Santa is Real!

NOTE TO THE READER: This is the text of the speech I offered last night at my Toastmasters Christmas party. I hope you enjoy it!

“Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.” Each of us is familiar with this famous line penned by NY Sun editor Francis Church as he replied to a query from little Virginia O’Hanlon in 1897. Madam Toastmaster, fellow Toastmasters, honored Guests, I stand before you this evening to share with you the truth that Santa Claus is, indeed, real.

Who is this Santa Claus? In American culture he is portrayed as that jolly old elf with the rotund torso donned in his famous red suit trimmed in white fur. His hair and his beard are snowy white and he laughs with a hearty “Ho, Ho, Ho!” He lives in the perpetual winter of the North Pole and has a troupe of elves building children’s toys year round for Santa’s Christmas deliveries. He magically appears simultaneously in innumerable shopping malls and town squares all across the land as he welcomes children onto his lap to hear their Christmas wishes. He tours the world in a single night in a sleigh pulled by eight reindeer as he distributes toys to good little boys and girls. That is how culture portrays him; but is that who he is, really?

According to History.com, the notion of Santa Claus has its origins way back in a 3rd century Turkish Monk named St Nicholas. St Nicholas was known for his piety, his kindness, and his charity. Let’s briefly examine these three traits of Saint Nicholas.

Piety, according to Websters dictionary, is the quality of being religious or reverent. Nikolas was a monk, and monks typically live lives of religious ritual and repetition as they seek to connect with and relate to God. Reverence is a deep respect for something. It’s more than just going through the motions of some ceremony or ritual; it that complete, internalized honor, respect, and love for the One behind the ceremony or ritual. His reverence for God is likely the catalyst behind the other two traits for which he was known.

Websters Dictionary defines kindness as the quality of being friendly, generous and considerate. History tells us that Saint Nicholas traveled the countryside helping the poor and the sick. In this, he reminds me of Mother Theresa, a nun who lived a life of self-deprivation as she dedicated herself to helping the poor and needy. Both Saint Nicholas and Mother Theresa are excellent examples of individuals who dedicated their lives to showing true kindness to others.

Charity, according to Websters dictionary, is benevolent goodwill towards or love for humanity. One of the best-known stories about Saint Nicholas involves his encounter with a very poor family. The family could not afford to put up a proper dowry for its three daughters so they could be married. So, instead, the girls were going to be sold into prostitution. Saint Nicholas gathered the resources necessary to put up a dowry for each of the girls so they could be married instead of being sold into prostitution.

I would be willing to bet that each of us in this room has, at some point in life, been the recipient of unsolicited kindness or charity. When I was in college, I was driving home to Katy from Austin late one night. I dozed off as I drove down a dark farm to market road just outside of Bellville, Texas. I woke up as my car careened off the road and into the ditch. Fortunately, I was not injured. As I stood by the roadside at about 1:00 in the morning, I wondered what I would do next. (Remember, this is 1983, long before we all carried cell phones.) It didn’t take long for a car to come along and stop. A man and his wife took me to their farmhouse, which was close by. The man retrieved a tractor and the three of us drove back to the site of my accident where he proceeded to pull my car out of the ditch. The man and his wife offered to let me spend the rest of the night as a guest at their home, but I told them I was within 20 minutes of my own place. I offered him a $20 bill, all the money I had on me. He would accept no payment for his effort; he told me that he hoped I would take the opportunity to help somebody else someday. You know what? On that night, at that time, that man and his wife were Saint Nicholas to me.

Several years later I was standing in line at a Houston BBQ restaurant, waiting to order my lunch. As I approached the register, a man came stumbling towards me. At first I assumed he was drunk, but once I looked directly at him I knew something was wrong. His eyes were bulging out from his face and he held his hands to his throat in the universal sign for choking. He was obviously in distress. He was rather large, but I moved behind him, wrapped my arms around his torso, and delivered the hardest Heimlich maneuver I could muster. The piece of brisket that had lodged in his throat flew several feet through the air, over the counter, and landed at the feet of a very shocked cashier. As he gasped for breath, he managed a soft “thank you” as he headed to the men’s room. You know what? On that day, at that time, I was Saint Nicholas to that man.

Saint Nicholas, the original inspiration for our modern day Santa Claus, lived a life of kindness and charity towards others in honor of his faith in God and his love for humanity. So you see, my friends, Santa is real. He exists as the spirit of Saint Nicholas lives on through each act of kindness and charity that we receive and through each act of kindness and charity that we pay forward. As we celebrate this holiday season, let us seek to view every person as Saint Nicholas viewed them – worthy of our respect, worthy of our time, worthy of our kindness, and worthy of our charity. Merry Christmas!

One of the scribes came and heard them arguing, and recognizing that He had answered them well, asked Him, “What commandment is the foremost of all?” Jesus answered, “The foremost is, ‘HEAR, O ISRAEL! THE LORD OUR GOD IS ONE LORD; AND YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH.’ The second is this, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” ~ Mark 12:28-31

What Do You Want for Christmas?

What do you want for Christmas? I bet if I had $1 for every time I’ve been asked that question through the course of my life I would be a wealthy man! But in all seriousness, this is a question that each of us should ponder during this season of Advent. What do you want for Christmas?

As a young boy growing up in Minnesota I never had any difficulty answering that question. One year it was a 10-speed bike and another it was a new parka. In middle school I wanted corduroys and silk shirts. After moving to Texas at age 15 I became enamored with our Western heritage and I wanted a new Resistol cowboy hat and ostrich skin boots. My wants turned more practical as I grew into adulthood – money to keep my car running, clothes for work, coffee makers and kitchen items. Now, here I sit at age 53. What do I want for Christmas?

The gift I want the most is not available in any store. It cannot be purchased online. In fact, there is no dollar amount sufficient to purchase what I want for Christmas.

In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.” ~ Luke 2:8-14

God has already given me a gift that carries more value than any human could possibly measure: He has given me saving faith in His Son, Jesus Christ. I want my family to know Him as I know Him. I want them to grow in faith and walk with the Lord along the path of sanctification.

But it doesn’t stop there. You see, the evidence of sin is all around us. Watch the news. Watch almost any television show or Hollywood movie. Listen to the songs on the Top 40 lists of just about every genre of music. Thumb through many of the novels on the NY Times bestseller list. Observe what goes on around you. Our world, and our very American society, suffers from a sin sickness for which there is only one cure. The Bible tells us that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Fortunately, God loves us so much that He sent His Son into this broken and fallen world to save us from the eternal consequences of our sin. It is the birth of His Son that we celebrate at Christmastide.

What do I want for Christmas? I want to be equipped to be salt and light to all with whom I come into contact. I want to be an effective witness for my Lord and Savior whenever and wherever God provides the opportunity. The world needs to hear the Good News of Jesus Christ. God willing, I will have a role in sharing it.

How about you? What do you want for Christmas?

True Hope

Amid the tumult we’ve seen over the past week or so, the rush of the holiday season has begun. As protesters in Ferguson burned businesses, looted stores and blocked traffic, and as many Americans exchanged accusations of racism and bigotry, television advertising was amuck with “Black Friday” and “Cyber Monday” commercialism. Thanksgiving seemed all but forgotten amidst the rush of news, misinformation and retail advertising as many American consumers looked ahead to Christmas even before the sun rose Thanksgiving morning. As I ponder the current state of our nation and the frenzied rush to feed our lust for material things, I’m tempted to despair. But as that temptation begins to overtake me, I am moved to seek God’s Word.

For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. ~ Isaiah 9:6-7

God’s Word reminds me that my hope is not grounded in humanity. My hope lies in Someone far greater than any human being or any human institution. That Someone, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, came to Earth to live, die, and be resurrected to save us from the very sin that is increasingly enveloping our society day by day. This passage from the prophet Isaiah is just one of many Old Testament prophecies concerning God’s promise to send His Savior into the World. That promise, given by God to men and women of all races, was fulfilled some 2,000 years ago in a little town called Bethlehem at the birth of Jesus.

Let us pray for our society. Let us pray for Michael Brown’s family and for Officer Wilson. Let us pray for awakening and revival. Let us pray for reconciliation. And as we do so, let us focus our minds and our hearts on Jesus, the fulfillment of God’s promise, the Baby of Bethlehem, whose birth we celebrate in just a few short weeks. For true hope rests in Him and Him alone.

Risk Manager in Residence

 

IMG_0833The letter from the Spencer Educational Foundation informed me I had been selected by the Katie School of Insurance & Financial Services at Illinois State University to spend two days with their students as Risk Manager in Residence. I was thrilled! Then, as the reality of this commitment settled into my brain, I was humbled.

My ISU "home" for two days: The State Farm Hall of Business.

My ISU “home” for two days: The State Farm Hall of Business.

I have enjoyed a very fulfilling career, and the opportunity to share some of my experiences and wisdom with my industry’s future was quite an honor. Over two days I was to lecture in three courses, two sessions apiece. Tuesday evening I would deliver a presentation to which all students of the Katie School were invited. I wanted the content to be meaningful to the students, and the Katie School faculty was extremely helpful in sharing information on class size, majors represented, and course content thus far in the term.

I began preparing my material a few weeks before departure. My aspirations were grand: I wanted to teach, encourage and inspire these students. As I began preparing my first course outline, my brain froze. “Who am I to stand before these students,” I began to ask myself. “What if my content is too basic? Or too advanced? What if I’m boring? What if we don’t connect? What if…”

I hate self-doubt. Self-doubt is one of the greatest barriers to success that we place before ourselves. Looking back in hindsight, however, I realize this wasn’t really a case of self-doubt. It was more an acknowledgement of how important this program is to the schools and students who participate. I would tailor a message with content specific to each class I would address. And I would deliver a presentation Tuesday evening that would be informative, entertaining, and inspiring. I prayed to God that He would give me the words to say, and He did.

As I write this, I am sitting in the Central Illinois Regional Airport awaiting my flight home. I’ve received lots of positive feedback from the Katie School. I’m pleased that my offerings were well received and added value. Over my two days at the Katie School, I was given a glimpse into my industry’s future. The students I met were bright, engaging, articulate, and excited for their futures. They asked many insightful questions. They each have much to offer. The future for my industry is very bright, indeed!

As I think back over the last two days, I’m betting that, in many respects, I gained more from this experience than the students did. I leave Illinois State inspired and refreshed. I have a renewed vigor for my career, and I have a new set of young friends to keep me on my toes. I thank God for this experience, and I will continue to seek to honor Him with my work.

If you are a risk management professional, I strongly encourage you to consider volunteering your time and expertise to the Risk Manager in Residence program. Trust me: you will be blessed.

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False Prophets; Then & Now

Then Jeremiah the prophet said to Hananiah the prophet, “Listen now, Hananiah, the LORD has not sent you, and you have made this people trust in a lie. Therefore thus says the LORD, ‘Behold, I am about to remove you from the face of the earth. This year you are going to die, because you have counseled rebellion against the LORD.’ ” So Hananiah the prophet died in the same year in the seventh month. ~ Jeremiah 28:15-17

The notion of false prophets and teachers is nothing new. Such people are tools of the devil, intended to distract God’s people from the truth as revealed in His Word.

Here, a prophet named Hananiah prophesies in the temple that within two years God will break the yoke of the king of Babylon, returning the articles of the temple along with the Judean rulers who had been taken into exile. This, of course, contradicts God’s words through Jeremiah. Jeremiah reminds the crowd that many before him, and Jeremiah himself, have prophesied war, disaster and plague. The one who prophesies peace, as Hananiah has done, “will be recognized as one truly sent by the Lord only if his prediction comes true” (28:9). Hananiah continues to argue his point, and Jeremiah tells him that the Lord has not sent him, he is persuading the people to believe lies, and that the Lord is about to remove him from the face of the earth. Jeremiah’s prophecy comes true seven months later when the false prophet dies.

In Jeremiah’s time false prophets like Hananiah misled God’s people as they defied the Word of God and instead told the people what they wanted to hear. Sadly, this continues today as many modern-day churches are whittling away at the truth of God’s Word as they bend to the whimsies of human thought and wisdom. Supporters call this “enlightenment”; in reality it is embracing darkness.

God has revealed His eternal truth through His Holy Word – the Bible. His Word is as relevant and true today as it has ever been, and it will remain relevant and true for all eternity. I take great comfort in that fact. It is a beautiful thing to serve the sovereign God, for through Him the work of redemption has been completed. Rather than reject His Word and sit at the feet of modern day false teachers, let us stand firmly upon it as we share the good news of the Gospel with those who are unsaved.

Ponder this: I recently heard a preacher say, “If you tell me you don’t agree with a particular passage of Scripture, I’ll simply tell you ‘you’re wrong, God’s right’ and direct you to reconsider your position.” He was speaking to his congregation, a group of believers, of God’s sovereignty and the eternal truth of His Word. That is what standing on God’s Truth looks like! Society cringes at the phrase “you’re wrong”, but in the context of a human being supplanting God’s word with his own personal opinion it is entirely appropriate. We believers are to hold one another accountable as we seek accountability from one another. Through such accountability offered in the spirit of Christian love, we help one another stay true to God’s Word as the enemy seeks to turn our heads.

My prayer for today: Heavenly Father, You are the one true God, sovereign over all Your creation. I pray that you would keep me focused on Your Word, and that you would bring Christians into my life to hold me accountable for anything I might say or write that is not fully aligned with You. Help me to deal with all I meet with an attitude of Christian love, that You would be glorified through my words and actions. In Jesus’ name, AMEN.

The Credibility Bank & Trust

Sometimes when I balance my checkbook, I lament that money often seems to be flowing out more quickly than it flows in. I balance my checkbook almost every day; I know what bills are coming due and I try to defer as much “extra” money as I can into my savings account emergency fund. I like to think that I am rather diligent in managing my money, but always with room to improve.

There is another account that is equally as important. I call the institution that houses this important personal account The Credibility Bank & Trust, or CB&T for short.

Unlike your checking account, your CB&T account balance is not measured in dollars. It is measured in reputation. Deposits are made when you do the right thing, while your account balance is reduced every time you fail to do so. Deliver quality work when you say you’ll deliver it – there’s a deposit. On the other hand, delivering subpar or late work constitutes a withdrawal. Make a promise to a friend or coworker and deliver on it – there’s a deposit. Break that same promise – big withdrawal. Promptly return telephone calls and acknowledge emails – easy deposits. Hide behind your voice mail and ignore incoming emails – withdrawal. Properly prepare for meetings and contribute positively to the discussion – another deposit. Sit silently in meetings while periodically peeking at your cell phone – balance reduced.

Each of us has a CB&T account at home, too, and it works the same way as your on-the-job account. For example, treat your family with love and respect – consistent deposit inflow. Take them for granted and your account depletes rapidly. You get the picture.

How do you know your CB&T balance? The greatest measure of your CB&T account balance is in your reputation. Do people trust you? Do they come to you with problems? Can they trust you to keep your promises and maintain confidentiality? If the answers to these questions are yes, you can rest assured that you have built a nice surplus in your CB&T balance that will serve you well in your career and your personal life. If the answers to any of these questions is no, it’s time to audit behaviors and begin repairing the reputational damage.

As you consider these questions, know that your perceived account balance may vary between individuals at work or within your family. Think about that for a moment. What happens when you treat people at work differently from one another? One person thinks you’re great while the other – not so much. Over time, such conduct erodes your CB&T balance until you are overdrawn; at that point you become ineffective and, well, dispensable.

So what must we do to ensure our Credibility balance is in the black? Jesus offers some very succinct direction:

“And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise.” Luke 6:31 (NKJV)

The people Jesus is talking about are all around you. They serve you in stores and restaurants. They occupy the nearby cubicle. They pass you on the highway. You live with some and you work with others. They are your family, your neighbors, your coworkers, your closest friends, and the strangers you pass on the sidewalk. If you consistently seek to treat others as you would like to be treated, you run little risk of depleting your CB&T account balance.

The notion of the Credibility Bank & Trust is something I try to bear in mind at all times, and I have shared it with several coworkers and business colleagues. Give it a try; It has served me well, and I’m convinced that it will serve you well, too.

The Joy of Weddings

This summer I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing the nuptials of two nieces, one in Colorado and the other in California. And, thanks to both couples, I have memories that I will treasure for the rest of my life.

Jenny & Evan

My niece Jenny is one of the most genuine people you could ever meet. She is happy, confident, loves nature, and welcomes everybody with arms open wide. Evan is a very talented musician. I admire anybody who can play the guitar and draw you into a song by the way he interprets and presents the lyrics, and Evan is one of those musicians.

Jenny and Evan exchanging their vows.

Jenny and Evan exchanging their vows.

Jenny and Evan enjoy the music scene in Grand Junction, Colorado. They also enjoy rafting, hiking and camping in the many beautiful areas of the western slope in Colorado. They are blessed with a tight group of friends, referred to as their “Friend Family” who are as genuine inside and out as are Jenny and Evan.

Consistent with their love of music and the mountains, Jenny & Evan selected Ridgway State Park in western Colorado as the venue for their lovely wedding. The nuptials themselves were celebrated at the Visitor Center Overlook – a beautiful spot overlooking the Ridgway Reservoir. As we walked down the short trail from the parking area to the overlook it was easy to see why they love this place so much, for the view was simply breathtaking.

The reception was also at Ridgway, in a pavilion in the Pa-Co-Chu-Puk area of the park. Offering a 360 degree panoramic view of the western Rockies, we all relaxed and enjoyed the celebration. Given their involvement in the Grand Junction music scene, many of the Friend Family brought their instruments – we had guitars, a mandolin, a banjo, drums…you name it they brought it. All of us enjoyed some of the best musicians from the Grand Junction music scene taking the stage and jamming together; it was an experience that this music lover enjoyed immensely. It was one of those nights that, for me anyway, ended much too quickly.

Bailey & Brett

My niece Bailey is a lovely woman of faith. Her tastes tend toward simple and sophisticated. She has a heart for those less fortunate and her smile lights up the room. Bailey met Brett as they both worked for the Daily Skiff student newspaper at Texas Christian University. They met some six-plus years ago. Brett impresses me as a genuinely kind and caring man, absolutely perfect for my niece. I liked him immediately upon meeting him a few years ago, even though he beat the snot out of me in Laser Tag! Brett is a native of Pasadena, California and upon graduating from TCU Bailey followed him out there.

Bailey & Brett

Bailey & Brett

Bailey has adopted Pasadena as her home, and as such, having her wedding there was the logical choice. The venue was the beautiful Altadena Country Club, where I understand Brett’s parents are long-time members.

The wedding ceremony took place on a beautiful lawn enclosed by large, perfectly groomed hedges. The bridesmaids and the bride herself entered from a landing above us, then descended the stairs to their waiting guests. The ceremony itself was beautifully Christian. The pastor talked about how the joining of a man and a woman in holy matrimony is akin to Christ offering Himself to his beloved creation – in essence His bride, the church.

The reception featured a DJ – one of the best I’ve heard in a long time – a nice sit-down dinner and an open bar. During dinner the DJ spun classics by such greats as Frank Sinatra. After dinner many of us enjoyed cigars on the veranda as the DJ spun current era dance tunes. Yours truly, along with several others of us older folks, shared the dance floor with Bailey & Brett and their friends and had a marvelous time dancing to the beat. Of course, it didn’t hurt in my mind that I was burning calories at the same time!

The Joy of Weddings

The pastor at Bailey & Brett’s wedding reminded us that Jesus Himself enjoyed weddings. In fact, it was at a wedding that Jesus performed His first miracle as he turned several jugs of water into the finest of wines.

I enjoy weddings, too. Weddings are an object lesson in love. Every time I attend a wedding I remember the day I married my lovely wife. I remember my sisters’ weddings and how I was one of the young people breaking a sweat as I broke moves on the dance floor. This summer, at Jenny and Bailey’s weddings, I enjoyed being one of the adults. I enjoyed watching my nieces, their new husbands and their friends celebrating love and friendship. I enjoyed meeting Evan’s and Brett’s friends and family who are now part of my family – what a gift!

My lovely bride and me. 12.28.1991

My lovely bride and me. 12.28.1991

I not only enjoy my memories and the day at hand, but I look ahead to the weddings of my daughter and my son. Yes, someday it will be DeLisa’s and my turn. At Bailey & Brett’s rehearsal dinner, Brett’s mom Cathy told us that she had been praying for Bailey since the day Brett was born. I, too, lift up the young man and young woman who will one day join with my daughter and my son as life partners though holy matrimony. Of course, no rush!

1 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. 2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing. 4 Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; 5 does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; 6 does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; 7 bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8 Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part.10 But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away. 11When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. 12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known. 13 And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love. ~ 1 Corinthians 13:1-13

Photo credits: All taken by yours truly on my iPhone 5s

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