Month: October 2011

Precious Value of Faith, Family and Friends

This morning I woke up early.  That is not really anything new it is just that today was a day when I needed to get things done.  I have been distracted over the course of the last two weeks and I have not been as productive in completing some tasks I needed to get done. It is now about 11:30 at night and I am sitting at my office desk realizing that I STILL have a lot to do before I can go to bed.  I did not even come close to getting the things done today that I needed to do.

There are reasons as to why I failed in getting everything done today.   I have been reeling from the loss of my lifelong friend, Steve Schueren, who took his own life just a few weeks ago.

( Save Me a Seat – My Tribute to Steve Scheueren)

I am still trying to process this loss in my life.  I am living with an element of denial because I have always assumed he and his friendship would always be there in my life.  I took him way too much for granted.  I am struggling with the fact that he is gone. 

So today I came into my office and was determined to shake the cobwebs from my head and get down to business.   In the middle of a very busy morning, I took the time to clear all of my voice mails that were saved on my phone.  Pretty simple task and I was sure it would only take a few minutes to do.   About halfway through the task however, there came a voice mail that I had never heard before.  Someway, somehow this message was bypassed and I had never heard it before.

It was a voice mail from Laurie Crawford.   Laurie was a close friend and an employee of mine that had worked for me right up until she passed away in early 2011.   I have written about Laurie a few times over the years.  Most specifically on the post,  “No Whining Zone  – A Facebook Challenge”.

I sat there at my desk trying to hold my composure.  I was virtually on the brink of tears as people walked in and out of the office.  I was trying desperately not to show my emotions as I listened to the message from Laurie.  She was telling me that she was planning on coming in to work but that the doctor wanted her to come in for another test.  She was apologizing for not being able to come to work. 

She never did come back to work and she passed away a few weeks later.    She was a very special person and I still miss her terribly.  On top of everything over the past few weeks, I did not expect to hear her voice today and it really shook me up.

Over the course of the last few years I have lost some dear friends.   People who were very important in my life.  I have to admit before the Lord that I need a break from the sadness and the hurt from losing those that I loved and was close to.  I reflect on the loss of these close friends and it makes everything vivid, raw and emotional.

In the midst of the loss, I am reminded that the things that are important in life become very clear.  The most important things in life are your faith, your family and your friends. The rest of the junk in this life is just not worth it.  People are way too important.  What is most clear and what really matters is to be true to your faith,  say the things you need to say to those you love.  Starting with your family and then with your friends.  Make sure you have made things right.  Regret is a terrible thing to live with and as I write this I am keenly made aware of some things that I need to fix and settle in my relationships within my own family.   

We are busy living for food, cars, houses and things, but in death we see….if only briefly….that the only important things around us are those friends and family that we are close to.  You see, the only eternal things you will ever encounter (other than God himself) are people.   All the cars, houses, things and stuff will rot, rust, decay or be thrown out, but your faith, friends and family…are the most important things in life.

May I always be reminded to check my priorities.  Ask myself,  “How am I investing my life?”   “What’s important to me?”  Don’t pass by your faith, your family and your friends too quickly, don’t dismiss them, don’t abuse them.  

Faith, Family and Friends

All of these things are created by God to be valued as precious…because they are.

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Save Me A Seat – My Tribute to Steve Schueren

I sat in the back of the bus.

I sat with the other bewildered children listening to some strange lady trying to get us to sing songs that we had never heard before.  She seemed way too happy for that time of the morning. 

The church bus picked us up early on that Sunday morning in Oak Harbor and I was on my way to Fremont Baptist Temple in Fremont, Ohio.  It is hard to believe that my parents allowed me to ride this rickety old bus some 25 miles to Fremont to attend Sunday school.  But it was  1971 and things were different back then. 

It seemed as if that strange lady in the front of the bus knew a never-ending list of songs.  She sang those songs  one right after the other and I found myself taking a liking to those catchy songs.  Before I knew it we arrived at the church. 

As they herded all of us up and tried to get us in line and in the right Sunday school room, I was still uneasy and not really comfortable with all of these strangers.  I did not know anyone.

I was led into the fourth grade room and was introduced to my teacher.  Mr. (Gene) Trusty was my teacher that day.  He shook my hand as I walked in the room and remembered that he about broke my little 10-year-old hand that morning.

I sat at the end of the first row of chairs I could find.  It did not take long to discover that I was looked on a little differently.  I sat there quietly not wanting to draw attention myself and not really wanting to talk to anyone.  I mean I was a bus kid and no one pays attention to a bus kid.  That is just the way it was.

Then just before the class started this skinny little boy with blond hair came right up to me and asked me if I wanted to sit with him.  He asked me my name.  I told him that my name was David and he introduced himself as Steve. 

Thus began the unlikely friendship that lasted from that Spring day in 1971 right up to Monday, October 10th, 2011. 

Steve Schueren and I have known each other for over 40 years. 

In those early years, we quickly became fast friends and though I lived in Oak Harbor and he lived over 30 miles away in Old Fort, Ohio I would spend time at his house as often as I could.  We had the same love for sports and there was just something that just drew us together as friends.  

Every Sunday I would rush off that broken down church bus and find my way to our Sunday school class and there would be Steve waiting there…saving me a seat.  A seat for a bus kid.  

This continued for the next few years, until one Sunday they told us that the church was no longer going to be sending a bus to Oak Harbor.  I lost contact with my Old Fort friend.  Three years passed.

In 1976, my sister started to drive and we talked our mom into allowing us to drive to the church in Fremont.  As we parked our car and made our way into the church, I wondered if Steve was still at the church.  Sure enough, there he was.  He welcomed me and invited me to sit with him.  It was as if nothing had ever changed and we just picked up our friendship where it had been left three years earlier.

For the next 10 years we did just about everything together.  We were active in the church youth group, went to summer Bible camps.  Hung out with each other and attended the same Christian School, played varsity soccer and basketball together.  Listened to the same kind of music and sang in the same group.  We worked at HJ Heinz together and both decided to go in the ministry and attend Liberty University together.  

From that spring day way back in 1971 I have always looked up to Steve.   That is not to say that we always got along.  Like all friends we had our differences.  We had our times where we needed space from each other.  We both were very competitive and like any other friendship we had our share of arguments and disagreements.

Sometimes when you have a friendship that is similar to the one that Steve and I had, it would seem as if we had a lot of things in common.  In reality we were quite different.  I was an Ohio State fan… he was a Michigan fan.  I was barely aware of who the President was… he could talk politics before it was popular to do so.  I scraped by academically just so I could remain eligible to play sports… he was an excellent student.  I was a stutterer and could not speak in front of people without embarrassing myself… he could hold the attention of a large crowd and could clearly explain difficult concepts long before he finished his education.   I struggled with my walk with Christ, it was a daily battle… he had his act together spiritually and was an example on how a young man should live his life.   He was one of the most focused and intelligent people I have ever known.  

We were together for a lot of our life events.  I remember the night Steve told me he was confident that he was dating the girl who would steal his heart.  Being his longtime friend I must admit I was rather shocked and I had to admit I had never witnessed him so taken by a girl.  I am referring to Rhonda, who would soon become his wife.   Both he and Rhonda would be in my wedding and we would all share in celebrating the births of our first-born children.

He would graduate college and seminary and go directly into the ministry.  He served in a church in Virginia for a few years and then he took the opportunity to teach at Temple Christian Academy in Fremont, Ohio where we both graduated.  I had the privilege to work with him during his time at Temple.  He was a gifted teacher and could inspire those who sat under his teaching to grasp the deeper things of God.  He had a unique ability to challenge those that he taught to think and defend what you believed.  He would teach you that if you believed something you needed to believe it because you researched it yourself and that you did not just believe because he or any other preacher said it was so.  He was such a student of God’s Word.  His students loved him and looked up to him. 

It was during this time I noticed something different in Steve.  He struggled with a burden that I did not see coming.   Like Paul in the New Testament, who carried a burden for years that God never took away, Steve would carry this burden for years to come. This burden would start affecting his teaching.  I am sad to say that I did not appreciate the years we worked together at Temple.  I wish I could go back and change the way things happened and certainly how it all ended.  I deeply regret it to this day.  I was in a very difficult position where I had to tell Steve that the school was going to head in a different direction.  We parted ways and from that point my friendship with Steve and his family would be strained at best.  He would move on and become a wonderful pastor to those that he ministered to in churches in Indiana and Southern Ohio for the next 20 years or so.

I am sad to say that for this portion of our adult years “life” got in our way.   He was busy in the ministry, raising children and moving forward with life.  As I struggled in my walk with Christ, I found myself falling farther away from what was left of our friendship.  When I went through a divorce in 1995, I had lost all contact with Steve.  I alienated myself from almost everyone from my past and Steve was no exception.  (I have documented my journey away from the Lord a number of times on this blog)  Steve and Rhonda had remained friends with my ex-wife and I think that Steve and I went close to 13 years with no contact with each other.  What ever was left of my friendship with Steve and his family was over when my divorce was finalized.  I was a failure as a believer, a husband, a father and as a friend.

Steve battled his burden and I battled mine.  His struggles were different from mine and while mine were for the most part self-inflicted, his were not.   I deserved what I received from my choices and my self-inflicted struggles.  Steve did not deserve what he was dealing with.

In 2009, Steve accepted the call to be the pastor of Bigelow Church in Portsmouth, Ohio.  He was excited about the opportunities that this ministry had to offer.  About that same time he came home to visit and one Sunday morning Steve and I talked for the first time in years.  We talked for about an hour after church and we were re-united again.  However, it was evident that time and space had changed us.  We were not the people we were in high school or college for that matter.  We would not ever again be the “Steve and David” combo we once were all those years ago.

The bottom line was that we re-established contact with each other and we exchanged phone numbers and email addresses.   I am thankful that we talked that day in the church because although it would never be the same we did indeed write notes back and forth over the course of the past few years.  He would comment on my blog posts and I would comment on his.  He had started a blog called, “A Clay Jar Speaks”.  It was insightful and perfectly reflected his commitment to the truth of God’s Word.  He linked my blog to his and I have had a number of people visit this site through the link on Steve’s blog.  Over the next few months, we shared some letters and I had the opportunity to tell him how much I appreciated his friendship and thank him for everything he had done for me all those years ago.  I apologized to Steve and told him how sorry I was that I had failed in our friendship.  I was hopeful that we could move forward and put behind us some of the things that had come between us.

But it soon was evident that Steve had begun to battle his burden again.  Our communication slowed down and this past April he stopped responding to my notes and letters.  I had known that Steve had battled depression since his time at Temple Christian.  Over the years, there would be periods when he would struggle and I know he fought the battle courageously during these times and he would always come out on the other side.  I had no doubt that this time would be no different.

When the phone rang on Monday, October 10th … I knew.  The news on the line was devastating.

Steve’s death was sudden.   When I heard the news I simply could not believe it.  I had lost another pillar of my childhood.  In 2009, I lost both Bob Emrich and Bryan Blakely, two of my closest friends. Both of them taken too young and too quickly.  These losses were devastating to me.  Now a few years later I lose Steve.  We may not have been as close as we once were but make no mistake that he is and will always be a major influence in my life.  Another pillar in my life… gone. 

I cannot say I understand Steve’s death.  I cannot process it.  I don’t understand the decisions he made that day, but I accept them.  I believe that he was courageously fighting his burden and it was a battle that he could no longer see the end of.  It is with that aspect I am most saddened.  It would be unreasonable for me to assume anything else other than the fact that he was a weary soldier and was ready to go home.

Steve was well-loved and he had done so many things on earth that had a direct impact on eternity. I will forever be grateful to have known him.   I will forever be grateful that Steve was there at the right place and at the right time all those years ago in that Sunday school room when he asked a skinny, snotty nosed bus kid to sit next to him.  I wonder where my life would have taken me had that not happened. 

What is it that I will remember when I think of Steve?  I have a long list of precious memories.  Besides his commitment and love for the Word of God, I think everyone who knew him very well would agree with me on this.   It was his sense of humor.   He had a wonderful sense of sarcasm and humor.  That is what I will truly miss about Steve.  He could make me laugh and not many people could do that. 

I will remember him when I hear a Ronnie Milsap or Tim Sheppard song.   I will remember him when I watch the Ohio StateMichigan game.  I will remember him every time I turn on the NCAA March Madness during basketball season.  I will remember him each and every time I watch a political debate on TV.  He would just love to comment on the perspectives of each candidate. 

All of these things and more will trigger memories of him.

I will forever be grateful for spending 40 years of my life with the pleasure of knowing him.  All the memories I have shared with him will forever be cherished and remembered.   Steve will forever live in my heart.  Steve is in heaven now.  This is not the time for me to grieve his death; I choose to celebrate his life.   I choose to think back and remember how Steve touched my life.   How he made me laugh and how good Steve was as a person.  I am thankful that I was given the chance to have known a man named Steve Schueren… he made me a better person.

(Updated on January 11, 2012)

I mentioned in the last few paragraphs that I would always remember Steve when I hear a Tim Sheppard song.   Since Steve’s death this song has taken a very special place in my heart and it will always be the song that will bring back cherished memories of the man of God that I knew in Steve.   This song brings me great comfort and as Tim sings please take a moment to reflect and remember  Steve as I do…

 

Steve will forever be missed but I know in the right time, I will meet Steve again.   He will be waiting there in heaven and maybe he’ll be saving me a seat and invite this “bus kid” to sit next to him…just like he did all those years ago.  

I look forward to taking him up on that invitation.

You’re Gonna Have to Serve Somebody

These lyrics from Bob Dylan are probably one of the few things that he got right:

You may be an ambassador to England or France
You may like to gamble, you might like to dance
You may be the heavyweight champion of the world
You may be a socialite with a long string of pearls

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody


Gotta Serve Somebodyis a song by Bob Dylan from his 1979 studio album Slow Train Coming.   It won the Grammy Award for Best Rock Vocal Performance by a Male in 1980. 

This is one of the truest songs Dylan has written.   John Lennon was so angry with it that he wrote an obscene counter-song, “Serve Yourself,” which was so bad, Yoko Ono published an apologetic explanation of it in 1998.

If you’d like to hear it, and you don’t know the song, it might help to have the tune in your head.  You can listen to it here:


For those who listen with Biblically informed ears the refrain echoes Paul and Jesus:

Paul: “You are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness” (Romans 6:16).

Jesus: “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other” (Matthew 6:24).

The Bible teaches that we will each be servants of someone, of one of two masters.   One is voluntary, the other is not.   Slave or bond servant.   Those are the two options.   A slave is purchased and then, for the rest of his life, is owned by and slave to the one who owns him.   A bond servant picks his master.

Paul writes about this in 2 Timothy when he says, “Gently instruct those who oppose the truth.  Perhaps God will change those people’s hearts, and they will learn the truth. Then they will come to their senses and escape from the devil’s trap.   For they have been held captive by him to do WHATEVER HE WANTS.”

You’re going to serve someone.   Slave or bond servant, the choice is yours.  This is the great battle of the ages, not who will rule nations or win wars, but who will win the hearts and obedience of man.  That’s the true battle of the ages. 

So which are you?  Slave or bond servant?

There is no third option.  One master is cruel, harsh and only wishes your obedience at the cost of your eternity. For your obedience you get nothing!  The other, Jesus Christ, gave His life to provide life for us, sonship, forgiveness and so much more. His invitation is simply, “follow me,” and in that relationship based on love I find myself a willing bond servant because of His love for me.

You’re Gonna Have to Serve Somebody… the choice is yours to make. 

I hope and pray that you choose wisely.

Reflections

Last night as I was driving home from dinner with my lovely wife.   High in the night sky was the moon.  Not quite a full moon but it was just hanging there in the majestic sky.   Then some small clouds pass in front of the glow of the moon, we both commented on how beautiful it looked.  The clouds continued to pass by the moon and at times obscured our vision so much we could hardly make out the shape of the moon.  All we could see is the glow as it glistened off the passing clouds.

With the glow of this beautiful moon filling my windshield as I drove, I began to think about the illustration this was showing me.  I pondered this… the moon has no light of its own, it emits nothing by itself, all the light coming in my windshield as I drove was a reflection of the sun that had long since set behind me!  A cloud may sometimes obscure our vision of the moon but we can still see clearly the reflection of the sun by the glow behind the clouds.

Then it dawned on me that it’s clear from scripture that this is my job too.   I have no light of my own, but I am invited by God to reflect His glory and His son Jesus Christ to the world around me.   If I don’t get in the way the world is drawn to His reflection and wants to know where that light comes from.

Like the moon last night, my job is simply to reflect the glory of God.   The goal is to not obscure the light of Jesus Christ so I pray I don’t get in the way of His reflection in my life.  

That is the goal of my life.  I want people to see the glow of  God’s Son living in me.

A Light in the Darkness

“You are the light of the world.  A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl.  Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.   In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”                         Matthew 5:14-16

I am the light of the world?  Me?   How is that possible?   How does that work?   In a dark world I’m called to illuminate the darkness around me?   Illuminate the darkness of other people?   Me?   How can I do that? How can I bring light to my world?

It’s an identity that Jesus gave us.  It’s a reality that doesn’t come by my own power, by my ability to be light…to light my way, my world; but it comes through me, apart from me, powered and supplied by someone else, by Christ Himself.   It’s a light from another source that makes us each a light in our world.

Like everyone around me I have no light in myself, but because of someone else shining through me I find even my life provides light for others so they can find their way.  

Jesus said, (John 9:5) While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

At an amazing moment in time Jesus came into my life and saved me, made me new, changed my eternity, but what I didn’t know….what most don’t know…is that in that moment he made me a lighthouse for the world around me.   He came into my life and continued being a light in the world through me!  Through you!  Through each one who will allow him to shine through them.

In a dark world we are called to do one simple thing – “let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

Let our prayer be that we be the light of Christ.  May His love  shine through you.   May we walk in His Spirit.  May we light the way for all the world to see.

It’s one of our greatest honors and responsibilities, being a light in a dark world.

Stuck in The Past

Do you remember Baby Jessica?

We are closing in on the anniversary of an event that captivated a watchful nation.  Next week it will have been 24 years since Baby Jessica McClure became famous.   At the age of 18 months after falling into  her parents backyard well in  Midland, Texas, on October 14, 1987 the whole nation held its breath as dedicated workers tried to free her from that well.  Between that day and October 16, rescuers worked for 58 hours to free “Baby Jessica” from the eight-inch-wide well casing 22 feet (6.7 metres) below the ground.  I can’t imagine the emotions and the feelings of her parents as they had to endure 58 hours of torment of waiting to know if they would see their little girl again.  

I remember feeling that I couldn’t breath.  It was if I was stuck in that hole with her and feeling helpless that I couldn’t do anything about it.   The sense of relief and satisfaction was overwhelming as she was finally lifted from that well.  Is was if the whole nation finally took a breath at the same time.

Twenty four years later Jessica, despite 15 operations, nine blood transfusions, and the loss of part of her foot, grew up protected from media attention by her young parents Chip and Cissy.  She skateboarded, she learned the piano and French horn, and, on the rescue’s tenth anniversary, her parents – by then divorced – allowed Ladies Home Journal the only interview.  In it, Jessica said she was bored by talk of her “incident” and, referring to the scars she bore, said, maturely: “I’m proud of them. I have them because I survived.”

But Jessica wasn’t the only one with scars from her being stuck in the well.  Her parents divorced;  Robert O’Donnell, one of her rescuers, committed suicide eight years later (due, his brother said, to the stress and attention); and the portrayal of people in a subsequent film of the rescue split the community so badly the local mayor had to appoint a commission to settle the squabbles. 

Scars everywhere.

There are many lessons to learn from this story.  It reminds me that we all get stuck at some point in our life.  Stuck at points of our life that cripple us in the days ahead.   From that “stuck place” we find that we now “walk with a limp.”   Something happened, we were hurt, wounded, broken, abused, sinned against.   A parent died, a wife left, a child became ill, and we got stuck at that terrible event…at that moment in our life.

I’m finding that the problems in people’s lives are often the result of their stuck places.   From that wound, that death, that divorce we are emotionally stuck and cannot go further, cannot grow, cannot walk away from the wound and so we carry our woundedness with us and sadly create stuck places for others we encounter.   We are the walking wounded, the mass of humanity stuck in the past hurts and wounds of our lives that have affected us and now affect those around us.

Stuck places…places we remember vividly because of what they have done to us, moments in time we have recorded in our brains we can replay in high-definition detail. We are stuck because of what happened, because of what someone said, what they did to us, how they hurt us.  We remember every detail, every moment.  We are stuck.

This morning I was talking with a friend and described my thoughts on this topic.   He knew immediately his stuck place and described it in fine detail, as if it had happened yesterday, but in fact it was decades ago.  It was life changing for him, he’s never forgotten it, he knew exactly when, where and how he got stuck.   It’s changed him, it changed his family and his life.

I know this may not fit with all the counseling models I read about, but I also know that I am seeing this more clearly in each talk I have with someone who is having a difficult time in life, something happened and they got stuck.

Imagine this multiplied by 6 billion. The whole of humanity stuck in the pain and hurt, rejection and abuse of their pasts.   Imagine the wounds that are still open, still tender, still bleeding from what has happened in our pasts.   Imagine what can happen when even one person brings all their mess, all their issues for God to resolve.

Where was Jesus when you were hurt, when you were rejected, when you were abused? Where was God when you got stuck?  The answer… He was right there with you, walking you through your hurts , your abuse, your divorce, your rejection.  It is God’s great desire that we take our brokenness to Him and allow Him to heal, restore, and move you past the pain of your past.  He wants to take you far beyond the point at which you got stuck.  He wants to lead you to your future.

Are you stuck today?  Jesus Christ awaits patiently, waiting for the opportunity to rescue you.  Let Him heal the pain from your past…  it can start today.