The College Experience?

Nolan Burch’s parents sent him off to college last fall like so many other freshmen. A new student at West Virginia University with the world in front of him. Like most parents I’m sure they were looking forward to Thanksgiving break where they could talk about school life, his new friends, classes and all of that stuff.

Unfortunately, Mr. and Mrs. Burch would never experience that joy, in fact they would bury their son a week before Thanksgiving. Nolan was one of 20 pledges to a fraternity that furnished (illegally) each pledge with liquor and required them to consume it. For Nolan, it was too much. He died of alcohol poisoning. His blood-alcohol content was over 6 times the legal limit for drunk driving – .493. I can’t imagine their grief!

I have questions. Why do we tolerate this? Why do we as a culture seem to view this kind of activity as a rite of passage? Who is responsible for this?

What can we do?

First, let me say that we need to wake up to the destructive and deadly consequences of alcohol abuse. We all need to wake up. The bartender or waitress who doesn’t dare let an intoxicated patron walk out of the establishment whatever grief they must endure. The friend who tells his friend, “Enough.” Parents who teach their children that alcohol consumption is against the law until they reach legal age, and even then, it is not a solution to their problems. Nobody makes better decisions when they are intoxicated.  

I heard a radio personality say that “drinking is a part of the college experience.” Why? Why do we accept that? Considering that the majority of undergraduate college students are underage, why are we so casual about alcohol use by underage college students? 

Who is responsible for this? Certainly, Nolan has personal responsibility in this. It saddens me that he thought he needed to do this to be accepted by this fraternity. That he wasn’t strong enough to say, “No.” But he is not alone. Somebody furnished him the alcohol that led to his death, and I think that person should be charged with manslaughter. The fraternity as well needs to face stiff penalties for its conduct as well. This behavior will continue, and every year we will hear of more college students dying of alcohol poisoning until we have decided that this doesn’t have to be a part of the college experience.

What can we do? What I have come to understand in my 51 years of life and as a student of the Bible is that regulating behavior only goes so far. The change must come from the heart. If we trust God to fill us with His Spirit, we eliminate the desire to get drunk. If seek God to make us complete, we won’t need alcohol to fill the empty places inside. If we trust God to provide us with all that we need, we won’t need to look for friendships in the wrong places. And finally, if we believe that Christ has come to give us life to the fullest, then we will not settle for anything counterfeit.

First, we must strive to live our lives with hearts fully surrendered to God, then we can share with others the greatness of a life lived for God.

Just my thoughts.


In His Grip,


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Purple Penguins and Common Sense

Common sense – it is the ability to make a logical, reasonable and clear decision on matters that seem obvious to most people.   For example, if you break your leg, you should go to the doctor, that is common sense. Have we just lost our common sense as a people? It’s not about an education; common sense is available to each of us regardless of education or social upbringing. Ironically it, seems the educated folks are the ones who are most deficient in common sense.

Take for instance the Lincoln, NE school district. They have instructed teachers to stop calling children by the terms like “boy” and girl” but instead, “purple penguins”. All of this in an effort to create a gender inclusive environment. There is a list of 12 steps which the teachers must do to move away from recognizing children as either boys or girls. The teachers have been told “to interfere and interrupt if they ever hear a student talking about gender in terms of “boys and girls” so the student can learn that this is wrong.”

The superintendent of schools, Steve Joel has declared that he is “happy” and “pleased” with the training documents in an interview with a radio station.

I don’t want to be insensitive in any way, but there is no common sense in this decision. First, calling boys and girls something different doesn’t change the fact that they are boys and girls. Second, why call them purple penguins when they are neither purple nor penguins? (That won’t confuse the children at all.) Let me just follow this through for a moment. The ‘boys’ and ‘girls’ signs on the bathroom doors will have to be replaced with “purple penguins” signs. But wait, though not an expert in penguinology, I did watch “Happy Feet”, and I’m pretty sure that all penguins are either boys or girls. So now what do we do.

It seems we can’t get away from gender. It’s how God created us. I understand, that for a variety of reasons, there are a small number of people who struggle with gender identity, but can’t we find an understanding way to help them without abandoning all common sense and pretending that there is no such thing as boys and girls?

Just a thought.

In His Grip,


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Can I tell you what I love about life?   Very simply, it’s redemption. I love the fact that no matter where I’ve been or what I’ve done there is always an opportunity for redemption. Now that may not seem like a big deal to you, but consider what an incredible blessing that must be to the person who is sitting on death row or serving life in prison and has no chance to “redeem himself” from the atrocities he has committed. To find out that there is a God who is willing to set your heart at peace, who will quiet your soul – no matter what your past looks like – must be incredibly freeing.

 When we do wrong we often attempt to redeem ourselves by doing more good things, but that will never alleviate the guilt or balance the scales. The only thing that can make it all right is something you can’t even do. It is something you must accept.   GRACE. We often call it amazing, because there are no words that can do it justice.  You cannot take it by force, but you must receive it with open hands and hearts bowed in humility.

 In the end, we all want to know that we are okay. We want our souls to be at peace. And in the end, we all need God’s grace and his mercy for that to happen. His grace is big enough to cover any wrong you have done with more left over.

 I lean into God’s grace every day, and I rest in his mercies continuously, because I not only need redemption, I crave it, and I have found that He is the only One who can satisfy.

In His Grip,


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Is It That Hard To Just Love?

There are a handful of things that can fire me up. And taking advantage of the less fortunate, the weak or the vulnerable nears the top of my list. So when I hear a story like the Ray Rice incident, something rises up inside of me that makes me want to scream.

I think the reason my reaction is so strong is because I don’t have a compartment in my brain to process those kinds of actions. I truly cannot wrap my mind around how or why somebody would abuse someone else.

Yesterday I learned of an incident in OH, where some high school teens tricked a 15 year old autistic boy into thinking he was taking the ALS ice bucket challenge; and instead they poured a bucket filled with urine, feces and spit over his head. They used the boy’s own phone to video it and then posted it to Instagram.

How heartless do you have to be to participate in something like this? Occasionally, the average person will do or say things that are unkind are perhaps even mean-spirited. Usually, they are done in the moment, and most of us regret what we’ve said or done. But to plan an ugly attack on a boy who trusts you and doesn’t understand what is going on reaches a different level cruelty. It makes me wonder how a person gets there. Who was there to teach these boys about love and respect?

I’m sure it’s part of my upbringing – understanding that we are all created by God and not wanting anyone to be treated with disrespect, hatred or maliciousness – that has helped form my sensitivity and the views I hold today. I never understood slavery or the abuse and denigration of blacks in America. Every movie I watch that reflects our past treatment of African-Americans makes me shudder in disgust and shame. And the worst part of it is that some of it was done in the name of Christ. (God forbid!) None of it makes sense to me. How do we learn that stuff?

I was glad to see the students of Bay Village High School rally together in support of this 15 year boy. It persuades me that there is much hope for the world.

I believe it needs to be the Christian individual, the Christian family and the church who must be the light that shines God’s love on every person regardless of their race, appearance, differences or circumstance. Maybe by our actions we can teach our neighbors, our friends and our communities how great God’s love truly is.

In His Grip,


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Your Plans vs. God’s Plans

As our oldest child prepares to trade in his bedroom for a dorm room, exchange a refrigerator full of food and home-cooked meals for late-night Ramen noodles and cafeteria food, I can’t help but think of the plans we made and the plans that God has changed.

My life seems so different now than what I had laid out. When I was 16 or 17 I had a secret crush on my sister’s best friend. She was soooo sweet. (I guess it’s not a secret now.) In my mind , I had hoped I would marry her someday. I really thought I would be married early on and raise a couple of kids.

It seems God had other plans. After serving in ministry for many years, God brought to me the best possible wife – years after I had planned. And so we tried to start a family, but that plan wasn’t working. Then God introduced us to a sweet 7 year old African-American boy who needed a family. We politely declined saying that we were waiting on God to give us a biological child.

God intercepted our plans once more and showed us this boy was His plan. And so, this young boy officially became Patrick Lafferty, and not long after more Lafferty children came along like clockwork. In October we will have our sixth child and we are delighted. Although, not what I had planned early on. I wanted the American average, 2.5. (I wasn’t exactly sure how to work out the .5, but I would’ve figured it out.) But who am I to refuse a blessing from God?

Now looking back, I can’t believe how our lives have been blessed, because God changed our plans. We adopted Patrick thinking about how we could change his life, but the truth is that he has impacted our lives greatly. I never understood my capacity to love and care for and worry about a child until Patrick became ours. And now my love for him has only grown deeper and the pride I have for him intensifies as he continues to mature.

My perspective about God and adoption has grown so much deeper. Patrick’s siblings will grow up (I believe) without a hint of racism in their bones, because they think it is normal to have an African-American sibling (and it is, in God’s family). Patrick’s young life has had an effect on a great number of people for the positive. And while I know what Patrick has planned for college and beyond, I will not be surprised if God turns those plans upside down and takes him in a new direction for His glory!

The trick is surrendering your plan for His.

It is lifelong process, but I have never regretted choosing God’s plan over my own. How about you?

In HIs Grip,


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Crossing The Line

Everyone has one – an imaginary line that exists somewhere in our minds, or perhaps deeper still, within our hearts and souls. A line that seems to tell us, “That’s enough. You’ve gone far enough.” It’s the difference between a police officer who gives a “suspected criminal” an extra kick to the ribs when he is on the ground and the officer who will not go that far. It’s the difference between a person who will respectfully disagree with another’s point of view and the person who attacks the other with vulgarity or name-calling.

It is this “line” that reveals a deep dissimilarity between those who are generally considered to be good people. Take Byron Smith for instance. Here is a 65 year old man, who has had his home broken into numerous times. He is, by his own accounts a good person who tries to be nice and do the right thing. Mr. Smith, tired of the break-ins, sets a trap for the burglars. He hides his truck and waits in the basement with snacks and two guns. Sure enough, he hears a window being smashed and two teenagers, a boy and a girl, enter his home in the middle of the night. He shoot the boy three times and then shoots the girl. As she is lying on the ground pleading for her life, his gun jammed, so he reloaded and shot her 4 more times. He then waited 24 hours before calling police. The intriguing part about the story is that Mr. Smith recorded the audio of the entire ordeal. While he was shooting them he can be heard taunting them. “He said, “They weren’t human….I see them as vermin.”

I can sympathize with Mr. Smith being afraid because his house is broken into. But he crossed that line, he went too far. Seven shots to an 18 year old girl is not just excessive, it is unconscionable. He said he didn’t want to live in fear the rest of his life. He will not, for his new home will be protected with steel bars. He ended the lives of two young people and essentially his own.

Yes, this case is extreme. But it speaks very clearly to this line within each of us. What I have figured out is that this line is a moral line. And we all have this line. Every time we make a moral decision (right or wrong), the line comes into play. I believe that we all born with the line intact, but it seems that the line keeps getting moved. (I’m thinking of writing a book, “Who Moved My Line?) But that is only part of the problem. The question haunting me is: What causes a person to cross that line – a line that would stop you or me in our tracks?

Let me leave you with two more questions to chew on:

Where is your line?   And how sure are you that you will never cross it?

Only By The Grace of God,


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I’m Tired

I’m tired. I’m tired of the brutality. I’m tired of the callousness and the bloodshed.  I am just growing so weary of the hatred that seems to boil out of people into senseless acts of violence and rage. I’m tired of getting out of bed and reading another headline about someone being injured or killed because of the deliberate actions of another.

I’m just so tired.

I sit here with tears in my eyes as I read about a grandfather and 14 year old grandson shot to death by a 73 year old man so filled with hatred that he would shoot absolute strangers.   I live 30 minutes away from a 16 year old boy who went on a stabbing spree in his high school. I could go on and on; you know the stories.  When will it come to an end?

The question of one man rings in my head. We discard his words today as almost a joke, but there is something so very profound in the question, that I think we are afraid to find the answer. Reflecting on his actions and the actions of the police, a contemplative Rodney King uttered these words, “Can we all just get along?”

Isn’t that the way it is supposed to be? Isn’t that the way it was in the beginning? Does it not still lie within each one of us to get along with the other? To love the outcast? To befriend the lonely? To defend the helpless? And help the broken?   Should we not search our own hearts? I understand that each of us is responsible for our own actions, but I wonder if some of the abhorrent actions mentioned could have been prevented had someone loved or befriended or helped or shared?

I am far from perfect, but I try to love all people, I strive to be kind and to reach out – to do good to all men. To live as Christ lived. But I feel like I am battling the current – swimming hard and getting nowhere. I feel like Sisyphus from Greek mythology – rolling a stone up a hill only to have it roll back as he nears the top. My arms are fatigued, my heart is weary.

I am tired, but I will continue the fight. I am encouraged by Paul’s words in Galatians 6, “Let us not grow weary in doing good, for in due season we will reap if we do not lose heart.”

I do long for the day when we will all get along. Until then, I will do my best to share God’s love with those in my little corner of the world. And perhaps, if you will join me, we can create a little of God’s designed harmony in all of our little corners of the world.

In His Grip,


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