Friday, June 25, 2010


During my youth ministry days I developed a character named Leroy, a lovable, Elmer Fudd type of guy with a fudd-like speech impediment. Leroy likes to tell how he went to “Detwoit” and got a job on the “assembwy wine.” One of the lines of this sketch has him recounting the instructions he receives from his foreman. “Weewoy, I had to way somebody off today. I’m gonna hafta give you some mowah weesposibiwity.”

The sketch uses motions to convey how Leroy juggles the various responsibilities that are placed on him as he takes on more and more. He has to “skwew skwews with his wight hand, skwew skwews with his weft hand,” etc., until finally he has it up to here with weesponsibiwity.

re·spon·si·bil·i·ty The state, quality, or fact of being responsible.

re·spon·si·ble Liable to be required to give account, as of one's actions or of the discharge of a duty or trust (

We live in an age of irresponsibility. When I originally wrote this a few years ago we had witnessed the trial of a mother who drowned her children. Her defense was that, since she was mentally unstable, she was not responsible for her behavior.

There is a great tendency in our society to blame others for our misdeeds. It reminds me of the Flip Wilson character, Geraldine, who, when she got into trouble, claimed, “The devil made me do it.”
The truth is that, whether or not we are willing to assume responsibility for our behavior, we will each be held responsible for what we do. We will someday stand before God and give an account of ourselves.

I shared this idea with a group of public school teachers during an inservice on character development. I told them I wanted to give them another interpretation of the 3 Rs, an understanding that I had learned from the psychiatrist William Glasser. In his book, “Reality Therapy,” Glasser explains that his 3 Rs are reality, responsibility, and right-and-wrong.

The first R, reality, means that we live in a real world with real struggles and real consequences for our actions. We’re not in Mayberry or in Disney World. Children are kidnapped and murdered. There are wars and rumors of wars. People do inhumane things to each other. We live in a world that is often mean and ugly, because our world is fallen. The events of 9/11 and since make this all too clear.

The second R stands for responsibility. We have already touched on this, but let me share a quote to underscore my point. The need for personal responsibility was expressed eloquently by Vaclav Havel, the president of the Czech Republic, in a 1999 magazine article. He wrote, “The salvation of this human world lies nowhere else than in the human heart….The only backbone to our actions, if they are to be moral, is responsibility. Responsibility to something higher than my family, my firm, my country, my success—responsibility to the order of being where all our actions are indelibly recorded and where, and only where, they will be properly judged." (quoted in

The final R is for right and wrong. The prevailing philosophy on many of our campuses today is that what is right or wrong depends on the situation – that there are no moral absolutes. Everything is relative. I hate to burst this bubble, but the Bible clearly states that there are moral absolutes, established by God Himself. After all, God didn’t give us “The Ten Suggestions” now did He? God has a standard, called the law, by which he judges everyone. In God’s eyes right is right and wrong is wrong. And whatever is wrong the Bible calls sin.

Now, concerning sin I have good news and bad news. The bad news is that you have already broken the law and done wrong in God’s eyes. “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) The good news is that Jesus has already taken care of our sin problem.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Fitting Punishment?

The kerfuffle over the remarks made to Rolling Stone magazine has been at the top of the headlines for a couple of days now. The resignation (forced?) of General McChrystal and the naming of General Petraeus to take his place has raised a number of questions in my mind.

1. Does our commander in chief have any understanding of the way the military operates and the importance of having a relationship with a theater commander that provides an open door for the sharing of concerns? Apparently not.

2. Can a president without any military background (much less any real leadership experience) effectively serve as commander in chief?

But the greater issue in my mind is this: What was McChrystal thinking in sharing his thoughts publicly? That is a huge blunder.

From day one of a person's military experience he is deluged with reminders of the chain of command and the importance of respecting one's superiors and following orders. This was certainly my experience during my time of service, back when Richard M Nixon was the commander in chief.

Certainly, McChrystal may have been frustrated, especially with inept civilian higher-ups such as Joe Biden (for whom he has little respect, apparently) and Karl Eikenberry, US Ambassador to Afghanistan. But he had other channels to voice his disdain and displeasure. Doing so publicly was just not smart.

I recall serving under four different battalion commanders during my time as an infantry lieutenant. I served under two of them during a stint in Germany, and the other two during my time as a rifle platoon leader, then later a mortar platoon leader in Vietnam. Two of the four were men I gladly served under. The other two I endured. One of them I would have followed charging hell with a water pistol. And one of them I would not have crossed the street to shake hands with. But, even if I didn't respect a ranking officer as an officer, I respected his insignia of rank, and dutifully saluted and deferred to his leadership.

The only time I actually took a commander to task was on a mission in the mountains west of DaNang. My company commander and his little gaggle of followers patrolled with us for several days during this mission. Under orders from the battalion headquarters to move to a designated place by a designated time, the CO told me to do something that I considered extremely dangerous and unnecessary - take the 35 men of my rifle platoon down a dry stream bed in order to reach our destination in time.

I asked for a word in private, and proceeded to tell the captain that I thought his idea was dangerous and unnecessary.

"Sir, with all due respect, there is no need for us to subject these men to this danger. We can reach our destination in time by continuing to cut a trail through the jungle."

What ensued was a "yes you will" - "with all due respect, sir, I will not" argument. At the risk of court martial or other punitive measures, I did not relent. The CO finally saw that I wasn't going to subject my men to such danger without cause, and he backed down. I'll save the outcome of this situation for another time.

The point is this - there is a right way and a wrong way for one to air one's grievances with higher ups in the chain of command. Every soldier knows this. McChrystal did it the wrong way. However, I think Obama went way overboard in his handling of the situation, if he indeed asked for McChrystal's resignation. We won't know that until the next issue of Rolling Stone.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

One Starfish At A Time

Loren Eiseley, while writing his book The Unexpected Universe, was walking along the ocean in Costabel early one morning. It was shortly after a storm had subsided and as he continued walking, he noticed that thousands of starfish had been washed up on the beach. Ahead of him was a gigantic rainbow of incredible perfection shimmering into existence. At the base of the rainbow stooped a little boy, gazing fixedly at an object in the sand. Eventually, he flung the object far beyond the breaking surf.

Eiseley went up to him and asked, "Son, what are you doing?"

The little boy answered, "I'm throwing starfish back into the sea because if I don't they're going to die."

"But there are thousands of starfish. In the larger scheme of things you're not going to make much of a difference to all these starfish."

The little boy looked up at him, stooped down again to pick up another starfish and, gently but quickly, flung it back into the ocean. "It's going to make a big difference to that one," he replied.

Eiseley was embarrassed, uncomfortable with the contrast of the little boy's youthful, innocent love for the living with his own hardened, "mature" indifference to death. He had nothing to say and left, continuing to walk on the beach but unable to get the picture of the little boy out of his mind. It was a moment of truth for Eiseley, of deep soul searching and self-confrontation.

In time, he returned to the star thrower, silently picked up a starfish and spun it far out into the waves. "I understand." he said quietly. "Call me another thrower."

Together, still under the hues of the rainbow, they spent hours throwing starfish back into the ocean. (via The Creative Communications Center)

Last year, at a concert, my wife and I decided to sponsor a young African boy through Compassion International. For just the value of one nice meal out, we can provide this young boy with nutrition, school supplies, and other essentials.

Reul Kalo is a ten-year-old Kenyan who lives with his parent and loves soccer. We keep a picture of him on the refrigerator, and, in addition to providing monthly support, we correspond with him occasionally. At Christmas we sent a little extra gift along with Christmas wishes. In his thank you letter, he said this, through an interpreter:

“Accept happy new year’s greetings from your sponsored child, Reul Kalo. The child says ‘thank you’ for the Christmas gift he received from you. The child says he bought school shoes, socks, shoe polish and a ruler. The child says he will be praying for you.” Along with the letter was a picture he drew of shoes, socks, shoe polish and a ruler.

It’s not much, but sponsoring this lad is something we can do. Others are adopting children from third world countries and from China, where girls are at serious risk.

The point is this: None of us can singlehandedly make a difference in the lives of all children in need. But, Mary Beth and I are blessed to make a difference to this one.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

My story of hope

One of the campaign themes of 2008 was Hope and Change. But the order should be change then hope. To underscore that truth, let me share my story of hope.

I came to know Christ as a teenager when I put my trust in him and invited him into my life. I had the assurance that my sins were forgiven and that I had begun a brand new life.

A few years later I sensed the Lord calling me to ministry. I made a public commitment, but then I spent the next several years trying to run away. Jesus never left me, even though I strayed away.

Then came Vietnam. I served as an infantry officer commanding a rifle platoon in the jungle. Even there, on the other side of the world, in the midst of an ugly war, Jesus was right there. He’s always been there, wherever I was, whatever situation.

But the story that I want to relate happened 20 years ago. On December 30, 1990, a Sunday, I had emergency surgery to have my colon removed – the whole thing – because of a grave medical condition. My colon had perforated, and the surgeon gave me less than a 50/50 chance to survive. I remember, the second day after surgery, lying in the bed in intensive care with three iv poles at the head of my bed dripping meds, blood, and narcotics into a port right under my collar bone. As I lay there, I felt as if my life was slipping away.

Now, I had faced death before as a combat officer in Vietnam. But in those days, with bullets whizzing by, I was able to face death as a well-armed, well-equipped, confident warrior. But now I lay helpless in a hospital bed, unable to lift my head off the pillow.

I remember quietly calling out to the Lord, and sensing him standing there beside me. A peace came over me, and I experienced the Lord saying to me, “I’m here. You’re in my hands and I’m not going to leave you. I have wonderful things prepared for you when you meet me face to face some day, but it’s not going to happen today. You’re going to get well. I’m not through with you yet.”

Thirty-seven days and three surgeries later, I was released from the hospital, and the following Sunday I stood before the church I served with a new confidence that God wasn't through yet with my life on earth.

One of my favorite gospel songs expresses this confident hope.

I’m possessed of a hope that is steadfast and sure,
Since Jesus came into my heart.
And no dark clouds of doubt now my pathway obscure,
Since Jesus came into my heart.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Sacha Whiner

The man went into the restaurant and said, “Do you serve crabs here?”

And the waiter said, “Why, yes sir, we serve anybody here.”

I’ve been around crabs. Haven’t you? These are the people who are constantly complaining about everything. Whiners, we call them. No matter what happens, or how good something might be, the whiners will find something to complain about.

The story is told about a monk who joined a monastery and took a vow of silence. After the first 10 years his superior called him in and asked, “Do you have anything to say?”

The monk replied, “Food bad.”

After another 10 years the monk again had opportunity to voice his thoughts.

He said, “Bed hard.”

Another 10 years went by and again he was called in before his superior. When asked if he had anything to say, he responded, “I quit.”

“It doesn’t surprise me a bit, said his superior. “You’ve done nothing but complain ever since you got here.”

Maybe you’ve met the Whiner family. There’s Ima Whiner. He’s the head of the clan. Born in the objective case and baptized in lemon juice, he’s always grumbling about something. When people see him coming they turn and go the other way rather than being subjected to his "complaint-of-the-day." His wife, Stella Whiner, not only whines, she nags as well. Someone has said that living with a nagger or whiner is akin to being nibbled to death by a duck. Ima and Stella also have a son, Sacha Whiner. He, bless his little heart, has the whining genes from both sides of the family. He also has few friends. Duh! Who wants to be around someone who is always arguing or complaining? Most of us want to tell such people, "Build a bridge and get over it!" Or our reaction is like the old Bob Dylan song:

I wish that for just one day you could stand in my shoes.
Then you’d know what a drag it is to be with you.

Whining is nothing new. Apparently there were members of the Philippian church who liked to grumble or whine on occasion. Imagine that – whiners all the way back in the first century.
The Apostle Paul addressed this negative attitude when he admonished his friends in Philippi to “do everything without complaining or arguing.” (Philippians 2:14) He was concerned about their ability to relate to one another in genuine love, and their ability to relate the love of Jesus to those around them.
This reminder from Paul to the Philippians applies to you and me as well. The world watches how we live. Your roommate, suitemate, classmates, workmates….all your "mates" are watching how you live – especially how you react to difficulty. You have a choice. You can shine like a star, as Paul states in verse 15 of Philippians 2, or you can be a dark cloud. I like the slogan one of our secretaries has posted in her office. You can be humbly grateful or grumbly hateful.

You and I both know that life can be hard. It is sometimes tough to live a life of faith and to be positive even in adversity. It helps to be reminded that God will help us. Submit yourself to him and let him work out his purposes in your life. As you yield yourself to him daily you will become increasingly winsome and warm. Then others will want to be around you. On the other hand, if you’re a whiner, don’t expect many friends.

How you live is up to you. What will it be: grumbly or grateful?

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Call Me A Moralist

Okay, so I’m a moralist…and proud of it. Though some, particularly those of a liberal persuasion, might use this as a pejorative term, I believe it is a badge of honor to be called a moralist.

A moralist believes in the moral foundation of the law, and the importance of taking a stand informed by those moral convictions. Here’s what I believe.

1. Our nation, under God, is one nation, although made up of many. As a pluralistic society, every person, of every persuasion, is welcome here. Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, and persons of no faith whatsoever, work side by side, live next door, worship as they choose, or don’t worship if they choose.

2. This country was founded on moral principles. Indeed, every law ever passed is based on some moral conviction. Our basic laws are based in the Judeo-Christian ethic. This ethic values life, liberty, and justice.

3. I believe in a free church in a free state. One of the rights that early citizens established is the right to freedom of religion. And Christians led the way in this cause. In fact, it was a Baptist preacher in Virginia, John Leland, who was one of the chief proponents of religious liberty. His influence on James Madison is well documented.

4. It is the moralists of our society that stand for truth. These people of conviction care about human rights and ministering to the needs of the marginalized people of society. These people care about those enslaved in Sudan, persons suffering from AIDS, and the sanctity of all human life. We moralists stand for the traditional American family.

5. Moralists like me believe in revealed truth. Jesus, in his high-priestly prayer in the garden, said, “Father, sanctify them in the truth. Your word is the truth.” (John 17:17) In other words, all truth comes ultimately from God.