Category: Life

If you could go back…

16708472_10211627013496723_1898660107827657514_nDuring the 2016 Presidential campaign, Donald Trump introduced a slogan that continues to be his trademark well into his presidency, “Make America Great Again.” This slogan indicates that the President is looking back at America’s history, and seeing a time in which America reached its peak, and that he wants to return it to that status. So, on my talk show, I asked my audience, “When was America at its greatest? If you could go back in time and live at any point in America’s history, where would you go?”

What I found was that my audience tended to look back on their adolescent and young adult years as the best years in America’s past. Those who came of age in the 1950s wanted to go back to the 1950s. After all, everything was cheap, good jobs were easy to find, and it was so easy to dance to Buddy Holly and the Crickets. Those who were in their 40s and 50s tended to gravitate toward the 1980s… the years they were in high school or college. Again, good music, good movies, the country was prosperous, and times were simpler. My 30-somethings liked the 90s. Same themes… good music, good movies, prosperous times and a simper life.

Everyone longs for the “good ole days,” but were the “good ole days” really that good?

Sure, the 1950s provide a good postcard for freedom and prosperity in post-war America. Hamburgers, Homes, Cars and Rock and Roll. However, the 1950s were not a good decade for the African-American community, who, having come home after fighting the war, found themselves once again being locked out of the new American prosperity. Hence, Dr. Martin Luther King’s statement that in a sea of prosperity, African-Americans found themselves on an island of poverty.

Furthermore, the 1950s saw an increasing threat from the spread of communism, war on the Korean peninsula, an ever-growing threat of nuclear annihilation, polio, and a political system that was rapidly becoming more volatile. People living in the 1950s lived under the constant threat of instantaneous and unexpected annihilation. Yet, they continued with life, and look back on those days with happy memories.

The 1980s saw American prosperity and good culture as well. Like the 1950s, there was even a Spiritual revival. Yet, the 1980s saw the last great standoff with the Soviet Union, manufacturing being outsourced, costing American jobs, AIDS, crack, homeless veterans, a mental health crisis, the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion, inner-city gang violence, and the rise of drug cartels.

The 1990s saw all of that, along with the emergence of the internet, the rise in global terrorism, domestic terrorism, mass shootings, job outsourcing, and the economic boom sparked in the 80s began to unravel. Plus, we were cursed with NSync and the Backstreet Boys.

Don’t get me wrong. Being a teenager in the 1990s was loose and carefree. So was being a teenager in the 1980s. Heck being a teenager in the 1950s was an okay proposition. But, the fact of the matter is that we can neither return to those decades, nor can we become teenagers again. Even if we could, we’d be disappointed to find that major problems existed, even back then.

To live the human life is to live with problems. They’re numerous, and they’re critical. As Agent K said in Men In Black, “There’s always an Arquillian Battle Cruiser, or a Corillian Death Ray, or an intergalactic plague.” The key to finding the peace and serenity you seek in returning back to the glory days is to understand that, and to be able to live your life in spite of that. The key to doing this is to understand that God is in control of all things, and that you can trust Him to manage the uncontrollable events of your life.

If you master this, and if you learn to be thankful for the good things in your life, you will always be living in your glory days, regardless of your age, or what decade it is.

What the Elwood Superintendent’s Decision Reveals about Societal Values

11156384_10206298906337374_6382280851986253488_nThere are two words I was never allowed to say when I was in school, “Yeah, but….”

The words, “Yeah, but…” usually accompanied an excuse I had for a misbehavior, a bad decision, or a reasoning for why the other kid should be in worse trouble than me. In fact, in my mind, the other kid’s behavior was often so much worse than mine, that my infraction should be excused.

“Leland, did you just throw that paper ball at Billy?”

“Yeah, but…”

“No ‘buts.’ Out in the hall!”

I never got the opportunity to explain that I threw the paper ball at Billy because he made faces at me, pushed me into the dirt on the playground, or drew an ugly picture of me on manilla paper during art class. Nope. In this instance, the only thing that mattered was that I had violated class rules by throwing the paper ball at Billy, and so I had to face the consequence. Had I followed the correct course of action before throwing the paper ball, like telling the teacher that Billy was bullying me, then I would not be in trouble.

For what it’s worth, my story about Billy is a summary of several elementary school experiences rolled into one with a pseudonym of Billy as my adversary. I digress.

Public discourse today, whether social or political, is largely driven by the concept of “yeah, but.” For example:

  • Donald Trump bragged about groping women. “Yeah, but, Bill Clinton was a predator, too.”
  • “The Republicans expanded the size of the Federal Government and centralized power within it.” “Yeah, but the Democrats are worse.”
  • “Tom Brady cheated by deflating footballs.” “Yeah, but everybody cheats. Tom just got caught.”

Lost in all the “Yeah, buts…” is the truth. There is a standard of morality, a standard of behavior that we are right to expect from one another, especially when one’s actions affect the livelihood and well-being of another. However, the tribalization of America has led to a mentality of “winners and losers” where we feel the need for our side to be the winners, no matter the effect on everyone else. And this is what will ultimately pull our country apart.

Nowhere can this be better illustrated than the case of Elwood School Superintendent Casey Smitherman, whose decision to seek medical treatment for a student while filing it on her insurance led to her facing criminal charges and ultimately led to her resigning her position with the school.

According to the Herald Bulletin of Anderson, Ind., Smitherman:

  • She didn’t get permission from the boy’s guardian or parents to take him from the house, cart him around town and seek medical care for him.
  • The superintendent was alone with the teen in a car, a major no-no for school staff and administrators.
  • She committed fraud by claiming that the boy was her son so that she could use her health insurance to defray the $233 bill for the clinic’s care and antibiotics.
  • She didn’t report her suspicion that the boy was suffering from neglect. School staff and others who come into contact with youth through their jobs are required by state law to report such suspicion.

These are very serious infractions, not only on a technical level, but on a moral level as well. Yet, the internet is reacting to her actions by lauding her as a hero, and criticizing “big insurance,” Trump, Congress and the Republican Party for what happened.

Instead of looking at the entirety of the case, most of the internet is focusing on the fact that she took a kid to the doctor… and who wouldn’t want to see a kid taken care of? Therefore, she should be a hero.

However, the morality of Smitherman’s benevolence went out the window the second she shifted the cost of her humanitarianism to others, that is, those who pay premiums to her insurance company. When you consider that the cost of the care could have counted against her annual deductible and/or out of pocket expenses, you might even be able to make the case that her actions were a little self-serving.

If Smitherman wanted to provide healthcare for a student and did so out of her own pocket, then I can understand the admiration. However, lying about her relationship to the student to get the insurance company to pick up the tab is insurance fraud, and is not true benevolence.

That action can have widespread consequences to others, such as increased premium costs to other policy holders. Think about it. If it were moral and legal to file a claim on your health insurance by lying about your relationship to the patient, then few of us would need to buy insurance. We could simply find a friend with insurance, and mooch off their policy, the same way many people mooch off of each other’s Netflix accounts. Fewer people paying premiums with more claims means higher premiums, which will drive others off insurance. This is not a good situation.

Again, this is a serious infraction. Yet, many in our society are praising her. “Yeah, she committed insurance fraud, but we should’ve had universal healthcare in the first place.”

“Yeah, she committed insurance fraud, but Congress has failed the American people and should all resign.”

“Yeah, she committed insurance fraud, but at least she stuck it to a greedy corporation.”

I could go on. The “yeah, buts” are in plentiful supply.

Smitherman has since apologized for her actions, citing a lapse in judgment. I’m willing to forgive and move on. Sometimes decisions do sound good when made, and only after do you realize the full ramifications. However, to justify this behavior by pointing out the flaws elsewhere in our system with a series of “yeah, buts” is to concede that we are to remain on a trail of constant injustice until our whole moral fabric is completely unraveled.

Bad decisions cannot bring about good. Immoral decisions can not bring about morality. Darkness cannot drive out light. And sinful attitudes will not bring about revival.

Be understanding. Be forgiving. But be truthful.

Live Fearlessly

11156384_10206298906337374_6382280851986253488_nChange is life.

For the past 20 years, the world has steadily been changing at a rapid pace, so much so that the younger generations have associated change with life. For a person younger than 40, the absence of change represents stagnation and death.

Today, students are either being trained for careers that won’t exist in 20 years, or they are being trained for careers that don’t exist yet. Their lives have so been defined by change that they aren’t even bothered by that fact.

For those of us north of 40, however, change brings uncertainty. It’s a new world, new parameters, and often, we struggle to understand the path forward. Therefore, we feel insecure, and we fear. Even the youth can experience massive personal changes that make them uncertain of their future.

Recently, I experienced a career change when I went from a stable position in a company where I had plateau’ed, to a performance-based position in an upstart. My new position involved selling a new product from a new company of which many of my clients would not be familiar. It was scary.

To find peace in my heart about the change, and the direction in which my life is moving, I returned to an old friend that has helped me through similar transitions in the past, the book of Psalms.

Each day, I pray that God will guide me, and that I will not only honor and glorify Him in my new position, but that I will also be a proper representative of Him. Furthermore, I pray that He protects my testimony, and that He steers me away from the pitfalls that could discredit my ministry.

Then, I read one of the psalms.

Today’s passage was Psalm 37, which includes the very famous verse 5, “Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass.”

All too often we misread this verse to say, “Decide what you want to do, then ask God to bless it, and He will.”

However, if we look to the preceding verses, we see that there is a far more blessed, and effective, approach to applying this verse to our lives.

Psalm 37:3 tells us to trust the Lord. Psalm 37:4 tells us to delight in the Lord. Psalm 37:4 tells us that if we delight in the Lord, He will give us the desires of our hearts.

Now, in reading and properly applying those two verses, we understand that our first priority is to seek the Lord, trust the Lord, and bring our values and desires in line with His. Once we do this, He gives us those desires.

Then, we commit our way to the Lord. In committing our way to the Lord, we are not simply naming a blessing we want and claiming it. Instead, we are committing to serve Him, honor Him and glorify Him through our “way.” We are committing our way unto Him by bringing our way into alignment with Him. Once we do that, He works His will in the situation, and we know that God works all things to our benefit.

There is no safer place to be than the will of God.

So today, if you live with anxiety, return to the scriptures. I recommend the Psalms in times like these. Read the scriptures. Trust the scriptures. Assess what God wants you to do, and what you can do to honor Him. Pray. Then, put your assessment into action, and trust that God holds you in the palm of His hand, that no weapon formed against you will prosper, and regardless of the outcome, you will win.

5 lies parents bite, hook, line and sinker

15675996_10211148555255566_9200556580741383012_oI have found that in whatsoever setting I have found myself, I am surrounded by parenting experts. Some days, it seems that everyone knows what to do with my children but me. In the course of some of these enlightened discussions, bits of foolishness disguised as universal wisdom tend to surface time and time again. It is my endeavor to expose these lies for what they are, and to reassure you that your God-given reaction to these things is justified.

1. Bad decisions are a rite of passage.

“Oh, we all did that when we were that age.”

“All teenagers do it.”

“It’s really no big deal.”

Whether the topic is alcohol consumption, experimentation with marijuana, sexual experimentation, truancy, shop-lifting, criminal mischief, or basic defiance, today’s street-side parenting experts will excuse your child’s behavior by explaining that you did the same thing as a child, and you turned out fine.

In fact, some have even argued that these bad decisions are so normal, that it is impossible to teach your child to abstain from them. Therefore, your job as parent is to make sure that your child makes a bad decision in the safest way possible.

Think about that last statement. The so-called “parenting experts” that surround us, and constantly barrage us with parenting advice, want us to let our children make bad life choices, but in a safe manner.

Nowhere is this mentality more prominent than in the debate over sex-education in the public schools. There are those who advocate for abstinence education. Others belittle that approach, saying that kids are “going to do it” anyway, so we need to make sure they have condoms and access to abortion. (Never-mind the failure rate with condoms, the potential for sexual abuse, or the regret and emotional trauma caused by bad experiences).

You also see this mentality present with parents who provide alcohol to teenagers under the guise of “providing a safe environment” for underage drinking, or drug use.

We experimented. We made mistakes. Our children, too, will experiment and make mistakes. It’s a rite of passage. Part of growing up. It’s normal. Hogwash and horse-feathers!

Looking back on my teenage indiscretions, I regret many of them. I made choices concerning alcohol and substance abuse that I regret. I wish I had begun adulthood with a healthier understanding of sexuality. I have regrets.

Scripture speaks to this in Romans 6:21, “ What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death.”

In our youthful indiscretions, what fruit do we have in those things, of which we are now ashamed? Should we resign ourselves to the idea that our children, too, will make the same mistakes and have the same regrets as we?

I say, Nay! Nay!

Our job as parents is not to make sure our kids have the same experiences we had, nor is our job to navigate our children through the same pitfalls we fell into as kids. Our job as parents is to use our experience to our kids’ benefit. Our job is to steer our children away from the pitfalls we fell into, drawing on our experiences and teaching our kids to make the decisions we didn’t.

Setting your children up for a better life than you had used to be a virtue. It’s time we restore that virtue.

2. I have to allow my child to make their own mistakes, and learn from them.

This lie comes from the same mentality as the 1st lie… that bad decisions are inevitable, therefore we should teach kids to make them in a safer manner.

Bad decisions may be inevitable, but our job as parents is to warn our kids against them, steer them away from those bad decisions, and hold them accountable for their decisions, and for the behavior leading to those bad decisions.

Ephesians 6:4 tells us to bring our children up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. The meanings of these words carry the notion that our role as parents (and more specifically, the role of fathers), is to constantly warn children against sin and rebellion. This means to warn them, not only of God’s consequences, but of the worldly consequences of sinful choices.

To stand idly by while our kids “make their own mistakes” is an abdication of a God-given responsibility, and a rebellion against a God-given commandment to parent our children.

3. I have to be my child’s friend, or, my child is my best friend.

If you’re looking for validation or affirmation from your child, you’re doing life wrong.

Your job as parent is to prepare your child to launch into the world, not to establish your child as a lifelong companion and confidant. Your role as parent involves giving your child the tools they need to succeed in life, spiritually, economically and socially. Your child is not there to meet your needs. You’re there to meet your child’s needs. And what your child needs from you is not another friend or buddy (honestly, they should be making those from kids in their own age-group), but rather the guidance and leadership that will prepare them for the next phase in their life.

This involves discipline. This involves tough choices. This involves denying them things that you really want to give them.

This is a tough road, and it’s not for the faint of heart.

Scripture says “foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of correction will drive it far from him.” For your child’s safety, survival and betterment, you must use the rod of correction to drive the foolishness from your child’s heart.

And while that verse is often associated with spanking, the rod of correction can take on many forms. It can be a mode of punishment, or, like the shepherd’s rod, it can be a guiding force.

The rod of correction can come in the form of grounding, lost privileges, chores, consequences, earned privileges, and earned rewards.

The rod of correction, that is, discipline, is not merely punishment. It is the shaping of proper behaviors and attitudes within your child. And no matter how positive you try to make it, it will not be an easy road for your child.

They will tell you they hate you. They will call you the worst parents ever. They will say they wish they had never been born. They will threaten to run away. If your personal validation requires positive feedback from your children, this is where you will implode and fail. You must be strong. You must know your role. You must remember the goal.

In the short term, you will find yourself at odds with your child, and your feelings hurt. In the long-term, you are shaping the world view, moral character, and if done Biblically, the Spiritual fortitude of your child. In the long-term, your child is better off for it, and will love you for it.

To borrow a cliche, “They’ll thank you someday.”

Okay, maybe they won’t thank you. But then again, that’s not why you parent in the first place.

4. I want to give my child everything I didn’t have.

This is a materialistic mindset. Your goal is not to give your child a better material life, but a better start in life, and a better life overall.

If you didn’t make the team, weren’t elected class president, or weren’t accepted into Harvard, do not make it your mission to make sure your child gets all of that.

If you didn’t have your own car in school, don’t make it your mission to buy your kid a car.

Make it your mission to equip your child for adulthood.

5. My child deserves the best.

Yes, and no.

Your child deserves your best. However, your child does not deserve the best the world has to offer. That has to be earned.

A better mindset is that your child needs to learn to make the best of what they have. If you can teach them that, then they are head and shoulders above the rest.

The conclusion of the matter.

Parenting is an 18-20 year journey full of ups and downs, hills and valleys, roadside raiders and landmines. It’s not for the faint of heart. If it were easy, Dr. James Dobson would be running a hotdog stand in Anaheim.

There are times you won’t know what to do. There are times you will make mistakes. There are times you will wonder why God trusted you with your children in the first place.

God didn’t make a mistake. Trust Him, trust His model for parenthood. And reject the lies that the world throws at you regarding parenthood.

Love your child. Prepare them for adulthood. In the end, you will see a blessing.

Are there any other parenting misconceptions out there? Feel free to post them below. God bless you.

Building Big in the City of Early

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The above-posted picture is the framework for Life Point Baptist Church’s new worship facility, which will open this summer on Sunrise Drive next to Early Elementary and Middle Schools. That picture was taken in 2014, and it seems both like it was yesterday, and that it was ancient history.

My family moved to Brown County in 2008. We quickly discovered that Early was the place to be. The schools are top-shelf. There’s entertainment, parks, family activities, restaurants and shopping. Thus, in 2011, we were able to move our family to Early, and in 2014, we were able to move our church to Early.

As I write this post, work crews are not only finishing up the electrical work on Life Point’s new facility, but construction crews are working on the new Hobby Lobby location, the new Burger King, and ground will soon break on a new town-home development. Further retail developments are in the works, but nothing has been solidified yet.

My goal as the newest member of the city council is to make sure we foster an environment where families want to move to Early, entrepreneurs want to build businesses in Early, and consumers want to shop in Early. My goal is to see this pro-family, pro-business environment cultivated while holding the line on property taxes, and dropping property tax rates when possible.

Today, I was asked what the city needed from its business community. My response? “Sell your product, grow your business, enjoy life.”

In Early, we have an amazing opportunity to improve an already great community. We have an opportunity to cultivate a community where life is good. All we need to make that happen is for the people of Early to build their lives and enjoy life.

As you do this, keep an eye on the horizon. Great things will soon appear there.

The Ballad of Thomas Ryman

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There are many reasons why people think that the Ryman Auditorium is called “the Mother Church of Country Music.” First, it looks like a church. Notice the arched windows and doorways, the American Gothic architecture, and the wooden pews inside.

Then, there’s the devoted, religious following of the Grand Ole Opry, which still closes most of its performances with a Gospel tune.

Finally, there’s the notion that you haven’t really arrived in Country Music until the “Mother Church” gives you her blessing, and you are invited to play the Opry (even if most of the performances are now held at the Opryland Resort.)

But how many realize that the Ryman Auditorium, the Mother Church of Country Music, was actually a church?

In 1885, Riverboat operator and saloon owner Thomas Ryman noticed that the ongoing Christian revival across Tennessee is cutting into his business. Looking to preserve his business ventures, Ryman decided to go to a revival meeting held by the great Evangelist Samuel Porter Jones for the purpose of disrupting and heckling the service.

Instead of stopping the revival, Ryman himself wound up converting to Christianity. So moved by the preaching of Jones, and his own redemption, Ryman endeavored to make sure everyone could hear the Gospel as spoken by Jones’ voice. So, he invested $100,000 ($2.7 million in today’s cash) to build the “Union Gospel Tabernacle,” a 6,000 seat chapel where Jones would be able to preach to multitudes.

Worship services were held, and Jones held many revivals in the facility. The tabernacle was renamed the “Ryman Auditorium” in 1904 by Jones as he preached Ryman’s funeral.

The Ryman Auditorium closed in the 1930s, and fell into disrepair before being taken over by WSM-AM in the 1960s to become the site of the Grand Ole Opry.

I read this story several years ago, and it continues to impress me that a hardened sinner was so moved with gratitude for his salvation, and concern for the eternal destiny of his fellow man, that he put his fortune to the test to build a place where everyone could come, hear the Gospel, and be saved.

When I think about this, I wonder what I have done to show my gratitude to God for my salvation. I also wonder what would happen if I did more. Furthermore, what if we had more Thomas Rymans in the world, hardened sinners broken and redeemed by the power of Christ who turned around and did everything in their power to reach those around them? If this happened, what kind of revival would we see in our country?

Right now, the entertainment industry politicizes everything, thinking that to legitimize their fame and popularity, they have to adopt a cause or message to change the world. Politicians legislate to leave their mark on the world. Athletes endorse ideas and causes.

The rest of the world uses its platform to advance a secular agenda. Isn’t it time that Christians use their platform to advance the Kingdom of God?

May God grant you the boldness to live out your faith and reach others with the Gospel.

Not because it’s right, but because it’s trending

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Photo: Bob Beecher

I was on the phone with a publicist for a movie production taking place in Texas.

“This is big,” she said. “Oprah has reviewed our script, decided she likes it, so the film will be produced by The Weinstein Company.”

Back when this conversation took place, The Weinstein Company was nothing more than a “W” logo that flashed on the screen at the beginning of a movie trailer or at the end of the movie credits. I didn’t know who they were or what they did. I did know who Oprah was, and I thought it was really cool that she had taken on this particular project.

There’s a lot with which I disagree with Oprah. I think her daytime TV talk show is overly emotional. Her politics lean left, mine lean way right. I still haven’t forgiven her for thrusting Dr. Phil upon us. Then again, I can blame the Texas beef industry for that. Had they never sued her over her show on “Mad Cow” disease, she’d have never gone to court in Amarillo, and would have never met Dr. Phil.

On the other hand, I have to respect a woman who went from absolute poverty to the billionaire she is today. She accomplished her success through hard work, good decisions, and by creating a product that, even if I don’t like it, is adored by millions.

Still, her speech at the Golden Globes the other night went all over me. While I agree with the message she spoke, I wondered how she must have felt delivering the message.

I don’t think Oprah engaged in inappropriate behavior with Harvey Weinstein. She has too much dignity and class. I don’t think she knowingly helped him, or was complicit in any specific encounter he had. She has a moral compass.

Yet, everyone in Hollywood, Oprah included, knew what Harvey Weinstein was. Go back and look at the Seth McFarlane joke on YouTube. Read or watch the jokes about the entertainment industry, and how Hollywood execs, including Weinstein, behaved themselves. What was going on was common knowledge, and had even become the punchline of a twisted cultural joke.

So, when she stood on stage and proclaimed that a new day was coming when powerful men would no longer be able to prey on young ladies, I couldn’t help but think, “Why haven’t you said anything before now?”

As long as getting along with Harvey Weinstein was good business, Oprah did it. Now that Weinstein has been revealed to be the pervert that he is, good business dictates criticism of him and the entertainment industry that allowed him to thrive.

But that’s all it is. Good business. Oprah’s speech, and the “Time’s Up” pins worn to the Golden Globes amount to nothing more than a social media post designed to get page views because the right hashtag was used. And therein lies the problem.

Our culture has become one of “hashtag activism.” You don’t actually do anything, you just post about it, and people congratulate you on your compassion for being able to type 140-280 characters.

When you log onto Facebook, look in the right-hand margin. You’ll notice a few topics that Facebook says is trending. On Twitter, that list is to the left. Make any post, add a hashtag that aligns with the word or phrase that is trending, and presto! Page views, comments, likes and shares.

When Weinstein’s accusers came out, the #MeToo hashtag began to trend. When that happened, accusations came out against multiple Hollywood celebrities and executives. Justice for sexual harassment victims trended, which is why Hollywood added the #TimesUp pins, and Oprah gave her speech. They are merely following the social trend.

Next year, this will all be forgotten, and another social cause, environmental cause, or political cause will take its place. Hopefully, more will have been accomplished than a few elite personalities going viral on social media.

In the meantime, Oprah can bring about a lot of healing, to her industry and reputation, by apologizing for her associations with Weinstein and vowing to create an entertainment industry where young ladies will be able to sell their talents, not their bodies.