Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Independence Day

The "whomp" announces the ignition of the blasting powder; the tail of sparks traces the flight of the rocket into the night sky; the sudden burst of color and the thunder of the explosion announce to the world that our country is celebrating its national birthday. Yes, this weekend countless people across North America will crane their necks heavenward and take in the sights and sounds of a yearly fireworks display. For Canadians the celebration of Canada Day is July 1st; for Americans, of course, the celebration kicks off on July 4th, Independence Day. Each year a nationwide barrage of modern rockets are let loose on the summer skies, orchestrated to inspire a sense of wonder and patriotism as exploding colors sparkle the night to the "ohs" and "ahs" of crowds below registering their sense of awe and appreciation. These fireworks remind us the cost of our freedoms came at the expense of the fight our forefathers waged.

Each year I join with my countrymen and find thrills and inspiration at these displays of fireworks. The spectacle also triggers sobering thoughts about the hefty price our freedoms have cost. The cliché "freedom is not free" is one of the world's all-time great truths. Throughout our country's history brave and determined warriors have followed their convictions and fought for the belief that this country's citizens have the right to live free from oppression. Today, that determination of living free is still a hallmark of service in our armed forces. And so it must be. For the battle against tyranny never stops and each generation must take up the cause afresh.

This weekend I will pause to thank and honor those who have fought for me. I am thankful I live in a country where I can worship God freely and openly. I am thankful I live in a country where I am free to express my faith. I am thankful I live in a country where I can share the Gospel openly.

As the dying embers and rocket debris fall to the ground when the fireworks have ended, I will remember that our freedoms are not only earned and protected -- but like muscles, they are to be exercised. I will flex mine by sharing the Gospel through my words and actions -- thankful that Jesus earned my eternal freedom through the life He gave for my -- and the world's -- sins.

Try thinking about that the next time you feel oppressed.

Happy Independence Day!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


After the record snowfalls of last winter and the savage storms of this past spring, today, June 21, we welcome summer. What summer will bring is yet to be seen. But no matter what is ahead, one thing is for certain: summer remains that time of the year when millions head out on that annual respite known as "the family vacation."

Whether sailing the high seas or jetting to some distant destination, families are looking forward to exploring exotic locations, while getting pampered in the process. During these much-anticipated junkets parents look forward to their children being entertained and fussed over while the grown-ups enjoy time alone for adult activities. The demands of home and job are forgotten as the family is taken care of in a way that will make life-long memories.

Some families will be driving across the country to experience the sights and sounds up close and personal. They look forward to showing the children the history and beauty of this nation, seeing with their own eyes the places they read about in history books. Long days of road tripping are washed away as the family jumps into a motel pool and savors local fare at an area diner. Parents relish their family's time together as they share classic anecdotes, favorite stories and songs they've all sung for years. Children call out with the obligatory "Are we there yet?" as they scan a countryside they've never seen before or haven't seen since last year's trip.

Some families are taking to the roads to connect with far-flung kinfolk who live at the end of the journey. Here the grandchildren get bounced on their grandparent's knees, nieces and nephews catch up on the exciting events taking place in their lives and cousins relive the days spent at the "children's table." Visiting family members living in different parts of the country ties the generations together with the thread of common experiences.

Some families opt out from hitting the road and try the "staycation" route. On this vacation, routine goes out the window as children get ice cream for supper, roast hot dogs over the grill for breakfast and parents are the ones sleeping in. On this go-nowhere venture, parents have to be careful not to slip into an un-fun routine of working around the house though. Nothing takes the sweetness out of time off from work than time spent working at home. Done right this break is perfect for movie marathons, going to ballgames, family bike rides, a day trip to a local museum, kids camping in the backyard and loads of sugar.

Summer vacation -- it's when the days last longer, the stars shine brighter and a field of fireflies turn on and off like little, floating lanterns, waiting for kids to cup them in their hands and drop them in a mason jar, complete with air holes punched in the top.

Whether you are planning a road trip or a stay-at-home vacation, I would suggest one activity that would be beneficial would be to let the family see a different side of you. Use this time to let your kids know what it was like when you were their age; tell them what you dreamed about as a kid; let them know you were young once -- and cool! Summer vacation is also a good time to tell them about their grandparents and the great parents you had. Through it all share with your kids how important God is in your life. Fortunately, the easiest way to do that is by just being there with them, loving them and having a blast together.

And isn't that what a summer vacation is all about?

Happy first day of summer!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Father's Day ~ 2011

Let's face it, it's often easier to surprise dad with a gift on Father's Day then it was to surprise mom on Mother's Day. Now I may be stretching it a bit here, but I believe it's because dads are easy -- at least when it comes to gifts. Most guys are happy with anything that has buttons, electronics or makes noise. Hence, any electronic or techno gizmo satisfies a man's gift expectations. So, an iPad, iPhone or anything with an "i" in front of it is sure to be a hit. Also anything requiring batteries is good, as would be just about anything related to a sport he enjoys, such as tickets to watch his favorite team play. Also high on the Father's Day gift list is stuff he can use to grill: BBQ tool sets, mitts, a meat thermometer, even a light to hook on his grill cover for overnight cooking. Always appreciated too are gifts of clothing. Steer clear here though of replacing his favorite garb, such as well-worn, workshop duds, beat-up T-shirts or loose-fitting sweaters when the weather turns cooler.

Equally appreciated are those special one-of-a-kind expressions of love hand-crafted by children and presented to dad. Some of the best memories dads will recall are opening gifts of plaster-cast molds of tiny hands, cleverly made construction paper cards and abstract clay creations that bear a faint resemblance to a bird or a vase. When I look at these special crafts today, I'm instantly transported back in time and relive the moment when I looked into the expectant eyes of my child, who was anxiously waiting to see if I would love their present. Those eyes will always remind me of the great gift I received with the birth of each of my children.

Father's Day is more than a time to honor dad, it is a time when dads cherish their role as fathers. Whether you are "dad," step-dad," granddad," "great-granddad" or "dad-in-law," you have a special place in the hearts of those who call you "dad." You are their leader, their model, their mentor, their teacher and their pattern for how to deal with life. Your individual characteristics, well known phrases and social values are all placed before the next generation to model and emulate. Your values shape theirs; your actions are a living illustration on how to act; your words are often repeated -- for better or worse -- verbatim. It is how life is -- like it or not. You are the dad, the leader.

For me, the best Father's Day gift this year would be seeing how the good I've contributed to my children is easy to spot and how the bad has been -- graciously and lovingly -- forgotten.

Happy Father's Day!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Of Jackie Gleason, Homer Simpson and James Bond

Television has been shaping the attitudes and views of children since its inception. Young minds absorb the images from the glowing box and emulate their favorite TV characters in dress, dialogue and actions. If the TV hero du jour fought for "truth, justice and the American way," while flying through the air with his cape flowing behind him, thousands of young boys tied towels around their necks, jumped off chairs and stood boldly with their hands on their hips. This was done, of course, with the hero's hapless villains bouncing rubber darts at his chest. If the hero du jour worked as a bus driver and threatened his wife with a one-way trip to the moon, thousands of young men grew to be husbands who also demanded their wives be subservient or they too would get a free trip to the moon. If the hero du jour worked in a nuclear power plant, drank beer and was self-absorbed with the moment -- ignoring his wife, children and neighbors -- then thousands of young boys felt empowered to talk back and live only for themselves.

Sometimes you will hear television writers maintaining the programs they create do not negatively impact societal values or conservative mores. Rather, they insist their programs are more like a mirror showing us who we are within our culture. The old question of "does art imitate life or does life imitate art?" seems to be answered in the first postulate. If that is true, I wonder what our society is really like in how men (husbands) treat women (wives).

It appears to me that for a long time the prevalent standard was that women were nothing more than second-class citizens designed for housework, mothering and waiting on their male counterparts. Women were viewed as weak, both in mind and in body. The show in which Jackie Gleason starred -- The Honeymooners -- regularly portrayed this attitude about women's supposed inferiority and servile status -- though Gleason's character, Ralph Kramden, did get his comeuppance on more than one occasion.

Then along came the 70s and the societal shift to the empowerment of women. Women were roaring as Helen Reddy sang to a nation. They were able to handle job, family and every other demand on their time and abilities. More recently, it's cartoons like The Simpsons and that family's patriarchal dolt who shows himself preeminent in being both incompetent and boorish. Such caricatures of men render them as self-absorbed dullards, needing women to care for them.

In today's culture a true "man's man" -- i.e. one who is confident, controlling, detached and self-preoccupied -- is the core stuff of movies and television programs everywhere. He is "the man" -- large and in charge. He's the brooding loner women whisper about, "the leader of the pack" who rallies lesser men, the alpha male who kicks butt and could care less about taking names, the super stud who drives women crazy and the attitude-adjusting biker who knows no bounds when delivering punishment.

Guys, I think we're more than a Jackie Gleason, Homer Simpson or James Bond. I think we are at our best when we honor our commitments, cherish our wife and are involved in the life of our children. I believe it is not the roar that gives us respect, but our role. It is our true, God-given vocation to be strong for our family -- not only with our muscles, but in our character.

Look around. There are dozens of examples we can follow, but only One is worthy of our attention.