Category Archives: Life Lessons

Stick Simplicity: A Lesson In Contentment

George

First off, George is my dog. George is the best dog in the world. Everybody loves George. These are the facts.

Secondly, George loves me more than anyone else, and that’s because we think alike in many ways – and because I play with him more.

George is a dog. He doesn’t have a job, any source of income, and no idea what it would even mean to go shopping. His only concept of “Black Friday” is when I turn out the lights and put him in his kennel earlier than he deems fair.

Simple Stick

But George is the kind of dog that likes simple things. He likes his fancy squeaky toys, but he is just as happy with an empty toilet paper roll, a dust mask he might have snatched, or a simple stick in the back yard.

Don’t you wish we could be that way? Don’t you wish that we could be satisfied with a simple little stick to play with? Why do we crave the extravagant things? Why do we need so many expensive and complicated things to make us smile?

That reminds me of a song by Sean Morey I heard on the radio years ago when I lived in Kentucky. It’s called “Dear Santa.” Here’s a video made by a fan.

Sure, there’s more to life than a stick. But just look at George’s face! Look at that smile of contentment! Wouldn’t you like to be that happy?

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content. – 1Timothy 6:6-8

Why don’t we just try – I know, we try every year – to keep things simple? Just keep in mind this key truth: George is MOST happy when I play WITH him.

As long as we can find enjoyment in being with those we love, who needs more than a stick?

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Filed under Christmas, Culture Wars, Family, Life Lessons, Thanksgiving

How Thankful Are You, Really?

Walking down the streets of Chinhoyi, Zimbabwe, I came across a few middle school-aged boys playing with toy cars and trucks. What made it so unusual were the toys they were playing with.

But I’ll get to that in a moment… just keep reading.

The last I heard, Zimbabwe has between 8o% to 90% unemployment. Did you get that? Between 8 and 9 out of every 10 people are without a job!

Do you have a job? ANY kind of job? Well, then, you should be thankful, even if you can’t stand what you do.

But here’s another question: Do you play with toys you didn’t have to make yourself? Even you adults… Do you?

Right now there are probably some things you wish you had, but all you have is last year’s model. You are jealous of your neighbor and their new car, truck, or house. Your friend got a new smartphone. You feel like God has treated you unfairly because you can’t have what you REALLY want. Am I close?

Why not enjoy and be thankful for what you have? Frankly, most of the “problems” we have are what we call “first world problems.” In other words, our problems are the problems of the rich and the spoiled.

Yes, we are spoiled brats when we complain about not having the newest iPhone, the newest car, the newest video game, the next generation Glock, etc.

You see, here’s the thing… If you don’t have to make your own “toys,” you’re blessed way more than you deserve. And “blessed” might not be the best choice of words.

Below are some pictures of boys playing with the cars and trucks THEY made out of wire and bottle caps. They were having fun.

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Still have something to complain about? Why not share in the comment section. Maybe we could all cry together.

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Filed under America, General Observations, Life Lessons, Thanksgiving

Kids Spitting and Truth Telling

To be “clear,” sometimes the truth is “nasty.” The following is adapted from the last chapter of my book, Life Lessons from the School Bus. 

“Unexpected Truth”

Every once in a while a bus driver, or anyone for that matter, may find himself saying, “I didn’t see that one coming!” In other words, every once in a while something happens; somebody says something that you would have never imagined. Let me tell you about one of those “once in a while’s.”

Spitting Accusations

Kids are always doing stuff to each other to be aggravating. You have probably witnessed children throwing spit wads, taking items out of another’s book bag, or hiding a child’s shoe right before her stop. No? Well what about spitting on each other?

Oh, yes, children are well-accustomed to spitting on each other, especially boys. Now, they never admit to doing it; they usually blame it on the one kid with no salivary glands. But there was this one time when a boy on my bus accused a girl of spitting on him when she actually didn’t. How do I know that she didn’t? She showed me proof!

So, “Jack” hollered from the back of the bus, “Mr. Baker! ‘Jill’ spit on me!” Before I could rationally respond, another voice came from the back, the voice of the accused, crying, “No I didn’t – he’s lying!” Since I was in the process of driving and there was no place to pull over and deal with the situation, all I could do at the moment was respond with a simple request: “STOP SPITTING!”

A moment passed, then Jill came up to the seat behind me (which is dangerous and against the rules, by the way). “Mr. Baker,” she said in a tone laced with disgust, “I did not spit on Jack; he spit on himself after he spit on the seat.”

What?” I asked. “He’s spitting on the seat?! That’s gross!”  Incidentally, this is one of those times when I find it appropriate to ask: why do people of any age find enjoyment in recreational spitting? Why waist perfectly good saliva when there’s nothing necessarily nasty to expel from one’s mouth?

Anyway, a moment or two later, Jack came up to share his side of the story. “Mr. Baker, Jill did spit on me! See my shirt? See, this is her spit…she spit on me! See?”

I couldn’t argue with what I saw. There, as plain as the marks on a Dalmatian, were wet spots where something liquidy had collided with his shirt. Somebody had spit on him.

“Jill!” I yelled, “Why did you spit on Jack?” From the back of the bus came an insistent reply, “But I didn’t! He spit on himself just to get me in trouble!”

The Truth Comes Out

Where’s Solomon when you need him? Why can’t school buses be equipped with portable DNA equipment? How was I supposed to determine who spit on whom? How could I prove who needed to be punished with a stern warning and a verbal reprimand? The answer came in a way I never would have dreamed, but I will never forget.

“Mr. Baker…” Jill had made her way back up to the seat behind me, again while I was driving. “Jill, you need to sit down!” I told her.

“But Mr. Baker…” Let me just pause here to try to describe Jill’s way of saying my name. Jill spoke with a slightly non-emotional, matter-of-fact, drawn-out southern drawl. It sounded more like “Miiis-turr Buh-ayyy-kurr…”

“Mr. Baker, I didn’t spit on Jack; he spit on the seats and then on himself to make it look like I did it,” she said. “But I didn’t, and I can prove it.”

“Really,” I asked.

“Yessir,” Jill replied. “You see, Jack was eating green candy, and the spit on his shirt was green – mine is not…SEE!

At that point, just around my right shoulder, came the arm of a little girl. Attached to that arm was a palm, and in that palm was half an ounce of spit – yes, spit! It looked like a blob of clear silicone!

“It wasn’t me that spit, ‘cause my spit is clear, seeeee Mr. Baker?”

I couldn’t argue with her. She proved her point. There was the proof puddled in the palm of her hand, clear as day. I nearly threw up.

Life Lesson

We may not like it, but sometimes the truth is hard to stomach – and nothing like what we expected.

The simple fact is that truth isn’t always pleasant; more often it is nasty. No woman wants to hear the truth when she asks, “Does this dress make me look fat?”  No man wants to hear the truth when he asks, “How did I do with the laundry?” But sometimes the truth has to be told to make a difference. Unfortunately, to play off the words of Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men, many can’t handle the truth.

For example, there is a saying that goes, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” Do you know where that saying came from? It comes from Jesus. He said, “If you continue in my word, then you are my disciples indeed; and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free” (John 8:31-32). The part that is hard for many to stomach is the part where He says, “If you continue in my word…” In other words, in order to know the truth that will set one free, one must be a follower of Jesus Christ.

Some say that truth is relative, that it changes with the circumstances of life. Others have said that there is no truth, only perception (Gustave Flaubert). However, without truth there can be no lie, no wrong, and no remedy for the spit on some kid’s shirt, not to mention the darkness in our hearts. But when we follow Jesus, we can rest assured there is Truth to know, for He said in John 14:6, “I am the WAY, the TRUTH, and the LIFE…”

Route Suggestions

  • When faced with a tough situation, one that demands you make a wise decision, ask God for help. James 1:5 says, “If any man lack wisdom, let him ask of God…”
  • Don’t ask someone to tell you the truth about how you look, how well you’re doing your job, etc., unless you’re willing to hear the truth.
  • Don’t “kill the messenger.” If someone does try to tell the truth, don’t get angry when they say the dress makes you look fat. Just get angry because they weren’t sensitive enough to change the subject.
  • Read the book of John in the Bible. Make a list of the claims that Jesus made. Was He telling the truth? For the atheist or agnostic, that may be a truth too hard to handle, but it can set you free.

Oh, one more thing… When preparing to write this, I asked the girl in the story what she thought the moral should be. She said, “Sometimes the truth is nasty.”

Truth.

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Filed under book review, Faith, General Observations, Humor, Life Lessons, salvation

Don’t Call Me a Hallomeany

The following was originally published in October of 2012 – when I still drove a school bus.

Not a Hallomeany

I am not a big Halloween guy. I don’t get in to the dressing up, and all that. For that matter, I don’t celebrate the holiday.

However, I am not a total Hallomeany. I am not the Halloween version of Scrooge. For example, when a little girl asked what I thought of her costume, I didn’t say, “You look more like a prostitot than a princess.” I said, “You look very nice!”

When the little boys come around dressed like monsters, I always shiver like I am scared. When they dress like superheroes, I ask if they can fly. And when they look like a cat, dog, or freakazoid satanic mutt from the pits of hell, I say, “Wow! Do you have fleas, too?”

Wiggin’ Out

So, even though I don’t celebrate Halloween, I try to keep the kids on the bus from thinking I am a “legalist” about it. What do I do? I wear a wig.

This time I wore an Afro (a.k.a, Bob Ross w/attitude).

One little girl told me she was Little Red Riding Hood. I told her I was Big Black Afro Hood.

But the funny thing about all of this is the reaction of the elementary kids. It really made me wonder what bus they have been riding the last three months.

The Kids: (at least 1,000 times) “Mr. Baker, is that your real hair?”

Me: “Yes. It is. I was bald yesterday, but I put fertilizer on my head and my hair grew overnight.”

The Kids: “No it’s not…I bet it is a wig…that’s not your hair…let me touch it…I bet it’s a wig.”

Me:  “Of course it’s my real hair.”

The Kids:  “Is that really your real hair? You’re wearing a wig…I just know it.”

Me: (I got upset with some children who wouldn’t stay in their seats, so I got serious and took off the wig.)

A Little Girl (that has ridden the bus for 3 months): “Aaaahhhh (gasping, then giggling as she whispers to another child), Mr. Baker’s BALD!

Me:  “You THINK?! Where have you been? Did you not see me yesterday? Are you blind?”

You’ve Known Me How Long?

After telling the above story a few times, it seemed God wanted to tell me something.

I kept thinking of a conversation Jesus has with Phillip in John 14:8-9. Phillip asked, “Show us the Father.” That’s when Jesus replied in the same way I did to the little girl, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me?”

That got me to wondering. How long have I known Jesus? And how many times do I act like I haven’t even been paying attention to His presence? How many times have I been surprised by an answered prayer? How many times have I doubted, only to find Him faithful?

“You’ve known Me how long?” Long enough to know better.

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Filed under Christian Maturity, God, Humor, Life Lessons

Observations from a Middle-Georgia Pastorate: Dirt Roads

A portion of the unpaved southern half of the road where I live.

Georgia Red Clay

I’m sure you’ve either heard of it, or maybe you’ve even gotten your clothes stained by it, but Georgia is famous for “Georgia Red Clay.”

The reddish soil that covers much of the state of Georgia, along with areas in surrounding states, gets it’s color from iron oxide, the reddish-orange shades varying as much as any shade of red rust. It’s almost everywhere.

As a matter of fact, a good portion of the secondary roads in my area look just like the one above.

Georgia White Clay

On the other hand, especially around these parts (Washington County), there is another kind of clay: Kaolin.

4 oz. for $7 on Etsy!

As opposed to the common red clay, Kaolin (nicknamed “white gold” because of its color and its profitability) is mined, processed, and sold locally and around the world in various forms for use in products ranging from paper to lipstick. Actually, over 50% of it is used to give coated paper the “gloss” you might see in quality printer paper or magazines.

FYI, just click on the attached link and learn about one of the world’s largest producers of Kaolin located just 10 miles south of me in Sandersville, GA: Thiele Kaolin Company.

However, what I wanted to write about was not the types of clay that can be found in middle Georgia, but those red clay dirt roads…just like the one two houses down from me…right where the pavement ends.

It’s About the Dust

Two days ago, as I drove by one of these dirt roads, I sensed there was something profound…an important lesson…that I needed to learn then share. However, asking myself “What’s so spiritual about dirt roads?” over and over didn’t bring me any closer to a revelation. Then, as I was in the shower this morning, the truth of it all became clear (or clean, whichever):

It’s about the dust!

What do you get on your car after you travel down a paved road? Nothing. What do you get when you travel down a dirt road? Dust! It covers everything.

Think about it. You could drive a thousand miles down a nice, paved highway, and nobody would be any more the wiser of your long, hard journey. But travel down a dirt road and people will know you’ve been somewhere.

It’s About Serving

In a small, rural town like mine, the people have the tendency to care a little more about their neighbor. It’s not a firm and fast rule, but generally speaking, here you’re more likely to have someone lend you a helping hand than in the middle of a metropolis.

Yet, how do people know when you need a helping hand? How do people know you’ve traveled down a long, dirt road?

So often, in our “big cities,” we live such guarded, relationally-sanitized lives that we could be driven to near exhaustion and no one would be able to tell from the outside. In other words, our cars are clean.

But get down to a place where “everybody knows your business” and what do you find? A more openness about the road of life, a transparency that admits the road is dusty and dirty and has an affect on you.

Are bigger towns with the paved roads really all that better? Consider what the Dictionary of Biblical Imagery had to say about “streets” under the heading of  “A Window into the City’s Common Life”:

[The] street as a setting in the Bible represents what is commonly true of the mood, spirit and well-being of the city. Streets typically line the entirety of a city and serve as its reference points. Descriptions of what takes place “in the streets” therefore function as generalizations about what is going on in the city as a whole. – Leland Ryken et al., Dictionary of Biblical Imagery (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 820.

If the streets of this middle-Georgia pastorate are any inclination, there’s a lot of opportunity to be like Jesus…to be a servant. At least down in these parts people are a little more willing to admit the need to have their feet … or their tires … washed.

So after he had washed their feet, and had taken his garments, and was set down again, he said unto them, Know ye what I have done to you? Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for [so] I am. If I then, [your] Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you. Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him. – John 13:12-16 

It’s easier to be a servant where the roads are dirt 🙂 

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Filed under America, Christianity, community, General Observations, Life Lessons, ministry, places

Observations from a Middle-Georgia Pastorate: the Gnat Line

GETTY IMAGES/ISTOCKPHOTO

Gnats

I had never heard of such things growing up in Tennessee. And when living in Kentucky, there was nothing like it in the blue grass. But down here in middle Georgia there are these critters called eye gnats, or simply “gnats.”

You see, where we are is where the soil is just right for a particular kind of pest that will quite near make a non-native preacher cuss. These things will fly (no disrespect intended) into your eyes, your nose, your ears, and even your mouth. They’re dreadfully-annoying flying flecks of near demonic frustration.

But however annoying these little critters can be (and one just flew by my computer screen), at least they are not flies. Annoying is one thing, but at lest they’re not disgusting and deadly.

Believe it or not, the average fly is much worse than a hundred of these ear-buzzing hellions.

Flies

I don’t want to gross you out with all the stuff that flies do, but I could.

The worst part is that in order to eat they have to regurgitate stomach acid onto their food source (your food), dissolve it, then suck it back up. In the process, whatever was left in the gut of the fly from its last meal (road-kill or doggie poop) just got puked onto your burger or ice cream.

Now THAT is DISGUSTING!

Because flies are so nasty, annoying, and ever-present, the writer of Ecclesiastes chose to use them (not gnats) in an illustration. He said,

Dead flies cause the ointment of the apothecary to send forth a stinking savor: [so doth] a little folly him that is in reputation for wisdom [and] honor (Ecclesiastes 10:1).

What does that mean?

Well, an apothecary was someone who made perfume, or a medicinal ointment. Some of these ointments could take a long time to create, not to mention use a lot of costly ingredients in the making. If left uncovered, the sweet smell would attract flies. Only one fly landing in the ointment could cause it to spoil and create a foul odor.

Losing its beautiful smell, the ointment was no longer capable of doing what it was designed to do.

Like the ointment of the perfume maker, our reputations (testimonies) are hard to come by, but easy to ruin. All it takes is just one little mistake, misstep, or sin to cause a big stink. So, watch out for the little sins that can ruin your hard-earned reputation.

Keep the lids on and the screens closed.

“The Fly Song” (Dead Flies)

A few years ago, in a moment of creativity, I stayed up late one night putting a song together on my 8-track Tascam. A while later, my friend (Roy Cavender) came and laid down the lead guitar track.

I’m going to let you listen to it, but you need an open mind and a sense of humor. Maybe one day I will have the time and money to take it to the studio and do it up right, along with some other works recorded late at night when I should have been asleep.

Click the link below to listen! Then, by all means, be thankful if all you have buzzing around are middle-Georgia gnats 🙂

Dead Flies

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Filed under Christian Living, General Observations, Life Lessons, Uncategorized

Thoughts On My Birthday

I did the icing. Not bad!

Today is my birthday, so I thought I would share some quick observations before all the celebrations begin.

Actually, there isn’t anything planned, just a pastor friend coming over for coffee and AT&T coming by to install internet service in our church (THAT’S worth celebrating).

Oops! Just got a text… my friend is not feeling well this morning, so he won’t be here. I guess that means I get all the coffee to myself.

First thought. I woke up this morning realizing what today was, and the first thought that came to my mind was how unfair it is that mothers don’t get any praise. I mean, if it wasn’t for mothers, we wouldn’t be here to celebrate, right? So, Happy Giving Birth To Your Son Day, Mom!

Second thought. If you don’t express what you want for your birthday, as in gifts, don’t complain if you get underwear. Granted, getting underwear as a gift from anyone other than my wife – like my daughter’s boyfriend – is always a surprise, but maybe I should have thought of something simple, like a pound of coffee.

Third (and final) thought. It might sound a little morbid, but even before I got out of bed this morning, and after the thought about mothers, a verse from Ecclesiastes came to mind.

A good name is better than precious ointment; and the day of death than the day of one’s birth. – Ecclesiastes 7:1 

I wonder if Solomon was a Debbie Downer at parties?

This Thursday I am going to be attending a service celebrating the life of a great man of God and former pastor of mine, Bill Stafford. You may know him as the old preacher who gave Kirk Cameron advice in the movie Fireproof.  As funerals go, this is going to be a humdinger! One like I hope my funeral will be one day.

Solomon understood that what is more important, in the long run, is how you are remembered – what you’re remembered for – not simply the fact that you were born. Sure, it’s not that I want my death to be celebrated with cake and ice cream, but I would hope that when I do go to receive my final reward there are people down here celebrating a life well-lived.

We can’t help being born, but we do have a say in what we are remembered for. May this day be a reminder for me to keep preparing for that party still to come.

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Filed under General Observations, Life Lessons