Tag Archive: life


As I walked into the room,I sensed something was wrong with my dear friend.  He had a look on his face I had not seen before.  After four years, I was surprised!  He had handled just about everything thrown his way.  I asked him what was up.  His answer surprised me as he broke down into tears.

“John, there is going to be one that will get you,” he muttered.  “I wish I could say to look out for it, but you can’t.  You just don’t know which one will get you,” he continued.  At this point I had no idea what he was talking about.  ‘It’s Jim,” he said.  “Jim’s death has got me deep down,”  he finished.”  That was all I could get out of him as he sat at the table and wept.

Jim was a member of the church.  They did not have any special relationship.  He was an elderly man who suddenly died of a heart attack.  For some reason, this was the one that caught my best friend deep down.  Later, when he was able to talk about it, he said that while he was in seminary, they talked about the one death that will get your attention.

A lot of people don’t realize how much pastors are around death.  For me as a police and fire chaplain, death scenes have become the norm.  I had no idea I would see as much death as I have.  Sometimes I take some time off to process after a critical scene.  In a sense, I try to cushion the blow.  

That was until yesterday.  Little did I think the death of our 15-year-old Papillon dog, Jake, would shake my world.  It was a bittersweet day.  On the one hand, my new dog’s birthday was yesterday.  On the other hand, we had to say goodbye to the happiest dog I have ever known.  We have seen a lot of pets come and go.  Sure it tugs at our heart a bit.  Usually after a good cry we are able to get up and get going.  This one has me.  

I’m tired of death, suffering, and the pain of living in a fallen world.  Maybe it has me since we have lost three long time dogs this past year.  Perhaps, it’s the pending loss of my mother, who the doctor informed us after her latest hospital visit  is “on the clock.”  Her brain is dying.  My sister and I agree; she is already gone but her body remains.  

It’s more than that though.  I’ve seen the death of the young and the old.  I’ve seen death that takes a long time.  I’ve seen it happen real fast.  Too fast actually.  It’s not just the death.  It’s the veil of death that covers our existence.  

I so much want to stop all counseling and just say, “Pick one.”  Either choose life or choose death, but you can’t have both.  In the movie Shawshank Redemption, Red, played by Morgan Freeman,, and Andy, played by Tim Robbins, point out we either “get busy living or get busy dying.”  I think it’s at that level Jake’s death has ventured in to my soul, like Jim’s death touched the soul of my dear friend.

I understand why we are so attracted to Disney World, drugs, alcohol, and anything that can numb the reality.  In Disney everyone lives happier ever after.  With drugs and alcohol, we like to think we can live happier ever after.   Only, we don’t.  Actually, we cause the death of a lot of relationships along the way.

As another friend texted yesterday, death just leaves us empty.  So does divorce.  So does the moving away of a friend.  So does the slow loss of our young abilities.  So does a member of the church who slowly drifts away.  So does dementia.  It’s a side of life we don’t want to look at.  But it’s that world in which Jesus enters.

Believing in Jesus is not only a way to get to heaven.  We have over emphasized the Jesus of John chapter 3.  Jesus also comes to give us life through his death and victory over the grave. He crushes death!  When we follow Jesus, we aren’t just waiting to go to heaven, even though that will be real nice.  No, we are to be carriers of life.  Everything outside of a life in Christ is death.  

Here it is April ,and we are going to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  It is important to celebrate.  It’s also important to grasp that life in Christ is indeed life that is to produce more life.  It is to redeem a broken marriage.  It is to heal the broken-hearted.  It is bring hope to hopelessness.  It is to be that person who remembers those who mourn weeks and months after this world steals from us.  It is this life that reminds us this is not home.  It is this life that is to be infectious.  

Fellow believers in Christ we don’t have a choice.  There is no “get busy dying.”  We have been given a new life.   A new life in Christ that in its very essence gives us victory over the forces of death in our world.  Instead of complaining, encourage.  Instead of demanding, lend a hand.  Instead of remaining silent, share the good news of the risen Lord.  Instead of shying away, step forward and lend a hand.   Yes, loss hurts, but there is more to come.  

“You are the light of the world–like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden!”  Matthew 5:14

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Ask a really good mechanic what he values most in life and he should reply, “My toolbox.”  There is something about a mechanic and his toolbox.  Yes, the tools are important, but what we kept them in was more important.  Don’t mess with a mechanics toolbox.  Your life might be in danger if you do.

When I started out working in the family business (automotive repair), I purchased a red Snap-On box.  I could go home looking like I got run over by a car with leaks from every system, but my box, she was clean and polished.  Eventually, I traded my big red for a smaller black Snap-On toolbox with a wood top.  What does a mechanic do with his toolbox when he decides to hang it up?  He takes it home.  The two are inseparable.

We would leave our toolboxes unlocked at night.  Why?  If a thief broke in, they could have the tools.  Don’t pry open the box! That would be a disaster from which no one recovers.      

It made its way to South Carolina with me.  Eventually, it was time to let her go.  Since we don’t have basements on the coast and our garages are small, there was no room for Black Beauty.  Not only that, but I had no real use for the tools that graced her shelves.  

One by one, I sold the tools.  Now, if you own a Snap-On box you must have Snap-On tools.  There is a little room for some “other” ones, but not much.  It’s a man thing.  I loved Snap-On tools.  They fit my hands well.  Not only that but they carried a lifetime guarantee.  I have to admit, I do miss some of the tools at times.  Not that I would use them much.   I think it’s an ego thing.  

Eventually I auctioned Black Beauty.  I admit, it was hard.  If she could talk she could tell you all sorts of stories.  Maybe it’s best she couldn’t speak.  

Honestly, while a mechanic will judge his place in the shop by his toolbox, the value of a mechanic is in the tools.  Tools make the mechanic.  If you don’t have the right tools, nothing is going to get fixed.  There are some tools that only go with certain vehicles and certain models.  Crazy, isn’t it?  That’s why I decided to auction my beloved box.  It wasn’t worth having if it was empty.  

The center focal point of being a believer in Jesus Christ is grace.  Without God’s grace as expressed through Jesus Christ, it would be like having the toolbox with no tools.  As Jesus pours his grace out to us, we are called to pour grace out to others, especially the weak and underprivileged.  

As I, from time to time, think about Black Beauty and the wonderful tools she held, I have come to understand grace a lot more.  It came through my relationship with my dad.

Dad and I were in business together.  Personally, I don’t think that’s a good idea.  We didn’t have a bad relationship, but we didn’t have a good one either.  Being in business together brought out both of our weak points.  Dad and I struggled to be on the same page.

When father and son aren’t on the same page, the relationship gets strained.  Again, it wasn’t like we didn’t like each other.  We just kept our distance and worked more to avoid conflict than actually enjoy one another.  Dad wasn’t a big talker.  I was.  Over the years, I would hold on to some things I should have let go along time ago.

Eventually, as I was packing up my office getting ready to move to South Carolina, Dad, suddenly, without warning, appeared.  He asked if I had a few minutes.  “Sure,” I replied.  Our interaction didn’t take long.  Dad sat down in the lone chair, and with head slightly lowered and almost in a whisper, said, “John, I’ve come to say I’m sorry.”  He caught me off guard.  I was a bit of a jerk (and still am at times), so I asked, “Dad, what are you sorry for/”  wishing I could get details.  He looked up and honestly answered, “I’m not sure; all I know is I didn’t do things right with you.”  “Dad, you are forgiven.”  At that moment in time, I saw my dad in a different light.  Grace came alive.

Dad had a toolbox.  His tools were not my tools.  Too late in my life I realized Dad did the best job he could with the tools in his toolbox.  He was raised by a sheepish mother and one of the worst alcoholic fathers I have ever met.  He wasn’t raised in a Christian environment.  He didn’t have the tools for this model of son.  And for the first time, it was o.k.  

We all have a toolbox.  Sometimes, we, like the longtime mechanic, wrap our ego up in our toolbox.  We think we can fix anything.  Only, we don’t have the tools.  On top of that, some of those tools are broken.  Grace means realizing life isn’t about the size and make of our toolbox.  It isn’t about the tools in the toolbox.  It isn’t even about our ability to use the tools we have.  Grace is about realizing its o.k. even if we don’t have a toolbox and about not expecting someone to have the right tools.  Only Jesus had ‘em all.  

Here we go!  Thanksgiving has just passed and we are on our way to Christmas.  Not counting Christmas Day we are 29 days away.  That’s right…29 days.  I don’t know what is or is not a shopping day anymore.  I think they all are. 

I wish Thanksgiving could be more than one day.  It is our family’s favorite day of the year.  There is no pressure of gift giving or expected custom other than to be at the table when mom told us to be there.  No schedule other than the Dallas Cowboys game.  I’m not sure anyone was awake at 4:00 p.m.  That’s the joy of Thanksgiving.

We are going away for a few days.  With the grandkids we have tickets to go on the Polar Express Train.  It is inspired from the popular book by Chris Van Allsburg about a magical train ride on Christmas Eve.  I think it’s quite funny we are going on a train ride when Christmas is like a locomotive going full blast through our lives.  All Aboard! 

As the train called “Life” gets going we can get caught in the rush and miss so many and much around us.  Yes, it is a time for family and friends.  Yes, we buy a present to show our love or admiration.  We might do some special things for special people.  However, in the process we can get caught in the rat race of the holidays.  Sometimes it feels like the rats are winning.

Our lives are crazy enough without 3 back-to-back holidays.  I meet so many people who are working hard just to keep their nose above the water line.  I meet many fellow weary travelers on the exhausting road of life.  Now, with the season it gets ramped up.  I’m concerned we are over stimulated and some will break under the pressure.

As a chaplain for the Bluffton Police Department we are very much aware the holiday season can be rough.  Some have experienced loss and grieve their loved ones.  Others have serious  struggles and cannot relate to the “joy” of the season.  It leaves them feeling isolated and alone.  For a few the season propels them deeper into their depression and hopelessness as thoughts of suicide deceive them into grievous actions.

As we hustle and bustle though the season slow down a bit and look around.   There are plenty that not only need to hear of Jesus, they need to see him.

Consider:

  allowing someone to go ahead of you in the long lines

  asking a waitress how you can pray for her as you say grace

  saying “thank you” to everyone who fills our many needs

  actively forgive someone this season you hold blame against

  inviting someone to a meal or a cup of coffee

  being a bearer of peace in times of chaos

  do something out of the ordinary for someone in need

  baking an extra pie and give it away

  buying a few Walmart gift cards, stand out front and give them away to someone who 

looks like they are in need

  doing the outrageous

  making it a point to talk to people instead of walking by them every day

  giving double tips (I’m sure they could use it)

  being gracious, extending mercy and loving others including your enemy (Jesus   

didn’t give us an out)

The greatest gift you can give those around you is to slow down and enjoy them.  Even our kids have enough stimulation from outside sources.  They don’t need more.  They need us.  

There was a young man who I knew many years ago who at the ripe age of 15 was already wound around the axle.  We were walking in King’s Dominion and he was so bent on not being able to ride certain rides for the 3rd or 4th time.  I looked at him and with his parents around bellowed, “Dude, you need to slow down and smell the roses.”  I didn’t realize we were actually in an area with beautiful red roses everywhere.  

This holiday season, slow it down instead of speeding it up.  Say “No” to some parties.  How many do you need to go to anyway?  How many useless gifts litter our shelves?  Instead, make time to look someone in the eye and talk with them.  

Impart good tidings on them.   Let the hustle and bustle of consumerism be drowned out by the love, grace and mercy we can bestow on others as it has been given to us by the one we celebrate on December 25th.