Smoke and Mirrors . . . Or is there a Real Possibility?

Last week Chris and I stumbled upon an investment opportunity that got us both pretty pumped up . . . it appeared to each of us that this might well be both a solid investment and an opportunity to do something for the Lord. That is a great combination from our perspective. The opportunity was to purchase stock in a firm operating under the name “Zion Oil & Gas,” in Israel. The firm presents itself as being founded and operated by Christians who are committed to helping the Nation, Israel. I sure like that and take it at face-value as I have no reason to question the statement. The stock price is under $2 a share and Chris and I discussed us purchasing a good amount of the stock; we both loved the idea of it. I asked Chris to do our due-diligence research . . . the things prudent investors ought to always do before doing the deal. The dude has a business degree from the Island University and he is a smart guy.

His research revealed the firm was created in the year 2,000 and has spent over $128M to date, and they are yet to produce the first drop of oil. They report their current operating expense are about $500,000 per month and when they begin exploration/drilling, those costs will/can increase up to $3,000,000 per month.

What do those numbers mean? What do those stats suggest? Both are good questions, but I don’t know the answers yet. Is it just that crazy costly to start an O & G exploration firm from scratch today? Are those costs so high because the firm is working in a remote part of the word? Is it because there is little previous research in the nation and her history to help direct this firm’s search? Do those operating the company not have sufficient experience in O & G research and development to be successful?

There are many other possibilities and reasons, of which one might well be that the Lord simply placed a very minimal amount of oil and gas deposits under the ground of the nation, and this firm is doing the proverbial search for the needle in the haystack. There have been some minor discoveries of energy sources in recent years in Israel . . . but just not much!

A prudent decision can’t be made on the information we have at hand, but as time and opportunity permits, we will continue to look into the opportunity. I just think it would be super cool to write a check to my local Church as my tithes on passive income from a group of producing oil wells in Israel . . . oil wells that help make Israel stronger and more independent.

I suppose that I am an incurable romantic . . . but it puzzles me how the broad Middle East region is rich in black gold . . . but there doesn’t seem to be much in the Promised Land. That is quite interesting to me . . .

A Time to . . .

In 1950 Peter Seeger wrote a song which he dubbed “A Time for All Seasons.” Various artists experimented with the tune; then in 1965, the American folk/Rock band, The Byrds, recorded the song under the title “Turn, Turn, Turn,” and with the exception of a few added words (Turn, Turn, Turn), the lyrics are Ecclesiastes 3. The song hit #1 on December 4, 1965.

The Byrds did a nice job on the song: the sound was quite good, the tune was catchy, and the words had meaning . . . and they stuck with a number of people—including me. Even the added “Turn, Turn, Turn” had meaning . . . simply that if you are headed in the wrong direction — turn around and get on course!

The Bible book, Ecclesiastes, was written by wise King Solomon. The purpose of the book is to testify to mankind that there is both purpose and a rhythm to this thing we call life. Some are puzzled by this book of wisdom literature and come away from it believing that Solomon had a relationship with God, but he also had a dim view of man’s standing and place with God.

Of course that is error . . . and the entire New Testament refutes such a silly notion. The entire New Testament testifies that God loves mankind above all of His creation, and views us as His greatest creative work! It testifies how sin entered the equation and put up a barrier between Holy God . . . and sinful man. It boldly testifies that God did what only God could do on behalf of mankind . . . that by employing a world of love, grace, and mercy . . . God provided a means by which man can be reconciled to God . . . and atonement made for sin! That being his dear son Jesus going to the Cross as a substitution . . . to take what we deserve . . . so that He can share with us what He deserves!

Have you thought about the time and season . . . of the place you are at in your life recently? Today might be a good day to survey the landscape of your life . . . and, if needed, then make the appropriate turn . . . one is blessed when that discovery is made . . . and there is still time to make the turn!

It is pretty clear that wise Solomon did clearly understand that life lived outside of a relationship with the Creator was truly a life without much meaning or purpose!

Ecclesiastes 3:1-17: (1) To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: 2 A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; 3 A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; 4 A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; 5 A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; 6 A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; 7 A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; 8 A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace. 9 What profit hath he that worketh in that wherein he laboureth? 10 I have seen the travail, which God hath given to the sons of men to be exercised in it. 11 He hath made every thing beautiful in his time: also he hath set the world in their heart, so that no man can find out the work that God maketh from the beginning to the end. 12 I know that there is no good in them, but for a man to rejoice, and to do good in his life. 13 And also that every man should eat and drink, and enjoy the good of all his labour, it is the gift of God. 14 I know that, whatsoever God doeth, it shall be forever: nothing can be put to it, nor any thing taken from it: and God doeth it, that men should fear before him. 15 That which hath been is now; and that which is to be hath already been; and God requireth that which is past. 16 And moreover I saw under the sun the place of judgment, that wickedness was there; and the place of righteousness, that iniquity was there. 17 I said in mine heart, God shall judge the righteous and the wicked: for there is a time there for every purpose and for every work.



To Pray or Not to Pray . . . a Nation Reflecting Confusion

There is a growing question about where this once very clearly “Christian Nation” stands today on the subject of prayer . . . and the right of citizens to pray . . . and exactly where they are permitted to utter said prayers. It seems that there is a growing tension over things of faith, from acknowledging that we are a “Nation under God” in our Pledge of Allegiance . . . to that phrase remaining on our currency . . . and our children being able to pray at school. The kids themselves finally took charge of the confusion and started the national “See You at the Pole” gathering! Then, of course, there is the loud squawking over Christmas trees, nativity scenes, and public exhibitions and acknowledgement of the Savior’s birth.

In spite of that growing national tension, ever since 1953, on the 1st Thursday of February, a large group assembles in the nation’s Capitol to attend the National Prayer Breakfast. That historic event was held at the Washington Hilton last Thursday morning (and has each year since the ’80’s), and keeping with tradition . . . it was a packed house!

The annual event is hosted by members of Congress, who are assisted with the organizing of the event itself by Fellowship Foundation . . . a Christ-centered organization. The annual event was originally called “The President’s Prayer Breakfast,” but the name was changed in 1970. It is generally attended by as many as 3,500 guests from as many as 100 nations from around the world.

There are two speakers at the annual breakfast . . . one is a person secretly invited and not announced until the morning of the event, and the second is the sitting President of the U. S.
Every President since Dwight D. Eisenhower has participated. Throughout the history of the breakfast, there have been a varied and interesting assortment of speakers from Dr. Billy Graham to Tony Blair . . . from Max Lucado to Elizabeth Dole . . . and a wide and varied collection of others.

This year’s speakers were former NAS-Car-driver and Hall-of-famer, Darrel Waltrip . . . and President Obama. Mr. Waltrip was involved in a serious car crash that resulted in his re-examining his life and making a profession of faith . . . thus giving his life to Christ. Today, he lives in Franklin, Tennessee, and owns a number of auto dealerships, serves as a NASCAR TV-analyst, author, and guest speaker. President Obama claims to be a Christian himself, but there is a growing debate over the issue of his being Christian or Muslim. His remarks at this year’s breakfast are certain to fuel that debate to a new level.

Darrel Waltrip made headlines over his powerful declaration, “If you do not know Jesus Christ as your personal savior . . . if there hasn’t been some point in your life when you knelt before God and confessed your sins . . . and invited His son Jesus to be your Savior . . . you will die and go to hell!” Mr. Waltrip boldly made this statement of faith in Christ as he looked into the eyes of both President Obama and the Dalai Lama, spiritual head of Tibetan Buddhism, who were seated at the head-table with him.

When it was a President Obama’s turn to speak, he delivered a conflicted address on the subject of faith and prayer, and was all over the place in his beliefs, which included the following statement: “And, first, we should start with some basic humility. I believe that the starting point of faith is some doubt — not being so full of yourself and so confident that you are right and that God speaks only to us, and doesn’t speak to others, that God only cares about us and doesn’t care about others, that somehow we alone are in possession of the truth.”

It is pretty easy to understand why there are questions concerning the President’s claim to be a Christian. The bold, direct statement made by Mr. Waltrip . . . while offensive to some . . . is the very foundation of Christianity . . . and certainly did not originate with Mr. Waltrip. They are, in fact, the words of Jesus, himself! For one to openly repeat those words before a large, diverse group removes any doubt about what is the basis of his faith or whose name he employs in his prayers. Christian Pundits vs. Obama’s National Prayer Breakfast Speech

For President Obama’s remarks, go to:

Pierce E Sullivan

To say that Pierce has a great deal of energy is an understatement. Pierce is like the energizer bunny on the battery commercial. Pierce, already retired is no spring chicken. Pierce lives in San Antonio, but has a boat berthed at Key Allegro. He runs the interstate between San Antonio and Rockport regularly.

Not only does Pierce have energy, he has a great attitude about life. I don’t think I have ever seen Pierce when he wasn’t happy. His life certainly hasn’t been perfect, as he has had a couple of rough bouts with cancer . . . but he just kept things in perspective, and keeps forging ahead.

I met Pierce several years back when I berthed Aftermath at Key Allegro; Pierce owned the boat in the next slip. He was very friendly, helpful, and taught me the technique of properly securing a yacht for the long term, by doing so in such a manner that it can be simply released for outings. That is an amazing system. Over time, I would discover that Pierce is by far the most knowledgeable person I have ever known about boats and boating life. He taught me a world of stuff about owning, operating, and maintaining a yacht.

Not only is Pierce energetic, happy, helpful, and knowledgeable about boating, he is a great deal of fun–and easy to be with. He has a delightful sense of humor and no one appreciates a story or clean joke better than Pierce. All of the folks up and down the docks at the Marina love and enjoy Pierce.

In spending time with Pierce, I learned that as a young man he had sailed around Europe as he teamed up with other privileged young men for Olympic sea trials. The guy has spent untold hours at sea and has a wealth of knowledge. In fact, his original home was in the Annapolis, Maryland, area, and I think that it is expected that as a child, his first word must have been something nautical, such as, “Ship,” “Helm,” “White cap,” “Sail,” or such. To say the least, my friend Pierce has lived a full and adventurous life.

Pierce is a member of a men’s group in San Antonio that seems to serve as something of a social register. I understand that a dad must work tirelessly to get his son elected once his reaches the appropriate age. So it is not some new, up-and-coming thing. That group has been around for a long time and does some good and meaningful community service in the San Antonio area. One thing I know for certain is that the organization owns, maintains, and operates a large fleet of river boats which are used in the annual San Antonio River Parade. Pierce plays an important role in all of that.

Pierce has had a lovely lady friend for many years, Marijane. The dear lady does a wonderful job of semi-keeping Pierce headed in the right direction, semi-focused and semi-in line. The truth be told, “semi-anything” is about as well as one can hope for with Pierce . . . the dude is the ultimate free spirit, and he marches to his own drum beat. Yet, having said that, Pierce is also the ultimate illustration of a true friend–being someone you can go a long time without talking to or seeing, but when you do finally see him, he starts the conversation in mid sentence . . . just as if you were together that very morning. Time, distance, and space doesn’t change anything in one’s friendship with Pierce. Pierce knows how to be a friend.

The Previous Debate Seems to be Evolving into a New Concern . . . Worshiptainment

It was around the time the historians will call Y2K . . . that Duane and Deva Wampler and I entered the large sanctuary one Sunday morning. As we settled into our selected places, we could just sense the stress and tension . . . it is just wrong for such an atmosphere to be prevalent in God’s house as His people gathered for corporate worship.

It was not our first visit to this Church in West Texas, but it would prove to be one of our last. As the service began, the Praise Band members took their place on the stage, the large screen was lowered, and the projector beamed the words of the newest and latest praise song onto it and the band began to play. Soon there were folks lifting their hands into the air as others moved into the aisle to dance along with the dance team who had now moved onto the stage and started making their contribution to this praise-and-worship service. As guests that morning, we stood silently and looked on in amazement at what was happening in that Baptist Church . . . we had seen some of this in earlier stages on previous visits, but on that morning it had reached a completely new level. As we looked around, we could clearly see another group within the group. They were easy to spot . . . they stood perfectly still, with their arms folded across their chests, also watching in disbelief. After a long and lively music service . . . which began with lots of loud upbeat music, then gradually wound down to slower, softer songs–and people began to tilt their heads back and lift their faces upward and with their eyes closed and gently moving their faces from side to side, as if gesturing “No” to someone or something. Then, a middle-aged fellow approached the pulpit and offered a lovely prayer. He was a rather handsome fellow as I recall, but he was dressed very casually with faded denim jeans, a buttoned up long sleeved shirt with the long tails untucked, and a pair of new athletic shoes. Surprisingly, the fellow had managed to forget to comb his hair as he got ready for Church.
He soon opened the Bible and read a wonderful story of a man who encountered Jesus and experienced a life-changing event. The fellow who forgot to comb his hair did an awe-inspiring job of explaining things about the man in the passage and Jesus. This fellow might be forgetful on matters of personal hygiene, but he was a very good public-speaker . . . actually he could even be described as engaging and charming. He was not the Preacher we heard on earlier visits. This was clearly a Church in transition . . . or perhaps more accurately described as being a Church that had made a major transition.

Afterwards Duane, Deva, and I drove to the restaurant for lunch. Like thousands of others across the USA that day, we talked over lunch about what had happened at Church that morning. Duane was troubled by the lack of friendliness of the others there that morning. I told Duane that I sensed the Church was locked into a battle and none of them were certain about which side others might be on, so they simply avoided strangers such as us.

Of course, what we encountered that morning was taking place in many churches across the country at that time, and it was being called “Church Wars.” A few years later I met a fellow named Bill Holmes, who was then serving as President of Texas Baptist Men. Bill was out-and-about looking into the various ways that Texas Baptists were reaching out to the world around us. Bill was at Charlie’s Place on that Saturday evening to observe, and I had the opportunity to visit at length with him. As we talked, he said Charlie had told him that I had a ranch in West Texas. He said that he was headed out there the following week and was hoping to get acquainted with a man living there who was a member of FBC. I provided Bill with the name and number of a Banker friend who was a long-term member of that Church. A few days later I got a sad email from my Banker friend, who said that Bill had contacted him, but he wanted to let me know that he was no longer a member of that local Church. He went on to tell me that the Church had split up after 150 years over the issue of how to appropriately worship God. He, sadly, told me that he and his wife no longer even went to Church . . . anywhere! That made me really sad for my friend . . . I know that he is a good, decent, and honorable man; he and his wife grew up in that Church and then raised their family in that Church. They were a third-generation family who had made a huge investment in the Church.

This was a great tragedy. That once great Church had lost its way . . . its direction . . . lost sight of its mission and purpose . . . as it focused its time, interest, and energy on “how it sang some songs” . . . rather than keeping their focus “upon the One to whom they sang those songs.” Many Churches fell into that same trap during that era. Regardless of which position you take on the issue, one must recognize: that is not God at work . . . that is something else at work!

Back home, our Church was just entering the mix on the very subject. There was a growing number of folks in our congregation who had developed an appetite for this newer style of worship, but because our long-term, beloved Pastor was traditional and very knowledgeable about music, they laid low. But, it was along about that time that he retired and the Church entered into the new era. Our Church issued a call to a younger Pastor, and it became obvious that things were about to change. The new Pastor, Walter Knight, was a man filled with grace and wisdom. He guided the Church through the process and into two distinct services . . . and he kept the services separate. That spared our Church from considerable friction and heartache. The problem the West Texas Church and other congregations made was that they foolishly started with a blended style of service and then tried to force the Praise and Worship format down everyone else’s throat. The truth is there are just some people who are unwilling to adopt such a change and if pushed, they will resist . . . and even leave the fellowship. Walter once told me that he purposely sat on the front row of Church during the Praise and Worship Service, and as those leading the music program stood in front of him, he held that huge right index finger upward before his stomach so only they could see it . . . he said he did that to remind them that what they did had better be about Jesus . . . and about Jesus only!

I ran across a blog post on FB yesterday that tried to ask and answer valid questions about the Church’s call to “promote and host worship” or “to provide entertainment” for its folks. The blog was written by Mike Livingstone and was entitled, “The Heresy of Worshiptainment” . . . I don’t know Mike and doubt that I have ever read anything else he may have written. But, as I read his blog, I found myself agreeing with his questions and observations, but also questioning if perhaps his blog was not the new issues that should follow the change in worship styles that many pushed for over recent years.

I don’t know the answer to the question about what style of worship is pleasing to God, and when it ends being worship and becomes entertainment. I am not sure that anyone is, but I do know that the condition of one’s heart is ever important to God as we approach Him. The scriptures make that truth abundantly clear. I want to guard my heart and my mind . . . I want to be devout in this area. I love that old Bible word . . . and I love the way it is often used . . . as, “being devout men.” I believe it means: “cautious, careful men who would never want to offend God.”

I have struggled through much of this new movement as it has impacted our SBC Churches, and my concern has been if this was truly worship, or if it was about entertaining folks. As I wrestle with it inwardly, I try to remind myself that my principle assignment is to guard my heart and let the Lord work it all out. I am reminded that the only entity about which He made the bold claim, “And the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” was His Church . . . it is going to be just fine . . . and it will be there for Ali and Abi . . . and for your Grandkids, too!

We will do well to remember that it is His . . . and He gave himself for it! He will take care of it!

The Struggles of Life . . .

Several years back, pretty early one morning I was showing off and dove into our swimming pool . . . fun and normal guy stuff when a group of guys are hanging out; but, on that particular morning something went way wrong and I and smacked my head on the bottom . . . pretty hard. I was instantly paralyzed and it sent tremors down through my torso, legs, and arms. The guys there pulled me out of the pool and laid me on the deck for a while. Gradually, I recovered motion, although limited. We had a houseful of company . . . and more on the way. I had been in Maine earlier in the week and had brought a large box of lobsters home. The day was the 4th of July, and we were having a lobster-boil late that afternoon . . . pool-side for a gang of about 40! Sandy was in the house and busy as always.

As I began to regain some motion. I hobbled off and slipped some clothes on and drove myself to the Emergency Room. After a wait, I was x-rayed and saw the on-call ER doc. He said the X-ray showed no damage and I returned home. I seemed to be okay; however, I had a dull ache and loaded up on aspirin. I got through the lobster boil, but I didn’t feel well, and stayed out of the pool.

Over the next 20 years I experienced significant pain and discomfort in my neck. It always hurt . . . and there was not much that would help. There were a few occasions when it would actually lock up on me and I would have to go to a chiropractor for “an adjustment.” It is literally a miracle one of those guys didn’t kill me—jerking and banging around on me!

During those years, I had the neck x-rayed several times and visited with a number of doctors. The general consensus was that it was just a condition with which I would have to live. I did so . . . painfully. It was always a serious, on-going, ever-present issue with me. Literally, everything that happened through those years . . . that happened “to me” . . . and that happened “in me” . . . happened in my neck. When I got sick, it was worse in my neck than anywhere else . . . when I was stressed . . . it was in my neck. It was always there. It was the proverbial weakest link in the chain.

Then, on Sunday morning, April 14, 2013, while teaching my Sunday school class, I had a stroke. I would spend the next three weeks in the hospital and in rehab. Soon into that ordeal, a doctor visited my room and identified himself as a Neurosurgeon, and he said the hospital had him review my tests and MRI. He said that the stroke, while unfortunate, had most likely saved my life! He went on to explain that I had a “Spinal Stenosis in my neck that literally put my life at risk!” Of course, that information sent a shock-wave through my family and circle of friends.

In June of 2013, a most remarkable and gifted Neurosurgeon named Dr. Donald Hilton, in San Antonio, repaired that serious neck injury and I had a new lease on life! The permanent damage caused by the stroke was minimal and I got back to living! For the first time . . . in a long time . . . my neck was free from pain and discomfort! Praise God!

Then, on a Sunday afternoon in October, 2014, while driving home from Chris’ house in Waco, we stopped at the McDonald’s in Lockhart (outside of Austin) for a potty break. As I stepped out of the suburban, I instantly fell in the parking lot. Several folks were in the store and saw me fall and came to my rescue. They kindly helped me to my feet; I cautiously made my way to the men’s room and back to the car. I drove home. Everything seemed to be okay, and Sandy attributed the loss of strength in my legs to a new prescription medicine I had started earlier in the week. She cancelled that pill. Everything was okay, and I was cautious when standing or walking. Then the following Sunday morning as I came out of the pool bathroom, I stumbled and fell . . . landing hard on my left knee and causing an open wound. That would be my last time to walk unassisted, and quickly I began experiencing intense pain in my lower back, legs, and feet. I was experiencing a numbing, burning, and throbbing pain . . . almost unbearable. Of course, all of this stuff with me is more complicated by the fact that I had polio as a child, and that left me with a weaker left side.

Here is Abi pushing me in the wheelchair:

In between the two falls, Dr. Haun ordered an MRI on my lower back. I took that MRI and went back to see my friend, Dr. Hilton. He examined me and looked at the MRI. He was polite, guarded, and said that he wanted a better and more complete MRI . . . from the top of my head down to my tail bone. I had that MRI on 12/23 in San Antonio . . . two hours of uninterrupted hell!

Dr. Hilton sent me to see a pain-management doctor who did an epidural. It reduced the pain for a few days, but it did not return my leg strength. On Saturday, February 7, 2015, I saw Dr. Atkins, Dr. Hilton’s partner . . . who he passed me off to by saying that Dr. Adkins was the specialist in their practice who was best suited to handle my situation. If I had been properly alert, I would have known that something serious was up.

As we sat with Dr. Adkins and he studied my MRI on Saturday, I got the sense that something was up. After a throughout review, he turned to face Chris and me and tell us that I have a much more serious issue than we originally believed. I appreciated his frankness and honesty. He informed us that I have another injury in my upper spine . . . a more significant injury . . . similar to the one in my neck before. The problem is this injury is much more difficult in that it is located directly behind my heart . . . and there simply is no easy way to get to it! He explained that if it were a bit higher he could access it from the front of the neck as Dr. Hilton did; if it was lower, piece of cake—simply access it from the back. He explained that the location of the injury would require him to enter from the back, and circle around the spine and work under the heart and try to make the repair. He said it is much higher risk . . . and then, the odds are 50/50 that it will improve my situation! Wow . . .

He left us to check his schedule and then returned. He said, “Gentlemen, I want you to be here early on the morning of Wednesday, February 11th, at which time the hospital will do some required lab work, then I will inset a small screw into your spine; then I will send you down the street to have dye injected into your spine and an MRI to observe the route the dye travels. Then, early on the morning on Wednesday February 18th, I will operate and try to repair your injury.”

Chris and I both asked the purpose of the screw being inserted. He calmly replied, “It will help me locate the injury during surgery!”

So that is where I am this Monday morning . . . the stark truth is that there is simply no option here! I must have the surgery . . . I simply cannot live long-term in this awful pain, confined to a wheelchair with my biggest accomplishment being to make a transfer from the wheelchair into another chair. I am weary of being a burden on my family.

So, the 18th is the moment of truth . . . but, then, so is any other day really. We all live in a world . . . a life order . . . where there are no guarantees from day to day relative to life itself or health. Things change . . . people change . . . circumstances change!

I have wonderful family and friends who are all full of encouragement and hope! I truly appreciate that. I appreciate hearing and, indeed, I know that the Lord is good . . . that He is faithful . . . and that He still performs miracles . . . but I also know that not all surgeries work . . . and I know that folks do die . . . that is a pretty certain aspect of the life experience.

Better yet . . . I also know and am confident that I will spend eternity in Heaven . . . that Jesus has prepared a place there for me . . . I am also confident that there are no spinal injuries . . . pain . . . or wheelchairs in Heaven.

All is well . . . and everything is going to be okay! Boy, I am glad I am a saved man . . . I am not sure how an unsaved man could handle all of this clutter, confusion, and pain . . . that is such a part of the struggles of life! I am thrilled that I have a glorious future . . . regardless what happens today, tomorrow, next week . . . or next year!

Flawed . . .

I have a character flaw . . . well, of course, I actually have more than one but the one of which I am thinking and confessing this morning is likely, and I hope, the biggest. The flaw is: I am not a very forgiving person. Someone does me wrong, offends me, or hurts me . . . I can use any of those experiences as a basis for keeping that person out of my life for the long term. Boom . . . simply dismissed . . . and written off! But I hasten to add . . .it is not that I don’t love them any longer . . .because I usually still do . . . I simply find it easier and safer to love those individuals from a distance.

A pretty interesting part of that whole experience is that I am generally not angry . . . or even bitter . . . toward the person. I simply see no reason or purpose in having people near me who have demonstrated the ability, willingness, or perhaps, the desire to treat me badly, hurt me, let me down, or back-bite me.

To me, friendship is a very important thing, and I do know how to be a friend. Friendship for me includes loyalty, faithfulness, allegiance, commitment, and dependability. I give those things freely without counting, and I am inclined to the presupposition that most true friends do as well. I don’t particularly require those things in exchange by and of my friends, but I do tend to use them as a basis for determining the quality of a relationship. It is not something I spend much time evaluating; it just sort of happens in me.

It seems to me that my approach to friendship is really quite normal . . . and pretty much the same as reasonable, intelligent folks do . . . I respond favorably to those who respond to me in like manner. I mean . . . who wants to hang out with someone who wants to make you the butt of his stupid jokes . . . someone who places greater value on his pleasure than he places on your feelings? That is clearly a selfish, foolish person . . . and I ask, “Is that someone you care to hang with?” I recently read that the guy who wants to be a “smart-ass” is actually not very smart and without the “smart” he simply becomes an “Ass.” My natural response with this sort of person is to be polite to the guy but to also stay away from him! He simply has no place in the circle.

I think my response to loyalty is proper and is pretty much what one’s response ought to be . . . I am loyal to those who are loyal to me. They are the ones . . . and the only ones . . . to whom I owe loyalty. Others, I simply owe common courtesy, dignity, and politeness.

I think my faithfulness to my friends is really good. I am there for them . . . without many exceptions. I am pretty much the same with them every time . . . I struggle with moody people who are up and down and respond to others in such fashion . . . I never, ever do that, and I never turn my back on or let my friends down.

In my mind it is both right and proper that one seeking to gain citizenship in the United States is required to pledge his or her allegiance to this great nation. That required, publicly-declared, allegiance is important. To me it implies an understanding of what citizenship entails and an acceptance of that and a commitment to keep it all. Friendship for me involves the same understanding and commitment, even though it isn’t necessarily verbalized.

When I accept some as my personal friend, I inwardly make a personal commitment to honor the friendship and maintain it to the best of my ability. I think that is a two-way street and a commitment on each side of the friendship is essential.

I strive to be a dependable friend . . . to be open and available to my friends as they may need me . . . or my assistance, support, and encouragement. I pretty much have an open-door policy for any and all of my friends. I want to be someone others can count on and, at the same time, I strive to not call on others for assistance unless it is absolutely necessary . . . believing that being dependable means never needlessly imposing on a friend.

I have wonderful friends . . . I have many friends . . . I have real friends! I love, appreciate, and admire each and every one of them. But to get to this place, there have been many people who have come through the door, hung around a while, and moved on without much fanfare. However, there have been some in that group who ought to have made the cut, but for various and sundry reasons did not, and I allowed them to move on; in truth, I probably ought to have made a greater effort at salvaging the relationship and helped it develop into a true friendship. My failure to do that extra work is what I am referring to as a character flaw . . . simply willing to allow others to exit my life without any effort.

Some years ago, I developed a philosophy on friendship . . . I even taught it in my seminars. Here it is:

1. Give everyone a shot (reach out to everyone you encounter);
2. Give some a better shot (you will know who they are); and
3. Give a few your best shot (they will be easily identified).

I always thought that was an excellent model. But it recently occurred to me that while it might be a great earthly model for friendship, it fails greatly by the standards of the One who demonstrated perfect friendship to the world. That same one who personally calls us—each one—to friendship with him . . . to a friendship based upon His definition of friendship. His definition of friendship exceeds the model I have been using . . . and it exceeds it by light years!

Another part, and perhaps the greater part, of my character flaw is that many years ago I made a commitment to that Friend of friends . . . that I would die to myself and allow Him to live through me . . .that I would abandon my ideas of right and wrong and in their place adopt His standards as my very own. Of course, that would certainly include following His model of friendship . . . which incorporates a mountain of grace, mercy, forgiveness . . . and forgetting . . . rather than keeping account. A certain and open door . . . to total restoration . . . available 24 / 7 / and 365!

A couple of years back, I fired an employee who was also my friend. I believed that I was justified in firing him at that time . . . and I still believe that I was justified in that. The situation was that I had been paying him to do an important job, which he failed to do but did not tell me . . . yet he continued to cash the checks . . . just as if he had completed the work. When I discovered the truth I felt betrayed, short-changed, and consequently, I dismissed him . . . and in the manner by which I did so, I closed the door on the friendship. Dead, over, finished . . . no hope of restoration. He departed knowing that was the case. He moved off to Houston.

Saturday I spent some time and energy tracking him down and getting a current phone number for him. Once I had the number, I called my friend. I told him that I regretted how things had ended with us and that for whatever it might be worth I forgave him, and I asked him to forgive me. I told him that I love him and would consider him a friend and brother all the days of my life. He responded wonderfully and shared his regret over his failure and told me that he loved and appreciated me, too. We caught up some, and I concluded the conversation by asking him if I could do anything to help him. Historically, he was always quick to accept any offer of help; but, to his credit, today he thanked me for the offer, but declined any assistance. Perhaps, he and I have both made some adjustments and have a new and improved sense of friendship. I prayed for my friend this morning . . . it was the first time in a long time, and it felt good. He needed it; I needed it more!

I think I will do well to be more gentle with folks . . . I pledge to make a serious effort in that regard going forward. I want to do my best to reflect the lovely character of my grand and perfect Friend. Sadly, I had vowed to do that long ago, but have been slothful in that.

The instant and complete forgiveness . . . and restoration I find in my relationship with Him are both soothing and satisfying. It amazes me that it all comes from His grace, love, and mercy and is ever available . . . simply for the asking! He never makes any conditions . . .

Changing Times . . .

For many years, we as a society assumed certain things were set in concrete and would never change. Were we ever wrong?!?! The experts are warning us that we can expect the death of certain things in our lifetime . . . and just a few years ago no one would have believed that possible. Here is the list of near-dead things we believed would last forever;

1. The Post Office . . . It is too crazy for us to even believe, but the postal system is broke, is a dismal failure, and simply cannot continue to stay in service. Technology has passed it by and left it standing in the smoke and ashes. The primary mail we get via the postal system today is junk mail and bills. Email, FedEx, and UPS have pretty much taken over our more important correspondences. Mail is expensive and inefficient. I mailed a payroll pack to Austin last April and it still has not made its way there; and it has not been returned here either!

2. Payment by check . . . We are moving closer and closer to a cashless society and more and more that means plastic. Britain is already full-swing into eliminating checks by 2018. Financial institutions spend a fortunate processing and verifying checks. The end of checks plays into the death of the Post Office.

3. The newspaper . . . The younger generation simply does not read the newspaper—other than electronically! They do not subscribe to the paper, and it will go the way of the local milkman and laundryman – a thing of the past. The younger generation has many other means of getting the news . . . much faster . . . more reliable . . . and in a more preferred method. This generation just likes mobile devices and Internet sources.

4. The Book—in hardback and paperback. As difficult as it is for some of us to get our minds around, there are literally book stores online! Book stores that allow a customer to read an entire chapter of a book prior to purchase; then if one likes the book, it can be bought for less than the printed copy. There is no book to leave behind or to lose. There is no need for book-shelves and no worry that someone will steal your book.

5. The land-line telephone . . . due to cell phones being so convenient, many folks don’t even bother with keeping a land-line any longer. Generally, those of us who do simply do so just because we have had it for so long. It seems like every annoying call from a telemarketer moves me closer to getting rid of mine. It just makes less and less sense.

6. Music . . . The saddest part of the change story is that the music industry is dying a slow death from a lack of innovative new music being given a chance to get to the people who would like to hear it. Moreover, there are struggles with illegal downloads, greed, and corruption and the record labels and radio conglomerates are just self-destructing. There is a strong push of garbage called “rap” that is not music at all. The push of this trash is also taking a toll. For more information on this sad situation please see the book, “Appetite for Self Destruction,” by Steve Knopper, and the video documentary, “Before the Music Dies.”

7. Television revenues . . . to the networks are dying a rapid death. More and more people are watching movies from their computers, Red Box rentals, Netflix, and Apple TV; or, playing games from their mobile devices and doing other things besides watching network television. Prime time has degenerated and cable fees have escalated through the roof . . . and there is a TV ad every four minutes and 30 seconds! Consumer selected and controlled movies are the future . . . not network TV.

8. The things we own . . . many of the things we once “owned” are today now simply “in our lives” . . . photos . . . music . . . documents . . . movies . . . games . . . and movies. Today we simply store these things in our clouds! We pay a fee which permits us to live in this virtual world, and we can have access to our “stuff” anytime, from any place, with a laptop or a mobile device! There was a time when we had large amounts of money invested in music in the form of records, then 8-track tapes, then cassettes, then CD’s. We also had boxes of movies in VHS tapes and DVD’s. Suddenly, we have gone from “owning stuff” to simply “storing stuff.”

9. Joined handwriting (cursive) . . . handwriting is already gone in some schools, and there is a growing debate about the need to even continue teaching spelling and grammar in other schools. The argument is made that those things simply are not very important in our world today as everything is being done on a keyboard, and grammar and spell check are common tools.

10. Privacy . . . Truth be told we haven’t had much of this for some time. There are cameras on the streets, in most buildings, built in our computers, and into our mobile phones. If you purchase something on-line they instantly have you in a dozen profiles. Open an email and suddenly, you are in a dozen other lists and later today you will receive two dozen other emails on similar related topics.

We are living in changing times . . . and It Seems to Me . . . that not all changes are for the better . . . it just seems as if Logic is dead . . . Excellence is being punished . . . Mediocre is being rewarded . . . and Dependency seems to be respected.

It Seems to Me . . . that there isn’t much like it was when I was a kid.


Sleep Apnea . . . It Seems to Me . . .

Just a few years ago, I didn’t even know what it was (I bet you didn’t either) . . . and now there are a growing number of folks thinking that I have it . . . or better said, there is a growing number of people who are suddenly convinced that I do have it.

What is it? It is a fairly new diagnosis of the medical community used to describe a problem that occurs in certain humans while they sleep. It is related to restricted airways that make breathing more difficult when a person is in a reclined position. It is believed that the condition can actually trigger a heart attack in certain individuals. From what information I have been able to piece together, it seem to me that medical folks are predisposed to believe it is something that all fat guys have. But hold the phone, it is not just a guy thing! Plump girls can have it, too. In fact, I pretty much believe that if I do, in fact, have this thing, I caught it from my wife! She was the first person I ever knew who had it . . . and I slept and snored in the same bed when she had it . . . before, during, and after she had the condition!

I remember the day she came out of the doctor’s office and told me that the doc was pretty certain that she had sleep apnea, and was sending her to a clinic for overnight testing. I remember her packing her overnight bag and going off to the clinic . . . uncertain what the future might look like. I remember her coming home the next morning and reporting that it was no longer a mere suspicion, she had it for certain. I remember asking her if there was anything that could be done for her. I remember her telling me that she had to buy a sleep apnea machine and learn to sleep in the thing. I remember thinking it sounded frightful; buy hey, I am a stand-by-my-woman man, so I worked on developing a supportive attitude to help her. We bought the contraption and set it up beside the bed and began trying to implement its possible life-saving benefits. I remember, vividly, the noise of it and the struggles of the dear lady trying to sleep with that mask.

But miracle of miracles, after a short period the blasted thing did its work on her . . . and for her . . . and she, amazingly, quit snoring! She was healed! I was delighted for her. She loves to sleep, she has always loved to sleep, and now it had returned for her in its purest form, unencumbered by snoring!

A while back a doctor suggested that I might suffer from the condition and Sandy quickly agreed with him. I have not yet submitted to the sleep study, but Sandy, precious lady that she is, dug out her old machine, cleaned it up, and gave me lessons on how it is to be properly used. I submitted and have been trying to use it some; however, I find it to be most annoying and troublesome. In fact, I believe its inventor was surely diabolical, as no normal human who lives by the blessed creed, “Love ye one another” could possibly impose such a wretched thing like that upon another human’s sleep time.

Sandy sweetly scolds me that I am not using the machine properly and gently offers me advice, which I do appreciate and certainly need. I want to testify that I am delighted at her success in defeating this condition in her own life . . . and to also say that she is the only person I have ever known who has been forever healed . . . I rejoice in that!

But, I just don’t recall her wearing that mask nearly as well, or for as long of periods, as she remembers. Yet, I acknowledge that she must be right on that, because it is impossible to argue with her success.

I am most likely not going to share her experience of healing and deliverance, but at least I am making an effort to use the dang thing. That is a heck of a lot better than Chris did with it. She delivered the thing to him in Waco and that dude didn’t even pour distiller water into the reservoir or plug it in. He quietly rolled it up and stuck it in his closet. On those occasions when his mom would ask him how it was going, he simply looked at her and grunted and walked off.

Sweet dreams!

It Never Goes on Forever . . .

In 1996, after being declared the #1 high school basketball player in the nation, one Kobe Bryant, of Merion, Pennsylvania declared himself an eligible candidate for the NBA draft. He was selected in the 13th round by the Charlotte Hornets, who then traded him to the L.A. Lakers. There was some speculation about a high school kid being able to play at the NBA level. As it turned out, there was no need for such debate . . . this kid came in and immediately took the game to pretty much a new level. At the Lakers, he joined Shaquille O’Oneal, an absolute giant, and the two were a force to be reckoned with for certain. It was a rather frequent, galling for me personally, event for them to thrash the San Antonio Spurs.

I love the game of basketball . . . enjoying the rapid pace of the game . . . the intensity of the competition . . . and I respect and appreciate a player’s skills and talent. In spite of this kid joining the Spur’s old rival and how that had a negative impact on my team, I was glad to see him join the NBA. I admired his tremendous ability to play the game. Yet, over time I began to lose interest in him . . . simply because he became a “showboat” and developed and nurtured a high opinion of himself. That showed as he strutted up and down the court, hogging the play to himself . . . ever in pursuit of the day’s highlight reel. It didn’t take too terribly long for his high opinion of himself to cause friction between him and Shaq (who perceived himself as the Man at the Lakers), and also with legendary coach, Phil Jackson. After winning two NBA Championship titles, the team began to crumble and (unhappy) Shaq was traded to the Heat, and Kobe then became the only star on the Lakers . . . and he would never again allow another quality player to play on the team; thus, he pretty much ran any potential help away; he was just unwilling to share the spotlight in LA!

Last year, Kobe was paid $25 million to play for the Lakers. Earlier in his career, he likely had earned close to that same amount annually in his endorsements and appearance in ads, but over recent years such has slimmed down as his popularity has faded. In 2003, he was publicly accused of raping a hotel employee at an upscale resort in Colorado. Charges were later dropped when the victim declined to testify, but there was also a private settlement of a personal lawsuit for an undisclosed sum of money. The general consensus was that he had bought himself out of a problem.

One of the harsh realities of life is that circumstances, physical abilities, and skills are diminishing assets and time and gravity catch up and take their toll. This past week, Kobe suffered a season-ending injury . . . and it may well prove to be a career-ending injury. The networks have, without warning, simply dropped something like six of the Lakers scheduled televised games just in recent days. Suddenly, the L.A. Lakers, one of the hottest sports franchises in modern history, are suddenly yesterday’s news. Gone for Kobe is the sportscaster’s declaration, ” . . . and Kobe pulls up and knocks down the 30′ jumper . . . and the crowd goes wild!” That is something that he has come to thrive on . . . to gain identity from.

There have been many who have passed through the pages of sports history who have had similar stories . . . and similar career endings, but I just have to wonder what could have been . . . if he had developed a bit more character . . . as opposed to having become such a character . . . another truth of life is: there are no mulligans here . . .

Adios Hotshot . . . you were fun to watch most of the time . . . but you really could have been something special . . . if you had just learned three important principles of life, as follows:

1. To respect others;
2. To play well with others; and
3. A very important truth of life which fellow Californian Rick Warren wrote on page 1 of his best-selling book, The Purpose Driven Life . . . and that truth being . . . “It’s Not About You!”