Tuesday, October 6, 2015


He had only the best intentions when he went behind his daughter's back regarding his grandchildren. But his son-in-law didn't take too kindly to his interference. Now he isn't welcome in their home. For the time being his daughter still answers his phone calls. He apologizes every time, but she says they can't trust him. He's walking on egg shells -- afraid he'll say the wrong thing, do the wrong thing, look the wrong way, and the separation will become permanent, and he'll never see his grandchildren again.

He asked if I had any ideas. I gave some advice on how to slowly rebuild their trust. I told him to be careful what he said and how he acted the next time they spoke. Then he asked if I thought there was a chance the estrangement wouldn't end. From my experience I had to tell him there are times it doesn't. His face was downcast when he muttered, "I feel so helpless. There's nothing I can do."

I tried to help him step back and look at the bigger picture. I reminded him God is at work, trying to bring them back together. And even if his worst fears are realized, even if they never reconnect in this life, he can take comfort that God will bring perfect reconciliation between believers when life is over and we are together in heaven. With all barriers removed, we will live in perfect harmony and joy forever. I reminded him too that God is bringing people into their lives to bring them to faith.

Then he floored me: "I don't believe in God and all those things you are talking about. God had nothing to do with this. It was my fault, and I have to fix it." The pain and anguish in his voice really cut through me.

All I could do was say a quick, silent prayer; then I witnessed to him. I told him God is in the reconciliation business. That's why He sent His Son -- when we were estranged from Him by our sins, Jesus Christ came to save us, to restore our relationship with God our Father. Jesus even took our guilt and sin on Himself and suffered in our place to turn away God's wrath from all we do to offend Him.

But Jesus wasn't only reconciling us to God. He was reconciling us to each other. I reminded him that God would keep working on his daughter and son-in-law's heart. I encouraged him to pray and read the Bible.

He didn't seem to be feeling any better when we parted, which made me wonder, and pray, what more could I have said? What more should I have said?

Saying or doing something that can't be undone can have some major consequences in this world. Even with honorable intentions, things backfire -- sometimes with both barrels.

Have you been on either side of a family estrangement? What advice would you give if your friend was this father? How about if your friend was his daughter or son-in-law?

You can give us your thoughts on the matter by clicking here.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Life Creeps In

I follow a Twitter feed with the name "Funny School Answers." Some of the answers kids gave to questions in their homework and quizzes are very informative:

Q: There were four ghosts. Then one ghost flew away. How many ghosts are left?
A: "Zero, because ghosts are not real."

Q: Why are there rings on Saturn?
A: "Because God liked it, so He put a ring on it."
Teacher: "Saturn was not a single lady."

Q: Give a reason why people would want to live near power lines.
A: "You get your electricity faster."

Q: Who eats the most at a picnic: mosquitos or the dog?
A: "My Dad. He is chuby. He has a problum."

Apart from Saturn's rings and the electricity question, these answers show the students weren't considering these questions in a vacuum; they were weighing them against real life. It's like the old math question, "Twelve crows are on a wire and a farmer shoots three of them. How many are left on the wire?"

The mathematician says, "Nine."

But the farm kid who's seen it happen says, "Zero. Once you shoot the first one, the rest fly off."

When we share our faith with someone who has never heard of Jesus, or only vaguely knows about Him, we're not sitting in a theoretical classroom or in a vacuum. We're talking to people who already have a worldview, with their own ideas of how the system works, where it came from, and what life is all about.

Yesterday, I was driving home from work and the local talk radio station was having fun with the idea of humans and dinosaurs living together on earth. I happen to believe this did happen on account of the way Genesis 1 reads. Yet to one of these guys, in particular, that belief was of the utmost ignorance. But one after another, Christians kept calling to argue the point, and the guy got more and more convinced we were all fools.

The question that occurred to me was is this the right discussion to have with an unbeliever? I don't mind telling a Bible study group or youth confirmation class I believe in a young earth with God as its Creator. On the other hand, I'm not sure it's the most effective discussion to have with someone who takes for granted we are only here by chance, the earth is billions of years old, and there is no God.

I could well be wrong -- and please leave your comment below if you think I am -- but I find people are more open to our spiritual discussions when they touch on personal experience: i.e. the struggles they are having with life, rather than on great philosophical questions.

What type of discussions have you found particularly effective when you share your faith? What discussions have you learned to avoid?

You can let us know by clicking here and giving us your two cents.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

How Doctors Die

I came across a thought-provoking question and answer on Quora yesterday: "What are some things that doctors know, but most people don't?" Answering that question was Dr. Joanna Bisgrove, a family physician: "The most important thing that doctors know and accept that most people don't is the limits of what medicine can do."

She discussed the public's mistaken notion that we don't have to take care of ourselves; doctors can always find a pill to make us better.

Then finally she wrote, "I recently read an article about how doctors die. Usually we die quietly, without much medical intervention. We have seen too many times families who, in the grips of fear, pray for a miracle and ask us to do 'everything.' What families don't understand is that often 'everything' merely gives their extremely ill loved one a prolonged, tortured death."

During my years as a parish pastor, I had my share of death bed visits and funerals. Each of those experiences, along with the death of my own parents and other loved ones, brought me face to face with my own death, which is coming sooner or later.

That might sound morbid -- something you don't want to think about. But Jesus Christ changed all that, didn't He? By His death and resurrection He removed the sting of death. Since He took my sins on Himself and destroyed them on the cross, I don't have to fear God's judgment when I die. His short rest in the borrowed tomb reminds me that my own burial will be temporary, followed by a glorious resurrection when He returns.

And that, in turn, puts the rest of my life's goals and objectives in a sharper, clearer, healthier perspective. Possessions and things I acquire and accumulate become less important. It's the people -- and the experiences -- of this life I need to treasure as I try to squeeze as much as I can into the years God grants me on this earth.

But that reminds me of another priority, which happens to coincide with my vocation here at Lutheran Hour Ministries. It is urgent to make as many people aware of God as possible. In a world that denies God's existence, that denies a coming day of judgment, along with our eternal future in heaven or hell, it is essential that I make as many people aware as possible, beginning with my family and friends.

Maybe your vocation doesn't do that directly. Perhaps your life's work is to sustain life and help hold this fallen world together. If so, do it with all your might because it pleases God and serves your neighbor. But don't neglect the opportunity God gives you to talk to others, to make them aware of their eternal destiny, so they too can face death with confidence and peace: the peace Jesus alone can bring.

Then when that last day of life looms near and our earthly work is done, Jesus Christ will be our comfort, support, hope, strength and our eternal rest.

That day's coming for all of us. May God find us ready when it does.

Care to tell us about any choice encounters you've had with the world of medicine or the death of a loved one? If so, you can do this by clicking here and letting us know what you think.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015


When I was growing up I always admired Star Trek's Mr. Spock. I liked the way he was as strong as four men, the smartest guy in the room, and total master of his emotions. For a time I even thought he had the emotion thing right: just let cool reason bury them deep down where no one will ever find them-not even myself.

But I quickly learned that life without emotion is flat and boring. Imagine a stadium full of Vulcans watching a football game: no whooping and hollering-just the low buzz of people analyzing the last play and calculating the odds of an onside kick. Or how about sitting in a baseball stadium as the home team wins on a walk-off homerun-and the only emotional betrayal is the raising of one eyebrow. Emotions are what give life its zest and spice.

For football fans it was an exciting kick-off weekend for the NFL. There were some intriguing games with big surprises. There were also some great games where the lead changed back and forth, keeping fans on the edge of their seats.

But Spock was certainly right about one thing: emotions can easily go to extremes. If the Monday morning comments were to be believed, 16 teams are on the fast track to next year's Super Bowl (am I allowed to use that word without express permission from the NFL?), and 16 others should throw in the towel and pull for the top draft choice.

What will happen to those same fans when next weekend rolls around? How many hopes will be dashed? How many fans who are inconsolable today will be boasting about their team's fortunes after victories next weekend?

These emotional roller-coaster rides aren't only confined to sports. They extend to our relationships, our finances, our health, and nearly every other situation in life.

Many experiences and situations in life push us to emotional extremes, worry and fretting one moment, ecstatically triumphant the next. We end up insufferably proud, or intolerably gloomy.

Coaches try to teach their athletes to keep emotions in check, to not let a fast start cause them to take the opponent for granted, or let a bad one fill them with despair.

What effect do you think our emotional reactions have on our Christian witness? How can the quiet confidence of faith through Jesus' victory empower us to deliver a strong witness even when times are really bad and everything seems to be going against us?

Do you have any advice on how to keep your emotions in a healthy balance, so we can live in the peaceful, humble, confident and joyful attitude Jesus had?

In this world there's much to unsettle our faith and the confidence we know we have in Christ. How do we maintain the assurance of the victory God gives us, in the face of shifting moods and changing circumstances?

Tell us your thoughts by clicking here and letting us know what you think.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Life after Delivery

Here's an interesting thought I came across recently: in a mother's womb were two babies. One asked the other: "Do you believe in life after delivery?"

The other replied, "Why, of course. There has to be something after delivery. Maybe we are here to prepare ourselves for what we will be later."

"Nonsense," said the first. "There is no life after delivery. What kind of life would that be?"

The second said, "I don't know, but there will be more light than here. Maybe we will walk with our legs and eat from our mouths. Maybe we will have other senses that we can't understand now."

The first replied, "That is absurd. Walking is impossible. And eating with our mouths? Ridiculous! The umbilical cord supplies nutrition and everything we need. But the umbilical cord is so short. Life after delivery is to be logically excluded."

The second insisted, "Well, I think there is something and maybe it's different than it is here. Maybe we won't need this physical cord anymore."

The first replied, "Nonsense. And moreover if there is life, then why has no one ever come back from there? Delivery is the end of life, and in the after-delivery there is nothing but darkness and silence and oblivion. It takes us nowhere."

"Well, I don't know," said the second, "but certainly we will meet Mother and she will take care of us."

The first replied "Mother? You actually believe in Mother? That's laughable. If Mother exists then where is She now?"

The second said, "She is all around us. We are surrounded by her. We are of Her. It is in Her that we live. Without Her this world would not and could not exist."

Said the first: "Well, I don't see Her, so it is only logical that She doesn't exist."

To which the second replied, "Sometimes, when you're in silence and you focus and you really listen, you can perceive Her presence, and you can hear Her loving voice, calling down from above."

Útmutató a Léleknek

It makes me think of Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 15:35-57, especially verses 35-38 and 42-44:

"But someone will ask, 'How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?' You foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as He has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. ... So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body."

Life after death. The older I get the more I realize the sobering truth that one day will be my last. It's quite amazing to think that there will be a day when I am no more -- at least no more in this world. While we live we seem immune to the idea of our lives coming to a complete end, but each day here is one day less that we have.

There are many who deny a life after death. When this life is over, that's it: lights out, the curtain drops, oblivion awaits.

Or so they say.

How do you suggest Christians reply to those who claim there is no life after death?

Tell us by clicking here and sharing your thoughts.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

In Season and out of Season

Did you ever put up Christmas decorations in late November or early December when it was still unseasonably warm outside? Do you find it hard to even think about decorating for Christmas in early September? I only bring this up because earlier this summer I was writing the Advent/Christmas devotions for Lutheran Hour Ministries, and it was pretty tough getting into the Christmas spirit when the thermostat's in the high 90s.

It did help to remember I'm not the only one working out of season though. Casts from our favorite TV programs are months out of season shooting Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas episodes.

This all made me think about Paul's words to Timothy -- and to us, "Preach the Word; be ready in season and out of season" (2 Timothy 4:2a). Like wiping sweat from your brow while you're writing about baby Jesus in the manger, there are certainly times and situations where it seems odd to bring up the subject of Jesus Christ with a friend, neighbor, family member, or co-worker. Maybe it just doesn't seem natural to the flow of the conversation, or maybe you've only recently patched together a friendship with someone you value. Or it could be you're afraid the mere mention of your relationship with Christ will cause you to lose the ground you've gained, and you'll be left in an awkward silence, wishing you hadn't said anything at all.

Probably the best thing to do is to take our lead from Jesus and the way He talked to the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4. He didn't jump in with the spiritual question: "What if you died tonight?" He started by asking her for a drink of water. But once they started talking He didn't sit back and let the conversation ramble along whatever course it would take. He was intentional. He looked for connections that could easily transition over to spiritual matters. It wasn't a huge stretch to shift their conversation from bodily thirst to spiritual thirst.

I think we can learn a lesson here. Good, faithful witnessing requires us to be attentive listeners. We have to really care about the people we are talking to, really want to get to know them. When we show genuine concern for them, a door quickly opens. And we don't have to spend the whole time listening for those connections. We just ask God to open our minds to hear and notice them when they arise.

Practice is always helpful. And where better to practice than at home with our families? Or how about when we're with a group at church? During our conversations we can hone our skills at making reasonable connections between worldly matters and spiritual things.

When talking to a Christian it might seem out of season to speak about spiritual things, even more so when we're talking to a person who does not yet know Jesus Christ. After all, there never seems to be a good time, does there?

God knows our reluctance to speak to others about Him. We should remember, however, that He has empowered us to be His mouthpieces in any and every circumstance -- no matter how tall the order might appear at the time.

Knowing that doesn't make it any easier, but it does encourage us to press on, sharing the Good News, whenever we can, wherever we can.

Do you have a witness tip or two to offer?

If so, you can do this by clicking here and sharing your thoughts.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Conquering Life's Hardships

How do you handle the hardships and setbacks you encounter in life? When you fight against constant opposition, nagging problems, and frequent hindrances do you find your encouragement and optimism drying up as pessimism and spiritual exhaustion takes their place?

I thought this week's broadcast of The Lutheran Hour proved really helpful. Rev. Gregory Seltz revisited a 1931 sermon from the first Lutheran Hour Speaker, Walter A. Maier:

"Remember,--and I am speaking especially to those of you who may feel in human bitterness that God has dealt unkindly with you, you who linger on weary beds of sickness, you whose life has brought one crushed hope after another, you who live on under the blight of some consuming sorrow that gnaws away incessantly at your happiness and peace of mind ..."

Who of us hasn't been there? Who hasn't experienced dark times when we wonder where God is -- and why He isn't stepping in to help us out. Dr. Maier reminds us it is precisely in those struggles that the Lord is at work in us and for us:

"... Remember that, if God is for you through Jesus Christ, all of these thwarted purposes and shattered hopes will only promote the growth of your inner life."

Then he gives us some perspective, some encouraging perspective:

"The purest gold is the metal that has been refined in the hottest flame. Steel that is tempered in the blazing crucible gains in strength and value. The diamond must be cut and ground and polished to sparkle in its fiery radiance. And in your own spiritual lives there must be conflict and resistance to strengthen your Christian character and to bring out those qualities which mark the victorious life that lives in Jesus."

I like that -- no, not the pain and suffering -- but the reminder that God has a purpose for permitting me to go through these tough times of life. I like to think of it like a spiritual workout.

When I drag my old body to the gym for a workout, that weight and resistance is breaking down my muscles so they can rebuild to be stronger than they were. I don't always get excited about going to the gym, but I always feel better afterwards.

In the same way, life's struggles and hardships break down my spirit and drive me to our Savior -- so He can rebuild me with more spiritual strength, power, perseverance -- and perspective.

Hardships and struggles in life aren't pleasant, but with the comfort, support and encouragement of God's Word we can push through and conquer them for Jesus' sake.

Fiery are the ordeals life can put us through. Do you know of someone close who's experienced something supremely difficult and emerged on the other end better because of it? Is that someone you?

If so, take a few minutes and let us know what the situation was -- and how it helped transform -- like purifying gold -- that person into someone more equipped to handle the challenges of life.

You can do this by clicking here and sharing your thoughts.