A Man Named Paul . . .

I grew up in a large lower-income family. My Dad worked in the oil patch and we followed the work. We moved often and my siblings and I changed schools often. When I became an adult, I did what my family did . . . I followed the work in the oil patch. It was actually a pretty fun experience for a young single guy . . . I made pretty good money, drove a fine automobile, lived in nice motels, ate in nice restaurants, and sent my laundry out to be done for me. Then I met a pretty little read-haired gal who changed my life . . . and the direction of my life. I soon found myself married and living in a small wood-framed house, making $100 per month house payments. I struggled trying to find a job that I liked and at which I could earn a living for my new wife. Sandy and I rocked along for few years with her working part-time in a law office and me doing an assortment of jobs. Then, a pretty little big-eyed gal came along that changed our lives forever . . . we named her Courtney. Now, I had to get serious about earning a living—not just simply trying to pay the bills.

With nothing except a high school diploma, I actually managed to land an office job! I became the Executive Director of the Burnet Housing Authority. Pretty big title for a $400 per month part-time job. Soon into the job, I began to receive letters from the U. S. government—addressed to me. Most of those letters were intended to take me to the woodshed over some due-date or report that had been missed. Weary of all of that, I wrote a letter to the government that my legal secretary / wife typed up for me. The letter was short and to the point . . . I pointed out that if I was to be held responsible for following a set of rules, then I thought it was only right that I be provided with those rules . . . DUH . . . the Lord gave the Ten Commandments to Israel on tablets of stone! Not too long after I sent my letter to the government, a fellow came to see me. He was a mean-looking son of a gun, wearing a goofy bow tie and carrying a large black case. He entered my office with a great deal of authority and scared the snot out of me! He laid my dangled letter on the counter between us and asked if I had written the thing. I sheepishly acknowledged that I had . . . but I let him know that I had help from a legal secretary and if there was punishment to be dished out, I felt that she ought to get most of it since she was the one who knew what she was doing. He surprised me and said that he actually liked the letter and appreciated my position about wanting to know the rules to which I was being held. He went on to say that the rules had been provided to my office and the task he and I needed to address was to locate those rules. We did locate them, in a couple of old A/C filter boxes back in the maintenance shop! The fellow I had replaced was a retired Bird Colonel . . . who obviously had a low opinion of and respect for government rules and bureaucracy. As we unboxed those rules (called Handbooks), he showed me how they were to be arranged into binders and organized. Moreover, he showed me how the handbook system worked and how they were numbered . . . and it just clicked for me . . . I really connected with it and embraced the system. Frankly, there had been few things in my life that I had grasped as quickly.

Over the next couple of years, I would spend untold hours reading those handbooks and making notes in the margins. My new friend, Paul, would call me from time to time as ask me a question like, “Did you read Handbook 7560.2, part 860.4, paragraph 6, D, 2?”, and then abruptly hang up. I soon learned to keep a note pad and a pen near the phone on my desk so I would be ready to scribble the citation down for reference after he hung up. I would immediately go find the thing and read it and call him back and say something like, “Ok, I understand the error in my work and why you asked the question.”  It actually became a challenge for me to not get caught flat-footed, so I studied diligently. Little did I know then that would pay huge dividends up the road. After a few years of doing that sort of thing, I started my own business—a management firm and consultant business. My friend and mentor Paul would later come to work for me. That was a big day for me!

One afternoon I got a call from the Housing Chief of the San Antonio HUD office in which he asked that I come to see him the next week . . . giving me a time and date. I didn’t really view it as a request . . . more along the lines of a summons. When I arrived at his office he said, “Friend, we have a bit of a problem in that we need to have a regional training session, but none of my staff are willing to do the training if you are in the training room.”  I was dumbfounded and asked what he meant. He chuckled and said, “That darned Paul Stone over-trained you and you know our regulations and handbooks better than they do, so we have concluded that you are to do the training!”  With that, he pointed to a stack of material on the corner of his desk and said that was the new material over which I was to train his staff and my peers from across South Texas. I was immediately quite ill and declared that I simply could not do such a thing. But I did and I was rotten at it . . . and vowed to never again be put in such a terrible position, but folks complimented me and encouraged me and I began to get requests to do training for a fee.

Over the next 30 years, I would do many training sessions, professional seminars, and even some after-dinner speaking. It all started because a crusty old guy saw more in a kid than that kid ever saw in himself . . . and the old guy set about trying to help that kid develop a skill-set, learn a business, and gain the confidence to venture out of his comfort zone. I often wonder where I might be today if the Lord had not crossed my path with a man named Paul! Paul has gone on to the next life, but I remember him fondly. In fact, Courtney and I talked about him just yesterday when she chuckled and said, “He bought my first book and always encouraged me to read!”  I chuckled and asked, “You, too.”

Deep, Dark Secrets . . . Well, they had hoped they were!

Over the past couple of months there has been a series of social earthquakes rumble across the USA . . . it began with Hollywood and the entertainment industry, then spilled over into the ‘news media” so called, then over into the arena of public service—our elected officials. It all centers on men making uninvited and unwelcomed sexual advances on women who worked with them or for them.

Suddenly, the dam burst and a wide assortment of ladies have stepped out from behind the curtain to announce that she had been victimized by some man who used the weight of position or office to prey upon her and other women beneath him in the food chain.

There has been a great deal of money changing hands as all of this is being made public.

Incredibly, we have recently discovered that our Congress . . . that noble body of stewards of the People’s business . . . that crucial third component of our government charged under the Constitution with responsibility of the legislative portion of our nation and with oversight of the Executive Branch . . . had actually created and established an in-house slush fund used to buy silence in matters of disputes which would embarrass those noble men if the matter should ever became public. Essentially, it enabled the Congressmen and Senators to misbehave and provide a safety net in the process. Of course, those strong champions of the down-trodden preyed upon women who needed their jobs and were locked into a system not easily exited. If the lady was not receptive to his advances, she was left in a most difficult and embarrassing situation. If she filed a complaint, she was blacklisted and held at bay as long as possible and finally forced to sign a non-disclosure agreement in order to get the hush money.

Watchdog groups have been all over this story and have learned that some $17 million of the people’s money has been paid out of said slush fund. Two of our Texas delegation have been identified as villains for whom such payments have been made. All of this stupid behavior reminds me of a warning issued long ago, “Therefore whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in an ear in private rooms will be proclaimed on the housetops.”

Did those idiots think they were bullet-proof and could just do whatever they wanted? Not only is their sin being shouted from the rooftop . . . it is being proclaimed over the airwaves! They forgot that they were supposed to be servants . . . and behaved as if they were masters.

One more warning comes to mind . . . Be sure your sins will find you out.”

Jack and Jill . . .

I was in the Rockport pool and observed and old dude stumbling along holding to the side. As I passed him I greeted him and welcomed him to our Pool. He mumbled something as I passed by that I did not comprehend, but simply continued on my way and he did the same thing. As I looped back around, I observed one of the young guards trying to get the man to put on a lift-belt to help him walk in the water. The guard soon gave up and laid the belt pool-side. When I finished my work-out I went over to the chairs to drip-dry for a while before going to my car. Soon the old fellow showed up and took a nearby chair. I soon learned that the gentleman had some sort of halt in his speech . . . and struggled to articulate what he wanted to communicate (I suspected a stroke). I soon learned:

  1. He was born in Lubbock;
  2. He grew up in Odessa;
  3. His name was Jack;
  4. He had lived in Alaska; and
  5. Had recently relocated to Rockport!

As we sat there and I struggled to comprehend what he really wanted to communicate, an older lady appeared and asked, “Where do I pay?” I directed her to the office window and told her the sweet lady there was named Lisa. In a bit the lady returned and took a seat nearby. I introduced myself and learned that her name was Jill and that she was Jack’s younger sister. As she talked, I learned the following:

  1. Jack had had a head injury as a kid resulting in some cognitive struggles;
  2. Jack had lived with their Mom until she passed away in ‘94;
  3. Jack had never married or had children; and
  4. Jill had gone to live in Alaska years ago and had come and collected Jack when their Mom had passed, and Jill had looked after him all of those years between.

I asked Jill if she originally went to Alaska with her husband on the pipeline. She let me know in short order that she did not follow a man . . . she went there alone. She said that she had been having a series of dreams about gold-nuggets and woke up one morning and decided that she had to follow that dream . . . her research showed that quest would take her to either Las Vegas or Alaska. Uncertain of the direction . . . she said she flipped a quarter into the air. She chuckled and said the coin said Las Vegas the first few times, but she stayed after it until Alaska finally won. Once she had clear direction she packed her bags, filled her truck up, and struck out . . . North to Alaska!

She told of learning to hunt and reaching into her bag removed a plastic photo album and showed some photos of her (much younger) standing by a small Black bear being skinned while hung from a tree. She also told of learning to fly and becoming a pilot. She showed photos of her standing beside her small plane. In her album she had photos of fish and game.

I concluded that Jill had been something of a pioneer woman . . . and prone to wander. She showed no signs of being intimidated by the unknown and talked of living in the wild and making her way while living off of the land.

I finally managed to free myself from my new pals, Jack and Jill, and made my way to my car but only after having first promised to drive Jill to Progresso, Mexico, to see the dentist.

What an interesting pair. Driving home I wondered what their folks were thinking when they named them Jack and Jill . . . do you suppose they had any notion that those silly kids would one day . . . ‘go up the hill’?  I don’t know what their parents were thinking, but It Seems to Me . . . that they certainly managed to climb some hills (and I suspect it is quite likely several of those hills were of their own making).




Reckless . . . Reckon . . .

Saturday evening I was working in the study when Chris came in and greeted me. We chatted a bit and I told him about my Sunday school lesson for the next morning – Leviticus 16 – the Day of the Atonement and the scapegoat. Chris is a pretty deep thinker and has spent a number of years studying the works of 16th Century theologians. He asked me if I had ever, really, seriously considered the word ‘reckless.’  I chuckled and said that I didn’t suppose that I had. He said that he had been thinking about it and found that it was derived from the root word ‘reckon.’

Later, I checked on it and discovered that reckon is a verb meaning: ‘to establish by calculating.’  I thought about Chris’ comments throughout the night and then learned that the bad old dude from my early years—the boogyman, Charles Manson, had died on Sunday and his death was announced by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

Manson was a spooky dude and troubled my generation. He was the wild-eyed leader of a cult “family” who killed seven people in a bloody rampage of drugs, sex, and rock-and-roll music in Los Angeles and shocked the nation in 1969. As a result of that recklessness, the dude spent the majority of his life living in a cage, living like a laboratory rat.

He was one really messed up dude.

Here is the reality of reckless and reckon: And as it is appointed once unto man to die, and then the judgment. Hebrews 9:27

In 1919 Dr. R. G. Lee a famous preacher of that era delivered a powerful sermon entitled “Payday, Someday,” which spoke to the correlation between decisions made in this life and the consequences in the next life.

Charles Manson went out into eternity . . . into the next life . . . and soon into it he encountered God, the author of the Ten Commandments. What do you suppose transpired in that meeting?

Today we hear of and from folks who claim to be atheist . . . you can rest assured that there are no atheists five minutes into death . . . as those foolish folks quickly change their minds . . . and then view themselves as having been reckless . . . and reckon they are in very serious trouble . . . for a very long time to come, and never again an opportunity to change their fate. They wasted their one shot!

You might question and ask, “Don’t you believe in grace, mercy, forgiveness, repentance, and redemption?” I would reply with assurance of my faith in those wonderful things, and declare that I am, in fact, a recipient of those virtues/gifts. Yet, I would also tell you that I firmly believe that God will honor in eternity the decisions one makes in this life . . . and in His grace and mercy, He permits folks to carry those decisions into the next life—He never imposes Himself upon us.

May I ask a couple of questions?

  1. Are you living reckless? and
  1. Have you reckoned what the consequences might be for living in such manner?

Victory . . .

Recently I attended a Wake for a friend who had been a number of years older than me.

During the service, I was touched as several of his grandsons rose to speak of his great influence upon their lives . . . and they each one identified specific things he had taught them. They each said those things were indelibly ingrained in their hearts and minds. As I listened I thought to myself, “What have I taught Ali and Abi?” In a moment of honesty I answered, “Other than a few video games, I haven’t taught them much.”  I vowed to work on that.

Yesterday I took the girls to the pool at the Burnet YMCA. Soon after entering the water. A lifeguard called out to me and informed me that I had to stay close to the girls . . . in fact, I had to stay within an arm’s reach of them . . . and continue to do that every minute we were in the water beyond the rope! Ouch . . . Ali really didn’t like being informed of that pool rule . . . or the rule itself (nor do I as it prevented me from working out). In a minute, Ali raised her left arm across herself, hanging onto with her the bicep of her right arm which was hanging down in front of her body (something I have observed that she does when frustrated).  I asked if she was okay. She replied, “That is a bad rule, it is boring and I just want to go back home!”

It occurred to me that this just might prove to be a teaching moment.  I told her that it was actually a good rule and intended for child safety. I explained that she didn’t like the rule because she was actually a pretty good swimmer and didn’t like being treated like a little kid, but the life-guards didn’t know that about her. I also told her that there would be many times in life when people would make decisions about her without actually knowing the facts. I chuckled and said, “Sweetie, it is in those situations that we can turn the tide by showing them who we are and what we are made of!”  She asked how we could do such a thing. I said, “Let’s do that right now” and motioned for the guard to come over and talk with us. When the young female guard came over I told her that Ali wanted to challenge the rule and said she would take and pass any swim test they cared to administer. She smiled and said, “Let me call the testing guard over” and she did that very thing. The young guy who would administer the swim test told Ali that she would have to swim the entire length of the lap-pool and then tread water for 45 seconds. Ali grinned like a Cheshire Cat and said, “Piece of cake,” and walked off with him. I looked on as she leaped into the lap-pool and swam the length . . . smooth as glass! She then pushed off the end and swam out 25-feet and treated water for the required time. She swam to the ladder, climbed out, and lifted her arms in victory . . . she and the guard exchanged high fives’ and walked to the guard station where he wrote her name in the swimmer’s book and put a cool new bracket on her wrist!

She came back and jumped into the deep end with Abi and me. I chuckled and said, “Sweet girl, when decisions are made about you that are incorrect, don’t get mad . . . just get busy and change the situation!”  As we chuckled and celebrated her victory, I told her that is the 2nd book her name has now been entered into recently. She asked about the other book. I told her that when she accepted Jesus and made her profession of faith that the Lord wrote her name in His big book which He calls ‘The Lamb’s Book of Life’ . . . and I told her that is the ultimate victory in life . . . and it changes everything!

I think I am now on track with this grandpa thing . . . and perhaps doing that thing a grandpa is meant to do!

Excess Baggage . . .

It Seems to Me . . . that there are more and more folks lugging excess baggage through life . . . and paying a heavy price in the process.

I sit on the Board of Directors of a Baptist benevolence . . . an international ministry dedicated to helping troubled families . . . and family members. The ministry is committed to the notion of helping folks to be able to live life as God intends people to live. This wonderful organization does really good and meaningful work, helping many people. The ministry has grown to have a large number of family counseling centers—13 centers in four regions, with 25 staff counselors and a number of student counselors working toward licenses . . . (and they see an estimated 8,000 folks per year).  Those centers are scattered over a large part of the state of Texas. People are flocking to the counseling centers, seeking help with life’s struggles.

From the reports I get and things I read, It Seems to Me that many people are struggling with life and carrying many burdens. Today’s culture is confused and wrestling with issues that seem new and peculiar . . . issues that were of no concern just a generation back, such as homosexuality, same-sex marriages, transgendered individuals . . . and a variety of other issues which are seemingly common sense issues of right and wrong. Many today take medications to help with such interpersonal struggles in order to sleep, find motivation, and function in society.

Depression and anxiety seem to be the two most common general issues which seem to bring folks to counseling. Mood problems can seriously interfere with sleep, interpersonal relationships, physical health and well-being, concentration, and overall motivation. Counseling can help identify, clarify, and often even simplify problematic thoughts and feelings.

Why do so many people find themselves in such dark holes? Sadly, I suspect it is because they simply do not understand that forgiveness is possible . . . cleansing is available . . . and new life is an option. Since the Garden, humanity has struggled over sin and guilt. Carrying sin and guilt through life leaves a heavy burden and is accompanied by a heavy shackle.

Freedom is fragile—and many have difficulties living in freedom. In fact, there are more citizens incarcerated in the United States than in any other country in the world, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. The United States can also lay claim to the highest rate of recidivism. Statistics reveal that there are currently some 2.2 million people incarcerated.

Many others are living in prison cells of their own creation . . . drugs, alcohol, sexual immorality . . . and shame.

In the Old Testament, God introduced a covenant to a group of former slaves. In that Covenant, God pledged to be their God . . . to watch over, protect, and provide for and permit them to live in relationship with him. In the OT book of Leviticus, we see God set before those folks His standards and holiness . . . how they are to live in relationship with Him and with each other. Of course, they failed . . . and in response to their failure, God instituted a sacrificial system that could permit these sinners to approach Him as Holy God. In Leviticus they are instructed on the nature, purpose, and procedure for offering sacrifices to God. It also established a system of priests to serve as mediators between sinful people and God. Moreover, it identified what was clean and unclean, what was holy and what was profane. It also describes an atonement that was available and how it could be appropriated to confessing sinners. Even further, it announced a day of atonement. It was on that day, the priest would atone for his own sin, then using two goats, he would atone for the sins of the people. One goat was killed and its blood was sprinkled about, while the priest then laid his hands upon the head of the second goat and pronounced the people’s sin upon that goat, which was then lead out into the wilderness . . . never to return. That second goat was known as the scapegoat . . . and served as a picture of the people’s sin being forgiven by a merciful God.

Then, in the New Testament, The Lord Jesus Christ enters the human story. He lives a sinless life and then on a remote hill called Calvary, He laid down His life as a ransom for many. Jesus’ death is the reality of what the Old Testament sacrificial system foreshadowed. His ability to transfer a confessing sinner’s guilt and shame is the reality of what the Old Testament scapegoat pictured and foreshadowed.

In Hebrew 9 and 10, the New Testament writer explains how the Old Covenant things were completed and perfected in the new Covenant. Jesus clearly stated in Luke 4:18 that he has come to set the captive free . . . and in John 8:36 that those who get set free . . . are free indeed.

Most Christian counselors work with hurting people who struggle and live fractured lives simply because they fail to take ahold of and appropriate into their lives the great truth that their sins have been forgiven . . . but yet, fail to forgive themselves.

The enemy of the human soul wants to keep folks hooked to the chains, pains, and stains of their sin . . . in spite of the marvelous truth that those sins have been nailed to the cross.

As I read through the Gospels, I am overwhelmed with folk’s reactions as the word got out about that compassionate carpenter from Nazareth . . . that miracle worker who could calm the storm, and walk upon the water. The crowds flocked to Him . . . fractured, hurting, and troubled people. They brought their family and friends and mobbed Him wherever He was. Amazingly, He always had compassion and healed many problems and health issues. He gave sight to the blind; He straightened the crooked and damaged limbs of the lame; and gave strength to the weak. He changed the life of every individual He encountered.

Are you carrying excess baggage around? You do not need to do that anymore . . . Jesus is still doing those very things today!