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.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Calendar Games

Here's a riddle for you.

Last year it fell on April 20, five full days earlier than the latest day it could ever fall. This year it falls right in the middle, on April 5. Next year it will fall on March 27, five days after the earliest date it could possibly fall, which is March 22.

What is "it"?

(By the way, the last time it fell on March 22 was way back in 1818 when my great, great, grandpappy was just a baby and there were only 20 states in the Union. The next time it falls on March 22 will be 2285, when my great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great grandson will be serving on the original mission of the Starship Enterprise (under Captain Kirk, of course).

In case you're wondering, we're talking about Easter.

Did you ever wonder why Easter is a movable festival that falls on a different date every year? Blame it on the moon. More specifically, blame it on the moon-based Israelite calendar (ours is sun-based). Good Friday and Easter are always linked to the Jewish feast of Passover because that is the meal Jesus shared with His disciples in the upper room the night He was betrayed. He was the Passover Lamb who was sacrificed at the full moon when the other Passover lambs were being slaughtered for the feast.

Since Passover falls around the full moon of the first month of the Jewish calendar, Easter always falls on the first Sunday after that first full moon after the spring equinox.

The winter's last full moon fell last Thursday, March 5. If you have a clear night tonight, you'll see the moon waning, shrinking away until March 20, when it again becomes a new moon. After that it will begin growing until it is the Paschal (Passover) full moon on Saturday, April 4 -- the day before Easter.

So now you know more than you ever wanted to about the calendar games that go into determining the date for Easter.

But that brings me to the moon, which stands at the center of this. When the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit placed it in the sky, along with the sun and stars, the Lord said, "Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years" (Genesis 1:14).

That makes me wonder, as Passover drew near and Jesus knew His days were drawing short, did He lift His eyes to the "lesser light that rules the night"? Did He watch the "hour glass" go by -- knowing when His moon became full again, it would be time for the cross -- and the empty tomb?

This time of year that's what I do. Each night I look up at the moon and get a very somber feeling as I watch it wane then wax again. Because the next time it becomes full, we will remember our Savior's loving sacrifice as He laid down His life for the world. And three days later we will celebrate His glorious victory when He took up that life again on the third day -- the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox.

All this talk about the sun and the moon speaks to how God's hand and purpose is in so many things -- even things we don't ordinarily think about. We welcome your perspective on the matter. You can give it to us by clicking here.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Mind-Wrapping

"I can't wrap my mind around that." The first time I heard that phrase I was aggravated by it. I wondered what was wrong with the good old, tried and true admission: "That just doesn't make sense"? But the more I think about it, the more sense it makes. It visualizes the drive we humans feel to make sense of our lives and our world.

We don't like to pass by 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 the matter is, the more aggravated we feel, until we have a rational solution.

Sometimes that curiosity leads us to wonderful discoveries. Scientists have searched out the workings of the natural world around us. When I read of new things they have discovered about the human body, or about space, or about atoms, I'm always filled with awe and wonder at the handiwork of our God and Creator.

But then there are questions that seem destined to remain unanswered. Last week the state auditor of Missouri called the local newspaper and set up an interview for later the same afternoon. Then, less than ten minutes later, he shot himself. Soon afterward he died at the hospital. The police found no suicide note, no e-mail, no voicemail; there was no good reason why he decided to end his life. But looking at the evidence from the scene, they finally called it an "apparent suicide."

Immediately, the local paper and TV stations started scouring political ads and all sorts of things to try to figure out what triggered him to take his life. They desperately wanted to provide the reason why a person would feel compelled to take his life. But as a commentator wisely reminded us, "We are looking for a rational reason for an irrational act."

So often in life, especially in our relationship with God, that is what we are trying to do. We want to figure out why God has allowed difficulty, sorrow, loss or grief in our lives. We want to wrap our minds around something our minds aren't big enough to get wrapped around. I remember an eighth-grader in confirmation class who was bound and determined to figure out the Trinity. She wasn't satisfied with the glimpse of the three Persons in one God. She tried to shrink God down and fit Him into a nice, little box she could wrap her mind around. The trouble with that is if simple creatures like us can figure out God, He wouldn't be much of a God, would He?

I often hear people try to understand what God is doing in the events in their lives. They ask, "Why is God treating me this way?" or "What is God trying to tell me?" That's a really dangerous game to play, especially when we try to wrap our minds around things that are so complex, and we have such a limited perspective.

God put our mind-wrapping quest in perspective when He said, "My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, declares the Lord" (Isaiah 55:8). There are times when we need to put down the box, stop trying to stretch our minds, and simply trust Him like a child. Let God be God -- and praise Him that He is, and ask Him to remind us that we are not.

Humans are born to ask questions, it seems. From these we learn and navigate our way through life. What are some things you've tried to wrap your mind around? You can give us your perspective by clicking here.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Our Sense of Worth

It was a windy, autumn afternoon 23 years ago. I was raking up sycamore leaves with my dad in the backyard. He was already feeling the effects of a cancerous tumor in his left shoulder. Lightning bolts of pain streaked down his arm, making it hang useless at his side. With his good arm he pulled a lawn chair up alongside the pile I was raking together, sat down, and held out a trash bag. He held one side with his good hand. I held the other side and tried to dump the rake-full of leaves into the bag, but they tumbled down both sides of the bag, instead of going in. Dad got really frustrated and went inside.

I finished up and came in a few minutes later. I found him sitting on the stairs, crying in frustration. Now understand, my dad was German -- more like a German Vulcan. He never showed emotion. But this time he glanced up at me, shook his head, and growled, "I'm no good for anything! I can't even hold a trash bag open!"

Since that afternoon I have encountered many men who felt the same way. These are guys who spent their whole lives taking care of their home, their yard, their work, their family -- but because of sickness or age they were no longer able -- and felt utterly useless, imposing a terrible burden on their wife and family.

I especially remember Percy. He was looking out the window, shaking his head as he watched his wife, struggling with the big feed bags for the handful of cattle they still had left. He was suffering from heart disease, and the doctor told him he couldn't lift anything heavier than a pair of shoes.

We discussed how Jesus grew too weak to carry His cross, and how He received the help of a strong, young man named Simon of Cyrene. We talked about how Jesus died in weakness, but was raised in power -- just as Percy and my father's bodies will be raised in glory and power when Jesus comes again -- never to grow old, weak and frail again.

In two months we'll be holding our third annual Men's NetWork WORK DAY. Over the last two years, guys have told us how good it felt to make a difference for neighborhood widows and single mothers -- women who needed simple chores done but couldn't afford to pay for them or manage the work themselves.

But I'd also encourage you not to forget the elderly guys in your community, maybe even your next-door neighbor, who silently despises himself and feels utterly worthless because he's too frail or too sick to take care of things around the house or yard. Many such guys have things they can still do -- but only if a stronger, younger guy can give them some help first. Maybe you know a guy who can plant, cultivate and harvest a garden -- but only if someone will run a tiller through it first.

It's not too late to register for the WORK DAY. Not only will you get the satisfaction of helping someone -- just like Simon helped Jesus -- you may even get the chance to share the comfort of Jesus' suffering, death and resurrection with them.

And that would be a good thing indeed.

Any thoughts on what it means to grow older and, perhaps, less able than you used to be? If so, take a minute and share your thoughts by clicking here.

To see what the Men's NetWork WORK DAY is all about, click here to get the details.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Snow Plow

A couple days ago we finally had our first big snowfall in St. Louis. In an average winter we get a decent number of snows. By this time of year, drivers have pretty much gotten used to it. But not with this unusually late start of the season. I expected drivers to be somewhat erratic, and St. Louis did not disappoint.

On the news they showed a gang plow rolling down the highway. It is a group of snow plows spaced out across the lanes of an interstate. (If you're unfamiliar with this formation, the lead plow throws the snow from the inside lane to the middle lane; a second plow throws it to the next lane, until the last one flings it out past the shoulder.)

Sure enough, drivers weren't very happy with the speed the plows were going. Before long the camera caught a few pickups and SUVs swinging out and weaving through the gang plows. It worked for the first few, but one unlucky soul clipped his back bumper on the snow plow, and ended up in a nasty wreck.

Thankfully, neither driver was hurt.

That sort of impatience afflicts all of us. We have to get somewhere, or we want something -- now. We don't want anyone or anything slowing us down or getting in our way.

The trouble is that thinking is short-sighted. Whatever destination that driver couldn't wait to get to would now take even longer to get to. Impatience and foolhardiness won out over patiently falling in behind the plows, and biding his time. Instead, he got a much longer delay, as well as the extra time, expense and hassle of getting his car repaired.

Had he been the only one affected by his impatience that would have been one thing. But he wasn't the only one. The cars behind those plows suddenly found themselves stopped, and those coming up on the scene could now enjoy a long traffic jam. Even worse, the snow plow was out of operation for a few hours, time that could have been spent clearing off roadways -- all this because one driver couldn't wait for the plows.

I remember getting caught in a freezing rain more than 20 years ago. It was a nerve-wracking drive, crawling around every curve and hill, trying to stay on the road. Then I saw flashing yellow lights up ahead and chemically treated pavement. The treacherous sheet of ice was replaced by sweet, wet roadway. And no, the plow wasn't travelling at highway speeds, but that was perfectly fine. Had I grown impatient and tried to pass him I would have been right back in that ice again. It felt incredibly comforting to stay behind him.

This Wednesday we begin the season of Lent, a time when we fall in behind Jesus and walk with Him to the cross. It is a somber, difficult path, one that calls for a lot of soul-searching and sorrow over our sins. It can seem long at times, but there is no better road to travel. In the end, the joy of traveling in His company -- safe in His resurrection victory -- is the only way to go.

We've all jumped the gun and regretted it later. If you've got a story to share we can learn from, click here and illumine us.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Coachability

I was listening to a sports show on my way into work on Monday. They were discussing the legacy of legendary University of North Carolina basketball coach Dean Smith. One of the things that struck me was his personally typed letter to his star player Michael Jordan. Jordan had just finished his sophomore season and was widely recognized as one of the most-skilled collegiate players. Coach Smith wrote the following to him:

Dear Michael:

I am writing to list areas of basketball on which you should seek improvement this summer. In our last conversation in the office, we discussed these but thought it would be best to put them down in writing.

1. Shoot the ball the same way each time, the same arc.

2. Get your ritual on the foul shot: up on toes and extending. Don't fade back with your body.

3. In pick-up games, try to be a point guard, working on your dribbling and starting the ball low. Also, try to have more assists than turnovers.

4. Work on quick ball fakes and then bounce pass inside.

5. Work on busting out on the dribble from a rebound and making the play from the other end.

6. Continue work on the correct pivot foot.

7. Defensively keep working on the habits you now have and you will get even better.

8. Don't always reach for the ball but contain your man. You can't steal the ball all the time!

Michael, if you do improve on these items we mentioned, you will be a much better basketball player and, consequently, our team should be better and have a chance to win it all in Seattle next year. In your daydreaming, picture us winning it all in Seattle!

Warmest regards.

These days I'm not sure how many coaches could get away with talking to their star player this way, even more once a player has turned pro. I looked back at Dean Smith's college basketball career: he played for a national championship team, but spent the vast majority of the tournament on the bench. Michael Jordan could have blown off the suggestions of a coach who wasn't as physically talented as he was, but Jordan was humble enough to be coachable. His attention to these details transformed a great NBA career to an exceptional one.

It's tough to be coachable. We have to swallow that arrogant pride that says, "Don't lecture me. I know it all." It's doubly tough when that counsel comes from unexpected people -- sometimes even our own children or grandchildren. But no matter where it comes from, good advice is good advice.

Of course, we have the greatest "coach" of all in God. He cared enough to send His Son; He gives us His Spirit and a whole Book to coach us through life. The question is, are we humble enough to live by His teachings?

Have you had an influential coach in your life -- somebody who gave you advice so good it's still making a difference in your life today?

If so, let us know by clicking here and sharing your thoughts.