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“Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.  Peter said to Jesus, ‘Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters–one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased. Listen to Him!’ When the disciples heard this, they fell face down to the ground, terrified.” – Matthew 17:3-6 (NIV)

I must admit that I’m no expert on the British Royal Family but in recent times my wife has drawn me into watching the Netflix series “The Crown.”

In an opening scene in one of the early episodes of season four, “The Balmoral Test,” Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and her husband Dennis are flying toward Scotland to spend time with the Royal Family at Balmoral Castle, Scotland in the early 1980’s. Margaret, as usual, is deep in thought while Dennis is explaining his awareness that the Royal family tends to get strategic people into the castle and run them through a series of “tests” that can be very instructive to them in how they relate to such individuals. In essence he’s telling Margaret that they are “prime” candidates for such a test.

As the story unfolds, we discover that Prime Minister Thatcher has not brought any outdoor shoes with her on this trip. In the morning the Queen gets her out in the country side, sloshing through muddy fields and up hills in the scenic area surrounding the castle. Even after borrowing a pair of the Queen’s old shoes for the trip, Mrs. Thatcher decides she is going back to the castle to be better prepared for this type of activity. Back in the castle she decides to forgo the great outdoors and sits down to do some serious work in one of the castle’s ornately decorated historic rooms.

At this point Princess Margaret, played by Helena Bonham Carter, arrives on the scene and finds Mrs. Thatcher sitting in a chair at a desk in this grandiose room. She exclaims, “Who told you that you could sit in that chair? That was Queen Victoria’s Chair! No one sits in that chair!”

I’m sure no one was as surprised to hear this news as was Mrs. Thatcher – the Prime Minister of Great Britain and certainly not a woman to be trifled with. After hearing this untimely news, she politely abides by the Princess’s wishes and gets up out of the chair.

This scene spoke to me deeply. I would have thought that the Prime Minister of Great Britain could pretty much go anywhere she wanted to go in the kingdom and sit in any chair she wanted. However, it became clear that when she was on “Royal” territory she was no longer “in charge.” There was a higher authority she was duty-bound to respect. Someone else owned the chair and she had to submit to an authority that was greater than her own office or position in the kingdom.  

Shortly after watching this, my wife and I were trying to explain the term “relativism” to two of our granddaughters and it dawned on me that this story is reflective of the current state of our world. In this current age, no one seems to know who “owns the chair.” We live in an age where no one really knows who is “in charge” and to whom we must ultimately give an account.

I thought back to the story I allude to above where the early Apostles Peter, James and John accompanied Jesus up onto a mountain one day during His earthly ministry. Jesus was transfigured before them and Moses and Elijah appeared with Him. Only later did the three apostles speak of the incident but they clearly heard a voice from heaven saying, “This is my Son whom I love. Listen to Him.”

People often ask me, “Aren’t all religions and philosophies the same? What’s so different between what I believe and what you believe?” My short answer is now this, “According to your viewpoint, who owns the chair?”

Many current philosophies work under the assumption that there is no authorative, personal God in charge of the universe in general and our world in particular. The current state of our world is reflective of a mindset that believes “it’s all up to us” to decide who’s in charge. It’s survival of the fittest and the one who shouts the loudest or comes up with the best political/economic system gets to call the shots. (I’m not, by the way, making a political statement or endorsing any political party or candidate.)

I know that I might be branded as naive or simplistic, but I still believe that we can know, honor, respect and follow the one who not only “owns the chair” but owns our world and the entire universe. He invites us to know Him personally through His Son Jesus Christ who still speaks to us today through His Word, the Bible and by His Holy Spirit.

In the past two thousand years since Jesus walked the earth there have been many who have been dismissive of Him, but none have ever successfully disproved the reality of His life, death and resurrection. Peter, James, John and many other early Jesus-followers were eye witnesses of this Man who alone has ultimate authority.

The One who owns it all still speaks to us today, “This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased. Listen to Him.”  I suggest we do just that.  

But most of all, my brothers and sisters, never take an oath, by heaven or earth or anything else. Just say a simple yes or no, so that you will not sin and be condemned.” – James 5:12 (NLT)

Actually when you think about it, whether we admit it or not, we all have our limits. During the past couple of weeks I’ve been considering the fact that we have so many limits or boundaries in our lives that we often don’t take time to consider.  

Recently a friend and colleague died of cancer at a relatively young age, leaving behind a husband and two children with particular needs. For those of us who knew and loved her we all feel the pain of losing someone who left us far too early. But her life, like all of ours, has limits. We won’t live in these bodies forever, and as a follower of Jesus as I grow older, I’m looking forward to the next one that God has promised me.

In the meantime, like everyone else, I have limits. I don’t have unlimited time, money, patience, emotional energy, and the list goes on. I have limits or boundaries and I’m learning more about them all the time. I often don’t like or appreciate the fact that I’m human and I have to say “no” to some things.

I’ve often pondered why I don’t like to say “no” to everyone’s requests. I think I’ve discovered that I don’t want to disappoint anyone and I want to be helpful to everyone. That’s a lofty goal, but virtually impossible to reach. I’m human and I have to be the first to admit it. I’ve been addicted to people-pleasing for years and it’s a difficult habit from which to break free.  

I’m re-reading Henry Cloud and John Townsend’s book, Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life.” I think this should be required reading for almost everyone, especially people who relate to what I’m saying. One of the key thoughts from the book comes under the section on boundary myths under the question – “Are Boundaries a Sign of Disobedience?”

The authors write, “. . .an internal no nullifies an external yes. God is more concerned with our hearts than he is with our outward compliance. ‘For I desire mercy and not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings,’ (Hosea 6:6) In other words, if we say yes to God or anyone else when we really mean no, we move into a position of compliance. And that is the same as lying. Our lips say yes, but our hearts (and often our half-hearted actions) say no. . . Here’s a good way to look at this myth that boundaries are a sign of disobedience: if we can’t say no, we can’t say yes. . . We must always say yes out of a heart of love. When our motive is fear, we love not.” – pp. 110-111.  

As I was reading these words I reflected on what James writes in his epistle, quoted above. There is a responsibility for our lives that God entrusts to us as we stand before Him. We have to say “yes” to the things we devote our hearts to and “no” to what we cannot or must not do. In other words, I have to take ownership and responsibility for what is mine and you must do the same.

This is no simple task and it’s not a pat answer or “formula” that we can plug in to each and every situation. However, my thought and prayer life is much more informed by the boundaries and limits in my life and more importantly, in my heart.

Like everyone else, I’m a work in progress I need to continually guard and watch over my heart so that when I say “yes” I can really mean it – on the inside as well as the outside.

Daily we are bombarded by choices and decisions which are tough calls to make. To what will we devote our time, our energy, our money and our resources? Who will get the best part of our day and our full attention?

As something of a compulsive thinker at times, I can become consumed with trying to make the “right” decision instead of allowing God to speak to my heart and trusting His guidance. I know as I trust Him more fully He will give me the insight and wisdom to say “yes” and “no” and speak from a heart of love rather than fear of rejection or disappointing others. May this bless you on your journey with Him today.  

“One Sabbath Jesus was going through the cornfields, and as His disciples walked along, they began to pick some ears of corn. The Pharisees said to Him, ‘Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?’ He answered, ‘Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.’  Then He said to them, ‘The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.’” – Mark 2:23-28 (NIV)

I’m seeing a common theme that seems to surface regularly. Perhaps it may be because I’m more attuned to it in recent days.

It relates to  two very different and distinct ways that one’s life can be lived. I know that I might be oversimplifying this but I can see the difference in my own life and I use the distinction of a life of “Reaction” as opposed to a life of “Rhythms.”

A life of “reaction” may best be described as a “driven” life. We feel hard pressed by some unknown force to live life “in the fast lane,” milking each moment of the day for as much as we can accomplish while being an influence on the world around us. The temptation in living life this way is that we don’t really know what each day will hold until we have checked the news, social media or our e-mail to see what the world “throws at us” next.

I can easily live life by the motto, “What’s the latest fire I’m meant to extinguish?” I have to admit, there’s a few of us around with Messiah complexes as if we are God’s gift to a hurting world which desperately needs us to be “fixers of the universe.”

Our reactions, and our lives can very much be shaped by others around us who are also living this way. These days we have much greater connectivity than ever before with the internet and social media. The hope of having “down time” from excessive connection is quite fleeting these days. Those of us, like myself, who tend to be an obsessive thinkers are in a much more vulnerable place.

Living a life of “reaction” means that one is hopelessly at the beck and call of the latest news story or the constant stream of social media commentary, seeking to have one’s voice heard above the madding crowd.

So what’s the alternative? Although I have been a poor model of an opposing lifestyle I think there’s a better way.

Like many other followers of Jesus I have done some serious study and refection on the life of Jesus Christ as revealed in the Gospels. I see a completely different way of living reflected in what I know and am learning about Jesus. He lived an intentional life but was rarely, if ever, driven by reaction to others. Perhaps the most intentional man who ever lived invites us to daily dependence on Him and unbroken conversation with Him.

There are many scenes in the life of Jesus to which I could refer, but the one mentioned above is where Jesus told the Pharisees, “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” I think the Pharisees were living a life driven by rules and expectations. They represented a strictly religious approach to life that was more into rules keeping than understanding rhythms behind the rules.

According to Jesus, the Sabbath had a wonderful purpose as a life rhythm to allow men and women to rest, recover and to be re-shaped by the God who made them and who, by the way, does run the universe.

I can easily see that when my Sabbath-keeping hasn’t been a consistent part of my life rhythms, I’m drawn quickly back to reactionary way of life. A life dominated by “reaction” gives way to other people or pressing issues, allowing them to set the agenda for me rather than my taking ownership of my life choices and my response being one of submission to the God who made and sustains me.

I’m also seeing that it’s going to take more than one day a week for me to get into a healthy pattern of “rhythm” rather than “reaction.” It’s going to demand a life-style change and those are the most difficult ones to come by.

I can begin to fear that I’m not diligent enough and as a result I may miss something important and fail to meet the needs of others around me in an appropriate manner. Alternatively, I’m learning that getting caught up in a “reaction” mode doesn’t really help the cause of Jesus whom I seek to serve. I think most of my family and friends would agree that I’m much more available and helpful to them when I’m living out of rhythm rather than reaction to stimuli around me.

There will always be times in our lives when we are asked to go above and beyond the call of duty and respond to emergencies which arise. That’s part of life in the real world. However, when I’m constantly in a place of agitation due to living a reactionary life, I’m losing more effectiveness than I’m gaining.

What do you think? Will your life be driven by values, rhythms and intentions or will it be driven by reaction to what is thrown at you by the forces that seek to move and shape you? I’m seeking to do the former rather than the latter.  

“‘Haven’t you read the Scriptures?’ Jesus replied. ‘They record that from the beginning ‘God made them male and female.’’’ And he said, ‘This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one. Since they are no longer two but one, let no one split apart what God has joined together.’” – Matthew 19:4-6 (New Living Translation)  

It was sometime during the summer of 1974,  I think, when I was sitting at a desk in my room at home when my older sister Betty stepped in the doorway to talk to me. She didn’t particularly have an agenda, but suddenly the conversation revealed one. “I think you and Joyce should get married!” she blurted out.

Needless to say, this isn’t what I expected from my sister but I also wasn’t shocked. Joyce Elizabeth Lamborn and myself had only been dating a few weeks at that point but we had known each other for over a year, having met through church and attending Texas Wesleyan College (now University) together.  

My sister was adamant that from what she knew of my new girlfriend that the earmarks of an enduring relationship were pretty obvious. Thankfully she wasn’t the only one who saw it either.

By Thanksgiving (the fourth Thursday in November) of that year, we were officially engaged and before we knew it the wedding was set for July 26, 1975.

I can recall that the eight months of our engagement were filled with highs and lows as we sought to further our education, seek pre-marriage counselling, plan a wedding and hold down the part time jobs we had at the time.

As a full-time student I was working part-time at a factory, Superior Heat Treating Company in Fort Worth, Texas which was a bit out of my comfort zone. A friend from my church who owned the business had kindly offered me the job to get me through school. My long term plan was to complete my education at Texas Wesleyan, attend Seminary in Dallas and then enter the ministry as a church pastor, so I thought.  

The final weeks before our wedding where challenging as Joyce returned from Texas to her family home in Whitehall, Wisconsin to complete the wedding plans after our school term and I stayed in Fort Worth to work as much as possible before starting a new life as a married man.

Obviously, our wedding took place in July ‘75 and we entered married life with all the hopes, fears and expectations of an exciting future together. Our honeymoon was a saga in itself as we travelled to western, New York for some friend’s wedding which was to take place the following Saturday. By the time we returned to Texas as a married couple we could have written a pretty exciting book, if only about the first two weeks of marriage. It was, in a sense, a microcosm of our future and a foreshadowing of things to come.

Our Wedding Day – July 26, 1975

Since those early days together, Joyce and I have travelled the world, lived in Dallas the four years of seminary, served as missionaries in the West Indies (summer of 1979) and Ireland (summer 1978; 1983 to present). We have six children and are expecting our thirteenth grandchild in October. I could to on, but you get the point. It has been a life like no other and I would definitely not be the man I am today without Joyce.  

It was the author Gore Vidal who is to have said that if you live long enough you experience just about everything – joys, tragedies, good heath, illness, failure, success – you name it. I  know this is true with me and the wonderful, dedicated and gifted life partner God gave to me all those years ago.

Having just celebrated our forty-fifth year together I have seen and continue to see the fingerprints of God in our lives – bringing us together, developing us, using us and blessing us in a multitude of ways. I think I can safely say that we both desire together to be useful to God and for His good purposes for as long as He gives us life, health and strength.

There has been pain, suffering, setbacks and even my own failures which have tested the relationship, but the One who brought us together has been faithful. There will always be strength to stand the test of time when our dependence is on Him.  May it continue to be so.

“We always thank God for all of you, mentioning you in our prayers. We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” – 1 Thessalonians 1:2-3 (NIV)

It was sometime in 1977 or 1978 and I was in my early years as a student at Dallas Theological Seminary. My wife Joyce had been taking some classes with Child Evangelism Fellowship directors Fred and Vickie Kraft, being better equipped to lead children to a personal knowledge of Jesus Christ and grow in a personal relationship with Him.

I think it may have been Vickie who encouraged Joyce to either sponsor a “Good News Club” for children on a weekday afternoon or assist someone else who would host it. Being new to Dallas and not having a wide range of social connections in the area, Joyce volunteered to help Ina Taylor, a local African-American woman.

From the time Joyce first met Ina she knew she had a friend for life. Ina was a sincere and dedicated follower of Jesus, a graduate of Southern Bible Institute and had a heart to reach out to the children in her south Dallas neighborhood. For several years during my student days Joyce helped her with a weekly children’s club.

One Sunday Ina invited us to attend her local church and come to her house for dinner afterwards. It was one of my first, but not last, experiences visiting a predominantly African-American church. We were warmly welcomed and of course were treated to a fabulous meal afterwards. You would never have met a woman with a larger heart than Ina Taylor.

In 1981 after my graduation from Dallas Seminary we returned to my home town of Fort Worth to prepare for our ministry in Ireland with Greater Europe Mission. We kept in touch with Ina and began to send her our newsletters where we shared family updates and prayer requests for our ministry. Ina became one of our most faithful prayer supporters and almost every year we received hand written letters from her which were indeed a “labor of love” considering the arthritis that she suffered with, especially in her hands and fingers.

As the years passed we had our first four children and Ina adopted them as her own grandchildren even though she mainly knew them through our newsletters. Her own children decided to have her move to Tyler in east Texas closer to them. Tyler happened to be along the US Interstate 20 route we would usually take to northwest Louisiana where Joyce’s mother’s family resided and her parents retired in the early 1990’s.

I think it was on our return trip to America in 1992 or ’93 that we made a very treasured visit to Ina in Tyler on our way to Louisiana. She was able to see our four older children (our twins didn’t arrive until 1994) and prepare a delicious catfish dinner for our lunch. I recall one of our sons saying that he didn’t like catfish! That was, of course, until he actually tasted it and then couldn’t stop eating Ina’s catfish dinner.

We spent a treasured couple of hours with Ina that afternoon but what we weren’t prepared for was what happened next. Ina insisted that we all pile in our car and take her to a local department store. She wanted to purchase gifts for each one of our children. She wouldn’t take “no” for an answer and we didn’t feel like standing in the way of her desire to serve her Lord by serving our family.

Ina taught me to be a more generous giver even as our children picked out what they wanted from the store and carried away treasured gifts from their African-American grandmother.

I’m eternally grateful to God for how He allowed us to connect with another believer from a different background who would be a lifelong ministry partner with us.

A few years ago we received a phone call from Ina’s daughter who kindly passed along the sad news that she had gone home to be with Jesus, the Lord that she loved and served wholeheartedly. I personally hope that she is one of the first people I meet on the other side when I join her someday.

Today we are beset with stories of hate, racism, prejudice, anger and tension of all types and descriptions. All of us as human beings have painful experiences and memories that shape us for life. Perhaps it’s time that we start making new memories and have new experiences with people from all nations and a variety of backgrounds. Yes, we can and should work for moral and social justice, but it starts with simple things like working together on projects which are life-giving to others.

I know that change starts with me, but hopefully I’m drawing from a reservoir of experiences such as the ones I had with our dear friend, sister and ministry partner, Ina Taylor. May her tribe increase!

“The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ.  For we were all baptised by one Spirit into one body–whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free–and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.  Now the body is not made up of one part but of many.” – 1 Corinthians 12:12-14 (NIV)  

It was late July 1968 and I can’t remember when I had been more excited. I was fourteen years of age and we were packing our blue station wagon (an “estate car” in Irish terms where I’ve lived for the past thirty-seven years) on a Friday afternoon for the journey of a lifetime.

With my father at the wheel, and me joining him in the front seat, my mother would be in charge of the back seat (and the snack bar) along with my sisters Betty, age 17 and Jeanne age 11. The trip would take us from our home in Fort Worth, Texas to Eugene, Oregon and back in the space of two weeks, or thereabout.

Why would our family be invested in such a dramatic journey of over 5000 miles? My eldest sister Susan had just gotten married on the 8th of June just a few weeks previous and she and her husband Bryan were living in Eugene where he was doing doctoral studies at the University of Oregon.

That Friday afternoon a neighbor saw us packing the car and offered us a small two-wheel camper trailer for the journey. It came in pretty useful bar the fact that it kept blowing out tires and we were continually getting them repaired, as I recall.

My father was a hard working electrician and didn’t have unlimited vacation time so we had to make the most of every day’s travel. That Friday evening we set out for the first leg of our journey and made it all the way to a small motel in the town of Tucumcari, New Mexico.

Just before we turned in for the night my older sister Betty broke down in a flood of tears. She began to beg and plead with my father, explaining that this trip was not on her agenda, and he should send her back home immediately! She generally had the reputation of being the rebellious teenager of our house, but I couldn’t imagine at the time why she wasn’t excited about the trip! It just shows you that a fourteen year old boy sees life differently than a seventeen year old girl, especially one like my sister Betty.

As you may have guessed, it was too late to turn back so Betty had to make the most of the trip and the next morning we continued the family traveling circus across America.

I have to admit that my father was not easy to live or travel with but throughout the journey I continued my role as peacemaker among the family, as best as I could. It seems to me that we each have a tendency to play a particular “role” in the family where we have been placed – not by our own choosing – but we often adapt to a role that seems to come our way along the journey.

As I have matured I have often gone back to the words of the Apostle Paul in the book of 1 Corinthians where he compares the Church of Jesus Christ to a human body. Each part of the body is there for a reason and each one plays a role that’s necessary for the health, well-being and growth of the body. I would learn over the years that I have a role in the larger “family” of God’s Kingdom and if you are a follower of Jesus – so do you!

Saturday, the first full day on the road, we made a strategic decision to drive all the way to Florence, Arizona to see my aunt Myrl – my mother’s only sister. After a long day’s journey including treacherous hairpin turns along mountain roads in a night-time thunderstorm we finally made it safely to my aunt’s home. I can still recall how tired my father looked sitting in a lounge chair in my aunt’s living room.

With My Father at Armitage State Park near Eugene Oregon, August 1968

Space doesn’t permit me to recount the entire journey but we drove all the way through California from south to north and ended up in Eugene, Oregon on about the fifth day of the journey. When we arrived in Eugene my sister’s apartment wasn’t very large so my other two sisters and mother stayed with some new friends of Susan and Bryan in a nearby apartment.

My father and I meantime, drove up to Armitage State Park Campground just north of Eugene and stayed in tent that folded out of the camper. I can recall some of the fun times my father and I had on the campground more than the events back at the apartment.

So many of the sights we never would have experienced if we hadn’t been travelling together as a family. The beauty of Oregon was stunning and we even made it to Crater Lake, a must see if you are ever in the region. If my memory serves me correctly, we even worked in a brief visit to the Grand Canyon in Arizona on the way home and a drive through a scenic part of Colorado.

Yes, it was the trip of a lifetime. I’m thankful that God placed me in the family that I have and I’m grateful for the role and the gifts He has given me. I hope you, regardless of your family of origin, will find a place in God’s family as a follower of Jesus and discover the unique role He has for you.  

My sister Susan would pass away tragically in 1994 and my sister Betty in 2006. I regret not having more discussions with them about the trip and the times we spent together.

We make decisions daily as to how we choose to travel with our family of origin. Sometimes they are a blessing, for some of us they may not be. We may want or even need to break run, just like my sister wanted to do late that night in New Mexico.

We can also choose to be part of a larger family, to find our place in the Kingdom that God is building here on earth. If you are reading this today my prayer for you is that you will join the exciting journey of following Jesus and discover the part He has for you to play. I’m so thankful that it’s a journey that’s always moving forward.  

Along life’s journey there are always tears, laughter, blown out tires and beautiful scenery, but my hope and prayer is that you will find joy and contentment and realize that going somewhere together with others is well worth the price of the ticket.

“Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to Him those He wanted, and they came to Him.  He appointed twelve–designating them apostles– that they might be with Him and that He might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons. These are the twelve He appointed: Simon (to whom He gave the name Peter); James son of Zebedee and his brother John (to them He gave the name Boanerges, which means Sons of Thunder); Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Him.” – Mark 3:13-19 (NIV)

It’s often been said that we come into this world not knowing who we really are and we try on different identities to see which one fits and sticks. Ultimately, if successful, we may discover our true identity and feel comfortable and confident living out the role we were meant to have by our Lord and Maker.

During my childhood years, growing up in the fine city of Fort Worth, Texas, I can recall trying to discover my identity and see which one might stick. As I have discussed in my previous posts, I came down with Rheumatic Fever in early primary school and it wasn’t until about third or fourth class – age seven or eight that I started a more active lifestyle as a “normal” kid.  

I had several male friends around our neighborhood and we experimented with several sports like baseball and American football which of course didn’t take a lot of equipment for us amateurs. I can recall a season of my childhood where we developed an interest in pole vaulting. We somehow managed to find a stiff bamboo stick and set up a pole vaulting station. We went though all the motions of running toward the station, planting the pole in the ground and attempting to hoist ourselves over the bar a few feet off the ground.

As you might imagine, without the proper equipment, training and the mentoring of someone who really knew and understood the sport our lame attempts didn’t amount to much. Sometime after that I actually began to watch some pole vaulters on ABC’s Wide World of Sports, on Saturday afternoons and I marveled at the men and women who could actually excel at such a specialized sport.

As I reflect back on this childhood experience I can laugh at myself for thinking that I could have made any progress at all as a pole vaulter. That dream came crashing down very quickly. I’ve also considered the fact that throughout my life I’ve perhaps made many other experiments in trying to be someone else or copy someone I admired, to see if that persona would fit.

My failed attempts as a pole vaulter got me thinking about Jesus calling his Twelve Disciples. Have you ever noticed before that only two of them share the same name – James? One is James the son of Zebedee and the other the son of Alphaeus.  

Jesus called unique men all with different names bar two. He called different men with different personalities, different skills, different gifts. Then why do we try to run from who we are and try to be like someone else?  

It recently dawned on me that Jesus never asked any of His disciples to be like any of the others.

“Hey James, why can’t you be more like your brother John!”

“Peter, why can’t you be more like Judas!” – Can you imagine what might have happened?

Our Lord and Maker has created and gifted each of us as unique individuals for His greater purposes. We each have a unique name and a unique role to play in the building and developing of His Kingdom. Note also that Jesus called each of these twelve men “that they might be with Him. . .” Yes, He had work for them to do, but being with Him took priority over everything else.

A few years after my failed pole vaulting attempts a couple of things came my way that would set me in a different direction. Around 1966 or 1967 – around age twelve or thirteen, my father went into an electrical contracting business with a partner named Calvin Davis.

My father and Calvin became co-owners of Michael Electric Company on East Lancaster Street near downtown Fort Worth. Calvin was a keen golfer and because the business was starting to take off we somehow acquired a membership at Glen Garden Country Club on the east side of Fort Worth.

In these years a family moved next door to us – James and Wanda Clarke from Rodgers, Arkansas. James just happened to work for the AMF Ben Hogan Company and he sourced the first golf clubs that ever came into our house. I had found a sport that fit my identity – much more suitable than pole vaulting!

As God’s plan for each of us unfolds through life we each have some unique experiences but we all share in some very common emotions and discoveries. I think that discovering who we are and what we are meant to be – as individuals and as part of the family and social networks we form, is one of life’s greatest joys and challenges.

A few years later, I would also make a commitment to follow Jesus for myself and become one of His “Band of Brothers.” The greatest adventure of my life and yes, part of my true identity.

It the truth be told, I’ve probably wasted some valuable time and energy over the years trying to work hard at being who I’m not (pole vaulting) instead of resting in the care of my Lord and Maker, enjoying Him and trusting in the identity He created for me.

Why not just be the best version of myself rather than trying to be someone I’m not?

Failure perhaps tells us more about who we are and aren’t than anything else. Fortunately, when we follow Jesus He wastes nothing, redeems even our failures and continually develops us for His greater purposes.

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: ‘For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’  No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,  neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – Romans 8:35-39 (NIV)

It all changed for me one sunny Friday afternoon. It was the autumn of 1962, school was back in session and I was finally back to something of a routine, having missed several months of school in first and second grade due to Rheumatic Fever.

Sometime during the autumn of ’62 I recall being admitted to Cook’s Children’s Hospital in my home  town of Fort Worth to have my tonsils removed. I can still remember having been given ether as an anesthetic for the surgery. One whiff of that awful smell and you never forget it. I recall having a very bad dream during the operation and waking up in a lot of pain.

After my recovery, even though my mother tended to be hyper over-protective, she started letting me ride my bike up to Don, a friend who lived a few blocks south of home up Lubbock Avenue and off one of the connecting streets.

Don was a classmate and I can clearly recall that he was a partner in suffering as well. Somehow a heater had caught his pajamas on fire as a young child and he suffered from a badly burned and scarred back. It unfortunately became his badge of courage and I tended to sympathize with him. He also had a very nifty cotton candy machine and he would treat me often when I visited.

Whenever trying to negotiate my way to Don’s house I had to risk getting past a very pesky dog that would chase me on my bike as I rode up Lubbock. On this particular Friday afternoon, I decided, that since I had more time, I would cycle all the way up my street and take the long way around to Don’s house. A different direction that would take almost twice as long, rather than risk facing that pesky dog!

About half way up the street on the left hand side of the road I hit gravel and the bike slipped right out from under me.  I may have ended up with a skinned knee but the most notable change was the feeling that my mouth was injured.  

The rest of my plans were now cancelled for the day and I walked back home to confess yet another setback to my mother. It turned out I had just lost my front right tooth. I soon learned that I really missed having it intact.

I recall how calm and collected my mother was that day. She had just spent two years dealing with my infirmity and now she had a son who had just knocked out his front tooth! She immediately called our dentist, Dr. Charles Cash, a legendary Fort Worth children’s dentist. I learned to realize how much pain he could dole out for being such a popular individual.

I was only in third grade but I was already getting experience in Rheumatic Fever, tonsillectomies and root canals!

Looking back on these childhood traumas, they seem now like minor pin pricks, yet at the time they were, for me, painful experiences. Time has a way of giving us perspective on our pain and problems.

All through life there will always be heartbreaking situations that we would rather avoid but the perspective we have on them can either make them worthless or pricelessly redeemable.

As a child I would not have been familiar with the verses quoted above in Romans 8:35-39, but I would come to love them later in life. No setback we face or suffering we endure has power within itself to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.

I think often about that Friday afternoon. What if I had risked taking on the dog? What if I had bravely set out down Lubbock Avenue and taken the direct route to Don’s house? We’ll never know. I ended up visiting a dentist named Cash instead of a boy named Don, and the future would be different because of it. I can’t recall ever visiting Don in his home again after that day.

During this time of global pain, suffering and setback perhaps it’s a season to realize that there is a God who is sovereign over the affairs of man. Perhaps He is calling each of us to greater dependence on Him for the outcomes that He desires. After all, if we are seeking Him, there’s no power on earth that can separate us from His love.  

“He went in and said to them, ‘Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.’ But they laughed at him. After he put them all out, he took the child’s father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was.  He took her by the hand and said to her, ‘Talitha koum!’ (which means, ‘Little girl, I say to you, get up!’).  Immediately the girl stood up and walked around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished.” – Mark 5:39-42 (NIV)

Growing up in Fort Worth, Texas in the mid 1950’s was, for the most part, a superb way to start out in the world. I often look back to the traumatic events that dotted my childhood but I have to say that blessings have marked my life from the very outset.

My Parents on their Wedding Day July 28, 1947, Cleburne, Texas

I was born on January 8, 1954 in Harris Hospital to J.L. and Blanche (Loper) Northcutt. My parents moved from Townsend Street to 2650 W. Boyce Avenue when I was four years old. I can still recall one scene from our “new” house the day we moved and it continued to be our family home until after my mother’s eventual passing in 1989.

With me in the family home were my two older sisters Susan Jane born in September 1948 and Betty Joan born in November, 1950. Both were born in Cleburne where my father had grown up and my parents were married and spent the early years of their marriage.

My mother, Nora Blanche Loper had grown up in a few locations in west Texas although she, her parents and four siblings had moved around before settling down in Glen Rose. Her father died when she was thirteen from complications from a burst appendix during the dark days of the Great Depression.

After I was born my mother delivered my two younger twin brothers who died around childbirth. One was stillborn and the other lived one day. Robert Richard and Charles Lee were buried in the family plot in the White Church Cemetery near Glen Rose, where my mother would eventually be laid to rest. The experience was deeply traumatic and she always wondered what life would have been like if they had survived. I never met anyone in my life who had more compassion for children than my mother.

A few years later my sister Jeanne Marie came along. Somewhere along the way we started to nickname her “Jeannie” even though that wasn’t her proper name. Early on I didn’t quite take to having another sister instead of a brother, but as the years went by I learned to value her love and friendship. Today I am deeply grateful to have her especially since our two elder sisters passed away far too early – but that’s another story.  

From a very young age I loved television. I was an avid fan of the Three Stooges and “Slam Bang Theatre” which was shown on our local station KTVT – channel 11 every afternoon after school. A local man, Bob Camfield played the role of Icky Twerp and all my classmates would have been big fans of him and the show. I had loads of favorite cartoons which included Deputy Dawg, Bullwinkle, Felix the Cat, Top Cat, and Dudley Doright.

One evening my parents were watching TV and a drama was showing that featured a man trying to escape the bad guys on an island. He found a gourd, strips of cloth and gunpowder from which he made a homemade bomb. He was able to light the fuse, blow up the bomb, distract the bad guys and get away.

I couldn’t have been more than five or six, but one day I got angry that one of the neighborhood boys couldn’t come out to play so I decided to recreate the “bomb” idea and throw it the neighbor’s house! I found a glass jar with a lid, tore up strips of cloth and soaked them in lighter fluid! My father was an occasional smoker and in those days cigarette lighters and fluid were household commodities. I used one strip as a fuse and was going to get my father’s lighter when I was caught!

Looking back this was one of the first close calls that obviously averted disaster and you can be sure that I never, ever tried a stunt like that again!

South Hills Elementary School Today

Eventually I attended South Hills Elementary School which was just a short walk up Lubbock Avenue and a right turn up Bilglade. My Kindergarten teacher was Miss Sanders whom I didn’t appreciate very much at the time. By the autumn of 1960 I was in first-grade and my teacher was a lovely woman named Mrs. Herring.

It was during first-grade that an event occurred which would be a life-changing event for me and my family.   The winter of 1960-61 I contracted strep throat. My mother told me that we had snow that winter, a rare occurrence,  and she made the mistake of letting me go out to play even though not fully well. The strep throat developed into Rheumatic Fever and I ended up missing three and a half months of school that year, being confined to the bed most of the time. I had a recurrence of the Fever during second grade and missed two and a half months of that school year.

There were now numerous trips to our family pediatrician, Dr. Frank Cohen, regular doses of penicillin and the occasional Gamma globulin injection (extremely painful, if you haven’t had one!) I learned the torment of unwanted isolation but had our family cat, Cuddles to console me in my time of need.

It was during these formative years that my faith was developed at a heart level. Although we were faithful churchgoers, I can’t recall discussing many matters of faith with my parents in the early years. However, at nights during my illness before bed during mother would read stories to me from the Gospels of Jesus healing children (quoted above) and we prayed for my healing. In later years these memories would become the bedrock of my faith.

A friend who attended our church in those days, Myrle Burton, was my home-school teacher during my illness before home-schooling was even known. I remember my classmates sending me cards and gifts to wish me well in my illness. Some of the cards and puzzles that I received I kept as keepsakes well into my teen and even adult years.

Looking back on my early years I can see that God was preparing me for far more than I ever realized. I think back to my dear mother suffering through the loss of her twin sons and now struggling to keep her life and family together during the illness of her only son. I can’t imagine what she was thinking and feeling when she tried to sleep at night. My father was a hard-working electrician and she was home trying to provide for a family of six and nurse me through my illness.

Early in third-grade I had my tonsils extracted and the Rheumatic Fever never recurred, but my memories of those years and my mother’s fight to bring me through them never left.

I firmly believe that God is at work in the large and small stories of our lives to shape us for the future He desires for us to have with Him and the place He has for us in the world. As I look at the present with its current challenges, we are now in the midst of a terrible crisis with the Covid-19 pandemic. I can’t help but think that He has far more planned for each of us than we ever realize. May we cling to the One who is eternal and holds us and the future in His capable hands. We just never outgrow the foundation of our faith.

“For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that One died for all, and therefore all died. And He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for Him who died for them and was raised again.” – 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 (NIV)

As I write these words from the safety and security of my home in Ireland the scene outside my window seems calm, quiet and at peace. However, I know that there is a battle raging in this country and all around the world. It’s a battle to save lives from a deadly virus that’s spreading and infecting people of all ages in large numbers with the potential to become one of the world’s greatest pandemics in history.

I’m not interested in becoming another news reporter explaining all the details of the spread of the disease or careful spokesperson to encourage you to practice social distancing and safe hygiene. We have many capable and competent people already doing this. Please continue to follow wise advice.

I have a very specific reason for writing today and that is to consider a subject that will face each and every one of us. The current crisis has me asking the question, “Am I ready for death should it visit me personally?” Other related questions come to mind, such as, “If this were my last day, week, month or year to live what would be the legacy I leave behind?” or  “What might others who have known me say was the purpose and significance of my life?”

No matter what our age or health situation I doubt that many of us are really expecting this to be the last day, week or month that we could be alive on this earth.

In recent days I’ve seen videos of transport vehicles in Italy taking multiple coffins to crematoriums. It’s a grim reminder that death will overtake all of us at one point or another but now we don’t even have the assurance that any of us will actually have a typical funeral or memorial service to perhaps remind those left behind what our lives represented or signified.

My grandfather (above), father (left) and uncle after the passing of my grandmother Hallie

Back in 1918 the world faced a terrible pandemic which has been labelled “The Spanish Flu.” It took the life of my grandmother at the age of thirty in the prime of her life. My father and his brother were very small boys and were left without a mother and with a father who would later die of tuberculosis. The reality of those premature deaths marked them for life. Fortunately, we have some photos of my grandmother and a lovely obituary of her life to remind us that she was a woman whose faith was securely in Jesus Christ.

The apostle Paul, writing to the Corinthian church in the first century reminds these early Christ-followers that they are aligned to the One who has defeated the power of death. The only religious figure in history who has experienced a vicarious death and resurrection for all people is the One to whom I give my heart and allegiance. If those who know me don’t know that, then they haven’t really known me at all.

The very same life and security that I have experienced personally in knowing and following Jesus is freely available to all who turn to Him in faith.

To be perfectly honest, today I don’t feel that this virus will overtake me and I hope and pray it never takes the lives of any of my family, friends and loved ones. If you know me personally and are reading this know that I’m praying for your health and safety as I capture these thoughts. However, I am faced with the harsh reality that I have no guarantees.

So for today, I’m ready to continue to share the love and life I have experienced as a follower of Jesus Christ with the world around me and with others with whom I can connect around the globe.

As the apostle said, “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that One died for all, and therefore all died. And He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for Him who died for them and was raised again.”

Another reality is that during this life we don’t generally know what others think of us unless they specifically tell us. Perhaps in these uncertain days it’s time for you to communicate to some friends or loved ones just how special they are to you.

Once we have departed this life it’s impossible to shape the legacy we hope to leave behind. That’s still the opportunity of the hour.

Let’s consider today that as long as we have life and breath we can continue to give our heart, mind and soul to what is really important  – the relationships we enjoy with others. It’s my prayer that in the midst of the present crisis you will find a relationship with the One, and the only One, who defeated even death itself that you might live – even for all eternity.   

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