Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Things Left Unsaid

When reading through the Gospels, it's striking how few words are used to describe Jesus' actual physical sufferings. The brutal flogging and savage nailing to the cross are both mentioned only in passing, as the evangelist (Gospel-writer) moves toward his main point:

"Then he (Pilate) released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, delivered Him to be crucified" (Matthew 27:26).

"And when they had crucified Him, they divided His garments among them by casting lots" (Matthew 27:35).

I often wondered why Jesus' physical sufferings weren't described in more detail. Why don't we see the things we read in a doctor's analysis of flogging and crucifixion, or what we see in Mel Gibson's, The Passion of the Christ?

Then I came across the following question on Quora: What are some of the war secrets or experiences soldiers don't want to talk about after getting back from a war?

The answer was striking: "My father was in Korea and never talked about anything related to combat that involved him. Any war stories he told that were combat-related started with, 'I knew this guy ....' My father was a tough man, ex-boxer, and I never saw him cry while growing up, even when his mother died.

"When I joined the military while still in high school, on delayed enlistment, he wasn't pleased, but he did say, 'It's better than being drafted.' When I later volunteered for duty in Vietnam he was furious, and we never talked about it when I returned, which suited me since I didn't want to talk about it. There were awkward silences between us when something would be on TV about Vietnam, especially when it fell.

"Then one day we went saltwater fishing with my cousin. We all had some beer, and things were light and easy. My cousin and I were fishing off the back of the boat, and my dad off the side. Maybe it was the beer, maybe it was because I'd always been at ease with my cousin, but when he asked me if I'd seen anything really bad over there I told him something I will never mention again.

"I didn't figure out till sometime later my dad must have asked him to get me to open up and that he was listening intently while turned the other way, pretending to be focused on fishing.

"Anyway, after a long silence, my cousin said, 'Well, at least you didn't die over there.'

"And I said, 'Yes, I did.'

"When I looked around, I saw my father's shoulders moving; I could tell the man I'd never seen cry before was crying now."

Could this man's reply explain in part why the Bible focuses on what Jesus accomplished by His agony, sufferings and sacrifice and not on the sufferings themselves? Was it because He was thinking of the people who love Him?

Do you have any thoughts on the matter? You can share them with us by clicking here and passing them along.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

End of an Era

I have to cross one vacation destination off my bucket list. Last Wednesday the FAO Schwarz toy store in New York closed for good. It was the oldest toy store in the country. You can see it in movies like Tom Hanks' Big; Woody Allen's Mighty Aphrodite; and the movie, The Smurfs.

I never went there and I know I never would have built a vacation around it, but if I had happened to find myself in New York City with an extra hour or so, I think it would have been fun to stop by.

It's a little like watching A Christmas Story; it takes me back to a nostalgic time when the thought of spending hours in a huge store filled with nothing but toys was a boy's dream.

That got me thinking. What was my favorite toy from my childhood? I had a bunch of good ones. There was the G.I. Joe with the brown beard, orange jumpsuit, and manly scar on his right cheek.

That guy went everywhere and did everything, including being drug behind my bike on a rope. But still, through all that, he never revealed his secrets to his captors.

One year for Christmas I got the Airfix Super Flight Deck with Power Launcher. That' right. I was livin' the dream.

It was an aircraft carrier with a joystick with a long fishing line attached to its deck. The other end of the line was attached to a pole that clamped onto a piece of furniture across the room. You launched your plane with a rubber band-powered catapult (Warning: "THE LAUNCHING CATAPULT IS VERY POWERFUL AND SHOULD NOT BE RELEASED UNLESS THE AIRCRAFT IS IN POSITION. KEEP FINGERS AWAY FROM THE CATAPULT.")

It flew up the line, slowed and spun around, then came back down the line toward the carrier, picking up speed as it descended. You had to have a pretty steady hand on the joystick to bring it in for the perfect landing on the deck.

Probably my favorite toy was one I got on vacation when I was eight or nine. It was a plastic, battery-powered boat: a Boaterific -- the "Atlas" Harbour Tug. It came complete with a lighthouse and string.

The next day I ran down to the beach, put the lighthouse on a mound of sand, then dug a circular moat that filled with water from the lake. I watched the boat go round and round and thought that was the most fantastic thing in the world.

It had a simple rudder to turn it to port or starboard or steer dead ahead. It even had a bailer that would shoot water out of the stern. It really looked cool back home when I used the bubble bath in the tub. Alas, that sweet boat is long gone.

But it makes me think of the little stool in the corner of the bathroom of the cottage on Lake Erie where we spent one weekend every summer. It said, "The only difference between men and boys is the price of their toys."

I guess I didn't really outgrow the thrill of my boyhood. I just directed it to other places: my family, my hobbies, and my faith.

What was your favorite childhood toy? Think hard. Did you have one that stands head and shoulders above the rest? Did you have (do you still have) a collection of any kind: Matchbox cars? G.I. Joes? A train set? HO-scale slot cars?

You can enlighten us on what was cool back when you were a kid by clicking here and giving us the update.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Thoughts about the Younger Generation

When I was in my teens and twenties I got fed up hearing the older generation say, "The problem with young people today is ...."

I'll admit, some of our choices weren't all that great. In fact, many of them went straight against God's clearly revealed will. My generation (I'm at the tail end of the Boomers) really pressed the envelope on sexual promiscuity, drugs, abortion, and many other self-destructive behaviors that are drowning our culture now.

But we did some things right too.

I told myself when I grew up I would never be like that. I wouldn't talk badly about the next generation, but I would look for the value in them, what they had to contribute.

But now I find myself harboring those same thoughts and feelings -- that same animosity toward Millennials that the older generation held toward us 20 or 30 years ago. I am appalled at their rejection of absolute truth. I especially get irritated when I hear Christians espousing relative truth, especially when the Bible shows us an eternal God who never changes, and who tells us not one dot or one tittle will pass from His Law. That Law will be the basis of Jesus' judgment on the Last Day. When God says certain things are wrong and certain things are right, they just are!

I am troubled by the way Millennials celebrated the SCOTUS decision protecting gay marriage. It's like they bend over backward to not hurt someone's feelings. That's okay, I guess, but what if that someone is doing something that goes against God's ways? When you try hard not to judge or hurt someone's feelings, aren't you empowering them to continue following those moral choices that drive them further and further from God? It breeds a false sense of security that can easily keep them from repentance, faith and obedience -- hardly sounds like love to me.

What need is there for a Savior if every lifestyle is valid? Salvation is pointless if there is no sin to be saved from?

But I'm not here to write about the Millennials; I'm writing about me. I don't like the pessimism I see inside myself. Doesn't this new generation have something to offer -- a balance our generation desperately needs?

In my day, back in high school, all the kids grouped into basic categories: jocks, musicians, nerds and druggies. If you fit into one of those groups, you had a "family" of sorts. But then there were still plenty of misfit kids who fell outside those groups. The only group in my school that accepted them was the druggies; we called them "freaks." To my shame, I must admit they were often more of a family than my group of friends, who were quick to label and condemn. While the druggies would welcome the misfits with open arms, giving them a sense of worth, of belonging -- we just sat there laughing at them.

But among the Millennials I see a strong sense of acceptance for those who are different. Sure, at times I'm convinced they go too far. As a result, the impression is given that God's fine with any lifestyle, no matter what.

But then again, how did Jesus look to the respectable people of His day? When He found people who were different or struggling in error, He didn't avoid them, categorize, or condemn them. Instead, He ate meals with them and generously gave them His time, seeking to lead them to repentance and teach them about God's timeless, changeless mercy, love and forgiveness.

He loved them.

What can I learn from Millennials? I need to pray for God to give me genuine love and concern for those who are walking on a self-destructive path. I need His wisdom to confront them -- not with self-righteous hatred and pride -- but with a genuine concern and compassion for a creature of God who urgently needs the salvation Jesus offers -- the same salvation I so desperately need.

Looks like I have a lot to learn from Millennials, after all.

In this world it's easy to categorize and write off those people who are different from us or who espouse attitudes or preferences hard for us to digest. What can we do to bridge these gaps in our society? How can we convey a sense of love and concern for others, especially when they get under our skin?

It's not easy.

Any ideas you have to make cross-generational communication easier are welcome. You can share them with us by clicking here and passing them along.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Daredevils

My cousin pulled some pretty weird and stupid stunts when I was young. He'd carry a bicycle up into the hay loft in my uncle's barn, and ride through an obstacle course of hay bales and 4x4 holes that my uncle used to drop hay down through to the cattle stalls below. Then he'd pedal full speed and plunge over the edge. While the bike crashed down onto the concrete floor below, he dove for an overhead wooden beam, swinging back to the hayloft floor like nothing happened. Everybody else laughed and slapped my cousin on the back, but I always pictured his broken body, crumpled on the ground, beside the mangled bike.

We seem to be born with that daredevil spirit. Just watch kids on a playground; they soon get bored riding a merry-go-round the right way, or swinging on a swing. Sooner or later they start flinging themselves off the swing, or running inside the merry-go-round. One little trip and they could break a bone -- or get a good smack on the back of the head -- but who cares? You only live once!

A man in Orange, Texas, decided to take a nighttime swim in a private marina along a bayou in southeastern Texas. Signs were posted on the dock warning of an alligator, which had been spotted swimming around the pier. But warnings were not going to slow him down. He dismissed the sign with a curse, jumped into the water, and disappeared a few minutes later when the alligator pulled him under. His body was recovered after a few hours.

New York Giant defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul was lighting fireworks on the Fourth of July. One blew up in, or close to, his hand and injured several of his fingers. This was quite a risk to take in an offseason when he's trying to negotiate a huge contract with the Giants.

Speaking of fireworks, a 22-year-old man in Calais, Maine, thought it would be cool to launch a mortar tube from his head. His friends gathered around him and thought they had talked him out of it. Instead, they watched him ignite the firework and die instantly.

Maybe you can see a little of your own reckless spirit in these stories. If so, it might not be a bad time to stop and say a quick thank-you prayer to God and your guardian angel.

I guess that's what scientists mean when they say the risk-assessment part of our brain isn't fully formed until we're well into our 20s.

But just because we've reached or passed our mid-20s doesn't mean we stop taking big risks. We risk our health for the sake of drinking, smoking, under-exercising, overeating, and under-sleeping. We risk our financial security by under-investing in our retirement and over-spending in the present. We risk our families and marriages for the sake of Internet porn or chat rooms, messages and Internet affairs.

Even worse, we risk our eternal salvation. The stakes are massive: a wonderful, thrilling, fulfilling eternity in God's presence, or relentless agony, regret, grief, and sorrow in hell.

But it's a lot more thrilling to spend the weekend in a campground, out on a lake, on a golf course, or in some other amusement, than take an hour and sit in a pew on Sunday morning or Saturday night. Why get up early to let the Holy Spirit make us wise unto salvation through Bible study, or arm ourselves with Jesus' body and blood -- when we could be catching up on lost sleep?

Spiritual risk-taking is one of the greatest dangers we face. For Adam and Eve it was a forbidden fruit; for Israel it was their curiosity in how the nations around them worshipped other gods; for us it might be the smorgasbord of world religions that we can sample and taste for ourselves. Maybe it's paganism, nature religions, or the occult. But the end result's the same -- guilt, sorrow and profound loss -- possibly eternal.

Thank God there's still time. Jesus has taken the punishment for our failings and turned away God's wrath. As long as we draw breath, it's not too late for His Spirit to bring us back to repentance and faith. But the end is coming. It's time to grow up, assess the risks, and realize the tremendous gifts we may be on the verge of throwing away, for the sake of a cheap thrill today.

What are some stupid risks you took as a kid? What are some risky spiritual activities you see people engage in today? How can you help them recognize these risks and see the wondrous things they're missing?

Growing up, we all do silly things. Some may leave us black and blue; others may leave us in worse shape. Got anything from your Evil Knievel past you care to forget -- or brag about? If so, you can click here and give us all the gory details.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Forever in the Cloud

When we were kids we all did stupid things, said thoughtless things -- things that have long since disappeared without a trace: gone and forgotten.

Not so today.

Kids are still kids. They think, say and do stupid stuff. The trouble today is they do it on social media. They sit behind a screen, a tablet, or a cell phone -- not looking someone in the eye -- and say what's on their minds. When you feel anonymous, it's easy to be blunt, especially when the message disappears from the screen the moment you hit the "send" button.

The trouble is you can't retrieve the stuff you send, and it lurks forever in the Cloud -- that ever-expanding, offsite, out-there-somewhere, mega-warehouse for data storage.

That haunting truth came home to three guys chosen in the NBA draft last week:

Back in 2011 Bobby Portis cursed Derek Rose on Twitter; last week he was drafted by the Bulls and gets to play alongside Derek Rose.

Some time ago, Frank Kaminsky messaged that he decided to stay in college one more year because he'd rather play in front of some 17,000 Wisconsin Badgers fans, rather than end up on an NBA team like the Bobcats, which gets hardly any fans, and it looks flat-out boring. Sure enough, he was drafted by the Hornets. By the way, they were called the Bobcats when Kaminsky sent that tweet.

In May 2012, Larry Nance, Jr. tweeted, "Gee, I sure hope Kobe can keep his hands to himself in Denver this time. #Rapist" You can imagine the uproar when he was drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers and reporters found that tweet.

So, what about our kids? Have you had that talk? You know, it's the chat where you tell them that employers are increasingly asking for access to Facebook, Twitter and other social media accounts before hiring. It's the chat where you try to get them to understand there isn't an employer out there that wants a public relations nightmare from someone they've hired.

God has given your children unique gifts and talents, which He wants them to use for the benefit of society and the glory of His Name. A potentially rich and fulfilling life awaits them, that is, unless a few careless words on social media slam shut doors that otherwise would have been open to promising opportunities.

Your son's or daughter's future career options may well be at stake.

How can we help protect our kids' futures from themselves?

Do you have any insights to share on this one? This is an area where we can all use a little help. If you have something worthwhile to pass along, please click here and tell us about it.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

God's Second-Greatest Gift to Humanity

After a movie ends most people head off to the exits. Do you ever stick around to watch the credits? I started doing this after watching the Star Wars movies, after they first came out. No, I didn't stick around because I was dying of curiosity to know who the grip and the gaffer were.

I stayed because I wanted to hear that amazing movie music one last time.

From the very first scene in the movie, that incredible music caught my attention. When I heard that thrilling theme resume at the close of the movie, I had to hang around and enjoy it again -- and see who the composer was. That's the first time I became acquainted with John Williams.

Monday we lost another great movie music composer: James Horner. The two-time Oscar award- winning composer died at the age of 61 when his small plane crashed near Santa Barbara, California. The list of movies he composed music for is quite impressive: Titanic, Braveheart, Avatar, Star Trek II, An American Tail, A Beautiful Mind, Field of Dreams, Legends of the Fall, Enemy at the Gates, Aliens, Glory, and one of my favorites, Apollo 13.

The list goes on and on.

When you take a great movie and wed it with the right music, the effect is magical. The music taps into our heart and soul, stirs our emotions, and draws us into the plight of the characters on the screen before us.

Martin Luther thought highly of music as well. "Next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world." And undoubtedly recalling the great psalmist David playing the lyre to calm King Saul's tortured mind, Luther wrote, "Beautiful music is the art of the prophets that can calm the agitations of the soul; it is one of the most magnificent and delightful presents God has given us."

In my opinion, God's greatest gift to us is His Word, in which we learn of the glorious salvation Jesus won for us, and through which the Holy Spirit works saving faith in us. But I think music is His second gift, especially when the words and promises of God are set within beautiful, powerful, inspiring music.

It is that marriage between Word and music which makes Christian hymns, carols and songs come alive. Pass that music through the filter of life -- all its highs and lows, its gains and losses, its pleasures and pains -- and Christian music takes on a depth, grandeur and awe I sometimes find overwhelming. Certain hymns remind me of my dear departed mother and father; others recall joyous moments from childhood; others we chose for our wedding, but since have taken on new meaning and depth as we have passed through the years together; still others are connected to my son.

Sometimes the emotions they stir in me are too strong to control: my voice quivers, breaks and finally falls silent in prayer and adoration before my God and Father. But music always snaps me out of my earth-bound trance and draws my soul up to heaven where God's glory and radiance shimmer and shine.

What is your favorite song, carol or hymn?

You can click here and tell us about it.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Taking Responsibility

Have you ever seen the Citicorp Center in New York City? The architect, Hugh Stubbins, Jr., had a daunting challenge: how could he fit a 59-floor skyscraper onto a small plot of ground, which already hosted St. Peter's Lutheran Church, an historic edifice sitting squarely where one corner of the building was to go? Stubbins' elegant solution was to raise the new building high above the church on nine-story tall columns.

But an architect's dream is an engineer's nightmare. The architect designs the building, but the engineer has to make it work. William J. LeMessurier, the famous structural engineer, first sketched his plans on a napkin in a Greek restaurant in Cambridge. He went on to design a system of strong wind braces that would form the skeleton of the building.

The building was erected in 1977. In June of 1978 he received a random call from an architectural student. Something in the call nagged at him. He reexamined his calculations and realized the building's sensitivity to quartering winds (those that strike the corners of the building) had been miscalculated. He dug a little deeper and learned the construction team had decided to bolt the braces together rather than weld them as the design had specified; this, consequently, formed a much weaker joint.

After careful calculations, these two details led LeMessurier to conclude the weakest joint in the structure was on the 30th floor. A storm of sufficient strength would send the building down in a catastrophic collapse. But how often could New York City expect to see such a freak storm?

The engineer consulted historic weather reports for New York City. He calculated that on average, such storms struck the city every 16 years.

Now the tough question: what would you do? The building is occupied and in use, and your reputation is on the line.

LeMessurier considered several options. He could be silent -- betting people's lives against the odds. But there were too many lives at stake. He also briefly contemplated suicide, but considered that a coward's way out. He later recalled, "I had information that nobody else in the world had. I had power in my hands to affect extraordinary events that only I could initiate. I mean, 16 years to failure -- that was very simple, very clear cut. I almost said, thank you, dear Lord, for making this problem so sharply defined that there's no choice to make."

Working with other architects, the president of Citicorp, and the City of New York, he oversaw the fortification of the building over a period of several months. An impeding storm during that period nearly forced an evacuation of the entire building, which would have been a PR nightmare, but the repairs were completed without incident.

Here is a man who put the concerns of others ahead of his own. He did the right thing even though it could have cost him everything.

What is a tough decision you've had to make?

Life's full of them.

Take a minute, click here, and tell us about a difficult decision you have been faced with.