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Restoration

I was sitting in my car at a stop light.  Pulling up to the light in heavy traffic I saw out of the corner of my eye an SUV pulling into a driveway on the other side of the street.  Frantically it was going back and forth trying to get traction without success.  With the conditions as they were I could tell that the SUV was accelerating much too fast for the conditions.  It was an awful day out.  All of the other schools were closed that day but our University remained open.  Although it took me twice as long to get to work I had made it.  Now I was on my way home and the conditions were icy and treacherous.  Because the conditions were so bad everyone was driving extremely slow.  This caused the traffic to crawl and jam as I slowly pulled up to the light.  The SUV on my side was still trying to turn itself around and the driver was getting frustrated.  It was then that I saw the SUV backing up directly at me.  Suddenly I realized  it was dangerously close and I pressed on my horn but it didn’t do any good.  There was a crashing sound and I knew I had been hit.  I struggled out of the car against the elements.  The lady got out of her SUV and met me where the damage was.  Strangely though when I tried to locate the damage that she had caused I couldn’t find it.  The traffic was bumper to bumper and the light had turned and people were ready to go.  The lady was anxious for me to let the incident go since no damage apparently was caused.  Instead of exchanging insurance policies and calling the police I decided that miraculously my car had not been damaged and called off the search.  When I got home a few minutes later I inspected the side of my car once again and discovered a huge dent by the fuel tank.  Apparently since she was driving an SUV her bumper hit me much higher than where I was looking.  I became upset with her for driving so recklessly in awful conditions.  I was also upset with myself for not discovering the damages and letting her go without consequences.  Most of all I was upset that my car was damaged.

That incident happened a couple of winters ago and the car has been very driveable.  However every time that I filled up the gas tank I would see that dent and became upset with that lady.  It was because of her that the dent was there and seeing it constantly reminded me of that day and her hurry for me to set her free.  Although I wanted to get the car fixed I couldn’t justify spending hundreds to restore an old car.  One day a few months ago my son came over for lunch.  He was parked properly on the other side at the foot of our driveway.  As I was leaving to come back to work I was in a hurry and forgot he was back there.  When I turned my wheel to enter our street I heard a clunk.  My front side had bashed into his car.  Feeling sick to my stomach I got out to assess the damages.  Fortunately there were no damages to his car but mine had a big dent in the front.  It was then I decided that I was going to have the car restored.

It was like that old joke about the guy who dropped fifty cents in the toilet.  His friend noticed that he was purposely dropping quarters into the same toilet.  “What are you doing?” the friend questioned.  It seems the man had debated if it was worth it putting his hand in there for fifty cents.  He explained to his friend “for fifty cents no, but for two dollars yes!”  Now that I had two unsightly dents in the car I was ready to invest.  However, I wanted someone to work with me.  I called several body shops and explained my situation on their answering machines.  Finally I got someone on the line with my last call.  “I have an older car”, I explained “and I need someone to work with me.”  “Instead of all new replacement parts I was hoping you could pull the dents out.”  “I’m not carrying collision insurance on the car and it is all out of pocket.”  Surprisingly he was very cooperative and had me bring the car right over.  His workload wasn’t very heavy and for that I was extremely grateful!

In the Bible there are stories about restoration.  These are not car restorations however.  They are restorations of relationships.  A couple come to mind.  One which we all have heard is about the prodigal son who took all of his inheritance and blew it on wild living.  His father was quick to forgive and forget when the son humbly made his trip back home.  Another one was the relationship that Jesus had with Peter his disciple.  Peter was admonished by Jesus because he was always saying things that came to his mind without thought.  When Jesus told his disciples that he was going to the cross Peter took him aside.  “Never Lord, This will never happen to you.”  In Matthew 16:23 it states that Jesus turned to Peter and said “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”  As Jesus was going to the cross Peter was questioned three times about their relationship.  Each time he denied knowing him.  The third time he reacted violently swearing loudly and claiming “I do not even know the man.”  In Matthew 26:33 Peter said “though all men will be offended because of thee, yet will I never be offended.”  In verse 34 Jesus answers him saying “that this night before the cock crows you will deny me thrice.”  After Peter’s third denial the rooster crowed fulfilling the prophesy.

After Jesus was crucified Peter had given up the cause.  Jesus has died and it is all over for us was his thinking.  He encouraged the other disciples to go back to where it began and what they made a living doing.  They went back to being fishermen and were on a boat with their nets in the water.  Through the whole night they caught nothing and were very discouraged.  Suddenly they saw a man on the shore and he called out “cast your nets on the other side.”  Reluctantly they did and the net gathered so many fish that it broke.  Realizing the miracle they also realized that the man was Jesus and they were ecstatic.  Jesus didn’t lecture them about what they were doing out there or why they had given up.  He was willing to restore the relationship despite their lack of faith.  Peter especially was grateful because much like how the disciples mended their fishing  net Jesus had mended his relationship with him!

Slowly the figures were added.  As I sat in the office the calculator was working away.  I’m sure that with each cost the owner was remembering my words and discounting each item.  At the end I was amazed at how little the cost was.  Having received estimates for the original dent I knew what the ball park figure was.  Yet he was offering to do the job for two dents at less than the others did for one!  He had mercy on my situation much like how God has mercy on our lives.

Perhaps you have an old friend that you don’t talk to anymore.  Maybe something happened that broke your trust.  Maybe there is hurt whenever you see them or think about what they did.  This is not how God wants us to be.  He wants to restore our friendships.  In order to do this be the one who makes the first move.  Be the one who asks for forgiveness.  You will be surprised how the ice will melt and how you will begin to feel happy again.  Happy that there are no grudges only love.  Happy that you have put hate behind you and grateful that God has restored your joy!

When I’m fueling up my car now I don’t see the dent anymore.  I don’t even think about that lady or feel the anger that I felt.  I only see the car all repaired and looking great.  Usually I forget that it was ever damaged.  That is how God see’s us when we ask for forgiveness.  He forgets all of our past sins.  He restores our relationship with him much like my car was restored.

 

Filling Our Tree With Love

The old oak tree looked fine.  It was over 100 years old and stood tall and seemingly sturdy.  People marveled at it’s beauty and yet one stormy night it came crashing down.  A friend and his wife heard it at around 4 in the morning.  They thought it was an earthquake the noise was so loud.  Fifteen feet from the ground the tree shattered.  Fortunately nobody was hurt as the once beautiful 70 foot tree became a 15 foot stump in the ground.  The rest was lying there for all to see.  The next morning it was alarming what was discovered.  The insides of the tree that came down had been eaten away by a disease.  It was hollow and could not stand the rigors of the wind that night. 
My dad in addition to working a full time factory job and many hours of overtime found the time to build three houses.  The only houses we lived in were ones that he built.  Since he had never built a house before he took advice from an acquaintance who had built many of the houses in the neighborhood.  The first and most important thing he learned was to build a deep foundation.  It started with digging a basement that was deep and then using cement blocks to make the foundation strong.  In all of his houses dad followed the same recipe.  Above anything else that foundation was the thing that made the house sturdy and strong.  With help from my mom they worked tireless with much faith in the process.  After the strong foundation was set they went to the next process.  He shared with me that it was one step at a time, one project at a time.  They needed to be jacks of all trades in the process.  What they didn’t know they got advice and learned what to do.  It was a work in faith but it began with building that strong foundation.  Although that first little house was not a sight of beauty to most it was strong and sturdy.  That first house was the foundation of their faith to build another.  This time the house would be bigger and better.  Yet the other two houses were built on the faith they had acquired building the first one.  Faith that told them that if they worked hard and believed it could be achieved.
 
At one time that oak tree had a good foundation.  It was solid and healthy and looked like it would live forever.  Then over time a tiny bit here and there things began to change.  A disease got into that tree.  Slowly it started chipping away.  Even though the tree looked strong and healthy it was neither.  Though it looked strong and sturdy it was really weak and brittle.
In our Christian walk we need to ask ourselves “How deep is our faith?”  Is our foundation solid and strong?  Like the oak tree many times our foundation is strong.  The problem is we let little things chip away much like the disease in the tree.  Instead of forgiving others of their trespasses like Jesus told us to do we try to hold them accountable.  We  become bitter when things are going right for them in spite of the wrong they caused us.  Because we haven’t forgiven them of whatever they did our foundation slowly starts to rot.  The good material that we started with gets poisoned in the mix.  Instead of trusting God to take care of situations and leaving all of our burdens with him we become the sin police.  We become revengeful and hateful.  Before long we find that our faith in God and people are suddenly in doubt.
Is there someone who has hurt you?  Is there someone that seems to glorify in the wrong they did to you?  We all have people in our lives that are like that.  However Jesus tells us to love our enemies.  When we follow that commandment there is peace in our hearts and not bitterness.  The disease is cured and we are able to move on in love and peace.  The tree lives on and doesn’t die inside.  In fact it grows stronger in time.  Something like this is not easy.  It is not natural to love our enemies.  It is not natural to wish them well.  However, it is not natural to die inside either.  The quickest way to lose our life spiritually is to harbor hurt and bitterness.  Send them on their way in the name of Jesus!  Give God all of your burdens and forget about them.  Love your neighbor even if your neighbor has done you wrong.  In that way you are being like Christ because he died for us even though we didn’t deserve it.
Sometimes I drive through the old neighborhood.  Since the three houses are on the same block I pass them all and marvel.  Many memories come back of the things that we did and the fun we had.  None of that would have been possible except for the sound houses we lived in.  Most of all I marvel at the old houses still standing tall after all of these years.  On the other side of the coin is the old oak tree that is no more.

Slip Sliding Away

Have you ever had something you wanted to start and follow through with only to find that for whatever reason you quit?  Maybe it was the New Years resolution to work out more or lose weight.  Maybe it was the idea of saving money or getting a new job.  We tend to be great starters in life.  I have found that the hardest thing to do is not starting but persevering.  Starting a good thing is great because that is the beginning point we all have to come to.  However, many can start but few can finish.  Most of the things we strive for in life can be achieved.  The question is how much do we want them?  That simple question can give us the insight into if we have the desire to achieve the goal.  You see in anything we do there will be obstacles.  Our desire to get through the obstacles, keep our eye on the prize and never give up will determine if we reach our goal.  Quitting is not forever either.  There are times that we might quit for awhile and then discover that we had a momentary failure which isn’t permanent.  At this point we can re-establish our dream and become more determined than ever to reach it!

In 1977 Paul Simon recorded a song titled “Slip Sliding Away.”  The chorus goes

“Slip sliding away, Slip sliding away,You know the nearer your destination, the more you’re slip sliding away.”  I have read many interpretations of this song.  In a vast majority it seems that the lyrics are described as sad.  There are some who describe the song as among the saddest of all time.  It is interpreted as a metaphor for life in that we may want something and strive for it only to find that we slip away from it.  Considered most depressing is the idea of the prize almost within our grasp and then suddenly we slide back and lose it altogether.

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I have heard the term backslider my whole life and I am sure you have heard it too.  It means a person who is walking the christian walk but then for whatever reason quits.  I heard a sermon about why this happens and there were many symptoms.  Within all of these symptoms was a root cause.  That root cause was selfishness.  A person whose heart is pulling further away from God is invariably selfish.  Selfishness is defined as being concerned excessively or exclusively, for oneself or one’s own advantage, pleasure, or welfare, regardless of others. When Jesus was asked which commandment in the law is the greatest he answers in Matthew 22:37.  Jesus replied: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”  This describes a totally unselfish act.  When we love God with all our heart, soul, and mind there is no desire to be selfish, only to also love the people around us unconditionally.

The problem that we have as Christians is that all around us we are getting pulled into the world’s standards.  The “Me Generation” is still alive and well.  This ideology is all about how we can get the greatest satisfaction out of life through actions and thinking.  In ways it all sounds good but we have to understand that it is a humanistic approach.  The center of it’s being is not God so it turns into a selfish act for selfish purposes.  So what are the symptoms of this attitude?  Just as we get physical symptoms when something is wrong with our bodies these are the symptoms that something is wrong with our walk with God.  These are symptoms of the root cause of selfishness that we might have when we are slip sliding away.

!)  Do not seek God

2) Don’t spend time with God

3) Don’t do things in the right order

4) God is not part of our thought process

5) We make decisions impulsively

6) We walk by sight and not by faith

7) We don’t screen our thoughts and assume things

8) Our light comes from many windows

9) We don’t have any accountability for what we do

10) We lose our respect or regard for God anymore

11) We start only thinking of ourselves

12) We don’t ponder the path of our feet

13) We don’t acknowledge God

14) We don’t seek instruction, direction, knowledge, or wisdom

15) We only pray for God to approve our agenda

16) We don’t yield to the Holy Spirit

17) We come to the place of living only to please ourselves

I could go into detail on each of these warning signals but let me concentrate on 15 and 16.  Do we have a daily schedule that can’t be broken? What if the Holy Spirit tells us to change it? Would we be willing? With God in control of our lives his agenda is far more important than ours. My pastor went to a restaurant and the waiter was very excited about a menu item they should try.  He was so excited about it that it was ordered.  It turned out to be such a disappointment because the food didn’t live up to his excitement.  The waiter should have been focused more on what his customers wanted.  He was there to serve not to push his agenda.  That is the way it is in our relationship with God.  Our prayers to God should be what can I do for you Lord? It shouldn’t be what can you do for me?

I picture this slip sliding away theme of us climbing a steep slippery mountain.  Jesus has reached his long arm out and he is pulling us up.  As long as we keep our grip in his hand we move up to our eventual destination.  Satan starts showing us other things to distract and cause us to reduce our grip on Jesus hand and reach for things around us.  Eventually if we seek the things around us we loosen our grip and start a slow slide backwards.  Jesus arm is long and even when this occurs we can reconnect with him.  The decision is ours and ours alone.

The last verse in Simon’s song is my favorite.
God only knows, God makes his plan
The information’s unavailable to the mortal man
We’re working our jobs, collecting our pay
Believe we’re gliding down the highway, when in fact we’re slip sliding away

Since God knows our future and everything that will happen and has a plan for our lives, doesn’t it make sense to keep that grip firmly in his hand? There is a lyric in Simon’s chorus that is totally wrong with God. He states “The nearer your destination the more your slip sliding away.” With God when we learn to walk with him the nearer our destination the more we grip onto his hand. The more peace we have with the end goal and the more we embrace the reality of his love. Let us hang on for dear life with a strong grip in Jesus hand and we will not be slip sliding away!

A Tale Of Two Hearts

It was junk pickup day and my pastor noticed that a couple that drove an old rusty pickup truck was rummaging through the junk on the curb.  God has placed a burden on his heart to talk to people about God’s salvation and love for us so he went out to fulfill that mission.  After some warm greeting pleasantries he asked them if they had ever considered becoming Christians?  Bluntly they told him no and then the whole story came out.  Their 15 year old daughter had been tragically killed in a car accident.  “We used to go to church”, they stated “but never again.”  He would have liked to have consoled them and told them how sorry he was about their daughter. He would have liked to have been able to tell them that God loved them even through their sad circumstance.  Before he could however they coldly and swiftly jumped into their truck and sped away.

This incident about their attitude toward God was upsetting.  He thought about the situation and concluded that the real tragedy was the bitterness and hardness of their hearts.  Of course it is an awful thing to have someone we love dearly taken from us.  Yet it isn’t what happens to us but how we respond to the situations.  The saying of get better not bitter applies here.  I read a quote that is really true although it’s author was unnamed.  “Faith isn’t about everything turning out okay.  It is about being okay no matter how things turn out.”  Saying the words I realize from personal experience that a loving attitude is impossible if we rely on ourselves.  It is natural to place the blame on someone or something.  We have been trained in life to solve problems and most of the time we are able to.  However, there are times when we really don’t know where to begin.  There are times when life doesn’t make sense.  There are events in our lives that fit so perfectly under the category of a best selling book years ago “When Bad Things Happen To Good People.”

When Bad Things Happen to Good People

When bad things happen what is our attitude?  Are we apt to play the blame game?  I can tell you from personal experience that I have played the blame game.  At he end of the day though I realized that nothing gets accomplished by blaming.  Even if the circumstance was in part someone’s fault how can this fact justify the bitterness I let it create?  How can being bitter help the situation one bit?  I had to come to the conclusion that God was the only answer to my hurt.  I’ve heard that when life gives you lemons make lemonade.  Again that is easier said than done and can only come about with God’s helping hand.

When my daughter contracted spinal meningitis that took her life in 3 days we were so devastated as anyone would be.  Why did this happen?  I found that I couldn’t go back to work right away.  When I did the slightest little reminder of her would cause me to break down.  The only thing that saved me was a place that I went to talk to God.  I would literally walk to a building across the street on my breaks and pray on my knees.  I remember a time or two when someone would happen to pass by and wonder if I was okay.  It was a very unusual place to be praying but there I was.  In those times God gave me a peace and I was able to go on until my next break.  I can’t imagine anyone trying to go through such a tragedy without God’s help.

Through my pain I was searching for answers.  A pastor from my mom’s church came to the hospital and counseled us during the bleak hours before the final outcome.  We didn’t forget that act of kindness and started attending his church.  I remember a feeling in my heart as he preached on a topic called Fresh Fire that I was to write a poem.  From that first time many poems came to me that were what God put on my heart.  After three and a half years I put my poems together in a poem book called “The Gardener and My Garden.”

I can tell you that if something tragic has happened to you that blaming anyone including God will not help the situation.  The fact is that whatever happened has already caused damages.  It is like if a tornado comes through your neighborhood.  Are you going to try to pick up the pieces or mutter about what happened?  It is our attitude that we need to be concerned about.  Luke 10:27 states to love the Lord thy God with all your heart with all your soul and with all of your strength and with all of your mind and love your neighbor as yourself.  It doesn’t say that this only applies if you have not been through a tragedy at which point be bitter and curse the circumstances around you.  In choosing love we are giving our life to a higher power who loves us and see’s a bigger picture.  We are no longer fighting the battle alone.  We also trust in Romans 8:28 which states that All things work together for good to those who love God who are called for his purpose.

There are times that I have not packaged doughnuts correctly and let air harden them.  Did you know that if they are not brick hard that usually a trip to the microwave will soften them right up? It is so nice to eat soft, sweet, warm doughnuts instead of hard cold ones.  What a difference the added moisture from the heat can make in the softness and deliciousness of the doughnuts! They actually taste better than they would have out of the box!  My pastor gave a wonderful example about ice and clay last week.  If you put ice and a ball of clay out in the sun the ice will melt while the clay gets hard.  That is the two directions our heart can go too as we face life’s battles.  It is our job to make sure that our hearts have that quality that ice has where they soften and melt rather than get hard and bitter.

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There was a young lady he talked about that is now 22 years old.  When she was 5 her brother and her were playing with gasoline and matches in their basement.  The result was severe burns all over her body and multiple skin graph operations.  Today with God’s help her attitude is one of love.  She volunteers at the burn unit of the local hospital.  She has found her niche as she can empathize with their hurt and pain.  She has taken a horrible situation in her own life and through God shows nothing but love for others.

Perhaps you are going through pain as you read this.  Maybe circumstances have given you reason to be bitter and question God.  I can tell you that nothing good will come out of that attitude.  In fact you will find yourself further and further from God.  So how do you develop that soft heart that melts like the ice?  You don’t develop it but you make the decision to follow God and give him all of your cares.  Praise him for whatever situation has come about and thank him for it.  Somehow, someway beyond anything we know he see’s the big picture.  Draw close to him and he will draw close to you.  You will then find like I did that your heart will soften.  The hardness of your heart will slowly melt away and you will find that your melted heart soothes the pains of many.

 

A Little Rain Sometimes

A friend and I were walking out of our work building last week.  As we pushed open the door we could feel the sun warming our faces yet a nice breeze blowing just enough to cool things off.  It was a picture perfect day and made us feel good as we stepped outside!  “I wish every day was like this”, I stated.  “If it was we wouldn’t appreciate it”, was the reply.  It is true that if every day was perfect we would come to expect it.  We wouldn’t appreciate the good that we were given. We need to be thankful not only for the sunshine but also the rain.   I’ve heard it throughout my life that you have to take the bad with the good.  The famous lyrics of a country song written by Joe South in 1967 and made popular by Lynn Anderson in 1970 still come to mind.  “I Beg your pardon, I never promised you a rose garden.  Along with the sunshine, there has to be a little rain sometimes.”  These lyrics are so true not only in the weather but in life.

Have you ever had something go totally wrong?  Have you ever been through trials and tribulation?  Those questions are a lot like asking if you have ever been in the rain?  Did you know that there are at least 15 benefits we receive from rain?

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1) It puts moisture in the air
2) It helps with droughts
3) It fills streams
4) It washes away dirt from plants
5) It provides a drink for every living thing
6) It cools the temperature if it’s hot
7) It washes cars for free
8) It continues with the beneficial water cycle
9) It aids the poor in collecting water
10) It saves money from buying bottled water
11) It can cause a rainbow to show up
12) It cleans roads with oil marks
13) It assists worms to move around the soil which aerates the ground
14) It can erode soil to form mountains
15) It can make certain insects and animals come out of hiding, like a snail which provides food for birds

So how does the benefits of rain relate to my life and yours?  Let’s consider rain the way we normally think of it.  We check the weather for Saturday because we have big plans and discover it is going to rain.  Right away we conclude that our plans are ruined which for the temporary plans we had they are.  But let us consider the blessing rather than the curse that we sometimes believe.  Instead of looking at the temporary consider all of the benefits listed above that are lasting.  I realize that this kind of thinking goes against our lifetime of complaining about the rain but maybe we need to start picturing the beauty of the raindrops. If we can’t do that we need to remember the lyrics from B.J. Thomas that went “I’m never going to stop the rain by complaining.”

I’ve heard the phrase people use sometimes when things aren’t going well.  They will say “I’m going through the fire.”  Did you know that going through the fire is a good thing?  Extreme heating and cooling metals hardens or soften them for their ultimate purpose. Softening them to be more pliable or hardening them to put the strength of the product in place and prevent it from going back to it’s softened form.  Also using intense heat flushes the impurities of the metal out. In the same way God uses circumstances that happen in our lives to mold us for his divine purpose.

As everyone knows who have lived a little while things don’t always go as planned. This is especially true in life.  Sometimes things come up that interrupt our lives much like the rain interrupts our plans.  When the rain is coming down in our lives it is easy to complain.  “Why is this happening to me?”, we might say.  Sometimes it can come out in our conversations as we complain and let the world know we are not happy.  Of course we have a hard time feeling happy when the storm clouds hit and the rain pours in our lives.  Yet if we can muster the faith to believe that God is in our situation and working things out for our good the storm becomes less difficult to endure.  It is natural to not enjoy the trying times we go through.  We enjoy life when it is going well and endure life when it isn’t.

Herb

I had a friend named Herb that used to come into our office from time to time.  Herb and I would laugh about things and he was always upbeat.  I had known of Herb starting in the 1980’s as at that time he was the Director of Financial Aid.  Though I knew of him I didn’t know him until a few years ago.  Herb was 90 years old when I last saw him.  He was always uplifting and it was a real joy to talk to him.  One of the last times I talked to Herb I asked him how he had been?  Reluctantly he told me that this last week had been tough because his wife had passed away.  Knowing that Herb had been married for numerous years and loved his wife dearly I was astonished by how composed he was.  I know it had to be hard but he was determined to not have this horrible loss he was feeling affect me.  When Herb passed away just a few short weeks ago the memory he gave me that day still shines.  He was that same uplifting person no matter what was going on in his own life.  There was bright sun rays shining through his heavy dark clouds.

There are the other kind of people too.  You know the ones that are the complete opposites of Herb.   When even the slightest bit of turbulence shakes their life you hear about it.  It is hard being around these people because they zap the energy right out of you.  A little cloud in their world leads to a dark gloomy outlook on life.  Instead of having faith and trusting that God will see them through they choose to be miserable.  It is almost like they enjoy their dilemma and are the victims of life.  Not only do they seem to enjoy their situation but they enjoy bringing others down with it.  They are the victim and they want you to walk away thinking that the world is against them.

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When I think about the rain that we all need sometimes I have to make an examination of my own life.  Do I always uplift people no matter what is happening in my world?  Am I a good rainy day person or do I need a sunny day to shine on others? Sometimes I fail miserably with the answers  God is patient with me as he shines the light on my faults and shows me how I should be.  He tells me that rain is only something I need to go through to make me stronger!

I miss Herb coming by.  I miss his uplifting attitude as even in his advanced years he was amazing!  He always left me with a smile on my face.  I would like to lift others too no matter what is happening in my own life.  I realize that the rain is good for me and if I let him God will mold me through the fire much like the craftsman does with his metal piece.  When we depart and I am only a memory to you, I would much rather that you remember me as someone you enjoyed rather than that complaining ungrateful person you had to endure.

Job 23:10

But he knows the way that I take; when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold.

The Lord’s Army

I remember one of my late daughters favorite songs.  It was a song she learned in church filled with hand and body symbols and motions.  The lyrics go like this.

I may never march in the infantry

Ride in the cavalry

Shoot the artillery

I may never fly o’er the enemy

But I’m in the Lord’s army!

Yes Sir!

I'm in the Lord's Army

Growing up I had a friend named Lloyd.  Lloyd was always loud, always arguing, always making his presence felt.  He was a big pimply faced kid that was my friend but he also dominated our friendship with his aggressive attitude. Lloyd was always trying to find humor in situations.  It seems he was always arguing or laughing his loud laugh.  His emotions went from one extreme to the other.   At the age of 17 Lloyd enlisted in the Coast Guard.  I didn’t see Lloyd for quite awhile.  Occasionally I would get a letter as he was stationed in different places.  Two or three years later he came home for a visit.  I couldn’t believe the change in this kid.  Well he was a kid going in but now his attitude was completely different.  He had respect for others I had never seen before.  He was less boisterous and seemed like a totally different person.  It was like my childhood friend had suddenly became a man.  The change was so glaring that I had a hard time adjusting to it.  Lloyd let me know that there was no choice.  The Coast Guard was serious business and there was no room for child like behavior.

In 1941 a movie came out called “Your In The Army Now”.  It starred Jimmy Durante and Phil Silvers and it was a comedy.  Hollywood has a way of making funny movies about the military.  In this film Durante and Silvers were vacuum cleaner salesmen who were trying to sell a vacuum to a army recruiter and ended up accidentally getting enlisted in the army.  Well of course the mishaps and laughing moments follow.  Another movie in the 1980’s called Stripes also glamorized the army existence.  Two recruits played by Bill Murray and Harold Ramos were the center of the episodes.  They were oddballs who eventually became heroes because of it.  This fun look at the army makes a good escape from the reality of what it is really like to serve our country.

U.S. Army snipers wearing special camouflage train in a life-fire exercise.

From the moment someone signs up for the military they are signing up for something bigger than themselves.  You literally give up your own life to the service and a bigger cause.  You become a part of a team defending something that is very dear to you.  You are not going in as someone that is going to change the system like in the movies.  You are one of many and you are required to obey orders.  The tasks may seem tedious and boring but you obey orders because that is your job.  You don’t have a choice in orders to obey and orders to dismiss.  You are to obey every order and if you don’t there will be punishment for what you didn’t.  You are under a strict schedule.  From early in the morning until late in the afternoon at anytime you need to be exactly where the schedule has you.  The only time you can be away is when you earn leave time.  This is a process of getting the official paperwork processed.  Leaving without a pass will result in a soldier being AWOL (away without a leave) and severe punishment will be evoked.

Basic training is a place that new recruits are first assigned.  In basic training you learn to take orders.  You learn to respect the commanding officers and to do exactly what they tell you to do.  If even one command is not done the commanding officer will report you to higher authorities.  Punishment follows and it can be severe.  You grow up fast in the service.  You learn that you are not the center of the world.  You learn that there is a much bigger cause than you.  You do tedious jobs but you learn to do them well.  Sooner or later you are trusted with bigger jobs and it is the attention to details of the smaller ones that gains trust with your commanders.

The Bible talks about being a good soldier.  2 Timothy 2:4 states that “No soldier in active service entangles himself with the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier.”  When in the service the soldiers cannot have their minds on a hundred other things and still do their jobs.  They need to concentrate on the orders at hand and do them to the best of their abilities.  A soldier is pushed to the limit and when they come out of it they are better.

As Christians we are in the Lord’s Army!  We are representing something bigger than ourselves.  We are not going to change the whole system to glorify us like in the movies.  Our job is to follow commands and walk in the footprints of our commander!  If there were explosives and land mines all over the ground we had to cover and our commander had made it to the other side how closely would we walk in his footprints?  Would we be satisfied to miss one here and there?  We know we wouldn’t because of the hazardous effects it could bring.  Jesus has crossed the mine field.  He has left his footprints on the path to take.

When we are truly in the Lord’s Army there is a noticeable change in us.  No longer are we the immature Christians that let their emotions control them.  Like my friend Lloyd’s change a transformation takes place as we submit to a different commander.  It makes such a contrast that people immediately notice.  That transformation draws admiration because we have a purpose and it shows!

When my daughter sang that song the last words and the ones she enjoyed the most was a salute as she shouted “Yes Sir!”  The Army talks about being all you can be.  In many ways the Army gives the opportunity to do just that.  Yet without God you can never truly be all that you can be.  You see God made all of us for a purpose.  It is a part in the Army of God!  There is something each of us can do to advance the cause!  By learning to listen and surrender to his voice we learn to walk in his footprints.  We don’t do it grudgingly we do it thankfully.  We do it with a servants heart and we do it out of love.  Whatever God wants us to do we should be willing to do it.  Our attitude needs to be  “Lord thank you for letting me be in your army! Just give me the command Lord and I’ll do it!  Yes Sir!”

 

 

One Shining Moment!

When the NCAA Basketball Tournament is over the song “One Shining Moment” is played with replays of big plays that perfectly illustrate the songs lyrics.  The gist of the song is that behind the scenes hours of work is done in preparing for that one moment.  It is a moment of total elation as dreams come true and all of the efforts beforehand seem worthwhile.  It is a moment when players feel that somehow it was destiny as they find themselves in the spotlight!  It is just a moment but that moment shines so much it is remembered years later.

One Shining Moment

By David Barrett

The ball is tipped
And there you are
You’re running for your life
You’re a shooting star
And all the years
No one knows
Just how hard you worked
But now it shows…
(in) one shining moment, it’s all on the line
One shining moment, there frozen in time

But time is short
And the road is long
In the blinking of an eye
Ah, that moment’s gone
And when it’s done
Win or lose
You always did your best
Cuz inside you knew…
(that) one shining moment you reached deep inside
One shining moment, you knew you were alive

Feel the beat of your heart
Feel the wind in your face
It’s more than a contest
It’s more than a race…
And when it’s done
Win or lose
You always did your best
Cuz inside you knew…
(that) one shining moment, you reached for the sky
One shining moment, you knew
One shining moment, you were willing to try
One shining moment

Fred Rogers grew up an only child.  As an only child he didn’t always have other kids to play with.  Fred compensated for that with a big imagination.  He would play with his puppets and make up stories.  As he grew into a young man he admired the leader of his church and how he could make his points so clear.  He also admired the fact that everyone respected him for his guidance and direction he gave.

Fred ended up going to school to become a minister.  After college he was intrigued by the new medium TV that was out.  He went to New York and counseled some of the early stars of the medium.  One man in particular said something to him in answer to a question that stayed with him.  It was a man named Gabby Hayes who he asked one day “What are you thinking about when you start talking into the camera?”  Fred was kinda surprised by Gabby’s answer which was “I just pretend that I am talking to just one buckaroo.”  Fred made note of that answer and when he went before the camera years later he pretended he was talking to one young person too!

The Early Years

Things started small for Fred in the new medium.  He started doing puppet shows for the local TV station.  He had to make up characters and named them after people that were important in his life.  Puppets were easy for Fred because he had practiced many hours as a youth.  Never did he realize that all of that practice would be useful to form entertaining shows that kids loved.  He found his calling was in talking to young people and treating them with respect.  Things kept evolving in Fred’s career.  He was asked to do a TV show where he would be on the camera instead of just his puppets.  Fred always found a place for puppets in his show too, but he always distinguished the real from the make believe.

Fred Rogers

In 1968 Fred was given a show on PBS called Mr. Rogers Neighborhood.  Fred liked the neighborhood idea because it could be a place kids could go that was different from their neighborhood.  Still it would be an educational place that would teach them good life lessons.  Fred would have little songs that he sang to the camera which were catchy and had good meaning.  He would come on the set singing “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood won’t you be my neighbor?”  He also sang “It’s such a good feeling to know your alive It’s such a happy feeling your happy inside.”  He made the kids that watched the show happy and gave them a positive role model much like his church minister had given him.

Mr. Rogers was always teaching his young viewers lessons.  Usually the lessons were pretty simple such as learning to tie a shoe or put on a sweater.  As the show evolved he taught them through his puppets about how people react to things and the right and wrong way to think.  He taught his young viewers to respect and love others and to give a helping hand whenever possible.  Usually his lessons were basic and his situations were common.  He had a toy “Neighborhood Trolley Car”  that took the kids into the world of make believe.  It was a world where his puppets took over with life situations.  He wanted to make a clear distinction between what was real and what was make believe.  Seeing the trolley car travel to that place told the kids that the following wasn’t really real.  Although his puppets brought similar situations as those of real life, he felt it was important to differentiate the two.  In 1980 he had a young guest visit the show and the world of make believe was nowhere in sight.  This was a real situation and Mr. Rogers interviewed the young man in a heartfelt way.  Years later he was asked many times which show in all of his years of doing shows was the most memorable? Fred would always bring up the interview he had with Jeff Erlanger.  Along with the simple lessons that he could teach Fred was not afraid to talk about more complex problems such as divorce and handicaps.  His interview with Jeff  was one of those complex lessons.

Jeff Erlanger wheeled himself into Mr. Rogers Neighborhood on a day in 1980.  Jeff was 10 years old and was severely handicapped.  He explained that at 7 months he had a tumor that blocked the nerves that told his hands and legs what to do.  They were unsuccessful in their attempt to remove the tumor and he became handicapped.  Although he was hardly able to move his ability to laugh and to articulate was so remarkable.  Fred asked him questions that led Jeff to expand and tell his story in such a unique way.  The way that Jeff could be so happy even in the midst of his situation was truly a “One Shining Moment” for Fred and he never forgot it!

The years went by and in 1999 Fred Rogers was being honored by being inducted into the TV Hall of Fame.  A clip was played of that moment in 1980 where Jeff came on the show.  You could tell that it was a very moving moment for Rogers as it brought back the wonderful interview that touched so many!  Fred was talking to one buckaroo (Jeff) and yet multitudes of kids he was reaching through TV were getting a great life lesson!  That one clip of a caring Mr. Rogers and a young kid adapting to life was a picture of Fred Roger’s legacy! When the lights came back on the announcer introduced none other than Jeff Erlanger.  Jeff a young man now wheeled himself onto the stage and Fred Rogers had a elated surprised look that is hard to describe.  Only the image on the following video can describe it completely. Quickly Fred made his way to the stage to hug and thank Jeff for being there.  It was a culmination to all of the good that his show had brought and Jeff’s wonderful tribute was a perfect summary!

We should all look for that shining moment that defines what God has put on our hearts to honor him.  It is not a passing thing like a basketball tournament.  It is a real life thing which defines the vision we have been living for.  In Fred’s case he had two!  The time in 1980 when Jeff brought his special personality and smile to Fred’s life and in 1999 when Jeff returned to thank Mr. Rogers for what he meant to him.  Jeff had a very short speech he gave.  To conclude Jeff’s appearance years ago Fred and Jeff sang a song together called “It’s You I Like.”  “When you say it’s you I like, you really mean it.  On behalf of millions of kids and grownups I just want to say “It’s you I like!”, Jeff stated.  I could see on Fred’s face that to Jeff and kids young and old everywhere the feeling was very mutual!

(that) one shining moment, you reached for the sky
One shining moment, you knew
One shining moment, you were willing to try
One shining moment

And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

Matthew 25:40

“Anyone who does anything to help a child in his life is a hero to me”

Fred Rogers

When The Snapshot Picture Lies

I’ve heard that there are three truths about who we are.  There is the person that we think we are, the person other people think we are, and the person we really are.  My brother in law Dick passed away last week.  Mike, his son, was asked to say some words about his dad as we celebrated his life and he brought up a rather confusing issue.  You see Dick had many passions in life.  He loved to race (he had a dragster and ran in events throughout the country), he loved drama (and acted in plays and skits in his church and community), he loved working with young people, he loved to cook, fish, and compete in dog shows.  He also was a salesman and he loved selling.  Besides all of that he was a loving husband, father, grandfather, family member, and friend to many.  As Mike was describing all of these things he questioned aloud “now how does all of that go together?”  For instance racing and dog shows were very competitive where fishing and cooking were more relaxing.  With drama, racing, and family he was acting in a team setting, while fishing and cooking he could do individually if he wanted to.  It was a wide variety of interests that Dick had that didn’t seem to have a common denominator.

1912 Brown Backgrounds (Red Cycle) Fred Snodgrass #169 Baseball Card

Fred Snodgrass was the centerfielder on the old New York Giants baseball team in 1912.  It was a spectacular year for the Giants as they made it to the World Series.  Their opponents were the Boston Red Sox and the series went eight games.  Now days eight games in the best of seven series would not happen, however that year game two was called a tie after ten innings because of darkness.  With each team winning three games (and one tie) game eight was the decider.  In the bottom of the tenth inning the Giants had a 4-3 lead.  The first batter Clyde Engle of the Red Sox hit a high fly between Snodgrass and the left fielder.  Fred called off the other fielder, settled under the towering fly and promptly dropped the ball.  Engle reached second base on the play.  Later another Boston player was walked and they both ended up scoring.  The Red Sox won the World Series and Snodgrass was blamed by the press.  Fred Snodgrass lived 62 more years and had much business success outside of baseball.  He also had a happy family life.  When he passed away in 1974 the New York Times headline was “Fred Snodgrass 86 Dead, Missed Fly Ball in 1912 World Series.”

Bill Wambsganss Unassisted Triple Play

Bill Wambsganss had the opposite experience in the 1920 World Series.  Wambsganss played second base for the Cleveland Indians and they were in the World Series against the Brooklyn Dodgers. The Dodgers had runners on first and second and the next batter hit a line drive that looked like a sure hit.  Wambsganss raced over and leaped high in the air.  He miraculously speared the ball.  Pivoting toward second base he easily tagged the base with his foot.  He was ready to throw the ball to first base when he noticed the runner from first was confused and standing near second base.  Wambsganss trotted over and tagged him out for an unassisted triple play!  The fans didn’t realize what happened until Wambsganss was running off of the field with his teammates.  All of the sudden a loud roar engulfed the stadium and hats flew on the field!  It was the only unassisted triple play in World Series history and Wambsganss was known for that play for the rest of his life!  When he passed away at 91 the headline was “Bill Wambsganss Dies, Made Unassisted Triple Play In 1920 World Series.”

Since we cannot know everyone we sometimes get a snapshot version of them.  It is a picture in our minds of what they are all about.  It seems our brains naturally like to categorize people especially if we don’t know them well.  The truth is that what we put in our mind sometimes is just a snapshot of a time (good or bad) that we define the person as being.  The fact of the matter is that nobody can be defined by one memory.  Our lives have so many different layers and when we actually know the real person we are able to see those layers.  We might have memories and even snapshots of that person, but it isn’t any of these snapshots that define them.

0440-0129

Dick was a Christian and Christ was the most important part of his life.  There were many people that knew him as a racer.  Still others knew him from directing the church youth group, and others admired his acting abilities!  He had many different layers as we all do, but the one common denominator that Mike was looking for was Christ.  You see it is OK to be passionate about many things in life.  Getting involved in different things gives us opportunities to witness the love of Christ to more people!  By taking his faith with him Dick was able to maximize his opportunities to be a witness!  Life always has it’s ups and downs.  The sum of a life is somewhere between the muffed fly ball and the unassisted triple play.  God does not look at our lives from a snapshot view.  His is a movie camera that picks up all of our good times and bad as he wants to consistently navigate us through all of our situations!  Dick had years ago given up the driver’s seat and allowed Jesus to take the wheel of his life.  Many have a picture in their mind of Dick in his racing gear driving that powerful dragster toward the finish line.  Although it is a beautiful snapshot it fails to tell the whole story!  The movie shows that Dick won his race while sitting in the passenger seat!

God, This Is What Happened!

Lloyd was a good friend of mine growing up.  Maybe we were good friends because he was the exact opposite of me in a lot of ways.  He was always talkative, always trying to justify whatever it was that he wanted.  I was shy and kept to myself a lot.  Maybe it was the fact that Lloyd was like he was that attracted me to him in a weird way.  They do say opposites attract and it surely can relate to friends too I think.  I have already written about Lloyd in a couple of different stories. One was “Leaving A Record Behind” where I almost drowned in a swimming pool.  Although it was Lloyd who saved me, it was also Lloyd who got me into that situation in the first place!  The other story Lloyd was in was “Taking A Flying Leap” where his ranting got me so upset I tried a flying drop kick big time wrestling move on him, which didn’t work like it did on TV and knocked me out!  You could say that I am blaming Lloyd as an excuse why I made bad decisions those times and you would be right.  In retrospect though I can’t blame anyone or anything for what happened. Though we are influenced by circumstances and people it is important to note that we have the final say in decisions we make.  The decisions that I make in life are mine and mine alone.

I think that Lloyd missed his calling in life.  I think he should have been a Lawyer.  They say that the mark of a good coach in sports is that they could take their team and beat yours.  They could also take your team and beat theirs!  That usually described Lloyd when it came to arguing.  It seemed he could take any circumstance and turn it in favor of his argument.  He was constantly talking my mom into things after she originally said NO!  Usually they were things he wanted us to do which she was completely justified to waiver either because of my safety or some other flaw in his plan.  When she said NO it was Lloyd who would make the plea of “let me talk to her!”  Of course Lloyd would say whatever it was that would reassure her that everything would be alright.  It was Lloyd who would talk so smoothly that it made her back off on her fears because he would be there.  It was Lloyd who undoubtedly could turn the argument in his favor and get what he wanted.

It was a Sunday night and Lloyd was 16 and I was 15.  He was driving us to church along with a couple of other kids.  Lloyd had a car and he opened up our world back then because he could get us places!  Lloyd had a tendency to step on the gas pedal a little too hard and this Sunday night was no exception.  On this particular Sunday night traffic was very thin.  I think he was doing 50 when the speed limit on the road going to the church was 25 or 30.  Almost nobody was on the road except us and unfortunately a car with lights on the top.  Yes, the lights were flashing and Lloyd pulled his car over.  With the successes of his winning arguments in our minds, we thought there was a good chance he could talk the police officer out of this one!  We didn’t hear the conversation that went on, as the officer had Lloyd get out of the car and when he came back he had a ticket.  I don’t know if he tried to make a case, but if he did it went on deaf ears.

Officer giving ticket

Recently I was driving home from work.  The roads were terribly icy and very dangerous.  Slowly we all were creeping along as we stopped for a traffic signal.  One car which I couldn’t help keeping an eye on spun out of control in the lane going the other way.  Luckily for her nobody else was in her lane going that way as everyone seemed lined up in our direction.   It didn’t look like she had ever driven in bad conditions before because she was trying to go way too fast!  After her car spun out she pulled into a nearby driveway and backed up way too fast.   I sat there watching her as she spun her tires and saw her car coming straight for me.  I laid on my horn as she was getting dangerously close.  Suddenly I heard the thump and knew I had been hit.  She had backed her car through her own lane and all the way over into our lane.  I got out to try to inspect the damage as the cars were all lined up waiting to go.  On quick examination I didn’t see anything and thought somehow I was extremely lucky.  I asked her what she was thinking and she said “did you see how slippery it was and how I was sliding all over the place?”  I thought to myself, “If you were sliding all over why were you trying to back up fast?”  A friend who happened to be behind me told me later that the lady wasn’t interested in looking for the damage in my car and after our brief exchange she ran to her car and took off in a hurry.  Of course when I got home I found the dent.  It was higher than where I was looking as she had an SUV vehicle.  Unfortunately I didn’t get her name or insurance policy or anything.  I blame myself for that omission and think about it every time I pass the dented area of my car!

It was lunch time and I was walking out to my car recently.  Suddenly I noticed to my horror that my life was in danger!  A car was backing out of a spot and was coming at me at a pretty good rate!  I quickly started running in the other direction and it missed me!  Quickly I ran up to the window to see who was driving so carelessly.  I saw the person that I knew and they gave me a quick waive and left.  I didn’t see this person for a few days but one day we were walking out the door together.  I made a statement calmly kind of in passing.  “Be careful backing out of your parking spot, you almost hit me the other day!”  I hope under the same circumstances I would have said “Oh I am so sorry!  Obviously I wasn’t thinking or something, please forgive me!”  The response I got was “Oh, you were probably in my blind spot. I always look before, you must have got in my blind spot.”  In my mind I’m picturing a court of law and the judge asking this person “so how do you plead to running over Lewis in the parking lot?”  “I’m completely innocent judge,  you see he was at fault because he was walking in my blind spot!”

sports_racquetball

Kahler and I are great friends and we play racquetball every week!  Previously I wrote about our weekly battles in “What Is Your Hometown Like?”  Anyway we both enjoy the competition and the fact that we feel better after we play!  It is hard to find time to get exercise and this weekly time helps us do it in a fun way.  Our abilities are fairly close but lately Kahler has been beating me.  I think he has won five or six straight.  The last time we played he pulled out ahead again which seems to be the way it’s been going.  We play to 15 and he got up to 13 points when I started chipping away at his lead.  I was serving and had 12 points to his 13.  My serve looked to me like it was 6 inches past the line and I was waiting for him to hit it back when I heard him say “Short!”  I have to admit that it upset me because clearly I saw it being good.  Kalhler from his view didn’t see it that way.  I want to say here that I know that he would never do anything that he didn’t think was justified and neither would I!  It was just a case of two people seeing something differently.  Yet in the heat of competition I lost my composure.  When he invariably won the point on the second serve I tried to whack the ball as hard as I could into the wall in frustration.  Unfortunately it hit Kahler in the arm and I felt bad.  We have played probably 300 times and after every game we shake hands.  I was still so frustrated after he finished me off that I didn’t shake hands with him.  Clearly however I felt I acted completely out of line.  My wife put me in my place when I mentioned what happened when I got home.  “You are not playing for money or anything so who cares?”  Unfortunately I did and my actions weren’t right.  I can still picture Kahler’s look in my mind as he was stunned after getting hit with the ball.  In the end nobody felt good about what happened.

A couple of days ago I saw Kahler in his office.  I felt tears come to my eyes as I asked him to forgive me for how I had acted.  I remember my mom was much the same way!  A wonderful Christian person with enormous faith she sometimes battled her temper.  I don’t remember exactly the circumstances but I do remember her getting upset with me a couple of times.  Invariably we wouldn’t talk for a day or two.  Then the phone rang and it was her.  In circumstances like that some people might start talking like nothing had happened but that was not my mom’s way.  The first words out of her mouth were that she was sorry and I knew it was heartfelt because she would be crying.

I sometimes wonder why it is so hard for people to be remorseful?  Why it is so hard to say you’re sorry and mean it?  I think it is a matter of pride.  People don’t like to admit they are wrong because they see it as a sign of weakness.  Yet in reality it is a sign of strength!  Who in their right mind would claim that they are perfect?  From what I understand about the Bible one of the biggest flaws that we can have is pride.  As the Bible states “For all have sinned and come short of the Glory of God.”  How hard is that to admit and how many times do we try to justify our actions to right the wrong we did?  While we are still here we need to be remorseful for sinning and forgiving to those that trespass against us.  We need to come to a point in our lives when we realize that we can’t get ourselves into heaven.  It is only through God’s grace and his grace can only be received when we admit our short comings and accept his son as a sacrifice for our sins.  At that point Jesus Christ becomes our mediator (kind of like our Lawyer!)

courtroom scene 2

I’m picturing the Great Judgement and that court room we all must go through with God as the judge.   In this life we make a choice for that day of Jesus being our lawyer or representing ourselves.  I’m sure many going it alone will try to justify themselves thinking that they can argue themselves out of it like Lloyd often did.  Many will argue that due to circumstances the event was in their blind spot.  To the true believers though our attitude should be completely remorseful.  “God I throw myself to the mercy of the court.  I have sinned greatly against you and only by your grace do I stand here unashamed before you.”  It is that attitude that the prodigal son had when he came to his father completely selfless and humble.  His father rewarded him greatly much like how our Heavenly Father will reward us for having the good sense of accepting his son Jesus as our representative and the only way to eternal life.

The Trial

From the book “The Gardener and My Garden” c1997
by Lewis Hamilton

The prosecuting attorney had his case prepared
to send me straight to jail
He had evidence to string me up
so I knew he wouldn’t fail

He called out with a convincing voice,
We’ve got movies of your sins
The courtroom door was opened
a projector was wheeled in

We watched my actions prove his case,
my hands were very red,
my sins were played on a big screen
He roared son, you’re as good as dead!

I glanced at my attorney
What would his reaction be?
His smile caught me by surprise
with the evidence against me

The prosecuting attorney made his case
It took three hours, maybe four
He had a list ten feet long
or maybe even more

He glided by my attorney
with a smile upon his face
He’s guilty as the blackest sin,
you don’t even have a case

My attorney walked up to the bench
He said, Father, Here’s my plea
I know this man is guilty
just as everyone can see

But he asked me to forgive him
and you know I paid the fee
So I ask you, my loving father
Please, set this captive free

Son, the judge and father said,
Consider your will done
The price you paid was more than enough
to cover everyone

He hit the gavel on the desk
and threw away the list
He said with a voice of authority
This case is dismissed.

For there is one God and one
mediator between God and men,
the man Christ Jesus, who gave
himself as ransom for all men-the
testimony given in its proper time.

I Timothy 2:5-6

Cementing Little Trees

Years ago we called my dad to go with us and take a look at a house we were interested in buying.  We knew that he had built three houses and that he would know what to look for.  We liked the neighborhood and the outside look of the house.  We were thinking that the walls could be painted and new carpeting could be added.  Dad wasn’t concerned with any of that.  He was more interested in going down in the basement and looking around.  He was interested in the framework including poles, wood, cement and the furnace.  While we looked at the physical appearance he was concerned about the foundation.  When he gave his approval we knew that the house would last a long time!

Although dad got the credit for building three houses mom was a big help!  I remember her mixing cement in anticipation of him coming home from work.  When he got home he would start right in on working on the house.  The three houses that he built were in the same neighborhood.  The third house I helped with too!  I was 12 and one of the things I helped out with was the driveway.  Unlike the other houses dad had hired a cement company and they drove the truck over and dumped the cement.  We had four of us ready to spread it.  Dad had lined up some 2 by 4’s on the sides of the driveway and he had made us smoothing tools.  He had cut handles in the long boards and we used them to smooth the cement down.  As soon as the cement was dumped our work began.  Dad had hired my friend Lloyd and my cousin Lawrence.  Then there was myself and him and that was our crew.  The cement was very soft when it was dumped and we quickly smoothed it by putting a worker on each side and working the board together back and forth.  The goal was to make it the exact height of the side boards he had put down.  We worked the cement from up by the garage to down by the road.  Since we were right there when it was dumped it was easy to work it into place.

Cement and children have a lot in common!

Cement and children have a lot in common!

It’s been said that your house will probably be your biggest investment.  With that being said it is so important for that house to be solidly built from the ground up!  When the winds blow and the rain pours down it is essential that the house stands firm!  Dad knew what was important in examining a house.  Things that we see with the untrained eye are things that don’t make a difference in the sturdiness of the house.  We tend to look at colors and room sizes.  We gasp at how the old owners decorated and our plan to make it look so much better.  Luckily for us we had dad to give us his opinion on what was really important.

Although it is said that a house will likely be your biggest investment, I contend that it is not.  If you have kids they are your biggest investment.  Of course they are a financial investment but more importantly they are an investment in time!  Although percentages differ a majority of the things that we learn are learned before the age of six.    Those early years are so important and the most important thing a child can learn is that as parents we love them dearly!  That very fact goes a long ways in building the foundation that they will have for life!  They learn how much they are loved not by lavish gifts, but by quality time we spend with them.  They need to know that we as parents are on their side!  As parents it is vital that we set an example of how to live and that we encourage them to take the path to eternal life through Jesus Christ.

A study was conducted by a group called the “Bama Group”, which concluded that nearly half of all of the people who accept Christ do so before the age of thirteen.  Two out of three Christians accepted Christ before their eighteenth birthday.  It makes a lot of sense doesn’t it?  Young people are much more opened to changes.  They are sponges as far as absorbing information around them.

We worked hard with that cement because we knew that we were on the clock.  Sooner or later the cement would harden up where it could not be molded anymore.  When the cement hit the ground it was the most important thing at that moment to start spreading.  We didn’t let it sit there for an hour or two or when we felt like working with it.  The same thing is true when we are investing in our children.  Their little minds will get molded by the world if we don’t help them.  The lessons that we give in those formative years will be cemented in them for life!

Does that mean that everything will always be rosy?  Does it mean that they will always walk the line?  The answer to these questions is “of course not.”  They may walk out like the prodigal son did.  Sometimes little birds want to fly on their own and sometimes they get rebellious.  What I’m saying though is that if their foundation is solidly built they will end up knowing that you were right and that you love them.  Years ago my mom and I were talking about this very subject.  She was a terrific Christian example and she told me a story of “the little tree.”  The idea so much moved me that I wrote a poem called “The Little Tree.”  You won’t have to read too much between the lines to realize who the little tree is.  Like the cement and the little tree, time is of the essence!  We all as parents are responsible for the foundation of our kids.  Quality time is needed starting early and often to help mold the future for our greatest and most important investments!

The Little Tree
By Lewis Hamilton
From the book “The Gardener and My Garden”, c1997

A little tree was planted
It started very small
It could be bent or straightened
without any trouble at all

One day I was observing
the growth of the little tree
I noticed it was crooked
which was bothersome to me

I’d have to take some time,
there wasn’t any doubt,
to work on that little tree
and help it straighten out

But now I am so busy
Where do I draw the line?
I’ll deal with the tree later
when I find the time

One day I found a moment
to help that little tree
straighten out its problem
now that my time was free

But the little tree had sprouted up
much bigger than before
I tried to make it tall and straight
but couldn’t move it anymore.

Train a child in the way he
should go, and when he is
old he will not turn from it.

Proverbs 22:6

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