Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Of Caps and Gowns

It's graduation time again. Millions of young men and women are donning the cap and gown to celebrate finishing high school and college and the open road that leads to their futures. That road can seem like either a boundless horizon or a terrifying step into the unknown. One of those grads is my son, so I've been thinking of the doorway that stands open before him -- and the millions of others out there on that same threshold.

Finally, all that hard work on class papers, readings, projects, and tests will have paid off. But while you were busy jumping through all those hoops to earn your diploma, God was hard at work too. He has lined up all kinds of people, situations and opportunities through which He will keep you close to His side. From there He will guide you to the vocation that will be most satisfying and meaningful for you in the years and decades to come.

In the coming days He will bring some amazing people into your life; just be wise enough to listen to them and learn from them. Now that doesn't mean you should automatically accept everything they tell you. You need to weigh their advice alongside what God tells you through daily Bible reading and regular church attendance.

Yes, God's been hard at work, but (no surprise here) so has Satan. He's especially excited about your newfound freedom and independence. He's trying to catch your eye with those things your parents wouldn't let you do -- things they warned you against. He's laid out some attractive temptations that will play on your pride, vanity and sinful desires.

But your Lord Jesus has been through all that before. Remember, He was once young like you. But He knows those temptations for what they really are: minefields. Step in the wrong place and you'll be living with hurt and regret, and maybe even some closed doors for the rest of your earthly life.

In other words, proceed with measured caution.

The great thing is Jesus is going along with you, ready to guide you with His Word. His Ten Commandments are like a map to navigate that minefield. They clue you in on temptations to avoid, and make clear the path that will keep those complications and their explosive shrapnel out of your path. Even when you do fail -- and you will, we all do -- He'll be right there by your side to forgive you, cleanse you, get you back up on your feet again, and set you on your way.

Sure, it will be tempting to stand on your own, making your own way, doing it your way. But do you want your life to be satisfying? Meaningful? Impactful? If so, then seek to walk with Christ. Stay alongside Him, and you will move mountains together.

What advice would you have for a new high school or college graduate? Please take a moment and click here to share your wisdom and guidance with those at this critical juncture in their lives.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Dark Side of May 4th

Last Monday, Star Wars lovers among us got a chuckle with the date, "MAY THE 4TH BE WITH YOU." Unfortunately, that joke cost a man and woman dearly.

It started when the man was walking through a shopping center in Melbourne, Australia. He saw a Darth Vader cut-out poster that said, "MAY THE 4TH BE WITH YOU." Thinking of his children who were Star Wars fans, he decided to take his first selfie in front of the poster, and send it to them.

While he was standing there getting his phone ready, he noticed a couple of children walking up to the poster. He told them if they wanted to take a photo there, he would only be a minute. Their mother noticed this stranger talking to her children, took his photo, and posted the following on Facebook:

"Ok people, take a look at this creep. Today at Knox he approached my children when they were sitting at the frozen movie in the children's clothing section, he said "hey kids" they looked up and he took a photo, then he said I'm sending this to a 16 yr old. I immediately removed the kids from that area and took them to security at the front so I then followed them and took his picture and he took off. Centre management were straight onto and so are the police, hopefully he is caught. Police said if he is a registered sex offender he will be charged, this happened at Knox, be safe with your kids"

That's when social media did its thing. Faster than wildfire, her post was shared more than 20,000 times, and the innocent man started getting nasty phone calls during a meeting at work. His co-workers noticed his picture was being shared on Facebook. He went straight to police, and they cleared his name. They contacted the mother who, with deep humiliation and embarrassment, quickly corrected her post. Soon she found herself in the innocent dad's shoes -- receiving death threats over social media for her "stupid mistake."

Both this father and this mother are urging people not to spread stories over social media that have not been investigated by police, or reported by a reputable news agency that verifies facts before publishing stories.

It's easy to get hurt and offended by things other people do or say (or leave undone or unsaid.) It's tempting to vent through the social media world. But what if we simply misunderstood or misjudged the other person's motives, without knowing what was going on in their minds?

God gave us the Eighth Commandment to protect each other's reputations so we would give the person the benefit of the doubt first or speak directly with the other person first before letting rumors fly. Doing this keeps the matter between you and him/her alone.

As the saying goes, a reputation is easily ruined, and difficult to repair.

It's good to remember to use social media the same way we use every other word we speak: with special care and attention, even when we're deciding whether to "like" or share something we received from someone else.

Have you seen, or been the victim of, this kind of social media misunderstanding? Is there something you can convey to Men's NetWork readers that might give them a "heads-up" on how social media can go seriously wrong?

If so, you can click here to give us your perspective.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Sensitivity Training

Carolyn Hax is an advice columnist. She had a beaut of a letter this week: "A mother-in-law won't take 'no' for an answer." It was submitted by a woman whose married son, daughter-in-law, and grandson live eight hours away. Her husband wanted to celebrate his birthday by taking his son hiking to reconnect over a long weekend. His son's wife gave her blessing and planned to stay at home alone with the sixteen-month-old grandson.

That's when the troubles began. Mother-in-law didn't want to spend the weekend alone, so she offered to ride along with her husband. This would give her the weekend with her daughter-in-law and grandson. The daughter-in-law had already given several reasons why that would not be a good idea. But thinking she could easily resolve those problems, the mother-in-law came along with her husband without first okaying it with her daughter-in-law.

Needless to say, when mother-in-law showed up at the front door, daughter-in-law and son were furious. Father-in-law was pretty ticked off too, having been under the impression his wife had worked everything out to their daughter-in-law's satisfaction ahead of time. The daughter-in-law allowed her to stay the weekend, but was pretty distant and cold.

The mother-in-law asked, "What exactly did I do that was so bad? How do I remedy a situation when I don't know exactly what the issue is? I don't want to be 'that' mother-in-law."

I liked Carolyn's answer. She didn't mince words or beat around the bush. "The issue is that you showed complete disregard for your daughter-in-law's wishes because you wanted to visit ... Regardless of the specifics on her end, you decided that your wants and needs were paramount and just steamrolled her wants and needs completely. You still seem confused that she has needs. And that is what you have to apologize for, fully, immediately and without defensiveness, which means no "but I thought ..." constructions.

Life gets messy when we don't take the time to listen -- really listen -- to each other.

Carolyn concluded her response with another thought: "I think you have to go beyond an apology and offer to make it up to her somehow."

Have you been caught in the middle between your mother and your wife, or between your wife and your daughter-in-law? It's not a good place to be, is it?

How would you suggest she make it up?

You can click here to give us your insights to this prickly issue.

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.