Monday, March 29, 2010

The Infamous Eleven

Maybe you’ve seen that church group from Topeka, Kansas that attends the funerals of soldiers slain in battle, and holds up signs with hateful sayings on them. Their favorite seems to be “God Hates Fags”. In fact, that’s even the name of their website.

Wikipedia reports that their church has 71 confirmed members, 60 of whom are related to the pastor. Apparently this pastor is the patriarch of a large family who all inherited his ‘hate’ gene, and blindly follow him in his folly. And a church packed full with the members of one confused and demented family is fairly easy to understand and dismiss.

A church packed full with the members of one confused and demented family is fairly easy to understand and dismiss...

But my question is, “Who are these other 11?” I mean, does somebody just drive down the street, pass a church with a sign that says “God Hates Fags” and say, “Hey Martha, let’s visit that church” - “Sure George, they look like the nicest people.”

And how dysfunctional does a brain have to be to somehow link a soldier slain in battle to the concept of homosexuality? The soldiers whose funerals they protest were not even homosexuals… at least not to the public’s knowledge. But their claim is that the death of these American heroes is God judging our nation.

There are two problems with their theology (at least):

1) God does not hate homosexuals. In fact, God loves sinners - ALL sinners - so much that he sent his Son Jesus as a sacrificial lamb to pay the price for their sins, be they homosexuality or hatemongering, murder or adultery, or even my weaknesses – gluttony and envy.

2) God is not judging this great nation. The fact of the matter is, God ALREADY judged this nation, along with all the other 200 or so nations on this earth. That judgment took place 2000 years ago at a little place in the Middle East called Calvary! God’s judgment fell on Jesus Christ at Calvary, and Christ paid the uttermost price.

OK… lest you get the wrong idea, I agree that homosexuality is a sin. And I too am amazed and appalled that it has become so accepted in our “modern” society that the ones speaking out against it are characterized as bigots. And I appreciate and support those who are willing to take a stand against homosexuals wanting to be treated as if their lifestyle falls somewhere within the range or normalcy.

But folks, it’s time to revisit the concept of “Hate the Sin – Love the Sinner”. After all, that’s what God does. And Jesus… he does that. So I’m trying to do it too. Besides, I’ve figured out that if somebody has to be sin free to be my friend, then the guest list for my parties would be pretty short. Let’s see… there’s God… and Jesus… Actually I wouldn’t even be able to come to my own party! Jesus – lock up on the way out, will ya?

Ya know, to make this party really interesting I might even invite George and Martha, and the rest of the Infamous Eleven. But that’s where I draw the line on guests from that church! After all, I might be inviting some homosexuals to the party.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Fearsome Confrontation

A few mornings ago I was backing out of my garage to go to work, but there was a man sitting in a little red car on the street in front of my house, blocking me in. You may know that we live at the very end of a cul-de-sac in the very back of a housing addition. The only cars that come down our street are folks who have lost their way and parents of little-leaguers practicing at the church field next to us. So this guy sitting in his idling car in front of my house at 7:30 in the morning was a bit curious… even unnerving.

I quickly grew weary of waiting and backed toward his car. He saw me and drove away… at least a few feet away so that he wasn’t in front of my house any more. And I drove on. But when I saw that he wasn’t leaving the neighborhood I picked up the cell phone and called Stephanie back at the house. She looked out the window and told me that he was back in front of our house again. I decided to turn around and confront him.

Confrontation is a dicey thing. It can escalate to a chalk drawing on the pavement in the shape of a human body...

Confrontation is a dicey thing. It can lead to a new friend or it can escalate to a chalk drawing on the pavement in the shape of a human body. Of course, it usually results in something in between, such as an explanation. And I might add that confrontation is something with which I have never been comfortable. And so, when I am faced with the “fight or flight” decision to confront, I will usually find a tactful way to avoid it. But not when it comes to the safety of my wife or my home.

It took just a few moments for me to be driving back up my street. He saw me and started to drive away from the end of the cul-de-sac where he had just repositioned himself. As we approached one another I veered my truck toward him just enough to get his attention, and rolled down my window. I half way expected him to ‘rabbit’, but instead he slowed and rolled down his window.

I told you earlier that I’m not comfortable with confrontation. And that being the case, when I do confront, it is with an overwhelming show of force. It’s not so much a decision to come on strong as it is the manifestation of the emotions that brought me to that point. Stephanie tells me that when I speak harshly to someone it comes across quite fearsome. Frankly you and I know I’m just a little kitten in a man suit, but this guy saw something quite different when our cars met, and I stared him in the eye and said, “WHO THE HELL ARE YOU AND WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING PARKED IN FRONT OF MY HOUSE?”

Now, I want to stop here and apologize to my church friends for my language… but it’s what I said, and so I’ll live with your judgement. I suspect if you’d been there you would have said the same thing… or at least been glad I said it. And I’m pretty sure it’s what I’d say again, given the same circumstances.

The man quickly introduced himself by name. He then explained that he is a home builder starting construction on a house on the lot down the street from us. He said that earlier he was on the phone to his sister in Phoenix and did not realize he was blocking me. I think at that point he would have been happy to have been frisked and handcuffed, as long as I didn’t just drop him right where he sat.

I accepted his explanation, although I did tell Stephanie, over the phone and within earshot of him, that she should make sure she has her gun close by her side this morning. Then I assured him that we have an excellent neighborhood watch – a conclusion, I believe, to which he had already arrived.

A few days later a truck dropped a load of rebar and lumber, and a backhoe dug footings. And so I’m feeling pretty confident he is who he says he is. I doubt a common cat burglar would go to such expense to prop up a cover story.

Something else that happened a few days later is that it dawned on me… that was something dad would have done. The same stern look, the same tone of voice, the same kitten in a man suit that shows such awesomeness in confrontation… Oh Dear Lord… I’ve become my dad!

Is it a sad day when you cross the threshold of being your father’s son, to being your father made over? Or is it a badge of honor? I can’t say, but I can’t deny what is true. So all I will say is… “Hey, com’ere… pull my finger!”

I miss ya, dad!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Valuable Blood, Precious Blood

I have very valuable blood. Of course, everybody’s blood is valuable – at least to them. But my blood is valuable and highly sought after by many. Let me tell you why.

If you passed high school biology you probably know more about this than I do, but as I understand it there are eight basic blood types: A, B, AB and O, with something called an RH factor either present (positive) or absent (negative). My blood is O-negative.

O-negative is not the rarest blood type there is. In fact there are 3 or 4 types more uncommon, depending on your ethnicity. What makes O-negative so valuable is that it's the universal donor type. That means it can be given to anybody, no matter what their blood type may be! In emergency rooms, if they don’t know what blood type somebody has and they have to be given blood immediately, they reach for the O-negative. We’ve all seen a show on television where they rush a guy in on a gurney and the doctor yells “two units of O-Neg, STAT!” I always grin when I hear that, because I’m O-Neg. Unfortunately I’m not always STAT!

But while O-negative blood is highly valued, my blood is still more highly valued – a favorite among favorites, if you will. See, my blood is not only O-negative, it’s CMV-negative.

Wouldn’t it be awesome if there was blood that could give a man life that would never end… eternal life!

Cytomegalovirus (CMV) is a common virus carried by more than half of the population. Most people who have had the virus never knew it and for the average healthy person, CMV does not cause a problem. However, for patients whose immune systems are not functioning properly CMV can be very serious.

So when a special patient such as a premature baby, a cancer patient or a transplant patient, or someone who cannot fight infection needs blood, they need CMV-negative. Now, couple the need for O-negative in an emergency situation with the need for CMV-negative blood, and you will understand why that blood is highly prized. Such is my blood!

When I go to the blood bank to donate, they pull out what they refer to as a ‘triple bag’. A triple bag is a one pint bag, but separated into three compartments. Thus, my single pint of blood can be distributed to not just one, but as many as three patients in need of this precious substance. I must confess I do not donate blood often. In fact, I can’t remember how many months it has been since I donated, and I can probably count on my fingers the number of times I’ve donated in my life. And for that I beg forgiveness.

Even so, I like to think that, because my blood is so valuable, there are people alive today that might not otherwise be alive. My blood is ‘life-giving’!

And yet, if somebody’s life is saved by my blood, it really isn’t saved… it’s just prolonged. They will surely die eventually. Wouldn’t it be awesome if there was blood that could give a man life that would never end… eternal life!

Ah… but there is! See, God intended for us all to have eternal life in fellowship with Him. But man sinned, and lost that fellowship. And the spiritual laws of the Universe say, “…without the shedding of blood there is no remission for sin.” So God sent his Son, his only Son, Jesus to die for our sins.

You know the story. Jesus was crucified on a cross, was buried in a tomb, and rose again on the third day. And through that death, burial and resurrection he secured eternal life for you and for me.

So if you find yourself in an emergency and needing some O negative CMV negative blood, give me a call. I’ll be glad to offer you as much as I can spare. But if you haven’t called on Jesus Christ, and accepted his blood as payment for your sin, don’t wait another moment. Call on him and find that eternal life of which I speak.


Friday, March 19, 2010

Facing the Fear

Depending on whose list you believe, the greatest fear that faces mankind is either dying or speaking in public. And really, most people that are forced to speak in public will tell you they’d rather face death. I don’t know if it’s true or not, but I suspect most dead people would rather be speaking in public. I guess the worst case scenario would be to die while giving a speech about dying!

While facing the rigors of bible school I was simultaneously dealing with the dread of my first speaking engagement. I had a call from God on my life, of that there was no doubt. And I wanted more than anything to go out and preach… or teach. But would I be able to stand up in front of live human beings? And if so, and I raised my finger and opened my mouth, would sound come out? Or would my knees just lock up, causing me to pass out and knock over the podium?

Would I be able to stand up in front of live human beings or would my knees just lock up, causing me to pass out...

A few weeks before graduation I got a call from a guy I knew that was the leader of the singles group back at my home church. He asked me if I would like to come and speak to his group. And so I had my first engagement. I can’t begin to express the inner turmoil I faced at the thought of public speaking. But after enrolling in bible school and moving to Tulsa and attending bible school and graduating, I couldn’t just hide under the bed for the rest of my life. So turmoil or not, it was full speed ahead. I studied and prepared an outline.

And then the day came. I had decided to show up, and when asked, I would stand up and open my bible and raise my finger and open my mouth. And that’s where my plan ended. I figured if I made it that far, the rest would have to just work itself out.

And then the service started… with praise and worship. And then I was introduced. And I stood up and opened my bible and raised my finger and opened my mouth.

30 or 40 minutes later I realized I needed to wrap up or these people might think I was long winded. I was so pumped. I had faced the fear of speaking in public and delivered my first sermon on the same evening! And, as if successfully getting through the first sermon wasn’t enough, a man came up to me and told me that my topic had answered some specific questions he had asked God that very week. WOW!

A few weeks later this same group asked me to come speak again, and of course I jumped at the chance. I remember that night well because of something unusual that happened. The praise and worship portion of the evening just didn’t seem to want to end. Finally the leader said, “I think God wants to do something before we can move on.”

Right at that moment I sensed God telling me that the service could not proceed until I prayed for the mentally disabled man that was sitting two rows back, directly behind me. I didn’t even know if there was a mentally disabled man sitting two rows back, directly behind me, so I turned around and looked. And there was.

So I approached him, and said “God wants me to pray for you before we can proceed with the service.” He seemed excited about the prospect and agreed wholeheartedly. So I prayed for him.

Now, for those of you who are serious students of the bible, that would be an example of a word of knowledge – one of the gifts of the Spirit Paul cataloged in the 12th chapter of 1st Corinthians. And I can assure you it is an exciting thing to be used of the Lord in such a manner.

As soon as the prayer was over the ‘restraint’ lifted and we were able to proceed with the service. And I was fired up. If I had any lingering fears of public speaking those fears were afraid to show themselves. Now, I wouldn’t say I never have apprehensions when addressing a crowd, but they are slight, and they pale in comparison to the excitement of getting to speak.

You probably expect me to close this with one of those ‘face your fears’ speeches. But the truth is - with the phobias I still deal with I’d feel like a hypocrite. And I have the worst fear of being a hypocrite.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Guys and Dolls

A couple of weeks ago I got the rare pleasure of spending some time with my brother, Joe. We got updated on the details of each other’s lives; the joys and frustrations of day to day existence. Then, as always, our conversation turned to the past. See, we live about 20 miles apart and don’t run in the same circles, so other than a few relatives, what we mostly share is a common childhood.

We saw something – I can’t remember what – that caused us to laugh at ourselves for how we used to hide our girly magazines in the attic, under the pink insulation. (Dads – if your attic stairs are seeing a lot of action, you might want to check for loose bats of insulation.) Now, in case you weren't aware, that pink stuff is pretty itchy... turn the page, scratch your arms, turn the page scratch you neck... you get the picture.

Are arranged marriages the way to go? Well, I’d say that depends on who’s doing the arranging...

I need to stop the train right here for a moment and point out a couple of things. First, this was a loooong time ago; and second, I was the younger brother, and very impressionable! I just want to keep the record straight.

We laughed about the fact that the girls in those magazines don’t really represent real girls. In fact, they don’t really even resemble real girls. The same is true for the actresses and models we see on TV and ad copy. The expertise of professional makeup artists and skilled airbrush craftsmen – that’s what we’re seeing! Real girls look like… well, real girls! What’s happening is they are appealing to the hot button in a man – what’s known as the ‘sight gate’. Pornographers have always banked on the fact that men are stimulated by what they see with their eyes.

Not so much with the female of the species. Women aren’t moved nearly so much by what they see as by what they think and feel. The romantic plots of soap operas and books that portray the hero as a tall, handsome, masculine yet sensitive man whose faults, while slight, are endearing – such is the hook presented to a woman. This image doesn’t even resemble a real man, but the books keep selling and the soaps keep soaping. I’ve seen it referred to as ‘emotional pornography’.

And while society recognizes the foolishness of the girly magazine brand of pornography, we seem to encourage emotional pornography. I’m thinking they’re both about equally dangerous.

So an astute female goes to palates, applies makeup and wears sexy outfits in order to appeal to the eyes of the male. And she wins her prize. And a shrewd man builds himself up with promises and flattery, painting a picture upon which a woman will build her hopes and dreams. And he gains the desire of his eyes.

But she looks different in the morning… and his words prove to be empty. Surely there’s a better way.

You know, if you go to the Bible for advice on dating, you won’t find dating in there. Remember Isaac, the son God Promised Abraham? When it was time for him to take a wife Abraham sent a servant out to fetch a maiden, which turned out to be Rebekah. And they lived happily ever after (except for a few trips to the principal’s office over the antics of Jacob and Esau).

So, are arranged marriages the way to go? Well, I’d say that depends on who’s doing the arranging, and what their motives are. If you will let GOD do the arranging you’ll find his motives are purely to your benefit.

And in the mean time, stay out of the attic.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Old Friends

One of the neatest things about the internet, and specifically Facebook is that you can renew acquaintance with old friends. I am “Facebook friends” with a number of people I probably would have never again seen or known about if not for this cool tool. I’m looking forward to spending a weekend in Branson and seeing my old friends Pete and Janice, with whom I had lost touch for years.

And just last weekend Stephanie and I were invited over to Scott’s home. Scott is a guy I worked with about 10 years ago. And another guest that night was David, another co-worker from that same job. Our conversations picked up as if the ten years had never happened. My scope of friends has again expanded and I am richer for it.

I was saddened to hear of this great loss. Dennis was a good man and a true friend.

But the other side of that equation is finding out about old friends that have passed. I learned from them of the death of Dennis, a man in Phoenix I used to do network installations for. You may have read my story about being given a field sobriety test in Phoenix back in 2000. The reason I was in Phoenix was to install a system for Dennis.

Dennis owned a software company and needed someone to install his product, so mutual business colleagues hooked us up. At that time I was going all over the country installing systems for another company, so it wasn’t any problem to do his jobs too. One of the more interesting jobs I did for him was in Salt Lake City. But the reason that job was interesting is because Dennis was a devout Mormon. We spent hours sitting in restaurants drinking coffee and enjoying conversations about our respective religions. Well, I drank coffee. His church frowned on the intake of caffeine so Dennis drank diet coke. He explained that it was like a small lie as opposed to a big lie. I never fully understood that one.

Dennis was an avid outdoorsman, and enjoyed off-roading in his jeep. In July 2004 Dennis and his son Shane were off-roading in the Coconino National Forest outside Flagstaff, and their jeep pitched into a roll near the top of a hill. It rolled 11 times and struck a grove of pine trees. Dennis was killed instantly and Shane died at the scene.

I was saddened to hear of this great loss. Dennis was a good man and a true friend. And religious beliefs aside, Dennis had shared with me of his relationship with Jesus Christ. I expect to see him again, over on the other side. He’ll probably be waiting to give me a ride in his shiny new heavenly jeep.

I know it’s belated, but I just heard. Goodbye Dennis.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Mulligan Time

Spring has sprung and a man’s thoughts turn to… golf! There’s a saying in golf – Drive for show, Putt for dough! The gist of it is:

Drive for Show - If you can’t take a driver and hit a golf ball in the general direction of the fairway, then you should probably take up table tennis. In all fairness, Tiger Woods doesn’t hit the fairway every time. But if your ball flies off the tee and lands 30 feet behind you, or 3 inches in front of you, and that happens consistently, you might consider selling your clubs on CraigsList.

But if you can advance the ball in the general direction of the green, then the course is pretty forgiving. A ball hit a few feet off to the right or left is still pretty easy to bring back into the fairway and advance to the flagstick. You won’t be joining the tour any time soon, but you’ll have many pleasurable weekends stomping through the poison ivy in search of your ball.

Whether it’s a three foot putt or a duck-and-run tee shot, anything short of perfection would qualify as sin.

Putt for Dough - Putting is a different game altogether. That’s where the walk ends, the concentration shifts into ‘intense mode’ and victory is earned… or given. If it takes you three or four strokes to sink your putt, again my advice would be to trade your clubs for a ping-pong paddle and invest the difference in pork belly futures.

Sin - The game of golf is like sin. Now, to be clear, that’s not to say that playing golf is a sin… unless you‘ve seen my game!

Let me explain. A man tees up the ball and tries to drive it straight. But he’s a mere mortal and can’t drive it perfectly straight – at least not every time. But the course is forgiving. So he takes a ‘drop’ and shoots again. His partner makes an excellent tee shot and finds himself on the green, so he addresses the ball… and straightaway misses his three foot putt.

I think folks generally regard sin by degrees. If a man’s tee shot goes a few feet out of bounds he’s not too bad a fellow. But if it veers off and hits a Honda Civic on the interstate, well – that dude’s one bad sinner.

Mulligans - But in truth the best definition of sin is “missing the mark”. Whether it’s a three foot putt or a duck-and-run tee shot, anything short of perfection would qualify as sin. And there’s only One who ever shot perfection! His name is Jesus. The cool thing is that no matter how far off our shot is - He gives us a mulligan. For those of you who aren’t golf fans that means forgiveness is ours for the asking, and we get another shot.

But you only get those mulligans if you’re partnered with Jesus. If you’re in someone else’s cart it's time to talk to the marshal.

You may not be a golfer. If not, I hope you didn’t grow weary of all these golf metaphors. The truth is I don’t play golf as much anymore because it’s too hard on my throat - all that yelling “FORE”!

Golfball by Peter Griffin

Friday, March 12, 2010

A Tale of Two Chiefs

Some do it when they are very young. Others only began to feel the compulsion as they reach the twilight of their days. But at one time or another everyone makes a list of the places they want to go and the things they want to do before they die. A recent movie made the term ‘bucket list’ popular, and it was an ok movie, so we’ll go with that phrase. Very near the top of my bucket list is a trip to our nation’s capital, Washington, D.C.

From what I’ve heard the ultimate tourist destination in D.C. is the White House. And surely the greatest thrill of seeing the White House is to have your picture made with the President of the United States. Now, never having been there I can’t really say, but I’m guessing he doesn’t have a photo booth in the hall outside the oval office where he is available for pictures at 10 bucks a pop. Perhaps he should. It might help with reducing the national debt. But I understand he’s a pretty busy guy, so I don’t see it happening any time soon. me a favor - tell me about the presidents you’ve seen, dated or had your picture taken with.

Being the leader of the strongest nation on earth, the President of the United States is arguably the most powerful man in the world… and there are a lot of people in this world – over six point eight billion at last count. So it would seem to be a pretty rare event to even catch a glimpse of the most powerful man in the world, much less have your picture taken with him.

But, as rare as such a glimpse may be, and having never been east of the Smokey Mountains, still I have had the opportunity to see not one, but two American Presidents with my own eyes. If you’ve seen three or more, please don’t rain on my parade. Well… I guess it’s ok if you cloud up and sprinkle a little.

First let me tell you about my two, and then do me a favor, and in the Comments box below, tell me about the presidents you’ve seen, dated or had your picture taken with. Remember to click the Post Comment button. Then everyone will get to enjoy your story too.

I was almost four years old in 1960, when Senator John Kennedy was running for president against Vice President Richard Nixon, and came to Oklahoma City for a campaign stop. My family was living in a little frame house on a busy street that happened to be on the motorcade route from the airport to his rally. We didn’t even have to leave the house. Dad stood at the screen door and waited. I stood behind him and peeked around.

And then we saw cops… and then that black convertible with that smiling politician waving to the crowd. Just as it passed our house dad opened the screen door, stuck his head out and yelled, “Go Nixon!” And John Kennedy turned and waived at dad and me! OK… maybe he wasn’t president at the time, but he did go on to win, so I’m counting it.

And then there was President Ronald Reagan, who came to Oklahoma in 1986 to campaign for the re-election of Senator Don Nickels. I was in the crowd when President Reagan referred to Senator Nickels as ‘Don Rickles’. Sources report that when Reagan was told about his slip up, he found it hilarious. But in 2004 at a party event, I mentioned my memory of it to Don Nickels’ wife, and was left with the impression that the Nickels household doesn’t see the humor in it. Go figure!

I’m not sure when I’ll make it to D.C. but I will. And when I do, I’ll do my best to get on the White House tour. And you can bet I’ll have an extra ten bucks in my pocket… just in case!

Now tell me your story.

Photos courtesy of

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Sappy Old Geezer

Are you familiar with the intricacies of the Malthusian growth model? No? Don't worry - I wasn’t either. The Malthusian growth model says that if you lean up against a tree, you will get sap all over your shirt. Now, you can’t just use a wet towel on it like you can blood or dirt. And you can’t peel it off with your fingernails, although you can’t resist the temptation to try. It just smears around, sap-afy-ing an ever increasing area. Sap is exponential! And thus you have proven Malthus’ theory of compounding.

OK… I confess... the Malthusian growth model has nothing to do with sap. It has to do with population growth. I just wanted to talk about sap. And in all fairness, the more people there are, the more tree sap gets on shirts. So there!

That was before I found myself struggling to cope with one day at a time. For me it could have said “Five Minutes at a Time, Sweet Jesus…”

The reason I want to talk about sap is because I’m trying to figure out why I’m getting more and more sappy. (Spell-check says I’m getting sappier and sappier, but then spell-check says there’s no such word as ‘sap-afy-ing’, and we know better.) According to the dictionary ‘Sappy’ either means consisting largely of sapwood, or being excessively sentimental. It’s that second definition I’m talking about.

There was a time in my life when I could boast of only having cried at one movie – Shindler’s List; although I almost cried every time George Bailey read his telegram from Sam Wainwright. Hee Haw! Now any movie with a cute puppy or a snot-nosed kid makes my lip quiver; but especially if the decent guy gets the pretty girl. Reference Sleepless in Seattle, You’ve Got Mail, French Kiss… And no, it’s not a Meg Ryan thing.

There was a time when I sneered at syrupy songs such as “One Day at a Time, Sweet Jesus”. But that was before I found myself struggling to cope with one day at a time. For me it could have said “Five Minutes at a Time, Sweet Jesus…” So now when I hear that song I remember how things were and I thank God I have plans for the future.

There was a time when I slept through most sermons – albeit with my eyes open. But now, Stephanie is teaching the ladies’ bible study at church, and this morning she read me her notes - and I struggled to keep from tearing up.

I have a theory. I think the older I get, the more I’ve seen the hand of God in my life. And the closer I draw to God, the more my heart tenders. And the softer my heart becomes, the more I am able to hear from and respond to the voice of God. And the more I move into God’s will, the more contented I am.

Maybe I’m just becoming an old geezer. Or maybe it’s not a coincidence that ‘sappy’ rhymes with ‘happy’.

Monday, March 8, 2010

A Charismatic Handshake

A ‘charismatic handshake’ is when you extend your hand to shake another, and when you withdraw your hand it contains something it didn’t have before… usually green and folded over. Charismatic handshakes are fun to give, and fun to get… sometimes! I'll explain.

There’s a scriptural teaching that when one prays a prayer asking God for material provision, that prayer is done in secrecy. In other words, ask God to provide, but tell no man. Thus you have not prodded another individual to step in and ‘meet your need’, but have truly trusted God to provide – either the answer to your prayer or an understanding of how His plan is better.

When someone evokes the ‘God told me’ clause you don’t dispute it...

In 1980 I prayed such a prayer. My wife’s birthday was coming up and I had decided I wanted to give a $100 bill as a present. And, while in this day and age a $100 bill may be about average for a gift, back then it was an insurmountable obstacle… at least to me. So I took it to God in prayer, and told no man.

In charismatic circles it was (rightly) taught that God blessed people through other people. So when you prayed a prayer such as the one I described, you started watching your mailbox, and you made yourself especially conspicuous in crowds, so that you didn’t miss what God was going to do for you. It would be terrible for your ship to come it and you to not be at the dock!

Just a few days before the deadline I was at church and a man came up to me and gave me a charismatic handshake.

Now, it was also taught that it was rude to examine the gift in front of the giver. You were to slip it in your pocket thankfully, and go on your way. Then, later and in private, you pulled it out of your pocket to see the denomination… and, if it was more than one bill, to count it. But this time I ‘accidentally’ caught a glimpse of it as I slipped it in my pocket. And besides that, I knew what I had prayed for, and was expecting to receive. Sure enough, I saw the corner of a $100 bill. At least that’s what I thought I saw!

Of course I lavished gratitude on him, and shared with him that I had been expecting that very thing. I even told him why I had prayed for it. “You better take a look at that”, he said, extremely embarrassed. “I know what it is”, I answered. “I caught a glimpse of it.” But he repeated himself, “You better take another look at it.” So I pulled it out of my pocket… and found it to be a religious tract, designed to look like a $100 bill.

He apologized profusely for his little practical joke, and how momentously it had backfired. Of course, I laughed it off. There was no way he could have anticipated how his joke fell into my expectations of answered prayer so seamlessly. Only a cruel devil could orchestrate such a ‘coincidence’ - or was it a laughing angel?

As the next church service approached I found myself hoping he wouldn’t be there, so as to avoid the awkwardness of it all. But there he was. I certainly couldn’t avoid him, so I went up to shake his hand, as if nothing had ever happened. And he gave me another charismatic handshake. But I bet you can guess the difference with this one. Yes, the $100 bill was real! He even said it… “That one’s real!”

Now I was the one who was embarrassed. I had to think this gift was motivated by guilt, and yet it surely resembled the answer to my prayer. Do I accept it or not? Trying to smooth things over I said, “You don’t have to do this, man. That was just an unfortunate joke. Don’t worry about it”, or something to that effect. But he wasn’t having it. “No… God told me to give this to you”, he insisted.

When someone evokes the ‘God told me’ clause you don’t dispute it. So I thanked him again, and kept it.

I’m not sure what the lesson is here. Oh, I’m quite sure what his lesson was… don’t play practical jokes unless you’re willing to pay the price! But what do I take from this, other than the $100? That God hears our prayers? That God answers our prayers? Perhaps something about humility?

I think I have it… the lesson to be learned is - God has a sense of humor!

photo courtesy of

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Playing Favorites

I’m going to tell you a secret but I’ve got to ask you to keep it to yourself. See, I love my brother and sisters and I wouldn’t want their feelings to be hurt. And this information might just do that, so please don’t tell my secret.

What could such a potentially hurtful secret be, you ask? Here it is – Of all us kids, I was dad’s favorite! Oh, he never came right out and said it… not in so many words. But we had this special bond, and it was unmistakable. I tried not to let on so as not to hurt their feelings, but on the other hand I reveled in his favor unashamedly.

Now, that may sound like a question to you, but it wasn’t. It was really his special code word that indicated to me I was his favorite...

I remember one time when I was really young, maybe three or four. Dad worked as supervisor on a freight dock. As I remember the story there was some damaged freight, or salvage freight or something of that nature. I’m not sure of the particulars. All I remember is dad’s lunch pail packed FULL of Butterfinger candy bars. Dad stepped into the door of the house and declared, “Who’s my pal?” Now, that may sound like a question to you, but it wasn’t. It was really his special code word that indicated to me I was his favorite. So I bounced up off the couch yelling, “I am, I am”. Dad handed me that lunch pail and tried to hide his crooked grin as I unlatched both sides and raised the lid.

Of course, in retrospect I suppose my brother and sister may have interpreted the “Who’s My Pal” line as their special code also. And maybe it was just that I was closer to the door so I got to dad first. But I remember thinking that whole pail full of candy bars belonged to me, and they would only be allowed to feast at my pleasure. In truth, I’m sure mom confiscated the entire bounty and doled them out to each of us in reasonable portions.

In August of 2000 dad passed away, and our conversations were all consumed with memories of him. After a short while it began to dawn on me that my older sister, Linda truly in her heart always felt sorry for us boys because she was dad’s favorite. And then I was astonished when my older brother, Joe disclosed that he honestly knew he was dad’s favorite. Of course, my little sister, Brenda, who came along 16 years after me had never even entertained a doubt that she was dad’s favorite.

This was a major revelation to us. We all agreed we honesty felt we were the favored child, and we all marveled at the skills dad must have possessed in order to pull off such an awesome subterfuge.

I was sharing this story with my buddy, Paul, and he related a similar sentiment about his mom. Then he told me that at her funeral the preacher shared that she had ‘a separate heart for each of her children’. And it dawned on me… dad didn’t pull off any subterfuge. There was no intent in dad’s heart to make any of us think we were more prized that the others. He simply had a heart for me, and a heart for Linda, and a heart for Joe and a heart for Brenda. And we all felt that love and knew it was personal… and it was we who assumed the others were less favored.

Our Heavenly Father is like that. He has a heart just for you, and if you will fellowship with Him… if you will be His pal, you and He will develop a special bond, with special code words of affection. And you will realize that ‘you are his favorite’. And you are!

But that’s ok. See, mom is still with us… and I’m her favorite! Shhhhhh

Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Devil’s Fire

We’ve all known someone that, because of their easy going demeanor or comical personality, can get by with things that you or I would surely be called on; jokes told, comments made, judgments passed. Those things, and especially decisions made and actions taken are the things of which reputations are woven.

Reputations are a funny thing. Sometimes they’re deserved, sometimes undeserved… and sometimes a person actually seeks out a reputation that doesn’t really represent him at all. At one time in my life I fell into that category.

I sat on the proverbial fence, and warmed at the wrong fire… and people noticed.

It was Passion Week and Jesus had been taken to the high priest’s house. Peter followed the crowd, but far enough back that he wouldn’t be recognized. It was cold so some people started a fire and Peter sat down with them to warm himself. But a woman in the group recognized him as a follower of Jesus. “This man was with Jesus”, she declared, pointing at Peter. Peter denied her accusation, saying, “Woman, I don’t know him!”

You’re probably familiar with what happened next. After a second and third denial a rooster crowed. And Peter recalled the words Jesus prophetically spoke to him – how he would deny Him 3 times before the cock crows.

How Peter wished he hadn’t warmed himself by the devil’s fire!

My dad used that passage of scripture to point out to me the importance of choosing my crowd carefully. “Son, don’t warm yourself at the Devil’s fire” he warned. But I didn’t listen to dad. See, I enjoyed hanging out with the bad crowd. If there was trouble I wanted to be within viewing distance of it. Oh, I had no intention of being in the middle of it. I just wanted people to think I was in the middle of it. I wanted to be known as a bad boy without having to actually be a bad boy.

See, during my high school years I already knew God had a calling on my life, and I had every intention of taking my life in that direction. But I wanted to be a popular high school kid first. So I sat on the proverbial fence, and warmed at the wrong fire… and people noticed. My youth pastor explained to me why I wasn’t picked to be on the youth council. And certain kids weren’t allowed to hang out with me! And I snarled at how short-sighted those kids’ parents were for not seeing what was really in my heart. And yet I did little to show them what was really in my heart.

I don’t fully understand the romantic appeal of sin. I come closer to understanding that desire a man has to rise above sin – to take the high road and find himself pleasing to God. But what I do fully understand is the eternal struggle in a man’s heart between the two. The reason I understand that struggle is because it has played out in me so many times.

A pastor I once knew had a saying… “It takes a lot of ‘atta-boys’ to make up for one ‘oops’!” I wish my reputation would have always reflected my desire to please God rather than my desire for the periphery of trouble.

I want people to point at me and say, "That man was with Jesus", so now I’m working on the ‘atta-boys’!

Photo courtesy of">Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.

Friday, March 5, 2010

My First Felony Offense

I suppose most of us hide secrets in our heart, some out of the fear of embarrassment, others because they’re just private and should remain private… and some to avoid a prison sentence! You may have thought you knew me, but you’re about to learn of my first criminal offense.

The Romans would have called it MCMLXVIII. It was 1968. The Green Bay Packers won the Superbowl, Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In debuted, Richard Nixon was elected President of the United States, Martin Luther King was assassinated, and I committed my first felony. WAIT… that makes it sound like my crime had something to do with Dr. King’s death. While that was a terrible crime, it was not my crime! I was only 11 years old.

I figured my crime was good for at least 10 years of hard labor in striped pajamas...

Back in the 60s we had elementary school, junior high and high school. Somewhere along the way junior high became middle school, and they started messing with the grades. Now I’m not sure what school a 6th grader goes to. If I had a 6th grader he’d just have to ride the bus.

But when I was in 6th grade we were the upper classmen of elementary school. Our next year would be the jump to junior high, and our first taste of multiple classrooms and teachers. The idea of changing classes was cool enough, but we actually got to select the classes… well, at least one of them. We got to choose between band and chorus. Not being a good singer I opted for band.

Mom agreed with my choice to take band, and I don’t suppose dad really cared one way or the other, as long as I didn’t make any noise while he was reading his newspaper. All I had to do was mark the appropriate box on the form and get a parent to sign it, and I had carried out my first official junior high act, while still in 6th grade. The forms were due no later than Friday.

Getting ready for school on Friday I made sure I had my form. I’d hate to flunk out of 7th grade without even attending one day of school. Sure enough I got to school with the form, filled out and ready to be turned in. Except… it wasn’t signed! I was panic stricken. Mom and dad had left for work without signing my form.

What could I do? What would you do? I got an ink pen and a piece of paper, and I practiced dad’s signature. I figured I didn’t have a chance with mom’s penmanship, but dad’s… that was do-able. I signed the form. I turned the form in. I became a criminal!

In all fairness the crime of forgery may be a felony or it may be a misdemeanor, depending on whether you get a prison sentence of more than one year, or less than one year. I figured my crime was good for at least 10 years of hard labor in striped pajamas.

I spent the entire summer of 1968 with a nagging anxiety in the pit of my stomach. Oh, I’d like to say it was guilt over my act, but the truth is I was worried about getting caught. I guess I thought all junior high schools had a handwriting expert on staff, whose only job is to verify the signatures on parental permission slips. And when that glorious day came and I passed 7th grade, I breathed a giant sigh of relief. They could throw me in jail but they couldn't take 7th grade away from me.

Dad never found out about the forgery, and I got better and better at it. That's how I got my first car!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Almost Arrested... For Praying!

For a few minutes I thought I was living behind the iron curtain, or maybe in some third-world country. I found myself on the verge of being arrested… for praying!

It was the year 2000 and I was in Phoenix to install a computer system for a client. I was there alone for several days, and so, as a guy is apt to do when he is staring at the four walls of a hotel room, I headed out to see what the City of Phoenix had to offer.

I stumbled across a sports bar type restaurant with a few cars around it, and ventured in for a bite to eat. Now, even back in my ‘wild’ days I wasn’t much of a drinker of adult beverages. In fact, back when I ran with a crowd that frequented those types of establishments I was always the designated driver. And so I ordered water with my meal. And the second time my glass ran empty I was brought a whole picture.

“Would you consent to take a breathalyzer test?” My alternative was a trip downtown, so I consented…

A couple of hours later the game was over and I was full as a tick on Phoenix tap water (not a drink I’d recommend). I got in my Chevy Blazer to drive back to the room. But, as luck would have it, turning out of the parking lot I bumped the curb. Now, you may be thinking, “What’s so unlucky about bumping a curb?” but what I didn’t tell you is that, while pulling out I was under the watchful eye of two of Phoenix’s finest… on motorcycles! They apparently kept a vigil at this place for inebriated drivers – you know… drunks.

There they were.. those dreaded red lights in my rear view mirrow. And then the question, “Have you been drinking, sir?” “No, sir… I only drank water.” I answered, like I had a faint chance of selling that story… even though it was true!

“You bumped the curb pulling out”, he offered. I tried to explain to them how these Chevy Blazers have a problem with the steering – that the wheel sticks on a sharp turn. But they weren’t buying it. The truth is that an article came out a few days later about that very problem with that very vehicle. Oh, how I wished I’d had that article with me that evening.

These two motorcycle cops were dressed in typical motorcycle cop costumes complete with black leather boots and standard issue cocky attitude. I will admit that one of them feigned politeness. The other chomped on an unlit cigar and didn’t even attempt to be civil. Trust me when I say that of the three of us, he was the one that was drunk… with power!

They put me through the full battery of field sobriety tests. I followed a pen with my eyes, stood on one foot; touched my nose with eyes closed and head tilted, and walked a straight line, all with the flawless perfection of a scared stiff out-of-towner.

“Would you consent to take a breathalyzer test?” Officer Polite Cop asked. My alternative was a trip downtown, so I consented… and blew. While waiting for the results to register I whispered a quick prayer for God’s favor and help in getting out of this jam. And that’s when the wicket got sticky, as it were.

Officer Cigar Chomper noticed my whispering and asked, “What did you say?” “I didn’t say anything”, I responded, but he wouldn’t accept that answer. “I know you said something… what was it!” he demanded. So I swallowed the tiny smidgen of pride I still had left, and told him I was praying. “Good!” he chuckled. “You need it!”

At about the very next moment Officer Polite Cop gasped, “I’ll be Damned!” “What?” asked Officer Cigar Chomper. “Zero Point Zero!” he answered. Then Officer Cigar Chomper said something that just about made me crazy… “You think he’s on drugs?” People… for Pete’s sake I BUMPED A CURB!

As you know, I’m from Oklahoma, and in Oklahoma curb bumping is a mere misdemeanor. I hadn’t read up on the laws in Phoenix, but obviously it’s a much more serious offense there… and apparently I needed to be punished for my lawlessness.

But I’m here to tell you that God still hears our prayers. Officer Polite Cop said, “Naw… he’s just tired and scared.” Then he turned to me, handed me back my license and said, “Drive safely, Mr. Kepler”.

And I did! Believe me, I did!

So next time you’re driving down the avenue and you see a couple of motorcycle cops giving some poor schlep a field sobriety test, do him a favor and whisper a quick prayer for him. But don’t let the cop catch ya!

Monday, March 1, 2010

The Call of the Wild

There’s an inner urging deep inside all of us for a return to the wild - to live off the land - to build a shelter with our own hands -to catch a fish or trap a rabbit or shoot a pheasant, and drink fresh water from a cool, clear stream… and then to sneak off to town for a hot shower, a burger and a shake!

My wife has made me promise for several years running now that I would take her camping. But between valid reasons and trifling excuses, our tent and cook-stove have continued to gather cobwebs. Perhaps this summer…

Had she not stepped out at just the right time, her little yapper may have been the victim of an unthinkable fate.

But in backing out the driveway the other morning I realized we don’t need to go camping to return to the wild. See, a couple of years ago we bought a new house on a cul-de-sac with empty lots around us. And with a church lot behind our house to the north and another to the west, we are surrounded on three sides by raw nature.

But what I noticed that morning is a bond with nature that exceeds the smell of a freshly brush-hogged church lot. There it was, perched majestically on the peak of our roof – an eagle! Or was that a falcon? Or a chicken-hawk? Or an osprey, a kite or an owl? I’m pretty sure it wasn’t a buzzard or a vulture. Let’s just agree that it was a bird of prey, and leave it at that.

And this isn’t the first predatory avian that’s taken roost on our home. See, we attend one of those churches behind us, and sitting in our married folks class on any given Sunday I can look out the window and see our roof. And it’s quite often I see a bird, eyeing the fields around our house for his breakfast. Speaking of breakfast, we have coffee and donuts in married folks class (just thought I’d throw that in).

But this whole matter of predatory birds looking for breakfast brings a fresh concern with a warning issued yesterday by Cheryl; a friend of ours. Like us, Cheryl has a small dog that she lets outside for all the reasons you let dogs outside. And today she reported that hovering overhead was a chicken-hawk in search of prey. Had she not stepped out at just the right time, her little yapper may have been the victim of an unthinkable fate.

So now, every time we let our little mutt outside I'll feel like a parent sending his kindergartner off on the bus for the first day of school. I'll want to hide in the shadows and stand vigil. But parents don't really put a kindergartner on the bus on the first day - they drive her to school. So maybe, every time she barks to be let out, I'll just drive her out on my riding mower. I might even buy her one of those little mats to sleep on. You know - the kind that is blue on one side and red on the other.

Or maybe I'll just put out coffee and donuts for the hungry predator. Hey, it works for the married folks at the church!

Image courtesy of Liz Noffsinger /