Strait’s Rules for Living Well

On a favorite television program, NCIS, you can find one of my heroes: Special-Agent-In-Charge Leroy Jethro Gibbs. Gibbs (Mark Harmon) is a man of contrasts, imperfect yet committed to finish the job as best he can, like me. He is strong, even hard sometimes, but carries in his chest a powerfully tender heart. Out in front one minute, and shaping a piece of wood in a quiet basement the next.  He is authentic, always Gibbs. Gibbs is always moving, always watching, always learning, always evaluating. He sees things, and he sees people. He is loyal to a fault, and yet wired and willing to lead.

One thing I really like is that Gibbs lives by a set of “rules” developed over time in the classroom of life. Gibbs’ rules originated from his first wife, Shannon, who told him on their first date, “Everyone needs a code they can live by.” Years later, Gibbs began writing his rules down, keeping them in a small tin inside his home.  A long list, he numbers them, and often refers to them only by number. Some of my favorites:

  • Rule #5: “You don’t waste good beer.”
  • Rule # 15: “Always work as a team.”
  • Rule #39: “There is no such thing as coincidence.”
  • And Rule #51: “Sometimes you’re wrong.”

OK, so I’m not Leroy Jethro Gibbs.  Not even close. But I honor the character, and the character of the character.  I, too, have a set of rules to govern my life.  Forged bit-by-bit over many years, and coalescing from wise mentors, amazing joys, difficult struggles, bad choices, and travels around the world, these are my compass for humbly answering, “How does one live a worthy, happy life?” These are my Code for living well.


  • Rule 1: God is good, and in charge.
  • Rule 2: Everything in life is subject to change  but rule one. 
  • Rule 3: When rule 2 is in operation, God is glorified when we remember rule 1. 

I am seeking to be joyful, mystical, and Jesus-centered.  God does all things well. Mystical is a word which speaks to my openness for God to surprise me, even when it doesn’t seem at first as if he is doing all things well. “Jesus-centered” speaks to my deep desire to follow my Lord, who has good things planned for those who seek him. – BRS

  • Rule 4: Always tell the truth, especially to yourself.

Jesus believed that the truth was what set people free. But truth can be hard to swallow. We all want to be better than we are, and sometimes we even pretend to be what we are not. “Fake it ’til you make it,” is the mantra of our culture.  In contrast, I am sold out to authenticity, transparency, candor, and vulnerability. These forms of honesty always reveal the pathway to freedom and blessing.  A starting place for all of us should be: “As best I know, what’s the truth?” -BRS

  • Rule 5: Growing and dying are the only options. Choose.

I am a gardener, both with people and plants. I like to tend, nourish, and just hang around growing things. I want to grow myself. And I want to help others grow. -BRS

  • Rule 6: Live in the now.
  • Corollary A to Rule 6: Now is all we have, but tomorrow may joyfully surprise you when it arrives and becomes now.

My heartbeat is to be “incarnational” and fully present in every moment of life, as Jesus was. He was often interrupted on his journey, and yet seemed to always have time for people. I believe that Jesus is alive and available to “become flesh” in each of us now.  I don’t want to be trapped in the past or impatient for the future. Now is what we have. -BRS

  • Rule 7: Invest in people.

People were designed to last forever. Friends were designed to last even longer.  I believe that our primary purpose on earth is to love those we meet on the journey, and to help others grow in love. Everything else is details.  I have a passion for all the people of the world, and have taught in Africa, Central America, Mexico, Turkey, Israel, Thailand, India, and even Iowa. And everywhere I go, I seek to learn about each culture, faith, and person. And about myself. -BRS

  • Rule 8: Exegete everything.
  • Corollary A to Rule 8: Rule 8 is most effective when it is applied before making a decision or reaching a conclusion.
  • Corollary B to Rule 8:  Pain often increases in inverse proportion to applying Rule 8.

Exegete is Greek word: “to draw out meaning.”  So, I want to learn from everything and from everyone. I want to take time to observe, ponder, think, reflect, pray, and draw out meaning from every breath.  Everyone has something to teach, and everyone has something to learn. The world is one gigantic classroom!  -BRS

  • Rule 9: You can only live your own life. No exceptions. 

So often, we expend great amounts of energy to change others. I have never seen lasting change–for good or bad–without a person’s own, willful choice to change. We cannot change anyone. Period. We can barely change ourselves. Change is a job relegated to the Spirit and to the classroom of pain. -BRS

  • Rule 10: Be humble.

Pride is the single most destructive force on Earth. It blinds us, isolates us, and calcifies us. Jesus died for messed up, broken, selfish, incomplete people. Me, you, everybody. No exceptions. I have failed often, and I have grown through suffering. I don’t take myself too seriously. We all are broken and need each other! -BRS

  • Rule 11: The way up is usually down.

I want to walk the low road.  I have seen great poverty and heart-rending tragedy, and so have listened, hugged, and cried with many people

Learning in a poor village in Ghana

around the world (for example, I was a Crisis Counselor to parents immediately after the Littleton Columbine shootings, I have worked with refugees in camps in Central America, and I traveled to India to work as a Grief Counselor in Tsunami-struck villages.) In low places, we learn high truths. -BRS

  • Rule 12: Laugh. Authentic joy is the antidote to every struggle.

I find most life on this planet wonderfully intriguing and entertaining. I love to laugh, although I can find humor in odd places or at “strange” times. Sometimes, laughter seems to pursue me, sneaking up from my gut and jumping into my mouth, with unbidden joy. -BRS


  1. What a great set of rules to live by. As I’m getting to know you, I can see them at work in your life. I still have much to learn!

  2. hey Pastor Brad…. Brandy Mc. here… great writing… ministered grace and faith to my heart.

  3. I SOOOO identify. Thank you for putting these rules into your blog. You just got a new follower and fellow believer on the road….

  4. Thank you, Brad. Like others, I have found your blog through following a link to Petra’s story. This piece has encouraged me greatly. I am reeling, having attended a court session today, where justice was not served. My friend, whose children are the victims of this injustice (I went as her support person), is once again questioning #1, after having her hope stirred briefly by having many friends praying for her in the lead-up to today. Personally, I am so gob-smacked by the lack of professionalism and the injustice I observed, I have felt helpless to even encourage my friend in the aftermath. This post (especially on the heels of reading of Petra’s miracle) has reminded me that personally, I do not question God’s goodness or his justice. I do, however, need more wisdom than I currently have at my disposal, to help my freshly grieving friend to shore up her own hope and faith. Thank you for your input into my heart at such a timely moment.

  5. Your soul shines through your choice of words. May God bless you as much as you have blessed others. With your permission I would like to post your rule #8 on my classroom door as my inspirational quote this year. God has blessed me through you today. Keep up the good work!

    • Amazingly true, cee. We invest, help, train, guide, pray for, discipline, and encourage. Then, we shut up, and look up. Sooooooooo hard.

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