Graduates: Tomorrow, No One Will Care


    First, I want to congratulate all of the young people who have recently graduated from high school.
    Second, as hard as it is to say, tomorrow, no one will care.
    That doesn’t mean that what you have done for the last twelve years of your life doesn’t matter, but that what you have done is just the beginning.  You have accomplished an important milestone, but it is a milestone that we all expected you to reach.  You have achieved what most people consider to be the minimum standard for education. 
    And so you ask, “What’s next?”  While your recent accomplishments are important, they are just the beginning.  We expect you to do something with them.  Up until now, what you have done has been mandated and required.  Nearly every step along the way has been mapped out.  Your education was paid for by your family, your friends and your neighbors because we believe in its importance.  We paid for the teachers, the buildings, the administration, sports, protective gear, and the buses to get you there and back.
But tomorrow is up to you.
    Tomorrow, a new chapter begins.  This fall (or sooner) many of you will start your freshman year in college or begin trade school.  Some of you will become apprentices to master trades people, some of you will begin working in a job of some sort, and a few of you may spend some time trying to “find yourself.”  All of those things are okay but be warned, you have been given great gifts, life, health, education, and many other things, but the world is watching to see what you will do with them.
    Of course, not every high school education, nor every student, is the same as every other.  Some schools provided phenomenal opportunities and others struggled to exist.  Some of you worked hard and some coasted through school.
    But tomorrow is a new day, and the question everyone is asking is, “What will you do with it?”
    Think of it this way.  Every one of you has been given a home, a building, a place to being a new life.  Granted some of you, by virtue of your parents, your school, or your own hard work, have been given more than others.  Some of you have a small apartment and others a more spacious home, but all of you have a place to start.  Today that home that you have been given is unfinished.  The drywall isn’t finished, there’s no siding on the outside and nothing has been painted.  Your new place, your life, is just a shell. 
What it will become is up to you.
    The building you have been given can become a library, museum, bank, school, hospital, factory… or a crack house.
    By your eighteenth birthday, between your parents and your community, statisticians tell us that we have invested nearly a half million dollars in your life and education. 
We have high hopes for your future.
    Two or three months from now, no one will care where you went to high school or what your grades were like.  What everyone cares about is your destination and how well you are doing.  If you start working your boss will only care about how hard you work and how well you help her to accomplish her goals.  Your past won’t matter.  If you skip class, get drunk and flunk out of college it won’t matter whether or not you were a great student in high school.  Likewise, if you work hard, at whatever you choose to do, no one will notice, or care, if you were a poor student in high school, if you had poor parents, or grew up in a town with two hundred people.
Tomorrow is entirely up to you.
    We have invested in your life because we believe in you.  We believe that you are capable of building something amazing.  We believe that you can change the world.  We believe that you can build factories, hospitals, banks or something entirely new and wonderful that none of us have ever imagined. 
   But today, none of that matters.  Our hopes for you, our investment in you, don’t matter.  All of your hard world yesterday doesn’t matter.
    From here on we can only offer encouragement and the occasional helping hand. 
Whether you build beautiful and wonderful things…
…or crack houses…
…is up to you.

Sexual Predators: The Hunters and the Hunted


    I suppose it isn’t news that there are sexual predators on the Internet.  Most of us know that we live in a dangerous world and we do our best to protect our children from the worst of it.  I am an engineer and have a natural curiosity about technology.  As a result, I’m pretty comfortable, and good at, computer stuff.  Our computers at home have a firewall between the world and our little local network, another firewall on each computer, everything is password protected, we have anti-virus and anti-spam programs, and we have a fairly effective parental control program that further limits the ability of our children to roam the dark and dangerous neighborhoods of the Internet.  I thought we were doing pretty well… until Saturday.

    On Saturday my wife and I attended a seminar and listened to Detective Bobby Grizzard (pronounced like ‘lizard’ except with a ‘g’) from the Massillon Police Department.  Detective Grizzard knows more about the dangers of the Internet than your average person.  Why?  Because for five years, Detective Grizzard,  who is six-foot something and who is built more like a linebacker than an office jockey, has been “undercover” as a teenage girl pursuing online predators with the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force. 
    One of the first things that Detective Grizzard told us, was that before the end of the day, as a demonstration, he would go online and engage a predator in conversation, and, if possible, would get that person to call us.  For the next several hours we learned about privacy settings, which I knew pretty well, but also about cell phone apps and devices that could give my children a shortcut around our firewalls, security settings, and parental controls.  I learned about smartphone apps with built-in virus hacks that can force your phone’s camera on so that a predator can watch and listen to what is happening in your home.  I did not know all of this and, with three teens in our home, I realized that I still have a few things to learn.
    At the end of his talk, Det. Grizzard did just as he had promised, but the demonstration was more than I expected.  He went online and within seconds had engaged several predators in conversation (posing as 15 year old girl).  In less than ten minutes he was “chatting” with ten or more of them and more were added every few minutes.  In ten more minutes he had two of these begging for his (her) phone number to call and talk live.  One of the women from the seminar volunteered to be the voice of the girl (at work, Det. Grizzard had software that changes his voice) and spoke with the man for a few minutes.  I couldn’t hear everything that he said over the speakerphone, but it was obvious from the looks of shock on the faces of some of the women in the room that the man wasn’t talking about the weather.
    When Det. Grizzard finally picked up the phone the predator immediately hung up.  It didn’t matter.  The phone number that he had called passed through the police department before being routed to our seminar.  The police department had already captured the name, address and phone number of the man before he had said his first word.
    I have always been active in maintaining the security of my children at home and on the Internet.  I thought I was doing pretty well, but I found that I have more work to do.  I always knew that there were people out there who wanted to victimize my children, but I discovered that there are more of them than I imagined.  There is new technology coming out every day.  Much of it is good, but there is some really evil stuff out there as well.
    I took two things home with me Saturday.  One, there is evil in the world that is smarter, sneakier, craftier and more persistent than we give it credit for.  Predators are cruising the Internet in search of victims.  As parents in the twenty-first century, we must me more vigilant than ever before and we must educate ourselves in order to keep our kids from becoming victims.  Two, I thank God every day for people like Detective Grizzard who go to work every day and spend time hunting for, and chatting with the vile, loathsome, scum that prey on children.  Because of men and women like Detective Bobby Grizzard all of our children are safer and we can all sleep a little better.  Thanks.

Ahimaaz – Patron Saint of Cross Country Running?

    I have two children who run.  Not just a little, they run a lot.  During this time of the year my son and daughter are training for the upcoming Cross-Country season in which they will race other students and other schools in races that are 3.2 miles long.  Each day they can run six to eight miles during practice and often, added to that, they work out in the weight room or do yoga core exercises.  They make me tired just hearing about their workouts.  This past week, as I prepared for Sunday’s message I discovered a man who is, perhaps, the first cross-country runner named in the Bible. 
    Of course there were many runners before him.  Before cell-phones or radio, the way that battlefield commanders communicated with their kings and their armies was by sending runners or riders.  In the time of Samuel, Israel wasn’t known for having many horses so they would send runners back and forth carrying important messages and news.  In 2 Samuel 18, as the king’s armies pursue David’s traitorous son Absalom, David’s General, Joab captures Absalom quite by accident (Absalom’s hair got snagged in the low lying branches of a tree) and plunges three javelins through his chest despite David’s orders to treat him gently.  
    A man by the name of Ahimaaz son of Zadok volunteers to carry the news to David but a Cushite runner is selected to carry the news instead.  Undeterred, Ahimaaz again asks Joab for permission to run to Jerusalem saying, “Come what may, please let me run behind the Cushite.”  Joab the general is puzzled by this and asks why Ahimaaz would want to go especially since this is not good news and there will be no reward at the other end.  To this Ahimaaz replies, “Come what may, I want to run.”  At this Joab allows the young man to run but Ahimaaz, despite giving the Cushite a significant head start, runs a different route and arrives in the king’s court first.
    The notable thing about this story is not only that Ahimaaz liked to run and was evidently pretty good at it, but that he honors Joab and despite arriving first, does not announce the news of Absalom’s death.  The official message was given to the Cushite and Ahimaaz allows him to give the news to David.  When he is questioned about the welfare of Absalom, the king’s son, Ahimaaz says only, “I saw great confusion just as Joab was about to send the king’s servant and me, your servant, but I don’t know what it was.”
    The patience and self-control of Ahimaaz shows, I think, a stark contrast from the impatience and self-importance of Joab.  Joab heard the king’s command not to harm Absalom, and one of Joab’s lieutenants even reminded him of their orders but Joab insists that he is not going to wait and kills David’s son immediately.  Ahimaaz is known as a good man by the watchmen on the walls of Jerusalem and he shows it through his obedience, patience and self-control.  
    I think that it is fitting that Ahimaaz is perhaps the first man in the Bible who is said to love running.  Cross Country is not a quick dash to the supermarket.  Cross Country athletes often train all year long, they run miles and miles every day and their races often take 20 to 30 minutes to complete.  Cross Country is a sport that requires an abundance of patience and self-control and Ahimaaz, I think, is a fitting role model.

I Am Not The Person I Once Was

I am not the person I once was.

Recently I attended a surprise retirement party for my high school band director, John Rodgers. Mr. Rodgers had a profound impact on an untold number of lives but that’s a subject for another day. I graduated from high school 28 years ago and, not surprisingly, my classmates looked remarkably different than they did way back when. The physical changes in my classmates did not surprise me because, over time, I have watched the man in my mirror change as well. I’m thicker around the middle, my hair is thinning on top and I‘ve had a beard for well over a decade. The changes in my own appearance were obvious indications that my classmates were likewise not immortal.

As I moved around the room and engaged in conversation I was profoundly surprised by one thing, me. More accurately, I was surprised by how others in the room reacted to me. Years ago, we spent time together, a lot of it. Once upon a time, many of us knew each other very well. We met before school, often before the sun was up; we played music together between one and three hours every day and sometimes four or five. We often spent more time together than we spent with our parents. I tell you all this to say that when we met again after nearly three decades apart, in many ways we were able to simply pick up where we left off and enjoy each other’s company… and we did. I for one had a wonderful time remembering old times and renewing old friendships. Even better, with the advent of Facebook and email some of us will do a better job of staying in touch this time.

Still, as I mentioned, I was surprised by something. Long ago we were upperclassmen and underclassmen, freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors. Now we’re pastors, business executives, truck drivers, teachers, doctors and other things. In many ways, we are now our parents. Many of us have kids in high school and college. Looking at how we’ve changed in that way is fascinating but still, that wasn’t the surprise. What surprised me were several of the people who I had once looked up to. Not the majorettes or the flag girls with whom I’d only ever had a passing acquaintance, but my friends, or more often, friends of friends, those friends who travelled in the same circles but really weren’t close thirty years ago. These folks played instruments with my inner circle of friends or played in the jazz band where I worked on the tech crew. We knew each other fairly well, but not well enough to ever visit at home or be invited to birthday parties. Many of these folks were upperclassmen and graduated a year or two before I did. These were the people that I looked up to, who were older, smarter, better looking and more talented than I was, or at least it seemed that way. As I went about the room I was surprised because several of these friends not only remembered me, but they sought me out. They found value in who I was and what I did. Several people indicated that they’d hoped that I would come and they had looked forward to seeing me. Frankly, I was surprised that some of them even noticed me.

As many of us were, I was an awkward teenager. I didn’t get my growth spurt until I was a senior in high school and there were times that I didn’t like myself a whole lot. Somewhere along the line, about the time I was in high school, I had decided that if I didn’t like who I was, it was my job to become who I wanted to be. I wanted to be bigger and so for several years during college I went to the gym. I thought SCUBA diving looked cool (at least when Jacques Cousteau did it) and so I took classes and got certified. I’m not saying that working out in the gym and taking SCUBA lessons made me cool (because my children will tell you that I’m still not) but somewhere in the process I became comfortable with who I am. I am a different person than I was in high school. I’m taller and have a beard, but I also walk taller and straighter from ten years in the Army Reserve, I have a bachelor’s degree in engineering and a master’s degree in divinity and, simply put, I am both confident and comfortable with who I have become.

I was surprised that the people I’d known so many years ago reacted differently to our meeting than I expected. In retrospect, perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised.

I am not the person I once was.