TRUST ME

“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. (Psalm 19:1) (1)

Can anyone look upon such a morning sky and not utter a simple exclamation at its beauty?  The photo was taken by a friend of mine at his fishing cabin in up-state New York on 22 June 2020.

 God’s word tells us how He loves his creation and takes great joy in sharing it with we who are also part of His creation.

Recently my grandchildren, accompanied by their mother and others were marveling at the vast number of toads and frogs which had inundated our pond. The first, the toads who remain in the woods come to the pond one time a year for the frenzy of procreation. Just about a week later the frogs who spend most of their lives on or in the pond have their turn to invade the shallow areas of the pond and take their turn at the creation cavalcade! Thousands of tiny amphibious critters were everywhere! I couldn’t help but think of what it must have been like in Egypt so many years ago! During the week, I removed the cushion off an outside chair before the rain came and found a tiny toad sleeping peacefully between the two sections of fabric. A few days later, after the rain, I unrolled my hammock planning for a mid-day nap. Rolled up inside was an adult size toad, also enjoying a mid-day nap! I’ll be the first to admit that the beauty of the sky pictured here is thousands of times more beautiful than either of those toads or any of the hundreds my grandchildren found!

However, the complexity of their instinct: when to leave the woods, where to go, what to do and then the ‘babies’ left to fend for themselves are to find their way back to the woods at the right time and at the right place. Intelligent design? A better descriptor is Divine Creator God.

The disciples were under a great deal of pressure and Jesus was working on preparing them for their ministry. He said to them in a passage recorded by Matthew, “Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.”(2) Jesus went on to say, “But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.”(3) For some of us that is a more daunting task than others, especially given the ravages of time!

Two sparrows sold for a cent

What Jesus was trying to get them to understand was how very deeply God, the divine Creator of the universe, loves us so much. He counts every star. He has named each one of them. (4) Can we even begin to grasp how many stars there are?

Hubble Telescope view of stars

Is it likely or is it even possible that all of the stress and the hard times you may be going through now, have gone through in the past, or are yet to go through are outside God’s caring reach and His love for you?

I know what some may be thinking. If He loves me so much or cares about my need for a job, my heartache over a failed relationship, my struggle with money that runs out before the month does, my children who are struggling so hard with life or about those little ones fighting cancer and seem to be all alone, why doesn’t He just fix it?

I’m in my sixties. I’ve had a full life with lots of experiences and I’ve seen things both in police work and in ministry that I simply cannot explain outside the divine nature, the miracles of God. I hold both a Master of Ministry degree and a Doctor of Ministry degree, that’s a lot of study and, with all that, I can now share with you the best theological answer I can offer. I don’t know.

That wasn’t a lot of help, was it?

Let me share with you what God said to Job when he asked God a similar question. Job was, I suspect, dealing with more bovine bullion than probably any person in history. Not only that, according to God’s Word, Job was a righteous man. He did what God expected of him and still everything, and I mean everything, came crashing down around him. Job’s wife was so hurt, she came at Job one day and here is what the Bible reports she said. “Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die!” (5) That is a bit intense. But finally, it all got the best of Job and he let fly with his questions.

Here is what God said to Job. Let me set the stage because, I don’t know about all of you but, having God, the all-powerful, all knowing, eternal Master of the Universe speak to me one on one would be, on the average day, more than a little bit of tense! This was in what we call the Old Testament days, or the days before the Holy Spirit indwelt believers. We have much more the ability to confer with God daily as we talk to Him in prayer. No one I know, however, has had God answer back in a voice to be heard. So, what is the first thing that Job hears from God?

“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?“Now gird up your loins like a man, and I will ask you, and you instruct Me! (6)

If Job was not previously fearful in hearing directly from God, these first two sentences should have put Job in, uh-oh mode! The question and statement by God in these verses put me in mind of being in military basic training and you mess up very badly! Suddenly the DI who strangely looks exactly like R. Lee Ermey is standing over you about to do the things to you he promised he would do on Day 1 if you messed up this bad.

R. Lee Ermey – http://www.theguardian.com

“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell Me, if you [a]have understanding, “Or who enclosed the sea with doors when, bursting forth, it went out from the womb; “Have you [c]ever in your life commanded the morning, And caused the dawn to know its place, “Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades, Or loose the cords of Orion?” (7)

All of these are designed to get Job to realize he really did not understand or have any power to control anything in his life and God is the only one in control. It was not to put it in Job’s face how small he was or how little control he had. God was trying to convince Job to trust Him. Job would eventually have so many wonderful things in his life. Those new things would not replace the family he lost or erase the pain of their deaths, but still God was in control and had great things in store for Job.

God tells us in one of my favorite verses, Jeremiah 29:11

“For I know the plans that I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.”(8)

The next time you see something truly amazing in God’s creation, know that it is God whispering to you, Trust Me.

(1) Psalm 119:1 (NASB)

[2] Matthew 12:29 (NASB)

[3] Matthew 12:30 (NASB)

[4] Psalm 147:4 (NASB)

(5) Job 2:9 (NASB)

[6] Job 38:2 (NASB)

(7) Job 38:31 (NASB)

[8] Jeremiah 29:11 (NASB)

FAITH FAMILY LEGACY

FAITH FAMILY LEGACY

Not long ago, I came across photos of my son Daniel’s swearing-in ceremony as a police officer for the City of Louisville, Ohio, the same department from which I retired in 1998. Among the photos was one with my elder brother, Rodney who also spent decades working as a law enforcement officer. It was through spending time with Rod I knew I would love to spend my life, if God would allow, as a cop. Such choices are the things from which legacies are born. However, there are legacies beyond those of career paths. Such legacies are much deeper, stronger, and more life anchoring for when the harsh winds of reality blow and seek to crush your spirit.

Officer Daniel and Chief Ross Riggs

Before we venture to those which best sustain us, let’s first look at another major legacy for many, military service. Daniel is creating a 501c3. It began with his vision to help other veterans who, either through service-related injuries or the ravages of time, can no longer completely do for themselves. As a veteran with a service disability, he knows what it means to work through the therapy and be able to pursue your life’s work regardless of the injuries. Permanently scarred and with partial hearing loss, he was still able to qualify for his law enforcement officer commission. Though serving his community through the police department, he felt called to serve outside law enforcement in ways he could continue to serve others. He chose to specifically serve veterans which expanded into serving any first responders. Eventually the vision included anyone no longer capable of doing some of the basic things in life for themselves whether it is cleaning gutters, building a wheelchair ramp, installing furnace filters or just being with them during tough times. Daniel named the company Legacy of Honor stemming from the service of my father in the U.S. Navy in WWII, my USAFR service beginning in the Vietnam era and extending toward the ‘end’ of the Cold War and then his own service with the U.S. Army 82nd Airborne. Each was marked by a specific event.

My father’s ship, PC1261, was the first ship sunk on D-Day during the Normandy landings. Not, typically the kind of distinction any shipmate wanted to have. A third of the ship’s crew was lost to the cold water of the English Channel. The day I took the oath of enlistment was the day Saigon fell, again not the most auspicious of occasions. The day Daniel was taking the oath, the entire recruiting center stopped mid-ceremony to listen to the news that Osama Bin Laden had been taken out by U.S. special forces. The place erupted in cheers. Such events are a part of legacies. But still there is something much deeper and certainly less commonly noted, on the other side of the coin with family legacies.

There was a poem about a father handing his son his family name, unsoiled from the previous generations now his to carry and keep for his own son someday. It makes for a great poem but anyone who believes there are perfect families, unspoiled legacies, and fairytale endings of happily ever after either ignores reality or seeks to rewrite it. The title of this piece is Faith Family Legacy and it is written with a specific order in mind.

My father shared his faith in Christ with his sons the only way he knew how. Not open for heartfelt talks, my dad shared things by his actions. His love of Christ was evident and even stories I heard as a kid when we would attend a PC1261 survivors’ reunions reinforced the Christian walk our dad professed.

As a dad, I shared my faith in Christ with my children and even though they saw first-hand an imperfect man who failed them at times, leaving each their own scars; they saw someone who was carried by God’s grace many more times than once. Each of our children have professed faith in Christ and the glory in such a wondrous chain of events affirms the Holy Spirit acting in their lives and I praise God for His work in them. Now our prayers are for the Holy Spirit to continue to work in the lives of the next generation. Already three of our twelve grandchildren have committed to ask Christ to save them and to lead them throughout their life journey. Passing along faith, as in accepting Christ as Savior and depending on God for every day, knowing that nothing is out of His control is a faith legacy.

It has taken decades, over six of them to be exact, to begin to learn that family legacies are not about perfect families, noble deeds done in view of the world or what your job title is. The more families I get to know deeply, the more obvious it is there is no perfect family. Every individual has their own warts and every family has struggles and victories, painful times, and joy. Life is a mixed bag. Forest Gump is quoted as saying, ‘Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get.’ Some families’ boxes have more nuts in them than others!

Courtesy RSNhope.org, Amanda Ratz

A movie my wife and I watched the other day reminded me that life is never guaranteed. One day we will exit it, that is the one certain thing. What legacy will any of us leave behind? As much as I appreciate what Daniel is doing for veterans and the military and police legacies, each of my children are creating legacies of their own in the professional world. Allow me to list them. The work Heidi is doing as a nurse and in the medical management world, all that Sarah is doing in helping individuals prepare for their financial futures,  the career Suzanne has in traffic safety and more, and Cyd as an amazing care-giver, teacher and advocate where her love shines through in everything she does, each is a legacy of its own. Every opportunity through which we help someone else can make an impact for Christ’s kingdom. I am so proud of each of them. Every job or role we have in life can be, and should be, a ministry for Christ.

The legacy which begins with a gift to every parent is the one we have for our children and grandchildren in helping them develop their own faith in Christ. The Bible makes it clear that each child belongs to God. They are His and He has entrusted them to us for a season to raise them ‘in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.’ The Bible records Christ’s own childhood as He grew in wisdom and stature and favor with God and man.  

Faith is what God also gifts to us and He will provide it in as much an abundance as we need. Perhaps you may remember the story of the widow who came to Elisha because she had only a little oil left and was about to starve. (2 Kings 4) He instructed her to get as many pots as she could find, borrow pots from other and just bring every pot she could. Then, she was to begin pouring what oil she had left into one of the posts. She kept pouring and pouring and the oil just kept flowing. When her last pot was full, the oil stopped. Had she gotten more pots; she would have received more. We can have as much faith as we will take. God is willing to give us faith with which we can move mountains, but we must believe! Belief is also a gift from God. In fact, there is nothing we can possibly have in this world which is not gifted to us by God. Your next breath would not come if God said, ‘No more.’

Paul wrote, “These three remain, Faith, Hope and Love, the greatest of these is love.” Faith without love is not faith. Hope without faith and love is hopeless.

Recently, I walked past a young man, probably in his twenties. He was wearing a leather jacket emblazoned on the back were these words encircling a satanic star. “I pledge allegiance to me” “I am the master of my fate” “I am god” and several more. At this point, my best option is to pray for that young man, though I do not know his name, God does. This man would tell you he has faith; but that faith is in himself. If he has a family, this man is creating a legacy which leads to destruction. What a horrific thought and how it compels me to pray not just for him but for his children, if he has any.  

The legacy we leave when it is our turn to slip the surly bonds of earth, as John G. Magee Jr. wrote, what remains behind whether for good or bad, will be our legacy. Having worked many funerals as part of a previous employment, it was easy to see through the service and those who attended, and even the feel of the service what kind of legacy was left behind.

Take the time today to consider your legacy. It isn’t about having the perfect family, the best job, the most money. It is about those around you having been shown through your life, the love of Christ. No, we aren’t perfect. and we will screw things up. Yes, we all have baggage from the past we really need to shed before moving on. We do not know when our ability to keep writing on our legacy will come to an end. Let us commit to making sure the draft copy is worth publishing when we can revise it no more.

STILL

Every once in a great while a song comes along that touches you right down to the deepest part of your soul.

This song is one of those. It was passsed to me with a comment that it is new and that some stations are refusing to play it. Unfortunately, I wasn’t told who the artists are but, still, it is absolutely wonderful.

In His word, God tells us to be still and in that stillness, get to know Him. In the song, the word still is used with the contextual definition of as in the past, so now in the present, with hope it will remain so in the future. I would love for you to listen to this song and consider the word still both ways as you consider what God might add to this piece.

Please feel free to share this if you like!

God bless!

WHOSE FAITH?

Have you been a Christian for a long time and yet, it seems the hard times of the world still weigh you down? Do you begin to think, ‘What kind of a Christian am I?’ ‘Why can’t I just sing through the tough times and trust?’ ‘Maybe my faith isn’t strong enough.’

Guess what! You’re right!  Your faith isn’t strong enough. Neither is mine or, as far as I know, anyone else’s! How’s that for ‘good news’?

I just watched a live broadcast where Pastor Brannon and Ryan Ervin of the North Canton Chapel (Ohio) taught a Bible study on Galatians chapter 2 that talks about salvation by faith alone. That is a great bit of news for anyone who needs to come to know Christ as Savior.

But you, you’ve been a growing Christian for a bunch of years and you have been to Bible studies and retreats, you’re sure of your salvation but that nagging question of the strength of your faith when the storms really hit won’t let you sleep at night. When cancer comes to call on someone close to you or, God forbid, to you, how’s faith fit in? You’ve prayed for that small child in Romania for months as he has endured surgery after surgery and his parents buried him last week. Faith? Your job is gone. The virus panic and the quarantine has dropped the bottom out of the market and your retirement is down to about where you started with it. How’s faith deal with that? Your marriage seems to get harder every year rather than easier like you expected and your kids are grown but their problems are now adult size and you long to help but you stare at the sky wondering if God hears. Whose faith is strong enough for this reality we call life?

It all comes down to a two-letter word. A small preposition, in the Greek, the original language of the New Testament, it is ev. It can be translated several ways and is used in the New Testament 2801 times. Most times it is translated ‘in’ but it is also properly translated ‘of’. Why does that matter to you? To me? Let me explain.

A couple of verses are critical to understanding why we need not beat ourselves up because we have weak faith. We want to strengthen it, sure; but God knows and there’s more to the story of faith. Take a look at the passage in Galatians 2:21 Here’s the NIV translation: “ I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” The ev I want you to look at is bolded and underlined. “In” is an appropriate translation but look how it is also correctly translated in the King James text.  20 I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” Again, I bolded and underlined the ev.

What’s the difference and why is it important to you in your struggle? Remember, both can be correct. Since we only know what the Greek word used was but we don’t know exactly the inference Paul meant, ‘of’ or ‘in’ we have to look elsewhere for clarity.

First though, notice the difference. In the first translation the reader is living his life in the flesh “by faith in the Son of God” – PLEASE don’t misread me. That is not a bad thing, that is exactly where our faith should be focused. But, in the second translation, the reader is living his life in the flesh by the faith of the Son of God. That is, he is living it by Christ’s faith which is never weak. It is never not enough. It never fails. So,  you don’t need to fret that your faith is too weak. Even though it is, you can take hope in the fact that you can live your life in the strength of Christ’s faith not yours!

How can I be dogmatic about that since very few translations read it that way? First, it is an acceptable translation of ev. Second, remember I wrote that we would look at other evidence. That is where Ephesians 2:8 comes in to play. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,” If you diagram that sentence like we did in seminary, you find that the ‘gift of God’ is faith. The faith we depend on is not ours it is God’s unrelenting, unfailing faith. When we run low, we can recharge. The Bible is replete with passages underscoring God’s gracious giving to those who ask according to His will. He wants you to have faith in Him. He wants your faith to grow! He gives faith, He gives grace.

May these few words encourage you and help to strengthen your daily walk.

Line of Duty

Keep building your foundation, keep strengthening to be survival strong, keep training, keep practicing and preparing, and NEVER FOLD.”

How wide is the Line? How straight the path? What is it within a person driving them to take an oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution, to uphold the laws of the city, county or state for which they serve? For so many, it is a dream of a lifetime to someday become part of the Thin Blue Line. Just last summer, Natalie Corona fulfilled a lifetime dream of receiving her commission as a police officer for the City of Davis in California and on January 10, 2019, Officer Corona was gunned down while responding to a traffic crash.  She had told her father, before attending the police academy, “Dad, this is what I want to do.” Her father is a retired Colusa County Sheriff’s Deputy. No doubt her Dad is asking the same question  many retired law enforcement officers ask themselves each time another officer is killed in the line of duty. Why them? Why not me?

No doubt, most every retired police officer has faced a share of hard times, even wounds and some debilitating injuries. This author is one of those who has shared in instances where life was on the line and has scars and pain to remind me of the good ol’ days. I survived. I lived long enough to be able to complain about the pension fund and look with envy upon the young officers who are now walking the Line, praying for them daily because the threats are real, and the Line is narrow. I fulfilled my early life’s dream to be a police officer like my oldest brother and I have seen, now, my son pin on the badge. How the Line will fare for him, only the Lord knows and thankfully, my son trusts in Christ’s capable hands.

Each year, as the number of law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty increases, there are thousands of officers who bend their knees in prayer to ask the Lord’s grace upon the families and department for each one. The Lord knows when every sparrow falls and, so much more, when servants of the public lay down their lives. Christ spoke highly of those who lay down their lives for others.

Recently, I wrote an article titled Survival Strong which I hope will appear soon in the POFCI magazine. In that article, I wrote:

“I can also assure you of two things. First, God sees everything that you do in His Name. Second, He will reward you for it some day in the not too far distant future. Keep building your foundation, keep strengthening to be survival strong, keep training, keep practicing and preparing, and NEVER FOLD.”

Again, to the family of Natalie Corona and the Davis Police Department, I send our prayers and deepest sympathies. To Natalie’s father, I give the assurance of Scripture when Jesus says, “No greater love has any man than this that he lay down his life for a friend.” May she be remembered always for her zeal and dedication to law enforcement. Would it be Natalie’s would be the last line of duty death for 2019, though we know such is not to be.

May God bless each and every officer and keep them safe, trusting in the strength of Christ.

Clouds on the horizon create a reminder of the Thin Blue Line
Photo by Daniel W. Riggs, used by permission from “Stretching the Thin Blue Line: Policing America in Times of Heightened Threat”

A “Child-like” Faith

Dr. Ross L. Riggs

Few times in my adult life have I been truly afraid. In most every circumstance, I was afraid for someone that I loved. I’m not certain of any specific time when I was afraid of what would happen to me, particularly in a physical way. I might suggest, too, I’m not particularly courageous. It is not because I am a strong man who is never afraid of anything. It is more because, unlike many of my brothers in the emergency services and very much unlike those serving in the front lines of our military in combat zones; I have seldom been placed in a predicament that might cost me my life. Don’t get me wrong, in all my years in police work, I had threats, and guns or knives used against me and more than a few fights; some which, for a time, we weren’t sure who was winning. There was one time, in such a fight, that I awoke from unconsciousness, face down on a brick road and my first thought was, ‘If I don’t get up I am going to die’ Still, I don’t remember being scared, just aware of my circumstances. Once or twice, as a volunteer firefighter, on the end of a hose crawling through black smoke, unable to see, all I could do was feel my way and feel the intense heat around me… that was orifice puckering, without a doubt. Usually, though, it was after the incident, when there was time to contemplate what might have happened, then there was time to be afraid.

John Wayne is quoted as saying, “Courage is being scared to death and saddling up anyway.” Probably, if I had to stand in the open door of a C130 cargo plane, attached to a line to parachute out the door, I would probably be more afraid of that than anything else I can imagine (unless it involves a pit full of snakes in the dark…)  My son, Daniel, was in the U.S. Army Airborne and he loved the thrill of jumping. I would probably squeal like a little girl all the way out the door! daniel 325 1st brigade red falcons hhcAgain, John Wayne, in the movie, The Green Beret, spoke to a South Vietnamese colonel about parachuting. He said, “The first one is easy. It’s the second one that is hard to get them to make.”

Fear and courage are perhaps two sides of the same coin. In the Bible, there are several references to mighty men of valor. In the Chronicles and the books of First and Second Kings, we read of David’s army and men within those ranks that were such men. There were many who were very highly praised for their valor; but, only a select few attained to the highest rankings of the Mighty Men. At one point, outside the enemy’s camp, David spoke of desiring water from the well that was within the enemy’s headquarters. Unbeknownst to David, three of the ‘Mighty Men’ secreted their way into the enemy camp and obtained the water for their King. Upon their return, David learned of their honoring his request. He refused to drink the water, and said it was now of such value because of the risk the men took, all he could do was to offer it up to God as a sacrifice. The Mighty Men of Valor were more devoted to honoring their King than they were concerned about their own safety. They also, had a pretty strong belief in their ability to pull off the daring deed successfully. Did they experience fear? If they did not feel fear, could they truly have been courageous?

Can one exhibit courage unless it stands over the fear which seeks to overwhelm the man of valor? Courage from faith comes when one has gone through life-threatening scenarios because of one’s profession; even though, at the time, the adrenalin and training was enough to keep a person reacting.  Then, afterwards, to realize how fearful a thing it was through which they have come; to don the uniform again and go back at it, night after night; is what The Duke meant by, ‘saddling up anyway.’ A similar courage is found in the spouse of that person who, night after night, pats their loved one’s chest to make sure the one they love is wearing a vest; and then watches them walk out that door. Saddling up, also, is the soldier’s wife, a thousand miles away, as she says a prayer with her children for their daddy; kisses their foreheads and assures them, “Daddy is just fine, now go to sleep. He’ll be home as soon as he can.” She goes to her room then, and prays herself to sleep.

Perhaps some of the bravest people I have met are children. I have witnessed more courage by children in a hospital setting than anywhere else I have been. I volunteered with my dog, Gunner, at Akron Children’s Hospital. In the burn ward, on the cancer floor, awaiting surgery or overcoming an amputated limb, these are some of the most resilient and most tenacious; some of the strongest yet most fragile people I have ever met. The common ingredient among them… faith. Gunner at ACH.JPG

Many I met had a faith in God and in Jesus Christ. Many more weren’t sure about any theology, they just knew that Jesus loved them. Even though they did not understand why Jesus or God would allow them to be like they were, they just knew that Jesus loved them and was going to make sure they were Okay, even if that meant dying and going to heaven. That was the other thing they were sure of too, their place in heaven. That doesn’t mean there were not questions and doubts; fear and tears. At the end of the day, though, the children taught the adults around them great lessons in faith. Just knowing that Jesus would do what He said He would do; was enough for them! That is what Jesus was talking about when He said we must come to Him in childlike faith.

Childlike faith does not mean we blindly accept whatever comes our way with no depth of understanding. The Old Testament tells of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego; three Jewish young men, taken captive and living as officials to the king in the palace, with faith as strong as a child. Refusing to bow in homage to the king in worship of his likeness, they were sentenced to be thrown alive into a super-heated furnace. Knowing the furnace would be certain death, they boldly told the king how certain they were, even if their God did not save them from the fire, He was still God; and everything would be Okay. They understood death was imminent, still they knew following what they believed to be God’s will for them was more important than what they might endure physically.

I come up against a misapplication of this theology at times when I speak to missionaries and others in similar service about contingency planning. Too often, there is an almost frivolous God will take care of it attitude and I make the case in my thesis: In Times of Risk, Developing Contingency Plans for Missionary Sending Churches and Agencies, which is available through Summit University, Richard J. Murphy Library, Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania. The Bible is replete with great examples of God-ordained contingency planning. Nehemiah is probably one of the clearest examples. One man works while another holds a spear and each works nearest their home to protect it also.

One particularly obstinate opponent to contingency planning, a former head of an international missionary sending agency, completely disagreed with my statement on martyrs for the faith. Often, we eulogize men and women who died while serving in a ministry capacity as martyrs when, in fact, they may have also have lived, Lord-willing by simple choices and planning. Sometimes, they could have stayed alive by just learning when to remain quiet. God knows, and I don’t judge; but, I also do not step in front of an on-coming training saying that God will protect me and if I die it must be His will! The Bible does teach, I believe, that God knows, from before we are born, the day that we will die. Because He knows we will die that day, stepping in front of that train, doesn’t necessarily mean it was His will for us to have done it! As a police officer, I always wore a bullet-proof vest and when driving, my seatbelt. Does that mean I did not have enough faith in God to protect me? No! It means I used the tools provided to me and the common-sense God endowed with me to be cautious.

Faith, the faith of a child, knows God will do what He says He will do. Such faith is what moves mountains. I can only echo the statement of the father of the little boy to Jesus.  When Jesus asked him if he believed, Mark 9:24 recounts the father’s desperate cry: “Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, ‘Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!’”

Man praying
Photo courtesy of How Crying Saved My Life by Marliza Gunter, HubPages

When Life Doesn’t Fit

God is NOT in the box business! He does not build them and because He has not constructed your box, it is also NOT His responsibility that its construction is of shoddy workmanship or that it was built to specifications that are NOT His!

 

Have you ever had times when, no matter how hard you try, you simply cannot make life fit into that perfect little box you have been constructing all your life? You know the box I’m talking about. Your parents and even your grandparents probably helped you build it. Certainly, in today’s world, the media helps you build it. Back in my day, shows like Father Knows Best, Leave It to Beaver and a dozen more fantasy television shows built the box that most of us in our WASP worlds saw as normal family life. Movies showed us patriotism and that things ALWAYS worked out happily ever after in the end. Even when you fall off a 150-foot cliff and an anvil slams down on top of you, you will be just fine; at least if you are Wile E. Coyote.

If you went to the kind of church many of us did, you also had neatly tucked into the back of your mind the list of Do’s and Don’ts that make for good people. Some churches would even give you a box to keep that list in! There was a definite line between good and evil. Such things were black and white. Why else would the good guys on the late-night westerns always wear a white hat and the bad guys a black one? It was all part of our box that we had so carefully constructed. We couldn’t even consider that our boxes could be made to come apart.

Is there a certain amount of pressure that, when applied to the box, makes things fit the way they should? Can that unknown amount of pressure cause the box to go flying into a gazillion pieces across the room?

It is difficult enough when the box you have with things sticking out in all directions that is starting to come apart is your own; but, what if that box you had built was one you had constructed for your child? You know, that precious wonderful child of yours, no matter what age, that you love more than life itself… you have in your mind, in your heart really, as to how their life will be so much more comfortable, less stressful, less hurtful than yours was and that all their wondrous dreams will come true. That is the special box you have built for them. Then, for what seems like no fair reason, nothing is fitting in that box. Your heart is absolutely crushed as you see your child now faced with a life that is nothing like you would like it to be. Sometimes, maybe it is because of their own bad choices; yet so often, it is because of someone else’s hurtful actions. Boxes can also be smashed by something even more difficult to get a handle on, a vicious disease that has grabbed hold of your child, sending your box careening across the room.box

Whenever our boxes get busted, there is a great tendency to blame just about everyone, including God. It took quite a bit of time for me to work through how my own box just couldn’t possibly hold all of what I expected life was supposed hold. I finally learned that much of what I thought was supposed to be in my box was just completely unrealistic, too much Loonie Toons and not enough 60 Minutes. Now that I’m pushing the door open on my sixth decade, I know that a portion the box busting was because of my own bad choices along the way too, although at the time I wouldn’t have seen it.

What about those times when your box starts breaking apart and it is because of the horrific actions of another? Is it better when there is someone to blame? Is it worse when there is just an organism or a genetic anomaly to blame and not a person? Does God take the heat even more when what appears as such a senseless hurt has no one at which to point your finger?

Certainly, there can be very real times when the grief caused by the bursting of one’s life expectations is the result of the sin or evil actions of another. Not a day goes by when there isn’t a crime committed by a person with no regard for life, whether his or another’s. The multiple boxes that can be shattered by that one person’s actions can result in a firestorm of anger and resentment and some of that will still be shoved on God. We shake our fist or scream out at God and demand to know why He allowed such hurt.

As I have studied the wondrous Scriptures with this question in mind, I have come up with one very profound truth. To be quite self-asserting, I don’t know that any student of the Bible, any theologian, great preacher or teacher of the holy book has ever found this particular bit of wisdom, at least not in the way I have discovered it! (Okay, I said all of that just to whet your appetite for what I am about to share… even Solomon once said there is nothing new under the sun!)

When we are ready to demand from God why He would so destroy our boxes, the truth that the Bible will make clear to us is: God is NOT in the box business! He does not build them and because He has not constructed your box, it is also NOT His responsibility that its construction is of shoddy workmanship or that it was built to specifications that are NOT His! It is true that Jesus was a carpenter, a very well-trained one to be sure. It is also true that He is the master creator of everything. God’s Word tells us in the book of John that without Him nothing was made that was made!

God doesn’t build boxes and He doesn’t design boxes either. People who are big on ‘RELIGION’ like to believe that their boxes are uniquely designed by God to make certain that His people do church the one right way. They are mistaken. One box may be three hymns and an offering or a sermon with three points and a prayer. Another box may be candles in the corners and censers flying in all directions while a low voice mumbles a liturgy that no one can hear and, even if they did, they wouldn’t understand a word of it because it is in Latin! Boxes like those into which people have stuffed their religion are usually rectangular and have a lid. It’s appropriate that they resemble a coffin.

God did provide us with a framework for how He would have us to live out our lives here and even about how to do church. The base boards are these: Love the Lord your God all your heart, soul, and mind and your neighbor as yourself.  That’s for us as we seek to live in community with one another. As to how we are to pattern ourselves individually to please God, He gave us three side boards. They are: Do Justice, Love Mercy, Walk Humbly with God. Then when it came to being useful as a Church body, He gave us two great handles for us to hold: Baptism and Communion. Finally, God knew that the living of life and the doing of church would often require us to bear some burdens, our own and one another’s; so, to the framework He gave us he added an axle by telling us to ‘GO’ and He added two wheels, evangelism and discipleship.

If LIFE doesn’t FIT in your BOX, try Christ’s push-cart instead.pushcart

 

On a Scale

We have all been asked that question in some form or another… On a scale from 1 to 10 how would you rate…? In 1978, I received my first collegiate ring. With a stone of deep blue, it was crested on its center with the scales of justice, reflective of my degree in criminal justice. The scale of justice is held high in the one hand of Lady Justice, who is blindfolded and carrying a sword in her other hand. Blind to preference, to position, status, race or creed, wealth or poverty; she remains in our history as a noble representative of what our system of justice should be. I know many noble minded persons who have dedicated their lives to being certain that the scales of justice are, in fact, balanced before the weight of true and tested evidence can be brought before determiners of guilt or innocence. Her shelforiginal name in the Latin is Justitia, the Roman goddess of justice and she is often accompanied by Prudentia the goddess whose name is contracted from providentia the ability to see the future as a sage might discern how best to proceed.  Representing the ideal of governing and disciplining oneself by reason, Prudentia’s accoutrements of a mirror and a snake allude to careful reflection and caution in moving forward. The Greek’s, whose gods and goddesses aligned with most of the Roman’s, called Prudentia ϕρονησιϛ (https://fellowshipoftheminds.com/tag/prudence-latin-prudentia) which is now usually translated as practical wisdom or rational choice. Together the pair would call for a careful weighing of all evidence upon the merits of each, alone and then choosing the best course for discipline.

What brought me to consider Lady Justice was a set of the scales of justice which I own. I was looking over a few items that adorn the library area of my study when it caught my eye. There sits, front and center the scales of justice and above it is the American and Christian flags, two symbols of my heritage, my faith, and my loyalty. Immediately to the left of the American flag is a copy of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Immediately to the right of the Christian flag is a Bible from my father, which was given to him by a military chaplain, as he was recovering from wounds received when his ship was sunk off the coast of Normandy, June 6, 1944. Also there, among a few of the memories of my police and military service, stand three American Eagles from a larger set. These three are titled, “Courage Honor Sacrifice”, “Never Surrender” and “Never Forget”. The trio set the tone for what this small display means to me.

Among the books visible in the photograph are ones from the Ohio Retired Police Chiefs’ Association, a book from my time at the FBI National Academy and a book from my basic training days with the United States Air Force. More than my article or the information about me inside these books, each reminds me of people that reflect the titles carried by the three eagle sculptures.

Two retired chiefs, one who was gone before the Ohio Retired Police Chiefs Association was born and another who has been the heartbeat of the organization and the motivation behind many of my writings on honor within our ranks. They represent well Courage, Honor, Sacrifice. One was Chief George Ziga of the Alliance, Ohio Police Department and the other Chief Marion Taylor of the North Olmsted, Ohio Police Department. Near death, Chief Ziga admonished me, a young chief then, to stay true to my God, my values, my family and my profession. Anyone who ever knew Chief Ziga would tell you he represented the model for each of those objectives. Knowing Chief Taylor, his professionalism is informed by his Christian faith.

From the NA came a man, an FBI Special Agent, that I got to know while he was an instructor at Quantico. Now, a plaque and an annual service award commemorate his service which ended while on special assignment in Bosnia-Herzegovina during the war in the mid-1990’s; less than ten years since I first met Livio A. Beccaccio. He is the epitome of Never Surrender. The award named for him is inscribed as follows: “The Livio A. Beccaccio Award is a living memorial presented to a FBI National Academy Associate member who has demonstrated exemplary character through an act of heroism, outstanding community service, innovation in law enforcement, or leadership reflective of that by which FBI Special Agent Livio A. Beccaccio lived.”

(http://www.fbinaa.org/FBINAA/About_Us/Awards___Scholarships/FBINAA/Members_Only/Awards_and_Scholarships.aspx?hkey=0346bbf8-a0ce-4a5b-87cc-65f5ffb87148)

Finally, from my days at Lackland AFB, San Antonio, Texas, at the tail-end of the Vietnam War, a SSgt who took on a rag-tag flight of trainees, who had been to hell and back with our first TI who suffered severely with PTSD in the days of Vietnam when such a diagnosis was unknown. He was likely tagged as ‘shell shocked sergeant’ who probably never received any help. Our second TI, SSgt Gillam was a man of character and morals who knew his own true north. He took us from not knowing which end of the rifle the bullets exited to men prepared to move on in training and ready to head into harm’s way, if so ordered. He had seen and understood the cost of Vietnam and he stands strong as a model airman to never forget our POWs & MIAs, all our veterans, but particularly those from Vietnam; nor would SSgt. Gillam ever expect us to forget 9-11. Four men who represent the strength of the U.S.A.’s justice.

The bedrock of our criminal justice system, here in America, rests upon the scales of Lady Justice. Our honor is passed as a torch from those chiefs who took their oath with their hand upon the Bible and their hearts indwelt by the God of that Bible. Our freedom comes from the sacrifices like Livio Beccaccio, thousands of other fallen officers and even more men and women who don the shield every day and stand that thin blue line. Our heritage is passed to our next generations when we remember those who fought valiantly on foreign shores and here at home to keep the flag of America flying high.

Just as the banner of red and white stripes and shining white stars on a field of blue continue to fly and represent the most blessed nation on the face of the Earth, so too must our faith in the One Lord God who made us One in Him, compel us to live by faith and not by sight. We will always know times of trouble in our land and often they come from our own actions or our failure to act. But we, as citizens of America and saints of the Kingdom of God can know that Christ has already won the final victory. He calls us to remain faithful to our calling and to take up our cross and follow Him!

I know that there isn’t some fantasy goddess who holds the scales of justice in her hands. God’s Word informs me that it is Christ who brings justice. Isaiah prophesied and Matthew recorded Jesus quoting the prophet, ““Behold! My Servant whom I have chosen, My Beloved in whom My soul is well pleased! I will put My Spirit upon Him, and He will declare justice to the Gentiles.” (Matthew 12:18 NKJV) Speaking of the role of police officers, Jesus also said, “For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil.” (Romans 13:4 NKJV)

It should be no wonder to us that, as I thought about those items on my shelf, those men came to mind in such a context. Each one of them were men of faith. They lived out remarkable witnesses because of that faith. Not one would claim any greatness on his own and certainly none would lay any claim to being anything apart from what they are within the Lord.

Law enforcement today is much maligned by the liberal media. Christians are too. Both are in good company since Christ, Himself, was counted among the criminals, scoffed at, beaten and abused. In America, the system may not be perfect, still though, the admonition of John Adams, a founding father and president concerning our legal system is upheld. “Better that ten guilty men go free than one innocent man convicted.” The scales of justice balance out pretty well. Compared to other places I have seen firsthand, I’m proud to live and have served in America’s criminal justice system where restoration is possible for those who choose wisely. Likewise, for those who choose unwisely, there are consequences. On a scale of 1 to 10… I’ll score a ten that I’d rather be tried for something I’ve been alleged to do here in the United States than anywhere else in the world. I praise God that my life and my family are under the protection of American police officers and I thank Him daily for every single one of them and pray for their safety.

 

UNPINNED REVISITED

Sometime back I began a post that I titled, ‘Unpinned’. It was a reference to those of us who have retired from law enforcement. I realized this evening that I never finished that post. Allow me to begin again. Here are the first lines from the long ago post that never posted…

I have been connected, as most of you that have been following my writing for any period of time know, for several decades with law enforcement. It has been very difficult to ever see myself as ever truly separated from it. I have written, in times past, under the blog title of “Unpinned” which carried the picture of a badge with the pin open. My argument is that for those of us who are retired, the badge may be unpinned but it is never gone. You hear, at times, that there is no such thing as an ex-Marine and I think, for those who truly bleed blue as a life-long law enforcement officer, it is as true. That can have positive and negative consequences and it remains always for those who have such a dedication to their given profession, (many of us would use the term calling), to keep in a healthy balance family life and the job.

Even as I write this, my son is on patrol on midnight shift for the department from which I retired as Chief. I see, in him and in the comradery he has with the other cops (as well as some of the frustrations that come) quite a bit of myself so many years ago. However, he is going into the crucible of public police work in a much different era than I. When I began, America was just post-Vietnam. I was one of the last to enter the military during the time designated, the Vietnam Era. There was plenty of social unrest; but, it was mostly name calling and rock throwing. Today, it is assassinations from snipers at multiple locations without mercy.

Most of the retired – unpinned – cops I know still carry their credentials and with thanks to the H.W. Bush Administration, their firearms under the Law Enforcement Officer Safety Act. We maintain our regular qualification at the same standards of officers working the streets. The retirees I know would stop to help an officer in trouble without a second thought for their own safety. Some might say that such retirees are not just unpinned, they’re unhinged! That may be more true than we want to admit! The inexplicable bond that comes from such a shared experience of law enforcement cannot be severed by time, age or distance. Many retirees may have angst toward the system which they left; but, never would they permit a brother officer to stand alone if they were in any way capable of standing with them… and when I use the term brother that is neutral to sex and determined only by the blue blood that courses through the veins.

This is a time when such a brotherhood must band together. At the same time, it must not erect a fortress wall against every citizen because there are armies of citizens who support that for which cops stand and are prepared to link arm-in-arm with them to keep the thin blue line resilient and strong. In my upcoming book, I use the term stretching the thin blue line for the way in which supportive citizens and the blue officers can stand as a force against evil and defy those who would seek to terrorize our homes.

Our local church now has a hired off-duty law enforcement officer at each service. Men of the church have dedicated themselves to meet with whichever officer happens to have the duty and before the day begins to pray with him. They pray for his safety, for the church, for his family and the community. Not once has the offer to pray been declined; but, every time it has been appreciated.

A local Christian university has just begun a four-year degree program in criminal justice. There is no better time for men and women studying to enter law enforcement or to improve their knowledge while in the career to receive such training from a faith-based, biblical standpoint. If you have never questioned and studied why you believe what you believe, you will believe anything. A bumper sticker bit of wisdom says that if you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything! An unexamined faith will never grow and the days in which police officers are now doing battle with the forces of evil requires a vibrant and burgeoning faith. Such a faith does not recoil for political correctness and as the Apostle Paul admonished, it does not grow weary in doing good.

If ever there was a time of vibrant opportunity for seasoned and retired law enforcement officers, who are men and women of faith, to take a hand in helping to nurture and challenge these current officers, it is now. America needs law enforcement officers who understand their work to be more than a calling. It is a ministry, God-given and God-blessed. Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called sons of God.” (Matthew 5:9 NKJV) Law enforcement officers walk every day and night along the thin line that touches evil on every point yet also touches goodness at corresponding points. To live within such a tension requires a strong faith in something. Most, who do know have a personal relationship with Christ Jesus, would struggle to define what it is that founds their faith except that they know there is something greater than themselves which is holding that line taut. It is little wonder, though, that when Jesus met a Gentile man of whom He declared had greater faith than any of the nation of Israel, that man was a 1st Century Roman police officer, a Centurion. (Matthew 8:10) Today is a day when America needs New Centurions of Faith. Thankfully, there are multitudes of them on the streets this very night holding strong in the battle against evil. If you have not prayed for them lately, please pray for them now. If you have not spoken to one lately and told them you support them, commit to doing so today and, if you have never asked a police officer if you can pray for him or her, I challenge you to do so. You will be overwhelmed by the response you receive.

On the back of my motorcycle helmet is a shield with a blue line through a field of black. It says, ‘to some this is just a thin blue line… to others it is a family crest.’ I may be unpinned. My family may even tell you that I’m unhinged. One thing I’m certain of and that is my Christ is who saw me through my career, even when I did not acknowledge Him and He stands ready to carry the next generation of cops to the end of their tours of duty, in whatever way that may come. I would ask every retired cop, who has faith in Christ, to join me in a strong commitment to do whatever it takes to uphold these new centurions in prayer each and every day.

 

Beautiful People

Over the years, I have had occasion to go under light anesthesia a few times when my wife, who is a physician, would be standing nearby. I usually requested of her to report to me afterward if I said anything untold while I was under the effect of the drugs. I never wanted to have anything I say while not in control of my faculties to dishonor Christ, embarrass my family or disparage anyone; particularly the doctor who was probably holding a very sharp scalpel! Thus far the reports have been favorable. There is always a possibility, I believe, when our inhibitions are lowered and our natural defenses are removed, we may speak that what may or may not reflect our true self by our words. Perhaps it is more likely that under the influence of drugs, our subconscious finds the freedom to wag our tongues. In any event, I am thankful that God has put a muzzle across my mouth thus far!

I have been told that I can, under the effect of serious pain killers, tell a pretty funny story or two! During one such episode. I recounted to my visiting cop friends that we were going to do a raid on the local middle school. Inasmuch as I was retired at the time of this particular story, it made even less sense. My visitors did get a good laugh out of it, so the medicine was not wasted!

Very recently, I had the honor of visiting a dear friend of mine who soon will be in the presence of his Lord. He has been around for a few years. In fact, if his promotion to heaven would be delayed by a bit longer, he would have soon reached his centennial celebration of life! God has other plans for him though, it seems, and soon he will be reunited with his wife of more than sixty years. What a tri-partite meeting that will be!

The reason I mention my friend is that, when I visited him, he had been in such pain that Hospice had upped his pain medication and he was not inhibited in what he decided to share with us. One might well imagine that being near death, having been in agonizing pain for some time and being unable to do even the most basic things for himself, that he would have more than a few things to complain about. Not my friend.

Upon seeing my wife and I enter his small apartment, my friend reached out his hand to take hold of mine. He began to repeat slowly, while looking at Karin and I, “beautiful people.” Now, anyone who knows us, beautiful is an adjective that can describe Karin; but that is not a descriptor that is usually used when describing my mug! I know, though, that my friend was alluding to something much deeper than our physical appearance. To him, our coming to see him, to show that we care for him and love him reaffirms in his mind that we are lovely and he wanted us to know how much he appreciated us. Even in his heavily sedated mind-set; his thoughts were of others and not of himself. That isn’t surprising because that is the way he always has been.

I am thankful for being permitted to know him and his wife for a good number of years and my friend has always been so very interested in others. He is so very thankful for the kindness shown to him by others and I know that is appropriate. However, I also know that all of the love and kindness poured out on him in these days is the result of a lifetime he has invested in others.

Someone once made the observation that you can always tell among those attending a funeral who truly loved the person for whom the service is performed. They are the only ones not looking at their watch! When my friend’s time finally comes, no one in that sanctuary will be checking the time.