The 1 October Shooting; One Year Later

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The human mind has the uncanny, and truth be told, sometimes unwanted ability to recall the dates of tragic moments like permanent tattoos that can never be washed off.  Ask any American and depending on their age, they can tell you where they were or what they were doing when they first heard of the assassinations of JFK or MLK, or the untimely deaths of Elvis, Michael, Whitney or Lady Diana, or that day in September, 9/11. Today marks the one-year anniversary of what we refer to as 1 October here in Las Vegas,  a day in which evil was unleashed on our city resulting in fifty-eight deaths, over five hundred injuries and scores of people permanently disfigured or paralyzed. It is a day when all of us can tell you where we were when we saw the first Breaking News reports.

A sea of thousands had descended on Las Vegas for the Route 91 Music Festival.  Jason Aldeen was performing on stage when the first series of “pops” were heard.  Many at first believed them to be firecrackers set off by rowdy concert-goers.  But when some noticed that their friends who were standing next to them just a second before were now laying at their feet in a pool of blood, the reality of the situation became evident as panic set in.  A sniper was unleashing a hail of bullets from a semi-automatic weapon with a bump stock on them from some unknown position, and the throngs of fans had nowhere to take cover.  Ordinary people became unsuspecting heroes, giving their lives that day to protect others from the gunfire.  Some were wounded because they simply chose to stay by the sides of people they didn’t know so they wouldn’t die alone.  As a parent my first thought was dear God, where are my kids?  My youngest son was employed at the time at the same hotel property where the sniper was perched.  I could not rest easy until I had made contact with all my boys and was assured they were not in harm’s way.  Many parents could not and would not be able to make such confirmation.  Our city was forever changed on 1 October.

As the popular song lyrics remind us, what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger!  This tragedy affected everyone here.  It seems we all had some connection to people who were in attendance.  And those who didn’t still grieved deeply and sympathized with those who had suffered such tremendous loss.  Those who died that evening were young, in their prime, full of hopes and dreams never to be realized.  The outpouring of support, of aid, of “what can I do” attitudes was infectious and on display for the world to witness.  Local blood banks had to eventually turn people away as lines formed blocks long to donate blood for the victims.  Those not donating took time off to provide food and water for those in line as many would spend 8-10 hours to donate their blood.  Las Vegas became #vegasstrong when tragedy came calling.  For us, 1 October will be forever etched in our memories.

All of us, if we have lived at all, will have dates from our past that we pause and commemorate, the birth of a child or grandchild, the day we married our forever life partner, the year we received our diplomas or degrees-dates we celebrate fondly and with festivity.  However, we will also have those more solemn infamous dates that we may try to forget to no avail. The pain we manage to keep controlled 364 days of thee year becomes fresh wounds on that one day we can’t escape.  It might be the day when you had to say goodbye to your parent as they were laid to rest or a spouse who died before their time.  It might be the day your family became torn apart when the parents decided to go their separate ways.  It might be a day when you were a victim of some horrible crime against you or your family.  For many, it could be the day when you lost your best friend and companion through divorce.  What was once celebrated birthdays and anniversaries  are now reminders of an empty chair at the dining room table; a day filled with joy as two people come together in marriage is now a day when you hide after the relationship is over.  We all have similar stories, dates we wish would never be brought to memory that instead hunt us down like movie haunts, constantly tormenting us with no mercy. We may rid ourselves of videos, photos-anything that brings to memory events that we no longer celebrate, in some vain attempt for a sense of peace over tragedies for which there is never any real closure.

How do we cope with such tragic events as survivors of events we never wanted or saw coming? Where do we find hope to continue on a journey when every fiber of our being finds it easier to just give up and give in?  A Prophet in the Old Testament, Jeremiah, was in anguish as he witnessed the destruction of his beloved city.  His sentiments are recorded for us in the seldom read-from book of Lamentations.  He inquired of God many of the same questions we ask in the midst of trials and suffering.  And yet, his knowledge of God’s character would override his fear of his circumstances.  Listen to his words in Lamentations 3 from the Message Translation:

“I’ll never forget the trouble, the utter lostness, the taste of ashes, the poison I’ve swallowed. I remember it all-oh how well I remember-the feeling of hitting bottom.  But there’s one thing I remember, and remembering, I keep grip on hope: God’s loyal love couldn’t have dried up. They’re created new every morning.  How great is your faithfulness! I’m sticking with God (I say it over and over). He’s all I’ve got left.  – I called out your name, O God, from the bottom of the pit.  You listened when I called out “don’t shut your ears, get me out of here-save me”. You came close when I called out.  You said, “Its going to be alright!”

I am no stranger to unsolicited tragedy.  I am perhaps overly transparent in my anguish over events in my personal life over the past few years.  Some have advised that I be less open and more discreet in my writings or my social media posts.  Some of my closer friends and even family have disconnected from me over my overt disclosures as I wrestle with change.  But these types of writings are not employed as sympathy-seeking compositions, but rather glimpses into struggles endured through hope like that of Jeremiah.  I write so that others may know that they are not alone in their tears and that there is light and recovery attainable through a supernatural peace given to us by God even when we can’t sense his presence or determine his twisted ways of teaching.  I’ve said many times before that I would never in a million years volunteer to be God’s toy of illustration-I’d rather have been overlooked-I would have been perfectly okay entering my reward with no more than a kindergarten education in spiritual maturity.  But that wasn’t the plan.  I am instead chosen to be a virtual learning device for others and an encouragement to anyone watching.  The lesson being taught on this 1 October anniversary is that there is hope after loss, there is life after all but physical death, there is restoration after mass destruction, and there is beauty to be formed in the ashes.

Today, how I wish I could personally hug every person who suffered such tragic losses one year ago, but it’s logistically impossible.  I would want them to know they are not alone, their losses are a part of our forever history, and our love for them and that of our heavenly Father knows no bounds.  We will all remember and cope with today in our own way, through memorial services, through watching recaps of that tragic night, through prayer for healing and comfort for all involved.  My personal prayer for my family, my kids, and all who have been touched by days they wish were not a part of their history, is that the God who preserves would keep their hearts and minds in perfect peace, a peace that can only come from a relationship with Him, and a peace that surpasses all our understanding.  I pray that the lingering fear resulting from tragic events that seek to paralyze us and hold us hostage would be overcome with love, as God’s perfect love casts down all fear.  I pray that hearts destroyed and void of hope will find a renewed sense of courage and purpose in moving forward so that all may see that there is life abundantly after passing through the valley of shadows and death.  And I pray that as I write in detail about my personal struggles with doubt, with faith, with hopelessness and hurt, that others will be encouraged to fight, to endure, to press on through the pain knowing that the story never ends as long as we have breath, and that we have the ability to dictate the words that form the chapters of our biographies.  Today we remember, and we move forward.  #vegasstrong, #vegasstronger.  God bless each of you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Dads Need to Feel the Love Too!

If you were to believe most Father’s Day ads, you might think that we dads are quite different than our parental counterparts. Ads for Mom’s Day imply family gatherings and surrounding mom with her favorite people, while ads for Dads suggest giving him the day off, the space he needs to go fishing or camping alone or some new toy he can play with in the garage.  Maybe I’m the odd one out, but the perfect day for me is not a motorcycle ride alone on a country road.  It’s being surrounded by children and grandchildren who make you feel wanted and loved, even if they are grown.  It’s not something we ever outgrow.

The other night I was watching one of the popular talent competitions on television.  A young thirteen-year old girl astonished the crowd with an old throwback song that she killed.  Upon the applause and accolades of the audience she broke into tears and went running into the arms of her dad like a five or six year old might do.  I broke, because I remember that feeling!  When your child wants nothing more than your love and approval, and is content to just be on your lap or close by, there is no higher achievement or sense of pride one can have than at that very moment of being Dad. Sadly, for most anyway, those moments tend to decrease with age.  It’s not that the love and appreciation isn’t still there, it’s just the misconception that we fathers no longer need or want that display of affection.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

It doesn’t seem that long ago that I was struggling to make my business a success.  It remains one of the hardest things I’ve ever attempted.  But no matter how bad a day I might have been having, when my grandson came running into my office and jumped into my lap, followed by his older sister, everything bad in my life faded away like a puff of smoke. Their love and presence put everything back into perspective at least for a short time.  These are moments and memories that will remain precious to me.  It is then that I have some sense of what our Heavenly Father must feel when we approach him in the same way, wanting nothing more than to be in his presence, to crawl up into his lap and embrace being loved just for who we are.

My children are grown and the grandkids are getting older every year, but I will never outgrow the need to feel their love.  This is the point I hope to get across with his post.  Don’t buy into the media or marketing suggestions otherwise.  Dads need to feel they are still loved.  They need to know they are still needed, even if just for wisdom and encouragement.  We need to know we aren’t forgotten or left behind by our children who now have their own families and children.  We need to know we made some small difference or impact, either in our approach to parenthood or in the lessons we learned by our mistakes, so that we can take some small credit in the good and successes of our children.  If married, dads need to know their wives admire and love them for their roles as the father of her children.  That respect is priceless-wives will never truly know!  But above all, I think most dads just want that feeling when that young son or daughter runs and jumps into their arms, just because he’s their dad and they love him that much.  When that stops happening for whatever reason, then yes, we may as well go on that weekend fishing trip alone because nothing will ever truly fill the void of a child who no longer needs their parent.  It’s an empty that is hard to fully describe.  Divorced fathers feel the pain of this rejection even when they have done little to deserve it.  It’s a pain I’m familiar with.

I have so many friends my age who will not be able to spend Father’s Day with their dads or grandfathers because they are no longer living. Both of my grandfathers passed away before I was ten years old.   There will be fathers in convalescent centers who will not be acknowledged by their families again this year.  There will be fathers who are widowed and will spend the day alone.  God Bless the moms for all they do-they deserve every accolade showered upon them for the roles they play in our lives.  But don’t be deceived into thinking we dads don’t want a little love as well. If you really want to make his day, crawl up in his lap and just squeeze him for a moment.  I guarantee that no matter how old you are or how big you may be, he will still see you as that little one from long ago and will relish the gesture for all it’s worth.  He, I, we still need to feel we are that larger-than-life hero in the eyes of our kids.  There is little more important.

Have a Happy and Blessed Father’s Day.

And Just Like That-My 2017 Story

Our beautiful Beagle boy finally laid calm in my arms after a 30-minute full Grand Mal seizure. He had been in our family since his birth nine years earlier. An injection of valium calmed him down long enough for what was about to come. The cancer had spread to his brain and the seizures he was having daily were unbearable to witness-it had to end today.  I cradled him like a baby one last time.  The vet asked us if we were ready.  Of course not!  But out of love and mercy I nodded to proceed.  The injection worked quickly, and just like that, this once full of life furry friend lay motionless in my arms as his life came to a merciful end.  I sobbed like  little boy and continued to hold him until the vet finally took him from me and carried him out of the room.  Thus 2017 was ushered in.

In January and then again in February I was served with two different lawsuits stemming from a business I was forced to close through foreclosure in 2014.  I thought that chapter had been closed but aggressive attorneys thought otherwise. The amounts of the lawsuits coupled with the legal fee estimates to defend them were staggering.  I had received nothing from the business when it closed and had lost my entire savings that I had invested when it closed down.  These unexpected court actions left me with little recourse.  My finances and credit were now in shambles.  And just like that a lifetime of perfect credit history was now, well, history.

The following March, thinking things could get no worse, things got much worse. The love of my life asked for a divorce after a twenty year relationship.  What began as a Hallmark fairytale romance that others envied had now been reduced to a signature on a legal document.  To save money, with vision blurred by tears, I drafted the legal documents that would terminate my own marriage.  Upon their completion and our signatures, I proceeded to the courthouse and waited in line for what seemed like an eternity waiting to file them.  Upon the clerk’s stamp, I took them up to the Judge’s inbox and deposited them for final signature, which took just one day.  And just like that the air I breathed for twenty years was taken from me. I felt abandoned, unloved and alone.

The following May I was scheduled for my quarterly check-up with my nephrologist.  I suffer from Polycystic kidney disease for which there is no cure.  I was advised by someone close that with the year I had experience thus far perhaps I should cancel-I should have listened.  I was informed the disease had now progressed to stage Four and I was nearing the need for dialysis.  And just like that an otherwise health-minded man was forced to consider life-altering choices and my own mortality.

In a mere span of just five months every aspect of my entire being had come under severe attack.  I had lost a dear friend, I lost my financial security, I  lost my health and most tragic, I lost the love of my life and best friend.  I was, and in many ways, still am quite the mess.  Any one of these life-changing events would be enough to take down the strongest of men.  But seriously , all in one year?  I was left alone in a 2000 square foot house with empty rooms having nothing but the haunts of the past as a companion.  Funny thing-I never realized that quietness could echo!  Few knew of the numerous challenges I faced this year.  More than one person, perhaps not fully disclosed, reprimanded me for wallowing in self-pity.  My closer friends shared concerns over what I might do.  After all, many have pulled the trigger for much less.

It would be at this point in the story that some, just like friends of Job, would ask how I could still trust in a God who had allowed such destruction to overcome me.  I will confess that God and I had some serious “come to Jesus” conversations as I wrestled for answers or purpose.  If this is what perseverance looks like, I wanted no part of it. But as a long-time believer I knew that faith was not based on feelings or emotions but on knowledge and trust.  My heart wasn’t in it, but I forced myself to find words of hope within the Psalms.  David and I became close friends. He could cry out and lament to God over his turmoil in one breath and confess his hope and faith in the very next breath.  David always went back to what he KNEW to be true even when he was hiding for his life. In a twisted irony He who allowed these things to invade my 2017 was the One who I had to turn to and lean on in order to survive them.  I have surely walked this year through the valley of shadows but Christ has been my comfort and His spirit has been my  lifeline when I had little sense or worth, purpose or direction.

I can now see some light as I enter 2018.  The demise of my marriage prompted me to write a book that has already made an impact in other couples’ marriages.  Claiming a promise of healing, my last check-up on my kidneys revealed the progression of the disease had halted for now-I am claiming a miracle.  The Christmas and holiday season which had left me with old familiar and painful memories of years past was spent with my children, all alive, healthy and well.  And my first gift, the announcement of a new grandchild’s arrival this coming Summer, brought tears of joy, the first in a long while.  My faith sustained me through an impossible year and I now see some sense of purpose and a restored reason to continue the race the Apostle Paul describes. I know I am not alone.  Many this year suffered tragic and heart-wrenching losses-death of spouses or loved ones, serious illnesses, broken relationships, unemployment and the list is long.  When you are shut in by the surrounding thickness of storm clouds it is challenging to see the sun or feel its warmth, but yet it remains.  I want to encourage-no, implore you to seek shelter in the hope and promises of God’s Word and the comfort of His Son, Jesus.  David understood it while hiding in caves-the Apostle Paul got it while singing songs in prison chains.  I’m no David or Paul, but I get it too.

May the hope, the comfort and the love of our Father bring you into a glorious, prosperous and healthy new 2018.  May His will and purpose be revealed in your spirit and inspire you to do great things this year!  May you find in Him the strength and courage to boldly face and navigate the storms that may pop up out of nowhere with full knowledge that the Son is always there!  Happy New Year!

Storm Surge-the Lingering Aftermath

Today many residents in the state of Florida will begin to make their way back to homes they evacuated due to Hurricane Irma to assess the damages while many others are still dealing with the destruction left behind by Hurricane Harvey.  These were both described as historic storms of epic proportion and as a result many lives will be forever impacted.  In words of advice, newscasters, government officials and emergency responders all echoed similar warnings that went something like this-don’t be fooled into thinking that just because the winds have calmed and the torrential rains have ceased, that the storm is over or that it is safe to come out, because the worst may be yet to come in the way of flooding and storm surge. Although delivered as a message pertaining to a weather event, the profound warning is a life lesson that for many, hits close to home.

Many who survive these storms return to what they knew as their life only to find that everything they know has been lost.  Some homes were washed away and others, though still standing, left inhabitable due to the effects of the wind, the rains and the storm surge that washed away what little the storms had left behind. Tough choices have to be made-do we try to rebuild where are former home once stood-do we move on to a different location we aren’t familiar with-do we just sit in the water and lament the tragic losses with little motivation to move on?  The parrallels to life are too great to ignore.

In this world we will all face life-changing storms of epic proportions. We may be allowed to suffer the unexpected loss of loved ones or children, we may be facing life-altering diseases, we may be reeling from divorce, we may have lost much of our mobility through injuries resulting in paralysis or strokes that left part of our body unresponsive.  Whatever storms we face there is almost certainly a storm surge that follows that is just as damaging or more so than the storm itself.  A breast cancer survivor may be forced to deal with the scars of a life-saving mastectomy.  Graduations and weddings are parrticularly painful for parents who lost children before they ever reached the age when they could experience these things. Divorcees are left wondering what went wrong when faced with  the realization that their former lives and family structure are forever changed and they are left on the outside looking in.

It may be one of the hardest lessons to learn, but somehow, God speaks to us through the storm, if we are desperate enough to listen.  In Job 38, after Job had lost everything, scripture says “…and God spoke to Job from the storm”. There may be little solace in knowing this, but sometimes it is all we have to hold on to when life as we know it changes drastically and permanently. Those who have survived Harvey and Irma never asked for their resolve to be tested by hurricanes-I’m quite certain that if you were to poll them they would say their lives were pretty good and these storms were unsolicited. We don’t get to pick and choose our battles.  No one welcomes death-no one wants to face cancer or other crippling diseases-no one wants a failed relationship, but like the hurricane survivors, we must realistically weigh our options and determine the best path forward as opposed to sitting in the rubble of shattered lives and broken dreams.

It is only by the unlimited grace of God that we are compelled to move forward, one day at a time, mindful of the evidence of the storm’s aftermath but with a resolve to rise from the rubble strong, proven and better built for future climatic events.  Storm victims will have many resource available to them from charities, goverment agencies, insurance policies and the likes.  We may not have similar infrastructures available for our recovery, but having God, even at times when He can’ be seen or heard through the wind and the rain, is all the aid we could ever need and a source that is never depleted due to previous tolls and storms. It is a lesson that, after all these years, I still need to be remonded of daily in my own rebuilding process.

Our most sincere prayers will be with the victims of all the natural disasters of recent weeks, the hurricanes, the fires and the eathquakes.  And we also pray for comfort and peace for those dealing with their own personal storms.  May the God of the wind and rain who walks upon the storm surge hold you in His powerful and unshakable hands and bring you peace.

Hemorrhoids as Currency-Only in the Bible

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Anyone who has had the privilege, or curse of knowing me for long knows I have somewhat of a twisted sense of humor. I can find funny things sometimes in the most mundane of situations. For example, the New Testament records for us a story of Paul who brings a man back to life after the young man falls from the wall at the place where Paul is preaching-a miracle indeed.  Most will read this story as God using Paul to perform a miracle that gives credibility to Paul’s mission, but not me.  This is how I read the story with my twisted mind. In Acts chapter 20 a young man named Eutychus (Greek, meaning good luck) is sitting on a wall as Paul preaches.  Specifically, scripture says “as Paul went on and on”. If you’ve ever been in a southern tent meeting, you know what “on and on” means. Paul literally preaches the young man to sleep, at which time he falls from the wall and dies, perhaps the origin of our phrase “bored to death”? In any event, Paul sees the situation, lays over him and miraculously brings the young man back to life, and goes on preaching as scripture records until dawn!  I can imagine here the young man thinking to himself, ala Jim Carey, “aren’t I the lucky one (again, his name means good luck)”. Yes I know, a sacrilegious perception at the very least-I just think God has a sense of humor not unlike mine!

As New Testament Christians we tend to grab our Bible and proceed to the Gospels or the Letters in our devotions-I’m guilty too. But the Old Testament is full of nuggets that many of us miss.  Besides being rich in historical recordings that are confirmed in other ancient texts, there is a bevy of humor for us who are sensitive challenged. One of the funnier but never preached on stories of the Old Testament is found in 1 Samuel 5-6.  The Philistines have taken the Ark of the Covenant. We all know how seriously God treated the handling of His Ark. They take it back and set it in the temple of one of their gods, Dagon.  In fact they place the Ark right next to the statue of Dagon, a bold and brazen move. The next morning when their priests arrive and enter the temple they find the statue of Dagon lying face down before the Ark, as in worship. I think that’s funny. Anyway they set the statue of Dagon back on its perch.  The next morning they come in and find the same thing, Dagon lying before the Ark  but this time, its head and hands have been broken off and are laying to the side. God could easily have destroyed the image by fire or crumbled it into hundreds of pieces, but instead He placed him face down before the Ark as a sign of reverence in a playful display.

Because the Philistines were mistreating the sacred Ark that they should not be possession of in the first place, God smites them with a smitey smite!  Bloody water, no; grasshoppers and locusts, no; weeks of darkness, no. God’s punishment of choice, Hemorrhoids! Translated texts use the word tumor because it is less explicit but earlier translations use the word “emerods”, which has been concluded to mean hemorrhoids. “Emerods in their inner places”, as recorded, is much more descriptive to the twisted minds of Biblical scholars. Can the story get more funny, you bet. Consumed by their burning punishment and well before the invention of Preparation H, they appeal to God as to how to be relieved from their suffering.

At this point those with a weak constitution may choose to stop reading as the cure is as painful (and I might add gross) as the affliction.  The remedy-God demanded five gold plated emerods!  Gold was the currency of the day.  Someone had to take five hemorrhoids and cast  them in gold as a sacrifice to God. So I have to ask myself the obvious question that few would ponder, again because that’s just the way I’m wired. Who would be the least fortunate, the person chosen to collect and cast these hemorrhoids in gold, or the unlucky soul who, with no anesthesia had to offer them up?  Say about me what you will-I see that God has a funny and twisted side to Him just like me.  After all, He accepted me as one of His kids so He can’t be all there, right?

Seriously, God is to be reverenced and worshiped for His Deity as we do each week together or in our individual time alone with Him. But it’s ok to laugh at the thought of some of God’s recorded antics as proof of His lighter side. Maybe George Burns or Morgan Freeman’s depictions of God in their respective films Oh God and Bruce Almighty aren’t so far off. Maybe there is a time to worship Him in solemnness and reflection as well as a time to laugh about Him in a celebration of mirth.

Or just maybe the funny side of God can only be revealed to the simple twisted minds of a few like me.

How do I Measure Up On Father’s Day?

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It’s 105 degrees on a hot Las Vegas high desert afternoon. I have the rare occasion to go golfing with my son.  We are both duffers-my handicap is, well, um-Golf! We schedule a 3:00 PM Tee Time as only idiots play golf in 105 degree heat-this way we have the course to ourselves.  After two holes we decide keeping score is not beneficial to our male egos and discard the score card.  At three holes my back is reminding me why I don’t play golf more often.  After six holes it is doing so with four-letter words and exclamation points!! After twelve holes I’m grateful that I rented a cart instead of walking the course. We finish and cool down with an adult beverage and talk about our better shots on the course-we each had two I think.

Why do this knowing the physical outcome? Because spending time with the boys is something I value more now than when I was a young father, and because I missed out on too many opportunities with them along the way.  There could never be enough time to make up for time wasted. Whether spent wisely or squandered, it remains spent nonetheless.

The next morning I roll out of bed and on to the floor after a couple hours of sleep, only to hear those words every man wants to hear from his beloved wife-“You walk like an old man!”. Nothing says love like verbal reminders of your aging physical limitations and resulting posture. No time to ponder it now-we are picking up the grandkids for a day at the amusement park. A day of thrill rides, corkscrew barrel rolls and loopty-loops on roller coasters should do the trick!  Oh, and can’t forget the Big Shot that shoots you up about 300 feet into the air in about two seconds, compressing a normal spine into 12 inches of bone and nerves where vertebrae used to be! And then just as quickly it drops you with a sudden free fall with a stop that eliminates any remaining vertebrae from the previous rapid ascent. Honey if you thought I was an old man this morning, just wait until tomorrow!

Why, you might ask? Two reasons. First, when it comes to thrill rides and amusement parks I’m still just a big kid at heart-to die on an inverted roller coaster would be the best way to go. More importantly, I learned the hard way, as mentioned above, that time squandered can’t be recaptured.  Your children have a way of making you realize how quickly time flies, but your grandchildren teach you that time flies at hyper speed. I don’t want to miss any opportunity to be with them and create memories that they and I can share until it’s time for me to die on a roller coaster. There is nothing more precious to me than having fun and spending time wisely with my grandchildren.

It’s the morning of the third day now. My wife knows not to say anything about my posture or speed because the weekend isn’t over yet.  It’s my grandson’s fourteenth birthday and he and I are heading to the ballpark for a baseball game. I asked the lady at the ticket window for the soft seats in the air conditioned section. She didn’t appreciate my humor or have knowledge of my situation.  It’s all good. The seats are rigid but we are in the shade for a hot afternoon of America’s favorite past time.  This was important to me-he had never seen a professional baseball game-I was the one who was privileged to expose him to the sport-he’s now hooked! We threw back a couple dogs each and washed it down with our over priced souvenir ball park drinks. I dropped him off at the house and he says “Thanks papa-that was fun-Love you!”. That’s why! That’s my reward-that makes the pain go away-that’s why I’d do it all again next weekend and probably will.

So you might ask if I’m making my case for a Father of the Year Award-hardly. In fact quite the opposite is true. I’m not a great dad-it didn’t come naturally to me.  I’m a man on a mission to compensate for missed opportunities, for time wasted, for disappointing memories or memories missing in action I left behind with my kids. People joke about a middle-aged man with a sports car over compensating for various short comings.  When you see me with my grandchildren the smiles are genuine but I am compensating for all the years I came up short as a dad. I only hope I live long enough to someday even out the scorecard somewhat. If I died today, there would be way too many gaps in my life’s “dash” where the kids are concerned.

Most people use Father’s day as a day to celebrate and reflect on those father-figures who made impacts on their lives, as well we should. However I use it as a grading opportunity as I look back over the past year on my performance as a Dad and a Papa. I am usually left with more questions than answers as I honestly review and grade the areas that are most important to me:

Do my kids and grandkids know beyond any doubt how much I love them?

Am I doing enough to create fun and lasting memories? 

Am I genuinely engaged in their lives or just there for the fun stuff?

Am I showing the boys what a real love relationship should look like and how to properly treat their eventual mates?

Have I taught them the importance of faith and do they see Jesus in my life and character?

Have I fulfilled Proverbs 22:6, to train them and teach them the right paths to navigate in their adulthood?

I am not a fitting candidate for any awards, but I have learned some valuable lessons in my quest to make up for lost time.  First, don’t lose any more time dwelling on lost time-a no brainer. Second, don’t tell yourself it’s too late to do things the right way now.  You can’t go back and fix or rearrange history, good or bad.  You can however resolve to go forward and make every moment count. Third, pray-pray for your children and grandchildren daily, for their health, their safety, the salvation and their happiness.  And then pray for yourself, that God will continue to reveal His fatherly character in your life so that you can accurately emulate it in the lives of your family. In many cases, you are the only Christ they may see. And lastly, just be there-show up-be open and available and always have your proverbial “The Dad is In” shingle hanging and obvious for them to see at times when they need you.

Fathering kids is easy and instinctive-being a dad is difficult and a life-long learning process.  I hope some day I measure up. There’s nothing more desirable in this life I could ever hope to achieve than to be a loving Dad and Papa in the eyes of my family.

One Christ, One Destination, Too Many Roads

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If you have ever used Mapquest for directions, you know that when you identify your starting point and your destination, this man developed program app will give you one way to get from point A to point B with explicit instructions on where to turn, how many miles for each new direction and the approximate travel time to complete your trip. Navigational systems in newer cars are similarly programmed and even give you cute little sound bytes when you correctly follow directions. So how is it that man can so easily identify and navigate the best routes for geographic destinations when there are always multiple ways to reach them, but offer up so many routes in religion when there is only one absolute truth and path?

A wise woman recently asked me a serious and deep question, one that has been submitted to much more deeply rooted theologians than I could ever hope to be, with no consensus. If there exists One Christ and One Inspired Holy Bible, how is it that there are so many denominations since the inception of Christianity? It is truly a question that is not foreign to me as I have traveled my own faith journey for these forty-six year now. Perhaps for me it is because I have been exposed to all levels of the Christian Faith.  There exists three primary faiths in Christianity-Eastern or European Orthodox, Catholicism and Protestantism. I have all three in my blood.  I was raised and introduced to Christ in a Pentecostal church and have remained in the Protestant faith through my adult years.  However, I attended a Catholic High School and learned the practices and traditions of their faith through education and required attendance in Mass.  My younger brother went a different direction as a young adult and is now a Greek Orthodox Priest in AZ.  I have attended his church and sat through many liturgies and he and I engage in discussions about the Orthodox faith and practice virtually every time we converse-it is a beautiful and historical faith and remains as the oldest purest tradition most closely related to the early church.

So the question remains-why so many roads to one place and do they all eventually lead to Christ? Are all denominations so different?  A denomination defined is a sub group or sect of people who share a common belief, interpretation, name and organization.  A denomination is easily formed when a group of people have a different view of scripture or practice than the wholly shared main group, resulting in a split from the larger group and the beginning of a new identity. How many times over history has this happened?  To date 43,000 times and counting.  At it’s core belief system, there may in fact be only about forty main traditional denominations, but cultural upbringing, geographic locations, worship style preferences and historic vs. contemporary practice has caused people to venture out in ways that would put Mapquest out of business if they navigated under the same rules. It should come as no surprise that the un-churched world around us scratches their heads when viewing our mass confusion.  We have the message of hope and can accommodate any preference you may have in receiving it, like your local TCBY-just pick the toppings you want-thousands of possible combinations.

But here’s the real scoop (pun intended). Denominations are largely man made, not God intended. how do we know?  Just examine the words recorded in the New Testament;

1 Cor. 1:10; I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.

Eph. 4:6; There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 

Phil. 2:1: So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.

Romans 15:5; May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Eph. 2:19; So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together…

I am fully aware of the over simplification I am suggesting in Christian unity, however, these verses are absolute truths and inspired recordings.  Any deviation from and absolute renders it as not an absolute, correct? This was clearly addressed by Paul in the church of Corinth when he heard reports of some claiming “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” Paul was disturbed at how the focus was shifted from Christ to men and made clear that this was not acceptable.

The follow up question from those of you mature in the faith with an understanding of how the Holy Spirit works to reveal God’s Word to us, is how can the Holy Spirit of Christ yield so many differing interpretations of the same Holy Scripture and the same Gospel? The obvious answer is it can’t. Christ is not divided-He is not inconsistent, He does not author confusion or make exemptions for bad exegesis or uncomfortable truth. Man alone does that, through pride, arrogance, stubbornness and even disobedience.  God is all about unity-a man and a woman shall become one-I and the Father are one-there is one body, and so on and so on.

So what is the truth? For believers it is black and white. There is one God, the Father of us all, One Son and One Holy spirit. Man is sinful and should receive the death penalty for sin but our salvation was paid for by the Blood of Christ, who rose from the grave after three days to sit at God’s right hand and allow us access to His Father and to eternal life when we confess Him as Lord.  Everything else is just fluff and confusion. Jesus said “I am THE way” Everything about that statement is singular and exclusive!  It is man who has turned One Way into 43,00 ways. Are they all 100% Biblically accurate or properly interpreted?  Most likely not.  Will they all lead to the same place? Most likely so. So why the confusion?