Friday, December 27, 2013

A Year to Remember ... ney, a Year Ahead to Ponder

I always love this time of year when everybody loves to produce programs, sitcoms, documentaries, editorials, etc, looking back on the year about to end.  I think that not a bad thing but it does not align with my approach to life.  Those of you that know me know well I tend to always be looking toward the horizon and not through the rear view mirror of life's bucket.  There is little to nothing we can do to change, correct, transform what has happened but there are mountains of things we can all do in our own unique world and life about what happens ahead of us.  I suppose that is this perpetual optimist that is me for I have never seen a glass half empty even when the view pained me.
The year ahead will, no doubt, be a year filled with national and global challenges. We will see diplomats go to the far reaches of earth to try to ease tensions, raise expectations, lift the flag of improvement over the lands but rare will we see measurable positive improvement.  Yes, America will draw down and thus out of Afghanistan as we did so virtuously in Iraq and in the dust of departure, the killings, assassinations, economic corruption and decline will continue to decimate the landscape of an already scarred world; especially the Middle East.  Do I feel we "won" in Iraq? Certainly not if you define winning as leaving in a state of diplomatic stability with a political system that is functioning. Given that yardstick, certainly we did not leave in victory. Our military, as with Vietnam, deserves all the praise they can be given but war is always less about the soldier and more about the politicians. After all, that is the definition of war which is to, by force, correct the failed political system of a nation and the turn it back over to the politicians. Think about it!
I would love to live the remaining days of my life with our nation, my nation, not engaged in military actions somewhere on this globe but I am pragmatic enough to know that will never happen.  When you realize huge forces and structures are being garnered in the Horn of Africa due to its strategic geography due to the escalating explosiveness of Islamic fundamentalists, you know there is a cauldron of fire awaiting ignition. In other words, Afghanistan and Iraq were opening salvos of global terrorism and the "Arab Spring" uprisings, Syrian, etc, are all examples of what resides ahead. I believe 2014 will be a year of extreme military interventions for the US.  But the downside is that should America choose the path of weak kneed diplomacy not backed by a strong striking military hand, America's rapidly declining influence in the world will accelerate exponentially.
My list of concerns for our nation, remember I am being positive here, is with the apparent decline in moral fabric that was woven generations ago but is unravelling at an alarming rate.  To test this, turn on the TV and just watch for an hour.  We may laugh at what we see but if you look deeply at what we are being fed, the new norm for our next two generations is frightening at best.  It is not normal for literally almost every program to have a gay theme running through it usually shrouded in humor lines but still this subliminally is creating a new norm.  I watched my five grand kids here Christmas day with the eldest being eleven and the youngest being four. I found myself thinking about where their lives will meander in just the next ten years given what they see and hear as "normal" for we are the sum total of our behaviors which defines "culture" I learned from a great friend years ago.
Culture is the cocoon that holds it all together with that cocoon being woven by the strands of values.  I have grown to observe more and more of our world through the prism of Values. I saw the values of my 1960s Vietnam War generation deteriorate so rapidly that it still baffles me. It was from that deterioration that the Baby Boomers, I being one, lock stepped all 76 million of us into the late 20th century armed with new technology, cheap money and ever evaporating morals and mores.  Bill Clinton for me is the poster child of what America should never have become yet history will record him as one of the great presidents.  Scandal was accepted as normal thus the seeds of scandal have now being brought to root and thus what our children and grandchildren are being fertilized with in myriad ways.  Honestly, it scares me to think about what my grandchildren are able to access and given the power of peer pressure, one can only begin to contemplate that new norm in the next thirty years will look like.
I believe the year behind us will be viewed as pretty good even with the shootings, suicides, bloated prisons, aberrant lifestyles, children in families that provide little to no more fiber of right and wrong using Scripture as the examination tablet.  I believe the year ahead will see our nation plummet  more rapidly as we pull further and further from the God that created us. Many will read these words and simply say he is old and going to die so let him write out loud ....!  We are the sum total of our decisions and thus behaviors. This is so profound it is frightening in its reality.  Where are the leaders I loved to look up to, wanted to be like, imitate? Perhaps it is my age or stage of life but frankly, I see no leaders anywhere I yearn to adjust myself to. Certainly I am not saying that I am great or anything special; far from it.  But great leaders cause people to want to be like them! Where are they?
Each morning in my time with God, it continues to amaze that each day I find an examples of a great leaders in Scripture that cause me to want to strive to be like them.  I love my country. I love the potential of this great nation. I love to know who we are. I do not love what we are allowing to be a new norm that is wrong, disdainful and unBiblical. God has shown time and again how He dealt with His children when they were unfaithful to Him.  Are we any different, really?

Saturday, December 21, 2013

You Will Only Crave That Which You Experience

Good morning from rainy NE Ohio. I actually hate to see the snow melt away knowing flooding comes quickly in the lower areas of Ohio but also know we have much winter still before us. It has been a couple of weeks since my last blog and that is for a purpose, of course. I wanted to take a mental break and step back to do my reflection on our world.
In the last two weeks no doubt the most publicized event is the whole Duck Dynasty matter. It, for me, is a stupid show about stupid people doing stupid things and is a slap to any person born in the South. Other than that it is probably an epic in the minds of some.  However, while I have felt the heat swell on FB and the media over the comments one of the "rednecks," the silver lining for me has been seeing the collective, corporate uproar from Christians in our nation; something I have not witnessed in far too many years.  So for all the rights and wrongs of the whole matter, it was great to see people, like me, that claim Christ as our Savior, to rise up against the A&E approach to the comments. Personally, I think the entire channel should be banned when you look at the programming but will not venture down that gun barrel this morning.
Last evening my wife and I attended a live play of the great movie IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE. It was a bit long and a bit funny for it was staged as a live radio broadcast but that movie always takes me to a place I always wish to go in realizing what a beautiful thing life really is.  In the last two weeks I would imagine I have heard from well over three hundred former students wishing me well, updating me on their lives, seeking my advise; a Joy to me in knowing they are moving ahead with their lives with all its struggles and disappointments but you move on.
This week we, the family, learned that our son, Taylor, got confirmation that he has completed all the work for his Doctor of Ministry degree from Gordon-Conwell Seminary in Boston.  Our entire family has been on this journey in an array of ways so therefore this was such a blessing and my pride for my son could not be measured in human metric. He has worked diligently and prayerfully while fathering a young family, a wife, a church family and all that goes with that, coaches a basketball team. Just proud I am I am!!!
As I look at our Christmas tree with abundant wrapped gifts primarily for our five grand kids a few feet from me, I can envision the craziness and joy of Christmas morning when the entire herd is here. It is in that few minutes that I realize Christmas is real for it is the joy of the children that makes it real. My wife does a phenomenal job of assisting Santa each year and I know she loves it and that fact alone brings me great joy.
Reading some of the end of year letters from friends spread throughout the world is a joy as well for some have experienced great victories and others great loss but at the core is a love for Christ that supersedes those hurts  and disappointments.
This year I have found a renewed fervor and joy with the ministry work in the jails as another year has brought hundreds of men in orange jumpsuits and tan sandals into my reach. Getting to proclaim God's message in word and song and to see, to SEE, the touch of God on those captive lives lifts me each night.  Further seeing that predictably, group after group in the chapel will show an average of sixty percent to being admittedly addicted grabs me by the throat of our new reality staggers my mind. The grip of drugs in our culture today is insidious on a grand scale and far too many do not realize and far, far too many could care less.  Seeing all ages, colors, ethnicities, languages populate our jails and yet seeking to attend chapel services gives me a ray of hope. I and the men I work with feel such a burden of responsibility to say and do and be with those men and women what God would have us to be as example in hopes they will seek to emulate what they see when they get released.
In writing probably 300 letters of encouragement a year to some of these men and then to receive return letters from men from five, six, eight years ago some out of prison, some still serving life sentences but reading how God has invading Satan's space in their hearts and lives is what keeps me energized year after year.  2014 will be year of some new staffing of region churches to conduct the services and to see the excitement in more churches wanting to be part of this vital ministry is exhilarating. God is so good and this ministry is so very important; what a blessing to part of it now for almost ten years and over 200,000 prisoners; wow!!!!!
The Pathway Quartet has had a great year and looking forward to 2014 with special focus on the ministry of getting to sing in regional assisted living homes.  It is such a blessing but it is also a bit depressing in realizing so many of the wonderful elderly people are placed in these homes and are never visited by family and friends. These are still very viable, educated people that have experienced much and now find themselve alone as the days of their remaining lives slip away as a whisper. Seeing the tears, hearing the stories, feeling the hugs, the words of thanks makes all the work of readying the music worth it; a blessing! 
I titled this blog, You Will Never Crave Something Until you have Experienced it ... is so very, very true. There is a positive element of that and a very negative element of that reality.  My prayer is that each of you will find ways to experience something this next year that will change the path and course of some one's life and in so doing, you will develop a craving to want to expand and do more and more for serving like that can be wonderfully addicting.
As Alicia and I move toward our 66th birthday in March of next year, please know that it is such a joy to have so many friends throughout our world from so many walks of life that have touched us in very unique special ways.  I thought about developing a special list but chose to not do that for knowing I would miss someone.  I learned a life lesson the day our son graduated from Kent State from the Indian commencement speaker when he said, "I am a part of every person I have ever met."  So very true so I want to thank each of you for your touch on my life and my heart. As well, I want to thank each of you that have allowed me to have touch on and in your life; it is so humbling and IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE illustrates just how precious life is.
So when you hear a bell, maybe an angel does not have wings distributed but when you see a person hurting or in need, be part of that person's return to the good side in hope that they will play it forward.  The fields are truly ripened for harvest.  Seek to CRAVE by EXPERIENCING!
God is good, no wait, God is GREAT!