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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Now & Later – Part 4 of 4

Yes!

If you have been following my “Now & Later” Series you have made it to the final post…

Congrats are in order!

Basically the notion that we can have good friends both for now and later is not that incredibly deep. Many people have best friends for a lifetime. I wish my life worked that way. I think a person could have a best friend for life if both parties live in the same area their entire lives.

For me, it hasn’t really been possible to stay in the same place. I’ve tried. Believe me, I’ve tried. Somehow I got the reputation of being a bit on the ancy side when it comes to longevity vocationally and locationally. But you know, God’s will is the result of what happens while we are making other plans.

I tend to make a deep friendships – more than many acquaintances. Not that I am shy or socially awkward. I can flutter and flit with the best of them. But I get bored with being merely a social butterfly, barely landing on an individual’s shoulder long enough to get beyond the surface. I like to get deep. Yeah, I like deep. I like to really get real, honest, vulnerable.

“How you doin?” “No… really. Come on man… talk to me.”

Good or bad that’s what I like about human interaction. I hate it when someone is listening to you but their mind couldn’t be further away from you. I remember one time, I was sharing with a prof in college about my classes and some frustrations I was having with another teacher, and my prof fell asleep at his desk while I was in mid-sentence!

He fell asleep!

So I stopped talking and just stared at him.

Okay. So what does one do in moments like that? Should I start yelling? Should I, slip out of my chair and twinkle-toe-it outta there before he wakes up? Should I pour water over his head? Maybe I should have called “911”. But instead, I just stared at him. I was miffed. Finally he awoke and saw me staring at him. He shot right up and said almost on cue, “Well it sounds like your on the right track, brother.” I wished I had been telling him I was a horrible addict with a huge record of felonies. That would have made for an amusing reply from him, assuring me that I must be on the right track.

In his defense, I found out later that he had severe sleep-apnea. Ya think?

You see I’m not out to take from others. I do believe that when it comes to relationships, people are either givers or takers – they are either looking to get, or looking to give.

Ladies, try to stay away from the guys that are looking to get from you. Instead, look for the guys that are givers. I know, I know… easier said than done. Well I have had so many life-changing experiences that have deepened me, stretched me, and really made me more of a giver than a getter.

Have you noticed that those who are ‘getters” tend to keep all of their relationships at the surface level? They are too self-centered to think about giving to others. It would be way too inconvenient for them to give without getting back. I think Now & Later friendships have to be built on an equal exchange of giving and getting. Kinda like withdrawing money from your checking account – you cannot make withdrawals if you never make deposits.

Think about your friendships today. Have you been frustrated with very small withdrawals lately in those relationships? Maybe it’s time to make a big deposit in someone’s life today. Take a moment and write down someone who really could use a deposit from a friend. We all have those special people in our lives that have blessed us in the past.

I think it is time to make a deposit. It’s time to be a giver to that special person

I really hope that once you make that deposit, you will see that friendship grow in fresh new ways! I believe you will!

And when that happens, you will be the NOW & LATER friend that everybody wants!

That’s the real secret of friendships – give to others, even if they don’t always give back. If you ARE a good friend, you will HAVE more friends that you can handle!

Until next Series,

Jeff

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

I Got Your Back

“I got your back.”

I was listening to Jim Rome the other day on his syndicated radio sports talk show.

He was interviewing an athlete and said, “Hey bro, I got your back.” You know what he meant by that, right?

That’s how dudes tell each other they are loyal to them. I think it probably comes from the military idea of watching out for the other guy. You know, you are clad in your soldier garb, helmet, rifle and all – sitting in the foxhole in the jungle with the enemy firing all around. Your fellow soldier buddies are on all sides, shooting. It’s your turn to jump out of the foxhole and run over to the bullet-ridden army jeep that has extra ammo cases and retrieve them.

While you are literally running for your life, your fellow soldiers are supposed to “give you cover” or shoot at any and all possible enemy locations. In this way, they “got your back.”

I love this notion.

There is something ethical, moral and even spiritual about friends who “got your back.” That’s really what a true friend is – someone who has your back; in the midst of negative or critical comments or gossip, your friend is somehow able to say, “Yeah well I love that guy anyway. And I got their back.”

How do you feel when you find out a supposed “close friend” does not have your back? What do you do when a friend has perhaps turned against you in some way, or betrayed you in some manner?

Julius Caesar was totally shocked when his closest friend, Brutus, stabbed him in the back along with the Roman Senate. For some reason, in my mind it is easier to forgive Brutus for a political betrayal – after all, it wasn’t personal – just business! 🙂 I find most upsetting are the betrayals in which the motive is centered in jealousy, greed or fear.

When I see someone act like they are a close friend to someone, and then when not in their presence they clearly do not have their back, I really have a hard time with that. There are those who use friends like tools – they have their back for as long as they are useful to them in some way, but the minute they are no longer needed, suddenly they no longer have their back and they are dropped like a hot potato – put right back in the box of “I don’t have your back anymore”.

This is messed up. Right?

People who cannot keep any close friends often do this kind of thing – I think its a personality disorder. There are many “wolves” who stalk lonely women looking for someone to “have their back.” These guys come along and treat these women like they are queens, and then they drop them in the “I no longer have your back” box. Some men can juggle several women all at the same time in this way.

If you have a problem with this, I would take a good hard look inside – is it possible that you see others, including close friends, as a means to attain some kind of personal gain? If so, you know this is really a selfish way to operate. You don’t have anyone’s back.

Someday you will be in the foxhole and the crossfire will be more than you can bear. You will look back at your buddies and to your shock, you will be all alone with dead bodies. And guess what? They weren’t all just shot by the enemy – some you turned on and shot in the back when they were busy trying to protect your back.

And when the ammo runs out, you’re gonna have to get up and run. Good luck making it out of there alive.

Something to think about.

As always. 🙂

Jeff

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The Two Paths

You know how you are walking or biking down a new trail that you have never been on before and you come to that literal “fork in the road”?

If you are an adventurer like me, this is an exciting moment! “Two choices instead of one! My little adventure just got twice as exciting!”

I remember last year my wife and I were driving around some back roads of a national park, and we kinda got lost.

It was exciting however because we were in the mood to get “lost” even though we had a map and we knew we could find our way back if we needed.

It was fun.

Either path was about the same and generally took you back to the main public roads at a similar point.

Life also has paths. People today say, “There are many paths and they’re all good, they all generally get you to the same location – so what’s the big deal?”

Jesus said there were ultimately only two paths – two ways. With two gates. And he said they couldn’t be more different. (Matthew 7:13-14)

One way is wide and many take that path and it leads to destruction. Then Jesus said the other path is narrow, few take it, and it leads to life.

This Sunday I will be speaking in church at Rochester Assembly about these two paths and how in high school and just after graduation, I underestimated the seducing power of the path of destruction. I also realized some of my friends were going down with me.

I had been spared certain death twice. Also I was literally rescued out of a river as I floated face down in the water after passing out from over-intoxication – and I was selected to drive us home!

Nice!

Home was an hour drive. I got home finally after dropping off my drunk friends and laid in my bed, and squeezed on to the sides for fear I would fly off because my room was spinning about 100 mph! I have yet to find a ride at Disney that can equal the speed of that spinning bed!

I knew I was in trouble. I was depressed and unfulfilled and addicted.

Ultimately God spared me miraculously and in a moment my life was transformed as God met me in the middle of my hopelessness.

Soon after, I found a small group of people who had chosen the narrow path to life as well. For the next several years we were to walk that journey together and see amazing and wonderful things beyond my wildest imaginations.

But I never forget the power and addictive connection that the path of destruction had on my life.

I do not judge those who are caught in that path. It is wide, most people are on it, and it takes a miracle to be set free from it’s grasp!

Until next time!
Jeff

Forgive and Forget?

You grow up hearing this in elementary school, right?

“Oh, just forgive and forget.” Okay, I’ll get right on that. My problem is, I have a fairly detailed memory and very good recall and retention level. And my mother and my wife have an even greater memory than I do!

Maybe you are like me – you forgive and then remember forever.

One could say that if we have vivid memory of past offenses, it means we really haven’t truly forgiven. I think that is the case with many people today – they kind of “forget” the offense for the time being, but have not truly forgiven the trespasser from the heart. And when the occasion suits itself to think about that offense, we relive it and pick the offense back up, perhaps with more bitterness and anger than ever before.

So we first need to really GET THERE in terms of forgiving others from the heart. We literally let go of the offense, and choose to let God deal with the heavenly justice of the issue.

There are actually many people who are so afraid to be offended that they convince themselves that the offense never happened; yep – a little defense mechanism called DENIAL.

You need to admit the truth of the situation and accept the reality of it no matter how painful. Once you get there emotionally, you should struggle with some initial feelings of bitterness or anger. Immediately following this, you are ready to begin forgiving.

And when you forgive, of course the truth is you need to let the offender OFF THE HOOK. You need to release the offender. You need to give it to the Lord and let go of it. Just let go. That’s hard for us sometimes, right?

But will this mean we actually forget the offense ever happened? Don’t count on it.

Jesus said to forgive 70 times 7. That’s a lot of forgiving the same person for the same offense. But it makes sense with those of us who have vivid memories. Whenever you remember the offense, forgive. If it means forgiving every day, or every week, or every month the same person of the same issue, so be it.

That’s hard. It would be much easier if we could actually forget painful memories altogether.

Next time you think you have forgiven your neighbor and you recall their offense, forgive them again from your heart.

Who knows, you may eventually forget it ever happened.

Until next time,

Jeff