Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Time Is Here

This coming weekend Lutheran Hour Ministries and the Int'l Lutheran Laymen's League kick off a yearlong celebration honoring 100 years of Gospel outreach throughout North and South America and around the world. Festivities take place this Friday evening to Sunday morning, October 21-23, at Union Station in downtown St. Louis, Missouri. Bringing Christ to the Nations and the Nations to the Church has been the theme of LHM's work for years, and by God's abundant grace we've been able to connect with people far and wide, taking His message of love and salvation to a world bound in sin and in need of a Savior.

To highlight the impact LHM has had on others, a few comments from those using our resources is in order. For instance, we released an illustrated children's booklet of rhymes that relates to kids who Jesus is. It's been a big hit. The booklet is entitled Do You Know Who Jesus Is? Here's a note from a church that ordered 350 of them this month.

"These were purchased to use in layettes that will be donated to a local hospital as well as 'bags' that are provided to children who are brought to a local shelter for children in crisis. The bags contain personal hygiene items, as well as 'comfort' items the children can keep, so they have something of their own, especially since they are often removed from their homes with only the clothes they're wearing. We've looked at several places for books to put in the bags and to add to the layettes that are given away. Unfortunately, most books are so expensive they're cost prohibitive to include them in the multiple bags/layettes we provide. Your books really help. Do you happen to have others that might be appropriate? We would love to have something written for toddler-age children!"

And this from a woman who ordered 125 of the same booklet,

"Our grandchildren like it so much we thought we would give one to all their cousins for Christmas, even though we aren't Lutheran. Then I thought about all the children that trick or treat in our subdivision, so I ordered them to hand out with the candy. We pray our Lord will anoint these booklets, so the children in the neighborhood will come to know Jesus and His love for them."

Here's one of many comments we receive on our Daily Devotions, written for years by Rev. Ken Klaus, Speaker Emeritus for The Lutheran Hour.

"I just wanted to say how thankful I am for Pastor Klaus' daily message. Each message talks about Jesus. How beautiful! Although I am not Lutheran, I am a child of Jesus Christ. And for that I am thankful. I thank our Lord and Savior for using Pastor Klaus in such a way to take everyday things and apply them to what is important: our salvation."

There was this comment on GodConnects, a set of 12 videos that explain the chief doctrines of the Christian faith and includes accompanying discussion points and related Scriptures for study. It's hosted by Rev. Dr. Gregory Seltz, the Speaker for The Lutheran Hour.

"I wanted to commend you on the great study, GodConnects. We are using it for our adult vacation Bible school at our church and neighboring Lutheran retirement community, which is Concordia Senior Living in Oklahoma City. Keep up the good work: 'Well done, good and faithful servant!'"

The following comment was prompted by work LHM does in Africa:

"I'm a Congolese Lutheran Christian based in Lubumbashi (Katanga Province, southeast of the Democratic Republic of the Congo). I heard and met people working with LHM during one of my missions in Nairobi/Kenya. As a result, I expressed our need of seeing LHM being operational in our country. Lutheran Hour Ministries is wonderful in proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ worldwide. I am persuaded your presence in this vast country would be highly appreciated and productive, as it will bring Jesus to many families and the latter to the church."

Staff and volunteers from LHM have presented hundreds of workshops and seminars over the years. Here's a response from someone who attended a MISSION U workshop presented by Bruce Sutherland, a ministry resource manager for LHM.

"Bruce Sutherland did a wonderful job of presenting the MISSION U 201 materials to us. He was very knowledgeable and personable, and the personal experiences he shared about dealing with 'tough questions' certainly resonated with our group. I heard only positive feedback about Bruce and his enthusiasm.

"We live in a diverse university community and perhaps must deal with those tough questions more regularly than those in more homogeneous communities. Bruce gave us actual scenarios as to how we might deal with the real questions that arise, and charged us to do our 'homework' to develop our own answers. I especially appreciated the fact that he taught us to deal respectfully with those who disagree with our point of view, rather than slamming them with the Law."

There was even this note we received on our building:

"I am from Benton, Arkansas. I am 83 years old. I was visiting a daughter in St. Louis. While driving by your headquarters building on two occasions, I was blessed to see your large lighted Christmas message in front of your building. It was wonderful, inspiring and transported the true message of the Christmas season. God bless you for your message. If you will advise where to send a contribution for your cause, I will do so."

Has LHM impacted you or your congregation in a positive way, over the years? Have you listened to a sermon from The Lutheran Hour, participated in one of our many Bible studies, read one of our topical booklets, attended one of our outreach-focused workshops, listened to or read a devotion in Spanish, or even joined us for a convention in years gone by? If so, drop a line and let us know about your experience.

We'd love to hear from you!

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

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

The Time Has Come (or Nearly So)

It's a little (all right, a lot) depressing to think of modern campaign tactics: all the negativity, the politics of fear, the misinformation, the bloated half-truths. Back in the '60s when I was a kid, politics seemed a tad more noble, a little more civil. Candidates spoke more eloquently about the positive changes they would make; they even showed respect for their adversaries. Throwing mud at other candidates was classless, a sign of desperation. And it was those ads that stood out as being less than savory, less than the way individuals contending for a high civic office should act.

Sure, it was all probably naïve, contrived and artificial. But at least I had the impression I didn't have to hold my nose to vote, reluctantly pulling the lever for the lesser of two or three evils. Campaign seasons -- and the elections that follow -- now give me the impression we're just putting a new crop of horrible, self-interested people in office because, well, that's all we have to choose from.

Reminds me of the comment I saw recently, probably on Facebook: "We've got 300 million people in this country and this is who we've got to vote for?"

I wonder if that's why the U.S. Congress typically has such low public approval ratings. Maybe that's why government comes across as a necessary evil.

The apostle Paul once wrote a letter to the believers in the Washington D.C. of his time. In Romans 13 we read, "Rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer" (Romans 13:3-4).

I love that phrase: "He is God's servant for your good."

As the 2016 presidential election nears, let's pause to give thanks for God's gifts to a broken world, I want to start by giving Him thanks for our government. No, it isn't perfect. We have imperfect people doing imperfect jobs. But God has a very important purpose for our government: maintain law and order and thwart those who would bring disorder, crime and chaos. A government for the people can offer its citizens the chance to live peaceable lives, a society where they can follow their beliefs freely in a society without restriction. I encourage you to join my prayers that God will uphold our leaders, guide them to just decisions, protect them from vanity and deception, and give them clarity and purpose.

Please share your thoughts about our government and the election process. You can share your thoughts here: click here!

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Smell of Books

With fall's arrival my mind turns to books and reading. If there's a hint of early color to the leaves outside, my thoughts are redirected all the more. By the time there's dew on the grass, frost on the pumpkin, and steam when I speak, it's full-on book mode. It's at this time that self-absorbing reveries increase as summer's exuberance wanes, against cooler temperatures and the more meditative frame of mind autumn ushers in. With this mental shift, the world of literature takes on a newfound significance, inviting me to remember why I love to read in the first place.

And while I'm at it, the smell of books is a beautiful thing too, isn't it? Any book lover can tell you, often in terms waxing poetic, about the exhilaratingly rich oxygen that exudes from the printed page. This is especially true of those careered volumes that have lived a few years on a book shelf, be it a public institution or a private library. For the lucky book-handler wandering the stacks, there's the serendipity of discovery; the joy of cradling the chosen tome; the tactile sensation of locating a particular passage; and then the realization that he has but one choice: a nosedive into the book's spine for some rarified air.

Odd perhaps, but for the like-minded, it's one of life's little pleasures.

Clay tablets, papyrus manuscripts, vellum parchments, books: what's your favorite thing about books (besides reading them, of course)?

Do you have any special connection with books that seems out of the ordinary? If so, let us know what makes a book tick for you.

You can do this by clicking here.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

The Gridiron Clock

We're moving headlong into fall now! Labor Day festivities wrapped up yesterday, and football is back. High school games have begun; college pre-conference season games are underway, and the NFL kicks off with a bang as the Super Bowl-winning Denver Broncs host the Carolina Panthers at Mile High Stadium this Thursday night.

I always wanted to play football when I was a kid. I dreamed of being the star running back on the team, my name echoing out over the loudspeakers as I ran for touchdown after touchdown. But there was one problem to this pipedream: I was thin and scrawny. Consequently, I ended up on the sidelines, playing tuba in the marching band. Only later did I learn that for every glorious minute on the field the football team spent hours grinding through practice and working out.

The guys on the football team and those of us in the marching band took our separate paths. Each day we both practiced, honing our respective skills. But Friday nights we came together, each ready to take the field in his or her own time, bringing glory to our school, and a little to ourselves. Even now, on Friday nights when I drive by a high school and see the stadium lights and hear the drums pounding, it takes me back.

Life seems cyclical, doesn't it? These days I find myself in a somewhat similar situation with my son. He's finished high school now and is in college. I'd love to be there with him, enjoying all his experiences -- the struggles as well as the triumphs. But both of us have a different path to take: I'm off to work each day, while he's pushing through his college course load and forging plans for his future.

Like the marching band and the football team, we'll end up doing our stuff apart, in the future. But I can encourage him from the sidelines with my thoughts and prayers. I'll look forward to those game times when I can take my place on the sidelines, and cheer him on.

But life presses on, and the chances are not far from slim that I may not be there for some of his greater achievements, especially if they happen later in his life. The differences in our ages being the determining factor on that issue.

Football with its start in the late summer-early fall of the year has a way of marking in our minds that sense of transition we feel with the changing seasons. In fact, the next Men's NetWork blog you'll read will be one day short of the first day of autumn. How quickly time flies. How helpless we are to do anything about it.

How do you feel as you watch your children "spring up" before your very eyes? Do you have any special or innovative ways of staying a part of their lives, especially as they move beyond your household?

You can let us know by clicking here.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Checking Our Presets

I was thinking about all the tiffs between people that, seemingly, have no end. Sometimes even finding the origin of the dispute is an exercise in futility. What happens at the human micro-level, of course, plays out between groups of people and extends even to the hostilities shared between nations. It reminds me of a bit of dialogue fashioned a while back by that American master, Samuel Langhorne Clemens, aka Mark Twain. In it he relays a bit of homespun conversation between Huck Finn and Buck Grangerford in his timeless classic, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The gist of it is Huck trying to ascertain how the long-running blood feud between the Grangerfords and the Sheperdsons all started -- and why it keeps going.

Huck begins the conversation:

"Did you want to kill him, Buck?"

"Well, I bet I did."

"What did he do to you?"

"Him? He never done nothing to me."

"Well, then, what did you want to kill him for?"

"Why, nothing -- only it's on account of the feud."

"What's a feud?"

"Why, where was you raised? Don't you know what a feud is?"

"Never heard of it before -- tell me about it."

"Well," says Buck, "a feud is this way: A man has a quarrel with another man, and kills him; then that other man's brother kills him; then the other brothers, on both sides, goes for one another; then the cousins chip in -- and by and by everybody's killed off, and there ain't no more feud. But it's kind of slow, and takes a long time."

"Has this one been going on long, Buck?"

"Well, I should reckon! It started thirty year ago, or som'ers along there. There was trouble 'bout something, and then a lawsuit to settle it; and the suit went agin one of the men, and so he up and shot the man that won the suit -- which he would naturally do, of course. Anybody would."

"What was the trouble about, Buck? -- land?"

"I reckon maybe -- I don't know."

"Well, who done the shooting? Was it a Grangerford or a Shepherdson?"

"Laws, how do I know? It was so long ago."
"Don't anybody know?"

"Oh, yes, pa knows, I reckon, and some of the other old people; but they don't know now what the row was about in the first place."

Hmmm. While our mental defaults might not be as entrenched -- or trigger-happy -- as that of Buck Grangerford, it's still easy to go through life with a preset frame of mind.

As you consider your own positions on various issues, is there anything you can say you inherited from your forebears -- good or bad?

Care to divulge?

You can let us know by clicking here.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Someday, Maybe

This spring in Forbes magazine, Dan Hesse, former Sprint CEO, was asked by writer Robert Reiss what CEOs and presidential candidates can learn from ancient Greek philosophers. Hesse referred to a tome he read in college as an undergraduate: The Republic by Plato. It was the first book he read that shaped his views on leadership. Here is their interview:

Reiss: "What are the leadership lessons you learned?"

Hesse: "First and foremost, that it's a privilege and a responsibility to lead. Socrates talks about how a good ship's captain is more concerned with the sailors than for himself, how the good leader is more concerned with the welfare of his subjects than for his own.

"Second, great leaders bring people of different skills and walks of life (the aristocracy, the producers and the soldiers) together for the common good.

"Third, good leaders are always learning and constantly seeking the truth, and that the value of uneducated opinion pales when compared to facts or the truth.

"Fourth, that leadership needs to be earned, that leadership should only be bestowed on the 'best,' or most virtuous person. Justice is the first and most important of the four virtues, it enables the other three-temperance, courage and intelligence."

Reiss: "What is the relevance of a book written 2,400 years ago to our presidential election or business leaders today?"

Hesse: "Plato describes how the same qualities that make a person lead well make the organization or state function well (that an organization functions much like a person). A just person is in balance. They are educated in science, the arts and in sport, and healthy in body, mind and soul. Socrates argues that women, if provided the same education, are as capable of being fine leaders as men. A just person must lead the state, and the state must be in balance between the interests of all of its citizens, the workers, aristocracy and military if it is to function well. A leader who creates or foments class warfare is extremely dangerous, and this behavior can lead to tyranny or dictatorship. Plato asks how the tyrant 'tries to rule others when he cannot be master of himself?' Even though tyrants or the greedy gain physical possessions, Plato describes them as unhappy, as 'the most miserable.' Tyrants can exist in governments and in companies.

"The Republic helped shape my view that business leadership is a vocation, that how a business is led impacts the lives and livelihoods of so many people -- employees, customers, shareholders, suppliers and the communities served by a company, and this is why Corporate Responsibility is important of and by itself, not because the ends might justify the means (in reputation or brand). The openness, intelligence, civility and quality of the dialogue and disagreements between the participants in these Socratic debates are also important to foster within companies, in our political campaigns, and in Washington.

"Our founding fathers created the United States on Plato's principles, which had been developed further by political philosophers like Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau. Plato said that the best leaders often don't seek to be leaders -- they don't seek power. George Washington was practically 'drafted' to be our first president. The idea of a couple of open party conventions where the most virtuous or best person is 'drafted' is an interesting idea whose time may have come."

Interesting ... "drafting" the most virtuous -- the most capable and qualified candidate -- to lead our country.

If only that were the case.

Well, someday, maybe.

Is there anything you care to add concerning our prospects for the coming election?

If so, you can drop us a note by going to the Men's Network blog and clicking here.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

So What?

Over the years I have become fairly cynical about what I read, watch and hear. I do not believe there is such a thing as "unbiased" media. In today's world most media conveys a specific point of view, agenda, or call to action. The same "news" story reported on five different channels will deliver five different conclusions. Corporations and governments alike employ a cadre of media specialists to provide "spin," so their point of view is portrayed as fact.

Over the years I have looked for the "So what?" in what I hear, see or read, especially in the media.

I define the "So what?" as an action or attitude that the author wishes me to adopt.

For example, when watching a car commercial, the "So what?" is that I be moved to purchase that vehicle. Those so whats are easy to spot.

Ads promoting the lottery offer the "So what?" that you will be a hero to school kids as you spend your money on the lottery, which funds education. Some of these ads leave me feeling as if I am a terrible person who hates kids if I don't plunk down my dollars for them -- at least once in a while.

Now to all this some of you may be saying to yourself, "So what?"

The "So what?" I want you to think about is to become a critical consumer of media. Too often we accept everything we hear or read without thinking objectively about it. We buy into the adage that "If it's on the Internet, on the national news, or in the newspaper, then it must be true ... at least mostly." This also applies to hearing it from "live" sources as when we wholesale accept something because we heard it from a friend or family member. Suffice it to say, critical thinking should a close companion, a very close companion.

As for me, I read the fine print, look for the angles, and will not send money to Africa because someone died and named me in his will.

This whole critical-thinking thing is something worthwhile to pass along to the next generation too. The world's awash in hyperbole and trivial nonsense, and this schlock is targeted (as it has been for years) at the very young as well. For impressionable, young minds the world is full of choices like never before. Some are of value; many are not, and it's a huge help if by our input and experience we can help them see the difference.

As any guy knows, some of the priceless benefits that come with age are the lessons gained from our hard-won experiences. But let's not let these life-changing gems remain with us. Be sure to pass them on when you get a chance, but do so tactfully, in small, steady doses. As we all know, it's good medicine for those who hear it, but for some it may be hard to swallow.

Thinking outside the box is a skill worth working on. Are you a critical thinker? Have you found yourself resisting staid and worn-out kinds of "knowledge" and, instead, going deeper, digging past the fluff and surface noise, to get at a more reasoned sense of an issue -- whether it's politics, theology or science?

So what does all this matter? Well, it can matter quite a bit when what's pawned off as true and real is a semi-sophisticated spin of dubious details and questionable facts -- something we're all getting an ear full of this election cycle.

Heard anything that's made you ask "So what?" lately? If so, let us know by going to the Men's Network blog and clicking here.