blood red. One figure, on his knees in the mud, blood dripping from his forehead, stared blindly, mind rejecting what eyes were seeing.

Somewhere in the distance, a songbird chirped.

In a multitude of corners of the earth, death descends in a multitude of forms, and life or hope or both come to a screeching halt – and yet, the sun still shines. Hearts shatter and dreams fade, and yet people sail by, unaware and laughing. The moon still sets and the sun still rises. Brides still walk the aisles, and grooms still stand, smiling. Wedding bells still ring.

Death stalks, tragedy calls, faith withers away, and still, mercilessly, the planet spins, the seconds tick by, and the heartbeat of life never falters.

It all seems so cruel.

When we suffer, our lives are interrupted and altered, sometimes permanently. And while others might notice and whisper words of comfort and even shed tears of sympathy at our pain, eventually they return to their own lives. But it’s hard to understand; the world will never be the same. How can people behave as though it will?? That’s the pain of it.

Eventually, after we’re crushed and broken, wounded and scarred by the demons and daggers of disappointment and death, we come to understand that no one really can bear the pain of it for us. Words like “heartbreak” and “grief” become empty expressions, clichés that are tossed like chips in a casino to describe our pain. And yet, they don’t. Moreover, when those words are coupled with that cruelest of all words – “loneliness” – we experience the reason that tragedy disfigures our souls forever: we have to bear it alone.

And yet we don’t.

There is one who can bear it with us – has already born it for us – Jesus Christ. Now I realize that some – maybe many of my followers perhaps don’t subscribe to Christ – and I get that. Yet I can’t disguise the hope that we have who do believe: that Christ has taken away the sting of death – and yes, of life, too. People demand to know why bad things happen to good people. Why not? It’s a reasonable question. And yet the answer seems not to satisfy many. Yet I can’t change the answer nor can I give you a better one. The fact is, and the answer is, that we live in a fallen world. Sin has made a way for pain and heartache and death. So – how is that fair? If there’s a God, just what kind of person is he that he would allow any of this? Where is he in all of this?

On the cross. Or – he was. He died to take away the pain of life and the finality of death. What more could he do? But then he rose. And when he did, he replaced death with everlasting joy and peace and yes, that most elusive of all pursuits – happiness.

I remember once going to the funeral of a woman who had taken her own life. I didn’t know her well but I cried until my eyes were swollen shut; I couldn’t stop. I cried that she had had so much pain and so little hope that she had had no other answer than to end her life to stop the pain. When my father died, I barely cried at all. I cried briefly because I’ll miss him, but I’ll see him again; of that I have no doubt. In the meantime, he’s “in a better place” – another cliché that we throw around. No, actually, he’s in a place that is so far beyond “better” that no human being can even comprehend it. If we can imagine a world not wrecked by sin, it’s a start. No anger, no sadness, no fear, no envy, no malice, no bigotry, no pain, no desperation, no hopeless, no depression, no self-hatred, no despair, no war, no disease, no crime, no perversion, no unimaginable atrocity – no tears, no heartbreak, no death of any kind.

Erase all of that – and then imagine a place of beauty beyond anything we’ve ever seen. People who’ve visited heaven, who’ve died and been revived, describe heaven as a place having colors we’ve never seen, sound beyond our spectrum, music we can’t produce, and light that is brighter than any sun. But the best thing of all – from my viewpoint anyway – is that heaven is a place of new beginnings, a place where the mistakes we’ve made are erased and the wrongs we’ve done to others are healed, a place where we can start all over – and get it right!

Heaven is a place of do-overs.

In the midst of heart-wrenching pain, what does it hurt to believe – especially when there are those of us who can testify that we’ve never been disappointed by believing? What’s the risk? When you think about it, there isn’t any.

Just believe. It’s okay.

 

 

 

 

 

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Playing the Odds.

bible

How do we know that the Bible is truly the Word of God?

That has to be the foundational question in all of Christianity.  After all, if people don’t believe that the Bible truly is God’s word and divinely inspired, then it would follow that we can’t use Scripture as a foundation for proof of the reality of God or the lordship of Jesus Christ.

Right?

Several years ago, I came to this conclusion as I found myself facing what I can only call a crisis of faith. Life had wound up and slapped me upside the head (as it sometimes does), and I came to the realization that, if I really wanted to do things God’s way in this dilemma, it was going to cost me a lot.  Therefore, I had to be certain, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that if I were going to choose to do things according to Biblical principle, then those principles had better be true. 

But I wasn’t certain of that.

That’s when it hit me: I actually had some doubt as to whether the Word of God was really that – God’s word. So – I confessed that to God, and asked Him to give me some proof as to whether He really had written the Bible and, by extension – I guess I was really asking Him to prove to me that He even really existed.   After all, I reasoned, there are lots of religions in the world, and every person in every one of them believes that his or her beliefs are the “real thing.”  That wouldn’t be so disturbing if those beliefs were similar in nature but many of them are diametrically opposed to one another so – which one was real??  They couldn’t all be the truth . . .

As I confronted God about my confusion and asked Him to prove His reality to me (that takes nerve, thinking back . . .), I was really rather surprised when He did – and quickly.

Within a week, the Lord showed me that Biblical prophecy is the evidence that the Bible was indeed written by God. 

First, the Lord showed me that there are three different kinds of prophecy in the Bible: prophecy concerning the Jewish people, Messianic prophecy, and end-time prophecy. There are literally hundreds of these different kinds of prophecy embedded into the Word of God; in fact, there are over 300 Messianic prophecies alone in the Bible. 

For example, some of the prophecies concerning the Jewish people include their various exiles, captivities, and dispersions around the world. Others reveal what would happen to specific people such as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Ishmael, Nebuchadnezzar, Samuel, Sampson, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea, Peter, Paul, Mary, John the Baptist, the disciples James and John, and Judas Iscariot.  Each of these people had prophecies given to them which predicted what would happen to them and/or their children in the future. 

In addition, there is Messianic prophecy, which is a description of who the Messiah would be and what He would do so that the Jewish people would recognize Him when He came. Some of these prophecies include where the Messiah would be born, what He would do during His life and ministry here on earth, how He would be received and treated by people, and how He would die and yes, rise again.

The last kind of prophecy, commonly called “End-Time” prophecy, is found primarily in the books of Daniel, Zachariah, Revelation, Matthew 24 and Mark 13. These prophecies predict all kinds of events that are to take place before the return of Jesus, including the return of the Jewish people to the nation of Israel, the rise of a one-world economy and of a one-world ruler, a world-wide increase in the frequency and severity of natural disasters, and a devastating war which pretty much levels the planet. 

The point is that the odds of even a few of these prophecies coming to pass by chance are literally impossible.   For example, attorney and former atheist Josh McDowell calculated that the odds of just eight of the 300 Messianic prophecies about Jesus coming to pass through sheer coincidence (and more than eight already have) are a whopping 1023   – ten to the 23rd power (a ten followed by 23 zeroes). 

I don’t know if there’s even a name for that number. 

The bottom line is that a person has to have more faith to believe that it’s even possible for those kinds of odds to happen through sheer and random chance than simply to admit that there is a God and that the Bible was written by Him. Who else would be capable of predicting that many things and doing it accurately? 

I was convinced.

Of course, anyone can fact-check these prophecies and calculate the odds for themselves (if you can count that high). The point is that proof of God and His divine inspiration of the Bible is there for all people to see. 

That is – if they really want to see it.

 

 

Rise From the Ashes.

chess-pieces

What do George Washington, Susan Boyle, Mark Cuban, Michael Jordan, M&M, Helen Keller, Nick Vujicic, Abe Lincoln, and Cinderella all have in common? True – they’re all famous but that’s not it. Before they were famous, they were all “nobodies” or “failures” or “losers”.

They were all underdogs.

Let’s break it down. Take George Washington, for example. In the 1700’s, he had the gall to take on the best-trained and equipped, most powerful army in the world – the British – with the most ragtag bunch of men who ever had the nerve to call themselves an army. None in his small Continental Army had sufficient food or weapons, and many had only rags for shoes and tents for shelter in the bitter cold of a Valley Forge winter. And as if that weren’t enough, a large portion of the colonists weren’t even standing with Washington; they were supporting the British.

 George Washington was not supposed to win that war – but he did. He led that scrappy little Continental Army to an astounding victory over the British. (And the whole civilized world was scandalized!)

Susan Boyle is the woman with Asperger’s Syndrome (a type of autism) who had the courage to audition for Britain’s Got Talent (similar to American Idol). If you’ve never seen the video of her debut appearance on the show, U-Tube it. The best part is Simon Cowell’s face when she appeared on stage as a timid, socially-awkward woman who looked like she’d probably never sung anywhere but the shower. But when she opened her mouth, magic happened. Since then, Susan Boyle has become world-famous, having sold millions of CD’s.

Susan Boyle wasn’t just a low-odds’ gamble; she was a no-odds’ guarantee. And there are more:

Mark Cuban, the multi-billionaire from Shark Tank, dropped out of high school before his senior year and then survived as a bartender, DJ, and party producer. That was before making his billions as a technology tycoon.

M&M is the wrong color and shouldn’t have been able to do what he did: become a rap artist. Everyone knows white men can’t rap. Apparently, M&M didn’t know it. Or – maybe he did – and he did it anyway.

And then there was Michael Jordan – cut from his high school basketball team. (How would you love to be that coach?) Nevertheless, Michael Jordan became one of the most successful, highly paid basketball stars the NBA has ever seen. Even twelve years after his last NBA game, Jordan has made more money in endorsements and sponsorships than he ever made as a BB player: a cool billion, in fact.

Not bad for an underdog.

Helen Keller, as we might remember, became blind, deaf and mute at 19 months old as a result of an unknown illness. Despite all odds, Keller grew up to be the first deaf-blind person ever to earn a bachelor of arts degree, in addition to becoming an American author, political activist, and lecturer.

Nick Vujicic has no arms and no legs. Still, he travels the world speaking, many times in schools, where his message is “you are loved”. It’s not, Vujicic says, about what you look like – or don’t look like; it’s about who you are. Who would have believed that anyone would receive Nick’s message? Nick did.

 And then there was Abraham Lincoln. Few people have ever been defeated more times in life then he was and yet come so far back. To say that he was an underdog when running for president would be a really amusing understatement. Here’s why:

  • 1816 – Family lost their home; he had to go to work.
  • 1818 – Mother died.
  • 1831 – Business failed.
  • 1832 – Ran for state legislature – lost; lost his job; applied to law school – denied.
  • 1833 – Borrowed money for business, went bankrupt. Spent 17 years repaying debt.
  • 1834 – Ran for state legislature again – won.
  • 1835 – Engaged to be married, fiancé died.
  • 1836 – Had total nervous breakdown; in bed for six months.
  • 1838 – Sought speakership of the state legislature – defeated.
  • 1840 – Sought elector-ship – defeated.
  • 1843 – Ran for Congress – lost.
  • 1846 – Ran for Congress again and won.
  • 1848 – Ran for re-election to Congress – lost.
  • 1849 – Sought position of land officer in Illinois – rejected.
  • 1854 – Ran for Senate – lost.
  • 1856 – Sought the Vice-Presidential nomination – got less than 100 votes.
  • 1858 – Ran for U.S. Senate again – lost.
  • 1860 – Elected President of the United States.

Has there ever been a bigger underdog than Honest Abe? (Not counting, of course, dozens of Bible underdogs who shouldn’t have been able to do what they did either: David, Joseph, Rahab, Esther, Gideon, Noah, Mary Magdalene, Peter, John the Baptist – that list continues ad infinitum.)

And . . . Cinderella. Why a fairy-tale princess? Cinderella represents all of the dozens of characters in literature who are underdogs in the face of impossible odds and who, despite that, press on to overcome and achieve their goals, dreams, visions, and destinies. Cinderella rose from the ashes to find, not only true love, but her place as royalty.

If you’re feeling like the “least likely to succeed,” that’s a really good place to be. Why? Because God loves an underdog.

Now rise.

 

 

 

 

 

Killer Deal.

train-wreck

How would you like to start a business and have an immediate 100 clients? Maybe you’d like a quick trip from the high school locker room to the NFL? What about going from being weekend news anchor at your local station to anchoring the nightly national network news? Or graduating from college at 22 and stepping right into the directorship of a daycare center responsible for the care and feeding of fifty kidlets every day? What if Uncle Harry suddenly left you a cool million? Killer deal, right?

Absolutely killer. Lethal even.

You know where I’m going with this. There’s a great deal to be said for gradual promotion, for hugging the learning curve, for “working your way up”. In fact, it’s absolutely essential. The fast track to any dream rarely equips us to handle its fulfillment. In fact, many a dream has been destroyed because of overnight success. We’ve all seen the extreme examples: the actress who becomes famous after her first movie hits blockbuster status, and so she turns into an obnoxious diva because she simply doesn’t know how to handle all of the adoration from fans. Or a singer whose first CD goes platinum and he ends up on the road doing drugs because he hasn’t learned how to say no to the never-ending parties and the party animals who inhabit them. Or, sadly, the lottery winner who’s an overnight multi-millionaire and ends up broke because he doesn’t know how to handle the money or the sudden onslaught of “friends” who’d like to deprive him of it . . .

But – what about closer to home? What about stepping into a job or business where you’re suddenly responsible for a dozen employees – and you’ve never been responsible for even one before? There’s a lot more to managing people than learning how to fill out the paperwork. Or how about buying more house or car than you can really afford instead of working your way up to the beach house or the Jaguar?  Or – my personal favorite – jumping into a job teaching high school students when you’ve neither student taught nor trained for combat?

Right after I graduated from college, I thought about joining the Air Force and attending officers’ training school. I’ll never forget the advice my father, a retired NCO AF vet, gave me about joining as an officer. He said, “When you get your first assignment as a young officer, right out of school and knowing nothing, the first thing you need to do is to find yourself a seasoned Senior Master Sergeant who’s been around for twenty years. Then keep your mouth shut and do what he tells you.”

The learning curve. You can’t short-circuit it.

Take education, for example. Ever wonder why the U.S. has gone from #1 in the world in test scores and graduation rates to #17? It’s not money; we spend more per student than any nation in the world. It’s not the teachers; K-12 teachers in the U.S. have to jump through as many if not more educational prep hoops than any other country on earth: graduate degrees, practicums, national tests, video-taped proof of numerous masteries, professional development, and state-mandated workshops – all just to get certified. Nope, those aren’t the problems. It’s one thing and one thing only – the “dirty little secret” of education:

Social promotion.

“Social promotion” is the practice of promoting students through the 8th grade – whether or not they’ve passed the grade or mastered the subjects. Not kidding. (Wish I were.)

For example, I’ve seen numerous students passed onto the next grade after failing all four core courses – math, English, science and social studies. And why? Well, one reason is that a student who’s held back in a middle school might end up with facial hair – and there will be no facial hair in a middle school. (No lie – just ask the state administrator who told me that.) And the second reason for social promotion – money! (There’s a surprise.) Schools with lower graduation rates or those having students who take five years to graduate get less federal money. So they pass the kids on up to the high school and try to get them to graduate in four years – whether they’re ready or not. Ever have an employee who has no work ethic or can’t read? Now you know why.

My point is this: “social promotion” – whether through school or through life – is a guaranteed train wreck.

From a Biblical perspective, God doesn’t do social promotions. Ever hear of “going around the mountain”? Again? I thought you had.

Remember Moses? The man God chose to deliver His people from slavery in Egypt? He spent 40 years as a royal Egyptian prince where he became famous among both the Egyptians and the Hebrews. Then, after thinking he could get away with murder, he wandered the backside of the desert for another 40 years while he learned a thing or two about humility. Imagine what kind of leader Moses would’ve been for the next 40 years caring for a million people in the desert if he hadn’t learned humility.

And the Jewish people – how many times did they “go around that mountain” before they were ready to conquer the Promised Land? Forty years – for a trip that should’ve taken eleven days.

But what if they had gone from being slaves in Egypt to conquerors in a foreign land – in eleven days? They couldn’t even feed themselves. They had no idea how to fight, having never done it, or to conquer the land or to set up a government and rule. In fact, they didn’t even have laws at the time they exited Egypt.

The point is that making any kind of a deal to fast-track to the top of the dream is a really bad idea. You might get there – but then the trick would be to stay there. There is no substitute for prep time, however long that might take.

So if you’re offered a “killer deal” to skip to the big time, it might be an offer you’d rather refuse.

 

Uncommon Sense

         common-sense-rip         Whatever happened to Common Sense?  Unfortunately, it’s not so common anymore. While Common Sense used to be everywhere – courtrooms, Congress, cable, and classic movies and literature – now not so much. Common Sense is rarely found these days in newspapers, judicial decisions, social policies or any kind of pop culture. And forget classrooms. 

In fact, Common Sense is well on his way to becoming extinct. Instead, he’s being replaced by his six other brothers.

         Let me introduce them to you.

         The oldest brother is Get Some Sense. He’s big on education and thinks that the more degrees he gets, the more wisdom he’ll have. As a result, he’s up to his neck in PhD’s, MA’s and MS’s, MD’s, and whatever other alphabets he can buy. Unfortunately, while he’s smart enough to know that a tomato is a fruit and not a vegetable, he’s not smart enough to know it doesn’t belong in his fruit salad. Furthermore, in his vast acquisition of knowledge, Get Some Sense has deemed social promotion, entitlement and self-esteem more important than hard work; government regulations more important than parental authority; and “political correctness” more important than, well – common sense.

         Then we have Common Sense’s next brother, N.O. Sense. (N.O. stands for “No Originality”.) NO Sense is, basically, a follower. Whatever’s popular or the current trend or whatever the crowd is doing, NO Sense will be found doing, too. Needless to say, he has very few independent thinking skills and even less interest in developing any. He’s the soul of every sort of mob mentality from bullying to violent protests to drug use and crime. Tragically, he’s never been known to be the source of any good deed.

         Next is Not-A-Lotta Sense. (He’s a twin.)  Not surprisingly, Not-A-Lotta has not been very successful in life. He’s not very open to listening to advice; in fact, he’s a do-it-yourselfer. He has to find out everything for himself. The hard way. Like the time he bought that fruity computer stock (something to do with apples) from some guy out of his garage and Uncle Milt told him to hold onto it. But he didn’t. He needed beer money. Sometimes Not-A-Lotta Sense is a slow learner.

         Not-A-Lotta’s twin bro is Lacking Sense. “S-Lacker,” as he’s known, has the ability to think for himself; he just doesn’t. He tends to rush into actions and decisions with not much forethought. He’s often late to work (when he’s working), drives too fast (license optional), and spends money like water (picture the faucet left running).  He is, however, really good at video games.

         And then there’s Dollars and Sense. Dollars believes everything is about money. The only two questions he ever asks when making any decisions are, “How much will it make me?” and “How much will it cost me?”  For example, since vacations generally cost money rather than make it, he’s never taken one. He did fly to Aruba once but that was just to deposit money into a “non-existent” bank account. (The rest he keeps under his mattress.) Dollars is also a big fan of insider trading. But you didn’t hear that from me.

         And finally, there’s the last brother, Non Sense, who’s been around, it seems, since the beginning of time. However, it actually hasn’t been that long. Non Sense really came into his own in the late 60’s and particularly made a name for himself at a place called Woodstock. Since then, he’s been spotted in various places including Hollywood, Washington DC, and in most universities around the world. Non Sense babbles frequently on talk shows, “news” networks, and U-Tube. Social media is also a favorite hang-out. If Non Sense friend-requests you, I don’t recommend you go there.

         So – since his six other brothers have taken over, Common Sense has become rather rare. He’s found in few places these days: old books which no one any longer reads, the minds and hearts of the “Greatest Generation” (aka – “obsolete” by later generations), and in original, unabridged copies of sacred documents like the U.S. Constitution and the Holy Bible. Common Sense has become so endangered that I now suppose he’s better known as – Uncommon Sense.

         I will miss him.

 

 

 

 

 

No Freedom, No Destiny.

constitution-burning

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution of the United States of America.”

This, as you know, is the introduction (“preamble”) to the United States’ Constitution, and its purpose is to outline exactly what our government is supposed to do for “We the People”.

So – let’s see if that’s been happening . . .

The government is supposed to secure the “Blessings of Liberty” for ourselves and our “Posterity”.  Our “liberties” are the rights which are given to us by law – and which, unfortunately, we’ve come to take for granted. These rights, established first in the Declaration of Independence, include the right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. This means that our government cannot just up and kill us for political purposes (as happens in some countries); the government cannot deprive us of our freedom or “lock us up” without “just cause” and “due process”; and the government cannot interfere with our own individual decisions regarding what brings us happiness and fulfillment (unless we’re breaking a law in the pursuit). Furthermore, the government cannot deprive us of rights such as freedoms of speech, religious expression, assembly (gathering with others, including to protest), to have and bear arms, and many other rights. (See the Bill of Rights.) And finally, the government is supposed to “secure” these rights, meaning to make certain they are “guaranteed,” they’re “safe” for us and our “posterity,” our children.

Is this happening? No. In New York State, for example, citizens don’t have the right to “bear” arms; “Conceal and Carry” permits are very rare and only issued by judges when we can “prove” we need one and the burden of proof is tough. Most of us don’t have that Constitutional right anywhere in New York state. That’s terrifying when you think about it.

Is “religious freedom” secure? No, not when companies are being forced to comply with practices that violate their religious beliefs such as providing abortion coverage with medical benefits. Now I get that not everyone reading this may agree with businesses being allowed to exempt themselves via “violations of conscience” but keep in mind that if the government says they “must” violate their consciences, it may well say one day that you must as well.

Is “freedom of speech” secure? Not entirely. “Hate speech” is now against the law and carries severe penalties. While that may seem like a good idea, who determines what is hateful? That’s the scary part. If someone doesn’t like your opinion, suddenly it’s “hate speech”.

Our government is supposed to “establish Justice”.  “Justice” means that all laws and the punishments for violating them are fair and just; it means there is no partiality shown in favor of the rich and/or powerful. Unfortunately, the fact is that justice, as defined by the Constitution has been violated in Washington D.C. when powerful people there have disregarded laws and then not only not been convicted but not even charged. Other not-so-famous people have been both charged and convicted of the exact same crimes. Has justice then been served? Has our Constitution been upheld? If everyone is not held to the same standard as others, then no, it hasn’t.

Is our Constitution in danger? The answer should be self-evident but in case it’s not, yes, our Constitution is in danger. Is this an exaggeration? No. Because once justice is trampled, so is our freedom. It’s over. Justice is the cornerstone of the Constitution.

Our government is supposed to “insure domestic Tranquility”. That means the government is obligated to keep the peace at home. Is this happening? No. Cities are burning as the authority of law enforcement (which is a government institution) is being undermined and even sabotaged. That’s a fact. And if our law enforcement at any level – local, state, or federal – is disregarded and disempowered, then there will be no “domestic tranquility”. Period. How can there be? Correct – there cannot. (Wait – there could be if “martial law” was declared and the military “kept the peace”. But I don’t think we really want to see that happen . . .)

Our government is supposed to “provide for the common defense”. This means that the government is supposed to protect the nation from its enemies – both foreign and domestic – through the use of a strong military force.

Is this happening? No. Terrorist attacks inspired by radical Islam in this country are increasing in frequency – whether done by terrorists at home or those accessing the United States through leaky borders or the non-existent vetting of refugees or immigrants. Moreover, the “common defense” is being undermined by a continuous “downsizing” of military force and equipment. These are facts, not speculation.

So – is the United States government providing for the “common defense”? No.

The government is supposed to promote the “general Welfare”. This does not mean the government is supposed to send out welfare checks or other government entitlements every month. Rather, promoting “General Welfare” refers to promoting “good for everyone”. The government is supposed to enact and protect regulations and laws which inspire and promote economic well-being, among other welfares.

Has this happened? No. The federal government has enacted policies detrimental to businesses, job growth, and general economic freedom in the market place. More government regulations on businesses result in fewer businesses established or able to stay in operation. This means fewer people employed and fewer people receiving paychecks, medical insurance and retirement benefits.

The state of our educational system is another “general welfare” failure in this country. Common Core? Not. Ditto the effects of failed energy production, healthcare, national debt, et cetera.

In short, the government has failed in the “general welfare” category.

I hope the point has been made that, above all else in this presidential election, we need to vote for those candidates who will stand for our Constitution and the rights it guarantees. If we don’t, it may well be one of the last votes we’ll ever be able to cast. Think I’m kidding? Voting is, essentially, a form of free speech, of expressing our opinions. If our freedom of speech disappears, I guarantee that our right to vote will do a quick vanishing act as well.

So – ROCK THE VOTE. But remember one thing as you step into the voting booth: No man or woman can ever guarantee your freedoms. Only the United States Constitution can do that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Civil War II . . .?

disunity

“”Nothing will be impossible for them!’”

Wouldn’t we all love to hear those words? They speak of unity and unity is a major principle of success. Disunity is a major cause of failure. But how much do we really think about unity? We don’t really think about it at all – unless we’re noticing division.

Division is much easier to spot. Let’s face it – this country is rampant with division. We see it everywhere:

Political Division. With the presidential election looming ever closer, Republications and Democrats are literally at each other’s throats. Not surprising though. When are they not? What is surprising – and devastating to our nation – is the division within the parties. Why? Because that creates so much more division among average citizens. Of course conservatives and liberals are going to clash. It’s their job. But when we see conservatives biting each other’s heads off and democrats doing the same among themselves, then it’s past time to pay attention. However, more on that later.

Racial Division. Dare I go there? There has, unfortunately, always been racial divide – although there has been progress. I don’t think anyone can argue legitimately that race relations have not improved since MLK, Jr. But are they where they need to be? Of course not, not saying that. That being said, the racial divide in this country is only getting worse as we see cities burn in protest to racial inequalities, both real and perceived.

It’s division on a grand scale.

The burning and destruction of cities are causing inter-racial divides as well as more general racial division. And is that the goal? While some people are protesting peacefully, others are coming from outside of those communities and burning, rioting and looting the very homes and businesses of the people that they claim to be trying to help.

Is that unity?

But let’s say protestors did only burn properties outside of inner cities – would that really solve race relations in this nation? Not a chance. Then what is the point of it? And who’s going to suffer the most if the divisions are not resolved? The very people who suffer now – only more so. The point is that racial and inter-racial violence is a graphic illustration of how division never does anything but cause more destruction and tragedy.

Economic Division. Increasingly, we’re seeing resentment and even hatred being spewed toward those who don’t “pay their fair share” in taxes. It’s generally one political party who’s criticizing the other for being “too rich”. On the other side of the divide, the “rich” (unclear where that line begins and ends) – many of whom are business owners – respond by making the claim that they did earn the money and it therefore belongs to them. The other political party is responsible for that perspective. And it doesn’t look as though that stalemate will be resolved anytime soon.

So – who’s right and who’s wrong?

Hear me now: while I have my own opinions, who’s right or wrong on these issues is not, not, not my point in this post.

My point is that division equals destruction – every time. It’s a law – like gravity. And it’s a neutral law – it applies to those doing evil as well as to those doing good.

Success because of unity does not just happen to good people or to those with good intentions. Any group of people who is unified will achieve success – whether or not they are nice people.  

It is imperative that we get this. If we do not, the United States of America is done.

If we look back through history, every victory, movement, breakthrough, or advancement that has ever been achieved has happened through the cooperation of people working together – whether the goals realized have been for good or for evil.

Unity equals success. And division equals chaos and destruction. Period. The consequences of disunity in any arena – government, places of employment, churches, schools, marriages and families – will, 100 percent of the time, result in FAILURE.

The Bible relates a story early in the history of civilization in which all people spoke a common language and so agreed (key unity word) to build a city and a “tower that reaches to the heavens”. Now God noticed this plan and, for reasons of His own, decided that the tower was not a good idea. He said, “’If as one people they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them’” (Gen. 11:6). (I’m guessing God had some intel on what “they planned to do”.) The point? It was their unity that made “nothing impossible” for the people. Now, would God have intervened in their plans if those plans had been for good and not for evil? Knowing God, probably not – which proves the point that unity among people breeds success – even if the goals are not noble ones.

What does this mean for our nation? Simply this: we need to unify if we’re ever going to survive. We almost didn’t survive as a nation during the Civil War during which well over a half million people died (620,000 to be exact). I fear that if the United States of America wages Civil War II, millions more will die than did in the first war. And because fewer and fewer children are even being taught about the Civil War anymore, they don’t see the potential train wreck just ahead.

Am I being too dramatic? If you think so, ask yourself this: If this nation does not become unified, “One nation, under God, with justice and liberty for all”, where will we end up? Can this fighting and burning and destruction continue? Can our Constitution and the rights it guarantees survive this political disunity ? And if we can’t stop fighting among ourselves, how on earth will we ever manage to defeat any threats from the outside of the U.S.? We must consider that question as well because at this point, we’re so divided that we can’t even agree that there are any outside threats to the United States.

So what? you say. Who cares anyway?

You will. We all will. And our children will.

So what can we do? We need to care – now – care enough to unify with our neighbor, with our co-worker, with each other. We need to fight for “one nation” – not with insults and hatred and firebombs, but with our unified attitudes and words and actions. We need to remember the good that this nation has in common. And we need to do it now.

Later will be too late.

 

 

 

 

“Fair?” Not.

expectations

Many people think life should be fair. It isn’t. Life is hard. Hal Urban makes these points in his great book Life’s Greatest Lessons. The fact is, expecting life to be fair is a very dangerous proposition. But then – why do we have to be told this?

The reality is that even though we “know,” in general, that life isn’t fair, when it comes to us personally, we often expect it to be. And because we don’t really accept that life is not fair, then we can become angry when life slaps us upside the head and proves the point. Job loss, financial crisis, relationship problems, and health issues are some major “not fairs” in life. Eventually, when we’re angry about life’s unfairness long enough and we can’t “make” it fair (according to our standards), then we can lose hope that anything will ever change. If we go there, depression sets in.

Is it “fair” that we’re not billionaires like Cuban or Gates? Some would say a resounding “NO!” But is it fair that we weren’t born in a third-world country where mothers can’t feed their children? No. Is it fair that ever since I broke my leg when I was fourteen, I can’t bend it quite as far as I once could? I didn’t used to think so – until I saw a video of Nick Vujicic who doesn’t have any legs (or arms).

Is that fair?

Back in the day when I had very little money, I was on a tight grocery budget. Very tight. Chicken, ground beef and pasta in some form or another were common. Then one day, my sister visited and she needed “a few” things so we went grocery shopping where she proceeded to fill her cart with all kinds of things I considered “extras” – salsa and chips, steak, baked goods, fresh fruits, et cetera. I had the usual: chicken legs, eggs, bread, milk and bologna. Once she left, I was in tears. God and I had a little “chat” during which I explained to Him (rather loudly) how “unfair” it was that she could afford steak and all I could afford was chicken. I was sick of chicken. But to this day, I still remember exactly where I was when God responded to my little tirade; I was literally mid-step between my living room and kitchen.

“Have you ever gone hungry?”

Suddenly I was in tears for another reason. “No, Lord,” I whispered, red with shame, “I haven’t.”

How unfair is that when millions of people in the world are hungry every day?

The fact is that our expectations shape our perspectives all the time. If we “expect” things to be one way or the other and they’re not, we’ll live our lives in disappointment and bitterness.

My mother died of cancer 23 years ago. My father died two years ago. However, one of the things I’ll always remember about the two of them is that they had the kind of marriage that everyone dreams of. They were best friends, treated each other with respect and never failed to show love and appreciation to the other. As a consequence, they virtually never fought; in all the years they were married, they only had two fights. So what did I expect when I got married? Exactly. I thought it was the end of the marriage if a couple had an argument; I’d just never seen it happen. Why is that important? Because since my expectations for a good marriage were so unrealistic, I was very disappointed. That meant that any “intense fellowship” my husband and I had was, to my mind, a major crisis.

It was all so unfair!

Was it unfair? Or were my expectations just unrealistic? No and yes. The point is that if we have unrealistic expectations in life, then we’re going to label lots of things “unfair!”. And when we go through life thinking we’ve gotten the short end of the stick, we can become literally heart sick.

What are some of these heart-breaking expectations? How about the big media lie – that every woman should be beautiful and if we’re not, well, then we need to be “fixed”. Take Marie Osmond and her NutriSystem campaign for example. She’s 56ish (by my estimation) and looks like she’s 30. The implication is that spending big bucks for NutriSystem every month is going to make any 56-year-old look 30.

Now there’s an expectation looking for a disappointment.

I’d love to be the copywriter for that NutriSystem TV ad. The fine print would read: “Personal trainer, plastic surgeon, private cosmetologist, hair and make-up designer, wardrobe specialist, and video/photo editor are not included with this offer.”

Is it “fair” that Marie can afford to look like that and the rest of us – not so much? Personally, I don’t think it is fair, but then, I would be wrong.

The larger point is that unrealistic expectations about what’s “fair” and “unfair” can have us wasting valuable time chasing things in life that are never going to happen. When Jesus said, “’In this world you will have tribulation,’” he said it for a reason. To expect that we won’t have trials, tribulations, losses, crises, and heartaches and breaks is just plain – well, let’s say “naïve” – it sounds better.

The next time you feel disappointed, ask yourself, “What was I really expecting?” After you identify your expectations in that situation, find out from yourself whether those expectations were realistic or not. Sometimes we beat ourselves up for things that were never possible to begin with. Once we realize that, we can cut ourselves a break for not being able to achieve those impossible goals.

So much for looking like Marie  . . .

 

 

 

 

 

 

Critical Thinking.

shakespeare-hamlet-cropped“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Eleanor Roosevelt said those words decades ago in the face of the great criticism faced by any First Lady. No one knows who said it but it’s true: “Everyone’s a critic.” And as we’re all painfully aware, criticism will come. Even if it’s constructive criticism, given gently, it can still hurt. Why? Because sometimes we’re faced with the realization that maybe our best isn’t good enough. Even so, no one can make you feel inferior without your consent.

Don’t give it.

What does it mean to give your consent? It means that you’re agreeing that you’re inferior. But here’s the truth: you are not inferior. What you have done or created may not be the best that’s ever been done or created, but what you do is not who you are.

Our worth is not based on what we can or cannot do.

Recently, I had some work critiqued and found it needed some major changes. That rocked my world because I’d put so much into it. So I went through the grief stage. Really?? (you’re thinking) Over that?? Yep, really – as with anything you put your heart and soul into: a song, a painting, a relationship, a job, a business. When you do the best you can do and the reviews aren’t stellar, it can trigger the inferior thing. The thing is not to get stuck there. As we seek to pursue our visions, we’re going to face criticism – some valid and some not. So how do we handle it?

Thing One: We need to take a little time and just breathe – get some perspective. Sometimes criticism is like a sucker punch: it’s unexpected and can leave us out of breath. But we can’t get stuck there; we can’t suffocate. We need to move onto the next stage.

Thing Two: We need to evaluate the criticism: is it valid or is it not? It may not be. If it’s not, move on. If it is, how much of it is valid? Once we get a handle on that – and we may need help doing that – then we have a choice to make. Are we going to reject the valid criticism and then stay stuck where we are? Because that’s a forever proposition. Or, are we going to move onto the next thing?

Thing Three: Admit that we need to change, adjust, improve. I always tell my kids that, in order to be grateful in hard times, it helps to look at those who aren’t as fortunate as you are and then to humble yourself and count your blessings. However, when we’re looking to process criticism, we can’t focus on who (we think) we’re better than just to make ourselves feel better. Rather, we have to focus on those who have achieved what we aspire to be, and we need to start asking questions. How did they get where they are? How do they deal with criticism? How do they keep motivated? And what, specifically, do they do that you don’t yet know how to do? Think of it this way: two year olds can’t do what ten year olds can do – but does that mean they never will? Just because we can’t do something now doesn’t mean we’ll never be able to do that thing.

We need to remind ourselves constantly that we are not what we do. That means that when what we do crashes and burns, who we are will not crash and burn with it. I’m a teacher but someday I won’t be. If I think I am what I do, I’ll never have the courage to retire and not be a teacher anymore – and that means I’ll never move onto the next chapter in my life.

We are not what we do. I have that written on a couple of post-it notes placed in strategic places because remembering that gives me the courage to keep on trying, to take a risk and to put my writing out there again. And again. And however many times it takes. Because what is life without risk?

Over.

 

 

Life’s Little “Pop Quizzes”

epic-fail

Yesterday I had “a day”. And we all know what that means: a day full of annoyances, conflict, disappointment, headaches and things breaking down – and mental breakdowns are not unheard of. It’s a day where all kinds of fun things happen. For example, you’re running late – and the snail-on-wheels in front of you doesn’t quite seem to grasp that. And of course something has to break – and it has to be the coffeemaker. Or (my personal favorite) your kids decide your life isn’t exciting enough and needs a little drama – and they’re happy to fix that for you. They’re so helpful that way. Or you forget your lunch so you roll through the drive-through only to discover you don’t have your wallet. But no worries – you know where it is. It’s sitting on the kitchen counter – right next to your lunch and the broken coffee maker. And to top it all off, you get to work (late) and pull up the document you’d worked on for a week and saved – or thought you saved …

All you can do at that point is to look up at the sky and inquire, “Is there a point here??”

Well, yes, actually there is. It’s one of life’s little “pop quizzes”, the let’s-see-how-much-you’ve-learned-character test that God loves to spring on us from time to time. And while I’d much prefer the paper and pencil version of that particular test (because I know all the right answers to that test), God seems to prefer the more “show, don’t tell” type of test. That’s the test that seems to go something like this:

Did you flash a friendly smile at the guy in the snail-mobile or – uhm, not?

Did you sit your kid down and patiently explain why it’s rude to use “that” language – or did you ground them until they’re 45? Not that there’s anything wrong with a good, long grounding – as long as you smile sweetly and the neighbors down the street don’t hear you do it.

Did you thank the nice lady at the drive through and politely explain that the wallet is on the counter next to the lunch and the broken coffee maker? And did you flash a friendly peace sign at the guy behind you in line who’s honking his horn like a maniac on steroids? Or did you yell at the nice lady that they took too long with your order so you don’t want it now and then roar off, squealing your tires?

For me, as a teacher, my tests often involve high school students who never got the memo that there are just certain things guaranteed to spoil your classroom experience. Like pitching a full-fledged fit when the teacher has the gall to tell you that naptime is over and to get your head up off the desk or to turn around and stop talking to your neighbor or to stop throwing pencils or to stop texting in class – and forget telling me it’s your mother. True story. Yesterday. All in one 45-minute period. Did I pass the test? Probably not. Which is why later I was near tears when, out of the blue, my sister called.

“What’s wrong??”

“Nothing.”

“You’re lying.”

“Okay.”

“What happened?”

So I told her what happened. What happened was I failed the test. I sort of let the little cherubs know I was not happy. Loudly. And I knew that it didn’t matter what they had done; I’d failed. Know what my sister said?

“‘To whom much is given, much is required.’”

Great. I would’ve preferred, “This too shall pass.”

The thing about these little pop quizzes is that God tailor-makes them all. For some it’s the patience test;  for some it’s the “love the least of these” test; for some it’s the giving-money test; for some it’s the scrub-the-toilet-servant test; for some it’s the gossip test – et cetera. And guess what else? God doesn’t do social promotions. It doesn’t matter to God how long it takes us to pass our ICE’s (Individualized Character Tests) – God has all eternity.

So – Rule #1 if you fail the test: admit it. We all have to do that. Or we get to take the truthfulness test again. And once we pass that test and admit what we’ve done, then we get to start all over with the original character test that we wouldn’t admit we’d failed. Ever hear of “life-long learning”? Well, now you have.

Point?

Don’t get discouraged when you get a failing grade on your pop character quiz. It means God’s working.

Honestly? Yesterday, that was the one thing that made me feel better – the idea that the difficult circumstances were for a purpose. I know I learned something – for me it wasn’t about what I said because it wasn’t unreasonable. The point is how I said it. I learned that there’s a wrong way to say the right thing.  

Will I have to take this little quiz again? I hope not – but, yes. Then I can move onto the next grade. More lessons, more quizzes. Do I like that? Not really. But then I consider the alternative: no more lessons – and no more transformation. And never again being entrusted with more. Of course, God is a gentleman; He won’t teach us anything without our permission. So what’s our answer?

If we want to be entrusted with the bigger things that lead to fulfilling our destinies, then there can only be one answer.

 

 

DRIVE YOUR VISION.