Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Forever in the Cloud

When we were kids we all did stupid things, said thoughtless things -- things that have long since disappeared without a trace: gone and forgotten.

Not so today.

Kids are still kids. They think, say and do stupid stuff. The trouble today is they do it on social media. They sit behind a screen, a tablet, or a cell phone -- not looking someone in the eye -- and say what's on their minds. When you feel anonymous, it's easy to be blunt, especially when the message disappears from the screen the moment you hit the "send" button.

The trouble is you can't retrieve the stuff you send, and it lurks forever in the Cloud -- that ever-expanding, offsite, out-there-somewhere, mega-warehouse for data storage.

That haunting truth came home to three guys chosen in the NBA draft last week:

Back in 2011 Bobby Portis cursed Derek Rose on Twitter; last week he was drafted by the Bulls and gets to play alongside Derek Rose.

Some time ago, Frank Kaminsky messaged that he decided to stay in college one more year because he'd rather play in front of some 17,000 Wisconsin Badgers fans, rather than end up on an NBA team like the Bobcats, which gets hardly any fans, and it looks flat-out boring. Sure enough, he was drafted by the Hornets. By the way, they were called the Bobcats when Kaminsky sent that tweet.

In May 2012, Larry Nance, Jr. tweeted, "Gee, I sure hope Kobe can keep his hands to himself in Denver this time. #Rapist" You can imagine the uproar when he was drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers and reporters found that tweet.

So, what about our kids? Have you had that talk? You know, it's the chat where you tell them that employers are increasingly asking for access to Facebook, Twitter and other social media accounts before hiring. It's the chat where you try to get them to understand there isn't an employer out there that wants a public relations nightmare from someone they've hired.

God has given your children unique gifts and talents, which He wants them to use for the benefit of society and the glory of His Name. A potentially rich and fulfilling life awaits them, that is, unless a few careless words on social media slam shut doors that otherwise would have been open to promising opportunities.

Your son's or daughter's future career options may well be at stake.

How can we help protect our kids' futures from themselves?

Do you have any insights to share on this one? This is an area where we can all use a little help. If you have something worthwhile to pass along, please click here and tell us about it.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

God's Second-Greatest Gift to Humanity

After a movie ends most people head off to the exits. Do you ever stick around to watch the credits? I started doing this after watching the Star Wars movies, after they first came out. No, I didn't stick around because I was dying of curiosity to know who the grip and the gaffer were.

I stayed because I wanted to hear that amazing movie music one last time.

From the very first scene in the movie, that incredible music caught my attention. When I heard that thrilling theme resume at the close of the movie, I had to hang around and enjoy it again -- and see who the composer was. That's the first time I became acquainted with John Williams.

Monday we lost another great movie music composer: James Horner. The two-time Oscar award- winning composer died at the age of 61 when his small plane crashed near Santa Barbara, California. The list of movies he composed music for is quite impressive: Titanic, Braveheart, Avatar, Star Trek II, An American Tail, A Beautiful Mind, Field of Dreams, Legends of the Fall, Enemy at the Gates, Aliens, Glory, and one of my favorites, Apollo 13.

The list goes on and on.

When you take a great movie and wed it with the right music, the effect is magical. The music taps into our heart and soul, stirs our emotions, and draws us into the plight of the characters on the screen before us.

Martin Luther thought highly of music as well. "Next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world." And undoubtedly recalling the great psalmist David playing the lyre to calm King Saul's tortured mind, Luther wrote, "Beautiful music is the art of the prophets that can calm the agitations of the soul; it is one of the most magnificent and delightful presents God has given us."

In my opinion, God's greatest gift to us is His Word, in which we learn of the glorious salvation Jesus won for us, and through which the Holy Spirit works saving faith in us. But I think music is His second gift, especially when the words and promises of God are set within beautiful, powerful, inspiring music.

It is that marriage between Word and music which makes Christian hymns, carols and songs come alive. Pass that music through the filter of life -- all its highs and lows, its gains and losses, its pleasures and pains -- and Christian music takes on a depth, grandeur and awe I sometimes find overwhelming. Certain hymns remind me of my dear departed mother and father; others recall joyous moments from childhood; others we chose for our wedding, but since have taken on new meaning and depth as we have passed through the years together; still others are connected to my son.

Sometimes the emotions they stir in me are too strong to control: my voice quivers, breaks and finally falls silent in prayer and adoration before my God and Father. But music always snaps me out of my earth-bound trance and draws my soul up to heaven where God's glory and radiance shimmer and shine.

What is your favorite song, carol or hymn?

You can click here and tell us about it.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Taking Responsibility

Have you ever seen the Citicorp Center in New York City? The architect, Hugh Stubbins, Jr., had a daunting challenge: how could he fit a 59-floor skyscraper onto a small plot of ground, which already hosted St. Peter's Lutheran Church, an historic edifice sitting squarely where one corner of the building was to go? Stubbins' elegant solution was to raise the new building high above the church on nine-story tall columns.

But an architect's dream is an engineer's nightmare. The architect designs the building, but the engineer has to make it work. William J. LeMessurier, the famous structural engineer, first sketched his plans on a napkin in a Greek restaurant in Cambridge. He went on to design a system of strong wind braces that would form the skeleton of the building.

The building was erected in 1977. In June of 1978 he received a random call from an architectural student. Something in the call nagged at him. He reexamined his calculations and realized the building's sensitivity to quartering winds (those that strike the corners of the building) had been miscalculated. He dug a little deeper and learned the construction team had decided to bolt the braces together rather than weld them as the design had specified; this, consequently, formed a much weaker joint.

After careful calculations, these two details led LeMessurier to conclude the weakest joint in the structure was on the 30th floor. A storm of sufficient strength would send the building down in a catastrophic collapse. But how often could New York City expect to see such a freak storm?

The engineer consulted historic weather reports for New York City. He calculated that on average, such storms struck the city every 16 years.

Now the tough question: what would you do? The building is occupied and in use, and your reputation is on the line.

LeMessurier considered several options. He could be silent -- betting people's lives against the odds. But there were too many lives at stake. He also briefly contemplated suicide, but considered that a coward's way out. He later recalled, "I had information that nobody else in the world had. I had power in my hands to affect extraordinary events that only I could initiate. I mean, 16 years to failure -- that was very simple, very clear cut. I almost said, thank you, dear Lord, for making this problem so sharply defined that there's no choice to make."

Working with other architects, the president of Citicorp, and the City of New York, he oversaw the fortification of the building over a period of several months. An impeding storm during that period nearly forced an evacuation of the entire building, which would have been a PR nightmare, but the repairs were completed without incident.

Here is a man who put the concerns of others ahead of his own. He did the right thing even though it could have cost him everything.

What is a tough decision you've had to make?

Life's full of them.

Take a minute, click here, and tell us about a difficult decision you have been faced with.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Man's Best Friend

When God created mankind He gave us dominion over the animals. Did you ever wonder what that might have looked like? In Genesis 2:19 it says that God brought the animals to Adam to see what he would name them. I picture Adam touching each creature, and talking to it, and each of them standing calm and carefree next to him. Sadly, that relationship was shattered when Adam and Eve sinned. But every now and then, we can see glimpses of that original connection today.

This past weekend Victor Espinoza rode the horse "American Pharaoh" to victory in the third jewel of the Triple Crown -- a feat not accomplished since 1978.

In late May, Deputy Todd Frazier of Long Beach, Mississippi, was ambushed by three men. As they dragged him into some nearby woods, they told him they were going to slit his throat and dump his body. Somehow the deputywas able to activate his keychain, which opened the back doors of his squad car where his partner Lucas was waiting.

Lucas tore out of the car, bit one of the three men, and sent the others fleeing the scene. As you undoubtedly guessed, Lucas is Deputy Frazier's K-9 partner, a black Belgian Malinois. Dogs are incredible animals that help us in a variety of ways through their fierce loyalty and their amazingly acute sense of smell.

Before the engine was developed, work animals like horses, oxen, donkeys, mules and camels made farming and transportation possible. Miniature horses are now being used to replace seeing-eye dogs because they have better memories, and can live up to 50 years.

Asian and Mediterranean fishermen have trained ocean cormorants (birds) to capture fish and return them without eating them. Mongolian herdsmen use golden eagles to attack and kill wolves that threaten their herds. We have even developed tame call ducks. Hunters release them in a marsh, and they quack extra loud to lure the wild ducks into shooting range.

Bottlenose dolphins and sea lions assist our navy in mine detection and "arrest" enemy divers; non-poisonous king snakes, corn snakes and milk snakes offer great massage therapy; African giant pouched rats sniff out landmines and detect other explosives.

Each of these cases can cast our mind back to God's plans for the dominion He gave mankind over the animals. It also makes me think forward to the new heavens and the new earth when Jesus returns and restores the original creation.

What animal relationships have you valued in your life? How has your life been enriched by animals? Was it a beloved dog or cat? Maybe it was a horse or a goat or something a little out of the ordinary.

Take a minute and click here to tell us about the favorite animal(s) in your life.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Fishing Tales Make Good Reading

We're glad to see the group stories that were submitted for May, but we can't include the full scoop on all of them here. For the bigger picture on these fishing adventures, check them out by clicking here. You can also read about them in the July-August issue of The Lutheran Layman, which will be out in early July.

For those who are still contemplating our outreach focus this year, we're hoping guys invite their unchurched or seldom-churched buddies, friends, friends of friends, and family members to join them when they go fishing. The magic number here for a "group" is more than one. From these fishing invites and time spent together, it's our hope the shared experience and camaraderie will yield some positive results in terms of interaction and, perhaps, even a few church invitations.

Here's how it works: It's still $15 to sign up, and this gets you a Men's NetWork cap and a first-aid kit. The rules are basically the same as last year with the exception that this year prizes will be awarded bi-weekly. For example, the tourney kicked off Monday, April 6, and the first two-week period ended April 19. We awarded prizes based on the largest fish taken during this two-week period. This then will be the pattern for the entire tournament. As in previous years, anglers catching the largest fish in individual categories still win a $10 Bass Pro Shops gift card, along with a 2015 tournament T-shirt for their first win.

In respect to the fishing categories, we'll still post pictures of the current leaders but -- and this is the new twist -- we'll also post pictures of any and all groups (two or more guys fishing) that send us a picture. Along with these pics, we're looking for descriptions, brief narratives, stories really, that involve guys inviting church outsiders (i.e. unchurched or de-churched guys) along to go fishing. Ideally, from these submissions we'll see some outreach taking place. Here the more info in the description, the better the chances of winning. Oh, by the way, only one person in a fishing group needs to be registered in the tournament to submit the group entry; individual fishermen, however, will still need to be registered for their fish to be considered in any of the categories. So, go fishing with your buddies, sure, but invite a friend or two along too -- guys with whom you can build a positive connection in a godly direction. Remember, it's the strength of the story that counts.

Each month, members of the MNW team will review these group entries and, upon their discretion, award prizes for 1st ($250), 2nd ($100), and 3rd ($50) to the top group pictures/stories for that month. Winning groups for the months of April through August will also receive MNW baseball caps for the guys in their group. This year's tourney concludes September 6, 2015.

At the end of the tournament, a Grand Prize for the best overall GROUP submission will be awarded. This prize, a $500 MasterCard or Visa gift card, can be used however the group sees fit to reward its outreach accomplishment. This will be the single Grand Prize for the tournament. There will be no individual Grand Prize.

Again, the objective driving this tournament is to build rapport and cultivate relationships. Naturally, we want men to fish with other guys, establishing friendships in the context of having fun that can develop into spiritual ties. Fishing is a terrific forum to get guys together, sharing viewpoints, and learning from each other's life experiences. This year groups will earn prizes based on what they did together and the details of their stories. In other words, the fish caught are secondary to the relationships being forged.

Contest rules and regulations can be found on the MNW website by clicking here.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

One Last Memorial

Roland was a spoiled brat. No way around it. He was momma's favorite son. She let him get away with anything he wanted, and she always stepped in when dad tried to correct him.

He was bright, and from an early age he knew exactly how to manipulate her. He could embarrass her, break her heart, then just smile and bat those blue eyes, and she couldn't stay mad at him. He knew a quick, "I'm really sorry. I love you, mom" is all it would take to melt her heart and get him off the hook -- again.

Then Roland ended up smack in the middle of World War II. He was Private First Class in the 4th Pioneer Battalion of the 14th Regiment of the 4th Marine Division. The Pioneers were engineers who operated bulldozers and other heavy equipment to prepare and repair roads and airstrips. They cleared minefields and did any number of things required to assist our troops' movements, while disrupting the movements of our enemies.

His battalion saw action in the Pacific Theater, island hopping through the Mariana Islands, Saipan and Tinian. Then the Pacific Fleet re-gathered its strength, and launched a huge invasion on Japanese soil -- a hellish volcanic island known as Iwo Jima.

Early on the morning of the third day of the invasion, two regiments of the 4th Division jumped off in an attack, meeting severe mortar, machine-gun, and artillery fire. After making small advances with heavy losses, they were confronted by intricately laid-out minefields. Roland's 4th Battalion Pioneers rushed in to clear the minefield, a deathtrap expertly placed by the Japanese general who happened to be one of the last of the remaining Samurai. He had fortified the defenses of the island for more than two years prior to the invasion. The Pioneers' only protection was the covering fire from tanks and marine units.

Roland was hit and was evacuated on a DUKW (one of those "ducks" you might have ridden in Washington D.C., the Wisconsin Dells, or some other tour) to a nearby hospital ship.

Three weeks later, the day before my dad was confirmed, two men in uniform knocked on grandma's door and told her that her beloved Roland "died of wounds received in action on Iwo Jima on Wednesday, February 21, 1945."

That's all I ever knew about Uncle Roland, until I had a chance to spend time with his older brother, my Uncle Art, in 1991. He had instructed naval pilots in Corpus Christi, Texas, and bumped into Roland when they both went home during shore leave in late 1944.

Roland was a changed man. With tears streaming down his cheeks he wept in his mother's arms, apologizing for all the pain and hurt he had caused her. He returned to the Pacific assured of his mother's love and forgiveness.

This side of heaven, I'll never know for sure, but I like to think that his experiences in the war, and his chaplain's words of God's unfailing love, had led Roland to repentance, and faith. I hope he also knew the peace of God's forgiveness won through Jesus' suffering, death and glorious resurrection. Roland's experience reminds me again how short and fragile life can be: here one moment, gone the next. Thanks be to God for our victory over death through Jesus Christ. Now may He give us each the courage to share that saving news with the Rolands in our lives.

Please take a moment and click here to share your views on what Memorial Day means to you.

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.