The Ups and Downs of Life

wepnerLife is an adventure.  Some people seem to stumble their way through it, while others have the ability and agility to bob and weave their way through its obstacles.  Some people have the knack to fall face first into every mud hole that dots their path in life, while others can transform the sourest moments of life into a sweet and exhilarating experience.

Muhammed Ali’s life was more exciting than it was boring.  Ali was fond of saying that he “could float like a butterfly, and sting like a bee,” but even the Champ learned felt the brute force of a punch that was akin to the kick of a mule.

On March 24, 1975, Chuck Wepner introduced Ali to one of the universal laws of life:  Sooner or later you’re going to get hit by a punch you’ll never see coming!

Suffering is a thread that’s woven into the fabric of life, and it’s the sucker punch that can drop you to your knees.  

This universal law is the subject of discourse by both Peter and James:

  • Peter said you should not, “be surprised when the fiery ordeal comes among you to test you as if something unusual were happening to you (I Peter 4:12).”
  • Even though suffering is anything but pleasant, James said to, “Count it all joy when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness (James 1:2–3).” 

It’s important to note that James did not say that the suffering or trial is a joyful experience; instead, he said the joy comes in acknowledging the result of the trial—steadfastness.  The situations that shake your faith are the ordeals that form a faith that’s unshakable.

Your faith is like your muscle tissue—to get stronger, it must be stressed.

The trials of life can buckle your knees and make it hard to see the end of the journey. It’s only from the perspective of hindsight that we have 20-20 vision.  Paul confirms this in 2 Corinthians 1:8-9. When he contemplated the past through the light of the present, he could see the boldly colored thread of hope in the tapestry of his heartache.  He could see God’s purpose in the suffering he had endured: “We want you to know, Christian brothers, of the trouble we had in the countries of Asia. The load was so heavy we did not have the strength to keep going. At times we did not think we could live.  We thought we would die. This happened so we would not put our trust in ourselves, but in God Who raises the dead.”

“This happened”, so Paul would know that God is able and that He would enable him. What God did for Paul, He will also do for you.

 

Tragedy in Texas

broken-heart-valentine-background_1048-4957For many people, today’s shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas has stirred-up unwanted memories of Las Vegas, Columbine and Charleston. We should not be surprised that these events are beyond our comprehension, because they are often perpetrated by people who lack a conscience.

Sociopath and psychopath are words that have been used to described shooters or mass murders like Harris, Klebold, and Roof, as well as Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, and Dennis Rader. The DSM-5 classifies sociopathy and psychopathy as Antisocial Personality Disorders and sets certain criteria for a diagnosis:

  • A disregard for laws, social mores, and the rights of others
  • A failure to feel remorse or guilt
  • A tendency to display violent behavior
  • Sociopaths are agitated, disorganized individuals, and they are unable to blend in with society

Psychopaths are high-functioning individuals who manipulate people with their charming personality. While they do not actually feel emotion, they can learn to mimic emotions to blend in with the crowd.

Due to their lack of conscience, people with these disorders process emotions like a blind man negotiates a maze; one doesn’t feel, the other doesn’t see, and both find the task daunting.

Dr. Martha Stout a Clinical Psychologist and former Harvard Medical School instructor, offers this assessment: An emotional word is love, hate, anger, mom, death, anything that we associate with an emotional reaction. A nonemotional word is lamp, street, hair, rug, that kind of thing. If I had electrodes hooked up to you right now and I said a string of words, and some of them were emotional and some were not, I’d get a larger spike on the emotional words. We are wired to process those words more readily than neutral, nonemotional words. We are very emotional creatures. But sociopaths listen as evenly to emotional words as they do to lamp or book—there’s no neurological difference. ~THE SOCIOPATH NEXT DOOR

The obvious question is: How do you treat someone who has no conscience?  The prerequisite to change is a desire to do so, and without a conscience there is no desire. Without a conscience there is no good or evil, and the need for true healing is a recognition of that which plagues the heart.

One thing that never changes in these instances is the need for prayer, and I encourage you to pray for those who were touched by the tragic events of today.

 

 

Refocus

blueeyerefocus-e1402765750552One of the great men of the Bible was David, and he reigned as King for over thirty years. His path to the throne wasn’t an easy journey, and his years as a monarch were often times of great difficulty.

One of the more trying moments of his life is recorded in 1 Samuel 30:6: David was greatly distressed, for the people spoke of stoning him, because the soul of all the people was grieved, every man for his sons and his daughters.  But David strengthened himself in the LORD his God.

Even though David was greatly distressed, he didn’t allow the trial, the heartache, and the grief to define the rest of his life.  Instead, David strengthened himself in the Lord.

David refocused his emotions, turned his thoughts towards God, and remembered: My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth (Psalm 121).

It’s also likely, that David rehearsed the many times that God had intervened in his life:

  • God once delivered him from a lion and a bear
  • God gave him a victory when he faced Goliath in battle and beat him
  • When jealous Saul tried to kill him, God always provided safety.

Today may be one of those days that you’re feeling distressed.  Whatever your Goliath may be, God can bring your giant to his knees.  Find strength in knowing that what God did for David, He can also do for you.

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. ~Philippians 4:13

Goodbye to the Prince, the Princess, and the Greatest

armedandsexyleia-officialpixAmong the many events that have happened during 2016, the most important to some people was the death of the idol they adored; for some it was a singer named Prince, for others it was the death of Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), and boxing fans had to bid farewell to The Greatest—Muhammad Ali. There was also the death of an author who was less heralded than these whose obituaries were printed in newspapers from the East coast to the West.

While he was well-known in some circles, Jerry Bridges, the author, did not have the notoriety of the Prince and the Princess, but he did know The Greatest One who is greater than any other; and, Bridges had found what proves to be elusive to some—the secret of peace and contentment.

Bridges was a prolific writer who said: “The Bible is full of God’s promises to provide for us spiritually and materially, to never forsake us, to give us peace in times of difficult circumstances, to cause all circumstances to work together for our good, and finally to bring us safely home to glory. Not one of those promises is dependent upon our performance. They are all dependent on the grace of God given to us through Jesus Christ.”

The words of the Princess are a stark contrast to those of Bridges: “I knew better than I knew anything that what happens with stardom, with fame, is it goes away, and it leaves you in a humiliated space (Carrie Fisher 2006).”

Fisher’s assessment on life, reminds me of Solomon’s wisdom: Charm can be deceptive and physical beauty will not last, but a woman who reveres the Lord should be praised above all others. ~Proverbs 31:30

It’s a simple truth that this world offers nothing akin to genuine contentment.  Your health and wealth can vanish in a moment; fame is fickle; and the bright lights of Hollywood and Broadway fade away.

“Real contentment,” Warren Wiersbe said, “must come from within. You and I cannot change or control the world around us, but we can change and control the world within us.”  The “within” that Wiersbe spoke of is “the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, and will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7).

If you’re restless, and feel as though there is a void in your life, I encourage you to give God’s peace a chance.

For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. ~Jeremiah 29:11

 

 

Dumb Kid or Racist

IMG_0009I was just a dumb kid from Kansas when I enlisted in the Air Force in 1971. Like all new recruits, I was sent to Lackland Air Force base in San Antonio for boot camp.  This was the camp where all new recruits learned the Air Force way of doing things.

One of the requirements of boot camp was to have a spit polish on your boots that would reflect the ugly mug of the drill sergeant. During the first inspection my boots didn’t pass muster, and I suffered the consequences; I decided I had to do something before the next inspection.

Since the recruit next to me had polished his shoes to a high sheen and the drill sergeant had praised him, I offered to pay him if he would polish my boots. This dumb kid, a white boy from Kansas, never thought his request would be considered racist. I simply wanted to benefit from the skill of the person next to me, and I didn’t see him as a black man—just another guy trying to get through boot camp; but, he thought I was looking for a “boy” to shine the Master’s shoes.

Our difference in perspective, due to history, and culture, led to a flash of anger that had its roots in the riots of the late 60’s. The events of this past week rekindled the memory of that experience from 1971.

Was I a dumb kid from Kansas or a racist?  I can undoubtedly confirm that I was dumb, but just as certainly I can say there was no racism in my request.

It would be naive to think that racism did not exist then or that it does not exist today. Sadly, the hideous face of racism has been present since the early days of man’s history.

Paul spoke of the ethnic and racial divide between Jews and others when he wrote to the church at Ephesus.  He said Jesus “brought an end to the commandments and demands found in Moses’ Teachings so that he could take Jewish and non-Jewish people and create one new humanity in himself. So he made peace.  He also brought them back to God in one body by his cross, on which he killed the hostility.  He came with the Good News of peace for you who were far away and for those who were near.  So Jewish and non-Jewish people can go to the Father in one Spirit.~Ephesians 2:15-18 GW

After the multiple tragedies of last week, I think most of us are looking for healing.  If you only look to the past and the many failures of social engineering, you might through your hands up in despair.

The answer is not more government, it’s more God and the hope of becoming one in Jesus Christ.  We need to “Try to live peacefully with everyone, and try to live holy lives, because if you don’t, you will not see the Lord.  Make sure that everyone has kindness from God so that bitterness doesn’t take root and grow up to cause trouble that corrupts many of you.”  ~Hebrews 12:14-15 GW

As Reinhold Niebuhr said in The Irony of American History:

Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore, we must be saved by hope. Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore, we must be saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous, could be accomplished alone; therefore, we must be saved by love. No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as it is from our own standpoint; therefore, we must be saved by the final form of love, which is forgiveness.

Killing the Innocent to Save the Innocent

harambe-22A trip to the zoo can be an adventure of expecting the unexpected.  Whether it’s the chimps, the giraffes, or the elephants, somewhere at some time, one of these animals will do something unusual to the delight of the visitors.  No one, however, could have expected the series of events that occurred on Saturday and resulted in the death of, Harambe, a gorilla at the Cincinnati Zoo.

When a 4-year-old boy climbed under a fence and fell into the gorilla’s enclosure,  Harambe, grabbed him and dragged him around his pen.  Even though the western lowland silverback gorilla is an endangered species, the zoo’s emergency response team shot him to save the child.

Some posts on social media have been angry outbursts directed towards zoo officials and the parents of the 4-year old boy. Some think the gorilla should have been spared at the risk of the child.

While it’s sad that zoo officials had to shoot the gorilla, I think they took the right course of action.  The question for you is: How do you make decisions. Do you have a decision tree that you follow or some hierarchy that directs you?

Dr. Norm Geisler has developed some principles to help guide him, and he refers to them as the Seven Principles of Ethical Hierarchy:

  1. Persons are more valuable than things
  2. Infinite persons are more valuable than finite persons
  3. Complete persons are more valuable than incomplete persons
  4. Actual persons are more valuable than potential persons
  5. *Potential persons are more valuable than actual things
  6. Many persons are more valuable than a few persons
  7. Personal acts which promote personhood are better than those which do not

Geisler’s Seven Principles, support the actions of the zoo’s officials:  Humans have more value than things or non-humans.  As much as I like my non-human dog, I recognize that humans are moral beings and animals are amoral; moral beings have rights, but non-human, amoral creatures do not.

I spend more time with my dog that I do most human beings; watch his diet closer than I watch mine; and, I’ve been known to cry when one of these, magnificent creatures dies; however, when choosing between the life of a 4-year old child and a non-human, I’ll spare the child every time.

 

 

*Some people draw the conclusion that Geisler’s view seems to imply that a developing child is of no value and that abortion on demand is justified.  This is not the case; Geisler has said: “An unborn baby is a work of God that He is building into His own likeness,” and he cites Psalm 139:13-15, which speaks of God’s providential care for the unborn.

State of Emergency Declared: Heart of America Aflame

fdireSeveral years ago, Barber County, Kansas was home to me.  I lived in a spot in the road called Hazelton, and I was a frequent visitor of Anthony, Kiowa, and Medicine Lodge.  When I needed to stock up on groceries, I would drive to Alva, Oklahoma. Alva also had a tasty hamburger served at a café on the town square.

As I watched the news yesterday, I followed the raging prairie fire as it devoured rain-starved pastures and some 72,000 acres. I thought of my old friends in this rural pocket of Kansas, and I prayed for their safety and well-being.

The voracious appetite of a fire is a graphic illustration of some scripture found in James 3:6-10:

 A word out of your mouth may seem of no account, but it can accomplish nearly anything—or destroy it!  It only takes a spark, remember, to set off a forest fire. A careless or wrongly placed word out of your mouth can do that. By our speech we can ruin the world, turn harmony to chaos, throw mud on a reputation, send the whole world up in smoke and go up in smoke with it, smoke right from the pit of hell.  This is scary: You can tame a tiger, but you can’t tame a tongue—it’s never been done. The tongue runs wild, a wanton killer. With our tongues we bless God our Father; with the same tongues we curse the very men and women he made in his image. Curses and blessings out of the same mouth!         ~The Message

The words you speak are ripe with the potential to be either healing or harmful. 

Think about the way you have spoken to people this week:  Have your words beaten them down and left them battered and bruised, or have you use the gift of language to encourage, instruct, and build them up?

If your tongue is in need of taming, it might help to ponder the principles below:

  • Foolish words cut like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing (Proverbs 12:18)
  • Pleasing words are like honey. They are sweet to the soul and healing to the bones (Proverbs 16:24)
  • A lying tongue hates those it crushes, and a flattering mouth causes ruin (Proverbs 26:28)
  • Don’t let even one rotten word seep out of your mouths. Instead, offer only fresh words that build others up when they need it most. That way your good words will communicate grace to those who hear them (Ephesians 4:29 ~The Voice).

Give some thought to the brute strength of your words: They can be as devastating as they are delightful, and even though they may be forgiven, they’re rarely forgotten.

Will people remember you for your soothing words that helped them to heal, or for language that was so heated it left them scorched and scarred…like the fires that have swept across the Kansas prairies?

Hessston, Kansas: Tragedy Strikes Rural America

Tigger-Eeyore-Winnie-the-Pooh-WallpaperOn February 23 at 11:27 AM, Cedric Ford made a post to his Facebook page: “Woke up this morning vibing God is good.”  Last night, channel 12 news identified Ford as the shooter at the Excel Plant in Hesston, Kansas. I’m not sure how a person can post those words on a Tuesday and then take a weapon on Thursday, and kill 3 people and shoot a total of 18.

Strange as it may seem, this incident reminds me of a critical moment in the life of Tigger in a Winnie the Pooh story.  Because his stripes washed off while bathing, Tigger was facing an identity crisis.

The usually boisterous and exuberant Tigger grew solemn and sullen as he mulled over his dilemma.  Because tigers are recognized by their stripes, Tigger isn’t sure who he is without his. In an effort to discover his identity, he tries being a rabbit, a bear, and a Christmas tree.

His problem is resolved when Eeyore tells Tigger, “You’re always the same person on the inside.”  The wisdom of Eeyore may have been comforting to Tigger, but it also presents a discomforting truth.

When you contrast Ford’s actions with his “God is good” words, you see the constant battle that rages between the stripes of your flesh and your spirit.  Paul spoke of this turmoil in Romans 7:

Here’s an important principle I’ve discovered: regardless of my desire to do the right thing, it is clear that evil is never far away. For deep down I am in happy agreement with God’s law; but the rest of me does not concur. I see a very different principle at work in my bodily members, and it is at war with my mind; I have become a prisoner in this war to the rule of sin in my body.  I am absolutely miserable! Is there anyone who can free me from this body where sin and death reign so supremely? I am thankful to God for the freedom that comes through our Lord Jesus, the Anointed One! So on the one hand, I devotedly serve God’s law with my mind; but on the other hand, with my flesh, I serve the principle of sin.

The tragic shooting of last night brings a harsh reality to light; the potential of committing horrendous and evil acts lies deep within each of us.

A fog of horror and disbelief hangs low over the city of Hesston as her stunned residents wonder: “What happened to the stripes of Cedric Ford?” Did he suffer a psychotic break?  Was it a violent outburst of anger? Was this a sudden emotional explosion or has his fuse been smoldering for weeks?

It’s too early to have the answers to all of these questions, but it’s never too late to pray.  I hope you will join me in praying for the employees of Excel, the citizens of Hesston, the first responders, and everyone who has been touched by this tragic event.

R.I.P. #23: Death In The Line of Duty

R.I.P. Deputy Goforth

R.I.P. Deputy Goforth

You shouldn’t have to worry when you stop to fill your tank that you’ll be shanked or shot.  Sadly though, Darren Goforth was ambushed and shot multiple times while pumping gas into his patrol car.

This violent and inhumane act has saddened the heart of law enforcement officers (LEO) across the nation, and it has left many in Harris County Texas stunned.  Goforth is the 23rd officer that has been shot and died as a result of his injuries in the first 8 months of this year.

Please pray for any LEO you know, and all of them in your community.  Also pray for Goforth’s family.  He is survived by his wife and two children, ages 5 and 12.

First of all, I encourage you to make petitions, prayers, intercessions, and prayers of thanks for all people, for rulers, and for everyone who has authority over us. Pray for these people so that we can have a quiet and peaceful life always lived in a godly and reverent way. This is good and pleases God our Savior. ~I Timothy 2:1-3

I encourage you to visit https://www.facebook.com/HCSOTexas, and leave a comment supporting them in their time of grief.