Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Rapid-Fire Judgments

Not too long ago, we asked unchurched people about the greatest barrier to going to church. Their most popular response was that "Christians are too judgmental."

Hearing that made me stop and take a good, hard look at myself. What do I think when I see someone living a different lifestyle than mine? What's my reaction to a person covered in tattoos or piercings? It might be my age, but I have to fight my gut reaction when I see someone who stands out from the conventional. I'm forced to remind myself that jewelry, tattoos, clothing, hairstyles, etc. are a matter of personal taste -- and not everyone needs to dress the way I do.

I wonder if I took a moment to sit down with that person, to look past all the surface stuff, to look him or her deep in the eye, what kind of person would I see. Isn't that what Jesus did? When other Jews saw a leper moving even vaguely in their direction, they hurled stones to drive them away; Jesus, on the other hand, walked up to them and touched them. The Judeans couldn't pass a tax collector sitting in his booth without spitting in disgust; Jesus talked and ate with them. He saw them for what they were, children of men who mattered to God.

Even when Jesus saw people who were clearly disobeying God's will like prostitutes, He acted differently. He didn't come at them in smug superiority. Instead, He came with dignity, with meekness, with kindness. After engaging them as people beloved of the Lord, He demonstrated His love and concern, forgave their sins, and sent them away with the words, "Go in peace, and sin no more."

Surely, Jesus didn't come to make people feel good about themselves and their sinful, rebellious lifestyles. If that was the case, why did He go to the cross? Why did He give His life as a ransom for sin? Why does the Bible call Him our "Savior," if there was nothing to save us from?

But that is precisely how Jesus wants to be known -- as our merciful Savior, rather than our stern Judge. When a woman was caught in the act of adultery, Jesus said, "'Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.' When they all turned and left, He asked, 'Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?' She replied, 'No one, Lord.' Then Jesus said, 'Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more'" (John 8:7b-11).

My question is how can I more closely model Jesus Christ in my life? Is it first by recognizing the sinner in me? Is it seeing how incredibly patient, gracious, and merciful my God has been to me? Is it recognizing who I am, before I start considering who others are? Or maybe it's recognizing that on the Last Day Jesus will transform every believer to His own perfect image -- forever banishing the sinful nature from us so that we can be the perfect, delightful children God created us to be -- before Adam and Eve's first act of disobedience.

How can we now, especially during the season of Lent, show God's unbound, unlimited grace to others while not neglecting the fact that Jesus came to save us from something, for something?

How do you overcome any gut instinct you may have to shun those who appear different or weird and, instead, try to connect with them, even in the smallest ways?

Your insights matter. Please click here and share your suggestions.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

I Feel Old When ...

Recently, there was a topic trending on Twitter. It was #IFeelOldWhen ....

Some of the tweets were pretty good:

#IFeelOldWhen "I still think of the 90s as ten years ago."

#IFeelOldWhen "My teenager says 'nice outfit' and rolls her eyes."

#IFeelOldWhen "I realized The Simpsons came out more than 30 years ago."

#IFeelOldWhen "I see my old friends, and they are all married with kids."

That last tweet appears to come from someone in their 20s or 30s, which makes it likely we start feeling the passage of time when we're still quite young. Elite athletes probably feel it more acutely than those of us who aren't. But eventually the relentless march of time is painfully obvious to each of us.

One tweet that struck me was from an M.D.:

#IFeelOldWhen "I get to work and all the corpses to autopsy are younger than me. Boy, does that make me sad."

We Americans go to war against time and aging, throwing billions of dollars a year into anti-aging creams and plastic surgeries, but sooner or later we all have to admit it's a losing battle. Sure, we can slow our body's aging a bit with good nutrition, rest, and exercise. And that is very good. It gives us more energy and, hopefully, healthy years to serve God by serving our family and neighbors. But ultimately when enough years roll along we too will grow frail and finally lose the battle.

"... You are dust, and to dust you shall return" (Genesis 3:19b). That's what Adam and Eve's disobedience won for all of us. But that's what makes what God has done His creation so wonderful. Jesus' perfect obedience has won for us a glorious future, even as He is risen from the dead and lives to all eternity. One day all of us who trust His great salvation and look forward to His return will stand before Him in glorious bodies of our own. It will be a perfect, immortal body that will never wear out, grow old, get sick, or die.

Now that's some worth tweeting about!

Sure, from time to time in this lifetime all of us will feel old when ... but take heart, that feeling won't last forever.

Someone once said that youth is wasted on the young. It kind of seems like it is, but that doesn't mean there are not remarkable things left for us to do -- no matter what our age. Certainly, one of the most important things is remembering we have a God who will renew these old bones when He calls His faithful home to eternity.

I like that. In fact, I'm not feeling quite so old anymore.

What does growing older meant to you?

You can click here and tell us about it.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Some Things Never Change

It's easy to get lost in the reverie of yesteryear. Everything flies at us these days at breakneck speed, and before we're anywhere near processing it, it's already old news, as in way old news.

Recently, I was looking at some snapshots going back to the 1970s. A couple were of my uncle. He was standing at the counter of Jim's Finer Foods, a neighborhood delicatessen he owned and operated with his mom on Chicago's South Side. Looking out through the front screen door of this neighborhood institution, I could see the familiar Phillips 66 gas station across the street, a few trees, and a couple passersby.

Suffice it to say, that Chicago neighborhood has undergone some changes. Like my relatives and the gas station, the store is long since gone -- leveled to make way for a two-story apartment building that is also showing its age and decay. Fifty years is a lot of water over the dam when it comes to 20th-century changes. Fifty years ago, the Vietnam War was winding down; there was a national energy crisis here (so what's new?); Saddam Hussein was gaining power in Iraq; an earthquake in Guatemala and Honduras killed 22, 000 people; and people were buying brand-new AMC Gremlins.

And 50 years from now, who knows what we're capable of -- polar ice cap condominiums? The majority of cancers wiped out with childhood vaccinations? A continent-wide water system that provides fresh H2O to every nation in Africa? You can come up with your own scenario.

The forces at work in the world often seem beyond our control. We read the headlines and what we see is too kooky to be real, too disjointed and chaotic. But then we have to pull back and remember: through it all, the Good News of Jesus continues to go forth and, even amidst the chaos, is changing lives by transforming hearts.

It's good to know that (thanks be to God) some things never change.

What do you miss from yesteryear? Is the current age with its conveniences and technology always to be preferred over times gone by?

You can let us know by clicking here and telling us about it.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Our Quest to Know

"I can't wrap my mind around that." The first time I heard that phrase it bothered me a bit. I wondered what was wrong with the good old-fashion admission: "That just doesn't make sense"? But then I thought about it and the more I did, the more I liked the whole getting my head around it idea. It visualizes the drive we have to make sense of our lives and the world we live in.

We tend not to like unsolved mysteries. Wise Solomon had it right when he wrote, "It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out" (Proverbs 25:2). Most people want to know the reason things happen, and the more unclear a matter is, the more anxious they may become until they have a feasible solution.

Sometimes that curiosity leads us to wonderful discoveries. Scientists have long searched the workings of the natural world around us. When I read of new things they have discerned about the human body, outer space, or the inner workings of molecules, I'm spellbound before the handiwork of our God and Creator.

It's not just the magnificent touch of God's hand upon the universe that can leave us awestruck, too. Sometimes our own lives -- or the lives of those around us -- experience perplexing things like sudden death, life-altering accidents, suicides, or extreme violence, of some sort. In these instances, we want to wrap our minds around something that may not be understandable -- at least not from our conventional wisdom.

In a world so vast, there are people everywhere who are daily trying to make sense of tragic events in their lives. Natural disasters, criminal acts, out-of-the-blue accidents can all impact our lives and send a shockwave to our thinking. When they do, we may ask, "Why is God treating me this way?" or "What is God trying to tell me through this?" That can be a dangerous game to play, especially when we demand an answer to our question.

The truth is we may never know why this or that happened -- or why it happened to us. Seeking answers is natural, but when no answer comes, then what? God puts our mind-wrapping quest in perspective when He says, "My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, declares the Lord" (Isaiah 55:8). This is a sobering thought ... and a liberating one, at the same time. Though we may demand answers from God to our life's circumstances, these may be answers that will never come -- at least not to our satisfaction. It is in these times that we most need to trust Him as a child trusts a loving parent.

What are some things you've tried to wrap your mind around? You can let us know by clicking here and telling us about it.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Getting Past Ourselves

Remember this Scripture? "The Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at Jesus' disciples, saying, 'Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?'" (Luke 5:30).

Last week, our men's group was wondering what this verse meant for us as followers of Jesus. What if a homeless alcoholic or a strung-out addict shows up in church next Sunday? What do we do? What happens when that person we've seen with the "spare change" sign wanders in, parking in the last row? Now what do we do?

It seems like Jesus would go right up and start talking with these people. What if we did that? Would we greet the intrusion as a golden opportunity to share a word of welcome or some other kindness? Would we get some grumbling and a few cold stares from those who don't want that kind of person in church? Would that limit our outreach? Would we not even bother?

Or what if one of us found out the two guys next door are a married gay couple? Jesus surely doesn't approve of that choice. But what would He do? Would He shun them to make it clear that they're going the wrong way? Well, we couldn't see Him doing that. We concluded He'd make their acquaintance, stand with them at the fence talking, or invite them over for a beer, and get to know them. We figured He'd work hard to go from a total stranger, with His two cents worth, to a close, trusted friend with priceless words to share.

Then someone in class brought up the instance of a buddy whose grown son is moving in with his girlfriend. The son's mom is all right with it because she loves her son and doesn't want to drive him away. One guy in class felt the mom's decision gave the impression that she condoned this. He said, "I wouldn't be able to approve that choice," but he confided that he wasn't sure if that was the right answer.

After a moment of quiet thought, we looked again at Jesus eating with the tax collectors and sinners. When Jesus associated with a sinner who was going the wrong way, like the Samaritan woman at the well (see John 4), He took time to make it clear that God has a very loving reason for forbidding certain things to us. They may be things we think harmless and innocent, but He knows their destructive potential. The bottom line: He cared too much to keep silent and watch those people bring harm and destruction on themselves, without a warning.

That started us on a discussion of the topic of living together as we examined our culture's view of it. What makes it look so attractive, and why does our culture buy into it? Someone suggested that living together seems sensible, like test driving a car. Actually, from that point of view, we agreed that it seems somewhat naïve and foolish for a couple to wait to live together until they are married. But then we stepped back to look at the heart of marriage from God's point of view. It is a man and woman's commitment to remain together no matter what: "for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death parts us." Once we put God's light on it, it was clear that living together is like learning to live in a relationship without any ultimate commitment. It's really a good way to condition ourselves for separation and divorce, instead of marriage.

Suddenly, we saw how we could change a discussion about living together away from a smug, self-righteous attack on a young couple's chosen lifestyle to a heartfelt discussion of genuine love and concern for their well-being. In our eyes, this seemed to hint at what Jesus was doing when He was eating with sinners.

Sometimes stifling the urge to say something righteous is the hardest thing to do. We all get impulses to voice our opinion, especially when we feel the ground we stand on is sure. Nonetheless, no one ever stood on surer ground than Jesus, and apparently even He was open to initiating conversations and launching friendships, even when some form of corrective admonishment might have been in order.

How about you? Do you resist the urge to be overbearing with your opinion, especially in situations where you might not know the parties that well? Do you instead look for openings where conversation might result and the beginnings of a connection can be made?

You can comment by clicking here.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Speaking to the Next Generation

Much has been said and written about male influence on the life of a boy or young man. If we're lucky, we know firsthand the positive influence men like our fathers and grandfathers have had in our early years. However, some of us grew up without a dad and, in those cases, there may have been other male mentors who took on that role. For some, it might have been an uncle, while others might have had a high school coach or even a neighbor in that position. No matter who that person was, they were ultimately instrumental in shaping our perspective on what it meant to be a man living out his various roles as husband, son, father, employee, friend, etc.

So we know the importance of boys having male role models. The question then is how can we be that person in the life of a young man without a male in his life?

As was recently pointed out to me, if you spend too much time with boys you may be looked at with some misgiving. And if you go up to children you're not related to or familiar with -- and sometimes even if you are -- you can appear to those who don't know you or the situation, with even sharper suspicion. So how can we effectively be the mentor our young men need, especially if there is no male in their life?

To that question I really don't have an answer. Every situation is different. However, there are some tried-and-true ways to be an influence in the life of a young man that shouldn't cause undue reservation.

One way is to be involved in structured, recognizable youth organizations like the Boy Scouts, Big Brother, and the like. These groups always need reliable men of good character to volunteer to be involved in the life of young men. As a scout leader or big brother, you can share your knowledge and your experience. Your life, words, and actions will also give these juniors a glimpse into what it is to be a masculine leader in today's society.

Many schools today would welcome a male to volunteer in the lives of their students. A visit to the principal's office will give you an idea of how and where you can get involved. For those active in a church, offering to teach at vacation Bible school or Sunday school are two ways you can impart your wisdom to students and enhance their lives.

The real trick to effective mentoring is to consider your strengths and put them into play. What are your aptitudes and interests? What skills or knowledge do you have that would benefit the lives of these young men growing up? How can you make a difference in the situation and circumstances of a younger generation that could learn a lot from you?

Ask around. Consult with other guys who already act as mentors. See what they have to say. There are plenty of ways to get involved and make a difference in the lives of others. You may find your particular talents, skills, and experience are just the right match for someone who's having a tough time navigating his way through the oft-times perilous waters of becoming a man.

Do you have any story (rewarding or challenging) about being a mentor you'd like to share? If so, you can let us know by clicking here and sharing your thoughts.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

That Warm Afterglow

Well, here it is, the day after Christmas. Johnny Mathis is still singing about "chestnuts roasting on an open fire"; the kids have settled into playing with their favorite toys; the world's throttled back a bit (even if the stores are humming with "returns"); and we're feeling pretty good about the year now almost gone.

Lutheran Hour Ministries has had a wonderful year of growth in the ministry resources and tools it offers congregations, Bible study groups, and individuals (both inside and outside the church). We've heard so many stories from people impacted in a positive way by the Gospel through our Project Connect and kids' booklets; the Men's NetWork WORK DAY; THRED, our new digital initiative; sermons and reflections from The Lutheran Hour; LHM Learn, our new FREE online courses; the work being done overseas in ministry centers around the world -- (our LHM-SAT-7 media partnership in Egypt, being just one example); and so many other great things.

In all this, we thank the Heavenly Father for the gift -- the inexpressible gift -- of His dearly beloved Son Jesus on Christmas morn some 2,000 years ago. It's because of Him we do what we do, and it's the reason you bless us as you do with your supporting gifts and prayers. We hope your Christmas season has been a time of joy and refreshment with your family and friends. We look forward to more connections with you throughout 2018, which will be here in a few short days.

From all of us at Lutheran Hour Ministries, may God's richest blessings be yours, and may the love and peace of the holiday season reign in your hearts throughout the coming year.

Cheers for the New Year and God bless!

Did anything extraordinary happen in your life this Christmas? You can tell us by clicking here!