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!