Category: Personal

Courage – evidence you are ready for life’s greatest challenges

CourageMost of us don’t really understand what courage is, and few of us rarely if ever see ourselves as very courageous. I think that’s because courage most often shows itself when a person faces a challenge that they didn’t foresee – maybe even a situation that they would prefer not being in if they had their druthers – yet one that they won’t turn and run from. I don’t think it’s an independent characteristic of a man or woman. I think it’s a fruit that blossoms forth to “prove” to both the individual and those around them their integrity, credibility, faithfulness and sincerity in what and in whom they believe.

These past few days I’ve witnessed true courage in a number of different settings. I saw it in a young man a few days after his mother was gunned down by a racist fanatic in a Sorth Carolina church – when he spoke of forgiveness and God’s love. I read it in the words of the Supreme Court justices who disagreed with a recent majority decision, who were not deterred by the anticipated criticism and vitriol of the mainstream media. I saw it on display when a state police sergeant made an on-the-spot decision to take down a man he believed was an escaping prisoner before he disappeared back into the woods. Had the officer been wrong, had the man instead been a homeless person just reacting to his fear of law enforcement in general, the officer would most certainly have been viciously attacked by those intent on finding fault in every such decision and behavior. But as so many of his law enforcement brothers and sisters do every day in spite of the severe criticism and the watchful eyes around them, he went about his job focused on protecting the innocent. Finally, I saw courage in a young man who for the past three of his mere twenty-two years of life, left the comforts of metro-Detroit suburbia to venture into one of the poorest neighborhoods of Mexico to minister to the needs of its children. Daniel’s courage is evident every day, but for me it budded forth when he set up a “gofundme” account to cover the costs of taking a group of his kids outside the slums they lived in for a week of camp, promising to humble himself in his physical appearance in exchange for peoples’ support.

As I stated earlier, few of us rarely if ever see ourselves as very courageous. Jesus put it this way: “Someday you will be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles. But when they deliver you up, do not worry about how or what you should speak. For it will be given to you in that hour what you should speak; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you.” In other words, if you’re sincere in your beliefs and faithful to the One in whom you believe, if you’re a person of integrity and faithfulness, then courage and wisdom will be manifest in the words of your mouth and in your actions – because they’re already buried deep in your heart. You’ll say the right thing; you’ll do the right thing.

I see courage in everyday people that they likely don’t see in themselves. I see it in my daughter as she balances a life of teaching middle school youngsters at the same time as she faces the challenges of raising three young children and pleasing a sport’s enthusiast husband. I see it in my oldest son who gave up a stable career as an engineer to evangelize on the campuses and streets around the world. I see it in my youngest son who was saddled with several physical and medical issues from a very young age; yet attained the highest rank in scouting, graduated from college, established a career in the arts and works hard in a difficult economy to earn supplementary income – all the while his compassionate heart causes him to help those in even more difficult circumstances than his own. And I see it in my wife who, in the face of numerous setbacks continues to pursue the vision God gave her for a ministry that brings people of all Christian faiths together to honor their Savior.

Perhaps you’re much more courageous than you think! The young man in Sorth Carolina would have easily given up his ten minutes of fame at a microphone to have his mother with him that day. I’m sure the minority in that Supreme Court decision would have much rather gone home that afternoon and not touched off the vindictiveness of the Left against them personally. The state police sergeant would much rather have had one of his friends be faced with making the on-the-spot decision whether or not to fire his weapon. And I doubt if young Daniel, the day he left to be a missionary in Mexico ever anticipated having to step into the role of father and older brother to so many children who have been abandoned by their natural fathers and older brothers. Each of these faced the challenge before them, and their courage is now on display for all to witness and commend. Perhaps that next challenge will be the trigger to cause your courage to blossom forth.

Given by Inspiration of …

FB share imageI think most of us are very aware of the numerous voices around us every day trying to influence us to think and act a certain way, to buy into a certain ideology, to invest our resources on a certain product, or to head in a certain direction or toward a specific destiny. But we’re less conscious of the influence our own voice has within our circle of friends and acquaintances. Yes! Each of us indeed has a sphere of influence. Your opinions matter to many and your opinions inspire some to follow in your footsteps. If you don’t believe me, just look at your social media for the last week or so.

Like many of you, every day I’m invited via email or FaceBook post to lend my support (i.e.: my endorsement) to a wide array of political, social and spiritual causes, to individuals (e.g.: running for public office) and to public service organizations. Sometimes that support requested is simply to share the information provided with my personal list of friends and acquaintances. Other times it’s a request for financial support. And occasionally I’m even invited to author a testimony of the positive effect the cause, individual or organization has had upon my life.

For my part, I never treat any of these requests for endorsement lightly. I make a decision in each case whether to act upon it or to ignore it. But to act upon such a request for support I have to (1) feel inspired by the subject and (2) feel confident that its representatives are godly in character. And to attain an adequate level of inspiration and confidence it’s imperative that I investigate the source and what motivates it/him/her to act.

What or who influences and inspires you?

Advertisers/public relations gurus have taught millennials especially, but society in general that celebrities (sports phenomes and music and movie stars) are credible and inspiring persons whose lifestyles and words and creeds should be mimicked. But few are really worthy of such trust and admiration.

Many people (including many of the “churched”) today throw their support behind whatever the flavor of the day is in our culture. But what really does our culture reflect? It reflects what is popular and acceptable today. And that can and does change in a heartbeat. Jesus said that His followers would be hated by the world (those who are proponents of the flavor of the day). And true followers of Christ experience this “hatred” every day via attacks by the mainstream media, by ungodly government leaders, by confused religious leaders and by adversaries on social media.

Before you begin to answer the question “what or who influences or inspires you,” I suggest you at least consider the four following questions:

  1. Do you have any standards for determining what causes, organizations and people who you are willing to throw your support behind?
  2. If not, why not?
  3. If so, what are your standards?
  4. If so, where did you get those standards?
  5. If so, do your standards advance selfish or self-less behavior?
  6. If so, are your standards “fixed,” or do they vary with every wind of change in the culture?

For me personally, the Apostle Paul is a good standard bearer. He said, “Follow me as I follow Christ.” In other words, “Listen to what I have to say, and do what I do, only if what I say and what I do is comparable to what Jesus did and said. If not, ignore what I say and do.”

These days I’m getting a lot of requests to support a growing list of men and women vying for the office of President of the U. S. As a general rule I don’t get into any political discussions over social media. There are too many really important issues in life, and very few if any are going to be solved by any political leader. When the time comes to vote I’ll make my choice based on the person whose character and beliefs most closely mirror that of Jesus and whose stated policies advance those beliefs. However, today I am finding it difficult to find any that would dare say, “Follow me as I follow Christ.” And if one did say that, and if the people listening took them at their word, I wonder if the candidate would be left with any supporters?

My personal test

So how do I assess the inspirational value and my level of confidence in public service organizations and social causes? I have a simple test which involves researching the answer to these three questions:

  1. Does the purpose of the organization/cause advance life and peace or a culture of death and destruction?
  2. Does it encourage self-less behavior or selfishness?
  3. Is its primary goal and likely outcome an emotionally, physically and spiritually enhanced experience for the participants?

But what about local churches/denominations/religions? Wouldn’t every one pass my test? Ugh – no! For them I would recommend the “Follow me as I follow Christ” standard. I often wonder how many would survive if they honestly encouraged their congregations to support them with their talents, time and resources based on their faithfulness to replicating the actual teachings and actions of Jesus Christ?

Who do you influence?

Now back to my original premise that every person on this earth has a sphere of influence. There are many scriptures that talk about God’s granting to His righteous and obedient people the blessing of even greater influence in the world. (See for example Isaiah’s chapter 54 prophesy and also the prayer of an honorable Old Testament character named Jabez.)

Enlarge the place of your tent, and let them stretch out the curtains of your dwellings; do not spare; lengthen your cords and strengthen your stakes. For you shall expand to the right and to the left, and your descendants will inherit the nations, and make the desolate cities inhabited.

“Oh that You would bless me indeed and enlarge my border, and that Your hand might be with me, and that You would keep me from harm that it may not pain me!” And God granted him [Jabez] what he requested.

Whose lives do you impact? More than you probably imagine! Make sure that the information you are sharing with those in your sphere of influence is both true and of value to them specifically? You are responsible for your words and actions. You are also accountable for who and what causes and organizations you endorse and those whom you draw into your tent. Don’t be lazy! Do the research before you click on that “share” icon.

Mother

 

mom-dad Riccardi

Mom was born Wilma Bell McCune on November 11, 1920 in Missouri. Her grandfather was a traveling preacher. Her parents were Jewell and Cray (a disabled 1st World War veteran). They gave mom her Cherokee and Irish heritage and temperament. She had a younger sister Lita who predeceased her.

Just before the 2nd World War at the age of eighteen Wilma, with the help of her mother bought a little restaurant. Financially it wasn’t a money-maker, but it affected her entire life; because it was there she met her future husband. Orlando Joseph Riccardi’s father had emigrated from Rome to Detroit a number of years earlier. One day the young soldier visited that restaurant with a few of his Italian-American buddies. That first day his friends put money in the juke box and danced with Wilma and another girl that worked at the restaurant, but all Joe wanted to do was eat and talk. And he came back often to do both. They married a short time after that. While Joe was in the service Wilma attended nursing school; but when Joe was released and wanted to move back to Detroit she gave up that potential career also to bear and raise his children. Her sister, Lita later married a contractor from California and moved to Bakersfield.

      Joe and Wilma had five children: Danny, Paul, Sandra, Linda and Ricci. Theirs was not an easy life, but mom always provided for her children. Sometimes that meant humbly notifying the Goodwill they didn’t have money to buy Christmas presents; other times it meant driving the kids to Missouri to stay with her parents for a time until they got back on their feet. Joe’s older sister Dora was a Pentecostal Pastor and Wilma saw that her children attended her little church until the church relocated out West, first to California, then to Oregon. But it was there that mom gave her heart to Jesus, as did some of her children. Thereafter, she encouraged her kids to continue and mature their relationship with the Lord.

Her husband was a mechanic and truck driver and his boys all loved cars and could do amazing things with engines. So mom always had to put up with several vehicles in various conditions of repair in the backyard of each of the many homes they rented over the years. After the kids got older and began living on their own, Wilma and Joe traveled a lot by automobile. Almost always they headed out west. At first it was to visit her parents who had re-located by this time to her sister’s neighborhood in Bakersfield, California. Later it broadened to the Portland Oregon area where her sons Danny and Paul had moved with their families, not far from some of dad’s siblings; and eventually down south where Linda and family moved. So mom’s focus remained on her children even as she aged. On their return from such a vacation they would have literally hundreds of snapshots of mountains and plains which they took, often out of the window of their moving car – because dad didn’t like to stop until he got to his destination.

Mom loved animals – all kinds of animals. So when you visited them, it wasn’t unusual to find various farm animals in their fenced-in yard: ducks, chickens or even a pig. In later years she confined her pets to dogs and cats. And until recently she put in a garden every Spring – a very large garden – which had so much overflow that she gave most of it away to family and neighbors.

Mom cared for family and close friends. After her husband’s death at the age of 67, her youngest son Ricci experienced financial challenges and physical difficulties, so he moved back home where he lived for a few years until he passed away at the age of forty-one while awaiting heart-transplant surgery. A short time later she took in another person fifteen-years-her-junior who was legally blind and who suffered from a number of other maladies. She drove that person all over Macomb County to doctors and hospitals, and provided home care – something mom continued to do up to within the last ten days of her life.

Mom loved all her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren – and the ones who knew her loved her. My three kids loved to visit with their grandma and hear her talk about the old days. And my daughter’s three children not only enjoyed seeing her but talked to her on the phone a few times a week. Early in the day before she passed, mom was laboring a lot in the hospital, but she kept asking about “the kids.” Jean brought the three over that afternoon to visit, and her spirits just lifted up. She sat in a chair beside the hospital bed and three-year-old Leah, sitting on her lap, sang to her “Jesus loves me”. Leah’s twin Lawson and her older brother Nick hugged her and told her how they missed her. The next morning, after she was ushered into her eternal reward, three different nurses came in to tell Sandy and I how much that one simple visit had changed mom’s spirit, and how she just jabbered and talked about it to her hospital sitter all night long, before she gently and peacefully faded away.

Angels carried her spirit and soul to heaven the morning of May 12th.

Remembering a Friend

Most of the good people I know lead quiet, even obscure lives.  Few will ever see their names in a newspaper or highlighted more than in a wedding announcement.  But that doesn’t make their purpose less relevant in God’s plan and kingdom than the most well-known evangelist or Church leader.  I lost such a close friend this week.

 Tom Murphy was born in Detroit and rarely journeyed much beyond the Metro area.  He went to a Catholic parochial school in a Detroit parish which he faithfully continued to support through his finances, time and talent for the next 70 plus years, long after he’d moved to the suburbs.  As far as I know, his only trip outside of North America was to the 38th parallel of Korea; for he had joined the Marine Corps reserves at the beginning of his senior year and the war began a few months later.  Instead of graduating, he spent his 18th birthday on a troop train to Camp Pendleton.  Even as a marine, Tom didn’t perform acts of great valor – and the assignment to his specific armored battalion was made solely on the basis that his last named began with an “M.”  Yet in this “luck of the draw” Tom discovered God’s grace and shield in a way that guided the rest of his life.  On one quiet day Tom asked for leave to drive a jeep and visit a friend in another unit.  When he returned seven hours later he discovered that his unit had been bombarded by North Korean artillery and decimated badly.  He saw that as a sign that God had preserved his life for a greater purpose.

 After the war Tom returned to his home, got a job and completed high school at night.  At 26 he married Sylvia and settled into a life of raising a family and helping others.  Helping others wasn’t something he had to think about – it was second nature to him.  He and Sylvia had two children of their own; but when Sylvia’s brother and his wife ran into life’s challenges, they took under their roof their three boys and raised them as their own.  When his sister became ill he took on responsibility for her care (something that continued for decades), visiting her every week, taking her to all her doctor appointments and in and out of hospitals.  He helped his own children and grandchildren through various family and economic issues and when Sylvia’s parents got frail he took care of them as well.  In the midst of all of this Tom served on his local Parish council for more than fifty years and as a leader of the St. Athanasius charismatic prayer group for thirty years.  Whenever we were at their home I could always count on them receiving at least a couple calls for prayer or counseling or encouragement – and no one considered these calls an interruption.  It wasn’t unusual for an old friend to ask Tom to drive them to the VA hospital and spend the day with them; or even, if necessary to the Cleveland Clinic.  Tom even maintained a workshop in his basement where he rebuilt old bicycles and gave them to some outreaches that cared for the needy and to men that simply couldn’t drive for a time because they’d had their driver’s licenses suspended.

 Our lives and our families’ have been entwined for the past 40 years, and still are through our children and grandchildren.  Tom and I met through our wives.  Sandy and I got married in St. Athanasius parish.  Sandy and Sylvia became best of friends as a former Pentecostal and a former Baptist met weekly with other women rolling bandages for the lepers ministered to by Mother Teresa in India.  When our daughter was born Sandy decided to be baptized in the Catholic Church at the same time as her first-born was christened.  She asked Sylvia to be her God-mother.

 Over the years we’d get together often as couples for dinner and as families for important events like birthdays, graduations, christenings and confirmations.  But Tom’s and my relationship really began to mesh in the early 80’s.  By that time Sandy and Sylvia had both become involved in the Catholic charismatic community.  Sandy and two others in the parish petitioned the pastor to form the Joy of Jesus prayer group at St. A’s – something I was less than enthused about – and often vocalized my opposition, and stayed away.  I guess in spite of 3 decades of religious indoctrination, I was still spiritually immature.

 That all changed in July of 1982. Tom and I were both going through some serious physical problems and our wives dragged us kicking to a Full Gospel Businessman’s Fellowship meeting where a Christian couple involved in the healing ministry were speaking.  At that meeting Tom and I each left that meeting miraculously cured of our infirmities, and the experience changed my heart as well.  Shortly after that Tom and Sylvia assumed co-leadership roles in the St. A’s charismatic prayer group, roles they maintained until Sylvia’s death six years ago. I likewise got very involved in serving God, through full Gospel ministry and praying for people for physical, emotional and spiritual healing.

 When we had our 25th anniversary, it was Sylvia and Tom who performed the renewal of our vows of marriage.  When Sandy’s younger brother passed away it was Sylvia’s words and prayers that provided her the most comfort; and a little over a year ago Tom asked me to perform the funeral for one of his nephews who died well before his time.  We’ve had the privilege to pray for each other and at times to witness God’s miraculous intervention in our lives.

 For this reason, throughout this latest trial I truly believed God was going to bring him out of it again – for Tom had so much more to offer.  Each time I prayed with Tom over the last year as he struggled with his cancer treatments, and even last Monday, I reminded him of the promises of Psalm 91.  For that Psalm begins with the words, “He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High, shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.  I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress; my God, in Him I will trust.” For that describes Tom as much as any Christian man I’ve ever known.  That Psalm ends with a promise of long life – and though I think Tom had much more to offer the Christian community he served, he indeed did have a long and blessed life as others who know him much better than myself can attest to.

 Over the years I’ve met many of Tom’s childhood friends.  I find it interesting that men with such similar roots could end up with such varying attitudes about God and church and humanity and their purpose in life.  While others questioned God and the church’s love and compassion as they faced life’s many challenges, Tom held firm to his faith in God’s promise to never leave him nor forsake him.  Tom, in his simple and quiet way, affected for the better and for the Kingdom thousands of people in his lifetime.  And because he was so low-key about the good that he was performing in several distinct pockets of people, most were unaware of what he was doing in other pockets.  It was only when all got together on the occasion of his memorial that each was able to see the larger picture of the impact one man could make in this world.

 But God knew and foresaw this that day in Korea that He led Tom away from a situation that might have otherwise interfered in His plan for Tom’s life.  I’ll truly miss my friend, a prayer warrior and my Saturday breakfast companion and my bocce ball partner.  And I look forward to the day I re-unite with him in the Kingdom of God.

Don’t wait for the completed work to tell people what God has done for you

 I read a lot of things on social media that are thought provoking – some even quite enlightening.  But rarely does someone say something that would cause me to reevaluate or alter my thinking.  But yesterday a person made such a profound declaration: “If God’s Word says do it… you need not be ‘LED’ to do it, you need to be ‘LED’ not to.”

 Though I’ve been blessed multiple times with miraculous interventions in my life and in the lives of people I’ve prayed for, many more times I’ve been guilty of backing away from such ministering to the hurting and the needy, because of past “failures” and personal limitations and weaknesses.  I’ve tended to rationalize: if I’m not 100% healthy or physically whole, how can I minister healing; if I have worries and concerns, how can I minister inner healing; if I’m going through a financial or relational struggle, how can I minister to those who are challenged in those areas.  But when Jesus said, “Lay hands on the sick and they shall recover,” or “cast out demons” or “make disciples,” or “declare how much God has done for you,” He didn’t add the condition “only if you’re perfect in that area.”  This is all a lie of the enemy to reduce the strength of God’s ambassadors to the lost and hurting.

 Effective today, I’m no longer going to wait to tell others what God has done for me –

even if the work is not yet finished

 On May 6, 2002 I awoke in a Minneapolis Hampton Inn to a serious vision problem in my left eye – I was looking at a swirling mass of black lines.  I went on to my second day of meetings at United Defense and flew back home that evening.  Sandy wanted me to go to an eye doctor immediately, but as with every suggestion regarding my health, I ignored the problem for two more days, assuming it would gradually clear up, and went on to work.  See, twenty years earlier I had been miraculously healed from what I considered much more serious problems that were threatening my life, and over the years I’d prayed for many people and seen God often intervene to heal them as well – so I reasoned I didn’t need to go to doctors, except for my annual physical.

 Just before lunch of my second day back at work I mentioned my situation to a co-worker.  He got my attention with a frightening warning that it could be a brain tumor.  I took the phone number of his ophthalmologist and called immediately, and the doctor agreed to see me that afternoon.

 I was told I’d experienced a vitreous hemorrhage.  The vitreous is attached to the back part of the eye to the optic nerve and the large retinal blood vessels.  Over the next few weeks several treatments were administered, including three sessions of 400 to 500 each laser shots to seal off the flow of blood from the hundreds of minute blood vessels that had grown out of the original tear.  The initial problem was stabilized, but sight in the left eye deteriorated.  Blood from the original break had settled around the retina.  He said in most cases, this blood will dissipate over time.  So we waited it out.  After about another six months my eye doctor sent me to a retina specialist for a second opinion.

 Over the next half year I had cataract surgery (just so the specialist could physically see the back of the eye), and a few hundred more laser shots.  Finally he determined that the blood had caked around the retina and would have to be surgically removed.  By this time the eye was nearly blind.  After the surgery the specialist notified me he had removed 95% of the blood, but the retina was totally dead, and I would never see out of it again.

  He was wrong!  The brain naturally adjusts to the use of one eye, so the problem never kept me from driving, reading or doing just about everything I used to do.  Still, it was irritating that I’d lost vision in one eye.  So I continued to pray for full restoration.  I used to go up to the altar quite often to have hands laid on me, but I decided about seven years ago that God knew my heart and would eventually restore the vision in the left eye to 20/20 in His timing.

 Around that time I began to see some improvements.  First I could see forms, then the “large E” on the eye chart, and finally the second largest line of letters started to come partially into view.  Today I still can’t read with the left eye alone; but if I had to, I could maneuver around without running into walls or people.  Though it’s never kept me from ministering healing to others; I rarely volunteered information about this physical deficiency.  I told myself that once my sight was 100% restored I’d declare it everywhere I went.

 Today I’ve decided that in the future I’m going to include this story in my testimony of God’s goodness and compassion.  It will be up to my Lord how He uses it to minister encouragement and faith to others.

Setting Goals for the New Year

Periodically each Christian needs to evaluate his or her life and the path they’re on as to how it lines up with God’s plan and purpose.  As you’d expect, most people do this at the beginning of the year.  Since not one of us can claim perfection, we will inevitably need to make some changes.

 I’ve been noticing on social media sites (primarily FaceBook and in some blogs) that most people focus on one or two areas that they resolve to improve in 2015.  In truth, we need to be as courageous as David who frequently performed a thorough top-to-bottom assessment of every fiber of his being and found himself “wanting.”  While it’s a step in the right direction to resolve to treat our kids and spouses nicer, to read the Bible each day and to stop taking property home from work, that barely touches the surface of what God expects from His people.

Please consider the following seven areas that each one of us owes it to ourselves and to the Lord to evaluate how we measure up to the purposes of God and to our legitimate desires.

 At the top of the list I put priorities and core values.  Ask yourself honestly: What are my priorities, my core values?  How do these align with what God says in His Word?  As I read many things that Christians post on social media, I sometimes wonder if they haven’t gotten a little bit off base here.  As a leader and spiritual advisor I can point them to some scriptural guidance, but only they with God can resolve those questions and get back on track.

 Second on my list is relationships: my relationship to God; my relations with individual members of my inner circle (family, friends and local church brethren); and my relationships with those outside my circle of influence, which is primarily exercised via outreach to the community in which I live and through support of missions.  My relationship to God is actually probably the most well-defined and stable.  Whereas the area that I personally need to focus most of my attention on is with my inner circle.  My attitude/responsivity to the words and actions of others and how I deal with past, current and future circumstances needs a lot of improvement.  How about you?  How’s your compassion, forgiveness, understanding and unconditional love toward those you disagree with or have problems with their lifestyles.

 The third area I highlight is Spirituality.  This overlaps to some degree with the one above, relationships.  It includes our Congregational involvement – how we receive from, share with and serve others within the local body of believers we fellowship with, and incorporates how we engage the world-wide Church mission to help the needy and spread the Gospel.  But in addition, it extends to our personal prayer, study, meditation, worship, and growth in the knowledge of the Kingdom and in spiritual gifts, and to our exercise of our ambassador and warrior roles (primarily to the unsaved).

 The fourth area is Health.  Some denominations don’t believe that God really cares about anything material in our lives, our physical, mental and emotional well-being and advancement.  There’s no question that His foremost concern is with mankind’s spiritual well-being, but He promised His followers that as long as we seek first His Kingdom and its righteousness, He would meet our physical needs.  So we are in good standing with Him when we do everything possible to maintain a healthy body, mind and emotions.

 The fifth area on my list is Treasure.  The Gospel is free but the pipeline is very expensive.  So a financially strong church and its members are good things.  But hand-in-hand with setting a goal to improve your financial position in 2015 has to be the motivation to share those increased resources with others: through the local church, through missions, through even secular institutions who are legitimately helping the disadvantaged.

 The sixth area I broadly call “Work”, but I include education and training that prepares one for a career or job or profession, as well as opens doors for advancement in that field.  I also include the godly gifts of creativity and imagination and discovery, whereby God reveals the beauty and mysteries of the universe.  Some receive wages for their “work,” while others only feel self-fulfillment.

 The final area is Rest – personal and with family and community.  God sanctioned rest: with the seventh day after creation, with the Sabbath day of rest, with the multiple festival times established for God’s people in ancient times, and with Jesus even reminding the Jewish leaders that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.  Hobbies, vacations, holidays are all good and should be planned for to allow individuals and families and communities to put their “work” down and celebrate together and rest.

 Six Recommendations for Setting Goals

 People set goals (New Year’s resolutions) every year, and statistics show that only a small percentage of these resolutions are ever achieved.  In fact, most are abandoned within the first couple months.   You’ll be much more likely to achieve your goals if you first take the time to formally plan things out and write them down (on paper or in your computer or tablet or phone.)  And here are some suggestions.

1. Choose goals that matter – things that inspire you to act. An economic gain or an ego boost is not reason enough.  The apostle John told the church, “Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers.” When you completely attach yourself to a goal, and know that it will satisfy your soul (your inner being), even the working toward its achievement will give you great joy.

Think about what it is you want to experience in your life and/or what the obstacles are, then ask yourself why you want it.  Dig several layers down.  For example, if one of your goals is to exercise 30 minutes a day, four days a week, ask yourself why you want to do that.  Assume you decide that the reason is so you can live much longer.  It may seem obvious, but ask yourself why you want to live several years longer.  It’s probably because you want to see your grandchildren graduate and get married.  And hopefully you’ll sincerely be able to add that it will also give you many more years to serve God and to tell others about His love for them.  Now the goal really matters!  You’ve got a strong reason to stick to your resolution.

2. Be selective with whom you share your goals. Choose people you are certain will be supportive and/or actually help you to achieve your goals.  Not everyone you know is going to be supportive of you.  For example, if a person knows you have tried something similar in the past and failed, they may remind you of that fact.  Even when spoken in jest, it can be very hurtful and discouraging – something you don’t need to hear.

3. Focus on the process, not the outcome. We can’t control outcomes.  We have to inch toward them, one choice at a time.  If you make daily choices that are consistent with your goal over and over again, you will eventually reach it. And the small steps of progress themselves will give you added strength to forge on.

4. Frame your goals positively. Focus on what you want to bring into your life, not what you want to avoid.  Then you are more likely to actually pursue it.  Suppose for example, your self-assessment reminds you that in the past you have been very critical of someone at work.  Now you want to change your behavior.  Formulate a goal to look for something nice about that person’s appearance or attitude or work effort to complement them on each week.

5. Prepare for mistakes or “screw-ups” (in a good way). Moments of failure are inevitable.  Don’t abandon the goal entirely when minor failures and setbacks occur.  Your task is not to avoid failures, but to plan for them.  I was an Army program manager for a number of years and we always thought about and planned for things that realistically could go wrong, on the production line, in a battle, etc.  We called these things the “known – unknowns.”  Devise an if/then contingency plan: “if this happens, then I’ll do that.”  It’s a mental plan for how you’ll react to things that might trip you up.  Maybe everything will work out as perfectly as you hoped for.  But if it doesn’t, you’re not completely shocked, and you have a contingency plan ready to implement.

6. Again, I can’t emphasize enough: write down your goals. If you leave them to just float around in your mind somewhere, it’s too easy to walk away from them the first time a problem surfaces or some distraction intervenes.  And believe me, there are plenty of distractions waiting to get you to look away and go a different direction.  Don’t let them.

Your Response to Failure is More Important than the Failure itself

 What do you do when you realize you have failed others, failed yourself and even failed God?

 For several weeks now I’ve been working extra hard at “becoming love” toward the people God brings into my life.  It’s not that I previously held a lot of unforgiveness and grudges against others.  Quite the contrary!  But recently some Christian giants whose lives I have observed from afar have taught me that there’s a huge difference between acting loving toward others, and actually becoming love; and it’s the latter that I strive for.  One minister in particular often uses the phrase that his goal is to “love the hell out of people,” especially those who try to offend him.  As I listened to several of his messages, and saw that the words, attitudes and actions aligned with the life of Jesus, I’ve tried to incorporate each into my own.

 I thought I was doing quite well at dying to self and reconditioning my soul (my mind, my attitudes and my emotions) along this line – until this past weekend.  A close family member who has endured several difficult trials recently, apparently has been stewing over a situation that occurred more than a year ago.  Their view of what transpired was actually a misunderstanding of the facts.  Yet that person brought it up to another family member who, in turn repeated it to me – and I over-reacted.  I was properly defensive (in my own mind) as I righteously proclaimed, “I refuse to receive that condemnation,” then stormed off pouting to another room.  And for several hours all my efforts at “becoming love” seemed to have been washed down the drain.

 What’s important is that we not let failure define us

 I repeat the query that I began with: What do you do when you realize you have failed others, failed yourself and even failed God?

 Successfully “becoming love,” or for that matter dying to self and being raised up to take on any godly characteristic, is a process that doesn’t happen overnight.  There will be times when you and I will lapse back into our former carnal nature.  What’s important is to not let that failure define us.  The apostle who did not think it too bold to call himself “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” declared under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit: “If we say that we have no sin, we are fooling ourselves, and the truth is not in us. But if we confess our sins, God will forgive us. We can trust God to do this. He always does what is right. He will make us clean from all the wrong things we have done.”

 God defines us and calls us His sons and daughters, in spite of our failures

 Like all the other disciples of Jesus, John took off on the run away from the band of thugs that arrested Jesus in the Garden.  He didn’t even exercise Peter’s misdirected courage by taking up a sword to defend his Master.  Nor did he even follow Jesus from a distance to observe the trial.  No – he just ran.  Yet about 12 hours later John is found standing at the base of that bloody cross, a broken man, and accepting his Master’s request that he take His mother into his own house to care for her.

 And what were the results of his returning to the Lord?  Three days later he was included in the small group of disciples who witnessed the resurrected Jesus walk through the walls into that locked room and say “Peace be with you.”  He was among the 120 in the upper room when the Holy Spirit visibly appeared as tongues of fire above their heads and gave them the boldness to preach and to minister.  A few days later he was with Peter as they went up to pray in the Temple – and when they passed a man in the gate called Beautiful, they declared “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk,” and a miracle occurred.

 And it was this same one who subsequently spoke more about the love of God than any of the other writers of Scripture, including these words from his first letter to the Church.  “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another…. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. We love Him because He first loved us.”

 Return to God and seek His and others forgiveness

 What do you do when you realize you have failed others, failed yourself and even failed God?  You return to God.  You ask His forgiveness.  You forgive yourself.  You turn to any and all whom you have hurt (even in the process of defending yourself) and ask their forgiveness.  You do this not because you were more at fault than they, but because you are seeking to become love, and that’s what love does.  Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous, it does not brag, and it is not proud. Love is not rude, it is not selfish, and it cannot be made angry easily. Love does not remember wrongs done against it. Love is never happy when others do wrong, but it is always happy with the truth. Love never gives up on people. It never stops trusting, never loses hope, and never quits. Love will never end.

 You thank God that He never abandoned you when you did things that were offensive and disgusting, times innumerable.  You get back up and you try, try again.

 God sees the perfected you – long before you are

 And how will you know when you have become love?  When you see everyone who does you wrong as the one who is in trouble (not you).  When you see them (not you who has done no wrong) as the one who needs God’s compassion and forgiveness.  When you can and do sincerely pray, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”  When your focus is to “love the hell out of them.”  That’s how you’ll know!

Defending the Faith from a Firm Foundation

 Each Wednesday evening I assist the instructor of a class for new believers in our church.  Our text is a short book entitled “7 Basics” written by Beth Jones, who co-Pastors a church in Kalamazoo, Michigan.  While the book is an excellent introduction to the Christian faith and is scripture based, the author begins each chapter with a quote from a respected Christian leader.  Politicians, theologians, pastors, businessmen, each of these leader’s backgrounds is unique and disparate: from an 18th/19th century English politician who fought to end the slave trade, to a 20th Century leader of the American Civil Rights Movement; from a founder of a Christian men’s network, to a former President of the U.S.A.; from a Canadian theologian in the Anglican and Reformed traditions, to a Texas pastor of a Full Gospel church; and from a missions advocate and leading force in Fundamentalism, to a renowned expert on organizational leadership.

 Great men all – yet still only men – none whose opinions and words are infallible.  Yet two weeks ago, in response to a question about one of these quotations, I found myself overzealously trying to explain and defend it, without either first fully researching its initial context or judging its truth based on the Word of God.  Though it’s no valid excuse, I’m not the first to make this mistake.

 This is a predicament that every one of us faces every day.  Christian and non-Christian alike, we hear or read “truth-claims” spoken or written by people we respect and, more often than not, we accept their words at face value without making the effort to research their validity, and we defend those words until we’re red in the face.  Not only is this a lazy practice, it’s a dangerous one.

 Even Good People, Honorable People can make Mistakes or be Misinterpreted

 The focus of this discussion is a speaker’s fallibility – but before I even get into that, it’s important to realize the fallibility of the hearer as well.  Sometimes a writer or speaker will intentionally take liberties with language, exaggerating a fact for emphasis.  While this is a clever literary tactic, it has risks too – that a hearer or reader may take the statement out of context, or just outright misunderstand what they are saying.  Take for example one quotation from evangelist and pastor Oswald J. Smith: “No one has the right to hear the gospel twice, while there remains someone who has not heard it once.”  Obviously he was not intending to infer that we should not give an unsaved person more than one chance to be drawn toward God by repeating the Good News of Jesus’ message – but one could interpret it that way, if they didn’t know the heart of Pastor Smith to reach the whole world for Christ.

 I was recently in a service where a pastor was speaking on the importance of knowing the nature of God; for if we truly understand God, we’ll not misinterpret the sources of good and evil circumstances in our lives.  I don’t think there’s anything clearer in the Bible than these two facts: (1) Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. (James 1:17) and (2) that the source of all evil is from sin and the devil.

 Yet, sometimes when we go through difficult and trying circumstances we humans forget these truths.  Even the great Christian author and theologian C. S. Lewis, when faced with the fatal suffering his wife endured, misinterpreted the nature of God.  Consider this quote as Lewis searched for answers: “Isn’t God supposed to be good? Isn’t God supposed to love us? And does God want us to suffer? What if the answer to that question is yes? ’Cause I’m not sure that God particularly wants us to be happy. I think he wants us to be able to love and be loved. He wants us to grow up. I suggest to you that it is because God loves us that he makes us the gift of suffering.  Pain is God’s megaphone to rouse a deaf world.  You see we are like blocks of stone out of which the sculptor carves the forms of men. The blows of his chisel which hurt us so much with are what makes us perfect.”

 The pastor recited these words strictly as an example of the great Christian’s failure to fully comprehend that it wasn’t God who brought the cancer that made his wife suffer and ultimately killed her, but the enemy.  Yet sadder than Lewis’ misunderstanding of God in this one instance, was the reaction throughout the congregation as several “amens” appeared to affirm Lewis’ quoted words of exasperation.  I sat perplexed at how so many Christians who had consistently heard from this same pulpit of the love of God and His desire only for their best, could still believe that their God would deliver to them “a gift of suffering?”

 They (and I at times) fall into this trap by not giving adequate time and effort to seek to personally know God and His character as revealed in His Holy Bible.  Instead, we take the shortcut of allowing supposed theological experts to describe God and His character for us.

 Great people, honorable people go through difficulties and trials – and in moments of weakness they are prone to interpreting circumstances based on emotion and past experience rather than the truth of God’s Word.  Great people, honorable people sometimes make mistakes – in words spoken or written, as well as in thought and action.  That’s why God left us a safety net with which to judge every word spoken or written and every thought and action – His Holy Bible.

 Another chance

 Fortunately as I drove home from the New Believer’s class three weeks ago, I realized my own mistake and had an opportunity to correct it.  And the following week I prepared a hand-out that summarized each of the quoted leader’s backgrounds.  Then I cautioned these baby Christians that every “truth-claim” about important issues of life needs to be judged by its consistency to God’s written Word.  It doesn’t matter if the person making that claim is myself or another educator, a national or local leader, their own pastor, the Pope or any other person of great standing and reputation.

A Tribute to Mom

I’ve never written a tribute to my mother before.  It’s a little late to let her know my gratitude for the lifelong sacrifices she made for her family – not just my dad and brother and I, but for her parents and siblings and their kids.  But it’s still worth doing even now.

 Her name was Clementine MeGanck.  She didn’t have a middle name.  She’d answer to Clemy, but to no other shorthand version of her God-given name.  Clementine had twelve brothers and sisters; but only seven of them survived long enough to board the boat from Belgium to America, shortly after WW I.  Her dad was a farmer; but with no money to buy land in this country, the family began their new life as migrant farm workers, sugar-beet pickers to be specific.  The boys were allowed to go to school through the 8th grade; but the girls were pulled out after the 3rd to work the fields, wherever the fields happened to be that day.  It always embarrassed mom that she had such a limited education – and she determined that her kids would never suffer the same fate.

 By the time she turned eighteen, Clementine had a job as a seamstress in what one would today call a “sweat shop.”  For a woman, it was pretty good money at the time.  And after her older sister Mary and the eldest son Henry had married, Clementine became both the primary source of income for the family, as well as her ailing mother’s caretaker.  This created a predicament for a beautiful young lady who loved life and wanted to experience the outside world and meet new people, especially boys.  Her father feared losing her to a husband and put unreasonable restraints on her.  She had to be home by 8:00 pm, or risk a thrashing.

 Clementine’s best friend was another seamstress named Helen Ertel.  Helen was a couple years older, but still lived with her parents as well.  They were both excellent dancers and often entered contests – which one or the other frequently won; but to compete, mom had to break her curfew; and though her mother tried to shield her from her dad’s furious temper, her frail health offered Clementine little protection.  The rest of her life she would suffer from the migraine headaches, the bruises and the damage to her back and limbs that were the result of the man’s beatings.

 The last straw occurred shortly after her nineteenth birthday, when she and Helen stayed out until well after ten.  It was during the Prohibition Era and she and Helen were returning from a local speakeasy when one of her younger brothers met them outside her home, warning that “Pa was gonna kill her this time.”  She and Helen fled and Helen hid Clementine at her boyfriends’ homes.  Her dad, club in hand, with his son-in-law and one of the older boys searched the neighborhood for her.  It was a month later before Clementine saw her mother again, at a time when her dad was out.  She never moved back – though she eventually reconciled with the family, and would continue to send some of her wages back home, until the day she married.

 Mom was a real Tiger’s fan – she and her mother frequented the ball park, and she knew every one of the players.  You might even say she was a “groupee.”  She and Helen hung out at the blind pigs where the players socialized.  When Clementine was 22, Helen started dating a young ball player named Hank Greenberg; and they set up Clementine with his brother, Ben, who was a few years older.  Ben eventually proposed; and ma and pa MeGanck saw big bucks in the match.  But Clementine in the meantime had become infatuated with a young engineer from Pittsburgh, who had just graduated and moved to Detroit to work for a steel company.

 To her family’s consternation, mom and dad married a year later.  It was the early part of the Great Depression; but dad had a job.  And thus began a lifetime of sacrifice: as Clemy and Duane became the focal point for most of mom’s family to turn to for assistance over the years.  Even as the economy improved, whenever one or another of her brothers’ and sisters’ families were going through hard times, they knew they could count on Clemy and Duane to help out.  Mom and dad never even had to send out invitations to anyone to join us for Thanksgiving, Christmas or Easter dinner.  They all knew the table would be set for at least thirty – and most holidays there weren’t any empty seats.

 And as the years waned, ma and pa MeGanck eventually moved in to our home; and neither of my parents ever brought up mom’s horrendous history.  I only heard about it long after her ma and pa and some of her siblings left this earth.  And even then it was explained sort of matter-of-factly as she wanted me to understand why her body was so racked with pain.  She had long-forgiven her father and her older brothers and brother-in-law for all they had put her through.

 Mom and dad never were wealthy as the world measures wealth; yet my brother and I never lacked for our basic needs, or for love.  When my dad’s salary seemed to stall, mom went back to work (in a hot and miserable cleaners no less) to make sure they could pay for our parochial school education.  They even covered the difference between what our part-time jobs provided toward our annual college tuition.

 I’m sure my closeness to God was nurtured during the many hours I spent coloring in the priest’s office while mom made many of his vestments as well as the altar coverings.  She encouraged me to try to be an altar boy (a task Father O’Hagan deemed me unworthy of) and the St. Gertrude’s choir (another talent which Sister Margaret Mary decided I lacked.)   Mom was my cub scout den-mother and encouraged me to get involved in boy scouts.  It seemed like the only thing she didn’t do was attend my football games.  That was dad’s duty; because she was in constant fear of me being injured.  Yet I knew she was home praying for me every Friday evening or Saturday afternoon.

 One of the greatest joys of my Christian life was being able to lay hands on her back or neck and praying over her for healing – and having her acknowledge that the pain had subsided – if only for a little while.  I knew it bothered her that I was attending a full-Gospel church; and yet it seemed to open her up to share her own faith and some of the miracles she had witnessed (and once even been a recipient of) as a little girl.

 I’m so glad she knew Jesus as her Lord and Savior, and that one day I’ll be able to verbalize this tribute to her face-to-face in heaven.

A Thanks-filled Life

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.  1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

 With the Thanksgiving holiday approaching, it’s a great opportunity to reflect on the source of every good gift – namely our Father in Heaven – and give Him thanks.  As the scripture above states, we should be living a “thanks-filled” life every day of the year. It is good to give thanks to the Lord (Psalm 92:1) and it is the right thing to give thanks to each other, as we do even little things for friend and stranger alike.

I am so thankful for knowing my Father God and His Son Who is my Lord and Savior, and His Holy Spirit Who guides my steps.

I’m thankful for a loving and understanding wife and children and grandchildren who respect and honor me.

I’m thankful for great friends, some of whom I’ve been blessed to maintain a relationship with for upwards of  two, three, four and five decades and others whose bonds of faithfulness, trust, compassion and unconditional love make it seem like we’ve known each other that long – relationships I’m certain will endure into eternity.

I’m thankful for the formal education that my caring parents unselfishly financed for me; and I’m even more thankful for the Christian training and guidance I’ve received over the last 31 years from several pastors and other Church leaders who invested their lives in my own, so I could mature in the riches of the Faith.

I’m thankful for good physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health, a roof over my head, and money in my bank account – and the wisdom to know that I don’t deserve any of it – but for the grace and mercy of God and my knowledge of and trust in His promises.

I’m thankful for opportunities to disciple new Christians and to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with others who do not yet know Him, through multiple means: through books, through social media, through one-on-one meetings and through preaching and teaching.

I’m thankful for opportunities and for the wisdom to know how and with whom to share the abundant blessings God has made available to me.