Stop, Look, and Listen

On Monday of this week, there was another incident in which a teenage boy opened fire on his fellow classmates.  This time it was in Ohio.

When I was in high school, many of us drove our cars and trucks to school with shotguns in the back window.  Even though we did plenty of stupid things, I don’t remember a single time any of us thought about shooting-up the school.

The days of my childhood have vanished and proof of this is the steady diet of violence on TV.  The Saturday morning cartoons are no longer of the Mighty Mouse variety.  Video games have gone from Pac Man to realistic and graphic simulations of warfare, murder and violence.

By the time the  average child is 12, he has witnessed thousands of violent acts through the media.  Watching it on TV is not quite as bad as role playing it with video games.  The problem with the video games is that they captivate and engage the psyche of our children in acts of violence.

The Zur Institue reports that, Violence in the media, whether it is reflected in music, games, cartoons, T.V. shows or movies, desensitizes children to the effects of violence, legitimizes and glorifies violence and can increase aggressive behavior or, at the least, increases tolerance and acceptance of violent and abusive behavior. After seeing violence on T.V., cartoons, and playing violent games, violence offline seems “normal.

I have read different reports that address this issue.  I find the work of retired Lt. Col. David Grossman to be very interesting.  An insightful interview that focuses on this issue can be read by clicking here.

Let me share a few statistics about school shootings:

  • In about 75% of the cases, the shooter had told several people about his plans.
  • In half of these incidents, the shooter was encouraged by friends to carry out the attack.
  • A large per centage of the shooters had experienced bullying and harrassment.

Grossman, in another article, suggests that one of the best deterrents to this type of senseless violence, it to have a police presence in the schools.  This sounds like an endorsement of the School Resource Officers  we see  in schools today.

After reviewing the research, I believe the message at railroad crossings is one we need to take to heart:  Stop, Look, Listen.  Since most of these shooters speak about their planned assault for weeks and months ahead of the attack, parents and teachers need to take the time to stop what they are doing; look for the message below the surface; and, listen to the emotion.

The simple truth is, hurting people hurt people.  Our task, Jesus said,  is to love others the way that He has loved us (John 13:34-35).  Instad of giving a struggling teenager a piece of your mind, try something different–give him a piece of your heart.

An Eye for an Eye

An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth is a brutal philosophy to guide a person’s life.  It does; however, seem to make more sense than the inhumane acts that are routine events in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other countries in this region.  The most recent example is the rioting in Kabul in protest of some Korans that had been burnt.

I’ve grown a bit agnostic concerning the merits of our presence in this part of the world.  One thing I do know for certain is that my heart sinks every time I hear of the death of one of our soldiers in this region.  In my prayers, I find myself asking for peace to prevail.  As I make this petition, I realize I am asking for a miracle.

The Ayatollah Ali Sistani has been considered an ally in the region, and he is a good example of the State Department’s dilemma.  Sistani teaches that non-Muslims are considered in the same category as urine, feces, semen, dead bodies, blood, dogs, pigs, alcoholic liquors,” and “the sweat of an animal who persistently eats [unclean things]. 

If an ally will make statements like this, what are our enemies saying?

Abraham Lincoln once said:  The best way to destroy an enemy is to make him your friend.  I’m afraid even the wit and wisdom of Lincoln is not enough to make these enemies our friends.

When a find a situation to be discouraging, I look to God for something that is encouraging:  For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come,  nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39).

From Tragedy to Triumph

Little Wilma Rudolph was born prematurely on June 23, 1940 in St. Bethlehem, Tennessee.   She came into this world weighing a mere 4 1/2 pounds. She spent the early years of her childhood in bed battling double pneumonia and scarlet fever.  When she was 6 she was afflicted with polio.  This disease caused her to lose the use of her left leg, so she was fitted with metal leg braces.

One day Wilma asked her parents:  Will I ever be able to run and play like the other children?  Her mother responded:  Honey, you only have to believe.  You have to trust in God because with God all things are possible.

If her story ended when her being a cripple, it would be understandable, but  Wilma was determined to turn her tragedy into  triumph.  She believed God could make it happen; and, by the time she was 9 years old, she was out of the braces and quickly becoming a star on the basketball court.

Wilma’s hard worked transformed her into a 5′ 11″ lightening fast runner, and she went on to win 3 gold medals in 1960 at the Rome Olympics.  She retired from running when she was 22 years old.  She turned her focus to coaching women’s track teams and encouraging young people.  Wilma used her talent and fame to establish the Wilma Rudolph Foundation to assist young athletes in reaching their academic and professional goals.

Here’s a thought to keep you thinking.  Talent is God-given, so be humble.  Fame is man-given, so be thankful.  Conceit is self-given, so be careful.

The Mystery of Giving

One of the most familiar verses in the New Testament is John 3:16, and two words of this verse have been on my mind for a day or two:  He gave.

These two words, He gave, are a mystery to me.  What did God give?  He gave fragrance to the flowers and taste to our food.

I see more of His gifts whenever I drive through the Flint Hills of Kansas, the Rockies of Colorado, or the Black Hills of South Dakota.   Why did God give these wonders of nature this thing we call beauty?

Then there are two opposites that seem to have a magnetic attraction that draw people to them.  God gave us fire and water and there is a universal appeal to gaze into a campsite fire or to listen to the deafening sound of a waterfall.

God gave us all of these for several reasons.  He gave some of it for our enjoyment, and He gave some for our health and nourishment.

If you read the rest of John 3:16, you will discover the greatest gift that God gave:  He gave His only begotten Son that whosover believes in Him might have eternal life.  Why did God give the gift of His Son?  John answers this question in the 10th chapter of his Gospel:  that we might have life, and have it more abundantly.

Here’s a thought to keep you thinking.  The next breath you take, make it a deep one, and then pause to thank God for the beauty and fragrance of life.

Give yourself a gift this morning, and watch this video clip.

The Power to Become

In the opening line of the book of Genesis, we are told that God created.  The Hebrew word for created is bara, and it means to call into existence that which has never existed before.

As I think about about this word, I reflect on the many ways God’s power is seen.  These Biblical moments of creation are times of elation as well as speculation:

  • A woman is turned into a pillar of salt
  • A 99 year old woman gets pregnant
  • A donkey speaks
  • The Red Sea is parted
  • The walls of Jericho come tumbling down
  • A blind man sees
  • A deaf man hears
  • A crippled man walks

The creative power of God is not limited to the saints of Scripture or the pages of the Bible.  That power is still at work today.  In John 1:12 it speaks of the “power to become,”  and it says this power belongs to those who believe.

Put the life of Apostle Paul under a microscope, and you will see this power at work.  Before he was known as Paul, this apostle was called Saul and he made a living persecuting and imprisoning Christians. On a typical day his mundane routine was interrupted by a special visit from Jesus.  Paul was introduced to Jesus’ power to become, and the religious bias of this pious Pharisee was transformed into a zeal that gave birth to a Christian ideal.  Paul went on  to influence a large part of the New Testament, and he was a leader in the early missionary endeavors.

Bara!  What is it that God wants to create in your life?  How will you allow the power to become to make you more becoming for the cause of Christ and for  the benefit of your fellow man?

A Lesson From Flipper

From September 19, 1964, to April 15, 1967 I would take my spot in front of the TV to watch a favorite show of mine.  The star of the show was a bottle nosed dolphin called Flipper.  I began to reminisce about this show after reading about dolphins in Cape Cod.   Annually about 38 dolphins will beach themselves, but the count this year is already up to 160.

For dolphin lovers this is a real tragedy and a perplexing situation.  It’s hard to understand how a dolphin can get beached when finely tuned sonar is a part of the species DNA.   How many other mammals can tell the difference between a BB gun pellet and a kernel of corn from a distance of 50 feet?

A dolphin uses his active sonar to emit sounds and then waits for the sounds to bounce off other objects and return.  This technique allows a dolphin to interpret sounds and to detect the underwater location of an item.   Because bodies of water can be too murky for sight, the sonar of the dolphins is advantageous to them, and sound actually travels more quickly underwater than it does in air.

Some of the locals in Cape Cod believe part of the problem with the dolphins is the shape of the harbor.  Dolphins are social creatures and they have a tendency to school and to follow each other.  If they are too far into the harbor when the tide goes out, they get stranded.

I’m certainly no marine biologist, but I wonder if the dolphins get distracted to the point that they do not listen to their sonar.  This brings to me the often repeated Scripture:   He that hath an ear, let him hear  . . .

There are times that we fail to hear because we simply choose not to, and there are other times that we are too distracted.  This distraction can be of our own making or it can be due to noise pollution.  Research indicates that too much noise can be detrimental to our health leading to sleep deprivation, hypertension, heart problems, and the onset of psychological symptoms.

To make sure our sonar is working, we need to tune the world out and tune in to God.  This principle is stated several times in the Psalms.  David fined-tuned his sonar by seeking God early in the morning  (Psalm 61,62,63).

Here’s a thought to keep you thinking.  Why did God give us two ears and one mouth?  Could it be that we are to listen more to Him and speak less of our self?

The Habit of Excellence

Ever wonder why we keep doing the  things that we know we should not do and do not want to do?  I give you a little 5 letter answer to this encyclopedic problem–habit.

I believe it was Aristotle who said:  We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.  Repetitious behavior is a coin with two sides:  good habits and bad habits. 

Because they are so ingrained in our lives, habits are often performed unconsciously.  This means we give little thought to some of the things we do.  This auto-pilot mentality is either a wonderful servant or a worrisome master. 

Research has shown that old habits appear to lose some of their power when new habits begin to replace them.  The new habit is a positive detour that bypasses the old rut.  

According to Ryan and Markova we form new habits by considering our three zones of existence: comfort, stretch and stress. Comfort is the realm of existing habit. Stress occurs when a challenge is so far beyond current experience as to be overwhelming. It’s that stretch zone in the middle — activities that feel a bit awkward and unfamiliar — where true change occurs.

Any time we try to kick a habit and develop a new skill, we can expect to experience some discomfort.  If you are right-handed, try writing or eating with your left hand.   Unless you are ambidextrous, it will feel a little odd or clumsy.

The same is true with any change in your routine.  At first it will seem awkward.  Several years ago I was told that I should substitute rice or almond milk for regular dairy milk.  The first time I tasted the substitute, my tastebuds shouted:  YUK!  I did a quick reframe of my response and said:  It isn’t milk, but it tastes pretty good for what it is.  And, I’ve done fine with it ever since.

New habits are not developed overnight.  At a minimum, I suggest 40 days of consistent practice as a start and for long-term success I think 3 months dedicated to the new routine is important.

Paul contrasted the habits of the flesh and the habits of the Spirit in Romans 6: I am using an example from everyday life because of your human limitations. Just as you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness.  When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness.  What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death!  But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.  For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. 

I hope this thought keeps you thinking:  Where in your life do you need to intervene, so you can begin a healthy new routine?

Falling Stars

On August 16, 1977, I was walking out of the break room at a K Mart in Arlington, Texas when I heard a news report.  I was familiar with the person who was the focus of the story, and I knew his life had become a wreck.   But, I was still surprised when I heard the news:  Elvis is dead (see it here).

Elvis had succumbed to the same force that has more recently taken the life of Whitney Houston.  The sparkle of fame had dimmed the bright hope that had once guided both of these very talented individuals.  Even though both of them would still, at times, speak of their faith, the Light of the world was confined to a dark corner of their heart.

The misteps taken by Elivs, Whitney and others can be found in the words of a song made famous by Perry Como (listen here).  To them, Jesus had become just a star to be hidden away and taken out when He was needed.

This saving-Jesus-for-a-rainy-day mentality is a result of what I call the Demas Syndrome.  There are three places in the New Testament where Demas is mentioned.  Paul referred to him with fondness twice; however, the third time, Paul wrote:  Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me (2 Timothy 4:10).

Deserted me!  He went AWOL–absent without leave!  Demas was enticed by the fame and fortune of the world, and it led him away from The Way (John 14:6)  Demas, Elvis, and Whitney were controlled by an insatiable hunger for more.  More money and more fame are life pursuits that can leave a person empty and hollow.

When we talk about life pursuits, we are discussing values and virtures.  Values can change but virtues never do.  When a person’s values are estranged from Biblical-virtues he can begin to drift away into a life of insignificance.

Demas should have minded the message of his mentor, who said:  I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances, and godliness with contentment is great gain.

Here’s a thought to keep you thinking.  The key to contentment is the content of your life.  An appetite that is not God-centered will eventually be a center of godlessness.

When Freedom Gets Personal

To some freedom is thought of in terms of the number 07-04 or a specific date on the calendar—July 4th.  There are politicians who try to balance the wishes of their constituents and measure freedom in dollar$, but the cost of freedom cannot be measured in terms of military budgets, tanks, jets, or ships.  The true cost of freedom must consider the human spirit and the willingness to sacrifice.

The hidden costs of freedom are outside of the awareness of the public in general because they have never lived the military life.  When their children were born, the father was not fighting terrorists in Iraq or Afghanistan.  For most families, parents are present to join in the celebration of the major life cycle events such as birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, and marriages.  This is not the case for military families when one or both parents are deployed.  Then, there is the ultimate cost of freedom that is seen in the flag-draped caskets of heroes that return home to be met by their heart-broken family.

As I write this column, my heart goes out to the family of Hal Neukirch, Jr.  Young Hal was serving in Afghanistan when he was stricken by a deadly enemy in a form of brain cancer known as Glioblastoma Multiforme.  The request of Hal Jr. is to leave his hospital bed in Texas, and to come back to El Dorado to spend his last days in the place he has called home.

I ask you to join me in helping the Neukirch’s bring their son back to Kansas.  Due to Hal’s condition, an air ambulance must be used at a cost of $15,000.  An account has been set up at Intrust Bank, 100 S. Main, El Dorado, KS 67042. If each of us will give a little, we can make a big difference in the life of this wonderful family.  Please make your check payable to the Hal Neukirch Jr. Benefit Fund.

The Doldrum Days

Have you been feeling incredibly tired, worn-out, listless, or despondent?  If so,  you may have a case of the doldrums.

In case you do not know, the Doldrums are regions of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans that are in close proximity to the equator, and they are areas that have little if  any wind. When sailors actually depended on their sails to catch the wind and propel them across the water, the windless doldrums could be a problem.

The phrase “in the doldrums” was not created to describe this  wind-challenged region of the oceans. The word was originally used to describe someone who was listless, dull or sluggish.

When there was no wind, all the sailors could do was wait and drift with the current.  When we are faced with the doldrums, what can we do?  The life of Gideon answers this question.  Here are the steps he took to change his course in life (Judges 6):

  1. He was honest and admitted his spiritual lows.
  2. He set the goal of achieving spiritual heights .
  3. He flexed the muscle of faith and let God lead him from the pit to the pinnacle.

Even though Gideon was living the life of a coward, God saw the potential in him and called him a mighty man of valor.  When God looks at you, He sees the potential within you.

Here’s a thought to keep you thinking.  What you are should never limit what you can become.