Inspiration for Today's World

Category: Stories (Page 1 of 2)


Richie inletting stock

Inspiration is a most interesting phenomenon. I have often wondered where it comes from. This story is inspired by several photographs taken by a lovely young woman named Heather. The moment captures me working with my grandson, building a flintlock rifle kit. One photo shows him working on the fitting of the barrel to the stock, while another photo shows me removing the excess casting material from the rifle’s brass parts. His hands are young and strong. My hands are old now, scarred a bit from many years of projects. As I marveled at the contrasting photos, the inspiring moment came when Heather posted those photos on social media along with a simple poem from St. Francis of Assisi. She gets full credit for my inspiration to write this story.

“He who works with his hands is a laborer. He who works with his hands and his head is a craftsman. He who works with his hands and his head and his heart is an artist.”

~ Saint Francis of Assisi

My Old Hands

The quote started me thinking about how the process of learning is enhanced by life’s opportune moments. It made me wonder: how did my labors (work ethic) and craftsmanship (skills) evolve into the inspiration to create beautiful things, and whether I really had any artistic creations in my life? While my hands show my years of labor and craftsmanship, did I achieve that third level of becoming an artist that engaged my heart?

As a young boy, I lived in the inner city. There was no yard for me to play in, and my family did not have a lot of money for fancy toys. My “play time” usually took the form of playing with other children’s toys, and my favorite was an Erector Set. I loved to build things with them—not simple things, mind you—but complex things like an electrically operated drawbridge. Give me enough Lincoln Logs, and I could build you a frontier fort. No Lincoln Logs, then give me some clothes pins, and I would layout a ship deck on the floor into which children’s imaginations could step inside and sail the world.

As I grew older, I discovered a hobby shop around the corner from my grandmother’s house. There I found hundreds of stick-built airplanes, boats, wooden cars, and even rocket-powered jet cars. I built them to fly, but I had no room to send them airborne. These were peaceful times for me. I spent a lot of time with my grandmother, learning how to make cheese and sausage. I remember her kitchen well and the many stories she would tell about her life in Lithuania. At thirteen, my family moved away from the city to the rural countryside. It would not take long to adapt my interests to include building stone dams in the creek near me, tree houses, real boats, and wheeled vehicles to race with my friends down the local hills. It would be there, in the cold Ohio winters, that I would discover the “Allied Corporation Catalog “of electrical components. I could buy parts to make radios, both normal and shortwave, just to name a few. A Schwinn bike with a gasoline motor and a Wizzer expanded my world. I could take it apart and put it together without any instructions.

As I approached my teen years, I wanted badly to drive a car. My father, in his wisdom, let me buy a 1948 Crosley Sedan for $50.  Today, I would tell him that what he did, in his wisdom, was to keep me home in the garage, learning, working, and rebuilding, until I was 16. Yes, I made the car run. It would be a quick transition to more cars, always in need of repair. I am sure that the arthritis I have in my hands today comes from the years I spent laboring at the heavy work of rebuilding motors, suspensions, and car bodies. My budding career as a mechanical engineer was preparing me for St. Francis’s next step, the transition to a craftsman. That did not happen, however, until after I got married.

My wife and I saved and bought a small house. It needed work—a lot of work. The house needed a new roof, new woodwork, internal doors, a dishwasher, and kitchen cabinets. The walls needed patching, the well pump needed fixing, and the gas clothes dryer we owned needed GAS. Yes, I learned how to trench by hand and install a legally permitted gas line. This last project would be repeated twice in my life. The difference now was that the projects were not only for me but also for my family. I could see that the craftsmanship of my labor would be reclaimed as we sold one home and moved up into larger homes. Repeatedly, my wife and I would pour our labor and craftsmanship into each house. Time and time again, as we sold and repurchased a home, my wife and I would recover real value from our invested efforts. This was the best investment and savings plan you could find in America at the time.

It is probably prudent to pause here for a moment and reflect on how so many diverse skills were accumulated by my wife and me. There was no secret; we took time to learn from those around us who had walked a similar road. For me, it was books, night school, multiple jobs, trying, failing, and trying again that taught me what I needed to know. There was no Internet or YouTube. Craftsmanship is a product of two things: attitude and practice. While my attitude did not want to settle for anything less than perfection, it would be my habits of continually refining skills that would pay off. Mistakes were an excellent teacher too. All this taught me that there is no task that humans cannot accomplish if they seek knowledge and just work hard at it.

Jake’s trophy shelf

To end this simple story, I need to transition to the part of my life when my two grandsons came into this world. I never knew either of my grandfathers, so, I must admit, I had no clue how to include these two beautiful lives in my own life. Learning came quickly. I saw them as my father saw me—young men, hungry for knowledge and skills. They would grow up with me building toys, their bedroom furniture, camping, and fishing. I would spend time showing them how to use tools, labor, and craft just about anything. These times would take me back to those peaceful times I had so many years ago as a child myself.

Now that I am retired from my career, it is no longer just about working hard and doing things correctly. As St. Francis of Assisi said, the goals have now changed for me. When purpose and love are present, so is the heart. What is the difference between a laborer, a craftsman, and an artist? The honest laborer is not to be demeaned. The sweat of labor is a contribution that created our country and sustains our economy. It is the cornerstone upon which great things are built. The craftsman distinguishes themselves by imparting experience and skills to every task. It is the craftsman’s knowledge that builds complex machines, sends men into space, and produces what fills the museums of the next generation. It is the craftsman who teaches others so that life itself can be sustained and improved. But what about the artist? To become an artist, one must freely place their heart into everything they have created. And like our own Creator, they must LOVE their “Creation.” It is the artist who gives each generation the inspiration to labor and craft with all their heart. It will always be the artist who inspires our world to flourish rather than just exist.



This is a time when American history is under attack. Schools selectively remove our history based on the current winds and whims brought on by a culture apologetic for America. Through thousands of dedicated hours, I have taken time to share my limited knowledge of history with children and felt it was time to share my story. Numerous times, too many times to remember, I dressed in period clothing to seek out events where I could share my own love for American history. These are called living history events for a reason. The goal for me was to bring history alive—to not only remind us of our past but to share what our nation has learned through those early formative years and then give my listeners a few lasting memories.

The Challenge

David Barton is a New York Times best-selling author. From his writings, he taught me that the world is quite creative in its destruction of America’s history. He lists seven strategies that are being used to re-program our youth against America. My goals are to avoid all of them.

Historical Negativism – An accurate presentation of history depends on the telling of the good with the bad, an honest, balanced presentation of events, people, or time periods. Our history is not all bad!

Relativism – This asserts that in history, religion, culture, and law are not absolute. Values are to be determined individually, and personal standards trump traditional ones, thus allowing subjectivity and feelings to prevail over objectivity. This attitude would claim that our Constitution is old and out of date. Nothing could be farther from the truth!

Anti-nationalism – This is the constant undermining of patriotism, or the love of one’s country. Remember, we are the only country on earth that people risk their lives to get into. People are free to leave, yet few ever do!

Rejection of American Exceptionalism – This rejects the idea that America is blessed and enjoys unprecedented stability, prosperity, and liberty because of unique ideas such as God-given inalienable rights, individualism, limited government, and an educated, virtuous citizenry. I am still waiting to find a history book somewhere better than America!

Modernism – This is the malpractice of examining historical events and people as if they occurred and lived today rather than in the past. Modernists destroy monuments, deface historical sites, and protest everything good. Lose the past, and you will lose your purpose!

Minimalism – The unreasonable insistence on oversimplification, on reducing all things to political rhetoric and one-line slogans, forgetting the complexities of history. Open and honest dialogue requires time for “both” sides to discuss their concerns after they first understand each other’s!

Rigid Secularism – The constant misrepresentation of the influences of religion in American history Our history has recognized that all must have freedom of religion, not freedom from religion. Faith, the belief in a Creator, exists in every culture on earth. Who planted that belief in the hearts of men? World history tells us over and over that America is unique – believe it or not, what you believe in is totally up to you. Choose carefully!

Why Bother

Meeting my father at 3 years old for the 1st time as he returns from WWII

My family heritage has no doubt been the driver of my beliefs. I have no family that fought in the Revolution or Civil War. All four of my grandparents came through Ellis Island along with my mother. Being of Lithuanian descent, I grew up with stories of all three invasions of Lithuania by the Russians. One of my grandfathers was conscripted into the Russian Imperial Cavalry and had to escape his country, coming to America to gain freedom. His term of service was to be 20 years. My father was drafted within weeks of my birth, and with his brothers, we all fought in World War II. Within our immediate family, my father’s sister married a wonderful Lithuanian man named Alex. He bore the serial numbers of a German Concentration Camp on his arm. I have heard the stories hundreds of times about how their freedom was taken away from them—not once, but multiple times. When you grow up with family members banished to Siberia, or worse, murdered because of their religious beliefs, your own beliefs become embedded into the bedrock of why America and its Constitution are so important.

No generation can survive without a knowledge of history. Not only are they doomed to make the same mistakes, but they shelter themselves from the very proof that there is a Creator and He does have a plan. The present turmoil in our world has been there since its creation and will not disappear soon. Adults have a responsibility to make sure we equip our children and grandchildren with the tools to survive. That is the very purpose behind my efforts called “Patriot Camp.” What is in such a camp? Well, time to share my goals and story with future generations. Please consider carrying the torch of liberty and keeping it lit for our children to see.

How to Tell a Story

With the above introduction as a background, I chose, as my period of history, our country’s founding. As I worked with schools, churches, and at public events, I often found the area most often misunderstood was the meaning of a constitutional republic. To most children, history was just a list of confusing dates and places. Adults call these “events,” and rarely did the children I met ever garner experiences and understanding for their lives from them. Something was missing. My goals began to shift from “timeline” teaching to “cause and effect.” Much like the examples of using parables in the New Testament, I began to use history and its many stories to pass on knowledge that would be beneficial today. The best stories leave the human mind to ponder a bit and teach about life and why we are free today. This took more time, but it was necessary if I were to take a simple date and event and translate it into life-altering learnings. Let me give you an example.

Wollen, William Barns; Battle of Lexington, 19 April 1775; National Army Museum;

The Patriot Day’s story (April 19, 1775) started the night before when two lanterns were hung in the Old North Church. There was a famous ride by Paul Revere. Did you know that Revere never actually arrived in time to warn the patriots? So who warned them? The story involves answering the question, Why were the British even going to Concord, MA? Once pieces like these are put in place, a vivid picture can be brought forth. You can start to see some of the building blocks that went into our Declaration, Constitution, and Bill of Rights. There is an element of religious freedom in the Old North Church story, even some historical controversy. The event is intertwined by the trust between two lifelong friends who grew up singing in the choir together, a friendship that helped launch the creation of America. There was intrigue and sacrifice, and that was all before a single shot was fired in Lexington.

Stored in Concord were the “military weapons,” the 1775 version of today’s assault rifles, the Brown Bess. To understand the meaning of the 2nd Amendment, one must understand what was at risk if the British had been successful that day. There were also individual stories of ordinary men, ready to give their lives for freedom. Oh yes, and there were the first shots fired. Do you know the names of the first nine people to die? They were farmers and shopkeepers, ordinary people, called Minute Men. Just that simple date has often taken me hours to explain. While I told my stories, I always let the children hold pieces of history, lots of show and tell. A flintlock rifle, a powder horn, or maybe a real Tri-Corn hat. In the end, they would have been introduced to some new people, like John Pulling and his wife Sara (if you do not know of them, you should). My goal in that one date was for the children to understand what happened, why it happened, and the benefits that they now have because that day happened the way it did. With this example now behind us, let’s look at how I tell my story.

Setting the Stage

The Iroquois Confederation

I always like to start with where human rights and the desire to be free come from. Two examples are worthy of review: The Magna Carta and the Hiawatha Wampum (also called the Great Law of Peace). Both will take us back in time to the 1400’s. The Magna Carta was the first time a king ever wrote down his promises to the people. Until then, the people were fully subservient to the kings. King John did not honor his 63 promises, but it set the stage for the future idea that leaders serve the people, not the other way around. It is nice to have a copy of the Magna Carta for the children to see.

The Hiawatha Wampum

The second example comes from the Confederation of the Iroquois. In the 1400s, there was a five-tribe confederacy here in North America that wrote a constitution using wampum beads. Hiawatha was a pre-colonial Native American leader and co-founder of the Iroquois Confederacy. Depending on the version of the narrative, he was a leader of the Onondaga, the Mohawk, or both. This was so advanced for the time that when Ben Franklin and others were getting around to creating America’s Constitution, they incorporated many of its ideas. Think about that: our native citizens were co-authors of our own Constitution. The concept of writing history takes many forms. This one comes from quahog shell beads. Our national logo of the eagle holding 13 arrows in its left talons and an olive branch in its right is rumored to have come from Hiawatha. To convince the five separate tribes that they would be stronger if united, there is a story that he broke a single arrow and then grasped five and showed they could not be easily broken. Unity provided strength and peace.

The French and Indian War

Map of the French and Indian War

Most talks I do begin with the French and Indian War. It is not that I do not like the Pilgrims or the early settlers, but most of their story begins in England. My history starts right here in America with a war called the Seven Years’ War. It was a global conflict that was fought between 1756 and 1763. It involved all five European great powers of the time—the Kingdoms of Great Britain, Prussia, and France, the Habsburg Monarchy of Austria, and the Russian Empire—plus many of Europe’s middle powers and spanned five continents, affecting Europe, the Americas, West Africa, India, and the Philippines. Here in America, the French and Indian War (1754–1763) was just a part of the Seven Years War. It pitted the colonies of British America against those of New France, each side supported by military units from the parent country and by American Indian allies. At the start of the war, the French colonies had a population of roughly 60,000 settlers, compared with 2 million in the British colonies.

I picked this starting point because of an interesting decision made by King George II. In America, the colonists saw this war as an opportunity to expand westward and defeat the French. The colonists wanted to raise their army and drive the French out of the land west of the colonies. Remember, the colonists were British subjects, loyal to their king. King George II was concerned, however, that if he let the colonists develop an army, someday that army could be used to break away from Britain. The King wanted British troops to do all the fighting. Later in history, we would see that the king’s instincts were right on the mark. While I am versed in speaking on this war on topics such as George Washington’s early contributions at Fort Necessity and the religious aspects of this war, I generally do not include this material. It was a barbaric war, and I find it hard to share much about what we may have learned. I often wonder if we learned anything by our experiences in the French and Indian War. But I started here because of the debt Britain created fighting the war. Teaching children about debt is one of my paramount goals. You will see this later.

A Patriot Camp discussing life in the 18th century

After the introduction of this war, I prefer to shift to colonial life. What was the frontier like during these times? What were the hardships? What would it have been like to be a child living in the 18th century? What was school like? What did people eat? Did children have toys? Most children have never thought about any of these things. I use this time to talk about candles, lanterns, their water coming from a well or stream, chopping wood, and cooking over a fire. I try to show them how to start a fire with flint and steel, how heavy a pail of water is, what a campfire looks like, cast iron pots and pans, and simple things like dishes and cups. Ever eat with a two-pronged fork? Our ancestors did. We talk about clothes, transportation, shoes, hats, and other things that most of us never think about. It usually is a fun time with lots of show and tell. My travels have provided me with opportunities to acquire many accoutrements that are “touchable.”

My wrap-up on this war is to emphasize that by the end of the French and Indian War, by 1763, Britain was in debt. The British thought the colonists should help pay for the cost since the war was of benefit to the colonies and for their protection. The war had cost the British treasury £70,000,000 and doubled their national debt to £140,000,000. In today’s US currency, Britain’s national debt is equivalent to over 5 billion dollars. It does not sound like much in today’s dollars, but you need to consider that it was about 15 times their GDP. This is a great place to introduce interest, inflation, and GDP in a form that children can understand.

There is a simple lesson to this segment: too much debt is not good, and debt must always be paid back. This debt was about to generate oppressive government taxes and policies against the colonies and set the stage for the American Revolution. Depending upon the age of the students, this opens an opportunity to discuss the National Debt of America, currently around 1.3 times GDP. Yes, life was hard, life was dangerous, and life was simple! The story is really about a family with an out-of-control credit card. These are good stories to help ground children in the meaning of indebtedness.

Taxes and Tea

Tax Stamp

Brick of Tea

Next comes the concept of currency and taxes. I can cover them all. Immediately after the end of the French and Indian War came the Money Act of 1764. It simply took all the power to set value and to set import and export pricing and placed it in the hands of Britain. We talk about paper money, gold and silver, barter, and trade. They get to see samples of colonial-printed money and coins. It is also important for children to understand that taxes only work if they are applied to things you want and purchase. Some of the first taxes were on sugar, so I brought out my brown cone sugar and sugar nippers to let them taste. It is dried molasses (sugar). We talk about the Stamp Act, and I bring out my deck of playing cards with a tax stamp on them. We cover the Boston Tea Party, and they get to hold a brick of tea; no tea bags here. There is a long list of taxes to choose from. The purpose is to provide them with sufficient context so they understand the grievances stated in the Declaration of Independence.

Depending on time, we talk about how their family might be impacted by some of King George III’s repeated harm to Americans’ rights and liberties. As people’s taxes went up and they complained, more and more rights were taken away. The policies of control administered by King George III were oppressive. Regulations can be good, but they can also remove freedoms. It is good to talk about all of this. When the Declaration was finally written, it was about real hardships imposed by a tyrannical king. Some of the areas I try to cover are:

  • Quartering of armed troops
  • For cutting off trade with all parts of the world and the impact of the East India Company on the economy, basically price fixing and single-source monopolies
  • For imposing Taxes without our Consent or representation
  • For depriving many of the benefit of Trial by Jury
  • Judicial independence
  • And much more when time permits.

The opening of history should be to build a bridge to the importance of personal rights. Remember, Great Britain wanted money to pay their debts—a lot of money. Here is where the story usually takes the turn of describing our society today and the benefits of the rights being taken away from the colonists. The goal is to make sure that everyone listening has a sense of why the colonists were angry—angry enough to go to war and even risk their lives. There are a few other special stories I might tell in this part.

Paul Revere’s engraving of the Boston Massacre

One of my favorites is the engraving by Paul Revere of the Boston Massacre. I use this story because it was a fraud, fake news. The engraving did not represent what happened that day. I have stood on the very spot where the massacre took place; I can even show you a spot in the engraving where a man is firing a gun out of a second-story window. This did not happen that day but represented the first death attributed to the British occupation of Boston. On February 22, 1770, 11-year-old Christopher Seider became the first casualty of the American Revolution. Revere made sure to stir up that old anger from an event that had occurred earlier. That engraving circulated throughout the colonies and helped fuel the emotional anger building against the British.

After the Boston Massacre, John Adams, a Founding Father, the first vice president of the United States, and the second president, would defend the British soldiers in an “all colonial’ court as their defense lawyer and win their acquittal. The Revere picture was just propaganda, meant to awaken the people. I tell the story not to demean Paul Revere but to let children know that they will have a responsibility in life to always search for the truth. It is not on Facebook or Twitter. Truth requires perseverance and an open mind. Our world is not always honest.

My Favorite Part of the American Story

Old North Church Steeple: Two if by Sea

In 1775, on the eve of America’s Revolution, the majority of the congregation of the Old North Church were loyal to the British King, and many held official positions in the royal government, including the Royal Governor of Massachusetts, making the fact that some members were loyal to the Patriot cause even more extraordinary. Into history comes Paul Revere, a talented silversmith and engraver, but more importantly, now an active member of Boston’s Sons of Liberty. For months, he served as the group’s messenger, carrying information as far away as Philadelphia. The Royal Government (the British government in Massachusetts) wanted to ensure that troops would be able to secure the colony in case of rebellion. Orders went out to confiscate weapons that the Colonists had been storing throughout the countryside. The weapons were cannon, black powder, and Brown Bess Muskets. The muskets were not for hunting. They loaded twice as fast as hunting rifles, were 75 caliber in size, and could carry a bayonet. This made them a 7-foot-long spear in battle. They were assault weapons that would be necessary to fight the British.

Several parties of British troops had been sent up the coast to confiscate ammunition in Salem and parts of what is now New Hampshire. In both of those cases, Paul Revere and other riders who were members of the Sons of Liberty alerted the townspeople of the movement of British troops well before those troops could reach their destinations. The munitions were successfully hidden, and the British troops were humiliated.

Myself at a living history event holding a replica of one of the lanterns hung in the Old North Church Steeple

British soldiers guarded the exits to Boston, and anyone caught wandering the streets after dark could be arrested. Paul Revere and a friend, William Dawes, were to ride and warn the men in Lexington and Concord once they knew the route of the British troops. If either man were detained, their warning would not reach the minutemen. A backup plan was needed. Revere recalls the view of Charlestown from atop the Old North Church where he rang the bells as a teenager. He approached an intimate friend from boyhood and a business associate, Captain John Pulling, to help. Both Paul Revere and John Pulling were members of Boston’s Committee of Correspondence. One of the principal roles of its members was to gather intelligence and track the movements of British troops within the colonies. Pulling also still had ties to the church, and Revere would ask a huge favor—to hang signal lanterns in the steeple. This would be my opportunity to explain to children the power of a single candle. Did you know that it can be seen for up to 30 miles at night? At this point, I show the children my replica of one of those lanterns. They get to hold in and relive that night on the steeple. Most children today do not even know what a steeple is.

John Pulling was the perfect choice. He was not only a member of the church but also a vestryman (part of the church’s governing body, like an elder). John Pulling was a passionate patriot. We know this because earlier that day, the church leaders, Pulling and other vestrymen, decided to fire their loyalist rector, Rev. Mather Byles Jr., for preaching against their patriot cause. A bold move for liberty. If captured hanging the lanterns, Pulling hoped he could provide a believable reason to the British for being in the church. Because they no longer had a rector, his presence was necessary. So on April 18th, Captain Pulling was ready to go to the church and hang two lanterns from the window on the north side facing Charleston. This would be the signal to the waiting riders that the British Regulars were coming by sea.

Robert Newman, the sexton (janitor) of the Old North, also had patriot allegiances but, perhaps more importantly, had the keys to the building. He also lived just across the street from the church. Revere then went to his boat in Boston Harbor and was rowed across by two friends, and seven hundred British soldiers began their journey to Lexington and Concord. Dawes went by horseback via the land route. By using the lantern method, they would have a fast way to inform the backup riders waiting in Charlestown about the movements of the British; these backup riders planned to deliver the warning message to Lexington and Concord in case Revere and Dawes were detained.

At about 10:00 PM, Newman opened the church door with his key before Captain Pulling joined him inside while another friend stood lookout. Two lanterns would be hung for just under a minute to avoid catching the eyes of the British troops occupying Boston, long enough for the message to be received in Charlestown. The militia waiting across the river had been told to look for the signal lanterns and were prepared to act as soon as they saw them. I will stop this story here. You can find numerous versions of it that I have done over time. The children get to hear the entire story. But there is still a mystery that lives today. Did Pulling or Newman hang those lanterns? Did Revere and Dawes make it in time to warn the minutemen?

The message reached Lexington that night and would start 13 colonies on a path that would create the greatest nation on earth and the freedoms we enjoy today. Who does history give the credit for the lanterns to? The children get to play detective and solve the mystery. By the way, John Pulling and his pregnant wife Sara were hunted as traitors from that night on, stepping away from every possession they owned except one. Sara took her family’s bible that night. Their descendants still have that Bible today. And who says that history is boring?

The Declaration of Independence

Understanding the Declaration of Independence begins with knowing its real name, “The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen United States of America.” For this part of my time with children, the word “unanimous” becomes the focus of the document. The children begin to understand why the colonies even wrote it because they have heard stories about many of the grievances. So my storytelling shifts to the people who wrote it and signed it.

No discussion can start without talking about Thomas Jefferson. I make sure we have a large, life-size Declaration for the children to see. It was written by hand with a quill and ink. During my time with them, they will each be given a quill, and they will be taught how to sign their name with real ink. Why? I want them to think about how difficult it was to create written history without a typewriter or computer. No spell-checking, no editing. One of the things that makes our Declaration a masterpiece is that Jefferson wrote the final draft without erasers and without making a mistake. It is a kind of perfection lost today in education.

Much of Thomas Jefferson’s history is wasted on discussions of his religious faith or lack thereof. I also choose to avoid the controversies of his ownership of slaves. What we need to remember is that Thomas Jefferson loved his country and its people. He is the principle architect of our freedom of speech and religious freedoms. This First Amendment separates America from virtually all other civilizations. It is my goal to make sure that the children understand how precious this right is to their future. Jefferson was responsible for translating a portion of the Bible into native Indian languages. He paid for its printing and distribution. Jefferson had written in 1819, “I never go to bed without an hour or half an hour’s reading of something moral, whereon to ruminate in the intervals of sleep.” Found on his bed stand at his passing were simple handwritten notes, today called “the Jefferson Bible.” The children will get to see and read my copy.

No discussion of the Declaration is complete without talking about its signers. Have you ever wondered who they were and what happened to the 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence? Five signers were captured by the British as traitors and tortured before they died. Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned. Two lost their sons in the revolutionary army; another had two sons captured. Many died in poverty. Those men signed that document knowing there were over 100 ships and 45,000 British troops just off the coast of America, ready to hang them for treason.

Caesar Rodney Quarter

Although each signer has a story, there are two that I like to tell. The first is about Caesar Rodney. Rodney was an American lawyer and politician from Delaware. He was an officer of the Delaware militia during the French and Indian War and the American Revolution and a Continental Congressman from Delaware. In July of 1775, the colonies were not able to agree on whether to separate from Britain. To break the deadlock, Rodney rode 70 miles through a thunderstorm on the night of July 1, 1776, arriving in Philadelphia “in his boots and spurs” on July 2, just as the voting was beginning. He broke the deadlock, thus securing the word “unanimous” in the document’s title. His efforts to ensure unity were one key reason for the colonists’ ability to secure their freedom. We commemorate Rodney’s ride on the 1999 Delaware quarter.

John Hancock

John Handcock is another interesting signer. Noted mostly for his large and distinguished signature on the Declaration, Handcock has been assigned the quote, “The British ministry can read that name without spectacles; let them double their reward.” However, few know why he was so angry. After the Boston Tea Party, the British blockaded Boston’s harbor. It was to teach the colonies a lesson. The only goods that could be imported required smugglers who were daring enough to run the British blockade.

“Liberty” was a sloop owned by John Hancock. The ship was being used to smuggle Madeira into the colonies. Madeira is a fortified wine made on the Portuguese Madeira Islands, off the coast of Africa. His ship was seized by customs officials in Boston in 1768 and re-commissioned into the Royal Navy as HMS Liberty. In the following year, the Liberty was burned by American colonists in Newport, Rhode Island, in one of the first acts of open defiance against the British crown. The idea that the King could seize private property thrust Hancock into his role as an activist.

The Revolution

The war itself lasted eight years. Because it was hard to keep track of statistics in 1776, the number of people who died can only be an estimate. For colonists, the estimate is 25,000 to 70,000. The better numbers are 6,800 dead in battle, 6,100 wounded, and 17,000 dead of disease. For Britain, 9,372 died in battle and 27,000 died of disease. War was not only dangerous, but the common soldier was underfunded, and living conditions were terrible. That is why I have chosen not to spend time discussing battles unless I am encamped on or near a battlefield. Then it is appropriate to discuss the local history as part of the story. Instead, I have found that presenting the life of a common soldier during those times is a more appropriate way to inform the students about the sacrifices made by our ancestors.

Sharing history with children

For that time, I dress in an appropriate set of clothing. From top to bottom, a tricorn or tricorn felt blank hat, an outer coat called a rifleman’s frock, a waistcoat (long vest), shirt, breeches, socks, and buckle shoes or boots. I have many outfits for specific presentations—those of an 18th-century minister, a common farm worker, a declaration signer, a minute man, and Ben Franklin. Students need to know that what a soldier wore would probably be the only clothes they would have for a year. While a common soldier might have a spare shirt or, if he was lucky, an extra pair of socks, our military was not well equipped. Regarding accouterments, I carry a flintlock rifle, a canteen, a haversack for incidentals, a knife, a compass, an axe or tomahawk, and most probably a cartridge pouch. Most military personnel would pre-roll paper cartridges with powder and balls to speed up the loading process during battle.

My presentation to the children includes discussions about what I am carrying. I empty my haversack and pass around things like an old compass, a spyglass, fire-starting flint and steel, a fishing kit (hooks are very different), and hard tack, which they can taste if they choose to. They see a two-pronged fork and wooden spoon, a pocket knife, my diary and portable quill with ink, soap made from lard and ash, dice for farkle, a powder horn, and a flintlock pistol or two. Add a cup, bowl, and plate, one small wool blanket, and you have a revolutionary soldier. They were usually cold or hot, wet when it rained or snowed, always hungry and tired, and they walked everywhere.

There are a few other interesting people that I try to mention during this time. Joseph Plumb Martin, the boy soldier; Debora Sampson, the first female soldier; James Caldwell, the fighting chaplain; Sybil Ludington, the teenage Paul Revere; and Betty Zane, the young hero of the last battle of the revolution. The list goes on and on. However, the people noted above have unique stories that children can relate to. Many were child soldiers. The ages noted at Valley Forge, for example, were 12 to 65. Time permitting, the story of Valley Forge is worth telling, especially through the eyes of Joseph Plumb Martin. His diary is the only surviving record of the American Revolution as seen through the eyes of an average person, a boy, a minister’s son, who remained with George Washington throughout the revolution.

A Diversion to Florida

Florida has a unique connection to the American Revolution. Since I live in Florida and do most of my living history events here, I especially love including Florida’s contributions. What you may find interesting is that there were at least three more colonies than the original 13, and these three chose to remain loyal to King George III. These were East Florida, West Florida, and Quebec (Canada). The East Florida colony had been under Spanish control since 1763 when France, Britain, and Spain signed the Treaty of Paris at the end of the French and Indian War. As part of the treaty, France gave up almost all its land in North America, and Spain gave up Florida. During the French and Indian War, Britain captured Havana, Spain’s busiest port. In exchange for Havana, the Spanish traded Florida to Britain. The British then divided Florida into two territories: East Florida and West Florida. This time was known in Florida as the British Period. With the Apalachicola River as the boundary, St. Augustine remained the capital of East Florida, while Pensacola became the capital of West Florida.

Established in 1738 by Colonial Spanish Florida’s Governor Manuel Montiano, Fort Mose’ gave sanctuary to Africans challenging enslavement in the English Colony of Carolina. Approximately 100 Africans lived at Fort Mose’, forming more than 20 households. Together, they created a frontier community that drew on a range of African backgrounds blended with Spanish, Native American, and English cultural traditions. This community served as a sanctuary for other slaves able to escape from the northern colonies. The site is just north of St. Augustine, FL.

East Florida had good, fertile soil and was excellent for farming. To bring settlers to East Florida, the British offered land grants to settlers who would come to farm and defend the new British territory. The first governor of East Florida was James Grant. Grant did more to increase the population of East Florida than anyone else. He remained friends with the local Indians and traded goods with them. Grant also encouraged settlers from North and South Carolina, Georgia, and other British colonies to come and start plantations, or large farms. Any escaping slaves from the northern colonies were given respite in Fort Mose’ where they could work and grow indigo.

Thomas Brown

The Florida storyline begins with a man named Thomas Brown. Born in Whitby, Yorkshire, England, Brown was of a prosperous family, with his father Jonas owning a successful shipping company. In 1774 Thomas recruited colonists from Whitby and the Orkney Islands and emigrated with them to the Province of Georgia. He established the community of Brownsborough northeast of present-day Augusta and anticipated life as a gentleman planter.

Instead of enjoying his new adventure, he became embroiled in the coming revolution. On August 2, 1775, a crowd of Sons of Liberty confronted him at his house. Brown requested the Liberty team leave him to his own opinions and finally met their demands with a pistol and sword. Brown was taken prisoner after being struck with the buttstock of a rifle, fracturing his skull. He was tied to a tree, where he was roasted by fire, scalped, tarred, and feathered. Thomas Brown survived, but this mistreatment resulted in the loss of two toes, lifelong pain, and headaches, and a matching hatred of the patriot cause.

This divisiveness from his neighbors and hostile acts so enraged Brown that he assumed the leadership of backcountry Georgia loyalists and developed a plan to support the Augusta area of the Tories with Indian allies from the west and a landing of British soldiers from the east. Thomas Brown would help put into effect a plan. Brown lived with the Creeks in 1776 and 1777. After gaining their confidence, he established a network spreading from Florida to the Carolinas. In 1779, he was appointed Superintendent of Creek and Cherokee Indians and continued his efforts to engage the Patriot cause in the conflict.

Brown also came to lead a mounted Loyalist company eventually styled as the King’s Rangers (locally known as the “East Florida Rangers”). He developed this group of men, consisting of British loyalists, Indians, and blacks, into a uniformed and disciplined unit and became a skilled commander himself with the rank of provincial Lieutenant Colonel. Thomas Brown may have single-handedly added several years to the length of the revolution itself.

Today’s East Florida Rangers

John Hewitt, an expert builder and contractor, arrived in St. Augustine before the American Revolution in 1768. He obtained a 1,000-acre property near Pellicer Creek in what is now Flagler County and shortly thereafter built a sophisticated water-powered sawmill. During this period of American history, the hostilities by the patriots against the loyalists would force a migration to St. Augustine of over 25,000 people. St. Augustine would become a melting pot of Spanish, British, Indian, and black people. So heavy was the migration of people that Hewett’s Sawmill would produce thousands of board feet of lumber daily to build a city. It would be this town, St. Augustine, that Thomas Brown’s troops, the East Florida Rangers, would protect. While several attempts from patriot troops were made to invade the capital city of St. Augustine, the East Florida Rangers, with about 400 men, would successfully defend the city until the British left after the end of the American Revolution.

This story does not end here. Once Florida became part of the United States, there was no sanctuary for the Indians, escaped slaves, remaining British settlers, and even a few Spanish holdovers living in St. Augustine. Many went south to the Caribbean Islands; some returned to England. Those who remained went inland into the harsh interior of Florida. This composite of cultures would become known as “the Seminoles.” The word “Seminole” is derived from the Muscogee word simanó-li, which may itself be derived from the Spanish word cimarrón, meaning “runaway” or “wild one.”. Peace would not last long. Led primarily by Andrew Jackson, there would be over 40 years of war in Florida. The Seminole Wars (1817–18, 1835–42, and 1855–58) were three conflicts between the United States and the Seminole Indians of Florida in the period before the American Civil War that ultimately resulted in the opening of the Seminole’s desirable land for exploitation and settlement. I tell this story because our children should understand that people can work together toward common goals but never repeat the hatred displayed in this history.

Fort Foster

During this time, hundreds of forts were built in Florida, usually one day’s ride on horseback from each other. The only safe way to travel was to ride by day and stay in a fort at night. One such fort near me is Fort Foster. Fort Foster was originally built in December 1836 under the direction of Lieutenant Colonel William S. Foster on the site of Fort Alabama. During its history, it was rebuilt several times. Fort Foster protected a key bridge on the Hillsborough River. Now owned by the State of Florida and managed by the Department of Environmental Protection, this fort has been restored to its original character. Living history events are frequently held there. I have attended many with up to 1,000 schoolchildren coming to “live history.”

In 1830, a series of forced relocations began of approximately 60,000 Native Americans in the United States from their ancestral homelands in the Southeastern United States to areas to the west of the Mississippi River that had been designated as Indian Territory. The forced relocations were carried out by government authorities following the passage of the Indian Removal Act in 1830. The relocated people suffered from exposure, disease, and starvation while en route to their new designated reserve. Approximately 4,000 died before reaching their destinations or shortly thereafter. The forced removals included members of the Cherokee, Muscogee (Creek), Seminole, Chickasaw, and Choctaw nations, as well as their African slaves. Few Floridians know that the “Trail of Tears” had its roots in Florida.

The Constitution

While the Constitution of the United States is the bedrock of our freedoms, the task of explaining it to children is my most difficult task. Aside from presenting a life-size replica and taking them through the basic three parts of our government, I spend most of my time setting them up for a discussion on personal rights. To do this, I use a game. This works best with a large group:

All adults and mentors in the Patriot Camp have permission to give out a piece of hard candy for each good, creative question. Children are told you can eat the candy or save it. If you save it, you can turn it in for prizes at the end of camp. We have good prizes. Prizes are priced based on “pieces of candy.” Those who have saved more, can buy more prizes. As the camp progresses, most children store their rewards in a small bag and bring it with them every day. The last day is saved for our discussion on Ben Franklin and what is a Constitutional Republic. We take them back to the times of the Magna Carta and The Great Law of Peace, the building blocks of freedom. And then comes the question: Who has the most candy? There is always one child that is the winner. Once that child is identified, I ask the next question–Who would like some of their candy?

Ben Franklin

I am never disappointed. Every hand, including those of the adult leaders, goes up except for our winner. At this moment, I say that we all have just experienced a “true democracy” where the will of the majority can vote away the rights of the minority. America is not a democracy. Franklin was walking out of Independence Hall after the Constitutional Convention in 1787 when someone shouted out, “Doctor, what have we got? A republic or a monarchy?” To which Franklin supposedly responded with a loud, “A republic, if you can keep it.” What, then, is a republic? I asked the children what kind of society we would have if I took everyone’s candy and then shared it back equally. Of course, before sharing, the adult leaders got to take whatever they wanted first. The answer is socialism. A republic is quite different. First, it establishes a set of shared authorities and shared responsibilities that are limited by certain rights of the citizens. Unlike a monarchy with a king, the United States balances all powers against the rights of its citizens first. A republic is what gives the child with the most candy the right to keep it because they earned it. Children must be taught that it is worth keeping!

The Constitution of the United States

Children need to know that we have three branches of government. What controls these three branches and their ability to affect your rights remains in the hands of all citizens. It is called the right to vote in “fair and free elections.” No matter what the age of the children is, it is beneficial to reinforce that it is the citizens who choose their government and to neglect that right is to abrogate your freedoms. It is also worth discussing that there are powers that have been divided between the Federal Government and the states. However, there is no circumstance under which a state or a part of the Federal Government can take away a fundamental human right guaranteed to us. That is the balance of powers between our executive branch, Congress, and courts. Together, this three-legged milk stool upholds the greatest country ever created, the United States of America.

If the children are old enough, I like to include a discussion about the “Federal Register.” The Federal Register is a government publication that provides public notice of new regulations from the Office of Thrift Supervision, legal notices, presidential proclamations, executive orders, documents required by an Act of Congress, and other official documents of public interest. The Federal Register is published daily, Monday through Friday. The 1936 Federal Register was 2,620 pages long. It has grown steadily since then, with the average annual page count varying between 80,000 and even higher. It contains the “rules” that our elected officials and non-elected officials make up that we must follow. There is a problem here that is worth addressing! Here, I would like to at least introduce the word “bureaucracy” into their vocabulary. As adults, they will get to know it all too well.

Discussing the Bill of Rights

Bill of Rights

Now for the last day’s discussions and wrap-up. In comes a life-size copy of the Bill of Rights. A constitutional republic allows for the retention of certain inalienable rights. Our winner gets to keep their candy because they earned it. We get to keep our freedoms because we have a Constitutional Republic that guarantees them. To conclude the day, one by one, each of the first 10 amendments will be discussed. Not just as numbers, but what they mean and why it is important to them as both children and future adults. It is often worthwhile to even take them back to the events in history that led up to the necessity of having the amendments we do have today. Let us look at just one example: the prohibition of “quartering.”

Most people remember that the 1st Amendment gives us our rights to free speech, peaceful assembly, and religion. The 2nd Amendment assures our rights to personal defense. Few know that the 3rd Amendment assures that your home cannot be seized by the government. Quartering was the act of providing housing for military personnel, especially when imposed upon the home of a private citizen without permission or fair compensation. This issue can be traced to the Great Law of Peace, where the Hiawatha Wampum prohibited the seizure of another person’s lodge. King George III’s troops so abused their power that our forefathers felt strong enough to make this the 3rd personal right within our Republic. Why is it important? Does our current government still abuse its power? A short and quick discussion on eminent domains and environmental activism can quickly show that the 3rd Amendment is still as important today as it was in George Washington’s time.

A Patriot Camper with her signed Declaration

To close my camps, I use a “Children’s Declaration” to tie things together. My Declaration is printed on parchment, contains a wax seal, and holds 12 simple points that we first discuss. Children can make a difference in our country, and it is worthwhile to let them know what is expected of even our children in America. I ask the children to think about and then sign their own declaration.

  1. To my fellow campers, teachers, and parents, I will be honest
  2. I will be respectful of people, property, and my country
  3. I will always remain hopeful
  4. I will be thrifty and not wasteful
  5. I will do all things with humility
  6. I will be generous and charitable
  7. I will be sincere
  8. Moderation will affect how I choose to live
  9. Others can depend on me to work hard
  10. I will have courage and be brave, trusting in God’s plan
  11. I will not blame others for things that I can change myself
  12. I will be thankful for my friends, family, country, and God

To be signed with quill and ink by each child.


My typical camp at a living history event – And yes, I do spend nights i that tent, cooking on a small brazier.

It has been an honor over the many years to be able to share my passion and love of history with so many children and adults. Many of my events have been within the backdrop of historic places like the Castillo de San Marcos in St. Augustine or Fort Foster. There I would live in a military wedge tent and offer visitors a broader look at history. Not only good for them to see how our ancestors lived but good for me to enjoy the time immersed in our nation’s history. Time I will always relish. It was wet in the rain, and cold in the winter. My meals were cooked on a simple brassier. The children I have gotten to know are grown now as are two grandsons who participated in many of my events. Like me, their lives are better for the experiences.  However, our Republic always remains only one generation away from extinction. With every passing generation, it becomes more paramount to share history, to learn from what we have done wrong but build upon what our ancestors have done correctly. I hope to see you at a living history event one day. Make sure you say hello!

Bob Samson

A link to Patriot Camp materials

Under Construction

And you my son. . . acknowledge the God of your father, and serve Him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts. If you seek Him, He will be found by you; but if you forsake Him, He will reject you forever.

~1 Chronicles 28:9

Lesson27-image001Materials Needed: Whiteboard or easel.

Notes to the Leader: This study begins with a review of the covenants (promises) made by our God to each of us. Take time and have members of your group read them and, if time permits, discuss them so each person has a general understanding of each.

As you go through the materials, you will begin with the building of a temple by David and end with the building of temples within each of us. It is a study of how to construct lives founded upon the promises made to us by God. It also highlights the importance of passing the vision on to the children.

Review of Biblical Covenants

The five most important biblical covenants initiated by God are:

  • The Noahic Covenant (Genesis 9:8-17)
  • The Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis 12:2-3, 15:1-21)
  • The Mosaic Covenant (Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers Deuteronomy)
  • The Davidic Covenant (2 Samuel 7:9-16, 1 Chronicles 17:7-14)
  • The New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34, Hebrews 8, and the entire New Testament)


What is a covenant?

  • A solemn promise, made binding by an oath between two parties – a contract establishing the terms of relationship.

What are some of the modern day covenants that people make today?

  • Mortgages
  • Marriage
  • Business partnerships
  • Car loans, etc.
  • What are some of the spiritual contracts that people enter into?
  • Baptism (congregation’s support)
  • Church membership
  • Stewardship, etc.

Why do contracts (covenants) work?

  • In modern day society, it is not the honesty of people that holds a contract together. It is our structure of laws, courts and the corresponding consequence of non-compliance that keeps our contracts from becoming worthless pieces of paper.

From the lessons of the Old Testament, how is our modern day concept of contracts similar to our Covenant with God?

  • God has provided laws and consequences along with His covenant.

Do you find this comforting? If so, in what way?

  • Without the Old Testament, God’s words would leave us struggling with the question, Is scripture really the word of God? We see the Law, the Consequence of not following the Law, and of God’s covenant with His people. When they followed God’s Law the relationship was good.

What risks are there in treating the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, as just history?

  • Each of us must one day decide whether the Bible is the Truth, the whole Truth, and nothing but the Truth. Until we do this, we pick and choose those areas of the Bible that are intellectually stimulating and skip over those God intends to use in changing our lives. We cannot gain comfort from God’s covenants until we accept His word unconditionally. It is not God’s words that do not apply but our lives that are misaligned.

Section One: Passing on a Vision

Have someone in your group read 1 Chronicles 22:2-5 and 1 Chronicles 22:5-6.

In each case, what was David doing?

  • David first began by preparing craftsmen and materials. Later, David was careful to pass his vision onto Solomon.

Have someone in your group read 1 Chronicles 22:10-13

How did David pray for Solomon? What did he ask for?

  • For the Lord’s presence and blessing
  • For success as a man and as a temple-builder
  • For discretion and understanding as king, and
  • That he keep the Law of the Lord. Solomon’s success would depend on how well he observed God’s Law.

Now, while all of this seems practical from the perspective of David (he held a life-time consuming desire to build the temple), what is it we can learn about our life as a Christian in today’s world?

  • We need to be preparing for our children and, in turn, pass on to them the charge of temple-building.
  • For now, skip trying to define “temple-building.

How is it we can do for our children what David did for Solomon?

  • Preparation can take the form of making sure our children have the materials to establish and maintain a Christian life.
  • We can make sure that our children know our Christian heritage and what our dream (temple) is.
  • We can pray for our children and keep them focused on the things of real value.

Section Two: Solomon, the Builder

Read 2 Chronicles 3-6:11 to your group. While this is quite lengthy, we have an excellent description of the temple. It was magnificent. We can see that Solomon was careful to follow God’s instructions when bringing in the Ark of the Covenant. And the reading concludes with God’s presence in the temple.

Now, today, we continue to find the temple-builders. Many pursue temples of brick and mortar.

Where does God reside today? In our church? In our congregation? In our hearts?

  • While God’s presence was in a physical place during Solomon’s time, many people continue to believe that we find God inside brick and mortar. Many people, congregations, religious sects, place an inordinate amount of resource on the construction of places for God to dwell.
  • Today, however, we should expect the presence and glory of God to invade our fellowship, not our church buildings. With Christ, there was a change. The Personal Presence, fire and glory of God no longer come into buildings of wood and stone, but into us. Our focus on facilities is only appropriate if we do not neglect our relationships with fellow believers (read 1 Corinthians 3:17).

What is temple-building in today’s Christian church?

  • Building and strengthening the Church family.

Let’s stop and take time to review how David assisted Solomon. Use the whiteboard or easel to create a list from the comments of your group.

  • David taught Solomon God’s Law.
  • David prepared many craftsman and materials in advance of Solomon’s task.
  • David passed on to Solomon the charge of building the temple.
  • David prayed that Solomon would:
  • Receive the Lord’s presence and blessing
  • Have success as a man and as a temple-builder
  • Be given discretion and understanding as king, and
  • That he would keep the Law of the Lord. Solomon’s success would depend on how well he observed God’s Law.

Seeing these steps, how can you work toward a goal of raising your children, grandchildren, or the children of your church/community as modern day temple-builders?

  • Regular church attendance as a family
  • Bible study for all family members, regardless of age
  • Setting examples in:
    • Mission work
    • Stewardship
    • Sharing of time and talents
    • Prayer for yourself and family — consider praying together as a way to teach children
    • Observe, hold both yourself and your family accountable with regard to taking ownership of a shared vision for building Christ’s kingdom.

Consider writing this down and personalizing the question to be more specific about your church, family or group. Write the comments on the whiteboard or easel.

What are some of the things that the Christian Church is doing today to accomplish this goal?

  • Youth activities
  • Christian Education
  • Mission trips
  • Facilities expansion, etc.

Section Three: Back to Reality

Have someone in your group read 2 Chronicles 9:29-31

What are we reminded of?

  • We are reminded that Solomon was a mortal man just like us.
  • Our King was yet to come (Christ).

Bible Truth Being Taught

We are called to build God’s Church, both physically with bricks and mortar; and with lives, focused on just behavior, mercy and humility.

Our Response

For each of us to see ourselves as God’s temple and to take responsibility for the renewal of the church, through our own efforts and through the heritage of our children.

What’s One Second Worth?

Promise Keepers had gotten my attention. There I was in Jacksonville Stadium, with about 35,000 men, singing hymns and listening to some of the most powerful messages about changing my life. Now Promise Keepers has a mixed reputation, ranging from lifesaving and life-changing to sexist. This story is not really about Promise Keepers, but the organization does play a key part, and it is important to have some background on them. In March of 1990, Bill McCartney, then football coach for the University of Colorado, and Dave Wardell, Ph.D., traveled to a Fellowship of Christian Athletes banquet in Pueblo, Colorado. In the context of praying and worshipping together, their conversation and search for the most relevant issue facing men today led them to start Promise Keepers. For those who may not know, the promise that is asked of men is as follows:

  • Honor Jesus Christ through worship and prayer, and be obedient to God’s Word.
  • Pursue vital relationships with a few other men, understanding that we, as men, need brothers to help us keep our promises.
  • Practice spiritual, moral, ethical, and sexual purity. Build a strong marriage and family through love, protection, and biblical values.
  • Support the mission of “your” church by honoring and praying for the pastor and by actively giving time and resources. (In other words, regularly attend church.)
  • Reach beyond racial and denominational barriers to demonstrate the power of biblical unity.
  • Be an influence in this world, and be obedient to the Great Commandment (Mark 12:30-31) and the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20).

The idea of these seven tenants was so logical to my soul that I found a real sense of renewal in the day-and-a-half Jacksonville gathering. There was great fellowship with other men, speakers that transformed the seemingly complex messages of Scripture into understandable choices in life, and great music. One thing that I will always remember is how moving a hymn can be when played to contemporary rhythms. I think that the conservative church today is missing an excellent addition to worship. At the close of this gathering of men, Coach McCartney threw out a challenge. And there is nothing like a challenge to get the attention of men. In the following year, on October 4, 1997, there was to be another gathering of men, but in Washington, D.C., on the Mall in front of the White House. Coach McCartney wanted a million men to kneel in worship and prayer. I just let the idea go in and out of my head. It was too crazy an idea.

About one year later, men were planning their trip to Washington. In two other local churches, there were six men. They were looking for three others to share the cost of a rental van and make the pilgrimage. I can’t understand what rationale I used to think that decision over, but I said yes. And soon it was about 3:00 PM on October 3rd, and we were loading our van. Taking turns, each of us helped drive through the night. At 8:00 AM, our van pulled into a Metro parking garage. We left the van just outside of Washington and took the metro train to the Mall. I knew right then; that this would be a different kind of day.

The metro train was loaded with men singing hymns and sharing the events of their journey with each other. Upon our arrival in Washington, the nine of us made our way to the Mall. It was then that I realized that I was about to see, feel, and partake in a historical event. Here are just some of the statistics from that day:

  • 4,200 chartered buses registered
  • More than 175 chartered jets were scheduled to land at Washington, D.C. airports
  • More than 3,500 motorcyclists rode into the D.C. city limits, many of whom rode cross-country
  • Total number of watts of sound on the entire Mall: 250,000
  • Number of credentialed press: 1,098 from more than 20 countries
  • Total number of credentialed volunteers: 10,000 (Total number of volunteers: 50,000)
  • Number of Jumbotrons: 11 (The nation’s supply of Jumbotrons was exhausted between Promise Keepers and a simultaneous concert tour.)
  • Number of Bibles that arrived on the Mall Thursday, Oct. 2, 1997: 1 million, which required 17 tractor-trailers
  • Number of portable toilets: 1,500 (I thought they could have used more)
  • Number of generators to power screen, speakers, and lights: 24—enough to do a small town
  • The entire Bible was read on the Mall 27 times by the sacred assembly of men
  • The entire city of D.C. was prayed for on prayer walks, zip code by zip code
  • Number of Metro passes sold: 725,000
  • Total number of hotel rooms in the D.C., metroplex: 90,000.
  • Number of rooms still available Friday night: 312
  • Media Statistics
    • C-SPAN: 50 million households
    • Odyssey: 33 million households
    • FamilyNet: 15 million households
    • TBN 50 million households
    • Cornerstone: 25 million households
    • More than 700 individual cable systems televised Stand In The Gap (STIG)
    • More than 280 radio stations broadcast SITG live
    • The translation of the event was in Spanish and Korean
    • Internet live audio broadcast from the PK website, resulting in 15,750 audio requests using RealAudio and 295,000 requests for still photographs updated once per minute from 15 different countries.
    • The C-SPAN website also broadcasts SITG Front page newspaper coverage in foreign countries, including Denmark and China

Yes, this day was going to be different. The theme for the day was a Bible verse from Ezekiel 22:30, “I looked for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found none.” This was about God searching for at least one man to humble himself and stand before God to make a difference in the land. Oh yes, this was going to be that day. God would have one million.

The program began at noon and went on until 66:00 PM Speaker after speaker hammered home the need for repentance, prayer, forgiveness, humility, and responsibility. It was a time of deep reflection and painful truths to take responsibility for and to support each other. Up to that time in my life, I had never attended a six-hour church service, I had never driven over 800 miles to attend a church, and, finally, I had never stayed up from 3:00 PM on a Friday to about 5:00 PM on Sunday without sleep before. It was three days filled with fellowship, spiritual growth, and fun.

It is many years past now, and I often find myself on that trip. A picture hangs on my wall of the Mall in Washington, taken from a helicopter. While each group who has met at the Mall attempts to claim the attendance record, there is no doubt that on this special day, over a million people “stood in the gap.” There were men, women, and children there that day. There were people of all colors, all faiths, and all nationalities. The gap that day was opened by a call to worship from a Jewish ram’s horn (Shofars). Our American Indian brothers had set up Tepees as areas for prayer, and banners flew from groups of men, representing every church and every denomination imaginable. Any one of the many events, speakers, or experiences that day could have been the highlight for me. But they were not.

Over those three days, there is only one second that will stand out for me forever. The program was well underway when one of the speakers chose unity as his topic. Now, on the surface, we all have a pretty good definition of what unity means. This day, however, took a unique turn. Our speaker called out to the crowd of people to shout out the denomination of their church. There was a loud grumbling sound, and you could hear so many different denominations that the response of the group was indistinguishable. Immediately, the speaker called out, “And now, shout out the name of the one Lord we serve!” In the following second, a million voices shouted, “Jesus Christ.” The ground trembled, the sound was pure, and the unity was perfect. Over ten miles away, people in Washington heard our unity. On our knees before the White House, our government heard our unity, and I am sure our God heard our unity. Life lessons do not have to be long. This one only took one second, in unity.

The Road to Heaven Runs Through Pittsburgh

It was a beautiful spring Sunday morning, and I found myself leading a Bible study in our church. Our verse for discussion was from the prophet Isaiah, chapter 42, verse 16. “I will lead the blind by ways they have not known; along unfamiliar paths, I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them.” When preparing for the lesson, I focused on key words like blind, unfamiliar paths, and being guided. As the lesson went on, we all came to understand that we are “blind.” Why may you ask? Well, there are many reasons, but here are a few.

Like the Israelites who wondered for 40 years, we too are wandering. Stuck here on spaceship Earth, we are influenced by very worldly events, like our search for food, shelter, and basic comforts. But if you stop one of us in the street and ask us where we are going, you might find someone who says, “Heaven, to be with God.” More probable would be responses like Atlanta, California, up the corporate ladder, to a nice retirement near the ocean, or for many, somewhere to find a job. Do you notice, however, that those are only destinations and not directions useful for a journey? That was Isaiah’s point when he was relating his prophecy to God. We are blind because we don’t know the way. Even if we were told the way, it is not somewhere familiar to us. Most Israelites, after 40 years of wandering, were either old with only distant memories of where they had been or no memories of the “Promised Land.” For the young, all they knew was that life itself was a difficult journey through the desert.

For the class, I was searching for some good examples in the world today that I could share, and my mind took me back some 35 years to a time when I was a salesman. Many of those years were spent on the road, calling on U.S. and foreign manufacturing companies. Computer technology was just emerging, and I found that selling complex software was easy for me. When you travel to hundreds of U.S. cities and dozens of other countries, you develop a pretty good sense of direction. I found myself either driving or walking in diverse places like Tokyo, Paris, Los Angeles, Chicago, Frankfurt, New York, Dallas, and so the list went on. But there was one place that I could never master, and that was Pittsburgh, PA. Each memory that I had of Pittsburgh was one of being lost.

OrangeBeltSignOn one particular trip, I made sure that before I departed from the first client, I had very complete directions and written instructions to my next stop. Yes, out the parking lot, down the road for two stop lights, right turn at the red sign, then straight until the hill, stay left at the triple fork, and just look for the orange belt sign. I was told over and over that I just look for the sign with the orange ball on it, and the orange belt east would take me right to where I needed to go next. Here is what happened.

Despite those stellar written instructions, within one block of the client, I was lost. There were two stop lights but no intersection. The red sign had been removed many years ago and only the natives would have known where it was originally. As far as the hill is concerned, Pittsburgh is nothing but hills. It is the flat land that is more noticeable. No triple fork ever came up, but I was living right and eventually came to a sign with an orange ball on it. So joyfully, I thanked God that I found the “orange belt.” Now you might think that the Orange Belt is a highway. It is not. Hundreds of small, very small, innocuous signs were placed along city streets, plotting a path along meandering hills, curves, and intersections. There were red belts, yellow belts, green belts, and blue belts plotted around the city. Think of the Pittsburgh colored belt system as a modern-day colored blazed trail.


Pittsburgh Beltway Map

It took me several years to fully understand that when the highway department first placed those signs as a guide for weary travelers, they were careful to place each very small sign behind large trees, big obstacles, and, whenever possible, just out of the view of a driver. If you were lucky to see one, there might be several with arrows in view just to make sure it was impossible to understand whether you were actually on the right road or needed to turn to get to the right road. So I followed a sign with an orange ball, and within a few blocks, I was lost again, never seeing another orange belt sign. Even the published road map I had was not helpful. Here I would see where I was and where I needed to be, only to discover a mountain between my waypoints. No ten-minute trips. Hours upon hours were spent in search of clients. Yes, I now understand what God meant when He told the Israelites, You are blind. I once found someone who understood the roads in Pittsburgh. I think they were born and raised in the city and had helped blaze the original trails on horseback. Their directions, however, often included phrases like “the large oak tree” or “left at the river.” That is when I became convinced I would never master Pittsburgh roads in my lifetime. The only way to navigate the city is to put a native Pittsburgh resident in your car.

Many years later, my sour attitude toward the Pittsburgh roadways was further confirmed when our church did an inner city mission trip there. The good news here is that now I had a GPS. The bad news was that the GPS had this notorious habit of telling me where to turn just after I passed the intersection. So I humbly accepted the premise that I was no better than the blind in Pittsburgh and, unless led by one of the city’s founders, would leave early for any appointments.

What should we, the modern people of today, deduce from Isaiah’s prophetic words? First, the road to our life’s journey is not always known to us. While we may understand and seek that eternal destination, all roads to eternity run through Pittsburgh. We are lost and don’t know the way. Isaiah also tells us that God will smooth out our rough places. Well, after the winter snow, freezing temperatures, and spring thaws, Pittsburgh’s roads are a model of destruction. On one of my many trips to Pittsburgh, I finally arrived at my client and had a very successful business meeting. The firm went on to be one of my best clients. After signing a very nice order, I retreated to my car for my journey home. As I walked up to my car, I was greeted by a left-front tire that had chosen to disassemble itself in the parking lot while I worked inside. The tread fell off, and the side wall was in a dozen pieces. The hundreds of potholes had taken their toll, and my exhausted tire just gave up that day. Life seems like that sometimes, and I find comfort in knowing that in my life’s journey, God stands ready to help smooth the roadway.

My conclusion on this beautiful Sunday was that each of us needs a guide to get through life (Pittsburgh) and what better guide can we find than the engineering architect who designed the roads? God was trying to tell us that He would give us something better than a road map—something better than a GPS—and that He would give us a driver to guide us all the way. Our light, of course, is our Savior, Jesus. In all of history, He was the only one who came from eternity to us and is willing to invite us into the back seat of a heavenly-bound limo and take us back with Him. Yes, we can have a first-class journey to eternal life if we just accept the ride and leave the driving through Pittsburgh to our Lord.

The Lantern

It is with great admiration and love that I read about the history of our forefathers. Books like “1776” by David McCollough, “The War that Made America: A Short History of the French and Indian War” by Fred Anderson, and even the little-known writings of Joseph Plumb Martin, a young 15-year-old minister’s son whose journal documented the hardships of the common revolutionary soldier, have taken me back to times and places where honor, patriotism, and faith seem to have flourished. It is this interest in history that led me to join a group of like-minded people, a group of historical reenactors, who not only enjoy history but also enjoy making it come alive again.

First-AlafiaYears ago, when I was looking for activities to share with my two grandsons, then 6 and 9 years old, I discovered a wonderful group of people who have spent over 45 years meeting, fundraising, sharing skills, and living history. Through the efforts of the Florida Frontiersmen, over $40,000 has been raised and given to local high school students in the form of college scholarships. Today, this non-profit organization owns 323 acres of land in Florida, operates debt-free, improves the land each year, and hosts an event called the “Alafia River Rendezvous.” The event, held the third week of January, provides an opportunity for over 1,500 adults and several hundred children to set up a temporary community based on their interest in what life would have been like before 1840 (the 18th century). Why 1840? Well, this date allows for the inclusion of our Indian and early American cultures but sets aside those times of civil and modern warfare. It is also believed that the last rendezvous for mountain men was held around that time in Wind River Valley, near Yellowstone. The Alafia River Rendezvous is a modern-day version of that historical event. Alafia is open to the public and it is not unusual to host up to 10,000 visitors and school children.

My grandsons and I began to attend the Alafia River Rendezvous as visitors. We walked among the tents and the many vendors, looking and learning about life in another century. After that first Alafia, I marveled at the experience of my grandsons watching someone start a fire with two sticks. They still remember watching a cobbler make shoes by stitching leather pieces together. This event became a favorite on our schedule of fun things to do. But it was just after finishing our third Alafia as a visitor that I asked my grandsons if they would like to be part of this. “We can do that?” was the response. “Yes we can,” I said and the rest so they say is “history.”

When camping today, canvas is the building material of choice. Primitive tents and tee pees are set up to form a community of people who demonstrate a host of skills such as blacksmithing, spinning, weaving, wood carving, rifle making, tanning, cobbling, tin smithing, copper smithing, fabric dying, beading, sewing, and the list goes on and on. Camp life centers around cooking over an open fire, period music, storytelling, archery, black powder shooting, highland games, and a great Indian Pow Wow. The Metis’ Indians camp with us and are active members of the Florida Frontiersmen. One of the favorite days for me is the day we open our site up for school tours. Every year, over a 1,000 children wander through the grounds on a day dedicated to them. They experience firsthand what they only seen on the pages of books in their schools.

So where is this lantern story? Well, it starts here.

monticellostoreWhen you walk about on over 300 acres and there is no electricity, lighting is done by candles. I had spotted a lantern in a catalog, and my wife had remembered it. Lo and behold, one Christmas, a copper lantern appeared under the tree. It came from the Monticello Foundation, a group that has restored and maintained the home of Thomas Jefferson. The lantern was described as a copy of one found on Thomas Jefferson’s estate. It was large, 16 inches high, 8 inches wide, and 5 inches deep, with a handle. It was beautiful. I went on our next Alafia experience, and I was sure that I had the best lantern there. But I was quick to learn much more about lanterns and, of course, much more about Thomas Jefferson and our God.

The Monticello Lantern has a mirror in the back and is shaped like a triangle. Candlelight reflects off the mirror and is projected outward. I also noticed that the handle of the lantern was placed so that you could not hang it on a wall. It was 90 degrees in the wrong direction for that purpose. So the lantern was meant to be held in your hand. As you walked, the mirror was perpendicular to the handle, and light projected forward toward your destination. Yes, it was an early American flashlight.

It is fun to think that our great leader, Jefferson, might have taken a late-night walk to clear his thoughts when he was authoring that most famous document, “The Unanimous Declaration of the Thirteen United States of America.” We know that Jefferson often played the violin to help words flow from thought to paper. A nice evening walk could have been just as effective.

As I learned more about Thomas Jefferson, I found out that he attempted to rewrite his own Bible. Jefferson’s purpose was wholesome enough, wanting to print a summary translated into the native tongue of a Western tribe. He just summarized the original Bible, probably entitled “1611 King James Bible,” and reordered events around the life of Jesus. The 1611 Bibles were printed in England and shipped here. America did not have the infrastructure to publish something as complex as a Bible.

I find it most interesting that someone as great as Thomas Jefferson would think he could summarize the Bible. Many of us still attempt to do that today. Rather than accepting God’s words as God gave them to us, we like to pick and choose a few parts that seem to make the most sense to us. In a way, it is nice to know that our forefathers, our great leaders, were just like us, struggling to understand and accept the teachings of our God. I think that is why Thomas Jefferson was able to write a Declaration with such foresight. He knew deep down inside that the threat to any declaration, whether the one about to be set forth for New America or even the one for a human soul, can always be rewritten to suit someone else’s desires. What is most comforting is that our early leaders recognized that there was a God and that without God, freedom could not exist. They recognized certain inalienable rights that no man could take away (rewrite). This understanding manifests itself in a freedom that is unique in the world. It is what makes our country great and gives us the strength to overcome the errors of judgment that come again and again from our human leaders.

So let’s go back to the Alafia River Rendezvous and take a walk with that 18th-century flashlight. What is it that God can teach us with a candle? Well, the first thing you understand is what God meant in the Scriptures. Our modern world is changing things, and we are losing so many of the meanings that were evident to the people during the time of our Biblical history. Take King David’s Psalm 119:105–106.

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path. I have taken an oath and confirmed it, that I will follow your righteous laws.

TentStakesWhat you learn at Alafia is that when you walk with a lantern and one candle in power, you only see a few feet ahead. You never really see your destination. You look immediately in front of you, and you walk in faith that you can recognize the path. This is especially important when you consider that over 1,000 tents have stakes and ropes that stick out to hold them in the wind. This adds up to tens of thousands of stakes and ropes everywhere you walk. One of those stakes always seems to want to jump out and snare your leg, especially in the dark. So you walk carefully. Now look back to that Psalm. Isn’t that what is being said? You will not always see your destination, but instead, you will find in God’s light what you need to know to avoid the inevitable traps of life (those tent stakes). Of course, the light of men today is found in our Savior (John 1:1–5)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.

Too bad it takes going back to a simpler life to see this lesson. Street lights, high-power flashlights, and night vision goggles all make us think we can move swiftly through the night to any destination of our choosing. God says, however, “Just follow my Words, follow My Son, My Lamp for your feet, and you will arrive at My destination for you safely.”

The Ultimate Return on Investment

ROI is an old acronym, meaning Return on investment—the monetary benefits derived from having spent money on developing or revising something. In the technical world, there are many ways to compute ROI, but it is often the intangibles that offer the most important benefits, even though they are the most difficult to quantify. The ROI that I am going to talk about has to do with an entire lifetime of experiences. It began with a simple interest, a passion of sorts, and ended up solidifying a relationship and a career.


Acme Gridley 8 Spindle Cone Automatic

The story begins over 40 years ago, when I was a young father of two, the owner of a new home (see story on My First Home) and an engineer working in manufacturing. The company was the National Acme Company, located in Cleveland, Ohio. Called Namco, they made multi-spindle automatic cutting machines. If you have ever looked at the metal end of a spark plug, the lug nut that holds your car wheel on, or something as simple as the sharp little disk that cuts through the top of a can when you open it, you have probably used items where the original manufacturing process was done on a multi-spindle automatic. I worked in a group where special designs for cutting tools were created.

GE-AnalexPrinter-ControllerThis was an old company, over 60 years old at the time of my story. My father had worked there, along with several of my uncles. Still attached to the ceilings of the factory were the pulleys and shafts that turned leather belts. These, in turn, produced the power for the machinery in this factory. Yet its management had the vision to recognize that modernization was necessary to remain competitive. So 40 years ago, they purchased a new-fangled contraption called a “computer.” The computer was manufactured by General Electric and easily filled a large, very large room. Inventory control and production scheduling would be placed on this computer to improve overall costs and competitiveness. However, management wanted to try an experiment, using something called “FORTRAN” ten young engineers would be given training to see if the computer had any value in lowering design costs.

300-frieden-calculator-SMAIt is hard to admit, but there was a time when logarithms, slide rules, and mechanical calculators were the modern tools of engineering. Can you imagine a calculator that used an electric motor and thousands of gears to calculate something like a square root? What seems so simple today would take hours of work to complete. Calculations were often made by approximation.

It is important to remember that in the mid-60s, most engineers had never been exposed to a computer. The concepts of programming and problem-solving with electronic machines of this type were never covered in schools. So when I sat down in a room to learn to program, it was like being part of the Lewis and Clark expedition. I grabbed a document that had approximately 200 calculations on it, a gear chart listing the various combinations of gears supplied with our machines, and attempted to reproduce it with the computer. Not understanding much, I was not surprised when my first attempt on the computer matched only two of the two hundred existing calculations. Well, to make a long story short, the company had been using a chart that was wrong for 50 years. The computer was right. This was fantastic. So I rushed to my manager, who said, “If we have been using it for 50 years, we cannot correct it. It would confuse too many people.” So my coursework and the computer soon ended, and it was back to the mechanical calculators. There was little interest in the rank and file for eliminating hours of work. For me, this was devastating. I see so much potential power, yet no one will let me use it. I just had to learn more.

My wife was the first to see my new enthusiasm for programming and decided to invest in me. We had two little children, one of whom had special needs, and a new home. To say we were short of extra money was an understatement. But she went out and got a job in the evenings as a waitress. I would come home from work, take care of our children, and she would leave for her job. Her hours were long, her work was hard, and she would come home very late each night. Youth has its advantages, so she was able to keep it up. The extra money was helping. Christmas was coming, and it would mean that our children could have something nice under the family tree. Christmas Eve was special for us. We would put the children to bed and then decorate the entire house, including the tree and presents. Christmas morning was almost magical for them. They would wander, dazed, into the living room and behold the joy of Christmas. However, in this particular year, there was a card on the mantle. I had received a gift from my wife of $50 to pay for my tuition so I could take an advanced class in FORTRAN. She had saved it from her tip money, investing in my dream to be a programmer. The class was being taught at a local school, and she remembered me lamenting over the fact that we did not have that kind of extra money. It seems like a small amount today, but my salary was $600 per month. Yes, two children, mortgage payments, and, oh yes, my son needed a lot of special help.

That one class encouraged me to go back to college and take a few more classes. Even then, in the late 1960s, programming was not recognized as a profession. My interests and skills grew so rapidly that I found myself leaving manufacturing and becoming a programmer trainee. As the years passed, I advanced to developing compilers and other complex software systems. Through company acquisitions and numerous moves, my career would mature, and my wife and I would find ourselves going to new areas of the country. After programming came management, then product marketing, followed by selling software systems. My technical background took me to Europe, Asia, and virtually every state in the United States.

NationalAcme-smallNow, 40+ years later, I reflect on how an unselfish sacrifice and a dream could extend themselves into a lifetime Return on Investment. Today, as a director for a large company, I often marvel at the wonderful experiences that established my foundation in the computer industry. Programming remains a hobby. But what exactly did that $50 sacrifice bring to my family? My work has taken me to over twenty countries, and I have worked with thousands of companies. My wife and I now enjoy a wonderful home with great children and grandchildren. It is easy to reflect on the positive things that my career has given our family, but the most precious gift I received was the blessing of a life partner, my wife, who has shared in the bounty brought forth by that simple gift so long ago. And what ever happened to National Acme? Their vision fell short, and they never realized the return on their investment. The world demanded more. The buildings sit abandoned today.

UPDATE: Retired in 2011; traveled to 27 countries; remained happily married to the same amazing woman; life is good.

Phil, God and Sagamore Creek

I am always amazed at how long it sometimes takes for a great lesson from God to unfold. This one sets a personal record for me. It started as a young teenager living in Walton Hills, Ohio. Upon returning from the military after World War II, my father purchased an acre of land abutting Cuyahoga County’s park system. Sometimes called the Emerald Necklace, a series of parks are interconnected to encircle both the city of Cleveland and the county. Filled with horse trails, rivers, and thousands of acres of woodlands, it would become a dream location for a young boy to grow up. Some fifty-plus years later, it would finally sink in. God was telling me something very important.

At thirteen, my father finally built a home on that land (the home is on the extreme left of the road at the top of the picture below). From that moment on, my world was moved from the inner city of Cleveland, where I had grown up, into lands untouched since the days of early pioneers. Sagamore Creek ran through this section of parkland. The creek produced swimming holes, fishing spots, camping areas, and years of exploring. This stream had cut deep into the land, leaving a ravine with shale cliffs several hundred feet high. Virtually every spare moment of my life from the time I was thirteen to eighteen was spent running the trails within these woodlands. Most of those trails were made by abundant wildlife.


Walton Hills, Ohio, and the Cuyahoga Metro Park System

Now I need to take a few words to explain what my world was like in Walton Hills. The woodland was filled with tall hardwoods, black walnut, maple, beach, and oak trees. It was not unusual to find trees over one hundred feet high. The soil was relatively shallow, so as the stream cut into the land, the cliffs were carved out of shale. The shale was sharp and filled with prehistoric fossils and flakes of gold. Yes, there was a time when I thought I had become rich; I found gold in the shale. My dreams of wealth, however, were quickly dashed by a geological survey test showing it was only “fool’s gold.” The stream bed was filled with large boulders, and the water ran crystal clear. A few small waterfalls dotted the cliffs along the river. It was not unusual to see young deer wandering the banks.

My friends and I spent as many hours as we could exploring the area. We could leave in the morning, walk for hours, and never come to a house or road. This area in Ohio has been home to many native American Indians. We often found flint arrowheads after the farm fields were freshly plowed. We discovered Indian burial mounds nearby. At the end of this section of the park system was a part of the original Ohio Canal, with a section of the lock system still intact. On the other end of the park section was a large tunnel that allowed the river to flow under a single set of railroad tracks, one of the few signs of man’s presence. The tunnel produced a deep hole, the “swimming hole,” that cooled us during Ohio’s hot summer days.

One of my favorite pastimes was climbing the steep shale cliffs and walking along the animal trails to test my manhood and bravery. In this same ravine, my friends and I found the remnants of an old dam and pump house used to feed water up to the top of the ravine to fill the steam engines that ran many years ago along the track above. Today, the track is gone, repurposed by the “Rails to Trails” program. If I were to give any child a gift today, I would give them access to the type of land behind my home. It was peaceful, it was majestic, it was filled with surprises, and it would form my interests for the rest of my life.

I have not been back to Walton Hills for over fifty years, since turning eighteen. Today, however, we have Google Maps and satellite images. So, I found the wonderings of my mind taking me back to a satellite image of that area and a specific day when I learned a very important lesson from my God. There was a daunting cliff made of shale that was right at the end of a horse trail, our usual path of descent into the valley. It was very steep, with nothing but a simple rabbit trail running diagonally from top to bottom. For years, my friends and I climbed virtually every cliff in this valley, but we did not climb this one. It was high, the path was narrow, and common sense told us that it would be too hard to navigate. But as young boys do, our good sense was cast aside one day, and several of us decided to try. Phil, my friend, went first. He was always going first. Phil was brave, strong, and skilled. We all followed him that day because we trusted those skills, and, of course, not going would have branded us, cowards.


The Hill of Fear on Sagamore Creek

I do not remember much about the assent other than following Phil closely. After many minutes of careful navigation on this very narrow and slippery trail, I got stuck at the midpoint of the trail. I could not go forward because the path was too narrow and the slope too steep. I could not turn around either. Looking back down about 100 feet or more, I realized that if I turned around and tried to go back, I would just slip down the hill. There was no doubt in my mind that if I fell, I would be seriously hurt or, worse, killed. Shale is unforgiving. It is just like sliding down on broken glass and would have cut right through my clothes and skin. At the bottom of the hill was the riverbed of solid rock strewn with boulders. That moment of fear is something I can still remember as I write this story.

Phil saw my plight, and he turned around to help. He could not go down either, but he stretched his hand out and told me to grab it. Phil reassured me that he would pull me forward to the top of the cliff. But Phil was just out of my reach. There was his hand, ready to save me from my plight, but I could not reach him. Finally, after what seemed to be an eternity, I realized that I would have to trust Phil and lunge forward several feet. I needed to grab Phil’s hand, trusting in his grip. I did just that, and Phil did just what he needed to do, and both my fear and peril were over in a second. We then continued and made it to the top. Together, we conquered the cliff.

Now for that message from God that I promised you. It would take me the next 50 or so years to understand that our Savior is much like Phil. Christ is strong, brave, skilled, and always ready to extend His hand to save us. But I have a responsibility too. I need to trust and lunge toward Christ with confidence and faith. Had I stayed frozen in fear on that hill, it would not have ended up as a warm memory of a good friend. Today, I look at our world, and it easily brings similar fear and tribulation, just like I had on that hill. I am retired now and as I watch the world news, I find myself asking, will Social Security still be around as I age further, will the U.S. dollars that I worked so hard to save be worth anything in the future, why are my freedoms slipping away or will the terror that grips our planet ever end? But like Phil, what I have learned is that Christ’s hand is always there, extended toward me and ready to hold onto me and pull me to the top. What I have to always remember is that it is up to me to have the faith and trust needed to lunge for Him. God promised me the top of the hill and I have every intention of reaching it by holding on to Christ.

My Plumb Line

Mission trips with young adults have been one of those experiences in life that keep on giving. I have just completed my eighth trip. The trips have been spread over many years, first without any stake in the game (kids of my own) and then later, with my daughter and her two sons (my grandsons). The nature of each trip varied, some in Appalachia, others in the inner city, such as Pittsburgh and Baltimore, and others in small towns like Columbus, Mississippi, and Aiken, South Carolina. While each trip took on a personality of its own, I often find myself reflecting back on my love for storytelling. And when you combine a lot of great young minds, some good work helping others, and my love for the Bible, there is always a good story close by.

It was in the early 90s, and I was on one of my early trips to Appalachia. Projects were simple, and on this day, we had been given a project to help a widow living in Livingston, Kentucky. The home was small and in need of much repair, and we would rebuild her porch, patch her roof, and fix a bathroom. But what she wanted from us was to build a closet in her bedroom. Now, that may sound like a strange request. However, homes in Appalachia often lack even the most standard features. Some even lacked bathrooms. But in this case, the entire wardrobe of this lady was laid out over a chair and on the end of her bed. One of her requests was to take a corner of her bedroom and turn it into a small closet.

Plumbline1Working with our teenagers is always a true joy. They love the work and are sponges for learning anything. Construction is always one of those areas that is high on the list of desired projects. A check with a level quickly showed me that nothing was square or true in the home. This was typically Appalachian construction. Floors sloped, walls leaned, and ceilings sagged. So I reached for my trusty plumb line. As one of our young workers held the line up on the ceiling, we were able to mark the exact location on the floor for the corner of the closet. And here is where my first opportunity came to tell each of our workers about Amos.

Amos was a shepherd who tended his flock near Bethlehem and Jerusalem. He lived about 750 years before Jesus and was a prophet sent to tell the people of Israel that they would be judged by God. Amos knew that he had to talk to the people of Israel in ways that they could understand. The people of Israel were very good workers and builders. So Amos taught the people of Israel using a tool that all of them could relate to: the plumb line.

Plumbline2So as one of our youth held that line, I told them to look carefully and see how the string was always straight up and down. No matter how the plumb line was held, it was always perfectly vertical. No skill was needed here; just hold it, use it and you get a straight line. Of course, from that straight line, we could build a straight wall.

Amos told the people of Israel that “God was standing by a wall that had been built true to plumb, with a plumb line in his hand. And God asked Amos, “What do you see, Amos?” Amos replied, “A plumb line.” Then God said, “Look, I am setting a plumb line among my people Israel; I will spare them no longer.” What did God mean? Well, as people, God knew that we could not build our lives so that we were straight and true without something to measure our lives against. Amos was telling the people of Israel that God would give them something to measure their own lives against so that they would know how to live correctly. God gave them His Son, Jesus. You see, Jesus is just like a plumb line. Jesus is always perfect. When we get to know Him so well that we can measure ourselves against Him, we can be just like a straight wall, pleasing to God, but if we try to lead our lives without a measurement, we often find that no matter how hard we try by ourselves, our life ends up just like a crooked wall.

Plumbline3As a parent and grandparent, I learned that children as well as adults must have Amos’ plumb line to lead a very straight and true life. The story was well received that day, and for each of my mission trips after, I have told that story about Amos and the plumb line. On what was my last youth mission trip, I had the honor to tell that story to my daughter and two grandsons. And what a joy that was!

Story taken from Amos 7:7-8

My First Home


A first home is an exciting thing. I can remember finally saving enough for a down payment and finding that home sometime around 1968. It is hard to believe the last several cars I have owned cost more than that first house. It was small, at 750 square feet, with three bedrooms, a single bath, a kitchen, and a living room. The original owner had built the house from recycled lumber and hand-carried stone for the fireplace from the local river. It was unique, filled with charm, and it was ours (and the bank’s, of course). It was on Pine Street. While there are many stories I could write about those early years of homeownership, the one that seems to have impacted me the longest was in the backyard, behind the garage.


The land is amazing. Owning it is a privilege that few in the world ever get to enjoy. The yard was small, with an old apple tree, a pear tree, and a fieldstone barbecue. Next to the house was a grape arbor. The arbor had been there probably as long as the house itself, around twenty-five years or so. Yes, our first house, and fruits for our laborers. This is the American dream.

After the initial bloom faded upon the rose, the reality of owning an older home began to set in. My weekends were filled with repairs, remodeling, and constant upkeep. Don’t take this wrong. There was no time in those early years that I would have had it any other way. The constant projects bonded neighbors into work crews, established lifelong friendships that continue today, and provided me with the training ground for many of my DIY skills. Simplicity and necessity are wonderful things in life. Too bad we work so hard to leave them.


Well, my story takes place in the backyard of that home and centers on the grape arbor. It must have been the labor of someone’s love once upon a time. The arbor was built to gracefully hold and guide the branches of two very old and large vines. They had flourished over the years, intertwining and forming a canopy over the arbor. It was so peaceful to walk out our side door into the back yard and stroll under the arbor. A picnic table sat next to the arbor under the apple tree. The apple tree was a great place for my children as they learned to climb their first tree. So many hours were spent sitting at that table in the yard. I had taken a new job in a risky, unknown field. By the end of the ’60s, computer technology was emerging, and I had just become a programmer. No one knew what a programmer was back in the late ’60s. Sitting under that apple tree, I studied my programming manuals, poured over “core dumps” (if you know what these are, you are old), and taught myself basic assembly language.

In the fall, my family was ready to enjoy our harvests. Apples, more than we could use; pears, sour but great for jam; and grapes. Wait a minute. “Where were the grapes?” Fall came, and then winter came, and there were no grapes. We had a healthy vine loaded with branches, but there was no fruit. As I examined the arbor, it became clear that the vines had never been tended over the years. It was easy, I thought, to just prune back the vines. However, this turned out to be much more of a task than I was prepared for. The wood used to build the arbor had decayed, and as I tried to prune the branches, the arbor collapsed. It was with great reluctance that I found myself forced to tear down the arbor and cut down the vines.

After finishing up the demolition and clean-up, I was left with two very short and fat vines. Both were bare-rooted, about two feet long, and several inches thick. As you can see, I did not prune the vines; I cut them up, ready to put them out in the trash. I cannot tell you why I hesitated that day, but I decided to give them one more chance for some reason unknown to me. Both vines—what was left of them—were planted against a fence along our property line. Winter came, and I never gave the vines a second thought. Winter in Ohio usually takes up most of your time trying to figure out how to stay warm.

The following spring came, and I noticed that those stubs of a vine that I planted were sprouting buds. As the season progressed, branches were formed, buds flowered, and, yes, grapes were on the vine. Through the summer and into the fall, our family waited in anticipation. We were not disappointed. The fall harvest came, and we enjoyed concord grapes from our little vineyard. It was a great first home, and for the next several years, my family enjoyed the “fruits” of our labors. As my career began to blossom in the emerging computer industry, we moved to a bigger home. We gave up the fruit trees, the grapevines, and the simplicity that went with it all. But the lesson was yet to come.

It was many years later, in the late ’80s, when I was active in a Bible Study. My wife and I had been asked to lead a group of adults in the study of the Gospel of John. This Gospel is the oldest, written decades after Christ’s death. John had watched the early Christian church struggle to understand Christ. In John’s emphasis, he uses so many unique metaphors and descriptions that relate to the world around us that the true person of Jesus emerges. John also chose to provide Christ’s own words, the words that served to clarify the Christian struggle. As the Bible Study went on from week to week, we eventually came to Chapter 15.

John 15:1-5 (NIV)
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me? “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”

I could not help but be taken directly back to that grape arbor and my experience with it. To let the vine grow without attention was no different than leading an unexamined and self-centered life. My arbor had not been touched in years. The vine had grown large, but the branches did not bear fruit. The infrastructure that held the vines from the ground, the arbor, had become rotten and weak. When I cut off all of the vine’s branches, it did not kill the vine. The root and vine remained alive, ready to generate new fruit-filled vines. As long as Christ remains the vine in our lives, we remain alive.


Life is filled with experiences generated by our own hands, some good and some not-so-good. We have a God that uses those experiences to “prune” away from the non-productive “vines” within our lives. As we remain faithful to Christ, we retain our fruitfulness and our usefulness to God’s kingdom. As this lesson has unfolded in my life, I have finally understood the verses in the Gospel of John. The measure of life is in our fruit, not the complexity of our life (the size of the vine or arbor). Did you ever wonder why the Bible references grapevines as much as it does? To the vine, the fruit has no real value. Until the fruit is picked and carried off, there is no benefit to the vine or the world. The fruit we bear must nourish others. I now measure my life by the number of hands that pass through my life.

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