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!

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Eyes on the Prize

It was the bottom half of a seven-inning game with the score tied at 14. In steps the number-four clean-up hitter, with the bases empty and one out. Standing at 6'4" and weighing near 250 pounds, he was tops in the league in homeruns this year, with one already in this game. But we could play in a clutch, too, when necessary. In fact, we had miraculously just scored eight runs in the top half of the inning to tie the game.

This was game two in the best of five series for the Texas-based Seagoville Federal Prison softball championship. We had won all three regular season games against this opponent. But they had taken game one, 10-9, in dramatic fashion. With a loss in this game, our backs would surely be up against the wall with a do-or-die game three.

I was playing deep in left field where this power-hitter loved to pull the ball. I was a few steps away from the warning track. He was not known to hit little bloopers over the shortstop or third baseman's head, so playing him deep was a safe bet.

Pitch one was a ball. Pitch two was a perfectly lobbed ball over the center of the plate. The behemoth of a batter swung mightily. At first crack, I thought to myself, game over, a walk-off homerun. Then I saw the ball launching high in the air, and I knew it was not going to be a homerun, not even close. I needed to start running, and not just running, but sprinting, as I was playing him extremely deep, and the ball was going to land in no man's land between the shortstop and me. So I took off after the ball. My first thought was there is no way I'm going to get there. But the ball was hit so high, and I kept getting closer and closer to the ball with each stride. My shortstop was sprinting right at me, and I at him. If someone doesn't call it, I thought to myself, there could be a nasty collision. With me having the right of way, I decided to call him off, not yet knowing if I could even get to the ball.

The ball hung up, and I realized I was going to get there. I took one last glance at my shortstop to see if he had heard me calling him off, to see if he was slowing up. With that one glance, I made a critical error: I took my eyes off the ball. I needed to trust my shortstop that he would get out of the way, but I didn't. And with that split-second hesitation, the ball came barreling down on me too fast, hit the top of my glove, and bounced to the ground. Error E-7! I was humiliated and embarrassed. I don't remember the last time I missed a fly ball, especially in a championship game. There was no excuse. I had failed myself and my team.

As the story goes, the batter reached second base on the error. The next batter went for it and was forced out at second by the following batter. Two outs. Then there was another walk to load the bases, which was followed by a game-winning single. Game over. We lost 15-14 and were down two games to zero.

Unfortunately, we lost a nail-biter game three as well; we finished in second place for the season.

How many of you have ever had an experience like mine or had a child experience something like that? How many of you have ever seen professional athletes commit errors by taking their eyes off the ball? If you are a St. Louis Cardinals fan like me, you've witnessed a lot of errors this year, including missed pop flies. But it happens. No one is perfect. Committing an error does add excitement and drama to the game, however, especially in later innings. Keeping their eyes on the ball is important to both batter and fielder. It can make the difference sometimes in getting an out, making a hit, or winning or losing a game.

But there's a larger lesson here, a much larger lesson.

Keeping your eyes on Jesus is critical. He is the Author and Perfecter of our faith. To live effectively we must keep our eyes on Him. Look away from Him and we will stumble. Keep our eyes off Him for too long, and there's no telling what might happen. We should be running for Christ, not ourselves, and we must always keep Him in sight. When we face hardship and discouragement, it's easy to lose sight of the big picture. But we're not alone. There is help. Many have already made it through life, enduring far more difficult circumstances than we have experienced. Suffering is the training ground for Christian maturity, and it has a way of developing patience for ourselves and with others.

By keeping our eyes on Jesus, it makes our final victory sweet!

How's your line of sight to Jesus been lately? Anything getting in the way? What you're dealing with might be a help to others. You can share your thoughts by clicking here and dropping us a line.

Thanks to Craig Perino for sharing his thoughts.

You can find Craig's blog by clicking here.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The Wisdom of Retrospect

I came across an article by Rev. Bob Deffinbaugh. In it he discusses Adam and Eve's fall in the Garden of Eden as presented in Genesis chapter 3. He wrote,

"There is an important principle to be seen here: God desires from us the obedience of faith. Such obedience is not based upon our understanding of why we are to act as God requires, but simply because it is God who requires it.

"The obedience of faith is based on our faith in God, not on our understanding of why God calls one thing good and another evil. Parents teach their children to obey on the same basis. You cannot explain to a young child why an electrical outlet is dangerous. You can only forbid them to touch it, because you said so, and because they trust your word."

This got me thinking of my attitude toward my dad when I was growing up. As a young child I thought dad could do no wrong. I never would have dreamed of questioning his word or his advice. But that all changed when I became a teenager. Suddenly, I was so much wiser. I didn't need an old, out-of-touch man with salt-and-pepper hair telling me how to live my life. How could he possibly remember the desires racing through a young man's heart and mind? What could he possibly know about life and love in the 1970s?

Looking at my relationship to my teenage son today I realize how stupid I was back then. Back when I was his age, my dad was younger than I am right now. Yet even now with my more salt than pepper hair, I can vividly remember those same desires my son faces. I can see them, hear them, smell them, taste them, and feel them deep in my gut. They may be wrapped differently today, but they're still the same temptations young guys have faced since Cain and Abel hit their teens. I know how dangerous those innocent-looking little temptations really are -- and so did my dad.

Then I think of our Heavenly Father. I'm still acting like a teenager toward Him. I tell myself I'm so much older and wiser than I was as a teenager. But I'm still dumb enough to think I can play with those temptations God forbids and come out all right. (Was that mom or dad who said, "If you play with fire, you're going to get burned"?) I'll obey Him, but only after He explains to me why I should.

My dad wasn't perfect, of course, and I'm sure he got a few things wrong. But I can't say the same for our Heavenly Father. His knowledge and His love are perfect. He knows the soul, mind, heart, and body He created for each of us, and He knows better than anyone what is harmful and what is beneficial for us.

It's not for me to question God, to challenge Him for reasons and explanations. Mine is simply to recognize my small mind and my tiny world of experience and bow down to His all-seeing eye, to His all-knowing mind. Mine is to recognize my ignorance and over-confidence, to repent and fall before Him in shame. Mine is to recognize His fatherly love in His beloved Son Jesus Christ, to receive His open-armed forgiveness and peace. Mine is to humbly and quietly obey His Word with simple, childlike adoration and trust.

It amazes me how I make it all so much more complicated than it needs to be.

Any thoughts on this whole thing of serving God and not getting in our own way?

You can comment by clicking here.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

School's Back in Session

And for the students in your household, now come all the variables a new school year brings: making friends, learning teacher expectations, finding one's place in the social matrix, doing homework, the opposite sex and, of course, parental discipline.

Parental discipline is vital for our kids unless we are to doom them to learning everything the hard way. We've had plenty of time and experience to gain perspective. We know the heartbreak of losing that first love, the urge to satisfy our dissatisfaction with an impulsive purchase, the pressure of conforming to peers who (it turned out) didn't have a clue.

We can be sympathetic to our children because we remember, often quite vividly, the lessons we learned the hard way after refusing to listen to our parents. We also remember the stubborn streaks and the rebellion that made us butt heads with our folks, especially as we struggled through that rough transition from childhood to adulthood.

With all that hard-earned perspective, we now turn to discipline. Some learn fast; others not so much. Since each child is different and every situation unique, it's important to remember all the different tools you have to use. Sure, you have corporal punishment, but there's no need to use a hammer if a sander will do. There's always time-tested grounding, withholding of privileges, etc. I'm sure you have your own faves.

Again, remember your end goal. You want to emerge from your child's adolescence with an intact relationship. You don't get there by being their friend and not their parent. But that certainly doesn't mean you can't have good, frank discussions. When you share your own adolescent experiences with them -- your failures as well as your successes -- you help them recognize consequences and dangers they may not clearly see in the present moment.

It is also important to give your children a voice in setting house rules and punishments. Sitting together and establishing these rules will give you some insight into how they think. It will give them the invaluable experience of working through things they encounter at school, at work, on the internet, or your own neighborhood.

And we shouldn't exempt ourselves from those rules as parents either. When our actions don't match our words, the old adage rings true: "Actions speak louder than words." When we consistently live by the same rules we insist on our kids following, our words take on more meaning, more authority.

And one last thought about seeing the end goal of parental discipline: we all want our children to enjoy successful lives on earth. But far more important is their eternal destiny. Above all else, show your child what it is to live as God's child. Make worship and Bible class a priority for you as well as them. Studies have shown that a father's involvement (or lack thereof) in worship influences the worship attendance of their children even more than mom's.

Make your parenting count. The influence you have on another human being is probably never greater (or more significant) than what you can achieve in the life of your son or daughter.

What are your hard-earned insights on being a father?

You can pass them along by clicking here!

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The Best Job You'll Ever Have

Remember those jobs as a youngster when you first started to make some real money, earning a bona fide paycheck? For some of us, it was cleaning out the grease pit at a convenience store "kitchen," specializing in chicken wings, low-grade burgers, and French fries. For others, it might have been washing dishes at some local dive. For those of you loving the great outdoors, there was carrying stacks of roofing shingles up a ladder or hauling hay for some area farmer, who just might have been your dad or grandpa.

For me one of the hardest jobs I ever had was performing the exhausting repetitiveness of assembly line work, trying to keep up with the flow of experienced workers while staying focused on the task at hand.

Each of us keeps a memory tucked into the corner of our mind of the hardest jobs we ever had to do. It's good to pull that memory out once in awhile, so we can put our current job in perspective.

For example, a veteran sitting all day long in an air-conditioned office, attending boring meetings can seem like an endless grind, but it's absolutely delightful next to being yelled at by drill sergeants and endless hours of physical training.

When it comes down to it, hard jobs aren't always defined by soaring temperatures, blitzed muscles, or intolerable bosses; they can also be measured by the amount of stress produced, anxiety raised, or nightmares unleashed.

I'm good with doing most anything physical or mental; the hardest job for me involves relationships. For instance, being a husband is a daily challenge, as my role and responsibilities often change with each sunrise. And the transition from husband to father creates numerous opportunities for other hard jobs as well: changing diapers, giving baths, helping with homework, encouraging broken hearts, teaching teens to drive, and being a worthwhile role model.

In truth, my job as husband and dad rival any of the stresses I might experience in the workplace, but the payoff is by far better, and it's a role I wouldn't trade for all the air-conditioned corner offices and six-figure salaries in the world.

One reason for this are the fantastic fringe benefits that come with this "job" -- like watching my son pitch his first game, seeing my daughter nail a half gainer off the high dive, or sitting around a campfire with both of them and my wife, savoring the last few days of summer vacation before the kids head back to school in a couple of weeks.

You had hard jobs, and you've had satisfying ones as well. Drop us a line and tell us what worked for you and what didn't when it came to those early jobs. Let us know, too, how things are today.

You can do this by clicking here and dropping us a note.