May 30, 2019

Justification Jiu Jitsu

The story of the Good Samaritan is a well know story; even by those who don't claim to be Christians or to have ever read the Bible.

The story is beloved because of the way a hero arrives on the scene to step up to the plate and rescues the man who is in trouble. We want to give him a medal and put him on a pedestal for all to see.

We also love it because it challenges us in how we live. In other words, there is a point to the story. The background: 

“One day an expert in religious law stood up to test Jesus by asking him this question: “Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10:25)

Basically they were trying to trip Jesus up. They really didn't care what He was teaching. They wanted Him to go away or at least to stop others from following Him.

"Jesus replied, “What does the law of Moses say? How do you read it?” The man answered, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” “Right!” Jesus told him. “Do this and you will live!” (Luke 10:26-27)

Did you catch what happened? Jesus, instead of taking the bait to be tripped up, turns the table by asking the man; "What does the Law say?"

The man answers Jesus correctly; which neutralizes things for a bit, until the man realizes that he has been put under the microscope. Jesus said that if this is the correct thing to do, then the man is supposed to walk it out.

And it is uncomfortable. And he wants relief. So he tosses the ball back to Jesus.  

"The man wanted to justify his actions, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29)

Did you catch that? The man wanted to justify himself.

The man didn't want to change. 

The man didn’t want Jesus to put the focus on him.

The man didn’t want the questions to be about him.

The man was OK with loving God; it was his fellow man that he had some issues with.

This man jujitsued the conversation and tried to justify not loving everyone by asking; "Oh yeah...who's my neighbor?" The implication is that there is no way that we have to love EVERYONE in the whole world.

He really wanted to justify NOT changing; after all, God couldn't be expecting him to love EVERYONE!

The Greek word for 'justify' is dikaioō (pronounced: dik-ah-yo'-o). It means: to render (that is, show or regard as) just or innocent: - free, justify (-ier), be righteous.

So Jesus answers the heart issues behind the man's stance and tells the Story of the Good Samaritan (see below).

You may be pondering why I am re-telling this story. Or why I am writing in a way that is different than how I normally write: Usually, I start off by writing about an event that took place and then transition into a spiritual application. Often I will include a scripture to support my observations. 

Today, you see, my heart is torn...No, not physically, but broken, mangled, ripped, fractured, rent, etc.

I went to Walgreens to pick up some items. While standing in line, I noticed a strange, repugnant, vile, disgusting odor that was in the air.

I looked around and noticed an old man who was coming up the line behind me. He was bent over, disheveled, and holding a large bag of of BBQ flavored chips.

As the cashier was ringing me up, not only did he come closer, but his repulsive smells did as well.

For those who know me well, "smell" is one of the five senses that is very strong for me.

On a side note: I think that I have sent many of the kids of air freshener salesmen through college with all of the products that I have purchased over the years!

As the cashier was handing me my receipt, the man was now two feet away. I had to hold my breath in order to not puke. This is no exaggeration or attempt to be funny. It really was that bad.

I noticed that on the side of his neck was some sort of cancerous tumor that was grotesque beyond anything I had seen before. 

I grabbed my items, stepped outside, and exhaled before I took a long, deep breath of fresh air in.

I got in my car and left Walgreens to continue with my errands; but my heart remained behind as I thought about this man and the story of the Good Samaritan.

I knew that I was called to do something; or was I?

And if so, then what?

My thoughts filled my mind as I arrived and subsequently walked through Menards as I continued with my trip.

Hundreds of ideas raced through my mind including buying him some food, or was I called to take him somewhere to eat or take him to a local shelter....

I couldn't wrap my head around having him sit in our car. After all, I had just fumigated the "old-man" smells out of our vehicles...

Still, his posture was in my head as it crept towards my heart eighteen inches away. I say posture because I didn't get a look at his face.

I wanted to justify that (perhaps) he was in this condition because of poor choices and decisions. This could be consequences...I felt a part of my body that was injured in the past hurt....wait, why are we talking about my consequences?

I left Menards without purchasing anything and decided to drive back to Walgreens. Perhaps I would see him still there. I wasn't hesitant to buy him food or give him money; clearly he needed both.

But what did he NEED? For that answer, I would need to go back and ask him. Face to face.

I looked in my minds-eye and couldn't see his face; I realized that I hadn't looked him in the eyes. I made my way back to Walgreens to search for him.

Even if I could jujitsu my way out of this pondering, I couldn't shake this man who had come across my path.

Yes, this man could be in his condition due to poor choices, but still, he was and is my neighbor.

He was not only a fellow human traveling through this world as life hurls at us; sometimes for good and sometimes with challenges...

He was also, and more importantly, made in the image and likeness of the One who also created me. In other words, he, if I would have looked at his face, would have looked like God. 

Jesus said when "you refuse to help the least of these My brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help Me." (Matthew 25:45) 

The thought had arrived the eighteen inches from my head to my heart around the same time that I arrived back at Walgreens.

I drove around the lot and block looking for him. He was nowhere to be found. I had missed my opportunity by my justification jujitsu.


"Jesus replied with a story: “A Jewish man was traveling from Jerusalem down to Jericho, and he was attacked by bandits. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him up, and left him half dead beside the road. “By chance a priest came along. But when he saw the man lying there, he crossed to the other side of the road and passed him by. A Temple assistant walked over and looked at him lying there, but he also passed by on the other side. “Then a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt compassion for him. Going over to him, the Samaritan soothed his wounds with olive oil and wine and bandaged them. Then he put the man on his own donkey and took him to an inn, where he took care of him. The next day he handed the innkeeper two silver coins, telling him, ‘Take care of this man. If his bill runs higher than this, I’ll pay you the next time I’m here.’ “Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?” Jesus asked. The man replied, “The one who showed him mercy.” Then Jesus said, “Yes, now go and do the same.”” (Luke 10:30-37)

May 23, 2019

You Never Thank Me

"You're bleeding!" I overheard someone say.

I was at the playground with a couple of my grandchildren when I heard the unmistakable cries of a young child.

I looked around and saw a little girl being consoled by her older sister. The younger sister was holding her sister as she tried to investigate what had caused the injury as well as to find a way to stop the crying.

I left my grandchildren as they climbed the playground equipment and made my way towards the child to see if I could be of assistance.

When I arrived, I saw the injury and asked if they would like a Band-Aid.

The older sister repeated the question to the injured child who replied through her tears with "yes". So I made my way to my car to grab the First-Aid case.

At the car, I unlocked the door and opened up the glove box.

I took out the case (which was brand new and still sealed in plastic). I removed the seal and opened the case and grabbed a couple of different sized Band-Aids, closed the case, placed it once again in the glove compartment, locked the car door, and made my way back to the injured child.

When I arrived, I held out the different sizes and asked her which one she wanted.

She picked one and I removed it from the package and gently placed it upon her injury.

I asked her if she would like the additional Band-Aid which I had brought with; she said "yes", so I handed it to her and made my way back to my grandchildren.

As I was walking away I realized that neither sister said "thank you", which I thought was a little odd, but didn't let it take root in my mind.

Later in the day, I was at Target and a women and myself were both attempting to push our shopping carts past a row of boxes that were semi-blocking an aisle. We were both half-way through the row of boxes when we noticed the other.  

The row would only allow one of us to go through at a time so I decided to back my cart up and wait so that the woman could make her way through the very narrow row.

When she made it through, our eyes met, but no words were exchanged. Once again, as I was walking away, I realized that she too neglected to say "thank you" for my kind gesture.

Two times in one day…

I felt like Phil Conners from the movie Groundhog Day. Day after day he catches a boy who falls from a tree. Day after day the boy runs away and says nothing to Phil who exclaims; "You never thank me!" to the fleeing brat. “I’ll see you tomorrow”.

Perhaps neither sister in the park thought of the words because they were focused on the injury and wanting to get back to why they came to the park; to play!

Perhaps the woman at Target didn’t say the words because she was insecure with me having to move out of the way and then wait to let her go past.

Perhaps they were just lost in their own world.

And then I thought about all (some) of the times when I am negligent to say "thank you" to others who do things for me. I'm not trying to be a jerk; I simply don't always say what is in my heart. I think the words but I don't always say "thank you".

And then I thought about all (some) of the times when I am negligent to say "thank you" to the Lord who does things for me. I'm not trying to be a jerk; I simply don't always say what is in my heart. I think the words but I don't always say "thank you".

And then I thought about the time when Jesus healed some lepers; all of them were sick, all of them were healed. Only one of them came back to say "thank you" to Jesus.

“It happened that as He (Jesus) made His way toward Jerusalem, He crossed over the border between Samaria and Galilee. As He entered a village, ten men, all lepers, met Him. They kept their distance but raised their voices, calling out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”

Taking a good look at them, He said, “Go, and show yourselves to the priests.” They went, and while still on their way, became clean. One of them, when he realized that he was healed, turned around and came back, shouting his gratitude, glorifying God. He kneeled at Jesus’ feet, so grateful. He couldn’t thank him enough—and he was a Samaritan. 

Jesus said, “Were not ten healed? Where are the nine? Can none be found to come back and give glory to God except this outsider?” Then He said to him, “Get up. On your way. Your faith has healed and saved you.”” (Luke
17:11-19 MSG Version)

We are exhorted by the Apostle Paul "In everything give thanks..." (1 Thessalonians 5:18a). Paul, in case you didn't catch it, is saying that we are supposed to give thanks in EVERYTHING.

That's includes good things as well as bad. He is talking about fostering a heart of gratefulness; of thankfulness; to express gratitude. Not just think it, but actually say the words and let others (and the Lord) know that you are thankful.

The Apostle Paul goes on to say; "for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." (1 Thessalonians 5:18b)

Did Paul just say that giving thanks in everything is the will of God? 


And he isn't just suggesting it, he is communicated that this is something that we are supposed to do. In EVERYTHING!

I say this because Paul is using the word ‘will’ whose definition includes words like: inclination, desire, and pleasure.

It should be as hard-wired in us as complaining.

And then I thought about my mother-in-law. She is kind of like the leper who came back to Jesus. 

In fact she has a reputation that if give her something, she will write you a thank you note. This includes if you send her a thank you note for something that she gave to you. If you send one, you can expect a note sent to you to thank you for thanking her.

She understands that she is supposed to give thanks in everything.

I want to be that type of person. I want to follow the will of God for my life in Christ Jesus. I want to be the person who says it first, last, and always.

To say 'thank you" in everything has no downside. So, if you are in doubt, just say thank you. Can you really show too much gratitude to the people in your life as well as to the Lord who gives you life?

Say thank you, more often.

"Oh, that men would give thanks to the Lord for His goodness, And for His wonderful works to the children of men!" (Psalm 107:8)

The Message (MSG)

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

May 16, 2019

One-Handed Quandary

This past hockey season I was given a new name. Apparently, "Tommy O" wasn't meeting an unwritten requirement that I needed a nickname. 

For years it had served me well to personify me as a hockey player, artist, pastor, and my youthful disposition. And it also simplified things as some people struggle to pronounce my last name.

The newest name given to me by numerous players is "Tommy One-Hand". Although given to me by teammates, I knew that it had stuck when players from the opposing team called out this to me as I skated past their bench.

"Tommy One-Hand" is making reference to the fact that I have a 'bad habit' of sometimes  (usually) having only one hand on my hockey stick instead of keeping two on it at all times.

I tried to dismiss this by saying that even Bobby Orr sometimes skated coast to coast with the puck using only one hand on his stick. They responded; "Yeah, but then he scored a goal!", dismissing my logic.

The only reason it is a problem for other players is because they believe that "two hands on the stick" is the only way to play. Most of them had this drilled into their heads by coaches who also deeply shouted this mantra to their players.

I'm not sure when I started doing this, but I know that it helps me reach my stick out further in an attempt to steal a puck from another opposing player. One hand on the stick allows freedom of movement and speed; even in close quarters. 

I find that this way I can use a shorter stick when playing forward and still poke at a puck, instead of using a longer stick (which I use when playing defense). 

So, it really is debatable whether using one hand vs two hands is a 'bad habit' or not.

Even Laura Stamm (power skating coach from New York) agrees with me; 
"For 27 years I have been battling hockey people who maintain, Two Hands on the Stick, Two Hands on the Stick. The battle still looms large, because too many coaches still teach players to keep two hands on the stick at all times. Wrong! For one thing, the stick belongs on the ice, where the puck is. Secondly, by keeping both hands on the stick, players are forced to swing the stick high in the air, and from side to side (pitching hay) when skating fast." (

I know that they are correct and that working on my stick handling would improve my skills. Or at least would help them feel better. 

But, as I said, it is a long habit that is ingrained in my game. And habits can be hard to break; even if one knows that doing so would (could) improve things in their life.

Some say that it takes twenty one to thirty days to break a habit. And that it takes at least sixty six days to form a new habit to replace the old.

So what do we do with other habits that are debatable on whether or not there is need to change them? Habits such as going to bed early or staying up late? 

Habits of what to eat or not to eat? Or what to drink or not drink? Or whether coffee should have cream or not? Or Tea should be sweetened or not? And whether or not it should be caffeinated or not caffeinated; as well as how naturally they should be processed?

Habits such as where to place your hands on the steering wheel? And how many hands should be on the wheel?

Habits regarding how quickly or slowly you are supposed to go up and down stairs? 

Habits of whether or not you should cut your grass? Or how often you should cut it if you are so inclined to do so?

Habits of whether you hold a door open for someone?

Habits such as whether or not you use a spoon and fork or just a fork to eat pasta? Or whether you put catsup or ketchup on your fries or just mustard on your hotdog?

Habits such as whether or not you have to cheer for the home-team or can you go with one that is from a state you don't live in or have never even visited?

Habits such as washing dishes as you cook or after the meal?

Habits such as whether or not you fold up your newspaper after reading it; placing it back in the correct order? Or if it's even OK to read the news in printed form, or does it have to be online? How about printed books vs tablets?

Have you realized yet that many habits we have are really simply preferences; based upon what was drilled into your head by your "coaches"?

The Apostle Paul addressed this in the fourteenth chapter of Romans. He had observed that many people were divided on what was acceptable regarding their diets. He addresses it head on and doesn't state which diet is the correct one to follow.

He isn't talking about the sin of what they ate, but the sin in judging someone else for what they did or didn't do. He's trying to get them to obtain a new habit of allowing others to have habits that may be different from theirs; knowing that each of us will give an account to the ONLY One whose opinion really matters.

Paul wrote; 
"So then each of us shall give account of himself to God. Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way." (Romans 14:12-13)

Although Paul was specifically giving instruction regarding food, his instruction can be applied regarding how we accept differences or preferences or habits of others. Again, Paul isn't talking about sin, but preferences. Yes, it is Ok to challenge habits that are sinful.

Paul wrote:
"Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another." (Romans 14:19)

Let's give each other the freedom to keep only one hand on the stick if they so desire.

May 9, 2019

Go With The Flow

For the past fifteen years or so I have worn my hair cut short. In fact, I usually scheduled a haircut every month 'whether I needed it or not' because my hair grows very quickly and is thick and part of the haircut is to thin it out.

When I conversed with my stylist about wanting my hair a bit longer, she said that it was pretty simple; all that I would have to do is stop scheduling appointments with her.

I say all that to state that I grew out my flow this past winter for hockey season. Not a big deal and yet the response (myopically speaking) was 'bigger' than I had expected. What I lacked in skills that are diminishing, I made up in my flow.

Flow is the slang word for the hair of hockey players. Typically it is long and flows easily out of hockey helmets. Usually, it is un-kept and greasy...or at least heavily gelled. 
Although my hair curls when it is long, in years past, I have permed the back in true mullet fashion to get the party in the back; all the while keeping the business on top.

I scheduled my haircuts for every six weeks because I had to at least keep it groomed since I still met with people in ministry....and oftentimes wore a hat. 

Generally, I received loving compliments from a variety of people who had never seen me when (in the past) I had longer hair, and they encouraged me to keep it long.

Several of my teammates encouraged me to keep it long as they lived vicariously through me; since most of them had installed a marble top on their heads a very long time ago. 

I would occasionally be stopped by complete strangers who told me that they liked my hair longer. Several neighbors called me over and expressed their love of my longer hair. Even as I write this at a coffee shop, a friend who is a pastor said that he wishes he had my hair. I told him that when I get it cut I will drop it off at his house.

I was really shocked when the elderly women at church would tell me to keep it long. 

I say "generally" I received compliments because I did get some razzing; including being called affectionate names such as hippie. I was asked what year it was because someone thought that it was the seventies. One person, when he saw my flow, asked if I road my motorcycle; offering to give me a bowl-cut.

A friend who played his career in the NHL asked me if I was going through a mid-life-crisis. I responded "I hope not, or else that means that I would live to at least one hundred and twenty years old!"

Little did I know that by not cutting my hair would I generate such opinions. I was simply going with the flow.

It reminded me of when I came to the Lord and I received some comments about what I wore as well as the length of my hair. After I cut my hair, a leader at church thought he was giving me a "compliment" when he said to me; "Now you look like a real Christian..." as he quoted 1Corinthians 11:14 where Paul tells us "Isn’t it obvious that it’s disgraceful for a man to have long hair?"

This scripture 'messed' me up a bit for a few years as I swallowed the Kool-Aid and believed the lie (although it wasn't intentionally said) that having long hair on a man was shameful. 

This affected my need for performance in how I dressed and kept myself, believing (subconsciously) that somehow my grooming was connected with my holiness.

Even this past year I was so aware of my hair being out of place when the wind would blow and mess it up; rendering me unpresentable.

Little did I know (at the time) that it was simply this leader's opinion. He, in no way, was trying to lead me astray. He was simply trying express his opinion in an attempt to disciple me.

And he had omitted to read the whole scripture in which Paul adds;
"If anyone is inclined to be contentious, we have no such practice, nor do the churches of God." (1 Corinthians 11:16)

Paul is the same one who said a couple of chapters earlier in the same letter to the Corinthians that he "become all things to all men that I might by all means save some." (See Corinthians 9:19-23)

What am I saying? Whether or not you like hair that is long or short, keep your opinions to yourself. This includes trends in society for men or women to shave or not shave their faces, armpits, or other areas of their bodies. It's simply your opinion.

Your words may be heaping shame on men or women who choose to grow or not grow hair; to shave it or not shave it. None of this means that you are a follower of Jesus Christ. It is (and always has been and always will be) grace and grace alone.

Your words may have more of an influence than you might think. Your words may come alongside someone's performance mentality and lead them away from the grace of God Who wishes that none should perish, but all would have eternal life.

After all; "He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved." (John 3:16 AND 17)

As for me, as my hockey season comes to an end, I will contemplate when or if I get it cut. For now, I will simply go with the flow.

May 2, 2019

"Quit Fighting!"

Hi, my name is Tommy and I am a scrapper. 

No, not scrapper as in "one who hauls away scrap". 

And definitely NOT as "one who does scrap booking"

By scrapper I mean: a fighter or aggressive competitor, especially one always ready or eager for a fight, argument, or contest: the best lightweight scrapper in boxing; a rugged political scrapper.

As a scrapper, I don't know how to quit; it is hard-wired in me.

In hockey I love the corners and will "fight" the biggest guy if necessary to try to take away the puck. I say "try" because I am not always successful. 

I have been a scrapper from time to time and arm wrestled with leadership; especially when I see a potential problem with a direction that they are going or with incompetence.

I have been a scrapper with Cathy in an attempt to fix a problem, rather than following her suggestion to forgive and let it go. Oftentimes she responds with; "Or we could simply laugh it off and move on."

I have been a scrapper with issues of injustice and whenever I see the scales tipped unfairly.

And, sadly, I have especially have been a scrapper with the Lord. And, even though Jacob did that in the Bible (see Genesis 32), for me, that's not a good thing. Jacob may have felt it was necessary to get the blessing from the Lord by wrestling with Him; for me it stirs up a bad side of being a scrapper.

The truth is, Jacob wasn’t wrestling with the Lord as much as the Lord was wrestling with Jacob. The Lord saw Jacob's need and came down to meet with him. The Lord was breaking Jacob, changing him, transforming him. 

Smith Wigglesworth (referring to Jacob) wrote: “Jacob knew that no one could deliver him but God. And there alone, lean in soul and impoverished in spirit, he met with God. Oh, how we need to get alone with God, to be broken, to be changed, to be transformed! And when we do meet with Him, He interposes, and all care and strife are brought to an end.”  

The Lord is calling me to set aside my agenda and to allow Him to be the Lord of ALL of each and EVERY situation of my life.

He is working on my character and wants me to resist my flesh and to die to MY agenda.

I need to get alone with the Lord; not fight Him, and receive the revelation of His infinite grace and of His wonderful purpose and plans for my life.

He wants me to believe and trust and rest and know that He the Lord is in control, and that He sees it all.

He wants me to stop and to smell every flower and chew every morsel of food; and embrace every life; and know that it will all be alright.

He wants me to give it all to Him and for me to quit fighting Him.

He wants me to get to the point where I have no fight left.

"No Fight Left"
It's hard to tell if my eyes are open
When all I see is dark
And it's easy, it's easy to lose my step
To lose my step

There is no fight left on the inside
But maybe that's where I should be
I've given up trying
I'm giving it all to you

And I used to dream of a life so lovely
There'd be no room for tears
Now letting go, yeah
Letting go is the hardest part
It's the hardest part

There is no fight left on the inside
But maybe that's where I should be
I've given up trying
I'm giving it all to you

There is no place I can go
Where you don't already know
How to reach right down and pull me out
I need you, I need you, I need you

There is no fight left on the inside
But maybe that's where I should be
I've given up trying
I'm giving it all...

There is no fight left on the inside
But maybe that's where I should be
I've given up trying
I'm giving it all, yeah
I've given up trying
I'm giving it all, yeah
I've given up trying
I'm giving it all to you

Songwriters: JJ Heller / Dave Heller