Friday, December 21, 2012


It was an uneventful wintry Wisconsin evening. Vic and I were on the way back from after school pick up with the darkness of night falling and a calm, serene, post card like scene all around us. As we turned to go the last mile of our homeward trek, I hummed “Silent Night” quietly admiring the beauty of our own personal winter wonderland. When I reached the phrase “Heavenly Peace” I noticed the van skid ever so slightly. “No problem.” I thought. I’ve driven in Midwest winters for the last twenty years. I’ll just compens…” The slight skid was transforming before my eyes into a totally control-free careening towards the wrong side of the road and the drainage ditch! I had no control and we were not only going to leave the road; we were going to leave the ground! In an instant we were ‘airborne’ and in action movie fashion, I blurted the first thing that came to my mind: “BRACE FOR IMPACT!!” I shouted as we soared through the air for what seemed an eternity and we hit the ground with an impact that resembled Chevy Chase’s Family Truckster impacting the desert floor after having by-passed the warning barricades! The only difference was that instead of throwing sand upon landing, we were throwing snow – BUT we were still moving! My gut feeling - which had served me so well to this point - told me not to stop but to keep driving! I glanced in the mirror to make sure Vic was okay. She was as brave as she is adorable, but had a grip on her car seat that equaled the strength of 10 men! We were enclosed on both sides by insurmountable mounds of earth and snow, and I could hear the ice cracking beneath us – “KEEP DRIVING!!” my gut ordered. And drive we did; pushing through the ditch, throwing and blowing snow, earth and debris in a display that must’ve resembled a giant, bionic gofer plowing through a snowy corn field at supersonic speed! Just when I wondered how we were going to get out, I saw a break in the left side mound and the lights of a house through the break. Stuck in movie mode in my brain, I shouted to Vic, “WE’RE GOING FOR IT!” I punched the gas, turned the wheel, slipped through the break and we were airborne AGAIN, just at a slightly lower altitude! We landed with significantly less force and Vic warned, “Daddy, this is someone’s back yard!” In cool George Lopez fashion I crooned, “I got this!” We barreled through the yard, connected to the driveway, onto the cul de sac, down the street, made a series of quick turns to shake anyone who might have tailed us, and were back on the road in a jiffy! Five minutes later we were home! We found Luz in the kitchen firing up another culinary master piece. “Anything interesting happen today?” she chirped. Victoria and I looked at each other, turned slowly back to her and in unison chimed, “No. Nothing…”

Thursday, December 20, 2012

23 Years of God's Blessings!

23 years ago today, I received the greatest gift of my life when Maria-Luz Roda Bautista took a tremendous leap of courage and joined her life and those of our two oldest daughters with mine. As the years have passed, I have come to appreciate more and more the tremendous risk Luz took in trusting me with all that was precious to her. It is humbling and heart-warming for me to consider all the love I have gained from her leap of faith. Our family continues to grow along with my waistline and my gratitude for her goodness to me! God has blessed me in too many ways to count, but never more than when he answered a more than 20-year prayer and brought Luz into my life! Thanks to all of you who have stood by us over the years, especially at the beginning when many felt the odds were totally against us and thought - even out loud - that we were making the greatest mistake of our lives. God has been faithful all through the years and done the miraculous time and time again! May we continue to experience God's mercy and grace as we travel through life together, loving the Lord, loving each other, and loving all those He allows to cross our path! Happy Anniversay Sweetheart! Until next time...


Monday, December 17, 2012

The Man on the Moon and the Reality of Evil

“Tranquility Base here…The Eagle Has Landed.” The world changed that July day with Neil Armstrong’s victorious declaration that humans had safely landed on the moon. ANYTHING was possible! The generation that had saved the world from the most perilous time in human history had now brought us to the moon. “Ol’ Blue Eyes’” stylistic groove was no longer a romantic line from a smooth operator, it was reality. What couldn’t humans achieve? In spite of a seeming unending stream of assassinations, a ticking doomsday clock, a war in SE Asia and racial tensions throughout the United States, a new optimism was creeping up in the American soul. If we reached the moon and had achieved all of this progress, perhaps we can see the dawn of a New Age and even achieve unparalleled good in human history. It seemed there was good in everyone and as a result, US culture witnessed the dawn of the Age of Aquarius and the emergence of a generation raised in a comfort and luxury unknown to any generation before!

So great were the gains and so sweet the fruits of freedom that we failed to pay attention to the stirring of inner demons poised to wage war on our souls and society. Though the ability to communicate more quickly and efficiently increased, it seems that growing numbers of the members of society felt more and more disconnected. Though inventions and conveniences made time for socializing more readily available than ever, contemporary Americans became one of the loneliest generations to walk the planet. Today, urban violence marches on at a relentless pace, while our safe and secure suburbs are experiencing volatile explosions of mass violence that shake us to the core. No example of this violence has hit us with the ferocity and savagery of last week’s tragedy at Sandy Creek Elementary in Newtown, CT. This abhorrent occurrence has left us struggling to understand and seeking answers. The questions “How? And Why?” abound and the answers seem illusive.

Connecticut defined all that is tranquil and ideal about these United States. That idyllic definition has been shattered by the harsh and cold reality that evil exists. It lurks in every corner of our society no matter how pure and good that corner might seem and it has the ability can strike at will - without warning - leaving death, destruction and mayhem in its path. The great physical pleasures we have enjoyed in our society have anesthetized us to the spiritual realities of the evil that surrounds us. If we address evil at all, the evil we are most willing to acknowledge is largely framed within the context of entertainment and it is personified by characters like “Jason” and “Freddy” or relegated to the most heinous real-life human examples: people like Hitler, Pol Pot, or Bin Laden. This company of villains is universally acknowledged as evil, but they are never viewed as “normal” and are seen as aberrations of the rest of us “good and God-fearing” people.

A more attentive view of the human spirit might give evidence to the contrary. The potential for evil can be found in every fabric of society. More frighteningly, this potential isn’t just confined to the dark corners of society, but even in the secret places of EVERY human heart. Jeremiah 17:9 warns that, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” Honesty informs us that there are times that even the “good” we do comes from a less than honorable place, whose source is not a desire to achieve good for others, but rather a drive for the promotion of self and the satisfaction of our own need to be acknowledged.

How pervasive is evil? Consider the number of respected and responsible leaders of late - religious, military and governmental – who have thrown away careers and reputations for the pleasure of a sweet liaison they thought would go unnoticed. We are tempted to think, “Well, yes, but is that evil?” Think of the betrayals of trust, the risks to themselves, their loved ones, the nation and communities they served. Most of these leaders are considered not just good guys, but “great guys” anyone would love to have on their team – the most trustable of the trustworthy. Nevertheless, careless moments grew into wreckless indulgences which grew into tragic scandals with many innocent victims. EVIL! We’re tempted to think, “I would NEVER do that! I propose that without careful personal attentiveness, the casual flirt, the engaging look, and the “playful” teasing can easily take flight to become a nightmare scenario of heartbreak we never imagined could really happen to us. EVIL! We are in a desperate situation.

Dealing with our desperation means understanding where the hope lies. The hope for peace, safety and security in our land will not be found in passing laws, mounting soap boxes and demanding freedoms. If hope is to be found, it will come from a transformation of the mind and heart, built on the understanding that the Battle is spiritual at its core. In Matthew 15 Jesus said, “…out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies.” The problem is inside us. In Romans Chapter 12, the Apostle Paul presents this solution for dealing with the root of the issue: “do not be conformed to this world [the way everybody else does things], but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith” We need an accurate understanding of just “how bad we can be” knowing that each of us possesses the capability of the manifesting the worst we’ve ever seen in society. Furthermore, we need a firm grasp on the truth that God has the power to transform us from the inside out when we humbly surrender to Him and His ways and walk in community with others who can hold us accountable and help us in our most desperate and anxious times.

Nothing we can do will bring back those beautiful children who suffered such unspeakable horror in Connecticut or ease the pain their families are suffering. Their deaths, however, leave us with an undeniable clarity to what is at stake. If we can embrace the Biblical truth about our natures and acknowledge that we are the keepers of our brothers and sisters, then perhaps we can dislodge ourselves from the outrageous notion we have heretofore practiced in our society: that we have come so far in our sophistication, we can simply live on “autopilot” and let things sort themselves out or let someone else do it for us. If we will apply ourselves to personally pay attention to those troubled souls around us – be they strangers or our closest of kin - and if we can do the work of befriending the lonely, comforting the forlorn, or identifying that ones who are just too troubled to be left to themselves and be willing to face the turmoil of making such a call, then perhaps we can turn the tide! If we are willing to do the grunt work of getting deeply involved in the lives of others and taking the time required to help while suffering the inconvenience to our personal goals and agendas  that helping can cause, we just might see some change for the better. One thing is for certain. If we fail to pay attention to these horrible signs of our times, and continue to march in the direction of indifference and apathy, we are certain to continue to suffer; and that suffering will happen much sooner than any prospect we have for once again leaving footprints on the moon. Until next time…


Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Knocked Out! How to Grow From a Humiliating Loss!

The absence of post-fight chatter was conspicuous. I hadn’t caught the fight as I was swamped with ministry and family duties as well as annual Christmas celebrations for some civic organizations to which Luz and I belong. I had almost forgotten about The Fight when it occurred to me that I was surrounded by Filipinos and NO ONE had mentioned Pac-Man’s name - Not ONE person. The silence said it all – “Man!” I thought – “Pacquiao must’ve LOST!” I pulled out my phone and quickly Googled “Pacquiao /Marquez-4”. The picture was worth more than a thousand words. Referee Kenny Bayless was kneeling and waving over a motionless, face-planted Pacquiao as Marquez was suspended in air, mid-leap in jubilation. The “Mexican Assassin” – so nick-named for his victories over numerous game and powerful Mexican opponents - had himself been “assassinated”! Manny Pacquiao had been knocked out!

But the disappointments this weekend weren’t limited to the “Sweet Science.” Since my earliest days of watching college football, I have only had a heart for one team and One Team only - The Army Team of the United States Military Academy at West Point! As a Cadet, and particularly as a Plebe, I kept that information to myself; as such a declaration might have brought on suspicion or ridicule. But now, as a “mature” man, I make the confession with great pride – which is what made the weekend so horrible for me! Army came OH SO CLOSE to snapping an unbearable decade-long losing streak, when a fumble of unbelievable consequence dissolved all hope for a totally achievable win over the Navy. Trent Steelman, the Army Team Captain who had contributed so much to Army Football for the last four years, was unfortunately a part of the fumbling experience that cost Army the victory, and was inconsolable at the Game’s end. Absolutely no joy in Mudville!

Monumental losses – unexpected losses – unrecoverable losses - have a way of zapping one’s very soul and leaving one not only in a daze but in a heap of pain, regret and inner anguish. The thoughts are relentless – “If only I would have…” “But I should have and could have!” “Why didn’t I?...” Yet, in both of these cases, the men who went down in defeat have displayed character and courage that gives us hints for how they will navigate the future. Many contemporary athletes throw pity parties, hurl obscenities, and unleash unrestrained tirades after a loss of much less consequence than the losses for Pac-Man and Army this weekend. These “losers” refuse to talk to reporters – refuse to honor the victors – refuse to respect and to honor the game they claim to love. Steelman and Pacquiao, however, faced the world and the post-loss scrutiny just as they had faced their opponents – with courage, honor and dignity – characteristics that can be very difficult to display in the face of a very public and humiliating defeat. This is what athletics should, in the end, be about; the opportunity to grow in character and honor, whether in defeat or victory; understanding the value of the prize sought, while also understanding the greater and incalculable value of the human soul.
As one who made my own deeply painful fumble in my contest with the Dean of the United States Military Academy and shed tears that were not recorded for posterity as were Trent Stillman’s nor did my face bear the scars of Manny Pacquiao, I understand profound loss. I faced both comfort and support as well as ridicule and chastisement during my experience and learned from both of these responses to my disappointing performance. I have put my academic loss into perspective since having ministered to countless others, helping them to deal with life and death situations, and the kinds of heartaches and heartbreaks that defy easy answers and instant healing. I have also faced my own life and death encounters and losses as well. Those real tragedies place my perceived loss in the proper context of “mistakes made and lessons learned”. I have also seen how God has mercifully used my humiliation to move me towards a humility and a restoration that have served me as no victory I have experienced ever could have. Because of God’s work in me, I can see how He can truly work all things together for good for those who love Him and understand that He has a purpose for them too.
It is that perspective that helps me understand the context of Jeremiah 29:11, where God declares That He has plans for a hopeful future for the nation of Judah after they experience a “knockout” of life shattering proportions – losing a war and being sent into exile. Sometimes it takes a devastating loss to grab our attention and to shape us to do the work God truly has prepared for us to do. Sometimes someone or some circumstance has to literally take us down a few pegs so that we can see life as it God would have us to live it, not as a selfish fantasy of our own creation.
Though they have suffered great losses, I have nothing but respect for Trent Steelman and Manny Pacquiao. I can see great continued hope for their future if they use their experiences of loss to form their souls and not allow them to break their spirits. If these great competitors can gain wisdom and perspective in their daily lives, then the losses can also serve as refining tools that will build character in them and benefit all the people they will encounter in the future. These are experiences from which we can all learn – even as observers. But maybe this lesson hits closer to home...

Perhaps you’ve lost in life. I understand that losing hurts. I know that the taste of defeat is bitter and that victory is exceedingly sweet and a lot more fun. Nevertheless, I am asking you to consider how God might use your losses to bring about good in you and later bring about good for you and for the people you will meet along your life’s journey. Don’t wallow in your losses but rather follow after God, allowing Him to use all of your life experiences to produce maturity, perseverance and completeness in your character that will bless you, encourage others and honor Him. That kind of attitude has the power to transform many win-loss scenarios into win-win propositions. Until next time…

Friday, December 7, 2012

Eight Years of Gratitude

Psalm 89:1 says, "I will sing of the mercies of the Lord forever; With my mouth will I make known Your faithfulness to all generations." On this 7th day of December, our family remembers God's mercy and miraculous intervention on our behalf in the birth of our youngest daughter, Victoria, who entered this world at 28 weeks of gestation weighing in at 1lb 13oz. After fighting for her life for 3 months, she emerged healthy, whole and victorious and remains a blessing and reminder of God's mercy each day. We will never forget. We will never fail to give thanks! HAPPY BIRTHDAY VIC!!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Thankful for the Struggle

A few days ago, I had the wonderful blessing of celebrating another year of life. As the years pass, I continue to be astounded at what I have yet to learn and how immature I continue to be in living in a way that truly blesses others and contributes to the work God has called me to do not only as a pastor in particular, but a Christian in general. I find that the more I inspect my soul and consider my thoughts and inclinations, I find a rather selfish person residing there. My true inner and unspoken goals tend to be seeking comfort and minimizing my own pain and suffering. I may not appear to be a hedonist, but I sure do like having a good time, or at least a comfortable one, and find myself secretly desiring to avoid difficulties if at all possible.
But then reality hits! If I don’t find myself in difficulty, there are friends, loved ones, acquaintances and strangers who stumble into one of life’s troubling circumstances. Before long, it becomes apparent that God has a plan for me to place myself in a particular situation in a way that makes a difference, which means, getting dirty, tired and sometimes beat up for the sake of another’s well-being. Somewhere in the midst of the battle for someone else, it seems the Lord brings to mind a time when I myself was hurt, betrayed, disabled, confused, angry, frustrated or totally vulnerable.

He reminds me of the feel of the moment; the challenge, the pain and the sometimes helplessness that caused me to cry out to Him for help in my own anguish. Then He reminds me of how He answered through those who responded to my need – the unexpected call to check up on me. The card with words of comfort. The out of nowhere visit that lasted for hours as I poured out my heart to a listening, understanding and non-judgmental ear. The laser-focused attention and effort from a stranger who had never seen me before my troubled predicament and who would never see me again after their offering of help was complete.

God reminds me that it is my painful and challenging moments of life that should season and mature me to realize that pain and struggle are realities, but realities meant to prepare my heart to reach out to others and offer them the comfort I myself have received. I must be thankful for the struggle for it is in the stuggle that I learn to become less focused on myself and more attentive to God’s purposes and the needs of others. It is in the struggle that I am meant to understand just how much pain hurts and just how important it is to pay attention to the pain of others and to walk with them when the climb is steep, rocky and precarious.

Therefore, on this particular Thanksgiving, I thank God for the struggles of my life: professional, personal, medical, familial, emotional, relational - All of them! I pray that as time continues to march, I may be found growing in maturity, living a life that is less about me and increasing in the focus and drive towards loving and serving God and others. I also pray that these thoughts will cement themselves in my brain and have a lasting impact that will endure beyond the turkey, football games and Black Friday sales! I give all who read this permission to hold me accountable. After all, that’s what friends are for! Have a Happy Thanksgiving and don’t forget to be thankful even for the struggles. Someone else will be thankful that you did! Until next time…


Monday, November 5, 2012

The Candle Lighting Platform

In the United States, the home stretch of an extremely acrimonious and contentious political racing season is upon us. A night’s sleep separates us from the most cherished of all of the rights of a free people: the right to choose their representative leaders. As levers are pulled, ovals are filled, buttons are pushed and in some locations ravaged by Hurricane Sandy, faxes and e-mails are submitted, we will all wait with at least a bit of anxiety as the votes are tallied and leaders for the next terms of service are selected for public office.

Once the numbers are counted, we will eventually know who our leaders are and we will prepare for the amazing process of peacefully honoring the will of the people as the elected ones prepare to take their places at the helms of service to the nation. It is my hope that once the results are known and this process begins, “We the People” will cease the hyperbolic and sometimes outrageous rhetoric characteristic of the past 11 months and begin to apply ourselves anew to the grassroots work of responsible citizenship.

What amazing results might be achieved if we don’t merely ask “what can be done for the country” but actually engaged ourselves in attempting to do something to directly address challenges we see around us? What transformations might be seen in the nation and the communities of which it is comprised if this government “…of the people, by the people, for the people…” was most clearly seen in citizens themselves engaging the problems they encounter everyday with direct, down home involvement that confronts problems that stubbornly escape the notice and reach of hugely burdened bureaucracies and agencies? What might happen if our fervor in reaching out to address the needs we see immediately around us, matched the volume with which we often complain about what’s not being done? Though it’s true that we wouldn’t see Utopia or heaven on earth, it’s equally true that we would certainly witness changed lives and differences made as darkness cursing was widely replaced by candle lighting.

With those thoughts in mind, my fellow US Citizens, go out and vote according to your convictions. Joyfully cast your ballot and exercise the precious right with which we are blessed – a right which has been defended at a cost that has caused no small number of people to sacrifice their own access to the blessings of liberty. Not only this, but once the ballots have been counted and winners begin to emerge, respect the stated will of the people, honoring those who are elected with the honor they are due as office holders. Also, honor your own responsibilities as the citizen of a free country by using your God-given gifts, talents and abilities for the good of the nation and the blessing of others. Use your working hands as much as your running mouths to bring about the change you long to see. We the People have these responsibilities. Let us take hold of them with enthusiasm, humility and persistence that our nation and this miracle that is known as the United States of America might long endure. God bless us all. Until next time…


Saturday, November 3, 2012

They Say It's My Birthday!

Each birthday is an opportunity to reflect and be thankful. As I thank the Lord for the 49 years I have thus far been blessed to experience, I cannot help but think of those who in selflessly serving the nation, their families and communities have not lived to see even half of the life span I have been blessed to enjoy. I cannot help but recall that I have been blessed with goodness beyond my deserving and privileges that have endowed me with opportunities that were unthinkable and unreachable for many of my ancestors. I cannot help but smile when I remember all of the friends who have encouraged and supported me in every circumstance of life and stood by me in times of joy, sorrow, trial and triumph. I cannot help but beam with satisfaction when I think about my Luz, Coco, Maris, Joana and Victoria; my Grandson Jack-Jack and my sons-in-law Mike and Steve who have given me the big and growing family for which I always longed as an only child. I cannot help but rejoice for the Amazing Grace God extended to me in my need and sealing me as His child. My life has certainly been charmed. I don’t know how many years lie ahead for me, but it is my aim to live them in all in service to the Lord and others, as long as He allows my body and mind to carry out the mission He has appointed for me. Thank you all for your love and friendship. May God bless each of us and empower us to live in ways that inspire, encourage and bless all with whom we come in contact! It’s great to be alive! Thank You, Lord, for another birthday! Until next time…


Saturday, October 27, 2012

Healing in his Wings

I walked down the corridor not knowing exactly what to expect from Dad. The nephrologist’s report was extremely cautious, if not discouraging, though friends had reported improvement. As I neared the dining room where he was reported to be, I steeled myself for the worst – a blank stare, no recognition of my face or person, a shell of the man my father truly is inside. I had arrived. I took a deep breath. I stepped into the room and peered around the corner to see if Dad was there. One of his neighbors was being assisted with his eating, while it appeared Dad was eating on his own. One of the staff noticed me and Dad’s eyes followed hers. When our eyes met, I was hit instantly by a warm wave of joy and relief! Dad’s eyes widened, a HUGE smile spread across his face and his voice BOOMED: “HEY MAN! YOU’RE LOOKING GOOD!!” Not only recognition, but feeling and volume! The improvement since our last time together was incredible. Dad picked up after that with a string of questions and observations that stunned me. He wasn’t 100% by any means, but he was 100% improved over my last visit and there was a strong and present connection between us! We conversed and laughed and my 4-day visit to encourage Dad and continue to establish his care began.

Over those four days, as I took care of all the matters at hand, I visited with dear friends who have been absolute pillars of trust and help to our family. As I saw Dad daily, I experienced the complexity of his Dementia. Dad would never fail to recognize me, but he would lapse in and out of a time warp, suddenly in another place and setting, then jolted back to reality not sure of exactly what had transpired. Perhaps the most jolting instance occurred just before I bid Dad farewell for this trip.

We were chatting and joking , with Dad teasingly inspecting me and informing me that my footgear “needed some kiwi” when he asked how my mother was doing. He made two follow up comments that let me know he was under the impression that my mother was alive. Knowing my mother was in Heaven, I answered, ”She’s fine” – of course, she is - well placed in her heavenly home. But somehow, Dad read my expression. A look of realization came to his face. He dropped his head and wept. Then, without my speaking, another look of realization…”You have to go back today, don’t you?” The sorrow in his eyes hit me like a sledge hammer and it took everything “Jackson” within me to deadpan an answer without tears. “Yes sir.” I responded flatly. He wept and my tears wouldn’t stay in my sockets no matter how hard I willed them. We hugged and wept for an eternity. I said “bye” countless times but we couldn’t let go until the fountains had dried.

Suddenly, he looked up. “Get me hat for me, Man.” He sweetly petitioned. I got up and retrieved it, handing him his newest Master Blaster headgear. He gently took the hat from my hands, rubbed the jumpmaster wings affixed to it and looked up at me. “Can you pray for me?” He asked. Somehow, by God’s grace, I lifted up a prayer on behalf of my father and our family and knew that through our fellowship, laughter, tears and those wings, we had experienced bonding and healing beyond words. God had given us His grace in our deepest, rawest pain, and we were grateful. We embraced once more and I headed out the door with a last look and a smile and began the journey home.

I know that there are more chapters to this story and that there will be more tears ahead. Nevertheless, I am thankful for God’s mercy, which I have experienced in abundance this week, and grateful for the eternal healing in HIS wings available to any who are willing to walk the hardest miles, without shame or reservation that love might shine through for God’s glory and the blessing of others.
Until next time... Sam J.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Angels and Smiles - Counting Blessings in Caring for Dad

It has been a while since I've seen my dad really smile. There have been a few times when he has given a slight sign of being amused, but no broad grins.  His dementia and other health trials seem to have robbed him of the beautiful, toothy grin to which I have become accustomed after more than 4 decades of walking the earth as "Sam's Boy".  It has been a faint shadow that one notices but can't quite place in the routine interactions with a loved one who is wrestling to maintain their wits in a brutal struggle to keep one's personality.  I had almost given up that I would ever see his smile again until yesterday, when a number of events gave me renewed joy in the journey of walking with my father in this deeply shadowed valley.
It was a tough but good day. Lots of legwork in securing Dad's personal business - talking to banks, securing documents, running all over town. God is good and gave us much favor in our dealings. SO many I encountered had compassion born of walking in similar environs.  We were able to secure a place for Dad in a wonderful State veterans facility in Fayetteville run by people with a heart for Veterans - An energetic, highly motivated, knowledgeable and extremely friendly admissions official whose own father is a veteran. This angel of mercy sees folks like Dad as part of her extended family. She views what she does not as a job, but as an opportunity for passionate service to those who have born the battle in their time of greatest vulnerability.  We were also blessed to meet another angel - a statuesque, Wonder Woman look-a-like, retired paratrooper whose own distinguished career has given her a drive to serve those who like her, have given so much to the nation, going wherever sent, with no hesitation and no regrets. She sees her work as an honor and privilege!  The 3rd angel we encountered is a no nonsense administrator who is tough but loving and looks out for the residents with the focus and intensity of a mother lion! She laid out the rules without even smirking, but after laying out the law, softened enough for us to understand that she cared. God has supplied a great group of folks to look after Dad who truly understand where he's been and where he's at!

After those encouraging encounters, our time with Dad tonight was sweeter than we expected. His mind was with him and he engaged us in conversation quietly yet joyfully. He grasped my hand and commented on the beauty of his granddaugthers at length with no prompting.  Luz teased him and like the "Sam Jackson" of days gone by he started grinning with gusto and chuckling with delight!  His smile showed up and lit up the room like a 100 Megawatt power beam!  We truly enjoyed each other's company. His presence of mind made our goodnight salutations tougher than normal. We hugged, kissed and cried until our eyes no longer held moisture, yet it gave the opportunity to share much love and to recognize our crying as cleansing tears, and our abundant hugs and sweet kisses as precious moments to treasure and tuck away as gifts from God!

The battles of caring for an aging parent are continuous and sometimes victories seem few and far-flung. Yet, as people of faith, it is critical to count the blessings God provides - to celebrate the victories and to count it all joy, knowing that our trials can provide fertile ground to produce compassion, maturity and greater dependence on a Great God who made us, loves us and has designed us not for ourselves alone, but to walk arm in arm with others in love, that our good work might be seen and He might be glorified in the process.  Praise God for Dad's smile!  Until next time...


Friday, August 17, 2012

Daniel's Riddle: Knight Takes King

Today marks the 35th anniversary of Elvis Presley's passing.  My friend Chip Armstrong, who has a knack for stimulating great discussions via the NET and for inspiring others to take time to consider the important themes that confront us in daily life, posted a picture on facebook of the L.A. Times front page from that fateful day in 1977.  With the picture, he posed a question that immediately prompted many, including me, to respond with memories of what we were doing when "The King" died.  Other than the headline addressing Elvis' death and the pictures, I paid no attention to the rest of the stories from that day...but I'm not Daniel Helbling!

I met Daniel in seminary in 1987. Daniel had more life experience than the rest of us, but possessed a timeless youthfulness that gave him a constant aura of being "cool".  After spending time with Daniel, it became apparent that he wasn't "the average bear".  His family was beautiful and as impressive as he was in every way. Their prodigious gifts were as unassuming as his, hitting you with surprising and delightful force as they shared a song, passed on a kernel of knowledge that truly informed or just blessed you with kindness and compassion.  Daniel and his tribe were multilingual, talented, adaptable, charming  - true renaissance folks with a deep commitment to Christ and a commitment to share Jesus' love with all people. As my friendship with Daniel grew, I learned he had a knack for noticing details - a skill cultivated in his service to the nation.  I also learned that his contemplative powers and ability to see beyond the obvious were enhanced by time he and his wife Arnelle spent under the tutelage of the great thinker, Dr. Francis Schaeffer. In a very unassuming way, Daniel employed an easy style of sharing deep truth that captivated, convicted and inspired us to pay more attention to where God had placed us and to not overlook the obvious in our pursuit of knowledge and spiritual growth.  I was reminded of those subtle lessons when I saw Daniel's posting of an intriguing riddle on the heels of his responding to my re-posting of the Elvis headline.  The Riddle was this:

Which southern Republican judge was responsible for the following decisions?
Browder v. Gayle (1956)
Orders the racial integration of the public transportation system of the city of Montgomery, Alabama.

Gomillion v. Lightfoot (1961)
Invalidated a plan by the city of Tuskegee, Alabama to dilute black voting strength by redrawing city boundaries so as to move concentrations of black voters out of the city limits.

United States v. Alabama (1961)
Ordered that black persons be registered to vote if their application papers were equal to the performance of the least qualified white applicant accepted on the voting rolls.

Lewis v. Greyhound (1961)
Required desegregation of the bus depots of the city of Montgomery.

United States v. City of Montgomery (1961)
Ordered the city of Montgomery to surrender its voting registration records to the US Department of Justice.

Sims v. Frink (1962)
Required the state of Alabama to reapportion state legislative districts to adhere to the 'one man, one vote' principle.

Lee v. Macon County Board of Ed. (1963)
Mandated, in Alabama, the first statewide desegregation of public schools.

Williams v. Wallace (1965)
Ordered Gov. George Wallace to permit the Selma to Montgomery march, which were organized by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), to take place.

White v. Crook (1966)
Ruled that the state of Alabama must permit Blacks to serve on juries.

United States v. Alabama (1966)
Declared the Alabama poll tax unconstitutional.

Smith v. YMCA of Montgomery (1970)
Ordered the desegregation of the Montgomery chapter of the YMCA.

Garcia-Mir v. Meese (1986)
Upheld that existing U.S. law superseded customary international law.
NAACP v. Dothard
Required the state of Alabama to hire one Black state trooper for every white state trooper until racial parity was achieved?

One stouthearted soul asked the question many of us had been asking since the first line of the extensive list of adjudication that Daniel had shared..."WHO?"

Daniel, a master teacher, gave a hint that required the curious to investigate further by providing a link to the answer. I will post the link that leads to the full answer at the end of this entry. Nevertheless, I'll also share a little more.  The link leads to an article printed on the same front page that the Elvis story dominated. The article tells a fascinating story of a man who should  be more well known, but isn't, and served for the sake of blessing others, not to call attention to himself. It is the story of a man who largely remains obscure with respect to fame, truly made - as in caused the transformation of - history.  By spending a little extra time to read THE REST of the front page of that fateful day, Daniel gleaned a truly golden glimpse at a man who did so much to open doors of immense importance for all of us!

Daniel's Riddle was a convicting reminder to me of the perils of living a life more focused on worshipping pop icons than on learning from lesser known yet devoted servants who humbly go about their business, skipping the pomp and circumstance, preferring the satisfaction of doing one's duty to the best of one's ability while looking forward to the one "Well Done" that really counts!   It is not my intention to be a kill-joy; I still love Elvis and I will never forget having just arrived in the Federal Republic of Germany when he died and my listening to every Armed Forces Network broadcast I could bear to hear and reading every Stars and Stripes article printed on his passing.  Nevertheless, Daniel's Riddle has reminded me to pay closer attention to detail, remembering that the world is truly blessed not as much by Iconic Kings as it is by the Silent Knights in our midst.  Oh yes... the learn more about the answer to Daniel's Riddle, visit this link:,0,5864561.htmlpage You'll have to pay attention to find the answer, but it is prominent.  Look for a reference to an agency first directed by J. Edgar Hoover :-).

Happy Learning! Until next time...


Saturday, July 21, 2012

No Good Ol’ Days - No Easy Answers - Perspective in Times of Tragedy

“The Good Ol’ Days”. The days of innocence and care free living. Days when the grass was greener, the air was cleaner; doors remained unlocked all day every day and neighbors traded recipes, watched one another’s children and sealed every deal with a handshake. Times were simpler then and life was easy – or was it?
As we try to comprehend the horror of Aurora, it is easy to paint an idealistic picture of the past as we face the challenges and difficulties of the present. It is also extremely tempting to oversimplify the occurrence in our search for meaning and understanding by politicizing the situation, vilifying certain groups or blaming any sociological issue with which we disagree as the cause of the tragedy.
The base line truth that haunts us - but the truth from which we consistently attempt to flee - is that humanity is ill and in need of a deep and cleansing healing. It is a condition that has existed since The Fall. People everywhere are afflicted by the spiritual plague called sin that has manifested itself endlessly over the course of history in acts great and small. Sometimes the damage escapes easy notice but has deep emotional impact, and at other times it hits with powerful physical destruction that causes immediate grief and a search for meaning. In whatever measure the affliction is levied, humanity’s illness wreaks havoc and leaves in its wake a path of devastation and brokenness.
As we try to process what occurred in Aurora on July 20, 2012 we must not ignore this consistent lesson of history and core truth of the Bible – ALL have sinned and fall short of God’s glory. In the history of U.S. society alone, this sinful nature has shown itself in all sorts of extreme evil from the gangland violence of the “Roaring” 1920’s, to the early 20th century family feuds of Appalachia to the various forms of racial conflict that have challenged our land since the nation’s earliest days. These eras don’t even take into account the specter of crime in general or the menace of warfare that has chillingly touched every American generation.
In the course of uneventful days, it is easy to forget this fallen state of our world and of our natures. It is especially easy to stop considering the unseen potential dangers lurking in the minds of almost anyone who seems “normal” today, but who could potentially be one setback away from plunging into the deepest realms of human depravity. While there are no “easy” answers, the Scripture tells us that salvation from this fallen nature comes through the relationship God has made available to us through Christ. As people of faith in Christ, it is lived out on a day to day basis by understanding that we were not only designed to relate to God but to relate to others as well. We were built for community. A telling characteristic of the massacres of our generation is apparent in the term “lone gunman”. Many of the troubled people who have brought about the pain and suffering of our generation have been people who have somehow fallen off the radar of community and slipped into a parallel existence of loneliness and isolation that eventually led to an explosive rage that destroyed anyone who happened to come into their path.

The tragedy of Aurora reminds us that the societal challenge before us is formidable. We can respond to the challenge inadequately by longing for the “Good Ol’ Days”, by blaming others who hold different points of view for how societal problems should be addressed, or by ignoring the problems of our generation and hoping the challenges will just melt away. The most meaningful responses will be seen in those people who courageously acknowledge the ever-present dangers hiding in the shadows of the human heart. The people who will make a difference will address the dangers of the fallen world by energetically and thoughtfully engaging others with The Good News, and will demonstrate the reality of the Good News by getting involved in the messiness of the human experience. These people of valor will do the very best possible to leave none behind in the confusion and trials that come with everyday living: reaching out to the outcasts in friendship, ministering to the brokenhearted with compassion, embracing the marginalized as people of value, cherished and loved by God.
There will be no pat answers to explain every tragedy, but there will be a witness and the witness is this: In the course of the unforeseeable and perilous future that is part and parcel of the human experience, the God Who cares and has ultimately shown His care in the person of His Son, has also left a witness through the day to day ministry of fellow sojourners who willingly and sacrificially love in Jesus’ Name to all that the glory of God might shine through them in whatever circumstances they find themselves.
Why do tragic events like the Aurora Massacre happen? Short of saying, “The world is messed up,” no answer will suffice. What do we do about it? We realize that now is the time to live for God! Now is the day to reach out to others with His loving message of salvation. As Carly Simon sang in the old 70’s classic, these are the good old days; days to demonstrate the goodness of God in selfless and courageous living. For those who know the Lord, today is the day we step out in faith to share the Good News of Jesus Christ by loving and engaging others without conditions or qualification so that the world can see what we do and give God the glory. It’s not an “easy answer” and it won’t prevent all future tragedies, but it will impact lives and bring the love and grace of God to bear in an uncertain and pain-filled world.

Until Next Time…


Wednesday, June 6, 2012

But for the Grace of God...

This morning I received an email update from friends serving in a very difficult ministry assignment internationally. They shared the struggle of a partner in the ministry who woke up one night to his elementary-aged son's inexplicable violent vomiting. Less than 24 hours later the young boy slipped into eternity. They shared how a small village was wiped out by flash flooding when a sudden rain storm hit their area and how a bus careened off of a steep mountain into a cavernous abyss killing all on board. They shared a few other excruciating tales of heartache and challenge, restating their resolve to serve and minister by citing the oft quoted but too little felt truth - "There but for the grace of God go I." "The Grace of God" - something that the political season in which we find ourselves immersed seems to have pushed as far away from our speech and interactions as Venus' next solar transition. It is true that the political process that defines how government is executed in the United States necessitates debate. It guarantees a clash of ideas and an inevitable struggle as citizens attempt to determine what is best for the us, the conglomeration of points of view and opinions known throughout our founding documents as "We the People."

I do not begrudge anyone's right to share their opinion, debate the opinions of others or make the cae for what they believe to be right. It is among the rights we in the United States believe are God-given. Nevertheless, I am wearying of people from all sides of seemingly every argument stating their every case with a total vilification of those with an opposing view or using the language of brinkmanship with every argument they make. If every utterance is one that declares, "Vote for my choice or it's the Apocalypse!" the truly apocalyptic issues get swamped in a sea of less significant considerations. What's behind this increase in pomposity and arrogance? I believe it's an increase in the belief that it is not God Who has made us, be rather an inner conviction that we have made ourselves. The Grace of God cannot abound where it is not perceived to be a need. If I deserve all the good I have and those who do not have are merely getting what's coming to them, my view of how to work the common good is skewed, even if my stance is correct.

Scripture instructs Christians to communicate in this way: "Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person." Notice the word ALWAYS! There is no occasion for those who follow Christ to communicate out of arrogance or self- aggrandization. We must always keep in mind that even when we communicate a painful truth that will shake our audience to the core, we are communicating not from our own righteousness or deserving, but from the righteousness an deserving of our Lord. The recognition that we are not standing on our own merit but on the merit of the One Who died for us and rose again that we might have hope, joy and a godly confidence that should “govern our engines” and cause us to share the convictions of our heart with Grace and love.

With those truths in mind, don't fail to share your convictions, if so led. BUT, make sure that when you do, you're not puffed up with pride as one sharing as if you are more deserving than those who do not hold your convictions, but model the walk of Jesus who did not revile those who mistreated Him but prayed for them, even as He was crucified. Remember that because of His Work on the cross, it is truly possible to proclaim with humble thanksgiving, "But for the Grace of God, where would I be?" Until next time...


Saturday, May 12, 2012

A Mother's Day Salute

I talk quite a bit about my father, but if I am anything, I am all that I am because of Georgia Jackson. She was a true Renaissance Woman (a leader, amazing track athlete, lover of language and lover of God) who poured her life into me, sacrificing her own goals in the process. She taught me how to read by the time I was 3 and, poured the foundation for my writing skills, which West Point fine tuned and taught a walk of faith with Jesus that was so deep and so strong that it overpowered my intense desire to be a soldier influencing me to enlist instead for eternity in the Army of the Lord. There is no instrument that can truly measure Georgia's impact on my life while she lived or measure the hole left in my heart when she departed from this world. Nevertheless, her legacy to me and my posterity remains as strong as ever, and though I miss her, like any good soldier I am able to follow her last standing orders with vigor and therefore proudly Carry On! On this Mother's Day I take great pleasure in saluting my mom, Georgia L. Jackson. Until we meet again on the other side of the veil, Happy Mother's Day Ma! Your Ponderosa, "Darrell" Samuel D. Jackson

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Being a Friend in the Painful Times

How does one help a friend to cope with the unbearable loss of a close loved one? Words offered for the sake of comfort are always well meaning, but can seem to hang impotently in space like a child’s soap bubble – pretty enough, but powerless to effect real change in the thick atmosphere of grief. The pain of loss can be so deep and profound that it numbs to the bone, defying even the most well-thought-out attempts at leveraging truth and beauty during life’s ugliest moments. It is a certainty - the painful times will come, intruding and disrupting our lives without mercy, leaving broken hearts and deflated spirits in their wake without discrimination. So what do we do? It just doesn’t seem right to not even attempt to bring comfort to those who are hurting. So we offer words of comfort and acts of kindness hurting for our grieving friends and desperately longing to say or do something to take the pain away.

I am especially feeling the weight of this recurring life challenge as it seems that over the last year or so, an incredible number of dear friends are suffering unbelievable and jarring losses within their families. Spouses have been taken in what should have been the prime times of their lives. A great wave of Parents who raised my generation are now completing their “Golden Years” and stepping out of the temporal and into the eternal. Close friends have been lost to both tragedy and disease and the losses seem to just keep on mounting. Even the celebrity ranks that entertained and informed us from childhood to adulthood are thinning and closing the books on their legacies – The conductor of the Soul Train and the Leader of the Bandstand have both permanently “left the building” and are now experiencing their eternal reward. I didn’t really know them, but I do know my friends and I hurt for them. Again, what do we do?

Galatians 6:2 offers some simple but challenging advice – “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” The picture here is of a person who is loaded down with a weight that was never intended for one person to carry and begs to be shared by others. It is an emotional mountain of a sack filled with pain, inner turmoil, anger and bewilderment that can sap the strength of the strongest champion and squeeze the hope out of the most optimistic cheerleader. It’s a burden brought on by life that’s just too much for one person. So the Lord has charged those who follow Him to come along and help. But what do you do? “Anything you can!” is my answer!

As I reflected on some of the most painful losses of my life thus far, I can remember clearly the generous outpouring of affection. I remember very little of what was actually said to me and little of all of the specific ways people supported me, but I remember faces, expressions and tones. I remember faces that reflected a sizeable effort to intentionally enter in to an awkward and uncomfortable situation to say what amounted to “Sam, I love you and I care!” Did anyone say anything inappropriate and insensitive? Probably. Nevertheless, strangely, I don’t remember the fumbles. I do remember the efforts and cherish the memory of friends who cared enough to let me know they cared. They were there and they tried to reach me and that is what mattered most of all. One of the aspects of the various social media I truly most appreciate is the ability these media provide for us all to at least “try”. Friends who may be far away during a time of trial are still able to still engage their hurting friends by saying in effect, “Though I can’t be with you, I care!”

So as the trials come, let’s love one another and bear each others’ burdens. If you’re geographically close, be present. Go visit. Prepare a meal. Offer a listening ear. Just sit there and be a friend. And make sure to come back after the initial flood of help has died down so that you can be there when your friend is really ready to talk. If you’re far away, send that line of condolence or press like when tributes are given in honor of those who have departed. Your interaction leaves a record that can be revisited later and becomes part of a great wave of condolence whose notice just can’t be ignored. How can receiving scores of greetings and words of acknowledgement not touch a hurting heart even if just a little? And remember to respond to the email/social media mail messages that the grieving friend may leave as they begin to ask the tough questions and really begin sorting through the loss. If you’re getting a message, you’re trusted and in a significant position to offer help that is more than a token effort.

In the end, my charge to us as a community of friends – even the virtual community of which we’re now a part - is to keep taking the time to be involved. Write, message, call and visit. Keep paying attention to the victories and the losses. Take the time to make a difference and to hold each other up when the weight of life just brings us to the brink of breaking. “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Until next time…


Saturday, March 24, 2012

How Do You Say Something Meaningful in Harsh and Confusing Times?

“People moving out; People moving in; why? Because of the color of their skin! Run! Run! Run! ‘Cause you sure can’t hide!” A funky thumping base line and those super-charged words introduce one of my favorite Temptation tunes, “Ball of Confusion – That’s What the World is Today!” The state of the world hasn’t changed. In spite of noble attempts at a Great Society, A Peace and Love Revolution, D├ętente, A Moral Majority, Sinai Peace Treaties, Racial Reconciliation Movements, all sorts of liberation movements, and endless seminars, consortiums and think tanks, our societal problems and challenges seem as daunting as ever. We continue to deal with a multitude of issues as significant as any we’ve ever faced in our history: wars that seemed to make sense when we started them but whose purposes are now much more difficult to grasp and explain. Economic stresses loom ominously on the horizon, growing divides in complex and unsettling to ways. Decades after sweeping Civil Rights legislation, racial struggles continue to plague us, leaving us with the residue of clumsy political correctness and placing us on the threshold of violent upheavals as some of our chance encounters still end in inexplicable conflict and even death!

Having been made in God’s image, God has given us a basic understanding of right and wrong, good and evil. It is not that we don’t know how to behave; we know how to do “The Right Thing”. Nevertheless, our sinful and rebellious nature against God drags us downward and bends us towards ungodliness in every conceivable way. In a world that longs for unity, division persists as a stubborn reality. In a society desperate for civility, hostility clings to us without relief. Not even our technology helps us. Utilizing the amazing medium of internet communication, people who would politely greet you on the street in passing, effortlessly engage in scathing and often demeaning banter behind the safety of a computer screen and a lack of the accountability of flesh and blood presence. It’s so easy, after all, to be an internet aggressor. I can take on the biggest bully, berate him to no end, knowing all the while that he will probably never be able to have real-world access to me in a way that will to force me to face him. We’ve become the ultimate couch potatoes. After all, it’s much easier to play Call of Duty, than it is to answer one! Perhaps that ease explains the contrast in higher military-themed video game sales to that of lower military enlistments in a time of war!

What’s the point? This real-world disengagement has fostered a laziness that has made us more prone to reduce each other to caricatures based on outlandish stereotypes than to engage each other in the complexities of reality that might actually bring about meaningful dialogue, practical solutions and positive results. I can lazily reduce my “enemy” to a label: “brainless conservative”, “godless liberal”, or any other label I might choose rather than getting up, getting involved, shaking my neighbors’ hands and getting to know them in the complexity of who they are in the real world.

This troubling trend weighs heavily on my mind as the nation tries to understand the confusion surrounding Trayvon Martin’s death. As this tragedy continues to be analyzed I feel led to remember what I am called to do as a follower of Jesus Christ. As a Christian I am called to extend grace as I pursue truth and to preserve peace as I promote justice. I am called to deal respectfully with those who do not understand me or my point of view and to put the well-being of others before the rights I myself possess. Above all, I am called to love without condition or reservation, remembering that while we were sinners and enemies against God, Jesus died for us and demonstrated the full extent of mercy, justice and grace as He suffered on the cross. As he was hated, reviled, mocked and punished he prayed; expressing forgiveness for His oppressors, mercy towards his enemies, acceptance for his detractors, support and encouragement for His friends and ultimately, victory as he gave up His spirit.

Those of us who know Christ must now devote ourselves to emulate Him with a renewed vigor as the winds of dissonance whirl around us. We must resolve to remain calm when others become flustered and to stand steady as a voice of healing and reason when others cave in to the pressures of frustration and hurt. If there is any good to come out of the tragedies of our day, it will be found in the actions of those who, like Jesus, are willing to shake off the bonds of apathy, laziness and self-centeredness to be engaged with concerned action that others might see the power of the Gospel lived out in everyday terms whether face-to-face or through social media. May God give us the ability to shine in the beauty of holiness when others fade that all who look on might see Christ in us, the Hope of Glory. Until next time…