Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Independence Day

Soon our country will be immersed in Independence Day -- fireworks, hot dos, sparklers, ball games, firecrackers, and picnics. Over the top pyrotechnics and loads of food seem to be the American way to celebrate freedom from tyranny. Parades featuring marching bands, veteran units, and lots of tractors will remind us that we are a free, democratic nation. July 4 will be the day when we as a collective nation will salute our military, our police, our firefighters, and our emergency medical response units as heroes. These people are instrumental in the freedoms we enjoy -- freedom from oppression, freedom from fear, freedom from destruction, and freedom from sickness. Yes, I will celebrate with everyone else this July 4th.

But I am getting older, more cynical. I stand on the side of the parade route and witness no one standing with their hand over their heart in salute to the flag. I see people cherishing the free candy tossed from the fire truck more than the firefighters. I see politicians extending a hand of welcome, in one of the only times they would be caught accessible in public. I witness a lack of concern for society's freedoms replaced by the idol of individual freedom. I see crowds mesmerized by explosions in the sky then swearing at the other drivers on the way home. I see beer sales climb on a hot day at the ballpark, only to see drunken men cussing each other over the umpire's call. What a great way we have developed of commemorating and celebrating the sacrifice of our founding fathers -- get drunk, blow something up, and become selfish. Now that is independence! Okay, enough cynicism.

I do enjoy the July 4th holiday and all the traditions. I enjoy the fireworks, the ball games, the food, and even the crowds. For where else but in America can we throw a national party such as this? All across America we have a connection -- we have a history of creating a democratic country. We had been tried, tested, and tempted as a country. We have survived. We still live in the world's greatest country -- no matter what our opinions are of today's society.

So whether you grab a sparkler, pop a can of root beer, head to the ballpark, watch some mega fireworks display, or just toss back a cold one -- may you always be involved in making America the best it can be.

Happy July 4th! See: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UzL4L_FpLvE

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


If there is ever a question striking fear into the heart of man, it's this: "Can you forgive me?"
What usually precedes the question is something that was hurtful, mean, uncaring, thoughtless, or just plain irksome.

For example, the wife comes home with a JCPenny bag filled with clothes -- blouses, skirts, etc. Just because the clothes in her closet are outdated, out of fashion, or tight doesn't mean she has a right to spend hundreds of dollars on clothes, does it? So, the husband, of course, points that out and, naturally, the wife is despondent and begins to get emotional. She says she'll take it all back; the husband tells her to keep it, and then someone ends up saying, "Can you forgive me?"

Or how about that call teenagers sometimes make: "Dad, I'm sorry. The car is totaled. I'm okay. Can you forgive me?" Dad says, "yes" -- all the time feeling guilty for being upset his car is totaled.

Then there are times of betrayal or a lack of trust: "I want a divorce!" "You're fired!" "I don't have confidence in you anymore." All these wreak havoc for a man. Then after a time, there may come the question: "Can you forgive me?"

And forgiveness can be a contingent thing, too. For some, it equates to permission giving. If I ask for forgiveness and you forgive me, it's okay. For some, forgiveness is forgetting. If I ask for forgiveness and you forgive me, you can never speak of the event again. For some, forgiveness is a tacit approval of future action. "Hey, I asked for forgiveness once, and you gave it to me. Why are you now hassling me about it again?"

Sometimes it's easier for a man to withhold forgiveness instead of trying to figure it what is meant. Sometimes a man has problems with forgiveness, since he himself often commits greater misdeeds. But that is not healthy.

We forgive because Christ forgives us. We follow His example. He paid the price for our sins. He instructs us to sin no more. He instructs us and reminds us of what forgiveness costs. He keeps on forgiving -- persistently forgiving. He offers His forgiveness freely and without any strings attached. It is a gift. Let us strive to forgive, even as Christ forgives us.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Trust Me

It seems the older I get, the more cynical I become. For example, if someone says to me, "Trust me," I probably won't. I wasn't always that way.

When I was in kindergarten, my teacher asked for and received my trust. When I was in grade school my parents asked for and received my trust. So when did I become cynical?

For me it was a long, slow process of having been taken advantage of, lied to, and conned. First I began to mistrust the government with corrupt, elected officials lining their pockets with my money. Then it was salespeople who offered great deals and delivered shoddy merchandise. Along the way, I met my share of people who would promise and not deliver. Self-absorption and self-promotion became the norm. The Internet allows people to misrepresent the truth, lie, and cheat. People everywhere are offered "make-thousands-of-dollars-at-home" schemes. E-mails blitz our in-boxes proclaiming us winners of a multi-million dollar lottery or asking us to launder a million-dollar inheritance.

The freefall of the auto industry, the dismal failure of financial institutions, and the imposed redistribution of wealth have me doubting anyone and everyone who wants to work for "my good" and the future. Even something as innocuous as the wise use of natural resources has me gritting my teeth wondering what agenda is being foisted on me and for whose gain. I do not trust. That is sad.

That being said, however, I must retract, at least on one count, my last words -- for I do trust. I trust in God. In a day when it is not popular or prudent to proclaim a trust or a faith in God, I do and I will. God is the constant, the very help in the day of trouble, the One who is with me always. He is the powerful Creator, the Sustainer of the Universe, and the One who is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He is the power to overcome sin, Satan, and the world's headlong trip to hell. He has saved me and all believers. In Him, do I trust.

I will live my life confidant in His unchanging grace. I will ask no man to trust me, but live my days so all men can. I will beg no man to trust God, but live my life as an example of that trust. When I fail, I trust God and His promises. Jesus Christ can and does forgive, for it is not about me -- but always about Him.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

A Friend in Need

Before "play dates," Mister Rogers and Barney, boys often made friends the old-fashion way --they'd meet, have a disagreement, fight with each other, brush the dust off from their "discussion" and become fast friends. I know it may not be politically correct to report that sort of friendship building nowadays, but that's the way it happened. These friends were and still are friends for life.

A friend is the person one could "hang with," get in trouble with, depend on, and would know -- without having to be told -- what was the matter. Boys growing up need at least one good friend -- someone who will not find fault in the clothes his mother makes him wear, someone who will choose him first for a teammate, someone who will stand shoulder to shoulder against perceived injustice, and someone who has no qualms about sharing a hot dog and coke.

A growing boy needs a friend, and a grown man needs a friend, too. A man needs another man to hang with, depend on, share problems, help move furniture, or just plain listen. No body understands the issues a man faces like another man, especially when that issue involves fun, family, and faith.

Guys do understand fun -- sports, bars, hunting, fishing, working on cars and, in general, anything involving risk, speed, and technology. A friend is someone that shares the passion, shares the activity, and shares the fun.

Guys try to understand family. However, relationships with wives, mothers, in-laws, children, and all the variations of family - remain -- for the most part, a mystery to men. A man needs another man to help him talk through and suggest tactics for dealing with the family -- if for no other reason than to have someone to blame when things go wrong.

Guys struggle to understand faith, too. Believing in Someone bigger than oneself, giving up control, confessing weakness -- these are not easy things. A man needs another man to help him see the Jesus of the Scriptures -- the powerful, all mighty Savior who is a Friend to all. A friend is a man who can share the greatest Friend one will ever have -- Jesus -- no matter what the circumstances.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Do Guys Need Encouragement?

The ending of every "Lone Ranger" TV episode was identical -- someone asking, "Who was that masked man? I wanted to thank him." The Lone Ranger rode out of town knowing he saved the day, but he needed no thanks.

Bruce Wayne as Batman runs away at the end of the movie "The Dark Knight" knowing he will never receive recognition or thanks for the good he did for Gotham City.

James Ryan in "Saving Private Ryan" stands at the French graveside of his fallen compatriots and ponders if he truly earned the sacrifice it took to save him.

Ever since the formation of America, the American male has been portrayed as the strong, silent man of action. He will start nothing but finish everything. He will protect and uphold the weak. He has contempt for the self-righteous and cannot abide in wrongdoing. A whole cadre of male movie actors reinforce this stereotype - Audie Murphy, James Arness, Gene Autry, William Boyd, Gary Cooper, Robert Duvall, Clint Eastwood, Mel Gibson, Harrison Ford, Sean Connery, Bruce Willis, Vin Diesel, and John Wayne.

A boy growing up in America is surrounded by the historical and contemporary concept that he needs to be manly, to be strong, to take action, and to act without expectation of reward, recognition, or respect. To "do the right thing" is reward itself. But do we men need reward, recognition, and respect? Is it enough to know we are doing the right thing? Do we need encouragement? Do we need the "atta boy"? Are we weak when we crave a "thank you" for a job well done? Are we unmanly to expect a monetary reward for going above and beyond the expectations of our job, our position, or our assignment?

I'm just asking. What do you think?