Eight One Eighty-One – or to say it a different way: August 1, 1981.
39 years ago today Nona and I stood before a cloud of witnesses in Kernersville, NC and said our “I do’s” to each other and before God. It has been a great journey and a wonderful adventure and a blessed partnership. And one of the best things about it is that now we get to share it with you.
Here are a few pictures of us through the years. Each picture has a memory that goes along with it. We have lots and lots of shared memories that we hope to tell you about over the years. Feel free to ask us about any of these pictures and the story behind it. And our hope and prayer is that one day in the future you will have a husband or wife that will be a blessing and joy to your heart and help you to honor and glorify the Lord.
Four years old. What a great age to be. So much energy. So much curiosity. So much trust.
I had a great time at your birthday party on Saturday with you. The fire truck motif was a blast – especially when the firetruck showed up at our house blaring its siren and tooting its horn.
I was talking to a fireman friend of mine this past week and he was telling me a few things about the life of a fireman. It would seem that about 90% of a fireman’s job is preparation. A fireman spends a lot of time maintaining fire apparatus so that when it is needed it will do what it is supposed to do. They spend a lot of time training – not only do they have to be ready to fight fires but they are also first-responders. So they have to be ready to provide emergency care at the scene of accidents and in response to 911 calls. And firemen also have to stay in excellent physical shape in order to endure the physical demands of their job.
So preparation is essential! The 90% of their time that they spend being prepared will determine their success in the 10% when they respond and react to actual emergencies.
So it is with life!
These next 20 years of your life are all about preparing you for the 60+ years that will come after that. Your success spiritually will most likely be determined by your preparation during these years. As will your success vocationally, relationally, and financially. So here are a few things I hope you will learn that will help you prepare well for the days to come…
Learn to read and ponder Scripture
Learn the value of patience
Learn how to manage money
Learn the value of working hard
Learn the value of perseverance
Learn how to cook
Learn how to fix things around the house
Learn to think deeply
Learn the value of gratitude
Learn to take risks
Learn how to connect with people of all ages
Learn how to pray
Learn the value of generosity
Learn how to encourage other people
Learn how to fail successfully
Learn how to abide in the love of God
Learn how to learn
So that’s a lot to learn. But you don’t have to learn it all on on your own. Your mom and dad will help you. Nona and I will help you. And there will be others that the Lord will put in your life that will help you as well. Your part is to be willing to learn and prepare so that you will be equipped to deal with life as it unfolds before you. Mostly I will encourage you to learn the truth of this verse from Proverbs 3:5-6:
Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make straight your paths.
J.I. Packer died a few days ago. I’m sure that you have no idea who he is but you should.
For my generation, he was one of the guys that would be included in the Hebrews 11 Hall of Faith if they were accepting new honorees.
It’s fascinating to watch how God can take tragedy and turn it into triumph. This was certainly the case for Packer. When he was 7 years old he suffered a severe head injury in a collision with a bread van, which caused him to not be able to play sports, so he became interested in reading and writing. This proved to be very fortuitous for the Church. In 1973 he wrote a book called Knowing God which is considered one of the most influential books for evangelicals of the 20th century.
It was definitely an influential book in my life. I became a Christian in 1974 and it was one of the first books I read as a growing new believer. I still have that book on my shelf and wanted to share a few quotes that I underlined (this was before highlighters were widely used).
“How can we turn our knowledge about God into knowledge of God? The rule for doing this is simple but demanding. It is that we turn each Truth that we learn about God into matter for meditation before God, leading to prayer and praise to God.”
“Men who know their God are before anything else men who pray, and their first point where their zeal and energy for God’s glory come to expression is in their prayers.”
“Once you become aware that the main business that you are here for is to know God, most of life’s problems fall into place of their own accord.”
“What makes life worthwhile is having a big enough objective, something which catches our imagination and lays hold of our allegiance; and this the Christian has in a way that no other person has. For what higher, more exalted, and more compelling goal can there be than to know God?”
“Knowing God is a relationship calculated to thrill a man’s heart.”
“The incarnation is in itself an unfathomable mystery, but it makes sense of everything else that the New Testament contains.”
Read the book when you get a chance. I have written you a note on the inside cover of my original copy. Find it on my shelf sometime and read it. My hope is that it will be a blessing to you.
Something very significant happened on the 200th day of the year 64. Not 1964 or even 1864. But 64. That makes it 1,956 years ago.
The city was Rome. A fire broke out just south of the legendary Palatine Hill, which is just a short walk from the Coliseum. I know this because Nona and I made this walk back in 2014. The fire raged for three days and destroyed much of the city. The emperor at the time was Nero and an unsubstantiated legend has it that he played his fiddle while the fire ravaged the city. We know that this legend is NOT true. But what we do know IS true is that he placed the blame for the fire squarely on the shoulders of Christians to clamp down on their growing influence. He arrested, tortured and executed hundreds of believers on the pretext that they had something to do with the fire. Which they did not!
Nero has been described as a “megalomaniacal, murderous tyrant.” He had an obsession with being known as a great ruler which turned into a delusion which fueled many of the atrocities he committed. He was put into a position where he indeed could have built a great and long lasting legacy but instead he will forever be remembered as one of the worst people to ever live.
I give you this brief snapshot of Nero to tell you this: We all have within us a desire for greatness. But greatness will not be found by being self-serving but rather by serving God and others. Jesus put it this way when talking to his disciples, “The greatest among you shall be your servant.Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” (Matthew 23:11-12)
Today would be a great day to look for a way to serve someone. It will be one of the first steps you can take to greatness.
On another note about the 200th day of the year. Back on the 100th day of this year I mentioned that I had a goal to do 100 pushups everyday of the year. So far so good. So the next time you see me lets have a pushup challenge and see if this old man can still out pushup you.
I have just exhausted pretty much everything that I can say in Hebrew. “Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one”
These are the first six words of the most famous part of the Shema which is Deuteronomy 6:4-9…
4 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
Because of your Jewish heritage (you are each one fourth Jewish) there are some things you should know about the Shema, given it’s importance to the Jewish faith.
It is considered the Jewish pledge of allegiance and is recited twice daily by observant Jews.
The word shema is translated “hear” but it’s connotation is really listen AND obey in Hebrew.
While Deuteronomy 6:4-9 is the most famous part of the Shema, there are two other parts: Deuteronomy 11:13-21 and Numbers 15:37-41. Tradition states these three parts cover all aspects of the Ten Commandments.
The two Deuteronomy passages are the Scriptures that are rolled up inside a mezuzah. (Have you ever noticed the mezuzah that is on our front doorpost?)
The Shema prayer was so influential and important that Jesus used it as the beginning of His answer to the “greatest commandment” question in Mark 12:28–30.
One of the reasons that this Deuteronomy 6 passage is so influential is because it says SO MUCH in so few verses. Here are a few succinct takeaways:
The Lord is our God (v.4) – You will have a lot of different things vie to be god of your life in the years to come. Refuse to give in no matter how alluring they may seem. They will all turn out to be fool’s gold.
Love the Lord with all that is within you (v.5) – If the Lord is your first love then everything else will fall into place. It is when you start loving people or things more than God that life starts to get out of whack.
Make God’s Word a frequent topic of conversation (v.6-7) – It will become easy to relegate talking about God’s Word to when you are at church or when you are having a Bible Study. But make it a point to bring God’s Word into every conversation that you have. It’s pretty easy to do if you are intentional about it.
Make God’s Word a matter of memory and meditation (v.8-9) – Memorizing Scripture gets God’s Word into your head where it can battle all the other thoughts that will seek to control you. Meditating on Scripture (aka pondering) gets God’s Word into your heart where it can bring about genuine life change and conform you into the likeness of Christ.
So I like I mentioned in my last epistle, don’t let the Shema go in one ear and out the other. And like your Jewish ancestors it would not be a bad passage to adopt as your spiritual pledge of allegiance. Just sayin’.
Let’s just go ahead and agree on the fact that ears are really weird looking. I regularly have people complement me on my blue eyes but not one time in my life has anyone ever said to me, “you have beautiful ears.” And my guess is that this has never happened to you either. Ears just look funny.
But our ears are one of the most incredible, as well as incredibly complex, parts of our anatomy. In my humble but accurate opinion only God could create something so intricate. The human ear certainly did not just happen by accident.
A simplified explanation of how hearing works goes like this: Sound waves flow into the outer ear, floating along the ear canal until they reach the eardrum. The eardrum starts vibrating, a subtle action that alerts the three bones comprising the ossicles (the incus, malleus, and stapes) located in the middle ear. The middle ear works like an amplifier and makes these sounds louder before shooting them off to the cochlea in the inner ear. Fluids inside the cochlea start to ripple from the vibrations. Then, a wave forms along the basilar membrane (the border between the upper and lower parts of the cochlea). Hair cells along the basilar membrane dance and bend, brushing against surrounding structures and creating electrical signals. Those signals move to the brain, and we hear them as sounds that we can successfully identify.
And here are a few fun facts about the ear for your edification:
The incus, malleus, and stapes (also known as the hammer, anvil, and stirrup) are the smallest bones in the human body
The ear contains more than 20,000 hair cells.
Sound waves travel at 770 miles per hour, or at 1,130 feet per second.
Ears don’t just help you hear; they also help you keep your balance.
The middle ear is connected to the throat by the Eustachian tube. The Eustachian tube is responsible for striking the balance between the atmospheric pressure and body pressure.
Your ears can affect your sense of taste. This is because of the nerve, chorda tympani, which connects your taste buds to your brain by navigating through the middle ear.
Now why I am I telling you all this? Well I have a whole new appreciation for the ear. I used to take my hearing for granted but no more. Turns out that I have recently lost about 80% of the hearing in my right ear. Cause unknown. (I did have an MRI of my brain to make sure there was not any kind of tumor involved.) So if you ever think that I am not listening to you it may very well be that I am just not hearing you. I have tried to help Nona understand this but it sort of comes out sounding more like an excuse than an explanation.
Jesus often used the phrase “he who has ears to hear, let him hear.” The people that did not want to hear anything that Jesus said probably replied “Thank you Captain Obvious.” But Jesus’ point was that everybody has ears but NOT everybody hears. My encouragement to you is to never take those two weird shaped things on the side of your head for granted. Listening well is one of the best ways that you can honor God and His Word and one of the best gifts that you can give to other people. And here is a verse to ponder and to definitely NOT let go in one ear and out the other…
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5).
This is probably the most fundamental verse in the Older Testament and the first verse that Jews learn as young children. It begins with the word hear – which in Hebrew is the word “shema.” I’ll tell you more about “The Shema” in my next epistle. In the meantime, take a good look at your ears, laugh a little and thank God for those miraculous anatomical body parts.
You are probably not familiar with the name Ruth Wakefield and my guess is that your parents are not either. Bear with me while I introduce her to you and then you will understand the connection to your birthday epistle.
She was born in June 1903 in Easton, Massachusetts and worked as a dietician and lectured on foods. I n 1930, she and her husband Kenneth bought a tourist lodge in Plymouth County – located about halfway between Boston and New Bedford. It was a place where passengers had historically paid a toll, changed horses, and ate home-cooked meals. When the Wakefields opened their business, they named the establishment the Toll House Inn. Ruth cooked and served all the food and soon gained local fame for her desserts… especially a new cookie recipe she created. She invented chocolate chip cookies around 1938 when she added chopped up bits from a Nestle’ semi-sweet chocolate bar into a cookie.
During WWII, US soldiers from Massachusetts who were stationed overseas shared the cookies that they received in care packages from back home with soldiers from other parts of the US. Soon, hundreds of soldiers were writing home asking their families to send them some “Toll House” cookies, and Wakefield was soon inundated with letters from around the world requesting her recipe. Thus began the nationwide craze for the chocolate chip cookie.
As the popularity of the cookies increased, the sales of Nestle’s semi-sweet chocolate bars also spiked. Andrew Nestlé and Ruth Wakefield made a business arrangement: Wakefield gave Nestlé the right to use her cookie recipe and the Toll House name for one dollar and a lifetime supply of Nestlé chocolate. Nestlé then began marketing chocolate chips to be used especially for cookies and printing the recipe for the Toll House Cookie on its package.
Wakefield’s creation went on to be the most popular cookie of all time. Chocolate chip cookies currently have gross sales of over $18 billion in the United States… and Ruth Wakefield sold the rights to the cookie for $1.
I’m sure by now you can guess the connection to your birthday epistle. You and I have a mutual love for chooooooclate chiiiiiiiiiips. But here is the lesson I want to pass on to you. Ruth Wakefield, in her own way, changed the world for the better. (At least in my humble but accurate opinion). She did it because of a passion that she had and a desire to serve others and to bring them a degree of happiness – even if it was fleeting.
In the years to come it is going to be exciting to watch your passions emerge. One of my prayers is that the Lord will fuel you with godly passions that you will steward well as you seek to serve Jesus, serve others, and be used mightily to bring joy to a despairing world. May these first two verses from Psalm 84 reflect your passion to know God and be the wellspring from which all other passions flow…
How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts! 2 My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God.
In August of 2015, Nona and I, along with some good friends, traveled to Normandy and visited some of the D-Day beaches as well as the American Cemetery and Memorial. I was not prepared for the emotions that stepping on to this hallowed ground would provoke. And I do not use the word “hallowed” lightly. The soldiers who are buried there are indeed to be greatly revered and honored. They died courageously. They died voluntarily. They died so that others could live without having to bow to the tyranny of evil.
D-Day took place 76 years ago today. It was the largest amphibious invasion in the history of warfare. On June 6, 1944, more than 150,000 brave young soldiers from the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada stormed the beaches of Normandy, France in a bold strategy to push the Nazis out of Western Europe and turn the tide of the war for good. Because of their perseverance and grit they were successful and their efforts essentially determined that the Allies would be victorious over Hitler and the Nazis. Had they failed the world would no doubt look much different today.
But their victory came at a great price. Over 4000 soldiers gave their life that day. I took this picture as we entered the cemetery grounds.
It says: “To these we owe the high resolve that the cause for which they died shall live.”
Ponder deeply these words and never forget that men and women have made great sacrifices so that we could live in the greatest country in the world and enjoy great freedom. Relatives of yours have served and fought to this end. We live in a day where our way of life is under attack. Where our faith is under attack. I have no doubt that you will be tasked with fighting for what you believe in. Do so courageously! Do so with grit and perseverance! Do so with this in mind…
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. (Hebrews 12:1-3)
Right now I have the awesome privilege of cheering you on in person to live lives that matter and that make much of Jesus. One day I will be a part of that great cloud of witnesses that the author of Hebrews talks about. When that day comes perk up your ears when life seems especially difficult as I will be the one who is cheering the loudest.
So I am about two weeks away from my 62nd birthday. And it got me thinking back to the year that I was born. I was born in the middle of the Baby Boomer generation. (Your parents are considered Millennials and all of you are called Generation Z – though I suspect that could change for some of you) The world was a much different place back in 1958. Here are some things that were true way back then…
I was born in Columbia SC at Providence Hospital.
Dwight Eisenhower was president. So at present I have lived under the administration of 12 different presidents. His Vice-President was Richard Nixon who would later become president in 1968.
Elvis Presley, already a Rock and Roll star, was inducted into the US Army. Interesting fact: Earlier in the decade, before he really made it big time, he was passing through Lexington NC and got sick. My grandfather (your great-great grandfather), who was a physician, gave him a shot of penicillin in the buttocks.
The Beatles were known as The Quarrymen. They wouldn’t be known as The Beatles until 1960.
NASA was established and Project Mercury, the first spaceflight program began.
Gunsmoke was the top rated TV show. The Bridge Over the River Kwai was voted Best Movie of the Year.
The New York Yankees won the 1958 World Series. It was their 7th championship in 10 years. Their roster included MLB Hall of Famers Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantle, Enos Slaughter, and Whitey Ford. The Baltimore Colts won the NFL Championship. Arnold Palmer won the first of his four Master’s titles.
The United States was between wars. The Korean War had ended in 1953 and the Vietnam War for America would not escalate for a few more years.
Famous people, besides your Pop Pop, who were also born in 1958 include Michael Jackson, Madonna, Ellen Degeneres, Mark Cuban, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Alec Baldwin. And your Nona.
62 years may sound old to you and it may seem like a long time. But when you are 62 you will understand just how fast 62 years can fly by.
Moses says this in Psalm 90 verses 12 & 14:
12 So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. 14 Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
These verses echo two things that I pray for you: 1) That you will make wise choices as you grow up and 2) that you will find joy and satisfaction as you embrace the Father’s magnanimous love.
Because of Covid-19 the 2020 Major League Baseball season never even got started. Nona and I were supposed to be in St Louis visiting my brother in early May and were going to a Mets vs. Cardinals game – but that never happened. So I am missing baseball.
But I also miss playing baseball. I grew up playing Little League and High School ball. That evolved into playing softball for the next 25 years until the threat of pulled muscles caused me to retire. So it’s been about 17 years since I played competitively. And I still miss it.
So I’ve been reminiscing. I thought I would share a few of my baseball memories with you that I haven’t already shared.
As I mentioned I played Little League up until high school. I was a short stop. The thing I like about being short stop was that I felt like I was involved in every play. I wasn’t great but I was good enough to make a few All-Star teams. What I wasn’t was a pitcher. I remember being put in to pitch one game. I don’t remember why, but I do remember that we lost 30-0. My pitching career ended pretty quickly.
My uncle and his family lived up in Detroit. He was a syndicated columnist for the Detroit Free Press and loved baseball – especially the Detroit Tigers. When we would visit, he would take me to baseball games at the old Tiger Stadium. In 1971, Detroit hosted the MLB All-Star Game and he invited me to come up from South Carolina and go to the game with him. It was one of the greatest All Star Games ever…. for at least 3 reasons. 1) It was the ONLY time the American League won the All Star Game between 1963 and 1982. 2) All of the scoring came via the home run and all six home runs hit in the game and all the runs scored were by future Hall of Fame players. These HOFers hit home runs: Johnny Bench, Hank Aaron, Roberto Clemente, Harmon Killebrew, Frank Robinson, and Reggie Jackson. 3) Jackson’s home run is one of the most memorable ever – it was measured at 520 feet and was only kept from going out of the stadium by a light pole on the roof of the stadium.
I didn’t play baseball my first 2 years of high school – instead played tennis. But tried out for the baseball team my junior year. I was actually surprised when I was told at first cuts that I would be on the team. Again, I was not a great player, but my value to the team was that I was good and could play a lot of different position (just not pitcher). I was what you would call a utility player. I didn’t start until half way through the year. I had been the backup 2nd baseman. But during warmups one game I was in the outfield and running down every fly ball that came out there. The coach noticed and began starting me in left field after that.
My senior year I converted back to 2nd base and started the whole season. About 2/3 through the season, I was fielding grounders prior to the start of the game when a ball hit a rock, jumped up and crashed into my nose – and broke it. There was a lot of blood but we got it under control and I stayed in the game. Later that game, with two outs and a runner on, an opposing player lined a shot to right center. I timed my jump just right, elevated as high as I could, speared the ball and took an extra base hit away from the batter. It was one of the best catches I ever made.
The memories I have of playing ball are still fresh. Hard to believe they are over 40 years ago. Here’s the thing about memories. They stay with you for a long time. The good ones and the bad ones. Some memories you are in control of making. Some you aren’t. Make sure that the ones you can control are the ones that you will want to remember 40 years from now. I’m hoping that some of your best memories will be shared memories that we have together over the next 20 years. But in the meantime…