Remembering the Reason for the Season

Luke Chapter 2:

The Birth of Jesus

2 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.2 (This was the first census that took place while[a] Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to their own town to register.

4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

21 On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived.

The account of Jesus’, the Messiah’s, birth is every bit as miraculous and relevant today as it was over two thousand years ago.  I pray that everyone will have a very happy and blessed Christmas this year, and that we not forget the real reason for the season. God bless!

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Gay Marriage and the Looming Culture Clash

Who would have ever imagined that a fast-food restaurant with a playful spotted bovine mascot would turn out to be a harbinger for the fast-approaching collision between government and the faith culture at large? As reported recently, several mayors and local government officials have declared Chick-fil-A persona non grata in their respective cities in response to statements by Dan Cathy, the president and CEO of Chick-fil-A. Mr. Cathy, it seems, had the audacity to openly affirm his Christian faith and the company’s support of traditional marriage during an interview.

The heresy had barely been uttered before Boston Mayor Thomas Menino hammered out a scathing letter to Cathy, declaring it would be “an insult” to have Chick-fil-A in Boston, and in a subsequent interview declared Chick-fil-A “Doesn’t belong in Boston.”

Not to be outdone, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and city Aldermen Joe Moreno and William Banks have not only declared Chick-fil-A not welcome in the Windy City, but openly bragged about using the full force of the zoning laws to stop Chick-fil-A from opening a new location there. They’ve now been joined by officials in San Francisco and Washington D.C.

If these men were private citizens or political groups expressing their first amendment rights, that would be one thing. Boycotts and protests have a rich heritage in our country and are a sign of a truly free society. Apologists for gay marriage and the homosexual lifestyle have been cheerleading their cause in the public arena for many years now. But these recent events represent a more troubling trend and should serve as an omen of the larger, more serious conflict looming on the horizon. We’re talking about government officials using laws, regulations, and the coercive power of government against a business and a private citizen based solely on a religious viewpoint. So egregious was this overreach, even the ACLU—certainly no friend of anything conservative, traditional, or Christian—has condemned the actions as a clear case of viewpoint discrimination.

At the heart of the issue, Dan Cathy, like millions of Americans, doesn’t believe and will not submit to the idea of same sex marriage—the latest sacrament of the far Left orthodoxy. In the age of tolerance, this cannot be tolerated. It seems to matter little that the classic definition of marriage being between a man and a woman has been the only understanding of marriage for five thousand years of recorded history. In the few states gay marriage has been legalized, it was accomplished by judicial fiat, not the will of the people. No debate. No examination of history, culture, or science. No justifications. Obedience is demanded. Opposition must be crushed.

In spite of the court rulings, gay marriage is hardly a settled issue and is not the law of the land yet. If these officials can wield their power and attack a fellow citizen with such vitriol now, what can we expect when and if gay marriage becomes established U.S. law? Will our benevolent government respect the first amendment rights of its citizens to believe and teach the dictates of their faith as they see fit? What of that pesky right of free speech? The recent Obama administration HHS ruling forcing religious institutions to provide contraception to their employees in clear violation of their consciences and tenants serves as a good indicator. Once enshrined into law, gay rights will be used as a club to bludgeon people of faith and political opponents into silence. That’s not wild speculation. Europe and Canada have already provided the template, using hate crimes laws and human rights tribunals to prosecute pastors and politicians who dare voice opposition to same sex unions or preach against homosexual behavior.

The inescapable truth of this debate is that gay marriage laws offer nothing for homosexual couples legally that can’t be accomplished right now. Civil law remedies—such as Health Care Surrogates, Wills, and Power of Attorneys—already exist for inheritance, joint property, hospital visits, and all the other phony arguments put forward. The gay marriage push, at its core, is not about rights; it’s about altering the society in a way that has never been done before. The intent is to transform opinions and the cultural norms through the compelling power of legislation, all in an attempt to normalize and legitimize the sexual appetites of roughly two percent of the population. This can only be accomplished, though, if opposition is silenced. Thus, the frenzied attack on Dan Cathy and Chick-fil-A.

This latest skirmish illustrates that this issue is much more than just debate about marriage rights. It’s a clash of two diametrically opposed cultural philosophies: one of transcendent and fixed moral laws given by the Creator for civil and just societies, the other of shifting morals from the minds of men seeking pleasure, power, and preeminence. A vibrant people of faith rooted in the Judeo-Christian morals cannot co-exist with a government legislating laws and enforcing edicts designed to subjugate that faith. Only one worldview can reign.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” Dan Cathy took his stand by merely affirming his beliefs and faith. What say you?

When Morty Comes Calling

“You’ve got blood clots in your lungs—a lot of them,” the doctor said as Lori sat beside me in the Emergency Room.

Fortunately, Lori didn’t understand exactly what that meant at the time. Unfortunately, I did. As a detective, I’d investigated numerous deaths where people never even made it to the ER to get that diagnosis. Pulmonary Embolisms (blood clots in the lungs) are often fast killers. I was in trouble and knew it.

The medical team began a precession of needles, tubes, and monitors (which always seemed to be taped to the hairiest parts of my chest, but I digress), and they whisked me off to ICU. Swell. After twenty-four-years in law enforcement, I expected I might get bullets in the lungs someday, but blood clots were never on the radar. That’s when Morty showed up.

My own mortality—better known to me now as “Morty”—forced his way into my hospital room and my head that night. Between the Marines, police work, and my own reckless youth, I’ve had an overabundance of opportunities to be dispatched into the netherworld and find it rather miraculous that I hadn’t been before this. I’d survived each incident and laughed off as no big deal. I’d treated Morty in the past like the crazy relative you only see every couple of years at family reunions. You can be cordial, say “hello”, then move on to the finger foods. No deep chats or understanding of who he is or what he wants. No reconciling or acknowledging his place in your life. But Morty will only be ignored for so long.

Lying on the gurney wondering if or when one of the blood clots might break loose, I couldn’t just blow off Morty any longer. I couldn’t remain in blissful denial of the reality of all mankind—we each have a timestamp on our lives with a firm expiration date.

Hebrews 9:27 says, “Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people.” We can’t dodge destiny or cheat death.

Morty’s visitation that night forced me to examine if I really believe what I say I believe. Are the promises of God true, or just a comforting myth? (If they be myth, there’s no real comfort in them.) Jesus says, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand” and “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” A flood of other scriptures poured into my mind. I recounted God’s miracles in the Bible and in my own life, how He’s shown himself good and faithful in so many ways to me and my family—well beyond anything I deserved. After some wrestling with Morty and my own weaknesses and fears, I concluded that regardless of what would happen that night—if Morty and I held hands and skipped into Eternity together or if I recovered and got well—I was going to rest in God’s hands and take His promises at face value. The peace that followed was nothing short of amazing and sustained me through the rest of the hospital stay and into my recovery.

To be fair, in the time since the hospital stay, I’ve really come to appreciate Morty and what he can teach us. His ever-looming presence and occasional visits can help reorient our lives. Knowing that our days on Earth are numbered and short keeps us focused on what’s important—God, family, and relationships. The work I’ve done, cases I’ve investigated, books I’ve written will all soon be forgotten and account for little in the end. Not that we don’t live our lives and strive to do our best at our job and in life. We should honor God with everything we do and do it with excellence (Colossians 3:23). It’s simply about perspective. What is lasting and what isn’t. What will matter ten thousand years from now and what won’t, and prioritizing life accordingly. Morty has helped provide some clarity for me on that.

James 4:14 says, “Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.”

My hope and prayer is that the vapor trail of my life amounts to much more than just a noxious mix of gases, but might rather serve as a finger pointing to the One who holds all life in His hands. Thank you, Morty.

Sheepdogs and New Blogs

In September of 2010, with twenty-three years of police work tucked under my gun belt, I retired from my department and headed into a new chapter of my life, or so I thought. I’d spent thirteen years in the Homicide and Violent Crimes Unit and was mentally, physically, and spiritually exhausted. Like all serious decisions, I did not enter into it lightly. Lori and I put much prayer and consideration into it. I’d carefully plotted out the myriad of job opportunities available. Topping the list was writing full-time, both books and articles. I hoped to focus on my fiction line and develop my craft. I had several potential book contracts on the table, some freelance writing possibilities, and various teaching and speaking engagements lined up. I was also scheduled to work part-time, maybe fifteen hours a week, in a newly developed Cold Case Unit, reviewing Cold Case Homicides at my leisure. I had some teaching prospects out of the country with the State Department. It all seemed so right. I truly felt I was ready to walk away from fulltime law enforcement and transition into a new phase of my life.

A few months into my new gig, though, I got the sense that MY plan for where I was going and God’s might not be the same thing. One by one every item on my list was systematically wiped away, and I was left wondering what in the world God was doing. Both Lori and I felt the clear call for me to retire and head in this direction, but my plan was crumbling. Proverbs 19:21 became a reality to me. “Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails.”

As the emotional and financial realities were setting in, I also realized another small glitch in my master blueprint—I was still a cop at heart and not inclined to sit at home all day writing. The warrior nature instilled in the Marines and nurtured on the streets wasn’t quite ready to take a holiday. One night I found myself doing an extra lap around a pharmacy parking lot when I saw a suspicious person. I’d always slow down and rubberneck as I passed traffic stops to make sure the officer was safe, ready to pounce if he wasn’t. I was constantly scanning crowds for any potential threats. My cop alarms wouldn’t and couldn’t shut off. I’ve concluded that I’m a ruined soul, a Sheepdog as author Dave Grossman so accurately labeled it. His essay Sheep, Wolves, and Sheepdogs explains in an interesting way the mindset and attitudes of police officers and soldiers, people who feel it’s their duty and calling to protect others. I had to accept the fact that being a cop (Sheepdog) is exactly how God made me and is His primary calling for my life.

So, several months ago I started a full-time position with a smaller agency in our county. Now, with the crystal clarity of hindsight, I can see that God placed me exactly where He wanted me, even though I went there kicking and screaming. I love my job, and a whole new world of law enforcement has opened up to me. I’ve met many new brothers and sisters, and God has blessed me with countless opportunities to serve Him in my new role.

Writing and speaking are still important to me, and I seek to be faithful in that area as well. I’m working on several books and articles now, and I just started this blog, so we’ll see where all this goes. But first and foremost, I’m an old Sheepdog, and that’s not likely to change anytime soon. I hope you enjoy my new blog.