Giving…

I work with a lovely young woman whose husband is in the Army and was just deployed to Afghanistan a few months ago. He will be there for many months to come. When I walk into the gym in the morning to get ready for my day, I greet her knowing that she woke up alone and prepared herself to come to work without the familiar love and companionship of her husband beside her. I can only imagine how many times a day she must think about him…a hundred, a thousand? What must make it worse for her is the additional stress of wondering about his safety. Is he OK now? Will he be OK today? Will he be OK tomorrow? What about next month? What about next year? I know I’m only skimming the surface, but her thoughts must often run wild with the uncertainties of a military spouse left behind at home…to wait. She is a very strong young lady, but I’ll bet there are times in the quiet of her home that she just loses it. I know I probably would.

There are still tens of thousands of our military men and women currently stationed overseas. They’ve left husbands, wives, sisters, brothers, parents and children waiting for them here at home who I’m sure are continually concerned about their comfort as well as their safety. The living conditions in some of the places where our troops serve aren’t fit for farm animals. Yet, they serve, work, fight and often die in these places. When you sit down and think about it…I mean really think about what our troops are experiencing on a day-to-day basis, it’s very sobering.

And, as they always do, here come the holidays. Is it added stress for these families here at home? You bet it is…

I’m humbly asking that you take some time during this Thanksgiving and Christmas season to think about how you might help our men and women overseas. There are a ton of great organizations, locally, regionally and nationally who have wonderful ways in which to help our troops. Whether it is financially or sending much needed resources (foodstuffs, personal items, etc.), please consider helping in any way you can. Just Google “how can I support our troops overseas” or reach out to a local VFW, American Legion or other local military or civic organization in your area and ask how you can help. I’m sure with a little creativity, you’ll be able to come up with something you may be able to do. Anything.

Buy one less holiday pie, one less gift or one less latte or cocktail this year and put that money aside for those who aren’t going to get any of these things anytime soon. Better yet, take the money you were going to spend on a night at the movies (it’ll be out on Netflix soon) or out to dinner and do the same thing. Believe me, you’ll be glad you did.

And, so will someone’s loved one sitting in some lonely, frozen outpost halfway around the world…

Our personal freedoms and liberties are so very often taken for granted in this country. But, realize that it is on the very backs of these incredible and selfless men and women that these very freedoms and liberties are born.

They deserve not one iota less from us.

It’s Temporary…

Everything in the natural is temporary. Everything. Even our planet is temporary. Although it could be hours from now or thousands of years from now until it ceases to be, the earth’s existence is temporary. What brought this to mind were scenes from the recent, horrific flooding events in Colorado. Having lived there for almost a year, I can tell you for this to have happened and for it to have caused so much catastrophic devastation, the rainfall must’ve been never ending and torrential in proportion to normal rainfall. In several days, parts of Colorado received what they normally get in a year. Seeing photos and videos of remote mountain roads that I’ve gleefully traveled washed away, towns that I’ve visited dozens of times now underwater and mountain trails that I’ve hiked in absolute spiritual bliss no longer in existence or buried under tons of mud and debris, just brings to mental clarity that our earth’s permanence is not guaranteed. Not by a long shot. Not the planet itself, not the seas, not the mountains, not the landscape and certainly not the people. It brings you to a sobering realization…

The tragic events happening all over the globe (feel free to bring to mind whichever ones you’d like…as there are plenty), whether man-made or natural, have been occurring at a breakneck pace. And, it’s my opinion that they’re not going to stop, much less diminish in frequency anytime soon. As a matter of fact, I think such occurrences are going to increase. Not only in scope and nature, but in shock value.

My apologies, as I know this particular blog post seems to be a bit of a bummer.

However, au contraire…it gets better.

How we view the world and the things around us is what affects us as humans. What I mean is that most folks respond to stressors and conditions from worldly happenings in a negative way. It causes us to lose our happiness, joy and peace because we feel we’ve lost control. We don’t know what to do and we don’t know where to look for help. But, when we learn to change the dynamic of how we view the world and how not to let it affect us, it is only then that we can live in true peace. Sure, we’re still sympathetic and saddened by tragic events, but we don’t let them rule or control our emotions, or our lives.

I’ve come to the realization that in my own personal impermanence, I can’t and won’t rely on man, or the world for my provision, my protection and my place…that is the key. Because I know that this can only come from God. Unfortunately, folks who rely on the world for such things have difficulty understanding that man, along with the world, is irrevocably fallible and that man and the world can and will fail us. We feel safe as long as things are going our way, then when things go belly up or another tragedy occurs, we’re shocked and surprised that it happened! We become discouraged, but over time invariably return to trusting the world again and continue getting stung again and again. Sound familiar?

God however, will not fail us. Ever. In this temporary life, I’ve chosen not to toil by the sweat of my brow or the muscle of my back. It wasn’t always like that, but it is now. I’ve realized that in my walk with God, He has always been there for me. And, it is only from Him that I’ve prospered. Not from man or the world.

In his uplifting second letter to the Corinthian church in Greece around 55 AD, the apostle Paul wrote about the impermanence of this life, but reveled about what lies ahead for those who believe in God. In 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (NIV), Paul said…”Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal”.

It bears repeating. “We fix our eyes not on what is seen, but what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal”. When thought about from a spiritual perspective, the depth of the corollary goes to the core. It is absolutely awesome. It gives hope…

He knew. Paul knew that the world was wasting away. Even 2000 years ago. He knew that man could provide him nothing. But, God would…and, did.

When we fix our lives on what we see…the natural, we’ll toil and sweat to provide for ourselves, with indeterminable results. But, when we look to what we can’t physically see, (the things of God) and rely on that, and for those who believe…God is our provision, protection and place. Paul anchored this scriptural truth in the next chapter. In 2 Corinthians 5:7, he said…”We live by faith, not by sight”. For those who believe in Him, we are His sons. And, we can expect an inheritance from Him as sons that will palpably and deeply change us. In a world of chaos, again for those who believe, we know that it is only God who can provide for us.trust

So, take a brief look around you, locally and globally…do you really want to continue to trust man to provide for you?

A Ground Hog Moment…

I saw something the other day that broke my heart. I was returning home from the supermarket and noticed something moving on the far side of the road, near the grass. Traffic was very light and as I slowed down to look, a ground hog stood up and looked at me from across the roadway. He was standing over another obviously deceased ground hog that was lying on its back, apparently having been struck by a car. I’m using the word “he” as he was much larger than the dead ground hog which I assumed was a female. As I slowly passed, he did something that I’ll never forget…he laid down sideways over his deceased mate and laid his head and neck over and onto her upturned head and neck, then didn’t move an inch. It was as if he was comforting her, coaxing her to get up and telling her that everything was going to be alright. He was exhibiting the animal kingdom’s rendition of grief and sorrow. It struck me in a very deep place…

It also got me to thinking…why is it that we do the things we do to our fellow man? Constant news reports of various acts of violence and brutality are an every minute occurrence once you log on to a news feed, one incident seemingly more abhorrent than the next. Yes, good things do happen too, but reporting them is usually relegated to a small blurb. It seems folks like to read about the other stuff better.

While I know the animal world can be a violent place, it was this particular act, by an animal, of grief, sorrow and compassion that brought me to write about it. We can drop a few coins in the tip jar at the local convenience store or stop to help a stranded motorist along the highway, but as soon as we get home or to work we’ll yell at our kids, berate our spouses or co-workers, or just remain cold, detached and uninterested in the lives of those around us.

Where is OUR compassion for others?

It took the compassionate, grief-stricken act of a simple ground hog for me to realize that I need to bump it up a few notches. I need to care more than I do now. And, then more than that tomorrow. God does things like that…he uses the most seemingly insignificant circumstances to bring us to our senses. And, sometimes to our knees.

I’ll never forget that road side moment…and, I pray that God will never ALLOW me to forget.

Taking Stock…

Here in New Jersey, lawns are being mowed, bushes and shrubs are being pruned and homes are being cleaned and aired out. Garages are purged of unwanted and stored “stuff”, and then organized along with cars being cleaned and waxed. Its springtime and the yearly ritual of shedding the old and bringing in the new with a “re-birth” of our surroundings are upon us. The days are becoming longer and warmer and people are stepping outside with a renewed sense of purpose.

Everyone is taking stock…of their lives, their belongings and their mindsets. It seems that springtime brings out the desire for a new perspective with some folks re-evaluating and re-generating mundane lives while others continue to live happily and quite contentedly in the status quo. I believe it’s a good thing that we routinely step back and look at our lives with a fresh set of eyes as there are very often things that we need to keep…and things we need to jettison.

I want things in my life that add value….people, belongings and most importantly emotions. We very often maintain our attachments to things that continue to suck the life out of us, (see my blog on “attachments”). And, these unhealthy attachments can keep us from feeling true joy and peace. Unfortunately, some find a skewed sense of comfort in maintaining relationships that keep them from the joy and peace I just mentioned. Maybe it’s the coziness of familiarity or maybe it’s just that they don’t know (or, are afraid) how to rid themselves of it. As I said, these unhealthy relationships can take the form of people, belongings and personal emotions. Are you one of these people? Ask yourself…is this (enter person/thing/emotion here) adding value and true enjoyment in my life, or is it slowly killing me? In either case, you may have to do some reassessing.

I pray that you’re walking in true contentedness throughout your life’s experiences, as that is how it is supposed to be. Let me repeat that…you are supposed to be content in all your experiences, with true peace and joy.

So…are you?

Back in New Jersey…

Well, my family and I are back in the good old Garden State.  The year we spent in Colorado was one of growth (and, hopefully) spiritual maturity.  But, it was a rough and difficult process.  Because, when you’re going through a baptism of fire, it’s not pleasant.  Not one iota.  Being stripped down in almost every facet of your life takes a toll.  However, as I said, we knew it was for a reason, but that didn’t make it any easier.  The refinement of something is very often only successful through that very thing being put through intense heat.  And, believe me…we felt the heat.   However, we knew it was for a purpose.  His purpose.  And, we’ll rest and find peace and joy in that.  A spiritual walk, at times, will always have in it struggles and challenges.  It’s what God does to bring us to the place where He wants us to be.  Without it, we just won’t have the foundational and spiritual anchor(s) to succeed in what He has for us.  A father disciplines his children and it’s no different with our heavenly Father.  No matter if you’re 18 or 80…you can expect it to happen.

I may have mentioned this scripture in another blog essay, but I think it bears repeating again.  James 1:2-4 (NIV) says “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”  All the apostles experienced it.  Open the bible to just about any page and you won’t be able to read very much until you see it for yourself.  And, believe me…our experiences come nowhere near the pain and suffering they went through.

Consider it pure joy.  Well, that was the most difficult part for us, but with His help, that’s just what we found.  We realized that we didn’t want to lack anything and that this process was essential to bring to fruition just such an outcome in our lives.

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So, right now, we’re looking forward to seeing what He has for us.  The excitement we feel can barely be contained.  We know that what lies ahead will be for a greater good.  Not only for my family, but for those we love and cherish too.  My wife and I were blessed to have secured employment here in NJ weeks before we left Colorado.  And, we know there is purpose in that too.  There’s purpose in everything.  In a spiritual walk, nothing occurs by accident.  The orchestration is incredible and it’s amazing to watch the Lord do the work.  To be able to see the thread of Christ in our lives as we go through it is reason enough for us just to have a relationship with Him.  But, He wants more for us.  And, THAT is pure joy.

dog jumping for joy

Confidence, Trust and Love…

Three words sorely missing from our culture and lives today.  As a matter of fact, over the years, confidence and trust in things of the world has been replaced (by me anyway) from gratuitous and often mindless “agreement” to loud chuckling, guffawing and outright laughter.  My parent’s generation was conditioned to follow to the letter and believe anything said by anyone in the public eye.  This included not only those people in charge, but also anything anyone said on TV or in the news.  Today however, I believe it’s a much different story.  We’ve been lied to so many times, in so many different ways, that anything anyone says is looked upon with a jaundiced eye and a raised eyebrow.

I’m a bit of a news junkie, but nowadays with almost every word or written story, I shake my head and wonder in disbelief, “What in the world are they thinking?”  From the self-serving antics of the political arena (on both sides of the aisle), political correctness (whatever that is), global saber rattling and religious power wrangling to the hilarious buffoonery of Hollywood, all I can do is laugh.  The world stage is a comedy of errors, (some would say a comedy of terrors).  But, if anything, it makes for wonderful entertainment.  I often ponder what the person next door is thinking.  Do they see the same things I do, or are they in staunch agreement with things as they are being reported in the world?  I often wonder if others see the craziness as much as I do.

I know my reactions to the above may sound a little disparaging and maybe even a bit condescending, but I really don’t mean it to.  I just can’t help but realize that what is happening in and around the world has been scripturally prophesied for centuries.  We just happen to be a part of the audience in all its spectacular foolishness.  Want to know something though…it’s all part of a grand and wonderful plan.

The one thing that I am fiercely certain of is that I know and have known for many years that my confidence and trust comes not from man, but from God.  Anyone who walks with the Lord knows this.  But, I have to admit…I sometimes like watching the show from the world’s perspective as it is stuff that can’t be made up.  It’s great fodder for amusement.  Maybe I’m wrong for my thoughts about it, but just when I think the head-scratching outrageousness of one story can’t be topped, I’m profoundly mistaken ‘cause there’s another right behind it.  The list of examples is mindboggling and I’m not even going to attempt it here.  Just turn on the TV, pick up a newspaper or surf the internet…and you’ll be able to watch the fun from a front row seat and keep yourself entertained for hours.

OK…I’m done poking fun at the world.  My apologies if I’ve offended anyone who may not see things as I’ve described them.  It’s obviously not all like this, because there are some wonderful things going on in the world.  But, the majority of it can’t be denied.  The sad truth about it is that man (humans) will always let us down.  They will disappoint us, steer us wrong and deceive and mislead us.  As Christians however, we still have to love them.  We don’t have to trust, believe or “buy in” to them, but we’re called to love them.  It’s putting the heart of the Father on display in our lives every day so others see it.  And, it’s what separates us from those who don’t believe.  This has nothing to do with going to church or loving those people in our lives who are easy to love.  It’s about loving those who are difficult and challenging to love.  Those who cause the hairs on our necks to bristle every time we see them or hear them speak.  Do you know a few folks like these in your life?

The grand and wonderful plan I spoke of earlier is God’s plan.  I’ve explained in other blog essays that God isn’t surprised by anything.  He knows exactly what is happening, how it is happening and why it is happening.  So, I try not to be annoyed or get upset about what is happening all around us.  I just try and let God be God and continue to love on people as much as I can.  The word “love” and variations of it can be found between 500-600 times in the Bible, dependent upon the version.  Plus, there are over 35 scriptures relating to loving our neighbors (people/humans) and the word “trust” is used over 100 times.  So, my humble assumption is that these are key commitments in our walk with Him…wouldn’t you agree?

Jesus was asked by a religious leader of the day which of all the commandments was the most important.  His reply can be found in the book of Mark, chapter 12, verses 29-31 (NIV); “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this:…Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.  The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’.  There is no commandment greater than these”.

Loving those who are difficult to love can be hard, and I am a definite work in progress when it comes to this.  But, it is a foundational tenet of having a relationship with God and this is where unwavering confidence, trust and love can be found…in Him.  He is the only one who will not let us down.  So, when things of the world seem chaotic and confusing, know that you have absolutely no control over it.  Just put the heart of the Father on display and love on those around you…every day.

And, maybe…just maybe, by doing so, you’ll make a vast and enormous difference in the life of someone whose existence is mired in the world’s madness.

Gun Control (and, Authority…)

It is with a bit of reservation that I essay on the issue of gun control.  Not that I’m hesitant to wade into a shark tank, but I have mixed emotions about the subject and to me it’s only part of the matter.  Over the years, we’ve all heard the various little catchphrases to describe how folks feel about gun control…”Criminals love gun control…it makes their jobs safer”  or “Gun control means proper breath control and trigger squeeze”, and my personal favorite…”A gun in the hand is better than a cop on the phone”.  The subject is a passionate one from both sides, as each has relevant points.

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As I briefly touched on in my blog about evil, I believe criminal activity cannot be legislated away by acting as legal deterrents.  It’s part of the fabric of human nature.  Sure, we need rules, regulations and laws…as that’s what makes us a civilized society (please don’t ask me to define a “civilized society”).  No, I’m referring to the knee jerk reactions by some who feel that controlling the access and ownership of firearms by law abiding citizens is going to make the general populace safer and less susceptible to a tragedy occurring.  It’s like putting a band-aid on a bullet wound, (please excuse the comparison) as the bleeding is not going to stop.  Listen, I certainly believe criminal background checks that include some form of a national mental health database screen should be a precursor to purchasing a firearm.  You should not be able to walk into your local gun shop with a library card as ID and purchase a firearm.  But, banning outright the purchase of this or that type of weapon or certain types of ammunition and limiting magazine capacities is not going to stop someone from waltzing into a school and committing an act the likes of what happened in Sandy Hook.  Whether someone wants to get their hands on a BB gun or an assault weapon, they’re going to do it.  There are just too many avenues available outside the legal processes of purchasing a firearm if someone is bent on getting one.

In New Jersey, you stand a better chance of crossing the Delaware River blindfolded while walking on a tightrope than you have getting a permit to purchase a firearm.  In Colorado however, all you need is a driver’s license.  But, conversely and according to the national UCR (Uniform Crime Reports), New Jersey ranks 24th in homicides per 100,000 people and Colorado ranks 35th.  So, what does that say about one state having stricter gun control regulations than another and their respective crime rates?  I’m really not a statistics type of person, but to me, it does raise an eyebrow.

From the national sound bite stage, it appears the belief is such that if we enact more gun control laws and regulations, criminals and those with mental illnesses will be more apt to abide by them.  That statement alone should give one pause…

To make the circus even more festive, look around and you’ll see the gun control hypocrisy flourishing in this country.  Take for example Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City, one of the biggest gun control proponents in the nation.  Anytime he leaves his home, he has no less than two to five armed bodyguards with him at all times.  Yet, his platform is as such that it would greatly diminish the ability for you and me to defend ourselves and our families in our own homes.  See the subtle incongruity?  Then, there are those who believe we should have the “right” to possess any type of weapon we desire, (i.e. rocket or LAWS launchers, .50 cal. Sniper rifles, etc.).  And, when you see some of these people interviewed on TV in their living rooms, (the media’s best choice) they’re apt to be wearing camouflage and surrounded by no less than a dozen weapons while their children are walking around unsupervised.

Look…I know the argument and understand it.  If guns are made less “available” to the general public, then they’ll be less apt to be stolen in a home burglary, used in a crime by someone in a household where they’re present or played with by children in a residence where the firearms aren’t properly secured.  But, I also believe that responsible gun ownership is something sorely lacking by some folks who own guns and could be one of the keys to preventing many types of violent circumstances.

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As a Christian, I realize that acts of violence are things we should and do abhor in the majority of life’s circumstances.  However…that doesn’t mean we are to be doormats.  I will fight for my life and the life of my family at every turn should violence present itself as a threat.  And, I’m sure those on the other side of the aisle would understand even that logic.

Now to my point and I’ll put it to bed.  I respect and yield to ALL authority as it stands in our great country, from the President all the way down to the local council person.  As I said, this is what makes us a civilized society.  Take a look at Romans 13:1-7.  Verse 1 (NIV) states; “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established.  The authorities that exist have been established by God”.  It’s pretty clear and succinct.  God appoints all authority.  Now, those in positions of authority may not always make the right decisions or have the purest integrity and honor, and I may not understand or even like their decisions.  But, they were placed in their respective positions for a reason.  And, I’ll continue to pray for them that they have sound minds and exact wisdom as the Lord would lead.  I may not win any popularity contests with my thoughts on this subject, but it is what I believe.

So, do I believe that there are some in authority who want to remove ALL firearms from our homes and restrict private gun ownership? Yes, I do.  But, this is when prudence and sound judgment should prevail over rash, impulsive and ill-informed decisions made to appease an uneasy public with regards to gun control.  And, I’m not quite sure that’s happening.

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The least we can do is pray for those people in authority, all authority….as theirs is not an easy job.