Friday, February 28, 2014

Long on "Going to," Short on Follow Through

Guilty, guilty and guilty; I must admit it--I am guilty of this.  Incomplete projects, unmet deadlines, unmet expectations...done it all. Hopefully, those hurt by my personal failures have forgiven, or maybe even forgotten the events. This had not been the pattern of my life, however. I've tried, with increasing success over the years, to manage my life better, keeping it clear of some of the clutter that tends to bring about those failures.
Each of us can only keep so many balls in the air at one time, when we reach that limit, one falls away. That's been the biggest problem with my failing to follow through. There's also fear of failure--I get part way into something, hit a snag and rather than mess it up entirely just stop and leave it. The third thing, and I'll stop at three, is lack of commitment--it seemed like a good idea at the time, but after a while the thrill is gone.
My methods of dealing with these foibles really are not that difficult.

  • I've learned to say NO, usually it's to myself, though sometimes to others. If I don't have the time, I don't have the time. It's that simple. 
  • I pick projects with a reasonable chance of success. I'm not a carpenter--I no longer try to build of fix things because I'm never happy with the outcome.
  • I count the cost. Is it worth the investment of time, money or other resources.  

This has caused some tough decisions. I really wanted to tinker with old tractors after I retired. Then I realized that it would mean a backyard cluttered with partially torn apart machinery--which would bring about an unhappy wife--or I'd have to build another building.  Not worth it.
I'd like to do some home improvements, my wife would like me to, I'm sure. However, I know my skills with a hammer so I have to wait until I can afford to hire someone. I'd rather it not-done than half-done.
I started the study of the Greek language. The cost is a few hours each week but the benefits are a better understanding of the Bible improving my ability to teach and preach. That's worth the trade off--even if I'll never be that good.
It took many years to get to this point; but I'm happier with myself, and there are probably fewer disappointed people out there.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Writer's Block?

Despite a very busy few weeks, I've started to write a bunch of blog posts--but there it has stopped. There's a Game Warden Files post that just didn't come to life; there's one about unmet expectations and one that's pretty much a written version of a sermon I preached last weekend. Can't seem to get any of them to the point where I can hit the publish button. Yet, people are still checking out the blog.
So, hang on folks, more coming. Hope they're worth the wait.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Game Warden Files--Boys Will Be Boys

"One boy's pretty good; two boys ain't much good; three boys is no good at all." So said my grandfather, a wise man who died back in 1982.  My dad quoted that often, and I've used it even more often than he did, I suspect. This story proves the point about two being "not much good."
It was the opening day of duck season and we came out of the swamps along the Mohawk River in Saratoga County by about 10 AM. It had been an easy day as most of the hunters we encountered had been within the law. A few, however, had given us plenty of opportunity to put pen to paper, so it had been a worthwhile morning. I was headed home to take a quick shower and go watch a good friend of mine take her black belt test...never got there.
I heard the State Police Dispatcher giving a Trooper a complaint about a person having been hit in the eye by a BB or pellet while hunting...right up my ally as that's what's called a hunter related shooting incident and we were obligated to investigate, or at least assist the other agency, in their investigation.
When I contacted the State Police Dispatcher, I was directed to the hospital in Little Falls, where the victim was being taken. Even running red lights, I was a full 40 minutes away and by the time I got there the Trooper was coming out the door and led me from there to yet another hospital in Cooperstown where the victim had been taken for a more comprehensive exam.
The trooper gave me the story as he'd had it. Two cousins, about 14 and 15 years old, had been out in the woods and, according to them, had been shooting at a chipmunk on a stone wall. A BB had ricocheted and struck one of the boys in the eye.  The good news was the boy had no lasting damage in the eye, so after he'd been released from the hospital the Trooper and I took statements from them and tried to make heads or tails out of the stories.
They took us into the woods and showed us where and how it happened, which didn't add up--not even close--to the stories they were telling us. They stuck to their stories despite the facts, and gave written statements to back them up. The parents were useless--also making contradictory statements, though not on paper.  We understood what had happened: they'd been having a BB gun fight in the woods. If they'd been honest about it, that would have been the end of the story, we'd write our reports and go home. Since they couldn't tell it straight, we made it a bigger deal for them
Since it's illegal for anyone under 16 to possess even a BB gun except under certain conditions, each boy, according to law, "must be adjudged a juvenile delinquent." That's the way we wrote it up and sent it up the chain to be dealt with by the juvenile justice system.
Those two boys really weren't much good.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Shared article

This came to me from an unknown source, though the path by which it reached me says much of its origin. 
For my pastor friends, I think you'll find much to encourage you. For my church-going friends, think about these things when you think about your pastors.  

1. I wish I'd known that people who disagree with me on doctrines I hold dearly can often love God and pursue his glory with as much, and in some cases more, fervency than I do. The sort of intellectual pride that fuels such delusions can be devastating to ministry and will invariably undermine any efforts at broader Christian unity across denominational lines.
2. I wish I'd known about the inevitable frustration that comes when you put your trust in what you think are good reasons why people should remain loyal to your ministry and present in your church. I wish I'd been prepared for the feelings of betrayal and disillusionment that came when people in whom I'd personally invested so much love, time, and energy simply walked away, often with the most insubstantial and flimsiest of excuses.
3. I wish I'd known how deeply and incessantly many (most?) people suffer. Having been raised in a truly functional family in which everyone knew Christ and loved one another, I was largely oblivious to the pain endured by most people who've never known that blessing. For too many years I naively assumed that if I wasn't hurting, neither were they. I wish I'd realized the pulpit isn't a place to hide from the problems and pain of one's congregation; it's a place to address, commiserate with, and apply God's Word to them.
4. I wish I'd known the life-changing truth of Zephaniah 3:17 long before Dennis Jernigan introduced me to it. I'm honored when people thank me for writing a particular book with comments such as "This was very helpful" or "You enabled me to see this truth in a new light," or something similar. But of only one book, The Singing God, have people said, "This changed my life." This isn't some vain attempt to sell more books, but a reminder that most Christians (including pastors) are convinced God is either angry or disgusted with them, or both. I wish I'd known earlier how much he enjoys singing over them (and over me).
5. I wish I'd known how much people's response to me would affect my wife. For many years I falsely assumed her skin was as thick as mine. Regardless of a woman's personality, only rarely will she suffer less than him from criticism directed his way.
6. I wish I'd known how vital it is to understand yourself and to be both realistic and humble regarding what you find. Don't be afraid to be an introvert or extrovert (or some mix of the two). Be willing to take steps to compensate for your weaknesses by surrounding yourself with people unlike you, who make up for your deficiencies and challenge you in healthy ways to be honest about what you can and cannot do.
7. I wish I'd known it's possible to be a thoroughly biblical complementarian and to include women in virtually every area of ministry in the local church. In my early years in ministry, I was largely governed by the fear that to permit women into any form of ministry was to cross an imaginary biblical boundary—even though the Bible never imposes any such restriction on their involvement. I tended to make unwarranted applications by extrapolating from explicit principles something either absent or unneccesary. Aside from senior governmental authority in the local church (the role of elder) and the primary responsibility to expound and apply Scripture, is there anything the Bible clearly says is off-limits to females? Trust me, men, we need them far more than we know.
8. I wish I'd known it was okay to talk about money. Don't be afraid to talk about money. Just be sure you're humble and biblical and don't do it with a view to a salary increase for yourself (unless you genuinely and desperately need one). For far too many years I allowed my disdain for prosperity gospel advocates to silence my voice on the importance of financial stewardship in Christian growth and maturity. I didn't formulate a strategy for calling people to lifelong financial generosity without sounding self-serving.
9. I wish I'd known about the delusion of so-called confidentiality. Pity the man who puts his confidence in confidentiality. You can and must control the information that comes to you, but you can never control the information that comes from you. Once information is out and in the hands of others, never assume it will remain there, notwithstanding their most vigorous promises of silence. Be cautious and discerning about to whom you promise confidentiality, under which conditions (it's rarely if ever unconditional), and in regard to what issues and/or individuals. "Sam, you don't appear to have much trust in human nature, do you?" It's not that I don't trust human nature. I'm actually quite terrified of it! What I trust is Scripture's teaching about human nature.
10. I wish I'd known about the destructive effects of insecurity in a pastor. This is less because I've struggled with it and more due to its effect I've seen in others. Why is insecurity so damaging?
• Insecurity makes it difficult to acknowledge and appreciate the accomplishments of others on staff (or in the congregation). In other words, the personally insecure pastor is often incapable of offering genuine encouragement to others. Their success becomes a threat to him, his authority, and his status in the eyes of the people. Thus if you're insecure you likely won't pray for others to flourish.
• Insecurity will lead a pastor to encourage and support and praise another pastor only insofar as the latter serves the former's agenda and doesn't detract from his image.
• An insecure pastor will likely resent the praise or affirmation other staff members receive from the people at large.
• For the insecure pastor, constructive criticism is not received well, but is perceived as a threat or outright rejection.
• Because the insecure pastor is incapable of acknowledging personal failure or lack of knowledge, he's often unteachable. He will resist those who genuinely seek to help him or bring him information or insights he lacks. His spiritual growth is therefore stunted.
• The insecure pastor is typically heavy-handed in his dealings with others.
• The insecure pastor is often controlling and given to micromanagement.
• The insecure pastor rarely empowers or authorizes others to undertake tasks for which they're especially qualified and gifted. He won't release others but rather restrict them.
• The insecure pastor is often given to outbursts of anger.
• At its core, insecurity is the fruit of pride.
In summary, and at its core, insecurity results from not believing the gospel. The antidote to feelings of insecurity, then, is the rock-solid realization that one's value and worth are in the hands of God, not others, and that our identity expresses who we are in Christ. Only as we deepen our grasp of his sacrificial love for us will we find the liberating confidence to affirm and support others without fearing their successes or threats.

Game Warden Files--Compliments

Every person likes to be complimented, law enforcement officers are no different. All such statement are appreciated greatly, but when they come from people in high places--whether delivered privately or publicly--seem to have a special ring to them. If those folks notice, we know that others must also. I've had two such comments in my time.
The first came from a man who was then a prosecutor. He was the Assistant District Attorney who prosecuted my most difficult case ever (see Every Officer Has One of These), and is now a State Supreme Court Judge. Some time after that case, the defendant from that case was a suspect in a crime in another county. The crime was a larceny from the home of one of his friends and was for quite a large amount of money. One other suspect was named also, and the case was never closed.
In talking with that ADA about another matter, that case came up and his comment to me was that if it had happened in his county, he would get me assigned to the case--even though it was not related to the mission of the department--and I would solve if, prove it, and allow him to get a conviction. However, it was not his county, and since the DA in the county of the event hated anything to do with EnCon Officers, I stayed away from it except for offering a couple thoughts to those who did have the case.
The other kind words came from another man who had been the District Attorney (at the time of the above case), and is now a superior court Justice. When he had been the DA, I'd called him because I had a sticky situation: there was an environmental violation on the property of the County Sheriff, and ultimately the legal liability was upon him--a terrible embarrassment to an honorable man. I called to give him a heads up, so that if and when he heard about it, he'd have the facts. We resolve the situation fairly--the contractor responsible for the violation took responsibility--and moved on.
Not long after that, I called him a couple times to run situations by him that involved EnCon law regarding discharging firearms within 500 feet of buildings and on/across public roadways. I wanted give him my read on why I was NOT going to prosecute based upon a principle of necessity of action. He agreed with my reasoning and I closed those cases without charges.
Some years later, I got a call from one of his neighbors--the defendant from Every Officer Has One of These. He complained that the DA had shot a raccoon out of a tree within 500 feet of a house, and possibly from the roadway. I called the DA laughing and reminding him of his previous agreement on my decisions on a couple very similar incidents. The complainant wrote letters of complaint to someone, but they never went anywhere--until this District Attorney was tapped to fill a vacant Superior Court Justice position. It was brought up, explained, and the rest is history.
When I retired, this judge came to my party and asked to speak. Higher words of praise for my professional behavior I've never received. He told the story of our many dealings and said that it didn't matter who you were, when I was involved the law was the law, and people were always treated fairly.

Game Warden Files--Politics

What? Politics affects law enforcement? Say not so!
Well sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn't; but in one case some politicians found that it didn't help to toss their weight around.
It was opening day of the duck season, and I was asked to work with a couple agents from the US Fish and Wildlife Service in a swamp where there had been some complaints in the past. It was not in my sector, but that sector officer was off and asked me to cover for  him.
We left my marked car in the nearby community and took the agents' unmarked vehicles to the spot. Dressed in camouflage and carrying shotguns, we made our way to a spot where we could observe a good portion of the swamp. Shortly after daylight the gunfire started. We were able to quickly document several violations and started rounding up the violators.
One of them made me for a state officer and handed me his business card--he was a member of the New York State legislature--then started dropping the name of the current DEC commissioner, saying that he (the commissioner) had planned to come along on that hunting trip but had to change his plans, "Wouldn't it have been funny if [the commissioner] had come?" My reply was that it would have been very unfortunate for the commissioner! His name dropping and arrogance set the tone for the rest of the day--and really threw a wrench into our plans as the federal agents had planned to have me write all the charges under state law. Now, since these guys wanted to play the politics card, we opted to examine all of them very closely and charge all of the violations under federal law which made the fines increase from maybe $50 to $200 minimum.
One member of this elite group was cited for using lead shot for hunting waterfowl. His response--directed loudly toward me--"That's a ten thousand dollar shotgun, son. You can't shoot steel in a ten thousand dollar shotgun." I held my tongue, but wanted to tell him to go to Walmart and get a Remington 870 like the rest of us!
During our work there, one of the agents wondered off in a different direction and was approached by another hunter who warned him about the "game wardens up ahead." He produced his badge, "OH? like me?" and brought this guy back to the rest of us. seems like he got a ticket for something also; but he remained in a good mood, amused that he has warned the game warden about the game wardens.
By around noon we were done. We wrote about  a dozen people a total of about 20 citations: over limit by species, no duck stamp, unplugged shotguns, lead shot, taking out season...a good variety. We made a plan to return the next season to see if they'd gotten the message.
The swamp was part of large track of land that had been managed as something of a game farm when we had made our visit. Before the next season we did a check on the area and found that all had changed. The mowed walkways and carefully cut cover areas were already starting to be overgrown, the place had become unused. I'm sure this bunch found some other playground upon which to violate--I doubt they really learned their lessons.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Ephesions 4:29--the ABV (Ammo Box Version)

 Eph 4:29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths (or off your fingertips), but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. (ABV)

I'm not trying to write new Scripture here, that's contrary to everything I believe; but someone needs to make a point, and it looks like that someone is going to be me. The principle is that our communication should first of all be wholesome, and that it should be aimed at building people up, not tearing them down. No thinking person will argue that social media can be downright unwholesome at times, nor can it be argued that though it is well used by some to edify, it's also effectively used to tear down.
I've seen far too many things posted on social networking that violate these principles of wholesome and uplifting communication and no doubt have been guilty of it myself on occasion. The offending things come in at least a couple forms:

  • Outright insults--There are no end of the battles between people fought in the virtual press whether it's politics, school rivalries, lovers' quarrels, personal battles...they're all out there. Points can be made without putting people down. Ideas can be criticized without attacking people. 
  • Questionable photos and content--Speaking here to those who are professing Christians, do you really look at what you're posting?  It it really there to build someone up, or just to get a laugh or make a point? Must a statement be made this way? Is the humor really worth travelling down the path of thought the picture takes us? Is the content of an article or link really necessary to share with everyone, even with a warning on language? It might be, but is it really helpful and is it necessary to share so broadly that everyone sees it, or might it better to share it privately if it's of significant value?

My rule of thumb has become "Do I want my granddaughter reading this?" Whether it's a cutting comment, an inappropriate photo or bad language, the answer is a resounding "NO."
As I've already admitted, I've been guilty of sharing some things that hindsight makes me think I'd have been better not sharing; but a couple things I've seen lately, posted by people I respect greatly, make me ask the question. I'll be watching my own fingers a bit more closely from here on.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

It's OK, Mom; You Don't Have To....

My mom doesn't cook any more, it's been slowing done for years but now about the only thing she does is make coffee. It's a shame, because she was a great cook. My son the cook/writer/blogger wrote great articles about her cooking because it was everything home cooking should be.
One of her specialties was lasagna. It was really special when it was based on her homemade sauce. That sauce went away a long time ago; but she kept making the dish with sauce she bought--and it was still pretty good lasagna. Every year, I could count on a pan of her homemade lasagna as a birthday present. It would be delivered to me frozen, amid much laughter from the rest of the family--we all knew what it was. She also made my birthday cake every year, generally served as dessert for Christmas dinner and it was amid the Christmas dinner I'd get my annual delivery. I can't deny that I enjoyed it it, year after year, I got a piece of my childhood for my birthday. It was great.
A few years ago, my wife took over the birthday cake making and that was good--a passing of the torch. My wife does a fine job, even making my mom's penuche frosting for the spice cake that I love. This year, however, there was another change that's, well, umm... just not acceptable.
I wasn't really expecting the lasagna. She's 90, been making it a long time and, as I said before, she doesn't cook anymore--she's made that pretty plain. So, this year I was somewhat surprised when the icy package was delivered as before. There was the requisite laughter, and then the qualifier, "I didn't make it myself." She'd bought it! Yeah, not wanting to break tradition, she went out and bought a frozen lasagna.
My wife took took it out of the freezer to thaw and last night we baked it. Well, it was lasagna, one of the better brands of frozen food actually; but it was really just frozen food, not made with the love that Mom put into it.
It's alright Mom. You've made me more lasagna than many Italian mothers have made for their sons. You don't need to get the frozen one--even delivered in love, it's not the same. I'll keep the memories of your homemade dish, you can keep the frozen one.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Game Warden Files--The Ethan Allen

Someone recently made note of the fact that though I'd spent some time blogging on the largest tragedy I'd ever dealt with--the World Trade Center disaster we know so well as 911-- I'd never mentioned another major tragedy in my career, one much closer to home: the sinking of the pleasure boat Ethan Allen on Lake George in October of 2005.
As in most cases of disaster, many are hailed as heroes for their response--and some truly are, stoically doing great things under extraordinary circumstances; but most of us merely respond, take an assigned task or fill a spot where we find a need, complete our tasks and go home. We do not consider ourselves heroes.
Within a half hour of the boat's capsizing, my phone rang and I was out the door only minutes later, running with red lights and siren all the way from Meco to well north of Lake George Village. By the time I arrived the event had changed from a rescue to a recovery. Those who would survive had been rescued and the grim task of bringing the bodies to shore had begun.
Virtually every undertaker in the region had been called to deal with the many deaths. Among them was a young man who had grown up and attended school with my sons. I ended up working with him and others of his profession escorting the hearses carrying the victims to the makeshift morgue--a freezer truck--at the nearest hospital. This was a necessary part of the process as the entire event had to be considered a potential crime scene, and the chain of evidence had to be preserved; thus a police presence with each body was necessary.
It was not an enjoyable job, and the usual morbid humor by which most emergency personnel cope with disaster was notably absent. My young undertaker friend's observation that though these folks were all unknowns to us--mostly older folks from the mid-west--they were mothers, fathers, grandparents, aunts and uncles, kept the mood pretty somber. I did my job, unceremonious as it was, and went home later that night. Since I had to be out of town the next day on another assignment, I was not part of raising the sunken craft or involved in the investigation in any way.
I never really gave my part in the even much thought; I responded, did my job and went home. A month or so later a local businesswoman asked me if I had been involved in the Ethan Allen event, and what my part had been. When I told her what I'd done, a deep sadness came over her and she asked if I was able to sleep through the night yet. The question took me aback quite a bit. The fact that we in police, fire and EMS are called upon to do these things is not something that upsets me. It's part of the job, we do it and go home. Those who are unable to cope with it are better served to be in other professions; they and society are both better for it..
It's ironic that I can deal with these things objectively as they are occurring when I'm involved; but I don't deal well with seeing any extreme emotion-provoking moments in the lives of others when I'm detatched--often watching TV shows, movies or even some commercials I get a lump in my throat and my eyes might even well up with tears...guess I'm not much of a hero.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Well, Back When I Was a Boy....

Back when I was a boy, things were different. I won't even say that everything was better, but some things certainly were. There was a general sense of decency and decorum that seemed to reign. Sure, there were rude and discourteous people, but they were the minority--a small minority, at that. There was a standard of behavior to which most adhered; those who did not were dealt with in some way, or so it appeared to my young eyes.

One pet peeve in recent years is lack of respect for the traditions regarding wearing of hats. Back when I was a boy, the hats came off when a man (or boy) entered a building, particularly a public building such as a govenment office or school (indoor sporting events being the exception, even years back).  That seems to be no more. I regularly see men conducting business in government buildings wearing their hats. When did that change?  Speaking of hats, unless in a uniform of some sort, military, EMS, fire or police, men removed their hats for the National Anthem and Pledge to the Flag. That's gone also. How hard is it to remove a hat--even if you're having a bad hair day--or a no hair day, the direction I'm headed?

I was recently the Master of Ceremonies for an event in a school gymnasium. When I called the people to their feet for the Pledge, I noticed that most of the men made no move to remove their hats so I announced "Gentlemen, please remove your hats!" At least once I got my way--and a pretty good number of young men heard and saw it. I hope there is a lasting effect.

Moving on to more serious things, back when I was a boy, boys and girls had respect for each other and, though there was natural curiosity toward the opposite sex, there were pretty hard and fast boundaries on acting on that curiosity. Now, there is a phenomenon called "sexting." Anyone not having his head in the sand knows at least something of that. I don't believe there to be any place for it, but the level of it among young people is amazing. One young teenager recently told me that about a dozen of her casual friends had asked her to send naked pictures of herself to them--she did not--however the sheer number who asked floored me. More upsetting yet is the number of kids who do send naked pictures--both girls and boys! It's even worse than that. Casual acquaintances are asking for sex as though it's no different than asking to borrow a pencil in class--and that at young ages.

This is not behavior reserved for older teens, it's happening at preteen ages also! Even those parents who are extremely diligent about monitoring their children's electronic communication are getting blindsided. Worse yet, many parents are not taking steps to stop it; they're ignoring or even denying that their children are participating it it. Yes, I used the word children because that's what they are!

In New York, the law prohibits sexual behavior of any kind with a person under 17 years of age. It's called the age of consent. The law is there to protect kids from thing they are not ready for. Sexual entanglements at young ages mess with the minds. Find a few teenagers who don't keep a private timeline on facebook and follow the drama for a few weeks. You can bet that some of it involves some type of sexual activity.

Yeah, this has been a rant and I'm not going to go into a long discourse on the social fix for these or other evils. I'll just move toward what my wife calls my simple theology:
1)Sin is bad, salvation (and forgiveness) is free--get it
2)If the Bible says "do it," do it; if the Bible says "don't do it," don't do it.
Start there.