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!

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

A Place for Jesus

This year's Advent devotions once again tell of the timeless story when God came to us, came down to us, fully, in human form, and joined us in this world of pain and sorrow. His birth was magnificent in its simplicity and, in keeping with Christ's humble status, was not the stuff of fanfare or spectacle. Still, His arrival has universal application and for us ~ it changes everything. Here, if you don't already receive them as a daily email or read them online, is this year's Advent devotion for Christmas Day.

TEXT: "And she gave birth to her firstborn Son and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths and laid Him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn" (Luke 2:7).

New parents spend pretty much every waking moment thinking about the place where the baby is. Is he safe? Who's holding him right now? Could he roll off that bed if I look away for a moment? Is the temperature too hot in this room? And who hasn't had the nightmare about accidentally leaving a baby at the grocery store!

We want babies to be in a safe place-all babies, our own or someone else's. But Jesus had none of that. He didn't even have a room in the inn with the other travelers (who no doubt would have been disturbed by His wails).

What He did have was an attentive mother who loved Him. She put Him in the manger to sleep-safely off the ground where He might take a chill or an animal might step on Him. No doubt she and Joseph spent the night as close as possible to that manger, guarding it with their bodies. That was Jesus' safe place.

When Jesus grew to manhood, He returned the favor-not just for Mary and Joseph, but for the entire human race. The night before His death, Jesus said to those who followed Him, "Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in Me. In My Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to Myself, that where I am you may be also" (John 14:1-3).

Jesus is our safe place. He is the One who laid down His life for us and took it up again, that He might be our Savior and our Refuge forever. He will never let go of us or forsake us, and He promises that everyone who believes in Him will be with Him forever.

That being the case, isn't this a great time to make room for Jesus in your own heart?

THE PRAYER: Dear Lord, stay with me and never leave me. Keep me always with You, now and in eternity. Amen.

Do you have any special holiday traditions you do with family or friends that are centered on the Christmas story?

If so, please send them our way by clicking here and sharing your thoughts.

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Approaching a Little Town in Judea

Recently, I passed a church with an interesting Nativity set-up. In the front yard just beyond the sidewalk were figures: Joseph was guiding a donkey, and Mary was riding on its back. A few hundred feet down the road stood the little town of Bethlehem. I thought how unique that is.

Normally, when manger scenes are set out, all the characters are in place from the start. Mary kneels at the foot of the manger, and Joseph stands behind it. The Christ Child rests on the hay. The shepherds are there, leaning on their staffs, with sheep at their feet and lambs across their shoulders. Included also are the wise men, standing or kneeling with their gifts. Camels are present with other animals too, and an angel hovers above them all. This kind of Nativity is more like a picture postcard: static, unmoving. The figures stay in position until Christmas is over, and the set is put back in storage.

But the scene I passed that morning is dynamic, breathing the very life of that first Christmas. It carries us back to a living, vibrant moment in time, the most pivotal period in all of human history. Mary and Joseph traveled down from Nazareth to Bethlehem, and Jesus traveled along with them, as He grows in Mary's womb.

The distance between Joseph and Mary and their Bethlehem destination makes me wonder what that congregation will do in the coming weeks. Will they move Mary and Joseph a little closer each day or week? Will Mary and Joseph reach the city on the 24th? Will baby Jesus be in the manger that night? Will a bright star appear over the streets of Bethlehem? Will the shepherds show up a few hours later? Will the wise men begin their travels along the sidewalk, following that guiding star?

Once again my thoughts remind me that Jesus came into this world in a definite time and place. But He didn't come to stay in that manger. He grew up and moved on -- the same way each of us passes from childhood to adulthood. And in that growing the Savior experienced first-hand what our lives are all about.

Of course, He didn't need to become human to know what it is like to live as a human on earth. As the almighty Son of God on His throne in heaven, He knew human life better than any of us. But the fact that He actually came and lived out that life changes the picture dramatically. I often find myself doing things that seem insignificant or unimportant: the endless chores, the trivial tasks to be done at work or at home. But Jesus did the same kinds of things in His life. His life gives those moments in our lives honor, dignity, and great significance.

But Jesus did one thing we can never do: He lived His life perfectly as our Substitute. And He suffered the punishment we deserve for all our failings and sins when He died in our place on the cross. The human passage of His birth, childhood, life, suffering, death, and resurrection transformed all our paths, opening for us the opportunity to live forever with our God in His glory.

Like Mary and Joseph, each of us is on a journey through life. We may be walking that path with a few close friends, or all alone. But we're never really alone; Jesus Christ travels that road with each of us.

The Christmas story is one that changes everything for each of us. What do you think about when you consider the way God entered our world, our lives, and our hearts? You can tell us by clicking here!

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

A Little Good Can Go a Long Way

I was filling up my gas tank recently when a college student approached me and asked if I had any spare cash. I immediately reached into my pockets and discovered that I really didn't have any cash. He then thanked me for looking and proceeded to the next person pumping gas.

I didn't think much more of the incident until I went to put the hose back into the pump and heard someone say, "Mom, I did ask the people here. No one has any money for me."

I looked around the pump and saw the college student who had asked me for cash; he was leaning on his car trunk talking on the phone to his mom. I waited until he hung up and approached him.

"I was wondering what's up."

"My mother called and said she needed me to come home, but I don't have enough gas there. I don't have any money. I called her and she said I should ask the people here if they could give me a few bucks to get home, but no one can help."

I told him to put the hose in his tank. I then swiped my credit card at the pump and had him fill it up.

His eyes got big and he asked, "You're sure?"

"You bet," I replied. "I was a poor college student once."

Every time I remember that day I feel good.

That is what acts of kindness do for us. They give us a helper's high. It's a rush of euphoria, which is followed by a longer period of calm, after performing a kind act. This high comes from the physical sensations and the release of the body's natural painkillers: endorphins. This initial rush then produces a longer-lasting period of improved, emotional well-being. It's all good.

Research also found that acts of kindness reduce stress, give us a sense of joy, and deaden pain.

Kindness is also contagious. Someone seeing you do an act of kindness prompts them to do one, which prompts another person, etc.

I have also been on the receiving end of acts of kindness as when a Good Samaritan shoveled the snow from my walk and driveway. That was very much appreciated.

Kindness can lead to social connections, too. If you do a favor for your neighbor, he just might want to do one for you, and pretty soon you are sharing stories, grilling recipes, and making new friends.

Doing good deeds makes us feel good, and it's not a bad deal for the other person either.

Isn't it funny how going out of our way to help somebody else (even in the slightest way sometimes) can truly change our outlook, our mood, our sense of well-being? When we do these unexpected good things, we'll probably wonder why we don't do them more. And, of course, there's no good answer to that other than we should do them more.

Got any good-deed stories you want to share -- either something you've done or something done for you? If so, you can pass them along by clicking here and sharing your thoughts.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Yah! (Yes!)

(Jesus said) "Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life." (Revelation 2:10)

A good many years ago, I was in Alaska for a Reformation Day rally.

Totally by accident, a tour which was being hosted by my brilliant Lutheran Hour predecessor and octogenarian, Dr. Oswald Hoffmann, happened to be in Anchorage at the same time. Hearing that Ossie was going to be making a presentation in the afternoon, Pam and I decided to attend.

Before Ossie took center stage, another fellow was there talking about the Reformation.

During the course of the man's rather dry remarks, I thought Ossie had fallen asleep. I was wrong. When the speaker asked, "Does anyone know what Luther's last words were?" without opening his eyes, Ossie said, "Yah." Ignoring Dr. Hoffmann, the speaker asked again, "Does anyone know what Luther's last words were?" A second time, Ossie responded, "Yah."

Appearing somewhat put out by what he considered to be an interruption, the speaker turned to Ossie and asked, "Okay, Dr. Hoffmann, just what were Luther's last words?"

For the first time Ossie opened his eyes and said, "Luther's last word was "Ja"-"Yes."

I looked it up and found Dr. Hoffmann was right. Martin Luther, the great reformer, was born in the small German town of Eisleben. Sixty-three years later, Luther returned to that town to preach. While he was there he was struck down by an illness. In great pain he called out, "O God, how I suffer!" Then he lapsed into semi-consciousness. While Luther was in that condition, a friend came to him and whispered, "Reverend Father, do you still hold to Christ and the doctrine you have preached?"

With great effort, Luther responded, "Yes!" After that, Luther went home to be with God.

In the course of his life, Luther had written more than 60,000 pages. In those pages, he had, once again, placed the Bible into the hands of the people; he had reemphasized the scriptural truth that we are saved by God's grace rather than by our actions, and he had let the world know that our just God had done everything necessary so lost souls could be saved through the sacrifice of His Son.

Today, much of Christianity celebrates the 500th anniversary of the Reformation which began the day Luther nailed his 95 debating points on the church door in Wittenberg. We give thanks to the Lord for using the writings of a humble German friar to bless us.

But as we do, we also must say that of all of his words in all the books, pamphlets, sermons, and letters Luther said and wrote, no word was more important than his last, simple, "Yah."

With that single word, Luther declined to recant that which he had so powerfully preached and proclaimed. With that word, Luther showed that when everything else is gone and there are no more tomorrows, we are saved by God-given faith in the crucified and risen Redeemer.

Is this something you also believe? I pray that you, like Luther, can say, "Yah!"

THE PRAYER: Dear Lord, we give thanks for the heroes of faith whom You have raised up. We rejoice that You took sinners and used them to accomplish Your purposes. Today I ask that the Holy Spirit touch lost hearts and let them join with Luther in his last confession of faith: "Yah. I am saved by faith alone, as shown in Scripture alone, by God's grace alone." In Jesus' Name. Amen.

On this Reformation Day, a half-millennium distant from Luther and his bold action in Wittenberg, what does this moment in history mean to you? You can share your thoughts by clicking here!

To hear today's Daily Devotion from Rev. Klaus, click here.

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Tuesday, October 17, 2017

"Build Me a Son, O Lord"

Life is often described as a long walk. To reach your ultimate goal, you need to stay on the main path. But all along the road there are enticing little trails that lead off to the wilds, and we get curious where they go. Before you know it, you can waste days, weeks, months, years -- even decades of your life -- in a winding, dead-end trail. The last thing we want to do is get to the end of our lives and realize all our work, our efforts, our life have been in vain.

During World War II, General Douglas MacArthur was Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in the Southwest Pacific. Early in the war, the Japanese crippled the American Navy in their daring attack on Pearl Harbor. That enabled the Japanese to run freely through the Pacific. The American military was overrun, and MacArthur was driven from the Philippines. As he left, he made his famous promise: "I will return."

But before he could keep that momentous promise, he had to relocate his headquarters in Australia and wait for America to rebuild its Pacific Navy. That is where he wrote the following prayer for his only son, Arthur.

"Build me a son, O Lord, who will be strong enough to know when he is weak and brave enough to face himself when he is afraid; one who will be proud and unbending in honest defeat, and humble and gentle in victory.

"Build me a son whose wishes will not take the place of deeds; a son who will know Thee -- and that to know himself is the foundation stone of knowledge.

"Lead him, I pray, not in the path of ease and comfort, but under the stress and spur of difficulties and challenge. Here let him learn to stand up in the storm; here let him learn compassion for those who fail.

"Build me a son whose heart will be clear, whose goal will be high; a son who will master himself before he seeks to master other men; one who will reach into the future, yet never forget the past.

"And after all these things are his, add, I pray, enough of a sense of humor, so that he may always be serious, yet never take himself too seriously. Give him humility, so that he may always remember the simplicity of true greatness, the open mind of true wisdom, and the weakness of true strength.

"Then I, his father will dare to whisper, 'I have not lived in vain.'"

This last line really stopped me dead in my tracks. General MacArthur is famous for keeping his promise, for leading the Marines to victory in the Philippines and across the Pacific Theater. But look at his priorities: for him raising a mature, godly son was more important than making a name for himself by his military exploits.

How do MacArthur's words ring?

Guiding and caring for another human being is a colossal task. Steering a son or daughter in ways that are good and healthy and beneficial is a full-time job with plenty of overtime. With our children, we can sometimes find -- even when we think we're being proactive in their lives -- that time just gets away from us, leaving us to feel helpless as our kids grow up right before our eyes.

We all have regrets. At the end of the day, what core idea, philosophy, belief, etc. would you like to impart to your son or daughter as they live their lives as adults?

You can share your thoughts by clicking here!