Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The Wisdom of Retrospect

I came across an article by Rev. Bob Deffinbaugh. In it he discusses Adam and Eve's fall in the Garden of Eden as presented in Genesis chapter 3. He wrote,

"There is an important principle to be seen here: God desires from us the obedience of faith. Such obedience is not based upon our understanding of why we are to act as God requires, but simply because it is God who requires it.

"The obedience of faith is based on our faith in God, not on our understanding of why God calls one thing good and another evil. Parents teach their children to obey on the same basis. You cannot explain to a young child why an electrical outlet is dangerous. You can only forbid them to touch it, because you said so, and because they trust your word."

This got me thinking of my attitude toward my dad when I was growing up. As a young child I thought dad could do no wrong. I never would have dreamed of questioning his word or his advice. But that all changed when I became a teenager. Suddenly, I was so much wiser. I didn't need an old, out-of-touch man with salt-and-pepper hair telling me how to live my life. How could he possibly remember the desires racing through a young man's heart and mind? What could he possibly know about life and love in the 1970s?

Looking at my relationship to my teenage son today I realize how stupid I was back then. Back when I was his age, my dad was younger than I am right now. Yet even now with my more salt than pepper hair, I can vividly remember those same desires my son faces. I can see them, hear them, smell them, taste them, and feel them deep in my gut. They may be wrapped differently today, but they're still the same temptations young guys have faced since Cain and Abel hit their teens. I know how dangerous those innocent-looking little temptations really are -- and so did my dad.

Then I think of our Heavenly Father. I'm still acting like a teenager toward Him. I tell myself I'm so much older and wiser than I was as a teenager. But I'm still dumb enough to think I can play with those temptations God forbids and come out all right. (Was that mom or dad who said, "If you play with fire, you're going to get burned"?) I'll obey Him, but only after He explains to me why I should.

My dad wasn't perfect, of course, and I'm sure he got a few things wrong. But I can't say the same for our Heavenly Father. His knowledge and His love are perfect. He knows the soul, mind, heart, and body He created for each of us, and He knows better than anyone what is harmful and what is beneficial for us.

It's not for me to question God, to challenge Him for reasons and explanations. Mine is simply to recognize my small mind and my tiny world of experience and bow down to His all-seeing eye, to His all-knowing mind. Mine is to recognize my ignorance and over-confidence, to repent and fall before Him in shame. Mine is to recognize His fatherly love in His beloved Son Jesus Christ, to receive His open-armed forgiveness and peace. Mine is to humbly and quietly obey His Word with simple, childlike adoration and trust.

It amazes me how I make it all so much more complicated than it needs to be.

Any thoughts on this whole thing of serving God and not getting in our own way?

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Tuesday, September 5, 2017

School's Back in Session

And for the students in your household, now come all the variables a new school year brings: making friends, learning teacher expectations, finding one's place in the social matrix, doing homework, the opposite sex and, of course, parental discipline.

Parental discipline is vital for our kids unless we are to doom them to learning everything the hard way. We've had plenty of time and experience to gain perspective. We know the heartbreak of losing that first love, the urge to satisfy our dissatisfaction with an impulsive purchase, the pressure of conforming to peers who (it turned out) didn't have a clue.

We can be sympathetic to our children because we remember, often quite vividly, the lessons we learned the hard way after refusing to listen to our parents. We also remember the stubborn streaks and the rebellion that made us butt heads with our folks, especially as we struggled through that rough transition from childhood to adulthood.

With all that hard-earned perspective, we now turn to discipline. Some learn fast; others not so much. Since each child is different and every situation unique, it's important to remember all the different tools you have to use. Sure, you have corporal punishment, but there's no need to use a hammer if a sander will do. There's always time-tested grounding, withholding of privileges, etc. I'm sure you have your own faves.

Again, remember your end goal. You want to emerge from your child's adolescence with an intact relationship. You don't get there by being their friend and not their parent. But that certainly doesn't mean you can't have good, frank discussions. When you share your own adolescent experiences with them -- your failures as well as your successes -- you help them recognize consequences and dangers they may not clearly see in the present moment.

It is also important to give your children a voice in setting house rules and punishments. Sitting together and establishing these rules will give you some insight into how they think. It will give them the invaluable experience of working through things they encounter at school, at work, on the internet, or your own neighborhood.

And we shouldn't exempt ourselves from those rules as parents either. When our actions don't match our words, the old adage rings true: "Actions speak louder than words." When we consistently live by the same rules we insist on our kids following, our words take on more meaning, more authority.

And one last thought about seeing the end goal of parental discipline: we all want our children to enjoy successful lives on earth. But far more important is their eternal destiny. Above all else, show your child what it is to live as God's child. Make worship and Bible class a priority for you as well as them. Studies have shown that a father's involvement (or lack thereof) in worship influences the worship attendance of their children even more than mom's.

Make your parenting count. The influence you have on another human being is probably never greater (or more significant) than what you can achieve in the life of your son or daughter.

What are your hard-earned insights on being a father?

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Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The Best Job You'll Ever Have

Remember those jobs as a youngster when you first started to make some real money, earning a bona fide paycheck? For some of us, it was cleaning out the grease pit at a convenience store "kitchen," specializing in chicken wings, low-grade burgers, and French fries. For others, it might have been washing dishes at some local dive. For those of you loving the great outdoors, there was carrying stacks of roofing shingles up a ladder or hauling hay for some area farmer, who just might have been your dad or grandpa.

For me one of the hardest jobs I ever had was performing the exhausting repetitiveness of assembly line work, trying to keep up with the flow of experienced workers while staying focused on the task at hand.

Each of us keeps a memory tucked into the corner of our mind of the hardest jobs we ever had to do. It's good to pull that memory out once in awhile, so we can put our current job in perspective.

For example, a veteran sitting all day long in an air-conditioned office, attending boring meetings can seem like an endless grind, but it's absolutely delightful next to being yelled at by drill sergeants and endless hours of physical training.

When it comes down to it, hard jobs aren't always defined by soaring temperatures, blitzed muscles, or intolerable bosses; they can also be measured by the amount of stress produced, anxiety raised, or nightmares unleashed.

I'm good with doing most anything physical or mental; the hardest job for me involves relationships. For instance, being a husband is a daily challenge, as my role and responsibilities often change with each sunrise. And the transition from husband to father creates numerous opportunities for other hard jobs as well: changing diapers, giving baths, helping with homework, encouraging broken hearts, teaching teens to drive, and being a worthwhile role model.

In truth, my job as husband and dad rival any of the stresses I might experience in the workplace, but the payoff is by far better, and it's a role I wouldn't trade for all the air-conditioned corner offices and six-figure salaries in the world.

One reason for this are the fantastic fringe benefits that come with this "job" -- like watching my son pitch his first game, seeing my daughter nail a half gainer off the high dive, or sitting around a campfire with both of them and my wife, savoring the last few days of summer vacation before the kids head back to school in a couple of weeks.

You had hard jobs, and you've had satisfying ones as well. Drop us a line and tell us what worked for you and what didn't when it came to those early jobs. Let us know, too, how things are today.

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Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Fun with the Fam

The other day I was sitting on the couch, happily engaged in watching Jordan Spieth's fourth-round fumble and blitz to win the Open, when I was interrupted by my wife, taking a seat next to me. I glanced over and knew I was in trouble; she was holding a pen and calendar. Experience has long taught me what soon follows is a detailed presentation of things I need to do around the house. This wasn't the case however. Instead, it was time to plan our family vacation.

Vacations usually mean we pack up the family's must-haves into the car and hit the road. Now, lest some of you think less of me, I am not opposed to vacations per say. What frustrates me is driving with three children buckled into car seats, holding me hostage for hours as I try to concentrate on the road, all the while buffeted by the sounds of "music" coming from behind me. I know children need to exercise their lungs, but the piercing tones of their playful little voices are sometimes more than I can handle.

But I digress. So my wife and I started going through our vaca-list. It contains all the options we consider when planning vacations. This year near the top was "visiting family," with number two being "an educational experience for the kids."

I started to perk up. What could be more educational than a road trip to visit some of the major baseball parks in North America? It was a perfect no-brainer. The season's in full swing. There would be geography and history all rolled into one. And if we were really lucky, we might even catch a game or two.

Ever astute, my wife zeroed in on my thoughts, delivering a preemptive strike: "I was thinking we could visit some museums and then take the kids to see the largest shopping mall in North America."

I started wishing work would call, telling me all unused vacation time has been cancelled indefinitely.

Then I thought about it just a wee bit more.

Vacations are not about the destination. Taking a vacation is about recharging one's internal battery, renewing one's broader perspective and, hopefully, reconnecting in a positive way with your mate -- and the kids in the backseat.

No matter how tempted you are to choose work over vacation, it's better to take some time away from the job. Just think back a minute. When you were a kid, would you ever opt for staying at home rather than going on vacation? (If you answer yes on that one, maybe this blog's not for you.)

For example, there was the time my parents took us to the beach. My brothers and I were fighting over a beach ball in the back seat, when lo and behold the ball jumped out the open car window. We still don't remember how the ball ended up on the highway, but we'll never forget dad's reaction as he watched it bounce off cars and sail into the air. Rather than earning us his ire and a disciplinary action, he gave a shrug and a chuckle, musing how lucky some kid will soon be as the owner of a new beach ball. Dad may have wanted to say something more, but he didn't want to kill the fun we were having.

And why would he? After all, we were on vacation.

Where's the road taking you and your family this year?

Vacations can be fun, but they can be tricky sometimes, too. Drop us a line and let us know where you're going this summer. (By the way, be sure to take along your Men's NetWork cap or shirt and get in the picture for our WEAR in the World feature!) You can keep us posted by clicking here and cluing us in.

Have fun and be safe!

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Three Things You Don't Want to Forget

There are many ways to share the Gospel with others, but let's face it, actually speaking the Good News is pretty intimidating for most of us. The mere prospect of rejection -- or worse -- is often enough to stop us dead in our tracks.

One way to push through the reluctance we feel is to remember the sharing part comes last.

Prayer is first.

What could be easier than praying for someone in your life who needs to know God's love the way you do. Normally, you might think of people at work, school, or your next-door neighbors. But what if you have absolutely nothing in common with them? If that's the case, then your hobbies and interests -- things you really have a passion for -- can be your guide.

Whatever passion you have, that is a natural door to starting a conversation.

Next, is caring.

Caring is the investment that increases the value of the faith you share. Even more, when people see the difference that faith, trust, and peace brings to your life -- especially in the rough stretches of your life - they will likely want to know more. Getting to that level of friendship takes some time -- time spent together -- a personal investment of hours.

And then, finally, there's sharing.

Sharing sounds intimidating, doesn't it? It usually means pushing through a boundary you haven't crossed with that friend before, which is tough if you don't know what's on the other side. What if your friend disagrees? Well, if he or she does, that's perfectly fine. People disagree all the time, especially where God and religion are concerned. Relax. Realize you'd probably have questions, too, if the situation was turned around. Pray for God to open your eyes to chances to share what Jesus means to you and how He's helped you through life's rough patches.

That leads you right back to prayer and care again. Bring to God the new things you learned about your friend in the time you spent together. Pray about their concerns, their struggles, and their worries. Think about similar situations in your life, and how your faith helped -- or how it would have helped if you hadn't tried to carry the matter by yourself.

Pray. Care. Share: three simple things to remember when we're talking to people about Jesus.

Talking to others about Jesus can be a challenge. Then again, we probably make it tougher than it is by thinking it's all about our quick wit and personality. It's really not about us. He will lead. He will empower, if only we will listen.

What do you think about sharing your faith?

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Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Purpose. What's Yours - And How Do You Know?

My son Adam has a friend I'll call Ben. The two of them met online in a web-based training program for professional animators. Ben lives in Alaska; he is a very quiet guy; and he and his family have absolutely no connection of any kind with church or the Christian faith.

Now, since making connections in the animation industry is tough from Alaska, Adam invited Ben to come live with our family in Missouri. We invited Ben to church often; we invited him to join us in prayer; Adam invited him to the Bible study he was involved in; we had our natural family conversations about faith around him; when my wife was in the last days of her battle with cancer, we included him in our prayer times and times of devotional singing. In short, I know Ben saw a lot of the whole range of experience that we would call the Christian life.

Okay, so I'm confident the Holy Spirit was at work the whole time; I won't deny Him that. But as far as I could tell, our witness didn't have an impact on Ben's resistance.

I don't know for sure if it would have made a difference, but there is something that came to me later, after he had returned to Alaska (why does it so often seem to happen that way?). I know that Ben would at least have to have put in some thought if I had asked him one question: BEN, WHAT'S YOUR PURPOSE?

Visionary Gabe Lyons beautifully articulates purpose as Christians understand it in his book The Next Christians: "The next Christians believe that Christ's death and resurrection were not only meant to save people from something. He wanted to save Christians to something. God longs to restore his image in them, and let them loose, freeing them to pursue his original dreams for the entire world. Here, now, today, tomorrow."

Yes! As the one thing in all creation that God made in His own image, humans were made to work alongside Him in caring for everything else He had made; and in a fallen universe, God still calls us to work alongside Him -- to help Him restore everything to Himself again -- starting with other humans.

But if you don't believe in God -- if you're convinced, for example, that we're all here by way of a process of random mutations and other happenstances -- how do you discover your purpose? How can you even intuit that you have one? And if you do discover something you believe to be your purpose, where'd it come from? No, really -- where'd it come from?

The thing is, faith or no faith, people want to know their purpose; they search for it daily. Google it for yourself: just type in "What is my purpose in life?" What you'll find is that folks from Focus on the Family to Forbes to Psychology Today -- and on and on -- have advice for you. More often than not, if the adviser does not have God to point to, then he or she will try to persuade you that your purpose comes from within you.

But in a worldview without God -- in a universe where you and I might be random results of random occurrences -- that explanation doesn't satisfy. "What's your purpose?" becomes a question without an answer. In a worldview with God ... well, it's really not a mystery.

Your turn. What's your purpose? What would you have to share with a guy like Ben?

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Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Some Weren't Sent ... But They Went

Shavuot was one of the three major pilgrimage festivals for which devout first-century Jews traveled to Jerusalem annually. It was also known as the Feast of Weeks, because you counted seven weeks, or 49 days, from Passover, and then held Shavuot on the fiftieth day. Most people know Shavuot by the Greek word for "fiftieth day": Pentecost.

Shavuot commemorated the giving of the Torah to Israel by God at Mount Sinai. So historically it was linked to the exodus-and probably the reason they held it so soon after Passover. The fact that Jewish males were expected, no matter where they lived, to come to Jerusalem for both Passover and Shavuot no doubt posed challenges for some people. If you lived in faraway Syria or Egypt or Mesopotamia (Iraq) or Parthia (Iran), you had to travel a long way and a long time to get to and from these events. No wonder not many folks made every pilgrimage every year.

Some indeed came from all those places, though; Acts 2 says so. Remember? The disciples suddenly turn up speaking the native languages of all these diaspora Jews, and the pilgrims say to each other, "We are Parthians, Medes, Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judah, Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia, Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome; Jews by birth and proselytes; Jews from Crete and from Arabia...! How is it that we hear them speaking in our own languages about the great things God has done?"

Christians around the world celebrated the modern feast of Pentecost a little more than a week ago. What might the pilgrims who attended that world-shaking first Pentecost of the Christian era likely have been doing a little more than a week after the event? Probably traveling the road home. And there's something that intrigues me about that.

You see, right after His resurrection, Jesus told His disciples (John 20:21), "As the Father has sent Me, so I am sending you." But they didn't go right away.

Next Jesus took the disciples to a mountain in Galilee and sent them (Matthew 28), saying "Make disciples of all nations." But then He told them to go to Jerusalem and wait -- so they didn't go right away.

And on the Mount of Olives Jesus told the disciples that they would be His witnesses to the remotest places on earth (Acts 1), but again, He told them to wait in Jerusalem -- so they didn't go right away.

Then in Acts 2 we read about the pouring-out of the Holy Spirit in Jerusalem and the church being born when 3,000 people believed and were baptized. Still, we don't get a report of one of the disciples who had been sent by Jesus actually going anywhere until Acts 8, when Philip, followed by Peter and John, went to evangelize up the road in Samaria.

Yet in the very next chapter of Acts, we get the story of Saul traveling to Damascus, in Syria, to round up a whole group of believers. If by this point Jesus' disciples were only just beginning to move outside Jerusalem, where did these believers 1,800 miles away in Damascus come from? Well, how about from among those 3,000 diaspora Jews who had been in Jerusalem for Shavuot?

There's no question that Jesus sent His disciples -- but the first believers who actually went -- and shared the Gospel -- were probably those festival pilgrims.
Can this have meaning for us today?

Yes. Here's just one example. Close to two million people living in the United States are non-immigrant internationals -- many of them students. Most are here for a short time; most intend to return to their home countries. Often, when they discover that Christianity is not just a western religion, not just a religion for people of European descent, many want to know more -- and some come to faith in Jesus. And when they return to their countries, they carry the Gospel back with them.

It's like an international mission field right here under our noses.

Can you and I respond to this opportunity right now? Again, yes! Here are some things we can do:

* Be faithful to the Lord who sends all of us -- and to His message of salvation.
* Praise God for changing the hearts of many Shavuot pilgrims 2,000 years ago and then sending them back home carrying the Good News about Jesus.
* Watch and listen for when and where the Spirit might call us and send us.
* Trust God's promise that His Word will accomplish the purpose for which He sent it.
* Pray. A lot.

Let the church's recent celebration of Pentecost remind you that each of us is sent -- some of us across oceans and continents, and some of us across the street or across town. Regardless where, there are people there who are hungry for the Good News we have to share.

"Then (Jesus) said to His disciples, 'The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest'" (Matthew 9:37-38).

Funny how things work out and how the Lord achieves His purposes -- sometimes in some very interesting ways.

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