School of Joy

I’ll never forget the day I was told by my parents that I would be attending a new jr. high school.

I hoped against hope that I would be sent to a private school, or even the older jr. high school just one suburb away. But my worst fears came true when my Mom said, “Honey you are going to go to the new jr. high school next to our church!” I was not excited.

Why?

Hmmm. Maybe the fact that this new school was notorious for brutality, violence and lots of bullying. I was told the scary stories by some of my friends who were a year older than I. Some of them even had the scars to prove it. This school had 7th, 8th and 9th graders together.

Also, you know – I was the firstborn; for those of you who think that’s a great benefit or something, think again. What that really means is this – I got no one to watch my back. I didn’t have a bigger brother who had already cleared the way for me. I had to pioneer the trail myself – my two younger brothers would benefit from the path I trod. It was up to me to start things off. Sure, I had my dad. My dad could beat up anybody’s dad, right? 🙂 Well, that was not too far from the truth. But why would I put myself in the position of being constantly tormented for being a tattler? No way. I basically never told my parents my junk. I just told them the good news.

Just days before my first day of school, my nerves were frayed to the breaking point. I might have even been having a mild nervous breakdown. My stomach was acidy and taught. My appetite was gone. I counted down the days, hours and minutes. Finally my dad realized how hard it was for me and encouraged me that most likely my fears were in my mind, and this could be the start of a wonderful future.

That was a soothing thought.

Still I was unsettled.

The first day at the new Middle School finally came. Well, I got on the bus that morning with a growing feeling of hope and confidence. I looked around and analyzed each student. They all seemed pretty tame to me.

The bus arrived at the drop-off area, and we all got out. One at a time, we sauntered single-file toward the entrance of the school. The first thing that struck me from the outside was how nice and clean it was. The building, I mean. Lots of glass. And a huge gymnasium – as big as most college gymnasiums. I was impressed. I always loved gym class.

As we got about 30 feet from the door, the line suddenly took a sudden left. We were now being directed to a side entrance door. No worries. There were several entrance doors.

I looked back and saw that in actuality, a few of us got diverted by some crazy kid up ahead. I was maybe the 3rd kid in a line of 5. The rest still entered through the main entrance. I didn’t give it a second thought and reached out for the door handle.

Now the deal about this entrance was that there was a “breeze way” style set up with inside doors and outside doors. I had reached out for the outside door handle, and began to enter this “breeze way” area. The next few moments were all a blur, I must confess. I vaguely recall the person in front of me jumping up and then screaming. I didn’t know what he was so worked-up about. Maybe he was just so excited to walk into that school.

It was then that I felt – it. Oh, I felt it!

A burning sensation suddenly pierced my right tricep. I could feel a massive clamp pinching down on my clothing and my flesh. I shouted out loud – pretty much exactly the way the kid in front of me had done.

And then, I saw – him!

This crazy 9th-grade kid was standing there between the inside and outside doors with a large firewood scissors/clamp. It shrunk to about 2 feet when retracted, and when extended, it would reach out to 6 feet or more! And even worse, at it’s full extension, the two ends would come together like a gigantic clamp.

I couldn’t believe my eyes! I wasn’t even in the school building and already, I was bleeding!

Bleeding! My first day of school! My first moment of school! Bullies so advanced and trained, they were located at every jr. high orface – probably with walkie talkies all in sync, just waiting to beat me up! Turns out the rumors about this school were not only true, they were horrendously under-played!

The first thing that entered my mind was this question, “Where is the nurses’ office?”

Throughout that first day, I witnessed people getting slammed into walls, getting their books kicked out from under their arms and scattered across the hallway floors, only to be further kicked and punted down the hallways by the rest of the crammed throng of jr. high youth. These kids were so mean, I wondered why didn’t we send junior highers into war to fight for our country instead of innocent 18-year old boys?

I wondered what those poor kids felt like when their books were kicked out of their hands? But not to worry – before long I was soon to find out for myself time and time again.

As a 7th grader, I got straight A’s my first semester – and it all went downhill from there. I was getting C’s throughout the rest of my years at this school. And the biggest reason for my scholastic decline was most definitely the numerous bullies who made me their main target.

The adults in the school were not unlike teachers anywhere. They would sometimes stand up for me, but most of the time they just stayed with the other teachers in the teachers lounge.

And so it was, my first day of school was complete. I had three more years of this treatment to look forward to. When I got off the bus, I walked up the driveway and into my house, where my mother greeted me as she asked,

“How was your first day of school, Jeff?”

“It was… great.”

Ha ha.

Tell you what, I will tell you PART II of MY EVIL SCHOOL! There are many, many more horror stories believe me!

See you next time!

Jeff

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The Cops

We see the cops in the media often lately.

What are they usually doing?

Beating someone up, choking them… Sometimes killing them.

I’m sure that bothers you like it bothers me. We need a new mode of thinking and training for police. They cannot go beyond what the law allows.

I mean, pulling a gun out and emptying the bullet chambers as a suspect flees – just because you feel unsafe, this is not acceptable. These policemen should be tried for murder and permanently removed from law enforcement – period.

But let me tell you something else… Something you already know…

Putting our law enforcement officials in harm’s way in today’s culture is a lot like putting our young men in Vietnam back in the ’60’s and 70’s – the enemy is all around them. Families including children were all part of the war effort. You had no idea if some little girl was offering a gift or a bomb wrapped in a package. Crazy, right? Crazy war. How could entire families be part of that war against American-supported, pro-democratic South Vietnam?

Before we look down on the Vietnamese people – let’s get real for a moment. So you’re telling me that Vietnamese people who were in support of their homeland but on the communist side, were crazy for not remaining neutral bystanders? Can you imagine Russians invading the USA? Are you really naive enough to think we would all remain “neutral” innocent bystanders and let the uniformed soldiers fight their own battles?

But I digress from my main point – that we need to gain some kind of understanding of what is going on in the minds of today’s law enforcers just as we understand the psychology of our anxious and frustrated soldiers in Vietnam a few decades ago.

It is not only understandable that police officers sometimes lose their senses and misuse their authority – it can almost be expected when in a very hostile neighborhood.

“HOOD” LIVING

I have many friends that live in some of the most dangerous “hoods” in America. In fact, in the 1990s I put my money where my mouth was, and moved into an area right next to a “hood” so that I could relate to them in a real way.

So much to say here – wow. It changes your perspective to say the least. First of all, it was no longer them but “us” in my mind when I thought about gangs in the hood; inner-city living; whatever you want to call it.

Secondly there is no denying that when an block or street or neighborhood begins to grow in violence and dangerous activity, everyone loses. Property values go down, businesses leave, urban decay begins its cancerous spread. And everyone suffers for it.

I don’t have any answers. But if the only time an authority figure is seen in most “hoods” is when they are sent in to stop a serious situation. It’s only natural to distrust them and the image of what begins to develop in the minds of kids and adults in the hood.

If you never see your daddy around unless he is very angry, well of course that relationship is going to break down and unravel. Of course both sides will be totally polarized. Of course police will not trust anyone in that area and of course no one on that area will trust the police.

REBEL NATION

When I was growing up it was in vogue to be a rebel. Smokey and the Bandit came out in 1977. It was an obvious caracature of the law as arrogant and pompous idiots who can’t fight their way out of a paper bag. But man, was it entertaining!

Then Star Wars came out that same year. Who were the bad guys? The Imperial Empire – and the bad guys? The Rebellion! Luke Skywalker was a rebel! We love us our rebels!

Even the popular cop shows on today – the only cool cop is the one who ends up fighting cops himself!

It’s American to rebel, dag-nabbit!

In fact, that’s how we got here in the first place right? Rebelling against our Englush authorities in the 1600’s. Yes, we understand rebellion quite well, thank you! “Taxation without representation? No thank you, Pappa Brit! Toss them tea bags in the Boston harbor boys!”

Look at Westerns – the lone gunfighter riding out into the horizon with his six guns packin’! I can hear that ‘rebel’ played by Bruce Willis in the “Die Hard” movies yelling at the cops right now.

So you see, we sometimes reap what we sow.

OUR HYPOCRISY

We Americans live in this hypocritical dichotomy – on the one hand, we perhaps more than any other nation in history live in safety and creature comforts because many young men took the bullet, the bomb, the lethal booby trap that was meant for us.

We daily rely on the ongoing sacrifices of other men and women who were selfless enough to allow their bodies to be destroyed for our freedoms. But then we turn around and act like it was no big deal. In fact, “I am a pacifist” is not literally possible in the USA; if you paid or ever have paid any taxes to the Federal government, it’s too late. You hire people with guns to keep you safe – YOU DO IT!

Let’s get down to brass tacks – SOLDIERS are only “hired guns” sent out to protect YOU! I understand, okay… I get that you can say, “Well, that’s not me behind that stuff, that’s our crazy political leaders making decisions on their own.” Yeah but, they are all voted in. So, you may not have voted for certain leaders, but you enjoy the fringe benefits and blessings and perks of living in a nation that voted for them.

Cops in your hood? C’mon, every US citizen depends on local authorities, police to defend, protect and keep us safe. They carry a gun so that you don’t have to. They shoot the guys with the gun and will and determination to come to your dwelling and do great harm to everything and everyone you hold dear.

So – don’t tell me you are against guns and violence on a moral standpoint, if you are a US citizen. I would say – move to another country if you want to remove yourself from your conflicted, dichotomized hypocrisy.

I get that we don’t trust authority. I get that we enjoy our rebellion psychology. I understand not liking officer of the law soldiers who have never shown any kind of selflessness in our defense.

But I don’t get not appreciating and respecting those people who willingly take the bullet aimed at your head. That – I don’t get.

That – is the reality. You can lump every authority together if you want to.  But I think there is a world of difference between these two kinds of authority figures.

One day there was a rebel who walked the earth, calling out corrupt and evil authorities. He was embraced by the lower class and the down and outers. He took interest in their situation. He cared about their problems. He lived with them and walked with them. He socialized with them and was considered one of them by these corrupted authorities.

And finally he was killed by death on a cross by the authorities. But one soldier bent his knees and cried out “surely this man was the Son of God!”

Jesus did not side with all the authorities, yet he never broke the law. He never acted out in violence. He was innocent, yet made a great difference in the lives of the most needy.

What we need today in our cities is to “cry out” to Jesus and asked him to walk among our most needy places once again.

In answer to that prayer, he might just come in the form of you and I.

Till next time

Jeff

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“HH Polizeihauptmeister MZ” by Daniel Schwen – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:HH_Polizeihauptmeister_MZ.jpg#/media/File:HH_Polizeihauptmeister_MZ.jpg

Changes Remain

Things change.

I’ll never forget the day my dad was taking pictures of us kids during Christmas – and the Polaroid camera he was using was out of film. And one of us just volunteered our cell phone.  He was in awe of the technology shift that had yet again taken place.

Even digital cameras had already become yesterday’s news – now our phones had better technology. You snooze, you loose – is today’s technology mantra. Another way to say it, I guess.

Today, our lives are on a rapid merry-go-round. We get acclimated to a new job, or a new home, new child, new neighborhood, new neighbors, new government leadership… and then – things change.  And next, we are back to the unknown – fear and doubt attack our minds and we once again must face our fears, take a step of faith, and hope it works out.  Well, with God it does work out. We know he is able. The kicker question is this: will we choose to trust and obey?

Our grandparents and great grandparents were probably one of the first generations to face multiple major changes in the world. One could argue that this past century our earth has been through as many changes as all previous centuries put together. It’s amazing to think that before this, “normal” included having the same job until you retire, living in one home, in the same state (if not town) for the duration. Today, changes happen at a rapid pace. Entire families can fly to the other side of the world on whim and start fresh and anew.

Maybe this explains the growing lack of concentration in many people today – a condition that may include various forms of ADHD. Soon change will be so normal, that when some remains for even a period of several months, people won’t be able to handle the boredom. “Give me change now!”

As you wrap your head around “life in 2015” I hope you take time to pray and ask God to give you clear direction on where He wants you to be.  He may bring big changes that you didn’t expect. The good news is He is more than able to help you adapt and embrace the change.  Until next time, Jeff

Dreaming

MLK Jr. had a dream.

He spoke it so eloquently at the 1963 March on Washington Capital for Equal Rights. He dreamed that people of every race would be able to declare in the words of that old spiritual, “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty! We are free at last!”

I have this reoccurring dream that I have dreamt for most of my adult life. It’s pretty hilarious! Let me try to explain it:

My dream can take place in various settings and situations, but the essence of it is the same: I am in some sort of physical danger – running from Police, barking dogs, angry employees (and I don’t even have my own business) church members, dinosaurs, headless horseman, Darth Vader, Jaws… it can be and has been any kind of chase scenario you might imagine in your head.

They are after me, you see.

For whatever reason, be it something good or something bad, they are out to get me! They are chasing me. But Im not afraid. At all! What?

Yeah and in fact, the most negative feeling I can ever recall during one of these dreams is maybe some anxiety. But even that is just part of the pleasure. And, its so funny. They have no clue – they think they are gonna catch me! And I pity them. Ha ha ha. They never are able to catch me!

Just when I got them thinking that they are going to catch me, I do what comes naturally and so easy to me… it hardly takes any effort – I simply lift my legs up at the knee, look up, put a little tension in the arches of my feet, and I begin to fly! Woo hoo! It’s amazing!

Now I can fly two feet in the air, three feet, ten feet… I have even flown as high as one hundred feet above them all! And they can’t catch me! They are so mad, so angry. But I look back and smile. They had no clue they were chasing “Jeff – the flying man!”

This may sound ridiculous (and, it is of course) but in the middle of my dream, I am certain that it is real. In fact it takes a few minutes to realize I was dreaming when I first wake up after such a crazy adventure in my subconscious.

Dreams are like that. They are unrealistic fantasies that have no basis in reality – yet.

Hey, let’s ease up on dreams for just a moment. We give those dreams a bad rap. My cousin became a pilot in his twenties and flew with the Blue Angels. He was and is a commercial airline pilot. My dream my be just fantasy to me, but my cousin made this dream HIS REALITY.

And in fact, if I really wanted to, I could go purchase a para-sail rig or something of the like and actually soar over it all for a while.

For me, flying is a fantasy and not actually something I want to do. I like my GROUND just fine, thank you!

But I do have other dreams, that are crazy at first thought, but have various opportunities to make them a reality to me, if I pursue them. I always wanted to direct a movie. But it was just a dream! I would actually day-dream about this for years. I finally realized, I could make it a reality if I gave it my best effort.

So I did. You can see my film trailer at www.heartofthecitymovie.com

It took a long time, and created more dreams in my heart. I now want to make another film that is a commercial success. I actually have many friends and family that did not see my dream of directing film as valid unless my film became the low budget miracle of the ages and hit the big time – like a movie I must confess, I like a lot – “Facing The Giants”.

I have dreamed that my movie would have had the success that Facing the Giants has had. But that has not been the case, yet. On the other hand, before “Facing the Giants” these filmmakers made “Flywheel”. Never heard of it? Thats because you really can’t make your first film into the blockbuster miracle. That’s where you learn all of the mistakes and realities of distribution, marketing, film production. Imagine if Thomas Edison was only allowed to make one successful test of the light bulb? We would be still traveling on horseback and using torches for light.

Broadway will never take an unproduced play for that very reason – somebody has to do the grunt work of developing, testing, fine tuning and tweaking that play on smaller stages. When something makes it to Broadway, it must be pristine and basically perfect.

Another thing that is a known principle in Hollywood is that you must make the 1000 dollar movie to make the 10,000 film. Then you must make the $10,000 film before you can make the $100,000 film. Then you must make the $100,000 film before you can make the Million Dollar film. Every filmmaker must grow this way. Very seldom does a new filmmaker make a multi-million dollar budget film on their first try.

If this is the case, I’m ready to make my Million dollar film! (but not with my own money! hint hint) Now, I may make another movie. But then again, I may not. Either way, for me, my dream of directing a full length feature film that played in several festivals and venues was a reality.

Do you have a dream? Does it seem too good to be true? If not, it is not a dream.

So follow MLK Jr’s example today and make it the best reality you can.

Until next time,

Jeff

A Few Feet Away

Just a couple of feet away.

That’s all that separated my grandfather from instant eternity as he fought in the trenches of France during World War I.

Starting in 1914 and lasting 4 years up to 1918, ” The Great War” was an unbelievably brutal conflict in which Germany fought Britain, The United States and other Allied nations along a long trench that split the geography of France. This “trench warfare” really had no complete victory as both sides pummeled the other with mortar shells, grenades, cannons, mustard gas and other chemical explosives, and various kinds of guns, ultimately amounting to a stalemate war of attrition.

War technology advanced 20 years ahead within that four-year span. By 1918 tanks, planes, armor, guns, and modern battle strategy had surpassed the old ways of direct combat, trenches, armies fighting row upon row et.

But sadly for my grandfather, he was drafted at age 18 and sent to live, fight and hopefully survive the gruesome reality of the trench.

A great amount of fatalities and casualties that occurred in the trenches involved exploding shells. Sometimes these shells would explode a few feet above the heads of soldiers, blowing their heads apart like watermelon. New steal helmets helped in some circumstances, but anyone who spent any amount of time fighting in those trenches saw plenty of awful and unsightly deaths.

As my grandfather was walking in the trench one day, some shells began to hit very close to where he was. And then suddenly, he heard a shell coming right for him! He tried to run away, but it was too close to him – it blew him sideways immediately and his fellow soldiers figured he was dead.

Thankfully, the shell did not hit him directly, but hit just a matter of feet on the floor of the trench. Instead of blowing his head off, it just blew hundreds of pieces of shrapnel into his lower leg.

He was taken out of the trench and to the medical area immediately. The doctors did everything they could to save his leg. But they were unsure – time would tell depending on healing and infection. Thankfully the leg was intact and he was able to hobble along.

Before long his leg had healed up and he was able to have full use of both legs throughout his life. The only minor nuisance he had to deal with the rest of his life was chronic pain.

I recall as a youngster, grandpa Ray used to bandage up his leg every morning. But when we were present, he would first let us have a look at his leg. It was constantly swollen, red with many tiny dark speckles of metal and lumpy from the permanent scarring. Hundreds of tiny pieces of shrapnel from the Great War in France were a permanent reminder of what grandpa Ray endured as a teenager for his nation.

I tell you this story not so much from a patriotic standpoint today, but maybe even more from the aspect of divine providence. You and I are not alive today by accident. We are intentionally here for a reason. My grandfather made some unfathomably selfless decisions for the good of humanity.

The fact that I am alive today because my grandfather was a few feet away from annihilation – well, that gives me pause for contemplating my purpose and my destiny.

Life is precious. We all have the ability to make a difference in positive ways. Those who live to bring death and destruction to this planet, well all I can say is it is a total waste of their good fortune of even being allowed to live on this third rock from the Sun.

I am very proud of my grandfather and his willingness to give even his own life for the cause of worldwide freedom.

And I realize today that I must follow in his steps, and live for the betterment of others.

For I am only here on this planet by the difference of few feet.

Until next time,

Jeff

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Are You Dressed Up?

I remember hearing that phrase over and over every Sunday morning when my mom and dad would get us three boys ready for church.

Like most good church-goers, my family strongly adhered to the popular adage – “look your Sunday best for God.” And we did. Every Sunday, we wore clothes that we would never otherwise wear outside of funerals and weddings.

Well, outside of Sundays we were your typical pre-adolescent boys – pretty much dirty and grimy after a long hard hour or two of kick-ball, swimming, tree climbing, crayfish hunting, sewage tunnel exploring, and of course motocross bicycle riding.

Another common phrase that is heard in many such households on any given Sunday is “you need to dress nicely out of respect for the temple of The Lord! When you are in a God’s house you behave respectfully and dress appropriately.”

So… My adolescent takeaway was this – God only wanted to be around us when we were in His “house”, clean and showered and “dressed appropriately.”

This is how I grew up in my perception of who God was. I saw Him as an out-of- touch, distant Father who only cared about me when I was in His temple looking a certain way on the outside.

Now let me just say, I have no problem with dressing nice in church or being respectful in a house of worship. But I think many people today have the same experience as I have had regarding God and church – Over time a message begins to become ingrained in our minds, even unconsciously, that would evolve into a total misconception of who God is and what He truly cares about.

Juxtaposed to this vision, I also found myself as an adolescent drawn to the lowly child who was born in a stable named Jesus. Jesus seemed to be comfortable associating with the dirty, filthy, lowly people of the world – like me. So much so that the religious leaders of his day condemned him. He showed compassion to those who were regarded as “unclean” and unfit to even walk into the local houses of worship.

This Jesus didn’t seem to dress as nicely as the Pharisees. They had impressive religious garb and looked down on him for not looking as good as they did. And he greeted lepers and other unclean pagans and even hung out with them.

To a God who I was brought up to believe was mostly impressed with people who dressed the best and acted respectfully when in his house, this Jesus wound have and should have deeply offended.

And then the kicker was this – Jesus finally made the most audacious claim hitherto as he boasted to his disciple Philip who asked him to “show us what God is really like” when he replied, “Philip when you have seen me, you have seen the Father. ”

What?

What about dressing up nicely for a God who cared about how nice I looked on the outside? What about the God who wanted me to be quiet and reverent when in His temple?

How can this non- conformist claim to be the very representation of God? He was born so poorly that his crib was filled with straw from a dirty stable! His earthly arrival was so inauspicious that he couldn’t even “get a room”!

This law breaking Rabbi who told everyone to allow their own hearts to be the temple of God – this was not at all the same message I had grown up hearing!

A tension is upon you and I that is quite literally a fork-in-the-road moment: will we continue to follow the ideas of this off-the-wall Jesus, or will we go the other way and keep in the old-school view of a distant God who might give you some attention if you dress up nicely and get into a beautiful house of worship first?

Which way will you go?

Next Sunday when you and I get “dressed up for church” and act reverently, keep in mind our namesake (Jesus Christ) dressed up nicely when it was appropriate to do so , but his lifestyle certainly carried this “respect for God and his house” over to every area of his daily walk – including showing compassion for the dirty and lowly people.

These same people might very well end up sitting in the same pew next to you.

What will you think? What will you do?

As Hamlet claimed, “that – is the question. ”

Until next time,

Jeff

The Secret is Caring

Good Day to you!

It’s kinda nice to have someone give us a nice warm greeting each day, isn’t it?

I once knocked on a door of someone’s home as I was inviting people to a special event at our church, and was quite shocked when the owner of the home opened the door and, before I could say a word, launched into a multi-syllable cuss fest about how much of a “hypocrite you are for walking across the street from your church to talk to me when you could care less about me! You just want to show everyone you are better than them and act like you are so holy!”

This tirade went on for about five minutes, but lasted for an eternity – it seemed to me anyway. The funny thing was, this was decades earlier when our society wasn’t quite as turned off to cold call invitations. But this house was maybe a few hundred feet from our church building. I was totally shocked to hear such negative words directed at my character.

I have since learned to not take this kind of thing personally (I very much recommend a special brand of duck-feather oil – you will live a happier and longer life!)

Anyhoo… yeah, this blew a little wind out of my sails at the time. What shocked me was that this lady had me all wrong. Or did she?

As I considered her words, I realized that she was wrong in that I wasn’t out there to make anyone feel bad, or think i was more holy than they. I was out to merely be used by God to offer eternal hope to people.

At the same time, she was also right – I did NOT care about her personally. I mean, how could I? I had never met her. Sometimes we need to show people we care before we do anything else. This woman had probably been preached to and “evangelized” many times before by well-meaning church people, or others not as well-meaning.

I have learned that I need God’s compassion for others. I have seen that when I show someone care, concern, compassion, they are very open to hearing anything I have to say.

I used to think it was what I KNEW that would change the world. Now I know that it isn’t about what I KNOW, its about how deeply I CARE. True love and compassion has moved many mountains in our world.

Ask God to give you His compassion for others. And then, once you care, ask Him to show you how to show that love and concern.

The secret lies not in KNOWING, the SECRET IS – CARING!

Until Next Time
Jeff

Check out updates for my upcoming book with co-author MIKE STEHR at https://www.facebook.com/GetTheLifeBook


Now & Later – Part 3 of 4

So where was I?

Oh yes! Now and Later candy. Yummy. Can use, re-use… even re-re-use.

Only thing is – it will screw up your dental work! Man I could tell you stories of when our mouths would lock up during a Now & Later chewing episode. I remember I used to get scared as I would be chewing away and then after stopping for a rest, my teeth would suddenly bond! I tried and tried to re-open my mouth. But to no avail! The Now & Later candy had fused my teeth together! Lowers stuck to uppers forever and ever AMEN!

I remember in my wonder years that this would almost send me into panic attack – wondering would I ever be able to eat again. Or would I have to get a pry bar and rip it all apart and sort my extracted teeth out later!

I think they could use Now & Later candy as a NASA commercial-grade glue on the space shuttle. Or maybe as a fastener for high speed engines in NASCAR. The stuff is beyond sticky. I could take you to my parents home where we grow up and show you the Now & Later spots in their carpet where that stuff fell, never to be retrieved again. Once it sticks, that’s it until Jesus comes back!

So likewise should great friends stick together.

Friends are to be friends forever (as the Michael W. Smith song says), but many times we just move on to the new friends. Right? “Old friends, meh… what do we need them for? Their OLD!” We want NEW everything in America.

The value of old friends however, goes far beyond the “honeymoon phase”…

Proverbs 17:9 says “Whoever would foster love covers over an offense, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends.” (New NIV)

I recall a time I was struggling with an offense that a very dear friend had done to me. It was quite severe, at least to me and how I experienced it on the receiving end. But at the same time, the close friend that committed this act against me very likely didn’t realize it, and possibly was going through enormous pressure with other things that were tearing their personal life apart at that time. Even though I knew this, the offense still was very real and raw and I pulled away from this friend for a couple years. We didn’t even speak; which was mostly on my end, since the friend would sometimes try to reach out in small ways.

But I wanted them to apologize.

Then I read this verse in Proverbs 17:9 (CAUTION: Beware of just randomly reading your Bible on a given day! You will get hit with a truth bomb like a submarine running into an enemy depth charge! Ha ha. Just kidding. That’s the goal, right?).

I thought about my friend immediately as the Holy Spirit brought… not really conviction, but just a very sweet reasoning. “So Jeff, you and this person were amazing friends for a long time, right?” I had to admit we were. “This person has done more for you than almost anyone has in your entire life.” I thought, yes that is true. Then this douzy hit me – “Jeff, this friend will never ask for forgiveness for this sin. It was way off their radar screen at the time. You do need to forgive them. They did sin against you. But it was more of an unconscious act on their part. They won’t ever understand your side. And it happened several years ago. They wont remember the details of it. Is it worth it to let this sin separate you two forever?”

I had to admit that I valued the friendship much more than holding on to the offense. So I contacted my friend.

To this day we are good friends and our relationship is back on track. I think I would have lost that friendship forever. And NO – I did not bring up that offense!

Maybe you are not like me, maybe you cannot forgive sins that are committed against you by someone close to you. Some sins are obviously much more severe in consequence. But also it is true that EVERY GREAT RELATIONSHIP will be tested by potential offenses on both parties. No one is perfect.

The skill of friendship lies in being able to forgive, as well as communicate offenses in a loving way when its appropriate. This verse suggests as well that their are some offenses that should not even be communicated, just forgiven and forgotten.

We can talk about boundaries and earning the right to be brought into a closer circle of depth in regards to friendships. But for certain kinds of issues, we sometimes need to just move on, and love, and forgive and just – DROP IT ALREADY!

Tune in next time as I address NOW & LATER – PART 4 of 4!

Jeff

Christmas as Unusual

Christmas is here!

When I think back to previous Christmas Days, several memories come to mind. Of course I enjoy being with family, opening gifts, and eating delicious family dinners. Those are the “usual” activities that happen each year. No, I think it’s those unexpected unusual experiences that are most memorable.

I recall as a young single youth pastor I was once approached by some pretty college ladies in our church who were putting on a special Christmas event. Well, they already had my attention, so I was already going to say yes to almost anything. Somehow they talked me and two other single guys into dressing up like “Alvin & the Chipmunks” and singing AND DANCING a karaoke version of the “Chipmunk Christmas” song.

You have GOT to be kidding me – I actually agreed to do this!

So anyhoo, we practiced with the girl who was the director of the evening. She went through the choreography and song with us a few nights before. I was so embarrassed! How could we have allowed ourselves to do this?

Well, the night we dreaded finally came – and soon we were next on the docket to do our routine on stage – live!

I will never forget the look on my two buddies faces (I think I played Alvin) – There they were in full chipmunk costume, with their faces painted to look like Simon and Theodore, staring at me with this look as if they were saying, “I cant believe we were stupid enough to agree to this nonense!”

The song began and a ROAR of LAUGHTER came from the audience! They soon figured out it was us dressed as the Chipmunks. I wanted to crawl in a hole and stay their for a few months! But as we continued, the crowd started to sing along and cheer and clap and we were now really rockin’ it!

Well we went through the entire song and got alot of laughs and shouts and screams. It wasn’t so bad after all. We were the hit of the night!

Turns out many people remembered that crazy performance for years after that. I have had more people than I would have imagined stop me and tell me about how that memory has really endured in their minds. I don’t know how it became a fond memory instead of a nightmare, but there you have it. I do know, however, that I will never subject myself to a repeat performance this side of heaven!

But I do think of this memory with fondness in spite of it all because I saw how it bonded many people together.

We know that Christmas is supposed to be about giving rather than receiving. But I will never cease to be amazed how often I receive so much more when I do give to others. Sometimes that gift can even be a karaoke version of “The Chipmunk’s Christmas Song” in full costume, or something like it.

And when we give of ourselves to others, we truly let the reason for the season have the spotlight – we give because God first gave to us.

I pray that this Christmas season will be full of opportunities for you to receive as you give!

Merry Christmas!
Jeff

Thanksgiving Training Day

Yep.

I went to Training School to learn my Thanksgiving skills.

I was schooled and sharpened; re-tooled, tried and tested by my own mother. She was a Thanksgiving Meal Master. She has been taught in the school of amazing Thanksgiving deliciousness by her mother – my grandmother, a Jedi Thanksgiving cook in her own right.

You could set the Thanksgiving Day raw ingredients in front of the average male, and they would croak under pressure, moan under total cluelessness. They could haul the giant bird up from the freezer and take the plastic wrap off. After that, they would just back away and watch football on the TV. The men in our extended family could lift and haul and peal, but they could not turn the frozen and uncooked elements into the fabulous food finale’ that my grandmother and mother could.

The first few years, I was content to merely enjoy the deliciousness and experience the dining ecstasy. But the day came when I was now old enough to be trained. My mother had no daughters. I was first in line. My number was called, my draft card was issued. It was time to step into the Thanksgiving master cook arena. It was time to sink or swim! Cook or be cooked!

At the crack of Thanksgiving Day dawn, my mother arose. Since I was now in basic training, she burst into my room and woke me up. “Time to get the turkey ready.” Oh, she said it nice enough. But I knew what the stakes were. Anytime I had to get up before dawn, I knew it was serious. I was still half-asleep. But I looked into my mother’s eyes. Her countenance said it all. “Game on!”

I was amazed how easily my mother put together the stuffing – a mix of soft bread pudding with perfectly cooked celery and the most pleasantly aromatic sage and onion smell I had ever experienced. I watched her stuff the bird in holes I never knew existed. Turns out God designed this bird to be so perfect for this magical stuffing-manna from heaven. She had figured out a way to make the stuffing the night before so that it seemed to appear out of nowhere. And they say mom’s aren’t magicians!

Then we went to the potatoes. Two million potatoes (it seemed to me) were pealed and polished. The scraps filled up three full garbage bags, I think. Then the peeled potatoes were put into a gigantic pot and boiled for a long, long time. Our family tradition included making scalloped corn and candied sweet potatoes. I have no idea how she made those dishes. The corn was succulent and salty, and the sweet potatoes were rich and luscious. No mortal could create such divine offerings.

When I thought I could not take one more culinary wonder, my mother pulled out a light saber looking knife and went into the cooked turkey – cutting slices of meat so tasty, I could not tell if the juices that seeped forth from each bite were from the fantastic fowl or from my own salivating mouth. To add more insult to outlandish injury, she created a supernatural sauce so succulent, so pungent, I felt my heart skipping beats and racing faster and faster! Yes, she called it gravy, I called it “glorious.”

It was amazing to watch this feast come together on a great table – one that had to be specially built by commercial contractors just to fit all of the food on one place. We sat down for the meal. Dad would pray that we wouldn’t die from delight. And yes, of course we were thankful. Thankful to live in a country that could come up with a holiday so wonderful.

We ate and ate and ate. When the meal was over, paramedics would come and check our pulse, to see if we were still alive. If we were, as was usually the case, mom would then bring in the crème de la crème – The Pumpkin Pie!

No way! I was sure this was a secret plot to assassinate all of us. What a clever way to kill someone, and yet be totally innocent of any wrongdoing! The truth is, we loved it of course. The men looked at their huge stomachs, and for a moment had the sense to say “No way” to dessert just after total engorgement. But at the end of the day, resistance is futile. We all knew we would not only eat one piece, but two!

And just to make it irresistible, Mom would take her last trick up her sleeve – whipping cream! She would put that on top of the pie! A bright light would shine forth from her hand and it would totally wipe out all other sights or senses. We had no will left. Men, with five pounds of food undigested still in their bellies, would then eat even more pieces of pumpkin pie!

Mom had not eaten yet. She was the orchestrator of this great production. When it was over, everyone was slumped in their chairs, totally unconscious. If my memory is correct, at least once I saw her leap into the air, spinning sideways twice around (Yes, a 720!) and landed with the light saber knife extended – exhaling a victorious wheeze that would make Bruce Lee envious!

Perhaps I have exaggerated some of this in my distant memory, but that is how my ten-year old brain remembered it.

Because you see, I was trained in the fine art of Thanksgiving Day Feasts. This Thanksgiving, I will prepare the bird for the 35th time, I will perform the same miracles my mother and grandmother did. I am no chef, but when it comes to Thanksgiving, you better watch out. I got my game face on, and my light saber knife is all charged up and ready for some mean meat trimming!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Jeff