Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Conquering Life's Hardships

How do you handle the hardships and setbacks you encounter in life? When you fight against constant opposition, nagging problems, and frequent hindrances do you find your encouragement and optimism drying up as pessimism and spiritual exhaustion takes their place?

I thought this week's broadcast of The Lutheran Hour proved really helpful. Rev. Gregory Seltz revisited a 1931 sermon from the first Lutheran Hour Speaker, Walter A. Maier:

"Remember,--and I am speaking especially to those of you who may feel in human bitterness that God has dealt unkindly with you, you who linger on weary beds of sickness, you whose life has brought one crushed hope after another, you who live on under the blight of some consuming sorrow that gnaws away incessantly at your happiness and peace of mind ..."

Who of us hasn't been there? Who hasn't experienced dark times when we wonder where God is -- and why He isn't stepping in to help us out. Dr. Maier reminds us it is precisely in those struggles that the Lord is at work in us and for us:

"... Remember that, if God is for you through Jesus Christ, all of these thwarted purposes and shattered hopes will only promote the growth of your inner life."

Then he gives us some perspective, some encouraging perspective:

"The purest gold is the metal that has been refined in the hottest flame. Steel that is tempered in the blazing crucible gains in strength and value. The diamond must be cut and ground and polished to sparkle in its fiery radiance. And in your own spiritual lives there must be conflict and resistance to strengthen your Christian character and to bring out those qualities which mark the victorious life that lives in Jesus."

I like that -- no, not the pain and suffering -- but the reminder that God has a purpose for permitting me to go through these tough times of life. I like to think of it like a spiritual workout.

When I drag my old body to the gym for a workout, that weight and resistance is breaking down my muscles so they can rebuild to be stronger than they were. I don't always get excited about going to the gym, but I always feel better afterwards.

In the same way, life's struggles and hardships break down my spirit and drive me to our Savior -- so He can rebuild me with more spiritual strength, power, perseverance -- and perspective.

Hardships and struggles in life aren't pleasant, but with the comfort, support and encouragement of God's Word we can push through and conquer them for Jesus' sake.

Fiery are the ordeals life can put us through. Do you know of someone close who's experienced something supremely difficult and emerged on the other end better because of it? Is that someone you?

If so, take a few minutes and let us know what the situation was -- and how it helped transform -- like purifying gold -- that person into someone more equipped to handle the challenges of life.

You can do this by clicking here and sharing your thoughts.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Rites of Passage

Tomorrow it will finally come -- the day I've both anticipated and dreaded for years. Tomorrow we take our son, our only child, off to college. Today we load up and head to Chicago. Tomorrow we move him into his dorm.

I anticipate it because I know we're putting him into good hands. We know two of the professors who will have the biggest part in molding him in the next four years, and we couldn't ask for better men of God. I'm ecstatic about his future and watching him stretch his wings and soar in the years to come. God's given him some incredible gifts, and I'm so very proud of the way he has been working earnestly to develop them. I can't wait to see the man he will become.

But deep in my heart I dread his leaving. I know he has to go: God's calling him, but I'm going to miss him too. Mom won't be the only one fighting back a tear on the long ride home tomorrow night.

I know I'm not the first dad who's been here, and I certainly won't be the last. But it's one of those moments in life where I have to stop and see the bigger picture, remembering the reason God placed him into our lives nearly 19 years ago.

Our Heavenly Father didn't give us this baby to nurture and shelter forever. He's here to find and fill his niche in his Creator's world. One day, Lord willing, he'll join his life with a wonderful woman of faith, and they'll raise a family of their own. Through his vocation I'm confident our Lord will touch many lives. After all, that's why He put him here.

That's why tomorrow is a huge rite of passage for him -- but not just for him -- for his father too. After all, that's why God put me here -- to be his support, and cheerleader, to share his excitement, and encourage his dreams. To keep him looking forward and striving to be all that God made him to be.

Life will certainly be different as we start the next chapter. But we know our Father will continue to faithfully provide all his needs; the blood of Jesus Christ will cover all his sins and failures, and the mighty Spirit will guard and strengthen his faith.

You know, tomorrow's looking like a pretty wonderful day!

College goodbyes are tough on parents -- and their kids. The world awaits these young people, but as parents we wish it wasn't quite so daunting and, definitely, not so far from home. Have you sent a son or daughter off to school? Have you found yourself grappling with emotions and a sense of loss at their departure? If so, share your thoughts for the many dads out there who might be going through the same thing, even this week.

You can do this by clicking here and telling us what you think.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Don't Try This at Home!

On Tuesday, July 21, two men jumped from St. Louis' Eads Bridge into the Mississippi River. They weren't depressed or suicidal; they weren't drunk or high. No, they described themselves as adrenaline junkies, who just wanted to jump off the bridge "for fun."

And they did have fun. A friend who stood watching said they made their jump at about 9:30 p.m., then quickly surfaced. "They were whooping and hollering, having the time of their life. They were like two little kids at Disneyland for the first time. They were having fun."

But they miscalculated the danger of their stunt. It wasn't the landing from the bridge that proved most deadly; it was the unpredictable power of the mighty Mississippi. Their bodies eventually washed ashore, one 35 miles south of St. Louis.

I like to watch America's Got Talent, but I wonder about the adrenaline junkies and daredevils who try out for the show. One contestant dove out of an airplane, waiting for the last possible instant before pulling his chute. Another jumped into an airbag from hundreds of feet in the air, on an aerial tower that was shaking violently in the wind. Still another sat in a car as it was rocked by explosives.

Each round that goes by, contestants look for ways to make their acts more dangerous -- more death-defying -- to keep their audience on the edge of its seat, holding its breath. And, of course, all the time, we are warned not to try this at home.

How reckless were you in your childhood? How long were you content to use the swings, merry-go-round, or slide the "safe" way? How about your bike, skateboard, pogo stick, or even your car? What is it about risks and danger that appeal to us?

And one last question before I open it up to you: how do you think God feels about these behaviors and the drive behind them? Does risk-taking reside only in our sinful natures -- or is there something intrinsically risky about faith as well?

Believing in God and living out your faith is risky in this world. Christ-followers are aliens here. Can you relate any times when living your faith made things awkward for you? Dangerous? If so, you can let us know by clicking here and sharing your thoughts with us.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Fishing for Men

We changed up our Men's NetWork fishing tournament this year. In the Lutheran Hour Ministries' spirit of equipping Christians to share their faith, we have been encouraging participants to take an unchurched buddy along when they go fishing. Our incentive includes three nice gift certificates for monthly stories that fit the bill. But it seems like it's harder than it sounds to ask an unchurched guy to go fishing.

Then we got the following submission from one of our faithful participants, John Nail:

"I have a story I'd like to share with you and request prayer for this young man. I know this does not qualify for anything, and I'm certainly OK with that. Our God is an awesome God and desires that none should perish.

"My wife (Sherlyn) and I camped at a Missouri State Park just 20 miles from our home. A get-away before school things take over my life. After having some friends stop by to eat and chat on Friday night, we had a relaxing day Saturday. Going to church at 5:30 p.m. and then back to the park.

"I arose at 5:30 a.m. on Sunday morning and biked down to the little lake in the park. Caught a few fish. My thoughts were on the LHM men's fishing contest and how they are working at getting fishermen to think about inviting a neighbor or co-worker along. I remember praying, 'Lord, help me remember to think about asking someone to go fishing that is not in our church family and doesn't have a church home.' I know very few outside the circle of church and school families. It seems like a logical excuse. The Lord understands. I get back to the campsite and clean up the catfish and crappie I had caught, and my wife and I were thinking of taking a bike ride as soon as we ate breakfast. It was 10 a.m. and we had not eaten.

"As we finished cleaning up after breakfast, we had a young man, named Ryan, stop by with a display of bugs mounted in a display case. He worked summers for the State Parks Department and wondered if he could show them to us. We, being active learners, agreed, and he proceeded to tell us about several of the specimens.

"We discovered he was from our home town and knew one of the families very well that had a child in our Lutheran school. He said he was working on his masters in biology. We were discussing, very politely, the differences in evolution and creation theories. He soon disclosed his father was a Lutheran, and he had graduated from a Catholic high school, but he would have to call himself an agnostic. The college professors made sense to him that we have a spirit, but it is a form of energy, and it cannot be created or destroyed (first law of thermodynamics). When we die, he believed, we just become part of the great cosmos energy field.

"The conversation then shifted to faith issues and the two world views. The God-less world view (evolution) and the Creator God world view (creation). We spent several minutes on the faith issue. Ryan made a comment about how there were so many translations how do you know which one to believe. I assured him the original languages had not changed since they were 'dead' languages. Our language changes frequently and so translations keep coming to try to explain the original languages.

"Since my wife and I had visited Petersburg, Kentucky, earlier this summer (Creation Museum) she had a pamphlet about the Bible that she offered Ryan. He thanked us for the cordial conversation and asked what time the services were at our church. We told him, and told him he would be welcome.

"I was amazed that here we were in a state park on Sunday with virtually all the weekend campers already gone or packing up to leave, and we get a visit from a young man from our home town who knew about our school and who engages us in a spiritual conversation.

"Our God truly does not want any to perish.

"We need to keep our eyes and ears open whether we are fishing or not and whether it is intentional or not. He is the One using us. To Him belongs the glory and honor!"

John Nail

John didn't think he was going to win. After all, he hadn't asked this guy to go fishing with him; he wasn't even in the process of fishing when he shared his faith with the young man in question. But this is exactly what this season's twist is all about. Look at the passions in your life: fishing, camping, sports, the arts, collecting stamps, whatever. It's like John said. If we keep our eyes open, chances are strong to great we'll see opportunities where God is opening doors for us to share our faith.

Reaching out to somebody else with the Good News God has given us is a surprisingly difficult thing sometimes. Do you have any anecdotes to relate when you've spoken to others about God or, perhaps, invited somebody to church? If so, do tell. You can let us know by clicking here and sharing your thoughts.