Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Before You Turn the Calendar

It's just about time to turn the calendar from the old year to the new. But in this moment -- standing on the threshold between 2014 and 2015 -- are you looking backwards or forwards?

In the year now past, the world saw some amazing and horrific moments. And each of our lives had its ups and downs. As we look at the New Year on the immediate horizon, many hopes, goals and dreams await, as do many uncertainties -- not to mention the old familiar problems we're dragging with us into the new.

How many times have you turned the page from December to January? How many calendars have you set aside? I can't get to New Year's Eve without thinking about how many times I've stood at this brink before. I think about the New Years Day celebrations I've seen come and go and, more to the point, how many or few are left? Personally, I find it hard to believe we're already 15 years into the "new" millennium.

Really? Is that possible?

One of the oldest psalms in the Bible was written by Moses. He was talking about just this topic, "The years of our life are 70, or even by reason of strength 80; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away" (Psalm 90:10).

Also, note how the fleeting nature of our life is brought out so clearly in the fifth stanza of the hymn, "O God, our Help in Ages Past":

"Time, like an ever-rolling stream,
Soon bears us all away;
We fly forgotten as a dream
Dies at the opening day."

As we age, New Year's Eve can be a depressing thing, and for some it's unsettling. But Moses points us to God's immortality. "Lord, You have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever You had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting You are God" (Psalm 90:1-2).

Each new year is a reminder how temporary this earthly life is, but God reminds us He has always been here, is here now, and will be here forever. Jesus says just that in Revelation 1:8, "'I am the Alpha and the Omega,' says the Lord God, 'who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.'"

Because of Jesus' perfect life, innocent suffering and death, and glorious resurrection, we can have peace and joy as we stand at the beginning of another New Year. Though the coming year is -- to be sure -- filled with all kinds of unknowns, one thing is perfectly certain. Our God will be right here with us, bigger than any of our problems. No matter what we face, He offers His forgiveness, restoration, protection and rest. And after our last day, through Jesus Christ He promises us everlasting life. So let us remember as the New Year rings in, it's not a time to be gripped by fear, but a time to embrace God's eternal, unchanging promise in Jesus Christ our Savior.

Happy New Year to each and every one of you!

May the year ahead be a time of excellence and joy as you remember and honor the Father of all time, the Son He sent to save us, and the Holy Spirit who establishes and keeps us in that faith.

How do you plan on going boldly through the coming year? Do you have any pointers for those who get hung up on the changing of the calendar or who want to make a fresh start in 2015?

If so, you can click here and let us know.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Warrior Babe

What do you see when you look at the Christ Child in Bethlehem's manger: a tiny, vulnerable, helpless baby? Last weekend the children's choir at my church sang, "This Little Babe" by Benjamin Britten. It gave me an entirely different perspective on that Baby in a manger.

1. This little Babe so few days old,
Is come to rifle Satan's fold;
All hell doth at His presence quake,
though He Himself for cold do shake;
For in this week unarmed wise
the gates of hell He will surprise.

2. With tears He fights and wins the field,
His naked breast stands for a shield.
His battering shot are babish cries,
His arrows looks of weeping eyes.
His martial ensigns cold and need,
And feeble flesh His warrior's steed.

3. His camp is pitched in a stall,
His bulwark but a broken wall;
The crib His trench, haystalks His stakes,
Of shepherds He His muster makes.
And thus as sure His foe to wound,
The angels' trumps alarum(1) sound.

4. My soul with Christ join thou in fight;
Stick to the tents that He hath pight(2).
Within His crib is surest ward;
This little Babe will by thy guard.
If thou wilt foil thy foes with joy,
Then flit not from this heavenly Boy.

1. "alarum" - Old English for "alarm"
2. "pight" - Old English for "pitched"

Britten set the music to the last four stanzas of Robert Southwell's poem "New Heaven, New War." The "New Heaven" part calls on the angels to come to earth to celebrate the new dwelling place of their God and King. Britten's "This Little Babe" is the "New War" half of the poem. (Most guys probably don't read too much poetry, but this one is worthy of consideration.) You can check it out by clicking here!

That's one of the most intriguing things about Christmas. Who would ever expect God to become a vulnerable, helpless human baby, so He can take the battle to Satan? We'd more likely picture an epic Hollywood production with the glorious Son of God leading His angel armies in battle, blasting the evil vermin to smithereens, as their withered forms come crashing to the ground. But God's ways are not our ways. All our human eyes see is a tiny human baby. But through the eyes of faith we can see Southwell's Warrior Babe.

But the same thing applies to Jesus' crucifixion struggle with Satan. Who would expect it to occur at a place of execution? On Good Friday Jesus carries a great beam of wood to that decisive battle, but who would expect Him to permit Himself to be nailed to it? But it is precisely through that humility that He crushes the serpent's head. In His suffering and death He pays the price for human sin, setting us forever free from sin, death and hell.

That's the true wonder of Christmas: God's Son became one of us, arriving as He did, a small, vulnerable human to win salvation for each and every one.

Merry Christmas!

As we celebrate and revere God's Son of salvation this Christmas, we are renewed as we press on in faith in a tumultuous and uncertain world.

What does His appearance mean to you?

We'd be interested in hearing your views. You can tell us by clicking here!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

A Man's Man

Many people have a bucket list of things they want to do before they die. I have a list for after I die. Mainly, it involves the people I want to see when the Lord takes me home.

For one, I'm looking forward to catching up with my loved ones whom Jesus has brought home. It will be amazing to see Mom and Dad in glory, especially when my last memory of each is marred by the ravages of their cancers.

Next, I'd like to spend some time gazing at the angels in heaven. Apart from the Baby of Bethlehem Himself, nothing fascinates me more about Christmas than the angel hosts proclaiming His birth to shepherds and glorifying God in chorus.

Third, I have a list of people from the Bible I'm eager to meet: Mary and Joseph, to be sure, along with the shepherds and wise men. But one man who has always intrigued me is John the Baptist. I'm eager to look him in the eye and thank him for the impact he's made on me.

To me, John was a man's man. First, he lived out in the wilderness, eating locusts and wild honey. Then he took on the tough job of preparing stubborn, self-righteous people for a Savior they saw no need for. This included challenging proud Jewish religious leaders like King Herod, whom he called out for taking his brother's wife as his own, even though he risked imprisonment and execution to do so.

It was probably inevitable that such a strong man of God would be a magnet for young men moved by the Spirit to faith. A group of disciples attached themselves to John, and were so jealous for his sake that they got upset when Jesus began drawing the crowds away from their teacher.

It's John's humble reaction then that I admired most. He likened Jesus to a groom and himself to that groom's best man. "The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom's voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease" (see John 3:29-30). John knew Jesus was his God and Savior, and He deserved all the attention. That's what truly great men of God always do, lead people to the only One who can save them: Jesus Christ, God's Son, our Savior.

But this wasn't the first time John rejoiced greatly in the presence of his Lord and Savior. Mary had just been visited by the angel Gabriel, and Jesus had recently been miraculously conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, and was beginning to grow in her womb. She rushed off to visit John's mother Elizabeth and his father Zechariah. John was still unborn at the time, six months along in his mother's womb. But the moment Mary greeted Elizabeth, the Holy Spirit filled him, and he leaped with great joy in the presence of the Son of God, his Lord.

We can all know that same thrill and great rejoicing this Christmas as the Holy Spirit of God brings us again to gaze upon the Christ Child in Bethlehem's manger.

Actually, that makes me want to redo my bucket list for heaven. Before I talk to John the Baptist, admire the beauty of the angels, or see my parents, I want to feel that wondrous awe of gazing upon the beauty, glory and majesty of our Holy God -- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

What's on your bucket list? You can tell us by clicking here!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Comings and Stirrings

How is the Christmas shopping going? Mom was always pretty organized when I was a kid. Dad? That was a different story.

When I was a kid, Dad always waited until December 24th to go out and buy Mom's Christmas present. He took the day off from work, piled us five boys in the station wagon, and headed downtown to look in the storefront windows and decide what to get for Mom.

For the longest time, I thought Dad was a big procrastinator. He must have hated shopping, and only went out begrudgingly at the last minute because he knew "If momma ain't happy, ain't nobody happy." It seemed he had to be against the deadline before he could stir the interest, patience and energy to go out and brave the crowds.

I know better now.

I know Dad had his present for Mom picked out weeks ahead. The only reason he always waited until the 24th was because he and Mom were in cahoots. Each year they bought our family one big present and scheduled it to be delivered on December 24th -- while all of us were downtown with Dad.

One year that plan went slightly awry, however. That year Mom and Dad came rushing in the room, "C'mon on, put on your coats and gloves. It's time to go shopping. Hurry!" They hustled us off into the car, and away we went. Later on I learned the delivery truck had come earlier than expected. Mom asked them to drive around the block while Dad hurried us to the car at the last minute.

Mom and Dad each reached their heavenly home many years ago, but I still smile to think of the care and great effort they took to make our Christmases so special.

During the Sundays leading up to Christmas, the great church prayer (the Collect) begins with the words "Stir up." The first Sunday we asked Jesus Christ to stir up His power and come with all His angels to judge the world, drive out every evil, and bring us home forever.

Sometimes it seems that Day will never come, like He's sitting on His heavenly throne procrastinating, delaying until the last possible moment. But God has it all planned out. He's waiting for just the right time -- His time -- to rise from His throne and come down to judge us, save us from sin and death, and bring us to live with Him forever.

But then, we need to be ready for His coming, so this past week we prayed, "Stir up our hearts to make ready the way of Your only-begotten Son." We often procrastinate too. We need Him to remind us of our sin and our need for His salvation so that we can celebrate His birth, life, death and resurrection.

Many generations have come and gone since Jesus made that promise to return in glory, and we have no idea if Jesus will come in our lifetimes or many generations down the road.

But we can ask God to make us ready in either event, and we pray our Lord Jesus will find us faithful, watching and ready, whether His return or our own death comes first.

Christmas is such a momentous time of the year. How do you honor the Christ's coming while keeping your heart tuned to His pending return? You can tell us by clicking here!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Traveling toward Bethlehem

Monday morning I was on my way to drop my son off at school when I passed a Catholic church. In the front yard just beyond the sidewalk were figures: Joseph was guiding a donkey, and Mary was riding on its back. A few hundred feet down the road stood the little town of Bethlehem. I thought how unique that is.

Normally, when manger scenes are set out, all the characters are in place from the start. Mary kneels at the foot of the manger, and Joseph stands behind it. The Christ Child rests on the hay. The shepherds are there, leaning on their staffs, with sheep at their feet and lambs across their shoulders. Included also are the wise men, standing or kneeling with their gifts. Camels are present with other animals too, and an angel hovers above them all. This kind of Nativity is more like a picture postcard: static, unmoving. The figures stay in position until Christmas is over, and the set is put back in storage.

But the scene I passed that morning is dynamic, breathing the very life of that first Christmas. It carries us back to a living, vibrant moment in time, the most pivotal period in all of human history. Mary and Joseph traveled down from Nazareth to Bethlehem, and Jesus traveled along with them, as He grows in Mary's womb.

The distance between Joseph and Mary and their Bethlehem destination makes me wonder what that Catholic congregation will do in the coming weeks. Will they move Mary and Joseph a little closer each day or week? Will Mary and Joseph reach the city on the 24th? Will baby Jesus be in the manger that night? Will a bright star appear over the streets of Bethlehem? Will the shepherds show up a few hours later? Will the wise men begin their travels along the sidewalk, following that guiding star?

Once again my thoughts remind me that Jesus came into this world in a definite time and place. But He didn't come to stay in that manger. He grew up and moved on -- the same way each of us passes from childhood to adulthood. And in that growing the Savior experienced first-hand what our lives are all about.

Of course, He didn't need to become human to know what it is like to live as a human on earth. As the almighty Son of God on His throne in heaven, He knew human life better than any of us. But the fact that He actually came and lived out that life changes the picture dramatically. I often find myself doing things that seem insignificant or unimportant: the endless chores, the trivial tasks to be done at work or at home. But Jesus did the same kinds of things in His life. His life gives those moments in our lives honor, dignity and great significance.

But Jesus did one thing we can never do: He lived His life perfectly as our Substitute. And He suffered the punishment we deserve for all our failings and sins when He died in our place on the cross. The human passage of His birth, childhood, life, suffering, death and resurrection transformed all our paths, opening for us the opportunity to live forever with our God in His glory.

Like Mary and Joseph, each of us is on a journey through life. We may be walking that path with a few close friends, or all alone. But we're never really alone; Jesus Christ travels that road with each of us.

The Christmas story is one that changes everything for each of us. What does Christmas mean to you? You can tell us by clicking here!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Not Feeling Very Thankful?

Some Thanksgivings arrive during life's good times, finding us in the middle of exciting new relationships or new jobs, or we may be enjoying restored health or some newfound prosperity. In other years the tide may have turned. That's when financial struggles, unemployment, underemployment, health issues, broken relationships, or the loss of a loved one may be the norm. To be sure these difficulties can make holidays tough. And of all the holidays, it may well be that Thanksgiving is worst of all, especially when it feels like there's nothing to be thankful for.

If that's the case for you this year, I invite you to step back in time, to October 3, 1863, to be exact. Welcome to the Civil War. Here, delivered midstream in that bloody conflict, are the words of President Abraham Lincoln:

"The year that is drawing toward its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever-watchful providence of Almighty God.

"In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign states to invite and provoke their aggressions, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere, except in the theater of military conflict; while that theater has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union.

"Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defense have not arrested the plow, the shuttle, or the ship; the ax has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege, and the battlefield, and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.

"No human counsel hath devised, nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.

"It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American people. I do, therefore, invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a Day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens. And I recommend to them that, while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation, and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and union.

"In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United Stated States to be affixed.

"Done at the city of Washington, this third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the United States the eighty-eighth."

Abraham Lincoln

Thankfulness and humility before "our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens" -- now those are words to remember. What are your thoughts on President Lincoln's establishment of a national day of "thanksgiving and praise"? You can tell us by clicking here!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Happily Ever After?

I enjoyed fairy tales when I was young. I don't think I'm alone on that because those same stories continue to be passed on from generation to generation -- even turned into TV shows and feature films. Why so popular? Because in the end they all live happily ever after. But experience teaches us that's not how real life works. Throughout our lives we will continue to struggle with various problems: sorrow and heartbreak, financial struggles, relationship problems, sickness and, finally, death. Whatever we may have thought as kids, fairy tales don't come true.

Or do they?

When I was a senior in high school, there was a popular book entitled, Is there Life after High School? Though I never read it, I did ponder the question. I thought life after high school would be golden, filled with loads of good stuff, you know, happily ever after stuff. I'd have no more homework, no more class schedules, no more curfews.

But I discovered life after high school was work, and rush-hour traffic, and uncertainties. Then came college and a whole new set of hurdles to jump. Each time I've crossed a threshold from one phase to another, I've found the new phase was never quite as golden as I thought it would be. Finishing college, taking my first job, watching my bride walk down the aisle, sitting in the birthing suite and hearing the doctor say the baby is on his way -- those new phases are full of promise and joy, but they aren't happily ever after.

I expect the same thing will be true in the remaining phases of my life, as in when my son goes off to college next fall and -- if God is willing -- I see retirement, and the closing years of my life. Each phase will have plenty of troubles, trials, tears and frustrations of its own.

So, the fairy-tale ending is not realistic, at least not for this life. But what if we step back and look at the broader picture? What happens after death?

In a week and a half we'll be into another Advent season, and then Christmas. We'll talk about a young virgin girl named Mary, and Joseph, her betrothed. It was during this betrothal separation that Joseph discovered Mary was pregnant, and learned in an angelic dream the baby was none other than God's own Son.

Centuries ago, betrothals were different than our contemporary engagements. A betrothal was a binding, legal commitment. It was more like a wedding than an engagement. The husband and wife remained apart, living with their parents until the wedding feast. During that period of separation, the husband established his career and prepared a home for his bride. Finally, when everything was ready, he came for her. They celebrated a lavish marriage feast, and he took her to live with him in their new home.

The night before Jesus died, He made a fairy-tale promise that picked up this betrothal language. "In My Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to Myself, that where I am you may be also" (John 14:2-3).

This betrothal language dovetails very nicely into the fairy tales I enjoyed as a child. God the Father is our Heavenly King. Jesus Christ is His Son, our Prince Charming. All of us as believers are the Cinderellas He raises from the dust to live with Him in His Kingdom.

On Judgment Day Jesus will return to take us home, and then, with glorified bodies, we will live happily ever after in our Heavenly Father's house.

So, when you think about it, your life really is a fairy tale; we just won't get to that "happily ever after" part until Jesus returns to take us home. I think Paul had that fairy-tale ending in mind when he wrote, "I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us" (Romans 8:18).

A fairy-tale ending, that's not quite what we expect from this life, is it? You can tell us what you think by clicking here!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Judgment Day Is Near

Tension is building in St. Louis. Shop owners in Ferguson are boarding up their stores. People across the county are stocking up on essentials. Schools and businesses are making plans to minimize damage. Commuters are checking alternate routes in case the interstates are shut down. I've heard one rumor the Missouri National Guard has reserved a hundred hotel rooms downtown. On social media pages people have posted pictures of National Guard helicopter formations flying up from the south and tanks sitting on trailers in fast food parking lots. It feels like Judgment Day is drawing near.

What's all the fretting about? The grand jury in the shooting death of Michael Brown is nearing a decision on whether to charge Darren Wilson, the police officer, with a crime or not. Many expect the officer will be acquitted, and that could launch another wave of protests, possibly violent. I've heard law enforcement officers are moving their families out of town, and there are even rumors that attempts will be made to ambush law enforcement officers.

It reminds one of Matthew 25:13, where Jesus warns, "Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour." We don't know what day or hour the grand jury's decision will be released, and we certainly don't know what day or hour our Lord will return.

While we await the grand jury's decision, many people in St. Louis are working hard to be peacemakers. They are encouraging protestors to remain peaceful, to find non-violent ways to express their opinions. They want to avoid the looting, gunfire, fire bombs, and other malicious acts that characterized the first days of the Michael Brown protests in August. Sad to say, the shooting and the tumultuous aftermath have made the town of Ferguson a household name around the world.

It seems to me that is what Jesus was doing the last days before His death on the cross. He was warning of God's coming judgment, alluding to the angel armies that would come to subdue all opposition to God and bring each sinner before God for judgment. Jesus and His church are busy warning us of that day, pleading with us to turn from our sins and selfishness, and recognize God's righteous judgment. He is inviting us to find salvation by trusting in His promise of forgiveness for Jesus' sake. That's why I give thanks for God's peacemakers, especially His Son Jesus Christ and all who share the good news of what He has done for us all.

So, in St. Louis, we'll spend these days praying and trying to encourage peace as we await the grand jury response. But here and all around the world we have another Judgment Day to prepare for. May we be busy warning others of God's pending judgment, and encouraging everyone to find peace with God through Jesus Christ our Savior.

The situation in Ferguson and greater St. Louis is a touchy one. You can share your thoughts on this matter by clicking here!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Campaign Season

I shuddered when I wrote that title. I'd much rather write about children trick or treating, or the beautiful autumn leaves blowing across the highway outside my window. The best thing I can say is it's all over, at least for the next few months. Of course, with 2016 comes a presidential election, so I'm afraid our respite will be short-lived indeed. Before long, new candidates will be popping up, and the frenzy of campaigning and media coverage will start all over again.

I find it depressing to think of modern campaign tactics: all the negativity, the politics of fear, the misinformation, and half-truths. Back in the '60s when I was a kid (that's right, back when we walked to school, uphill, both ways; no, we weren't the ones who had to wear trash bags over our feet; that was our parents), politics seemed a more noble game, a little more civil. Candidates spoke more eloquently about the positive changes they would make; they showed respect for their adversaries. Throwing mud at other candidates was classless, a sign of desperation.

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.

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."

In this month where we 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 --just like me trying to do mine. 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'll enjoy our short respite from campaign ads, and give thanks for all God does for us through our government. And 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 post your thoughts here: click here!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

I Have Not Lived In Vain

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.

This is a good day to stop and examine our motives, and the course of our lives. When you stand at the end of your life and look back, what would make you say, "I have not lived in vain"?

You can share your thoughts here: click here!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

No, I'm not talking about Christmas, even though Christmas decorations are up in most every store already. I'm talking about the most exciting time for a sports fan: the World Series for baseball, mid-season for the NFL and college football, early season for the NHL, and just another week before the NBA kicks off. It's a wonderful time to be a sports fan.

My favorite things about spectator sports are the distractions they provide, the lessons they teach, and the ways they pull us together.

Sometimes we all need a good distraction. Life in this world gets really heavy at times. When the daily news, along with our own personal and professional struggles weigh us down, sports gives us that moment to rest our minds, drink a brew or two, recharge and laugh with friends.

Sports also teach great life lessons like when I'm tempted to give up because times are hard. That's when I see an offensive or defensive line getting mauled, a baseball team getting shut out at the plate, a hockey team's fourth line getting trapped on the ice with the other team's first line, or an NBA team trying to beat a suffocating defense. These situations remind me to simplify things, keep chugging away, and don't stop believing.

But the thing I love most about sports is how they tie boyhood and manhood together. When you boil down each of these sports, they're all about hitting a ball or a puck, or carrying a ball, while others try to get it from you or knock you down. How great is that? Think about it. A football play isn't over until the guy carrying the ball gets knocked down to the ground, steps out of bounds, or crosses the goal line. That is so cool, especially in the mud and snow! That's what takes me back to my boyhood. I can still remember the "Ice Bowl" between the Packers and the Cowboys on a frigid Lambeau Field on New Year's Eve 1967. Talk about a test of grit and mettle!

At the same time, they are grown-up sports because of all the strategy, cunning and, when necessary, deceit. Brilliant coaches come up with disguised blitz packages; pulling guards and punt return misdirections; bunts and pick-off throws; breakaways and one-timers; picks and block outs.

Does that make sports the most important part of life? Of course not. In the big scheme of things it doesn't matter if my team wins the World Series, the NFL championship, the NBA title, or the Stanley Cup this season, because next year we'll start 0-0 and have to do it all over again. Meanwhile, there will still be problems and struggles in my family, community, and at work. But that brief hour or three helps me regain my focus, getting rejuvenated to put my shoulder to the load and press on.

Actually, everything I've written about sports above applies to my time with God too, everything that is, except the part about God not being the most important part of life. Every encounter I have with God -- whether at worship, Bible class, devotions, personal Bible reading, or prayer time -- is God pulling me out of the daily grind and reminding me of greater things that await at the end of the road. He reminds me that this life and all its accompanying problems won't last forever. A day will come when Jesus Christ will call us to a new, different and better life. When that happens all those problems dragging us down today will be gone forever.

Now that's something to cheer about!

I'll always love this time of year in sports, but I love my time with God even more.

What's your favorite time of the year? Go here to tell us what you think: click here!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Silenced by Stories

Brittany Maynard plans to die November 1. Her story is sad and devastating. She is 29 years old, newly married, with absolutely no hope for the future. An inoperable tumor is growing out of control in her brain. So she has moved to Oregon where she can take medicines to die with dignity rather than dragging her family and herself through the devastation of the slow, painful death doctors predict.

I think Brittany is making a huge mistake. I think she should lean on God's greater wisdom and His loving will rather than her own understanding. But that probably sounds presumptuous of me since I don't share her diagnosis. I can even hear someone saying, "You have no right to speak about something you've never faced."

How can I speak to someone else's story that I don't share? One way is to look at the stories of Christians who face the same problems. For instance, Maggie Karner shares Brittany Maynard's bitter diagnosis of stage-four gliobastoma multiforme brain tumor. But Maggie has a radically different outlook:

"Death sucks. And while this leads many to attempt to calm their fears by grasping for personal control over the situation, as a Christian with a Savior who loves me dearly and who has redeemed me from a dying world, I have a higher calling. God wants me to be comfortable in my dependence on Him and others, to live with Him in peace and comfort no matter what comes my way. As for my cancer journey, circumstances out of my control are not the worst thing that can happen to me. The worst thing would be losing faith, refusing to trust in God's purpose in my life and trying to grab that control myself."

You can read a piece Maggie wrote about her circumstances by clicking here.

But there is an even bigger issue that Brittany Maynard is working towards. She firmly refuses to call what she is planning to do "suicide." She wants us to think of it as "death with dignity" instead. She wants to use her story to reposition the way we think about death at one's own hand.

That's my problem with such powerful, personal stories. They are so compelling, so tragic, and heart-rending that they become larger than life. They make the victim seem the absolute authority instead of God. The stories make us lose perspective and objectivity. They keep us from stepping back and seeing the big picture in life -- from seeing our Creator's view of this life.

Maybe I'm wrong, but it seems to me the idea of living and dying on our own terms is an illusion. I had no say on who my mother and father would be, or how they would raise me. I had no control of where we lived, or whether I would grow up rich, poor or middle class. I couldn't control my height or my talents -- only what I did with them. I can't control the weather, or the economy, or the success of my favorite sports team. Why should I expect to be able to control my death?

Even if I had such control, would I really know what to do? If I was trying to wrap my head around the devastating diagnosis Brittany and Maggie and their families are trying to grasp, could I think straight and make the right decision? I'd be experiencing incredible emotional turmoil on the inside, and dealing with the high drama swirling outside of me. Do I really think I would have the insight, the wisdom, and the perspective to see things clearly and make the right decision?

On October 15, 1946, Hermann Goering's world was crashing down around him. The Nazi war criminal was sentenced to death in the post-war Nuremburg trials. Instead of facing the hangman's noose, Goering chose to die on his own terms. He killed himself by biting down on a cyanide capsule he had hidden somewhere in his clothing or on his person.

Contrast Goering to a criminal two thousand years before. Instead of a quick death by hanging from a rope, this criminal faced a slow, agonizing death by hanging on a cross. Perhaps, given the opportunity, he too would have killed himself before the soldiers dragged him out of his cell, but he had no such choice. Instead, he was hung next to Jesus.

Despite the indignity and the horrendous suffering he endured -- I'm tempted to say because of it -- that criminal heard Jesus' words of forgiveness. He took a long, hard look inside, confessed his sin, and pleaded with Jesus, "Remember me when You come into Your Kingdom." And he received the assurance from Jesus Himself, "Today, you will be with Me in paradise" (see Luke 23:42-43).

When I hear Brittany talk about her diagnosis, her story is powerful and convincing. She makes a compelling argument that perhaps we should stop calling it "suicide" and call it "death with dignity" instead. But why should I give Brittany more authority than God Himself? In the Bible the Lord forbids killing -- whether it is ending someone else's life or our own. That might sound cold, outdated, narrow-minded, even hate-filled. But we need to stop and remember who is speaking here. It is our Creator who knows us better than we know ourselves. It is the God who holds all time in His hands, who knows our greatest needs and how to satisfy them. It is the God who loves us enough to send His Son as our Savior.

People tell us powerful stories, but the Bible tells us the greatest, most compelling story of all: the selfless love of God's Son, Jesus Christ, who gave Himself to the indignity of flogging, crucifixion, death and a borrowed grave to guarantee that all of us who believe in Him will inherit a glorious, eternal life in heaven.

How do these strong, personal, compelling stories affect you? Go here to tell us what you think: click here!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

On Becoming a Man

Back in August, my son applied for college -- last week he was accepted. So after he finishes his senior year at high school, this time next year he'll be taking his next step to becoming a man.

That got me thinking ... when did I go from being a boy to a man? Was there a specific moment in time, a rite of passage? Or was it more of a continuum where I gradually left my childhood behind and embraced manhood?

For me it was more of a continuum. It started as a 12-year-old standing in front of the church at confirmation to claim the Christian faith as my own. Next, came my first driver's license, then my first job, then a high school diploma. Each step along the way I made another transition into manhood, but still I never quite felt I was entirely there.

College acceptance came after that, with my confidence growing as the list of completed classes grew larger. Finally, I walked across the stage to receive my diploma. But that didn't make me feel like a man because I was still living at home.

For me, the mental shift took graduating from seminary and moving out of state to take my first call as a pastor. Finally, I had cut the cord to my parents and paid my own bills from my own paycheck. Finally, I felt like a man.

This sense of manhood was heightened the day I got married; it was awakened again two years later when I looked down into the wondering eyes of my newborn son. I felt more a man after each one of those joy-filled events than I had before.

There were other poignant moments in my life that stand out too. I think burying my father and then, years later, my mother, were two more big steps in becoming my own man.

Now I'm in my mid-50s, standing firmly on what I hope will be a slow, gradual slide toward old age and all the problems that come along with an aging body. I can't help but think of senior men I visited 20 years ago in the parish. These were guys who told me with sadness how they felt like half the man they used to be -- and all because they couldn't manage the routine physical things they use to do like mowing the lawn, doing odd jobs around the house, or tossing a football around.

It makes me wonder: will there ever come a time when I'll truly feel like a man?

The answer to that may well be "not in this life." But, that being said, I am confident of one thing: while full manhood may elude me in this world, by the grace of God I'll know it completely in the next.

When did you feel like you arrived as a man? Go here to tell us what you think: click here!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

What's the End-Goal of Parental Discipline?

Now that the emotional furor surrounding Adrian Peterson's discipline style has settled down a bit, I thought I'd take another look at parental discipline. I think we get bogged down in methods, and we forget to step back and consider the long-term purpose of our parental discipline. Isn't the end-goal of all our discipline to send our young men and women off into the world equipped to discipline themselves, to control their own dangerous and destructive desires?

Parental discipline is vital for our children -- 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 desire to instantly buy all the stuff it took our parents 20 years to acquire, the tremendous pressure to conform to our peers who seemed so sure of themselves but were blinded by their own inexperience and lack of perspective.

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 can 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 perspective, we now turn to discipline. Each child is different. Some are more sensitive than others. Some learn fast while others are headstrong and stubborn. Since each child is different and every situation unique, it's important to remember all the different tools you have in your parenting tool box. Sure, you have corporal punishment, but there's no need to use a hammer if a screwdriver will work. Then again, maybe some sandpaper is all you need. There's always time-tested grounding, withholding of privileges, etc. Please feel free to add your own favorites in the comments below.

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 passion of the 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, and give them the invaluable experience of working through things they encounter at school, at work, on the Internet, or in the community.

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. Statistics show that a father's involvement (or lack thereof) in worship influences the worship attendance of their children even more than mom's. Jesus said it well in Mark 8:36. "What does it profit (your child) to gain the whole world and forfeit his/her soul?"

Your comments on the Men's NetWork blog are always welcome. Go here to tell us what you think: Click here!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

A Little Perspective, Please

I was planning to write about a sideline incident at the Rams/Cowboys game last Sunday. It seemed like a good reminder of pulling together in tough situations rather than letting adversity drive us apart. But I just came back from an informational meeting and somehow an NFL sideline issue doesn't seem quite so important anymore.

The Men's NetWork's parent organization, Lutheran Hour Ministries, has many international ministry centers. Yesterday, (Monday) the director of our Lebanon ministry center gave a report on the plight of Syrian and Iraqi refugees. Before the war, Lebanon had a population of 4.4 million. Then between 2012 and 2014 about 1 million Syrian refugees crossed the Lebanese border to flee atrocities by Bashar al-Assad's Syrian government. With this year's sudden rise of the even more brutal Islamic State (also known as ISIS and ISIL), another 400,000 refugees from Syria and Iraq have crossed the border into Lebanon. Adding 1.4 million refugees to a country of 4.4 million has been overwhelming for Lebanon.

Sunday night I watched a 60 Minutes report on ISIS that kicked off the new season. It spoke of a village of Christians where men were separated from the women and children; the men were trucked off to a nearby mass grave, lined up, and shot with multiple weapons. The interview included two wounded brothers who crawled out of that grave when a plane flew overhead and scared off the Islamic State soldiers.

This morning we saw a slide of a house in Mosul, Iraq. In the middle of the night ISIS had painted the Arabic letter "nun" (its shape is essentially a rounded "u" with a dot over its center) on the wall. It's equivalent to our letter "n" and stands for Nazarene, referring to Jesus -- of Nazareth. It notified the Christians inside they had 48 hours to make a choice: convert to ISIS' oppressive brand of Islam, pay an exorbitant war tax on each individual in the house, or face barbaric execution for the men and enslavement for the women. Defying this choice, most Christians flee. A few days later a second announcement was spray painted on that wall: "Property of the Islamic State."

I couldn't help thinking of the victims of Nazi Germany in World War II. The Star of David was painted on the homes of Jews, and their possessions confiscated by the government. Stories circulated about terrible atrocities and genocide, but they were unbelievable -- even when reports spread from Soviet soldiers coming across places like Auschwitz, as they drove through Poland toward Germany. How many memorials have we built so the world will never see another holocaust like that one? God give wisdom to the leaders of our nation and the world, and guide their considerations!

Of course, Christians aren't the only people fleeing ISIS. Refugees include anyone who is not willing to join the Islamic State such as Shi'a and Sunni Muslims, and other ethnic minorities. Now more than a million refugees are living in tent cities scattered across Lebanon. Hundreds of thousands of children are living without adequate food, hygiene, education or the prospect of a future.

If there is a bright light, it is the brave staff of our Lebanon ministry center. They are going into those camps, sitting down with these displaced families, learning their stories, and addressing individual needs that organizations like the UN and the International Red Cross are unable to meet (medication, diapers, baby formula, etc.). And most importantly, our ministry center personnel are sharing the victorious love of Jesus Christ with people who are homeless, hurting, and in desperate need.

This week I was going to write about a sideline incident in the NFL, but in the big scheme of things it's just that: a sideline incident. I'd encourage you to keep up with the Lebanon story by going to its blog. Click here to read!

Please keep the victims, those who help them, and the entire Middle East in your prayers. If you'd like to learn how you can help fund our Lebanon ministry center's individual care for families, you can do that here.

Reach out to victims of ISIS persecution in Syria and Iraq: Click here!

Your comments on the Men's NetWork blog are always welcome. To tell us what you think, click here!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

It Was Never Our Intention

Urban Outfitters had a great idea: sell college sweatshirts from the '70s in a sun-faded vintage collection. But it didn't work out so well when it came to the Kent State University sweatshirt.

Had Kent State chosen blue or green as its school color it wouldn't have been a big deal. But Kent State chose red. When you take a dark red sweatshirt and fade it down, there are spots of dark red that remain -- and oddly -- they look a lot like blood stains. The vintage collection also wants to build in the wear and tear of 45 years, so they added holes that look -- again, strangely -- like bullet holes.

It was eerily reminiscent of the Kent State massacre in 1970 when four unarmed students were shot and killed by the Ohio National Guard in a Vietnam War protest. You can only imagine the PR disaster that resulted. Urban Outfitters immediately removed the sweatshirt from its website.

Was it an honest mistake, or was the company intentionally pushing the envelope to increase sales? Urban Outfitters wrote, "It was never our intention to allude to the tragic events that took place at Kent State in 1970 and we are extremely saddened that this item was perceived as such." Click here to see the sweatshirt!

This brings to mind the whole matter of giving and taking offense. Growing up in the 1960s I was taught to hold a door open for a lady, but by the 1980s I was told that was offensive and chauvinistic. I got my degree in elementary education in the late 1980s and was warned about putting my hand on a child's shoulder or giving a hug. To do so was fine for a female teacher, but not a male teacher. People's perceptions were changing, and they became increasingly suspicious of a man that would want to be a teacher of young children.

Over the years the lines have only become more blurry. If we want to avoid being bombarded by criticism -- especially online -- we have to walk a narrow tightrope of people's perceptions.

The reason for this is we can't read each other's minds. Therefore, we have to guess at the hidden motives of the heart as they are demonstrated in the words, deeds and attitudes of those with whom we interact. And they have to do the same with us.

That's why we can do and say things with the best of intentions, yet be attacked by someone who took offense at our words or actions. Jesus was quite familiar with that.

But there is only One who perfectly knows what was in the heart of the folks at Urban Outfitters ... and what is in your heart and mine. Our God alone completely perceives our intentions, our thoughts, and desires. Of course, that's a scary thought when we realize our sin lies bare before His eyes. But that is why He sent His Son Jesus to pay for our sins of thought, desire, word and deed.

As we move forward in His forgiveness, we have to remember the message of the cross is offensive in and of itself. We don't need to add to it by our careless words or behavior. Just like Jesus in His earthly life, we strive to be as loving, pure and winsome as possible (see Matthew 5:48; 18:6-9; 1 Corinthians 8). But knowing the power of sin and temptation, we know we will be misperceived just as Jesus was. Just keep one thing in mind: in the end, the only perception that really matters is His.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

When the Other Shoe Drops

Last February, video was released showing Baltimore Raven Ray Rice dragging his unconscious fiancée from a casino elevator. The NFL saw the tape and suspended Rice for the first two games of the 2014 NFL season.

Now the other shoe has dropped.

Early Monday morning TMZ released security video footage from inside that elevator. All that morning "Ray Rice" was trending number one on Twitter. Most tweets were calling for the Ravens to release Rice. Others wondered why everyone was so shocked by the violence on the video; there must have been a reason she was unconscious when he dragged her out from behind the closed doors of the elevator.

But seeing the deed on video somehow made it more damning. Staring down that video evidence the Ravens had no choice but to release Rice Monday afternoon; the NFL commissioner had no choice but to suspend him indefinitely; every other NFL team considers him radioactive; and now Rice faces the very distinct possibility he has played his last NFL football game a month before he took his fiancée to that casino.

But what if you stood in Rice's place? Each of us has done shameful things "behind closed doors." How would you feel if your darkest deeds were somehow secretly recorded and then shown to the whole world? Makes me real glad I'm not a celebrity.

The trouble is there actually is Someone who knows every dark, shameful thing I've ever done or said, even behind closed doors. What's more, His record doesn't just include the things I've done and said; it shows the very thoughts, desires and attitudes that were lying behind those deeds and sayings. I may shudder to think of the world's shock and outrage if it could look into my heart and mind, but what about standing face to face with my Creator and God and facing His wrath and rage?

We can bury our head in the sand and convince ourselves there is no Creator and Judge. We can deceive ourselves into thinking we are here by chance or the coincidences of evolution. It's easy to bury our deep, dark secrets and convince ourselves they will never see the light of day. Maybe that's what Ray Rice thought: two games' suspension and it would all be over. But that tape was still out there, and no wishful thinking could make it go away -- just like God's knowledge of our sins.

That's the toughest part of confession: to stand before our God in honesty, our sins exposed, our hands stained with blood. But the incredible thing is God's answer. It isn't shock and outrage. It isn't God calling for our heads. That's because 2,000 years ago Jesus took Ray Rice's place, your place, and my place, and suffered God's wrath on the cross -- for us. Now God's answer is forgiveness, peace, restoration.

Ray Rice is paying a huge price for what he did in that elevator, and that penalty may well follow him throughout his earthly life. But Jesus Christ paid the greater price for him. The risen Lord offers him forgiveness and the certainty that our Heavenly Father will never reject him or cut him loose, but receive him into an eternal home far more glorious than anything the NFL could ever offer.

That offer stands for you and me as well.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

My Favorite Season

Ah, it's here again. Labor Day is past and football season is back. High school games began a couple of weeks ago; college pre-conference season games are underway, and the NFL kicks off with a big game as the Seahawks and Packers meet 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 loud speakers as I ran for touchdown after touchdown. But there was one problem: I was too thin and scrawny. 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 grueling hours practicing and working out.

The guys on the football team and those of us in the marching band took our separate paths. Each day we practiced, and so did they. But every Friday night we came together, each ready to take the field in our own time, and bring glory to our school. 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, isn't it? These days I find myself in a similar situation with my son. He's started his senior year at high school, eager to graduate and head off to college next year. I'd love to be out 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 at school preparing to succeed at college and forge ahead with his career.

Like the marching band and the football team, we'll end up doing our stuff apart. 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.
The other day the thought finally sank in that odds are I won't be there to watch his whole game. After all, my dad died the day before my game began -- the day I was ordained into the ministry.

Thinking of my son, it's likely I'll miss many, if not most, of the greatest accomplishments in his life. But if I can be around for the first quarter or even the first half, I'll be a very grateful man.

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?

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

A Special Witness

"Will you suffer all, even death, rather than ...?" That was a troubling question I was asked when I stood before my congregation as a 14-year-old to confirm the faith God created in me at my Baptism. What if I was put on the spot -- what if my very life was on the line -- would I hold to my public confession that Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior?

Last week the world was shocked and outraged by the beheading of American journalist James Foley by his Muslim captors from Islamic State. (This extremist Muslim group has also gone by the names ISI (Islamic State of Iraq), ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria), and ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant -- another name for the region bordering the eastern Mediterranean Sea, which includes Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria).

What I haven't heard very often is that James Foley was a devout Christian.

I came across a USA Today article by David McKay Wilson titled, "James Foley: beheading victim had deep faith." Wilson shared his recollections of a 2011 interview after Foley's release from his 45-day captivity by the Libyan government of Muammar Gaddafi. He described Foley as "a devout Christian, who, unlike most journalists I've known during my almost four decades in the field, was unapologetic about his heart for social justice and the inspiration he found for his beliefs in the New Testament." During his first imprisonment, Foley had prayed frequently and listened to a fellow prisoner read from the Gospel of Matthew daily. He credited God with his rescue back then.

A year later Foley's faith drove him to enter Syria and expose the suffering from the civil war, which still rages there. On Thanksgiving Day 2012 he was captured and held for two years before being executed.

Wilson closed his article with these words: "This time, God did not answer James Foley's prayers. This time, James Foley was not delivered from evil."

To all earthly appearances Wilson is correct. It looks like God stood by disinterestedly while Foley and hundreds -- perhaps thousands -- of His children are being executed for their faith.

But Wilson is wrong. God did answer their prayers, granting James Foley and each of them a final, complete deliverance from evil as He took them out of this world of tears and suffering and brought them into the glorious splendor of His presence.

The tragic thing is that not only Christians are being executed at the hands of the Islamic State, different ethnic groups, and other Muslims who don't know the Savior are being killed as well.

While we wait for the world's leaders to take action, there are two things we can do to help those suffering at ISIS' hands. Consider helping our Lebanon ministry center reach out with the Good News of God's love in Jesus Christ through radio broadcasts and care packages to refugees, and pray fervently -- as James Foley did -- for our Christian brothers and sisters, for the non-Christians who are being persecuted and killed, and for the members of ISIS who have been blinded by hate.

Reach Out to Victims of ISIS Persecution in Syria and Iraq: Click here!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

We're All in This Together

America was shocked last week when it learned that Robin Williams had died. We were even more shocked to learn his death came by his own hand. My first thought was how happy and upbeat he always seemed to be. But as the week went by Williams' struggles came to light: persistent financial stress, a cancelled television series, smaller movie roles, open-heart surgery, bouts of severe depression and, to top it all off, Parkinson's disease. Each of these stressors played a part in creating the dark, swirling despair that pressed down upon him.

As is often the case, there were signs that Williams was struggling -- and losing -- that battle. Comedian and friend Rick Overton noticed, "He started to disconnect. He wasn't returning calls as much. He would send texts and things like that, but they would get shorter and shorter." Another comedian and lifelong friend, Steven Pearl, said, "You could just tell something was off. He seemed detached. It's hard to explain. He didn't seem like his usual self. My fiancée and I were like 'Is he okay?' I didn't know it would get this dark."

Have you ever seen these warning signs from a friend or acquaintance? You're tempted to say something, but end up convincing yourself to mind your own business. After all, it will likely pass anyway. Tragically, sometimes those friends or acquaintances take their own lives as Robin Williams did.

Since this sad story broke we've heard a lot of talk about the difficulty men have dealing with depression and the suicidal thoughts that result. We can find it very hard to open up to our friends, to share our emotional struggles, to find someone who can bring us the strength and encouragement to get us through our dark times.

It may seem intimidating to try to help a friend struggling with depression. Often we feel unqualified, feeling as if we have to be a trained counselor or psychiatrist to offer help. But that's often not the case. If someone hasn't sunk into the pit of despair, it's often a matter of showing interest, being willing to listen to someone's problems, sharing a promise of God. Often bringing those dark thoughts out into the light of day is all that is needed to restore that person's perspective.

This is one of the goals of Men's NetWork Bible studies. Many of the discussions that arise from these studies are intended to help users build a close-knit network of good friends. Ideally, these individuals will possess some similar circumstances in their lives, which can then help establish a common ground where it's safe to be open and honest. Here guys not only receive a pat on the back, but also get the chance to give one to another guy who's struggling.

Living in God's strength, power and joy through Jesus Christ, we can be those friends who see the warning signs -- and act on them in Spirit-given compassion, strength and courage.

Is there anyone in your circle of influence who might benefit from a kind word today?

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Picking up Shattered Dreams

David Wilson had the same dream many of us had as children: he dreamed of playing running back in the National Football League. Unlike most of us, his hard work and dedication, coupled with his God-given talents, made that dream came true. The New York Giants drafted him as running back in 2012. "At a young age I had a dream to play in the NFL. And I did that. I played in the NFL, and I scored touchdowns, and I broke tackles, and I broke and set records."

In just his second season in the NFL, however, his dream came into jeopardy. Wilson suffered a serious neck injury in October 2013. But that didn't diminish his drive to continue in the NFL. He worked all the harder to recovery, regain his strength and stamina, and return to his life's dream.

Just two weeks ago Wilson was out on the Giant's practice field doing just that when he aggravated his injury. After consulting with doctors he announced last week that he must set aside his dream and retire from the NFL. His lifelong dream died at the age of 23.

Every one of us faces that sort of setback in our life at one point or another. Deeply cherished dreams die, timetables get broken, jobs are lost, marriages crumble, and friends go their separate ways. For some of us midlife hits us with the realization our life will never go the way we thought it would, and like Solomon we conclude, "All is vanity. What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?" (See Ecclesiastes 1:2-3.)

What do you do when your dreams lie shattered at your feet? We can learn a lot from a 23- year-old. David Wilson didn't sit and pity himself; instead, he kept his head up and began looking to see where he could go from here. He said, "Don't for a second do you all think that I'm pitying myself or sad because I got to live my dream. I'll set another dream and be great at that because I always look at trying to be great at whatever I do."

First, he expressed thankfulness to God for the time He gave him to do the thing he loved the most, and then he opened his eyes to see what new path God was placing in front of him. Wilson advises us, "Even if one dream seems to fade away, set another goal, set another dream, and try to reach that."

What great disappointments have you faced? What new path(s) did God open for you? How have you responded to this change of direction?

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Using Your Talents to the Utmost

Did you watch the Giants beat the Bills 17-13 in the Hall of Fame Game Sunday night? I enjoy seeing the NFL kick off another preseason. But I must admit, as a fan, I find it hard to get too excited about the scores or the results. After all, the teams are using these games for purposes other than victory. Instead, they're often testing new coaching schemes, running new plays, determining how the units are gelling together and, of course, trying to sort out which players to keep and which to cut in the weeks ahead.

A while back I came across an article about training camp from Ryan Riddle. It sounds like players think very differently about the NFL preseason than do the fans:

"After the first week of camp, the body has been smashed, tossed and bent so much that you can no longer discern between bruised and normal tissue. Every muscle throughout your entire body is so incredibly sore that the short walk from hotel to practice field is no easy feat.

"Every year around this time, my feet would develop massive blisters on the big toes that were terribly painful. But when you need to prove yourself to the coaches and organization, you do whatever it takes to carry on."

It's amazing to think what a man will sacrifice for his goals -- and how much of himself he will invest to attain them. But you don't just see that incredible sacrifice among professional athletes, you see it in members of our armed forces, police, firefighters, and EMTs. You see it in doctors, lawyers, accountants, salesmen -- all jobs that require dedication, skill, hard work, and persistence.

That's why our occupations are so essential to human society. They may not all be lucrative, or glamorous, or held in high esteem. But as Mike Rowe pointed out in his series Dirty Jobs, our civilization would not survive without men and women who were willing to roll up their sleeves and get dirty.

How does your occupation fit into the "bigger picture" of your community? How is God using your gifts, talents, time, dedication, and energy to make this world a better place to live for your spouse, your children, your neighbors and your friends?

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Winter Sports

I'm not much for extreme golfing.

Let me clarify. By that I mean I don't like golfing when it's really hot. It seems to take the luster from the game if I'm sweating like crazy under a burning sun, especially while I'm trying to maintain my composure after a muffed third shot from the rough.

It's the last week of July. Normally, this time of year we're hitting at or near the 100-degree mark here in St. Louis, slogging under a heavy blanket of humidity, courtesy of the Gulf of Mexico. In these times, if I have to be outdoors at all, I'd prefer to be boating in the middle of a lake or relaxing among some shady trees. Of course, what self-respecting golfer wants to find himself in either the water or the woods?

But, thankfully, this has not been a typical St. Louis summer. This whole week we're enjoying high temperatures in the eighties with low humidity. As a result, this is one of those rare summer seasons when it makes sense to me to go golfing. I only wish I would have known this a few months back when we were planning our family vacation.

For once, wouldn't it be great to schedule a golfing tournament when you know the weather is going to be great? Actually, I can, and you can too. In seven short months the Men's NetWork is hosting a golf tournament at the Mission Inn Resort & Club in Howey-In-the-Hills, Florida (37 miles northwest of Orlando). It covers four days and three nights on Thursday, February 26 to Sunday, March 1, 2015.

If I catch the early bird discount (up until Oct. 31) it'll cost me $700 to golf solo for the weekend -- or I can bring a buddy and double up on a room for $500 each. After Oct. 31 the cost goes up $100 for each selection. That price includes excellent resort accommodations, hot breakfast buffet and lunch daily, plated dinners on Friday and Saturday, and all carts and green fees for 18 holes of golf on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Play is on two championship 18-hole golf courses, offering unique, natural challenges, which include dramatic 85-foot elevation variances and water everywhere. The Men's NetWork will change up the tournament format daily, and in the evenings we'll enjoy Bible studies and devotions led by the Speaker of The Lutheran Hour, Rev. Gregory Seltz, along with Bruce Wurdeman, former executive director of Lutheran Hour Ministries.

If you're interested in dodging the cold this winter for some warmth and edification in the sun, check it all out at Click here!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Same Planet, Different Day

It seems these days it's easier than ever to get lost in the reverie of yesteryear. I was looking at some Polaroids going back to when I was a kid in the 70s. They were of my uncle. He was standing at the counter of Jim's Finer Foods, a neighborhood delicatessen he owned and operated on Chicago's south side with his mom (my grandmother). Both he and she have since died. Through the front screen door I could see the gas station across the street, and some trees. Both the station and the trees are gone now as well.

Suffice it to say, that Chicago neighborhood has radically changed over the years. Like my relatives and that street-side landscape, the store itself is gone now too, leveled to make way for some two-story apartment buildings that are also showing their age and decay. Forty years is a lot of water over the dam when it comes to the march of civilization. Forty years ago astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were happily skipping on the lunar surface. If you're old enough, you remember the rolling, black and white TV images of them bopping around the lunar module, planting the U.S. flag, and becoming the first two men to set foot on the moon. And 40 years from now? Well, who knows? Affordable deep-sea condominiums? A world free of AIDS? A single language we all know and understand?

Sometimes it seems the forces at work in the world are beyond our control. We watch the news and what we see seems too bizarre to be real: countries swelling with the influx of refugees escaping armed conflict, major storms blasting places like Japan and Myanmar and Indonesia and New Orleans, a commercial airliner shot out of the sky. It's enough to make a guy yearn for the good ole days when people were riled by Woodstock and Watergate and Women's Lib ... and when 50 cents bought you 50 pieces of Bazooka.

Sometimes it's hard to imagine these are the good ole days for today's kids.

I wonder what they will be saying in 40 years.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Difference a Few Years Makes

I came across a blog by Rev. Bob Deffinbaugh. In it he discusses Adam and Eve's fall in the Garden of Eden from 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, and he probably 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, quietly obey His Word with simple, childlike adoration and trust.

Any thoughts on this whole business of fathering and being fathered?

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Supreme Court Ruling: Burwell v. Hobby Lobby

Last week Monday, June 30, the United States Supreme Court announced its landmark decision in the case Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. In a 5-4 ruling, the high court held that closely held, for-profit corporations cannot be forced to comply with the contraception-coverage mandate in the 2010 health-care reform law. Hobby Lobby and other companies had religious objections to being forced to pay for some or all of the contraceptives for its employees.

Doing a Google search of "Hobby Lobby decision" produced some heated commentary in the results. Here's a sample of what turned up:

"A Supreme Feud over Birth Control: Four Blunt Points"

"Federal Judge Blasts Hobby Lobby Decision"

"No, the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby Decision Is Not Based upon a Scientific Mistake"

"Activists Hand Out Condoms at Hobby Lobby to Protest Supreme Court Decision -- Their Profession Might Surprise You"

"Supreme Court Now Playing Cute PR Games with Hobby Lobby Decision"

The timing of the decision -- the Monday before Independence Day -- brings up once again the question about the "wall of separation" concept that governs many Americans' understanding of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

This topic of the relationship between church and state is explored in the Men's NetWork video Bible study, The Intersection of Church & State. It discusses the historical thinking behind the First Amendment and explores some of the benefits of cooperation between church and state.

Especially relevant to the Hobby Lobby case is this comment from Tad Armstrong, J.D., in the third session of the video. "We're somehow led to believe the Supreme Court is unfriendly to religion and unfriendly to Christianity in particular. And you have to read these wonderful Supreme Court decisions that support religion and support Christianity, and then we need to praise those and stand up for them."

With the Independence Day weekend right behind us, it's a good time to revisit this video Bible study to again contemplate our rights, privileges and responsibilities as American citizens. You can find it here at The Intersection of Church & State.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

And the Rockets' Red Glare ....

This Friday the Fourth of July is back, and with it will come parades, barbecues, gatherings and fireworks. I loved the Fourth when I was a kid back in the 60s. We had a couple of great parades (both netted us loads of candy), and a huge, double-propped military helicopter roared in and touched down in the park down the street. It joined a cool lineup of police cars, fire trucks, and ambulances. The Fourth was a big carnival with snow cones, Belgian waffles, and cotton candy. It was a good time.

Of course, the thing we were really all waiting for was the fireworks. After the sun finally set, we'd spend an eternity swatting mosquitoes and watching the sky slowly transform from light blue to a black velvet canvas. Then we'd strain our eyes, scanning the roped-off section of the park trying to be the first to spot that faint, red glow. If you looked really close you could make out our neighbor with the glowing punk, bending down over the table for an instant. He'd then spin around and bolt out of there as fast as he could. One by one the shells blasted off into the sky and burst into brilliant colors -- or my favorite -- the blinding, white flash. Smiles would break over our faces as we searched each other's eyes. "Wait for it!" Suddenly, the shock wave came crashing through your body like a freight train. I couldn't wipe the stupid grin off my face.

A few decades have gone by since then. Now when I watch those flashes of color and feel my body shaking I find my thoughts turn to Uncle Roland. He grew up in Marysville, Ohio, and went off to fight with the U.S. Marines in World War II. He served as a private first class in the 4th Pioneer Battalion, in the 14th Regiment, of the 4th Marine Division. The Pioneers were engineers who operated bulldozers and other heavy equipment to prepare or repair roads, clear mine fields -- basically do whatever it took to assist the movements of our troops or disrupt the movement of our enemies.

His Pioneer Battalion was right in the middle of the fray during Iwo Jima. He wasn't sitting on a blanket on the grass watching fireworks way up in the sky. He was right there in the middle of the firework display, blinded by the intense flashes of light, hearing the whirr of shrapnel flying by, breathing in the stinging sulfur fumes, bombarded by the constant concussion of shells going off all around.

Three days into the invasion, on Wednesday, February 21, Roland's Pioneer Battalion was clearing a minefield, so his Division could go capture the assigned airstrip. Roland was hit. They evacuated him on a DUKW: the same amphibious vehicles I've ridden on duck tours in the Wisconsin Dells and in Washington, D.C.; he took that agonizingly slow and loud ride to a waiting hospital ship where he died several hours later.

I wouldn't be born for another 15 years.

This Fourth I'll sit in the dark, seeing, smelling, hearing and feeling the fireworks. And I'll think of my uncle -- and the countless other American men and women from the very first Fourth of July in 1776 to this day: living, fighting, bleeding and dying so we can live free. It makes the holiday more somber, but so much richer.

What is the most memorable or meaningful part of the Fourth of July celebration for you?

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Endings and Beginnings

The author of the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes makes the observation that "There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens." He then lists examples of how there is a time for something and then a time for its opposite. For example, there's a time to be born and a time to die; a time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to keep silent and a time to speak; and so forth.

There seems to be a time for everything.

Today I'd like to contemplate a time to end and a time to begin.

On June 30 I will end my career with Lutheran Hour Ministries and the Mens' NetWork.

This ending is a bittersweet time for me, as I will certainly miss writing these weekly messages. For your feedback has indicated that sometimes, in some small ways, these messages have been informative and inspirational. I am humbled to hear that from you.

However, with each ending there is a new beginning, and I look forward to launching into a new phase in my life. I anticipate the opportunities God has in store for me in my new role. I am excited and a little apprehensive about the future, but I am ready.

That is the nature of endings and beginnings, isn't it? We often look backward with a twinge of sadness and look forward with excitement and a little anxiety.

Of course, many of us face these times of transition at different moments in our lives.

To paraphrase the biblical writer, there is a time to end and a time to begin the many things we do under the sun. There is

a time to end walking and a time to begin driving as a licensed driver;
a time to end being single and a time to begin life as a husband;
a time to end being childless and a time to begin being a father;
a time to end one job and a time to begin another;
a time to end living in an apartment and a time to buy a house;
a time to end employment and a time to retire.

Then again, not all endings are anticipated. There may come a time when you end being married and begin life as a widower or a divorced man.

There may come a time when your employment ends with the words, "You're fired," and you begin the long process of finding work again.

There may come a time to end being a homeowner as the bank forecloses your note and you start life as a homeless person, doing the best you can to find shelter for you and your family.

I have learned one thing over the years that has helped me face endings that were hard to understand and difficult to endure. Whether it was losing a wife, a job, or a house, God has always been there with me.

As I look back over my life, I see how God has provided for me no matter what the circumstances.

Men, if I can leave you with one thing it is this: God loves you.

May your journey be blessed and full of wonderful beginnings and endings.


Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Hardest Job

For most of us the hardest job we ever had to do was something unpleasant, usually during our teen years, as we entered the work place. For some of us this was cleaning the grease pit at a convenience store "kitchen," specializing in chicken wings, low-grade burgers, and French fries. For others it might have been clearing tables at a busy restaurant. Maybe it was working in the blinding heat of summer, carrying stacks of roofing shingles up a ladder to a carpenter. Or it might have been enduring the exhausting monotony of assembly line work, trying to keep up with the flow of experienced workers, before you lost your mind.

For me one of the hardest jobs I ever had involved scraping and shoveling asbestos insulation from ovens used to cure sewer pipe. That was a very long summer.

Each of us keeps a memory tucked into some 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 a grind at the time, but it's absolutely delightful next to being yelled at by drill sergeants and endless hours of PT.

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 encountered.

I can do great doing most anything physical or mental, but the hardest job for me involves relationships.

One of the hardest jobs I've ever volunteered for is being a husband. I struggle daily to define my role and responsibilities in this endeavor.

The transition from husband to father creates numerous opportunities for other hard jobs to surface: changing diapers, giving baths, helping with homework, encouraging broken hearts, and teaching one to drive.

In retrospect, my job as husband and father may be one of the most difficult in terms of stress and anxiety, but it's one I would not trade for all the air-conditioned corner offices and six-figure salaries in the world.

That being said, there are fringe benefits too. Like right now, as I get to watch my son pitch his first game.

Those hours we spent playing catch in the backyard are paying off.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Kindness - Live Long and Prosper

I was filling up my gas tank recently when a college student approached me and asked if I had any 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.

"I was wondering what's up"

"My mother called and said she needed me to come home, but I don't have enough gas to get home. I don't have any money. I called her and she said I should ask the people here if they could give me enough gas money 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 told him to put in what he needed.

His eyes got big and he asked, "You're sure?"

"Stop when you think you have enough," I replied.

He stopped the pump after one gallon, but I was feeling generous. I told him to go ahead and fill it up; it took 14.

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, the endorphins. This initial rush then produces a longer-lasting period of improved, emotional well-being.

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.

I wonder why we I don't do them more often.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Take Time to Laugh Each Day

There it was, on the Internet, in black and white, highly pixilated print, so I knew it just had to be true: "The Health Benefits of Laughter." The article went on to explain, "Laughter is a key component of a happy life, and it has powerful physical and mental benefits. No matter what you're facing, you can learn to laugh and benefit from its healing ways."

Now I enjoy a good belly laugh just as much as the next guy. I like The Big Bang Theory, and The Crazy Ones, and I've busted out laughing more than once watching them. I've been known to enjoy Billy Crystal and Chris Rock, along with Jimmy Kimmel too.

Why? I love to laugh.

Now I read that laughter is a health benefit. How great is that? I haven't heard such good news since I was told a glass of wine a day is good for your health.

So what are the benefits of laughter? Well, let's see.

Laughter reduces depression. Research shows people who use humor to fight stress also feel less lonely and more positive about themselves. One study found humor therapy was as effective as widely used antipsychotic drugs -- minus the side effects -- in managing agitation in patients with dementia. I like the sound of that.

Laughter is also a common therapy among cancer patients; they find laughing improves the quality of their lives. Makes sense to me.

Laughter is heart healthy. Some research shows that when you laugh, there is an increase in oxygen-rich blood flow in your body. This is due possibly to the release of endorphins, which create a chemical rush that counters negative feelings and stress. Two activities that increase endorphin release are a good workout and listening to music you love. Laughter too deserves its place on the list with these other stress busters. (The next time the doctor says you need to work out, turn up the jams and have a good laugh: mission accomplished!)

One thing the study didn't mention is that laughter is contagious. A giggling baby in church starts the congregation laughing, or at least smiling. A surprise snort from a person in a crowd can be the spark that ignites a full-scale laugh bomb. A laughing boss bodes no harm. For best results, laugh with him.

We may not all be stand-up comics, but that doesn't mean we can't laugh out loud and often. I like to laugh at the silly things I do or say. That takes the sting out of being foolish. I like puns. I like jokes. I like to laugh with my family. I like to find the humor in a situation rather than search for the alternative.

For example, my wife looked at me while I was driving the other day and with those big baby blues, she said, "You're lost, aren't you?"

I responded, "No, we're on an adventure."

The next day she bought me a GPS. Now I have two women telling me where to go.

Annie Fellows Johnston (1863-1931) was an American author of children's fiction who wrote, "Remember, men need laughter sometimes more than food."

Now that makes me laugh.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Perfect Lawn

After last winter's record snowfall and bitter cold, many began to doubt if they would ever see grass on their lawn again. But with the Mother's Day snowfall in Denver now melted, it looks as if we are again at a place where we can get serious about our lawns. With that being the case, we are now on a quest to find the perfect combination of weed retardant chemicals; rich, organic soil; perfectly suited nutrients; and life-giving water in order to produce a full, lush, green lawn: the envy of homeowners around the nation -- or at least down our street.

This is the time of year debates begin to break out in the lawn and garden sectors of your favorite home improvement stores. Will it be Bermuda or fescue? -- Kentucky bluegrass or zoysia? -- sod or seed? It also seems folks have an equally strong opinion on such things as aerating, feeding, weeding and watering. Nothing gets guys going like a hearty discussion over the grill about the merits of maintaining a perfect lawn.

And if those topics aren't enough to generate heated debates, the whole subject of how and when to cut lawns can keep guys talking until the last burger is scooped off the grill.

In spite of all the differences, the goal of each man is to have the perfect lawn, i.e. one the greens keepers at the Augusta Country Club would be proud to show.

Now I'll let you in on a little secret. In spite of what the man next door with the green lawn thinks, I have the perfect lawn. The front yard is usually brown, except for the bright green patch over to the side. This is where the kids set up the sprinkler or the Slip-N-Slide. On hot summer days the sounds of squealing children can be heard as neighborhood kids run through the water, slide down the watery runway, and create huge mud holes in an otherwise mediocre lawn. When I look at the splotchy patches I have to smile, knowing how my lawn has given kids dozens of summertime memories.

And the backyard?

Well, it's not much better, with its worn, brown patches of dirt outlining a baseball field. The path from "home" to "first" is the most treaded, while the line from "third" to "home" shows some promise that grass might grow again -- the result of too many men left stranded on base.

For me the perfect lawn is the one kids feel free to run over, creating their own little universe: a ball park one day, a jungle the next.

Someday I may have the lawn men envy, but for now, it's the one kids enjoy, and that makes me smile.