Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Busted

I enjoy reading Quora on the Internet. In case you aren't familiar with it, it starts with a reader submitting a question. Answers are submitted from members of the Quora community, and then readers vote on those answers to select the one they like the most. Quora is at its best when people who are specialists answer the questions. For example, to the question, "What is it like to live in the International Space Station?" The best answers come from astronauts who have been there.

I was intrigued by a question I came across a few weeks back: "How do professors know if you plagiarized or not and what tools do they use?"

The top-voted answer was tremendous: "So far this week, using what appears to be your real name, you have asked the following questions:

1. 'I have a 3,000 word paper due real soon, but I haven't started on it. What are some tips to help me finish it faster?'

2. 'What is the best website to have an essay done for you and all you have to do is pay a certain amount?'

3. 'I have a 3,000 word research paper due in a few days and writing is one of my weaknesses. What tools or suggestions can I use to help me write my paper?'

4. 'What is one good 3,000+ research paper on bipolar disorder that I can see as a reference?'

5. 'How do professors know if you plagiarized or not and what tools do they use?'

"I think it is safe to say that, at this point, any professor who suspects you of plagiarism will be able to confirm it with a quick Google search of your name."

Oh, yes. I remember those good, old college days and the scramble to complete assignments. But years later I still look for shortcuts sometimes, even when I know grinding it out is the best thing. After all, there is no satisfaction quite like seeing something through to the end. You know what I'm talking about. It's when that light comes on in your mind and everything clicks, and you've finally figured something out.

What amazes me is how well Jesus understood this desire just to be done with something that seems to be taking forever. In Luke 12 He confided to His disciples how eager He was to get on with His crucifixion, "I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is My distress until it is accomplished!" (Luke 12:50).

But Jesus didn't cheat or take shortcuts. He waited for His Father's time, being sure to accomplish every other task His Father had prepared for Him to do. Each healing, each message, each footstep along the way to Jerusalem, He waited, patiently, in the Father's good time.

Still, sometimes life seems tedious and boring. Sometimes the work is hard. But Jesus' toil, dedication, concentration and victory is our victory. He did everything necessary to make us right with God. So we can pause, take a deep breath, set our minds with a quick prayer, and dive right back into it again.

Then in the end, we can rest assured that for Jesus' sake we will hear, "Well done, good and faithful servant!"

It would appear shortcuts and maturing as Christ-centered men would have little to do with each other.

Any thoughts on the matter?

You can click here to reply.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Happy Earth Day!

This Wednesday is Earth Day. For years I was never very fond of this particular day. Not that I dislike the earth or anything, I was just turned off by the people who treated the earth as a goddess rather than a gift. I'm talking about people who stood in the forest hugging tree trunks and wailing for their departed brothers and sisters, which had been cut down; people who considered humans an invasive species that didn't belong on the surface of the earth; people who wanted to shut down every business that harvested the earth's resources -- especially the lumber industry.

Then a few years ago I took a creation course at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, under Dr. Charles Arand, and I realized I had thrown the baby out with the bath water. He reminded us that the earth is God's good creation -- and there is absolutely nothing wrong with God's people setting aside one day each year to give Him praise and thanks for our earthly home.

Besides that, God's charge to Adam was to tend and keep the garden of Eden. And even after he and his wife disobeyed God's command and were expelled from the garden, Adam's work was still intimately connected with the earth, "Therefore, the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken" (Genesis 3:23).

Two of my uncles carried on Adam's work throughout their lives, raising crops in central Ohio. When I got married I began following in their footsteps planting flower beds and working a garden. I personally experienced Adam's sweat of the brow, and saw the toil of working the hard clay in our part of Missouri. But I also had the tremendous satisfaction of watching the echo of God's command ring forth as my little patch of earth sprung to life with beautiful flowers and abundant vegetables.

This planet God has given us is a beautiful place, despite the fact it is broken because of our sinful fall. It's especially fine here in the springtime as trees are filling out, grass is growing like crazy, and all the great outdoor activities are getting underway: camping, fishing and boating. Soon the waters will be warm enough for swimming.

On this Earth Day I am reminded of the obligation God has placed on all humanity to care for the earth and all our fellow non-human creatures that surround us. That doesn't mean I'm opposed to fishing and hunting. It's just that we should use this earth and its creatures in responsible ways that honor our generous Creator who put them here for us.

On Earth Day it is fitting to go back to Martin Luther's explanation to the First Article of the Apostles' Creed and consider this planet as one of the gifts God has given us and all people -- along with our bodies and souls, eyes, ears, and all our members, our reason and all our senses. And that He still preserves them.

With the earth and all its creatures, let us praise our generous Creator: "Praise God from whom all blessings flow, praise Him all creatures here below, praise Him above, ye heavenly host. Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen."

What's your take on Earth Day? You can let us know by clicking here and leaving a comment.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Maybe This Is the Year

My family is an NHL family. For me, the NFL and NHL are neck to neck -- but for the rest of my family it's the NHL hands down. So for us, it's just about the best time of year, as the NHL playoffs start Wednesday, and our team has a really good shot to go all the way.

Actually, this is one of those times of the year when sports are at their peak. NHL and NBA playoffs are starting or just around the corner; Draft Day is rapidly approaching for the NFL, and MLB has got another season underway.

I'm always intrigued by the place professional sports have in our lives. It's one of the few things that can pull tens of thousands of people together behind a common objective.

Each year -- or at least most years -- hope springs eternal. Maybe this is the year when our team goes all the way.

Name something else we're as passionate about -- whooping and hollering, laughing and shouting or -- when the bottom drops out -- cut to the heart. Few things move us like the power of sports.

And this might be the year when your team takes it all the way, and brings home the championship. That's happened a few times in St. Louis. The Rams were Super Bowl champs; the Cardinals have been World Series champs many times. I remember being ecstatically happy over sporting events -- but it was kind of like a "sugar high." It provides a quick pick-up, and then a sudden crash. In a few months the offseason is over and next season rolls around. Then it doesn't matter what happened last season, we start from scratch all over again.

Sports are a great pastime. They add a lot of zest and passion to life. But so many of the things we really look forward to in this life are just like that. Maybe you were the star jock, or musician, or actor in high school. But you go back three or four years later, and it's not your place anymore; nobody can remember your name. It seems like the winds of time blow over us, and we wither and fly away. In the end, our place "remembers us no more" (see Psalm 103).

So, yes, I'm going to enjoy this NHL post-season and hope my team passes around Lord Stanley's cup in a few weeks. But that glory is fleeting, just as it is for every team that hoists the Lombardi Trophy, the Larry O'Brien Trophy, the Commissioner's Trophy, or even the Thomas Cup.

What we really should take delight in is the contest that Jesus Christ won for us. Every one of us stood as spectators on the sidelines. He was the only One qualified to compete. And He went out and won the prize. But He didn't win it for Himself.

He won it for us.

Of course, it's the crown of everlasting life. And to win it, He sacrificed His body; He gave His blood, sweat and tears. But when He was dying on the cross and it looked like the contest was lost, He snatched victory from seeming defeat, and completely overwhelmed Satan, sin, death and hell. And unlike sports where a new victor is crowned every season, this is a victory we rejoice in year after year. It's a triumph we will celebrate throughout all eternity in heaven, and all because of our Champion, Jesus Christ, God's only Son.

Now that's something to get excited about!

Without Googling it-can you guess which sport boasts the Thomas Cup?

How do sports figure into your life? What is it that gets you amped up year after year?

You can let us know by clicking here and sharing your thoughts.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Where Did Easter Go?

Well, it didn't take me long to fall back to earth after this weekend's glorious celebration of our Lord Jesus' resurrection.

My family is in the midst of a barrage of changes and a whole lot of unknowns. We were hoping an internship would turn into full-time employment, but it fell through and next Thursday we'll be facing unemployment again. In May our son graduates from high school, in July our lease is up and we have to find somewhere to rent -- yet again. The month after that we'll be moving our son into college.

It feels like the dark clouds of Lent have rolled back in to obscure those high and glorious Easter moments. I'm finding myself back in Maundy Thursday's Garden praying beside Jesus, "Abba, Father, take this cup away ...."

What really bothers me is that I should know better than to let this stuff bother me. It isn't like this is the first time we've found ourselves in a situation like this.

Besides, I know many of you are facing far worse situations today and in the coming months. And then there's the horrific slaughter of our Christian brothers and sisters in Africa and the Middle East for their faith.

So why is this bothering me so much? I know God's hand isn't shortened. If He cared enough to give His Son to death for us, and had the power to raise Him from the dead, He can surely see us through these setbacks and uncertainties. But Satan is really pressing hard, and I feel too discouraged and overwhelmed to see a clear path through the next several months.

So forgive me if I start talking to myself in this blog -- if I make it a kind of spiritual pep talk.

My Lord's resurrection really means something. The Crucified and Risen One is standing at my side. He has taken away my guilt and condemnation; He has promised to provide all my family's needs and guide our feet along the right path. I know that my Redeemer lives, and that He is at the Father's right hand interceding for us. And when God the Father looks at those nail marks in His hands and feet, how can I possibly think He will just cast us aside?

And another thing, because Jesus died and rose again and ascended into heaven, He has sent the Comforter to us. The Holy Spirit lives in our hearts, also interceding for us. We may have no clue which direction to turn, but that's not true of the Holy Spirit. He is God, He knows what is best for us. He reassures us of God's love, soothes our fears, and intercedes with God the Father to provide for our needs and glorify His Name through us.

Jesus' resurrection reminds me of my sainted father's favorite hymn, "For All the Saints." As I picture Jesus on His throne, I remember my mom and dad and countless other saints thronging around Him in Paradise,

Oh, blest communion, fellowship divine! We feebly struggle, they in glory shine; Yet all are one in Thee, for all are Thine, Alleluia!

And when the fight is fierce, the warfare long, Steals on the ear the distant triumph song, And hearts are brave again, and arms are strong. Alleluia.

Jesus' bitter death and glorious resurrection reminds me that nothing in this life is permanent. I too will die one day, and rise again in eternal glory. So what do today's troubles mean? In the end Jesus will bring us to His home where everything will be perfect forever. In the meantime, He has promised He will never leave us nor forsake us.

Thanks for indulging my little pep talk; it helped. But don't be surprised if you find me face down in the Garden wrestling with Jesus in prayer. The cross comes before the empty tomb.

Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

How do the days ahead look for you? Are there struggles you're anticipating? Are there strategies you're implementing to ward off pending problems?

You can let us know by clicking here.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

When the End Is in Sight

As I go through Holy Week I like to stop from time to time and think what Jesus was doing at this particular time during His final week on earth. I do this because the story of my life is directly connected to the story of Jesus' life -- as is your story and that of all people everywhere.

So, what was He doing on Tuesday night of Holy Week? Tuesday was a very public day for Jesus. In fact, no other day of Jesus' life is covered more than Tuesday of Holy Week in Matthew, Mark and Luke. On that day Jesus taught in the temple courts and faced great pressure from the Jewish religious authorities. When that day finally drew to a close in the late afternoon, Jesus' public ministry was complete. John writes, "When Jesus had said these things, He departed and hid Himself from them" (John 12:36b).

The Gospels fall silent about Jesus' words or actions Tuesday night, through all of Wednesday. Their silence is unbroken until early on Thursday, when Jesus sends two disciples to prepare the Upper Room for His Last Supper.

So what did Jesus do today? Did He spend time alone, contemplating the drama that was about to unfold? Did He spend those final hours with His disciples and close friends, knowing just how short the time was left for Him to be with them?

I've got my own guess, but that's all it is. I'm guessing Jesus spent His last hours with His loved ones, but I could be wrong. After all, Jesus often spent entire nights in solitude, praying with His Father. I wouldn't be surprised if He needed more than those grueling hours in the Garden of Gethsemane to commune.

But either way, it's clear Jesus didn't just think about His coming death, He also thought beyond, to His rest in Paradise and His glorious resurrection on the third day. After all, on the cross He spoke to the repentant criminal at His side: "And He said to Him, 'Truly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise'" (Luke 23:43). Jesus wasn't just offering a comforting promise to the thief; He was reminding Himself that before that day was out He would be in His Father's presence in Paradise.

All of this makes me think of my own life -- and the fleeting time God has provided me. It raises the question, what would I do if I knew I only had two more days on this earth before God called me home in death? What things would I want to be sure to do before that final hour? What would you want to do? And since none of us knows when that final day will be, why should we wait to be right with God through confession and faith? Why would we want to wait to assure our loved ones of our forgiveness and love?

"Time waits for no man," as the saying goes. What do you hope to get done before the final buzzer on your life sounds?

You can share your thoughts by clicking here.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Moving On

How do you handle the big regrets in your life? You know, these are the things that make you flush with embarrassment, or sweat with regret, the memories that keep you from sleeping -- or wake you up in the middle of the night?

Do you try to forget them? Can you put them behind you?

That is a question posed to Seattle Seahawks' Coach Pete Carroll about the pass-play he called during the Super Bowl when his team was on the one-yard line. That decision resulted in the New England interception and a lost Super Bowl. That happened nearly two months ago. Has he been able to put it behind him?

Carroll said, "Those kinds of occurrences? They don't go away. They don't go away. You just put them somewhere so you can manage them properly. It's back there."

We all know that's true -- especially the bad decisions, hurtful words, or stupid, thoughtless actions in our past that had devastating consequences -- many of which are far worse than losing a Super Bowl. What about destroying your marriage, alienating your kids, throwing away your dream career?

I would suppose most people try to forget, move past it, blot it out of their memory, especially when the mere memory haunts us with guilt, grief and self-loathing. Some try to drown it in booze or bury it in drugs or sex.

If only we could erase it from our memories. Or course, God can do that; He can blot the memory of our sins from His mind and completely forget they ever happened. But we humans can't do that. At the oddest times those memories come flooding back, along with all the angst and terror they caused originally.

So what's the answer?

There is only one.

It's the cross of Jesus Christ. When that sin plagues and oppresses us, we need to go back to the cross to see that sin on Jesus' shoulders. We need to see our Savior Jesus Christ paying its price in our place. We need to see it burned up in His great sacrifice and left in the tomb. As a result, it loses its power over us because Jesus has conquered it.

The past can be a gnarly place to return to. What do you do when sins long gone and dead rear their ugly heads and unsettle you? You can let us know by clicking here and sharing your thoughts.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

A Couple of Fish Stories

The Little Darby creek ran along the border of my uncle's farm. It ran high in the springtime, especially when we pushed the rowboat off the rocky bank and Dad took us past the bend. There was always the anticipation of wondering what wonders lay around the next bend.

It was an aging, green rowboat. By the time I was old enough to take it out myself, the paint was faded, it was all dented up, and it had a gray patch in the bottom. But to me it was magical -- like I was in a center console fishing boat, heading off the coast to fish for marlin.

One July weekend I took it out with my cousin, and we headed upstream. We had gone what seemed like ten miles (but probably closer to a half mile) into a part of the creek I'd never seen before. The creek broadened out and looked like it got a lot deeper.

Suddenly, a strong jolt completely disoriented me. Water splashed on my face, and I heard a loud clunk in the bottom of the boat. A strong vibration broke out across the hull, which I thought was the boat dragging across a rock. I was just about to call for all hands to abandon ship when the fog cleared and I realized what had happened.

A large fish had jumped into our boat.

I talked it over with my cousin. We knew no one would ever believe us if we threw it back. Besides, who wanted to touch the thing? It was gigantic. Instead, we spun around and headed back. I didn't have to worry about the rowboat not having a live well because my skill with the oars always ended up putting five or six inches of water in the bottom of the boat.

Everyone was amazed, and my uncle wrapped it in aluminum foil and cooked it over the campfire that night.

A few years later, my family started spending a weekend each summer up at Lake Erie. I can still vividly remember sitting on the dock with my feet dangling above the water (except on those rare days when the wind was blowing from the north; then the water level would rise, and I could reach the surface with my toes).

I'll never forget the day I tossed in my line, and I immediately got a bite. I set the hook and felt a weight on the line, but no fight. I reeled the line in, thinking I had snared a chunk of rotten wood, or a plant. But to my surprise, at the end of the line hung a medium-sized bluegill. It was absolutely lifeless. Of course, I had the grown-ups take it off the hook. I asked what had happened to it. On closer inspection Dad noticed the hook had caught the fish from the side of its head, and apparently killed it instantly when I set the hook.

The sun was hot and the wooden boards that made up the dock weren't all that comfortable, but I'd go back there in a minute if I could. My brothers and our neighbors' kids enjoyed a nice, little competition. It was the laughter and being with good friends and family in such a magical place that made the experience so memorable.

You may ask, why the fish stories? It's because our annual Men's NetWork North American Fishing Tournament is right around the corner. In fact, registration is now open. In past years the tournaments have focused on the fish, but that's never the most memorable fishing experience. It's when you go out with your brothers, or cousins, your kids, or grandkids, the guys from work, or your neighbors. It's the people you go fishing with that are the real gems, and the moments spent together are the memories that last a lifetime.

And there's more. Jesus came upon two sets of brothers (Peter and Andrew and James and John) when they were fishing. He told them, "Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men" (Matthew 4:19). That is what Jesus calls each of us to do. We are to go fishing for men. And that starts with spending time together, building relationships and -- in the context of that relationship -- sharing the reason for our hope in Jesus Christ. Sometimes the best way to go fishing FOR men is to go fishing WITH them.

This year we will encourage and even reward tournament contestants who do that. Get registered and go fishing, but by all means take someone along. Take pictures, and tell us your story: who you invited, where you went, what you experienced together. Believe me, other guys will like hearing your tales, and they may become encouraged to start fishing for men too.

This year's angle on fishing is a little different. We welcome your perspective on the matter. You can share your thoughts by clicking here.