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When Facebook Fails You

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March 13th was a miserable day for many people. First, for many of us across much of the USA, we had to deal with cancelled flights to far-off destinations, too many inches of snow, and blizzard conditions that kept us from skinny-dipping at our favorite lakes.

To top it all off — Facebook decided to destroy our lives.

Our self-esteem shattered like the remains of a china shop when Ferdinand the Bull went through it. I mean, after all, how in the world could Mark Zuckerberg live with himself knowing that 97% of the world’s population lay awake in the wee hours of their night and day bemoaning the fact that FB was almost totally inaccessible?

We moaned, we cried, we lamented the boringness of life without FB. We muttered at our screens and decided that we would petition Congress to hold Mark Z accountable.

Less than 24 hours later, some people are still cut off from the real Facebook world. Their lives are shredded beyond belief. Young and old alike are already learning how hard life is when you are not able to post a new picture or video of their pet eating yellow snow, their baby staring incredulously at Dad dancing to the whimsical strains of “Baby Shark, doo-doo-doo-do”, or a picture of a half-eaten burger from In-N-Out informing the world of how much better it is than Whataburger.


As the saying goes, one must strike while the hay is on fire or make irons while it is hot. Whatever — but first, a brief caveat.

If you have never been on Facegram or Instabook and/or are able to make it through massively extended periods of time (like say 5–10 minutes) without putting something on a social media platform, then this helpful solution is NOT for you. Just go away and read your newspaper, stand up to change channels on your massive console TV box, or whatever else it is that you boring people do with your lives.

With that caveat out in the open, I am proud to announce that I am starting a new self-help club, organization, fraternity, or whatever word you prefer to use.

Extended drumroll — ok, that’s enough. May I present —

Facebookers Anonymous for Life Associations without Life Ambitions (or FA-LA-LA for short)

Don’t worry, FA-LA-LA is totally anonymous and is designed so you never have to admit to the world that you are an addict. The price is within the reach of everybody with only one low recurring price of $9.95 per month (payable in Yen, Euros, Dollars, Pesos, Shekels, or Bitcoin once every two weeks). You too can be a part of FA-LA-LA where we dance to our own tunes and demand immediate action from Mark Z.

The entry process is simple. Just submit your name, birthday, personal email address, GPS coordinates for your local Gold’s Gym (you know the one you never use but still pay for), blood type, and type of bicycle you are supposed to ride but leave in the garage AND we assure you that you will remain an anonymous member of FA-LA-LA. Each month you will receive a personalized newsletter in which we distribute the details of each new member so you can greet them in a personalized, non-agressive-passive, anonymous type of way.

You will also find options that will never allow you to opt out of unwanted spam mails petitioning you for more money to fight the corporate giants that would make dastardly attempts to keep you from posting more of your life out in the open each and every five minutes of your life.

Don’t delay. Act now before more precious minutes go to waste away from the watchful eyes of Mark Z and his nefarious tribe.

Extolling the virtues of Facebook one post at a time,

The Executive Committee of FA-LA-LA

PS — It is our intention to share more of the benefits of joining our exclusive yet totally open anonymous club, but my wife keeps reminding me that FB is operating as normal again. At least for today or this week. Back later.

The Ugly American Syndrome

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Originally from England, I have had the privilege of living on three different continents, have visited almost twenty different countries, and hope to visit many more places.

One thing I found prevalent in every country is that the ugly idea of prejudice is alive and well on planet earth.

Prejudice is defined as a “preconceived opinion(s) that is (are) not based on reason or actual experience(s).”


Visitors to England come with preconceived opinions about the food or the people. It may be something as innocuous as thinking all British food is bland or that all Brits stand around Buckingham Palace waiting for a personal invitation from Her Majesty the Queen while eating another portion of fish and chips.

Foreign visitors to the UK think that we intentionally drive on the wrong side of the road just to confuse the rest of Europe. However, the truth is that Brits know how to drive on the CORRECT side of the road and that one-third of countries around the world also drive on the left side of the road including countries on the continents of Europe, Asia, South America, Africa, and the entire continent of Australia. But I digress.


When we moved to Liberia, West Africa, we attempted to fit in with the culture and lifestyles of those we taught on a daily basis. It was a vain attempt for the primary reason that unless you were raised from birth in a particular culture, it is impossible to live exactly like the local populace.

A second reason why we did not fit in is because we were very white or light-skinned compared to every single one of our neighbors. This is a problem because everybody not only sees you as different, they KNOW you are different. You are NOT one of them. The result is unfair trading practices that would never be allowed against foreign visitors to the USA. Rent or housing is generally much higher, as are basic commodities like food, utilities, etc. In many countries, there are “local prices” and then there are the “white man prices.”

Arguing and becoming bitter though will not accomplish anything because you must remind yourself that you are NOT in the USA. Things are different in every single country in the world and unless you were born there, you are to some degree a foreigner.

In this context, foreigner is simply being defined as “a person born in or coming from a country other than one’s own.”

Understanding this basic reality will help make or break your stay in whatever country you have chosen to live in. If you are a European living in Asia, or Asian living in Africa, or African living in the Americas, it is still incumbent on you to learn to live within the rules of whatever country you have selected as your primary domicile.

This is where Americans have sadly become the laughing stock of the rest of the world. My thoughts here do not obviously define every single American, but my travels have revealed the sad reality of the Ugly American syndrome.

Wikipedia defines the term “Ugly American” to “refer to perceptions of loud, arrogant, demeaning, thoughtless, ignorant, and ethnocentric behavior of American citizens mainly abroad, but also at home.”

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

What does this look like?

Let’s give a few examples –

1.  Going abroad to a country that speaks a language (normally other than English) and expect them to learn your language to make life easier for you.

There is a rich vastness of human language that will increase your knowledge by simply making attempts to try and learn a local language. It will endear you to many of the native population and enrich your own travel experiences.

By the way, speaking louder than normal in English with animated gestures will not make you any easier to understand, but will simply peg you as an Ugly American.

2.  Going abroad and expecting the locals to act like America is a huge faux pas that will not only upset your hosts, but will just make you an Ugly American.

There is no country in the world that is just like America. Conversely, there is no country in the world that is just like Azerbaijan, Armenia, Botswana, Cambodia, France, Ghana, India, New Zealand, or any of the almost 200 different and distinct countries of this little blue ball we call Planet Earth.

3.  Going abroad and reminding your hosts how much better things are in your home country will not make you flavor of the month.

The fact that you even have the funds to visit a foreign country means you are wealthier than a fair portion of the populace in the country you are visiting. Visiting other countries, or even living in a country other than the one where you were born, is a privilege. It is not a right. You are, and will always be, a visitor in some way or another.

4.  Going abroad and flaunting your money is an unforgiveable error.

When we lived in Liberia, it was considered to be the fourth poorest country in the world according to the United Nations. The average person lived off of less than $1 (USD) per day. For those who could get work, it would mean working 12–14 hours per day for that amount of money.

Our family had to learn quickly how to go about helping others and disbursing our own funds. We were obviously more well off than any of our neighbors and they never expected us to live off $1 (USD) per day. However, we did try to make sure that we lived within our means without becoming an Ugly American.

I remember while in Liberia staying in a home where we had an African American visitor come for a visit. It was his first time to West Africa. In fact, he admitted that he had never even visited a country outside of the US. He was in his mid-30s. Everything he said and did quickly became an offense to Liberians and it was painfully obvious that he was just intent on being an Ugly American. To him, the food was horrible, the room not cool enough, and there was never enough that was being done for him by the locals. He complained about everything and though throwing more US dollars at select individuals would help him be more comfortable and live just like he was in America.

5.  Finally, going abroad and not using common courtesy will make you an Ugly American.

This is actually quite simple. Ask. ASK. And then, ASK again if you want to do something like — take videos or pictures of the local cuisine, of the locals, of buildings, of anything. Some countries have taboos about you taking pictures. In some places, you may find yourself breaking the law simply because you think you are entitled to point a camera at whatever suits your fancy.

Sadly, we can even find Ugly Americans in America. We were at a church years ago and had a Ukrainian choir come for a visit. It was their first time to ever leave Ukraine and this was shortly after the fall of the Iron Curtain. The pastor of the American church did a brief slide show and made fun of the food he had eaten while visiting their country the previous year. He talked about how bad the food was and that he was glad he finally found a place to buy a hamburger. The Ukrainian choir had given their best while he visited them, but it was not good enough. Many in the congregation laughed along with the pastor while the Ukrainian visitors hung their heads with shame and embarrassment.

After the church service, the members put on a huge potluck lunch. The Ukrainian visitors had never seen so much food and a couple of them even commented on the amount of food that was being thrown away in the trash. In the end, all many of them could see were Ugly Americans.

In conclusion, there is a rich heritage in every country, in every language, and in every culture. People in other countries are proud to show off their country and what they have to offer. Here are a few helpful tips that will make your trip more enjoyable.

1. Learn from others.

2. Enjoy the experiences.

3. Travel the world.

4. Practice using a few words in other languages.

5. Don’t disappoint them by being an Ugly American.

6. Be respectful.

7. Remember that you are like a goodwill ambassador of America wherever you visit. Act accordingly.

My Wife Can’t Dance

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kangaroo

I have always loved the sound of an LP playing on the record player. For youngsters reading, just Google it. It is kind of like a CD but several times bigger and to listen to an hour of music normally involved turning the LP (or record) over halfway through your song selection.

My British uncle retired from the Royal Air Force after playing the trumpet for several of the RAF bands throughout England, Germany, and in various places around the world. I have just about every album of every band that he played in beginning with his first around 1970–1971 when he was stationed with the Southern Band of the Royal Air Force.

There was a wide selection down through the years that were recorded. These include: The RAF Band in Germany played movie themes, while The Western Band of the Royal Air Force offered a special arrangement of well-known classical pieces.


One of my favorite items that I owned as a teenager was a big record player console. It was a piece of furniture. As much as possible, it had one volume setting — LOUD!

Fast forward to the present and one of my sons obtained a nice little record player box from Sam’s Club. He and my wife promptly went to a local music store and he purchased several old albums including some nice Christmas selections as well as several Glenn Miller recordings.

I must say that the kid has good taste. I taught him well.


My girls who will both be teenagers this year often see me moving to the music and keep asking my wife to dance with me to the crackly tunes of the Big Band Era.

The problem is that she can’t dance.

My feet get to tapping when I hear the strains of Chattanooga Choo-Choo, In the Mood, or Little Brown Jug come out of the little box. It just makes me want to get up and sashay across the floor — with my wife.

The problem is that she can’t dance.

This last Sunday, I got up early as usual and put on another Glenn Miller album and turned up the volume a notch or two. Considering we had just lost an hour of sleep, I thought that Moonlight Serenade might be in order; however, everybody was still asleep. What I thought about doing was picking up the phone to dial Pennsylvania 6–5000 and ask my wife if she wanted to wake up and come into the living room so we could cut a rug together.

The problem is that she can’t dance.

She did wake up, and came to the living room where I pretended that I was asleep in my easy chair. But I had not fooled her because one of my girls had already gotten up and had seen my feet tapping to the sound of trumpets and jazz.

Standing to my feet, I put one arm around my wife, took her hand in mine, and proceeded to waltz around the floor. She dipped while I tried to sashay. She swung around while I tried to shimmy in my best James Cagney or Bing Crosby impersonation.

That’s when I learned the sad truth.

The problem is that I can’t dance!

I can’t even make a serious attempt at pulling off a Carlton Banks dance from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. The truth is that instead of looking like a graceful pair of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, my form looked more like — well, the above picture will give you an idea.

At least nobody else saw us and we still had fun!

A West African Cane Beats TSA

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West Africa shirt

Rarely do I find anything nice to say about the TSA. Thanks to the events of September 11, the overzealous efforts of Congress, and the willingness to surrender more of our freedoms, Homeland Security began to make life much more difficult for travelers.

Personally, I resent the intrusions imposed on American citizens simply using airlines as a quick mode of transportation from one part of the US to another. However, I do have some appreciation for the protection airport security seems to have provided in keeping terrorists from boarding airplanes again.

Strangely, those same terrorists though can still just walk across a very unsecured border from Mexico into the US or from just about any part of Canada into the US as well. But I digress as that would be a story for another day.

In 2012, our family moved from Liberia, West Africa back to the United States. As we prepared to depart, we checked our bags and entered the Duty Free Zone at the Roberts International Airport located in Monrovia. While there, we availed ourselves of one last shopping experience as we purchased several Liberian artifacts from the various shops.

One of my purchases was a very nice walking cane that had been carved by a local artist. It was carved out of one of the hardwood trees that are found in abundance throughout West Africa. Before making my purchase, I asked to verify that there would be no issues in getting my cane through customs as we made our way first to Europe and then back to the US.

Assured that there would be no problems, I purchased the beautiful walking stick and we prepared to board the plane.

Nobody said a word to me about the cane and one or two stewardesses even commented on the beauty of the hardwood as well as the artist’s skill.

Arriving in Brussels, Belgium, we proceeded to walk through the entire airport for about five hours. Not once did anybody stop me or ask me if the cane was some kind of a weapon. Common sense prevailed and again I had a couple of staff members comment on how nice a cane I had. At no point did I attempt to walk with it. There was nothing on the bottom to prevent it from slipping on the tiled airport floors and it was really only for decoration.

We arrived back to the US and landed in an airport on the east coast. Disembarking, we had to get all of our bags, go through Customs, and then to make our connecting flight, we had to recheck our bag and go through Security again.

Remember, I have been carrying my new West African cane through three different airports on three different continents. Not one time did anybody question me about why I was carrying this cane with me. Not one time did any police or soldiers follow me and wonder if I was going to attack somebody with my prized possession.

Until we had to go through TSA security to fly from one US to another.

Having already been up for way too many hours, we did not want to have to deal with another inconvenience, but had no choice.

Finally arriving at the front of the line, the TSA staff member took one look at my cane and said, “You cannot take that with you on the plane!”

She was NOT rude about it, but simply had a job to do.

I asked what I was supposed to do with it. Her response was that I would have to check it in and it would go into the hold of the plane. However, I knew full well that somewhere along the way that my exquisitely carved cane would disappear and would never make it to our final stop in Memphis, Tennessee where we had family waiting to pick us up and welcome us back to the US.

I graciously told the TSA staff member that I was not prepared to put my nice new cane and asked why there should be a problem. I told her that we had now crossed three continents and three airports without one concern.

She looked at my wife and I for a minute and responded.

“The only way that you can take the cane on the plane is if it is a medical device.”

I looked back at her and said, “But it is not a medical device.”

She paused, looked at my wife again, and spoke again but emphasized a few words.

“Sir, the ONLY way that YOU can take the cane ON the plane is IF it is a medical device!”

My wife nudged me as she caught on a little quicker than I had done. “Sweetheart, she is saying that you have to use it as an actual cane.”

Not wanting to be dishonest in anyway, it was true that I had been sick in Liberia. In fact, one of my daughters and I had almost died. While I did not use the cane to walk around, it often hurt just to walk. My joints ached from the ravages of severe cases of typhoid and malaria, but I did not want to mislead the TSA staff member either. While in Liberia, I did have to use a walking stick regularly to help support myself at times while on the various roads and trails in the jungles.

“Yes, I can use my cane as a medical device.” I informed her hoping that with such a declaration she would let us pass and we could board our fourth and final flight.

The TSA staffer said, “Sir, in order to let you take the cane on the airplane, I will have to see you actually using the cane as a medical device or aid to walking.”

Are you kidding me?

The bottom of the cane was slick wood and we were on a slick tiled floor. By the time I was done demonstrating my “need” for a cane, I probably would need a real cane or a wheelchair.

However, not wanting to lose my cane, I decided it was best to oblige. With a few slightly exaggerated limps, I sashayed, glided, and attempted to do-ci-do across the TSA Security enclosure while making sure that I did not slip, fall to the floor, and crack my head open.

With a wry smile, she responded. “Yep, looks like you definitely need your medical device. Have a safe trip!”

It was all I could do to keep a straight face as I used my medical device to limp my way around the corner and away from the TSA area.

I still have that cane and every time I see it, it reminds me of the day that a West African cane was allowed to beat TSA at their own game.

To the kind, unnamed TSA staff member, “Thank you and walk on!”

A Tie for Every Occasion

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motorcycle

Packing our bags for the long drive, I was certain we had everything we needed. Making sure the children were tucked in nice and warm, we started our journey from the sub-zero temperatures of South Dakota and headed for the southern part of Kansas. It was the week before Christmas and we wondered whether we would soon be moving.

The drive down went without a hitch and we arrived in a tiny little town that was located way out in the middle of Kansas wheat fields. It was flat with nothing of interest between us and Wichita which was about an hour drive to the north.

The town itself had a population of less than 2000. After driving around the entire town, my wife and I were convinced that the number on the sign must have included all the stray dogs, cats, and chickens we saw running around.

Pulling in at the only motel in town, I gave my details to the owner who gave us a warm welcome and stated that if there was ANYTHING we might need to just let her know.

Taking the key to our room, we were the only people staying there for the night, so we expected that it would be quiet.

Unpacking, we prepared for the next morning and my interview process. You see, the purpose for my driving to the middle of nowhere Kansas was to candidate for my first pastorate. It was Saturday night, and I was still not certain that I was prepared.

I was meticulous about the notes I had written and studied for two morning church sessions and one on the Sunday evening. I had also meticulously prepared my answers for all the questions that I thought the church and the pulpit committee might or might not ask me. My notes were ready, my Bible was ready, and the only thing I needed to do was make sure my clothes were ready.

Laying out the clothes for our children for the next morning, I was also meticulous in making sure that my shoes were shined again, that I had my shirt ironed, my suit had been freshly dry-cleaned before coming down, and that I had the perfect power tie to go with — —

What?? Oh no!!!

There was no way this could be happening. We looked high and we looked low. We checked, rechecked, and then rechecked again every part of our vehicle, but to no avail.

I felt like I was going to be committing a cardinal sin. Here I was over 500 miles away from home on a Saturday night, preparing for a nerve-wracking day of interviewing and preaching, with no stores any around that were open at almost 9pm, the problem was –

I had NO tie.

Photo by Wojtek Mich on Unsplash

What preacher or pastor stands up to deliver a message in the mid-1990’s without being properly attired?

I would have settled for a string tie, or a cowboy tie, a bowtie, or even a wider fat tie, but I really wanted the nice power tie that I had ready to make the trip. However, my power tie was still resting on our bed back home in South Dakota.

Needless to say, I was embarrassed, but I remembered what the elderly lady at the front desk had told me.

Walking from our room to the motel lobby, I told her my embarrassing predicament. She informed me that her husband had passed away a few years ago and that she had only just a week or so ago finally cleared out all of his clothes including the dozens of ties he owned.

I would have been happy with just one of them.

Not to be unhelpful, she said, “Wait a minute, I know somebody who might be able to help.”

Picking up the phone, she dialed a number.

“Hey, this is Martha down at the hotel. I have a gentleman here who has a slight problem. He has no tie for service tomorrow when he comes to preach at YOUR church!”

Are you kidding me? 2000 people in town and the one person she calls for help was actually one of the church deacons and the head of the pulpit committee for the very church I will be at in the morning.

I was mortified!

Deciding to put my best foot forward, I agree to have the man come over to our hotel room and bring me a selection of ties.

A few minutes later, a deep throated roar split the air. My boys run to the window and look out to find a short, heavy set man with a graying beard dressed all in leather and wearing a Santa hat. He was riding a 1936 Harley Davidson complete with Christmas lights that twinkled as much as his eyes did for the Christmas season.

My wife and boys found the scene quite funny, and I was just trying to figure out what we had gotten ourselves into. The head of the pulpit committee didn’t look like he had ever worn a tie. In fact, my boys were fairly certain that Santa was real after all and he lived in southern Kansas.

The man laughed and tried to put me at ease as he handed me a selection of ties. With a quick round of greetings, he said, “These are the only ones I have, so you can take your pick. See you in the morning.”

With that he was gone and I thought I had just witnessed a rather quaint Kansas version of “The Night Before Christmas.”

Looking down at the ties in my hands, I was appalled. The selection of six brightly colored ties looked like they had come from the very bottom of the bottom of the bottom of the bottom of a barrel at Goodwill that time had forgotten from the 1970s. You know the ones that could have passed for a bib or apron.

However, Saint Nick on his Harley Davidson had also handed me a box that contained a nice brown striped tie. With no other option before me, I decided that it would have to be the one that put me front and center before the congregation of the country church. If they don’t like me because of having no tie, then we would simply go back to South Dakota.

We arrived to the church early the next morning and I sat on the front row trying to keep anybody from seeing the tie I was wearing. Thankfully, the head of the pulpit committee and his wife make a late appearance and showed up right before service started. My intention was to make a quick dart up to the platform and hope that nobody noticed my tie did not quite match the rest of my attire.

Standing to start the service, I moved quickly to the platform and turned to face the small congregation whereupon the deacon and his wife start chuckling, then laughing out loud, and the wife starts snorting. She is turning red as she tries in vain to keep from disrupting the service.

Feeling like a failure, I decided to start the service by admitting my error from the night before. Relaying the entire story, I knew my face was red with embarrassment. There was no way this church would be voting to call a new pastor who could not even remember to bring a tie. This was despite the fact that nobody else was wearing a tie.

Summing up my story, I concluded, “So, that is what brings us here today and why this is probably the first and only time I have ever worn a tie that can do this!”

Reaching down, I grabbed right below the knot and with a small twist, the tie stood straight out — like a board.

Because that is what it was.

Actually, it was made of several pieces of board from different trees. They had been glued together and placed on a strip of leather with a Velcro strip around the top that allowed the wearer to keep it in place around his neck. The tie I had chosen from the box was actually a gag gift that the deacon had stored in his closet for years.

The deacon and his wife were beside themselves and so was the rest of the congregation. It broke the ice and I don’t think any of those present would ever forget the day the new pastor wore a wood tie to church.

As for the outcome of what would be a new career change for me, the church decided to vote that next Wednesday on whether they would extend an invitation to call as pastor the man with a tie for every occasion.

They voted 100% to call me as pastor.

When Church Goes Wrong

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“Churches are full of nothing but hypocrites.” — Quote attributed to many

Hypocrite — a word that is used to describe somebody who is not real. Is often associated with a sneer or turning up of the lip when speaking of a particular individual that is in question.

For example, the word has seen an uptick in usage over the last few years particularly as it applies to people in politics or in religion.

The word hypocrite actually stems from the Greek word ὑποκριτής or hupokrites. The word is used approximately 20 times in the New Testament Scriptures including several times by the Lord Jesus Christ.

The origin of the word referred to a person who was an actor or a stage player of which Greek and Romans were quite fond. The actor or stage player would represent or pretend to be something or someone that he was not in real life. The actor would often wear or hold a mask in front of his or her face when playing the false part.

When an ancient Greek or Roman then heard an individual called a hypocrite, they would immediately recognize that the person in question was an actor or they were considered to two-faced.

church on lake

The Reality

EVERY person can be a hypocrite to some degree or another. For example, have you ever gone to work, church, or the store and met up with somebody who is but an acquaintance? The other person then asks, “Oh hi, how are you today?”

They may not really have any interest in you but are simply being polite. If this is the case, then they are being a hypocrite or two-faced.

In return, you force a smile, despite the fact that life is a struggle and you may be under the weather, and respond, “Fine, doing just fine.” Sadly, you have once again become a hypocrite or two-faced towards another human being.

Why is this important to learn and understand?

Very simple — Churches are often made up of people who are hurting JUST like you. They want to be REAL but have been told by society and culture that you don’t express your feelings to people who are not close to you. A church is like an island in a vast lake providing sanctuary from the storms of life.

Asone who served as a pastor and as an overseas missionary church planter, I have seen a lot of hypocrites. In fact, I have even played the part of an actor at times myself. It is not something I am proud of, nor is this confession a means to make light of how I have responded to others.

Is it true that there are churches that are not worth the time of day?

Yes, bad theology and a lack of true love for others mean some that classify themselves as a “church” should be studiously avoided because they are dangerous.

However, for a person to avoid church with the excuse that it is only full of hypocrites is nothing more than an excuse. It reveals the truth that you have not faced up to the reality that you and I are also hypocrites when things don’t go our way.

If the church is going to be avoided, then do yourself and others a favor and tell the real reason, not lame excuses. Using lame excuses simply places you in the same camp as the people you claim to be avoiding.

There are bad apples in EVERY aspect of life. There are hypocrites in EVERY workplace. There are hypocrites in EVERY church.

The question you should be asking is this –

If every church member were just like me, then what kind of church would my church be?

In other words, you can and should have a role to play wherever you and your family choose to attend. There are hundreds of millions around the world who are in a much tougher situation than you and I are or will ever be in.

It should not matter what you wear, how much you make, or the kind of car you drive. The true church should be a reflection of the glory that will be seen in heaven when it is ALL about Jesus Christ.

Church should be an opportunity to be real, to be genuine, to be honest, and where we are willing to love and serve others because that is what Christ calls all true Christians to do.

To do otherwise makes you and me nothing more than a hypocrite.

A Grand Legacy

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legacy

Like your parents, but the next step up, grandparents can instill a mixture of emotions. As a little one, they could coerce obedience by promising to tell your parents whether you had been good or not. It was only in later years that you realized they probably wouldn’t say a word if you had been bad.

As parents, grandparents probably raised their children with a firm hand, but with age tend to mellow which means grandchildren probably get away with much more than their parents ever did.

Some things never change though.

The mother who insisted she was not hungry when the last piece of bread, or meat, or even pie beckoned to the stomach of an eight-year-old is probably the grandmother who does the same when you went to visit them.

The father who was a military veteran and instilled strict discipline in the ranks is probably the same grandfather who will sneak with you out of the garage down to the local ice cream store or bakery after making you promise not to tell grandma that something has spoiled your dinner.

While some grandparents never learn, others have had the privilege of helping the next generation to learn and grow. Some grandparents undermine the parents, while others are careful to help instill respect, loyalty, and honesty.

Mygrandparents were the good kind of grandparents. I never knew my maternal grandfather as he passed away when my mother was only sixteen, I spent many years loving my maternal grandmother and the man she married after being a widow for 18 years. We called him Grandpa and he was everything you could ask for in a proper British gentleman.

A master electrician and professor at a local British college, I can remember visiting them and him asking me to help him “do some repairs up in the attic.” A stately man, he carefully took off his suit jacket and worked his way up the ladder still wearing a sweater, pressed dress shirt, and a tie (with a double Windsor knot). Knowing nothing about electrical wiring, he made me feel important as though I had actually done the work.

Grandma, or Nanny as she was preferably called, could bake up a storm. Tarts, sausage rolls, scones, and all things British helped keep appetites at bay. She always had a faint smell of lavender and she was meticulous about her clothing and hair. Til the day she died at almost 87, she had a full head of dark brown hair with no more than a handful of gray or white hairs.

My paternal grandmother abandoned her family when my dad was little, but we did know and spend time with my paternal grandfather. Distance and careers kept us from visiting as often as I would have liked, but he knew he was loved. Laying carpet, tile, and linoleum until he was in his 70’s, he taught me the importance of hard work.

On one visit when I was about ten, we drive across the US to visit him. While there, he kept us entertained while still working hard. In his 70’s, he could still run circles around what I can do in my 50’s. During the visit, my parents bought him a brand-new wallet as his was falling apart. I asked for the wallet, but my parents didn’t think it was of any value and it was thrown away. We left the next evening and headed back across the US. All I could think of was a wallet in the trashcan behind the house, but it was eventually forgotten.

Years later, I visited my grandfather down in Mexico with my own little family that we had just started. During that time, the previous visit when I was ten entered the conversation and it triggered the memory of that old wallet. I shared the story with my grandfather and we laughed about what makes a memory. Reaching into his back pocket, he pulled out a newer wallet and asked me if I would like to have it. I was very surprised, but insisted that I had a newer wallet myself and wanted him to keep what he had. He never had a great deal of money or possessions, but he was just Grandpa. He was the type of person that would give you what you needed and even what you wanted whether he could afford it or not.

My stories could probably fill books of all the things they did for us and with us, but the one common factor was their love for us. They didn’t always agree with our decision any more than our parents did, but they stood with us especially when life was difficult.

Asa grandfather myself now, I look at past generations and realize the rich heritage that was left to me. Sadly, we are not allowed to spend time with our grandson due to a nasty divorce, but I can only pray that one day that little fellow will know that we tried to be there for him. I hope that like my own grandfathers, and my children’s grandfathers, that I will be a rock to help guide through life but do so with as much graciousness and love as I was shown.

All of my grandparents are now gone, but their memories live on. I wish I would have taken more time than I did, but when you are young, you think that with a full life ahead of you that they do as well.

My goal is to be the kind of grandfather to my grandchildren that they will one day be to their own grandchildren. If I do it right and they follow in the footsteps that I have followed before me, then I will have succeeded.

A grand legacy is something money cannot buy.

A Long Way from Home

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I am a long way from home — a very long way.

You see, I was born in a town northeast of London, England. However, I now live in the far western US state of Wyoming. The difference between the two is like night and day.

The county where I was born has approximately 200,000 more people than in the entire state where I now reside.

England has a moderate climate with four seasons — winter, spring, fall, and rainy!

Wyoming has a tropical climate — oh wait, never mind, I was thinking of somewhere else for a minute. The climate here also produces four seasons — winter, arctic, spring (with possible snow flurries) and summer/fall (scheduled for 3 weeks in July in 2019).


I am currently writing a long way from home — a very long way.

This last week I traveled from one part of the US to another while helping my parents move from one state to another state. During this week, I have been apart from my immediate family who I love very much. However, today is the day that I get on an airplane and go back to Wyoming.

As I have pondered the differences from one state to the next, I am also reminded of how blessed I am that I have the ability to travel.

My travels have taken me to about 17 countries and 47 out of 50 states. I have seen a lot of beautiful places and a few places that I would rather not live if at all possible.

While I contemplate on traveling though, I am reminded of those who have not. This may be due to their financial constraints or maybe just no interest. A few years ago, I remember asking one individual if they had ever traveled outside of the US. The response was surprising when they revealed that they had never even traveled outside of their own county, much less their state.

We had the privilege of teaching national pastors and church leaders in Liberia, West Africa. We met people who were born, grew up, got married, and still live in the same village with the furthest they have ever gone being one village away from their own. In all likelihood, those people will die never having traveled more than two or three miles from their homes.


I am preparing for a trip a long way from home — a very long way.

No, I do not mean when I board a plane later today to go back to my home. I am preparing for the trip that comes to all people. It is not something we can escape. Speaking of death is morbid for many, yet, every culture and society in the world have learned to prepare themselves for the inevitable.

Some fear death and the unknown. Nobody has ever gone to the other side and returned to describe it. Even in the Holy Scriptures we read of the life of the Lord Jesus Christ and how He was put to death, was buried, and rose again on the third day. Yet, conspicuously absent is any reference to what was on the other side of the curtain called death. The only record from Jesus we have is that He is going to the house of the Father to prepare a place for all true believers to live when they die. Nothing more.

The Bible does record a few instances where the dead were brought back to life, yet, not one person has described what it looks like. One record indicates that the apostle Paul died and went to heaven, yet he tells us that it is not possible to write down the glories of what he saw.

At the end of the Bible, the apostle John was given a vision in which he saw some of the things that are found in heaven. It is absolutely impossible to even hazard a guess as to what it truly looks like.

What I find sad though in my journeys a long way from my homes is that very few seem to be preparing. They live only for themselves or for the moment with no concerns about what the future holds.

For me, I was born at an early age. LOL. I can vividly recollect memories of things and people I met when I was just two or three years old. Then I blinked and I was looking up at the teenagers and could not wait to learn to drive. I blinked again and I was a teenager wanting to find somebody I could marry and have children. However, I did not stop blinking and 20, 30, 40, and now 50 came and went.

I have to consider what I have been doing for I do not have much of my life left. My strongest years are behind me but hopefully my wisest years are still ahead. My hair is no longer full and dark brown, but gets thinner with more gray every month. I am not the thin 127 lbs. I was when I got married and every extra pound I carry now gets harder to remove.

For all my travels though, I have seen much. I have learned much. I have no regrets about what I have accomplished, but there are things I wish I could have redone or goals that I would have pushed through to complete.

Like the picture above, the way ahead turns and winds its way through hills and mountains. I cannot see or even know what life will push my way as I travel through some of those valleys. Some will be difficult and painful while others will be filled with joy. The road I see though looks forward and does not dwell on that which is behind.

Yet, I cannot change the past so I look forward to the future and enjoy the present.

I am a long way from home — a very long way.

Six Lessons from Pain

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In 2006, my health began to decline — quickly.

Each day started out with pain throughout some part of my body and a headache that never subsided for almost nine months.

As the headaches intensified, I thought I would just be tough and that it was another weird phase. I have not always had the best of health during my life. All of this really started when I was about 16, and contracted a severe case of mononucleosis (glandular fever).

This ended up getting me confined to a hospital ward in Oxford, England for a week. The episode ended with me losing about 30 lbs in two weeks and almost seven weeks off of school. It was also during this time that I began to experience frequent migraines or cluster headaches.

In university, I was diagnosed with a mitral valve prolapse when it was discovered I had arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat). This still has an effect on me from time to time.


So, when my health began to decline, I wondered whether one of these past issues might be flaring up. After almost a month of putting it off, I finally paid a visit to our local medical clinic to see what might be wrong. They took some blood, and ran some basic tests but could find nothing out of the ordinary.

The second month, my body began to collapse and I found that I was not able to even walk without the use of a cane. By now, I had been excused from work and I was on disability. Much of my day was spent trying to rest and keep the lights off so that my headache would not increase.


My family and friends were concerned enough to encourage me to go back to the doctor and unable to determine what might be wrong, I was scheduled for several consultations in the hospital.

During the next month, I was admitted and tested for everything from cancer to diabetes. I was not overweight, but at times could keep little down. CT scans and MRIs covered pretty much every part of my body at some point, but they found nothing.

The final conclusion from the specialists was that I had contracted fibromyalgia, but they could still not explain why my body was failing.

The next several months were miserable, as my body grew weaker to the point where Sundays were just about my only excursion out of the house. It hurt too much to endure long car rides and I had to have help from my wife or my sons just to move from one room to another.

While it was not the only time in my life that I had been confined to bed rest, this time of testing proved beneficial in other ways. My wife and sons were gracious in being willing to spend so much time keeping me company, and I believe that it helped us to grow closer.


During those months, I often questioned in my heart and mind, “Why?”Or, in the words of the song written in 1972 by Kris Kristofferson, “Why me, Lord?”

Why me Lord, what have I ever done
To deserve even one
Of the pleasures, I’ve known
Tell me, Lord, what did I ever do
That was worth loving you
Or the kindness you’ve shown.

I am by no means perfect. I didn’t reflect on this question because I thought I did not deserve what others have to struggle with. The real reason I was asking was that I just could not understand.

Yet, this time of reflection allowed me to redirect some of my priorities. I learned how valuable family can be and I became more grateful for the relationships that helped me survive from day to day.


Many times as my body was racked with pain, there were episodes where I would be curled up on the floor. Yet, through the clouds, I began to see the rainbows of promise. Some people have to endure things like this alone. This then adds a new level of discouragement and/or depression to the list of ailments.

The reality is that, as fallen human creations, we do not deserve any pleasures in life. If we are honest, what we do receive at the hands of a gracious God is far better than many around the world.

This fact would soon come into play in a way that we could not have imagined when I was invited in an email to visit Liberia, West Africa. That is another series of stories by itself.

Suffice it to say that the discomfort, the tears, and the pain brought me to understand several aspects of life that are easy to overlook.

1. Don’t take life for granted.

Life is so short. Not every person will have the privilege of living half a century, much less to 70 or 80. All too soon, the hands of the clock race around the face of each day. Days blur into weeks, months, and then years. We look back and wonder what we have accomplished with our lives.


2. Love your family.

I understand that not everyone has a good family. But families are not always made by blood connections. Sometimes, family consists of those you attend church with.

It could be those with whom you work that you have a close connection. Some of us are blessed with great families and we will only get through difficulties when we learn to extend love back and forth.

Family may even include friends who appreciate and pray for you, even during times when they may not know how difficult life is at the moment.


3. Realize that trials are not unique.

When I arrived in Liberia, West Africa just four months after my body began to recover, I understood how blessed I truly was. Observing the horrendous lack of standards in medical care made me realize why the life expectancy was so low in West Africa.

In England (and the US), I had access to medicines and treatment that allowed me to recover. Had I been born or lived in Liberia during that time, my life would probably have come to an end.


4. Learn to exhibit a spirit of thankfulness.

Honestly, this life lesson was very difficult. I did not want to be thankful. I wanted to complain. I did not FEEL like I was thankful, but I soon understood that my struggles were also being carried by those who loved me so much.

As my body began to recover, I was able to give thanks. I gave thanks for life, for better health, for more days of clear-headedness, for family, for love, for medicine, for good doctors and hospital staff, and most of all, for strength, grace, love, and the mercy of God.


5. Understand real success.

Success is not always made up of fame and fortune. Success can sometimes be the privilege of being able to get out of bed in the morning. Success can be measured in the real treasures of life like a loving wife and family.

Looking back, my wife and I cannot tell you how we paid our bills or even managed some weeks to purchase groceries. We did not have a large bank account and there are many things we did without during that time.

However, I can look back and realize that we experienced success because we had each other.


6. Know where your faith exists.

For my family and I, our faith is in God.

This was not the only struggle we ever faced, nor will it probably be the last. In fact, a few years later we would move to Liberia, West Africa where one of my daughters and I faced death’s door more than once due to tropical diseases.

These diseases still give us trouble and pain even today having been gone from Liberia since 2012.

However, I do not blame God and curse Him for the extreme trials we have faced. I have learned to accept that there is something I need to learn. Like the patriarch Job in the Bible, I have learned to say –

But he knows the way that I take;
when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold. — Job 23:10

Originally published through Medium on “Live Your Life on Purpose”

 

Too Much for a Funeral?

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Avoid Price-Gouging at a Funeral Home

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Whether it is a small family-owned and run funeral home or it is a large corporation that owns hundreds or thousands of funeral homes and cemeteries, businesses operate in order to make a profit. However, there is a huge difference between a locally owned and operated firm versus one owned by a large corporation.

As one example, this quote is from Marketwatch in an article dated March 7, 2017.

“The survey found median prices at SCI (the largest corporation in the industry) were 72% higher for simple cremation, 50% higher for simple burial, and 47% higher for a full service funeral than at independent homes surveyed.”

This series of articles is not designed to disparage making a profit in the funeral or cemetery industry. As I have stated previously, I still have friends and former colleagues in the industry. I would drive across the state to work for them if I needed a job in the industry again.

What concerns me is that families are rarely given the knowledge needed to make informed decisions that will help them save money. There are many things that an overwhelming majority of funeral directors will NOT tell you.

In addition, the exorbitant rate of markups found in many firms is shocking, and the only way you will normally find out is on the worst day of your life.

Nobody truly likes the thought of their loved one being burned in a crematory, or being buried in a box six feet under the ground. The thought of those we love not being with us is bad enough without having to deal with the thoughts of horror that can run rampant through the mind.

Funeral directors know and are trained in how the human mind works. They will use these methods to steer or guide you into making the decisions you do. Many times, you will have no idea of the controlling or manipulative tactics that are employed in order to drive up the cost of your loved ones’ funeral.

The western world is one of the few places where so much money is spent on the disposition of a body. On average, we spend 4 times as much as the cost of disposition in the UK, as just one example.

300–500%

This is the average markup on a casket. Simple terms, the funeral home or corporation buys average metal caskets in bulk from companies like Batesville for around $300–500 each. They are then delivered and placed on display where families will pay $1300–2500 for the same piece of shaped metal. The lower end pricing normally reflects costs at independently owned firms versus the prices found at corporate-owned locations.

What to Do

1. Stay away from items that are nothing more than gimmicks or phrases that are inaccurate at best and grossly misleading at worst.

“Waterproof”

Concrete is porous. This means that the lined vault you purchase after being told it would keep your loved one dry is nothing more than an over-priced fabrication (in modern English — a big, fat lie).

“Sealed caskets”

The additional cost of several hundred dollars to several thousand dollars added to your bill is simply the extra inclusion of a rubber gasket that costs the funeral company less than $20. Again, sealing a casket does nothing to protect the integrity of the body. In fact, if you choose a mausoleum-type entombment, you will not be told that the casket is NOT fully tightened down and sealed.

“Keepsake caskets”

A solid casket made of wood will generally cost between $800–1500 to the funeral home. Some may be a little less, but those are then increased to $3800–7500 for the same item. One of the costlier features is a keepsake drawer built into the casket lid where families are encouraged to leave mementos for their loved one. If a family expresses an interest in one of these caskets, the funeral director will NOT tell them that they are welcome to place letters, pictures, or keepsakes in ANY casket, even if it does not hold the expensive feature.

2. Do not get suckered into purchasing expensive items that seem like they are a “required service.”

“Rental caskets” — Yes, this is an actual item.

It involves the use of a long cardboard box. The deceased will be cremated, but the family wants an actual funeral service. Funeral homes have a special unit that opens from the top and the end. This allows the cardboard box to be inserted into the nicer looking casket just for the funeral. The privilege of using this rental service will cost you an additional $900–1700 on average. The casket is then removed from the funeral service and the cardboard box holding the actual remains is taken out for cremation. This rental service is generally for a use period of 45 minutes to one hour.

“Embalming”NOT REQUIRED BY LAW IN ANY STATE!

If there is no viewing to take place, embalming is not necessary. If only immediate family members are going to say goodbye, again, embalming is not necessary. Embalming is supposedly the preservation of the body, but this is not entirely accurate. Embalming does not AND cannot guarantee that your loved ones remains will remain intact and not go through any form of decomposition over any set period of time. Embalming is merely a chemically induced means of forestalling rapid decomposition and allows the body to be prepared and seen in a more natural state for funeral services.

3. Shop around. Shop around. Shop around.

“Choice” — If the death was sudden, the family is still allowed to choose which funeral home they want to use. It does NOT matter which funeral home is on duty. What matters is what you want.

“Check prices” — FCC requires that all funeral homes provide a General Price List (GPL) and casket price list. Locally owned funeral homes will normally post these online as well, but the homes and cemeteries owned by large corporations generally do NOT publish their GPL. Staff are often trained to stall your requests until they can get you seated in a chair where high pressure is the name of the game until you sign.

“Online” — Read online ratings for your selection of funeral home. While reviews are not as prevalent as for other customer service based companies, you can normally learn a great deal about the way a funeral home or cemetery operates.

“Flowers” — Yes, it is important to even shop for flower arrangements. In the shock that comes with the death of a loved one, most families do not give one moment of thought to what they spending.

Funeral homes that are directly linked to a florist shop are not always the best place to shop. Connected florists often have higher profit margins because of the reasons already stated. Visiting a local florist and making a selection without telling them it is for a funeral can save you 40–60% on the cost of a floral arrangement.

In my next article, I plan on giving information on the best practices needed in order to save the most amount of money.