Sunday, December 27, 2009

Beginnings and Endings

Do you wish you could have a “do-over,” or what golfers call a “mulligan”? Often I hear people say, “If I could do things over, I would….” I’ve thought the same thing myself from time to time. But the harsh reality is what’s done is done – and can’t be undone.

That does not resign us to hopelessness, however. Recently one of my daughters sent me the following thought:

“Nobody can start a new beginning, but you can start today and make a new ending.”

That says although we don’t get a “do-over,” we can have a “do better” or “do differently” in the future. Approaching the start of a new year, that’s sound advice.

Annually I review the year just past as well as write goals for the new year in several areas, including work, family, mental and physical fitness, finances, hobbies, and spiritual growth. They are goals – something to strive for over the course of the year – rather than resolutions that might amount to nothing more than promises to myself that I cannot or choose not to keep.

In some respects, Jan. 1 is not much different from Dec. 31, except the numerical designation for the year changes. But it does serve as a convenient time to reassess where you’ve been, reevaluate where you want to go, and determine how best to get there.

The apostle Paul knew about starting today to make a new ending. In Philippians 3:13 he declared, “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize….”

In other letters he acknowledged errors in his past, but refused to dwell on them. He could not undo what had been done, but he could determine to make better decisions in the future. And so should we.

Monday, December 21, 2009

GODISNOWHERE

What does the heading above say? Nonbelievers and skeptics might see, GOD IS NOWHERE. But those who believe in God, especially followers of Jesus Christ, will probably find, GOD IS NOW HERE.

God is there if you look for Him. Many claiming they can’t find God really aren’t looking for Him – we usually can’t locate what we’re not actively seeking. As Jesus said, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you…he who seeks finds…” (Luke 11:9-10).

This week we affirm anew, God is now here. Amid the cacophony of carols, shopping mall madness, and politically correct “happy holidays,” the timeless truth remains: “‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ – which means ‘God with us’” (Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23).

One of the Christmas verities is that God is neither distant nor inscrutable nor unknowable, as some religions assert. He deigned to live among His creation, becoming one of us for a time. As John 1:14 declares, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.”

But the Christmas story does not stop at a tiny stable in an obscure village called Bethlehem. It continues to the very crossroads of salvation. Philippians 2:6-8 describes Jesus, “Who, being in very nature God…made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and become obedient to death – even death on a cross.”

And because of that cross, many centuries later we look back with joy and wonder at the unique family: A virgin mother, Mary; her husband Joseph, and a baby named Jesus – in Hebrew, “Y’shua,” – Christ the Lord.

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Heart of the Matter


Sunday will be a momentous anniversary for me, marking three years since undergoing open heart surgery. It’s both humbling and sobering to have your chest splayed open to repair arterial blockages and, in my case, replace an enlarged ascending aorta.

I was blessed to have a foremost cardiothoracic surgeon, Dr. Richard Morrison, assisted by a top-notch surgical team. But for about 30 minutes during my six-hour surgery, my heart was literally stopped and my body cooled to about 82 degrees while a heart-lung machine kept blood coursing to my brain. I virtually stood at death’s door, but thankfully did not remain there. Each new day represents a gift from God. (My heart pillow, shown at right, which aided my recovery, serves as a reminder.)

There’s a curious thing about the heart: Scientists and physicians typically regard it solely as an organ pumping blood throughout the body. However, even an intellect like Albert Einstein recognized more than physiological value in the heart. He observed, “Few are those who see with their own eyes and feel with their own hearts.”

Philosophers, poets and spiritually minded people have long considered the heart as the seat of emotions, even the source of love. For instance, Mark Twain said, “One learns people through the heart, not the eyes or the intellect.” And Charles Dickens wrote, “A loving heart is the truest wisdom.”

The Bible advises, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life” (Proverbs 4:23). Elsewhere in the book God exhorts His followers, “Let love and faithfulness never leave you…write them on the tablet of your heart” (Proverbs 3:3), and “All a man’s ways seem right to him, but the Lord weighs the heart” (Proverbs 21:2), affirming that faith requires more than cerebral pursuit.

How the heart performs its physical, emotional – and spiritual – functions in tandem exceeds my understanding. But approaching this huge milestone in my life probably stronger and healthier than I’ve been in decades, to those who cared for me, as well as all who prayed and offered encouragement, I simply say:
Thank you, with all my heart!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Buying Happiness

Whoever first said, “Money can’t buy happiness,” probably didn’t have any. Sounds like sour grapes.

Today millions of people are devoting much time and energy “buying happiness.” And they’ll succeed. Christmas morning will elicit squeals of delight at the sight of shiny new bicycles, happy hoots when the latest electronic gizmos are unwrapped, and bright smiles when coveted sweaters, jewelry and other treasures emerge from gaily colored boxes.

The only problem? The happiness money buys won’t last. Novelty fades and fascination gives way to familiarity. Today’s technological wonder becomes tomorrow’s ho-hum as something faster and flashier succeeds it. Even new cars get dirty and dented. Wreck your sedan – where’s “happiness” then?

Years ago I heard a radio speaker put it into perspective: Happiness is not to be confused with joy. Happiness is dependent on happenings – externals – while joy comes from within and can remain untarnished by things that occur outside our control.

For instance, a new picture may make me happy, but if I pound my thumb with a hammer while preparing a place to hang it, I’m no longer happy. However, if that picture contains images of people I love, my joy in beholding it remains even while my thumb throbs.

Joy transcends isolated events. It involves contentment, fulfillment, meaning, even a sense of belonging. This is why James 1:2 can tell us to “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds.” We may not be happy about losing a job, not being able to buy things we want, or having to deal with some dreaded disease, but we can still retain joy in knowing God loves us, has our best interests at heart, and is not surprised by any adversities we may encounter.

Money can buy fleeting happiness, but it can’t buy joy!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Cautionary Tale of Tiger

Eldrick “Tiger” Woods might well have crashed his Cadillac Escalade into a dam, given the deluge of reports and rumors flooding the electronic, broadcast and print media since his Nov. 27 accident. We’ll be hearing much more about his alleged extramarital trysts, which he terms “transgressions” and “personal sins,” in the coming days. But most interesting is the frenzy this has generated.

Maybe it’s human nature to take perverse delight in the failings of those seemingly living idyllic, utopian lifestyles. Woods has had that: Looks, intelligence, athleticism, homage as one of history’s greatest golfers (perhaps the greatest), fame, fortune, a lovely trophy wife, picture-perfect kids. And yet, if allegations are true, those apparently were not enough. His wife might be Swedish, but something was rotten in Denmark.

Experts may attempt to explain the motivations of high-profile philanders, but only the Woods family truly knows what has gone on behind their closed doors. The golfer par excellence now has consequences to face. As my mother often repeated during my adolescence – to my annoyance – “You make your bed, you sleep in it.”

But situations like this are far from new. Thousands of years ago, Israel’s King David had power, vast wealth, multiple wives (permissible in that culture) and many children, yet when he spotted Bathsheba on a rooftop, he determined to have her (2 Samuel 11). Years later their son, Solomon, who succeeded David as king and gained repute as being wiser than any of his contemporaries, stated, “I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure…everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind” (Ecclesiastes 2:10-11).

After a long lifetime of searching, Solomon concluded: “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (Ecclesiastes 12:13). Tiger would be wise to heed that lesson.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

About the Tooth . . . and the Truth


My granddaughter Avery recently lost a front tooth. What great timing! She might have problems saying, “Sister Susie sitting on a thistle,” but during this holiday season she can now legitimately sing, “All I Want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth.”

Having grandkids, I have learned, helps to remind us of things we thought we had forgotten – such as the wonder of discovery, the thrill of trying new things, the joy of having “Aha!” experiences every day. Like the familiar Christmas ornaments we pull out every year – they’re old hat to us, but fascinating to our 2 1/2-year old grandson. And the carols we have heard year after year? They’re new stuff to the little ones, and they never tire of singing them.

Then there’s the matter of baby teeth. Isn’t it amazing that losing a tooth is actually a sign of growing, of moving forward in life?

That’s true for all aspects of living, not just for childhood. In fact, the apostle Paul wrote, “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me” (1 Corinthians 13:11). As we journey through life, change is unavoidable – we lose teeth, grow bigger, and adjust our behavior.

For the follower of Christ, growth also involves loss – giving up cherished things to gain things that are even more important. After his encounter with Jesus, John the Baptist said, “He must increase; I must decrease” (John 3:30). In a similar way, to experience life with Jesus to the fullest, we – our fleshly, self-centered desires and goals – must become less while His power and influence become greater in our lives.

Sounds difficult, but it can be as easy as losing a front tooth.

Monday, November 23, 2009

One Day for Thanksgiving

Thursday, of course, is Thanksgiving Day. Historians trace the holiday to 1621 at Plymouth Plantation, where the Pilgrims initially observed “a day of thanksgiving.” But it was President Abraham Lincoln, in 1863, who proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day should be observed annually on the final Thursday of November.

So, many of us will gather this week with family and friends for bountiful meals and a time to reflect on things for which we are thankful. This is a wonderful tradition, but there’s no reason to wait until the end of November to express our thankfulness. It’s something we can be doing on a daily basis.

In 1 Thessalonians 5:18, the apostle Paul exhorts his readers, “give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” This comes immediately after he writes, “Be joyful always, pray continually.” So the act of thanksgiving should not restricted to a special time or occasion, but rather practiced 24:7 – and regardless of our circumstances.

It’s easy to feel thankful when things in our lives go well, but what about when things don’t go well?

Years ago I helped a friend of mine, Albert Diepeveen, put together a booklet about his life entitled, “Saying ‘Thank You’ Even When You Don’t Feel Thankful.” In it Albert recounts the numerous hardships he has encountered throughout his life, including bouts with tuberculosis and cancer, along with business challenges. Yet he has remained unswervingly positive and hopeful – because of his unshakable trust in God’s love and mercy.

“Remember that God is in control of all things,” he writes. “When you accept Christ, your life is going to be really changed. One of those changes is you realize everything is going to be all right, no matter what.”

And that’s reason to be thankful – every day!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Fitness – No Shortcuts

Our local newspaper ran a series of articles about weight loss and physical fitness. With obesity in America a greater concern than swine flu will ever be, it’s worthy of attention.

Suggested solutions for our nation’s growing girth, of course, are myriad: Weight loss and fitness centers; diets, liquid and solid, for every taste; pills guaranteed to burn off pounds when we sleep; fitness and weight-loss videos and CDs. We even have “The Biggest Loser” and other reality shows inspiring us to greater heights – and lower weights.

And yet, as a society, we’re getting fatter, not fitter.

Experts offer many explanations and excuses, but I think the reason is simple. We spend our lifetimes developing the problem – eating too much and exercising too little – but expect to solve the problem in an instant, with a pill or some too-good-to-be-true (because it is) fad diet.

Eat “whatever your heart desires,” we’re told. But if our hearts could talk, they’d inform us they don’t desire those greasy foods and tempting treats that clog vital arteries with cardiothoracic consequences. If we truly ate to our “heart’s delight,” we’d choose grilled over fried; fruits, vegetables and nuts over pastries, starchy sides and creamy sauces; and refuse the “super-size” option.

There are no shortcuts. Approaching the third anniversary of my quadruple bypass, I have learned there is no substitute for dedication, determination and discipline. It’s hard saying no to yummy desserts. It takes effort to read food labels and see what you’d be consuming. And engaging in rigorous exercise several times a week never gets easy. But the results – fewer pounds and inches, greater strength and stamina – are worth it.

“Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life” (Proverbs 4:23). Good advice for our bodies, as well as our minds!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Critical Thinking Running Amok?

Acid tongues. Vented spleens. Poison pens. Caustic keyboards. Is it just me, or are we experiencing an unprecedented explosion of relentless, mean-spirited criticism toward anyone and anything?

Maybe it’s because we have more options than ever for expressing our “critical thinking”: Message boards, talk radio, e-mail, Twitter, Facebook, even blogs like this one. Not to mention traditional venues, such as letters to the editor and public forums. Whatever the cause, it seems many people have adopted the philosophy, “If you can’t say something bad about someone, don’t say anything at all.”

Having been a journalist for my entire professional career, I’m fully in favor of freedom of speech. But like any freedom, it should be cherished, not abused. Football coaches, for example, are lambasted by armchair quarterbacks who can barely distinguish between a jockstrap and a chinstrap. Government officials are chastised by citizens who have never set foot in any legislative chambers. Celebrities adept at acting or singing feel compelled to voice their “expertise” on national and world issues.

I’m not saying we don’t each have a right to express our opinions, but what’s wrong with making certain our views are informed by research and reason, not simply formed out of ignorance? Balance and rationality, rather than unrestrained bias and emotion, should temper the expression of our views.

When we point a finger at someone, our other fingers are pointing back at us. If we were as critical of our own lives, our own work, our own conduct as we tend to be of others, I wonder how well we would fare. As Jesus admonished, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Matthew 7:1-2).

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Rooting Against Goliath


Much to the chagrin of millions, the New York Yankees won the World Series again – for the 27th time. To Yankee haters, the men in pinstripes are Goliath; convinced the Yanks have enjoyed more than their share of success, they root for anyone but them.

Admittedly, I’m not among them. Raised in New Jersey, I’ve been a Yankee fan since 1957 – more than half a century! So I was thrilled to see Jeter, Pettitte, Rivera, Posada, Rodriguez & Co. beat the Phillies in six.

But I can empathize with those who despise the Yankees. It’s the same reason I have disliked USC, Florida and Notre Dame in college football, the NBA’s Celtics and Lakers, and the late Dale Earnhardt in NASCAR. Who wants to see the same teams win again and again – unless they happen to be your team?

Maybe that’s why the story of David and Goliath is so compelling: The outsized, underequipped shepherd boy overcoming the greatest of odds to vanquish the fearsome giant. It resonates in all of us, because at one time or another we also have felt overwhelmed, overpowered and outmatched.

So we tend to root against the giants, the Goliaths that dominate, whether in sports, business, politics, even entertainment. We want to see underdogs succeed, because they give us hope.

Battling giants is hardly a new phenomenon. In the Old Testament the Israelites had to face giants, called the “Rephaim.” Understandably, they lived in fear. How could they prevail? That is why their leader, Joshua, repeatedly reminded them, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).

What “giants” are you facing today – financial, health, relational, vocational? Do not fear, because God is greater than any Goliath.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Doing the Halloween Thing

Saturday marks our annual Halloween observance – a rather peculiar holiday, if you ask me. On one level it’s simple fun, children wearing costumes of princesses, scarecrows, animals and cartoon characters visiting the homes of friends, collecting candy in response to an innocent “Trick or Treat.” Even adults join the frivolity, going to Halloween parties dressed as favorite politicians, entertainers or historical figures.

On another level, Halloween has a more sinister side populated by “denizens of the dark.” Historians report the event has both pagan and religious roots, but it’s hardly considered a Christian celebration in any sense. Viewed by some as a “festival of the dead,” according to various web sources, days leading up to Halloween emphasize the occult, feeding off America’s strange fascination with the supernatural, as evidenced by Harry Potter books, the Twilight vampire series, and any number of films about vampires, ghosts and zombies.

(Even everyday traditions, like Ohio State’s “O-H-I-O,” can take a Halloween twist, as the photo I borrowed from the Columbus Dispatch shows.)

Our preoccupation with death, I suppose, is merely a part of life. Everyone has a beginning – and an end. For many people, the uncertainty – and anxiety – concerns the part at the end. That’s why murder mysteries sell so well, why forensics dramas dominate TV…and why we read the daily obituaries. Rich or poor, male or female, young or old, death is our unavoidable common denominator.

This is one reason I find great comfort in Bible passages like the following:

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

How Do You ‘Live the Christian Life’?

I just realized today marks the 25th anniversary of a very significant spiritual milestone in my life.

For Buckeye fans (of which I am one), Oct. 12, 1984 will be remembered for one of the all-time greatest Ohio State football victories. OSU had fallen behind visiting Illinois, 24-0, but staged a fierce comeback to win, 45-38. Star running back Keith Byars ran for a then-school record 274 yards and tied OSU’s mark in rushing for five touchdowns, including a 67-yarder wearing only one shoe.

However, what I remember most about that day did not concern sports, but spirituality. I was in Minneapolis, Minn. and watched much of the game on TV, but was troubled about why the so-called “Christian life” didn’t seem to work for me.

I had learned verses like Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me,” and 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come.” The problem was, although I was a believer in Jesus Christ, I still felt like nothing had changed; I was still struggling with the same weaknesses. “If I’m a ‘new creation,’” I thought to myself, “why do I act like the same old guy?”

That weekend I was staying in the home of a man named Loren Helling and his wife, Betty, and we spent many hours talking about what he called “the real you from God’s perspective,” looking primarily at the book of Romans. We discussed what it means to “walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4) and the reality that apart from Christ, the Christian life is not difficult to live – it’s impossible to live.

This is why Jesus told His followers, “apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5), and the apostle Paul wrote, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). The secret is not what I can do for God, but what He can do in me – and through me as what Romans 6:13 calls an “instrument of righteousness.”

Over that weekend I recalled meeting in 1981 with a man who had asked, “Bob, how do you live the Christian life?” At first I hesitated, then started listing “to-do’s” – things like prayer, attending church, reading the Bible, etc. In response, the man just shook his head and replied, “You can’t live the Christian life. Only one person has successfully lived the Christian life, and that’s Jesus.”

Three years later I was finally grasping the magnitude of his question and his answer.

As I think about the state of Christianity in America today, it seems we’re not doing very well. The reason, I believe, is not because we don’t have enough churches, or Bibles, or Christian books, or programs. We have more than enough of all of those. The problem, I believe, is we are determined to do for God, in our own strength – “pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps,” so to speak – instead of relying on the power, wisdom and guidance of Jesus through His Spirit that lives in each of us that have trusted in Him.

That’s not to say I have it all figured out. Not hardly. But 25 years later I believe I’m closer to what God calls me to be as a husband, father, grandfather, friend, writer, editor, and mentor. The challenge, one day at a time, is to reflect the truth of John the Baptist who declared, “I must decrease so that He (Jesus) might increase” (John 3:30).

Monday, October 12, 2009

Benefits of Boundaries

We have been remodeling our kitchen, and last week we replaced the old, rickety guardrail around the stairwell leading to our garage. Of course, it had to be removed first, which left an unprotected hole while the new railing was being erected.

Even as unstable as the old guardrail was, its mere presence offered protection – especially compared to the yawning opening that remained once it had been taken down. There were no mishaps during the brief transition time, but it struck me how important barriers – or boundaries – can be.

This reminded me of a study of elementary school children years ago that showed if there was no fence around the school, during recess the kids would congregate near the building. But once a fence was put up, they felt freedom to roam right up to the fence line. A friend of mine used to raise sheep and these timid animals also appreciated the security of a fenced enclosure.

To me, this is the purpose of God’s precepts, statutes, laws, commands, word and decrees (as they are variously described in Psalm 119). It’s not that He is some divine spoilsport, saying, “You can’t do this; you can’t do that.” Rather, as our Designer, God knows what’s best for us – and cared enough to offer us a manual (the Bible) and give us protective boundaries.

As someone has said, “If sin wasn’t any fun, we wouldn’t want to do it.” But just because it’s fun, that doesn’t mean it’s good for us – or right. Lust, greed, dishonesty and various other vices may appease the psyche, but we’re none the better for any of them. And whenever we participate in them, we damage others in the process.

That’s why, “All Scripture…is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16).

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Faith: A Private Matter?

Recently a controversy erupted over high school cheerleaders displaying banners with Bible passages before football games. The “the wall of separation between church and state” debate ensued.

This also rekindles the similar discussion of whether one’s faith is a private matter to be kept to oneself. Civil persons don’t argue over politics and religion, do they?

Certainly what I believe is not something I should seek to impose on someone else. It would do no good anyway. “One convinced against his will is of the same opinion still,” the adage says. But if our faith is important to us, why wouldn’t we want to share it with others? We don’t hesitate to tell about favorite sports teams, books, music and websites.

Imagine somehow stumbling upon the cure for cancer, diabetes or some other disease. If we were to say, “I’m not sharing it with anyone. It’s a private matter,” we would spark no limit of public outrage. The entire human race is afflicted with a spiritual cancer – it’s called “sin.” And the cure, according to the Scriptures, is Jesus Christ. He said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

Jesus said that; I didn’t. Frankly, for the sakes of non-believing friends and relatives, I often wish there were many ways to God, rather than the singular way that Jesus declares. But that’s not my decision.

Convinced of that, I also recognize that my faith is not a private matter. Therefore, it’s my duty to always be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks the reason for the hope that I have (1 Peter 3:15). To do otherwise would be to deny them access to the cure for the cancer that has struck us all.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

High on the Mountaintop


Living in Chattanooga, Tennessee is literally a mountaintop experience. We have majestic views available from Lookout Mountain and Signal Mountain; even a panorama of seven states from Rock City on a clear day.

My wife and I live atop a hill on a cul-de-sac, so just waking up each morning is a mountaintop experience of sorts.

But have you ever had one of those life-changing “mountaintop experiences” you wish could last forever? While on staff with CBMC, I regularly attended conferences – often in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado – where I learned from the best of the day’s Bible teachers. After drinking at the fountain of their spiritual wisdom, I would return home feeling like I was flying several feet higher than the jets on which I traveled.

The fact is, however, life is not meant to be lived on the mountaintop, unless you’re a Sherpa guide, I suppose. The Bible tells of the day Jesus took Peter, James and John up a mountain where He became transfigured. After Elijah and Moses appeared to them, the disciples wanted to set up camp. They suggested putting up shelters, one each of Jesus, Elijah and Moses. But Jesus took them back to the valley below.

The beloved Psalm 23 also speaks about walking “in the valley of the shadow of death.” Anyone can become enthused on the mountaintop, whether you’re captivated by some awesome wonder of nature or experiencing a spiritual high. But it’s in the valley – of mundane work responsibilities, frustrating financial obligations, discouraging marriage and family challenges, untimely breakdowns of cars and appliances, agonizing physical ailments – that our faith and convictions are put to the test.

Only in the darkest, loneliest spots in the valley can we embrace the truth of Jesus’ promise, “surely I am with you always…” (Matthew 28:20).

Friday, September 25, 2009

Pondering the Imponderable

Recently a friend sent me a list of commonly accepted ideas that, when you stop to think about them, leave you scratching your head. Here are some of them, along with others I have collected:

- If you eat a lot of natural foods, will you die of natural causes?
- Why do we drive on parkways, and park on driveways?
- Can illiterate people appreciate Alphabet Soup?
- If corn oil comes from corn, and vegetable oil comes from vegetables, where does baby oil come from?
- If a pig loses its voice, is it disgruntled?
- If a person playing a piano is called a pianist, why isn’t someone driving a race car called a racist?
- Do Lipton Tea workers take coffee breaks?
- If FedEx and UPS merged, would it be called Fed UP?
- Is it true that no matter where you go, there you are?
- If a watched pot never boils, does a watched microwave never beep?
- Why is “abbreviated” such a long word?
- If lawyers are disbarred and clergymen are defrocked, are electricians delighted, musicians denoted, cowboys deranged, models deposed, tree surgeons debarked and dry cleaners depressed?
- If we can tell when something is out of whack, how can we tell when it’s “in whack”?
- Why is “phonics” not spelled the way it sounds?
- Why are a “wise man” and a “wise guy” opposites?
- If we’re feeling blue, should we stop holding our breath?

And perhaps the greatest imponderable of all comes from the Bible: “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?” (Psalm 8:3-4).

Monday, September 21, 2009

Is There Any Hope?

It’s been raining so much lately in our area – southeastern Tennessee and northwest Georgia – I’ve heard rumors of renaming the region “Seattle East.” I’m not saying it’s been wet, but even fish in Chickamauga Lake are buying bath towels. One of my neighbors has started building a big boat – he asked how long a “cubit” is.

I’m not sure about the link between dampness and toadstools, but we have world-class crop of them growing in our front yard. And I discovered a water moccasin draped across my car’s front window – a “windshield viper.”

In recent days so many people have said, “I hope it won’t rain tomorrow,” it has morphed from wishful thinking into genuine pleading. We hope to see the sun again, but when we do, we might confuse it with an “unidentified flying object.”

What an interesting word: Hope. For instance, I hope the Ohio State Buckeyes continue rebounding from their loss to Southern Cal. I hope the New York Yankees finally get back to the World Series this year. I hope to avoid any unexpected major expenses in the near future. And I hope my family and friends all stay healthy.

When saying “I hope,” however, it really means I desire or wish for something to be so. It’s not something I can control, but it’s a "hope-so."

Biblical hope is something quite different. When the Bible speaks of “the blessed hope – the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13) and “the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:7) – it refers to confident assurance, an earnest expectation based on the nature and character of God; genuine faith, not wishes anchored in “hope-so.”

As Romans 15:13 promises, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him."

Friday, September 18, 2009

What HAS Happened to Civility?

This week USA Today asked, “What happened to civility?” In recent days, a congressman has disrupted a speech on health care reform by President Obama, calling him a “liar”; a rapper interrupted an award acceptance speech by a country-western singer because he disagreed with the choice; and two tennis stars berated match officials with expletive-laced tirades.

But the issue goes beyond such public moments. We live in an age when apparently if you disagree with someone, you have the right to shout them down. In workplaces we have lost our sense of politeness. If two people are meeting, we barge into their conversation because we are too impatient to wait our turn.

One person suggested the reason for growing rudeness and hostility in our society is because of a pervasive sense that “we don’t have power or even any say-so in what’s going on.” This may be true, but still doesn’t license us to adopt an “it’s all about me” attitude in daily interactions with others.

Perhaps it dates back to the 1960s, when many in my generation adopted the mantra, “Question authority!” To an extent, I agree with that – having a position of authority does not ensure being correct. But there are more appropriate, more civil ways of getting our point across.

Even if you disagree with some of Barack Obama’s views, doesn’t the office of President of the United States still deserve respect? Don’t award recipients deserve their moment? Don’t people in a work meeting deserve an opportunity to conclude their business before we butt in?

It goes back to the “Golden Rule”: “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31), also known as “the ethic of reciprocity.” How can we expect respect from others unless we insist on giving it to others?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Why Are We So Angry?

Recently I interacted with a fellow blogger, Jim, who was commenting on angry Americans. During a trip to Europe with his wife, he noticed people in England and Scandinavian countries they visited seemed far more happy and carefree – even though taxes there are much higher than ours in the United States.

Anger here seems epidemic: TV and radio commentators shout venomous rhetoric. Talk show callers perpetually call for someone’s head, whether elected officials, entertainers, or coaches of their beloved sports teams. So-called “crimes of passion” have reached alarming heights. Road rage is accelerating.

As my blogger friend suggests, anger over taxes is merely symptomatic of a greater, more pervasive problem. What’s that problem?

Allow me to quote from Jim: “I think it comes down to contentment. Our Constitution guarantees life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Pursuing happiness as an ideal almost guarantees that we will never be happy….”

Let me take his thought a step further. We confuse “the pursuit of happiness” with the attainment of happiness, which at best is a moving target. We become “happy” with a job promotion, pay raise, new car, or our team trouncing a hated rival. But happiness quickly fades when circumstances change.

Supposedly, in response to the question, “How much is enough?” one of our nation’s wealthiest industrialists responded, “Just a little bit more.” That’s the problem with pursuing happiness. It’s never enough.

So I agree – we are afflicted with a lack of contentment. The history of our nation has been largely written by discontent – the quest for religious freedom, gender and civil rights, for example. But we also have grown up in a culture of pervasive consumerism and materialism, spawning rampant greed, lust and covetousness.

We need a return to the basics: “godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Timothy 6:6).

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Power of Credibility

In my business communications class, we discuss the how’s of conveying messages effectively. There are many elements to being an effective communicator, but one is indispensable: Credibility.

A speaker’s or writer’s credibility involves his or her experience, expertise and training, as well as the degree of conviction they have for their message. If you don’t believe what you have to say, no amount of skill in speaking or writing compensates for that.

For instance, I volunteer to visit patients who have recently undergone open heart surgery at a local hospital. Having “been there, done that” myself, I can speak from personal experience. I know what it’s like to lie in the hospital bed post-op, how it feels, and can attest to the benefits of cardiac rehabilitation.

However, I don’t visit patients suffering from cancer, having to undergo dialysis, or facing other maladies. Not that I’m unsympathetic to their plight; I just haven’t experienced those health problems. I can’t honestly say, “I know how you feel.”

During college, I tried (very briefly) to sell vacuum cleaners and encyclopedias. My failure was immediate and total. I could have used the money from making a sale, but couldn’t get motivated to try convincing someone to buy a product I wasn’t sure they needed or wanted.

This, I believe, is one reason Christianity is increasingly regarded with suspicion. We are quick to declare “Jesus loves you,” but fail to reflect that same love and compassion when we speak. As someone wisely said years ago, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

How can we effectively talk about the God of love, mercy and grace when we exhibit so little of it ourselves? As Francis of Assisi said, “Preach the gospel at all times. When necessary, use words."

Thursday, September 3, 2009

It’s Football Time in the U.S.A.


Tonight marks the official start of a new football season! Like it or not football, not baseball, has become our national pastime.

Ironically, unlike the international game of soccer (“futbol” in Latin American nations), our football has relatively little to do with feet – except when players run. In fact, there are consequences for using the foot too much. A punt means you have failed to advance the ball. Kicking a field goal counts for three points, less than half what a touchdown is worth (with a kicked extra point). And rules prohibit players from kicking the ball while it’s in play. Lastly, the field is not measured by the foot, but by the yard. Yardball, anyone?

Nevertheless, football has captured our national fascination. “Why?” is open to debate. I personally believe it’s partly of the extremely physical nature of the game. Seeing a rival player pummeled by a vicious tackle has wondrous cathartic benefits for spectators. And seeing your team’s star runner or receiver zoom past defenders for a long touchdown sets all worries and fears to rest, at least momentarily.

But I think it’s also because games are played only once a week, rather than daily like baseball, or several times a week like basketball. We have an entire week to rehash and dissect the last game, revel in the high points and second-guess the coach. A full week also to anticipate the next game, speculating on how our team will fare, what it must do to win, and what tricks the opponent might present.

Sadly, the Bible says nothing specific about football. The apostle Paul did write, “I press on toward the goal to win the prize…” (Philippians 3:14), but I doubt he had the goal line in mind.

Nevertheless, settle in, grab your remote – and have fun!

Monday, August 31, 2009

Two Are Better Than One

Ecclesiastes 4:9 says, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work.” Over the weekend, my son-in-law, David, and I experienced the practical value of that biblical adage.

Our new kitchen sink had been draining poorly for several weeks, frequently backing up on both sides. Even a plumber seemed stumped at identifying the dilemma. Finally, David (a whiz at figuring out all things mechanical) and I (people that know me understand “Bob” and “mechanical” don’t belong in the same sentence) decided to take things into our own hands.

The problem, we surmised, was a blocked air vent on the roof. Until recently I didn’t even know a vent was required to expedite water flow – but since it was evident the pipes were not clogged, we decided to explore that possibility.

Because experience has taught me that when the term “do-it-yourselfer” was invented no one had me in mind, I wisely didn’t try climbing onto the roof until David became available.

It turned out to be a fairly simple procedure, much easier than I had anticipated, but without David’s instructions from below, there’s no telling how I might have complicated matters. Details aren’t important, but suffice it to say that if you have a predominantly right-brain thinker (me) to perform a left-brain task, he’s going to need help.

I was the guy on the roof working on the vent (you might say it was my attempt at getting up in the world). But without David’s handy “clog-buster” water hose attachment and his insightful guidance, I might still be up there, scratching my head and trying to figure out what to do.

It’s true that two are better than one. Our kitchen sink is now draining properly – one small step for mankind, one giant step for me.

Monday, August 24, 2009

What Haven’t You Done?

I’m not addicted to radio talk shows, but often find myself listening to them – to learn what other people are thinking.

Last week two guys were talking about things most people have done that they had not. One commented he had never drunk a cup of coffee, finished a bottle of beer, watched any of the “Indiana Jones” films, or driven a manual shift vehicle. “Wow,” I thought, “I’ve done all of those.”

Of course, that prompted me to wonder about what things I haven’t done that most people – or at least the majority – have done. At first nothing came to mind, but then a few things occurred to me: I’ve never caught a fish, or fired a gun, or played a piano. I also can’t remember ever not believing in God.

Although I haven’t lived a flamboyant life by any means, I have been fortunate to do a great many things: attend football games at all levels, from peewee to pro; stand in a restaurant atop one of the World Trade Center towers just a few years before it was destroyed; travel to Europe, the Caribbean, Central and South America; learn to drive a 1950 stick-shift Chevy truck; meet Billy Graham; be married 35 years; become a grandfather; see a NASCAR race; interview notables ranging from Jesse Owens to Joni Eareckson Tada; write books; see and photograph the Grand Canyon.

I don’t mean to boast, but I have been blessed to do lots of enjoyable things. Yet perspective has taught me that fulfillment is not about the next thrill or acquisition. As King Solomon wisely wrote thousands of years ago, “A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work. This too, I see, is from the hand of God” (Ecclesiastes 2:24-25).

Monday, August 17, 2009

What Difference Can We Make?


Everywhere we look there are needs – children in poverty, individuals out of work, homeless people approaching as we walk down the street. We can get discouraged, or shrug our shoulders and think, “What difference can I make?”

Recently I was reminded of the story of an artist on a beach vacation. One morning walking along the shore, he spotted someone that appeared to be dancing in the sand, celebrating the new day. Getting closer, the artist noticed the young man reaching down, clutching something and then running toward the waves and throwing the object into the water. The person repeated the action again and again.

Finally, the artist drew close enough to see the man was picking up starfish that had washed up ashore, then sprinting to the water and restoring the little animals to their watery environment.

“What are you doing?” the artist inquired. “I’m returning the starfish to the sea. Lying here in the sun, they’ll die,” was the response.

The artist laughed, gazing down the beach. “There are thousands of starfish baking in the sun. What difference can you possibly make?”

Without a word, the man scooped up another starfish, sprinted toward the water and threw it in, well beyond the breaking waves. Striding back to the artist he said, “I made a difference for that one.”

I’m convinced the world would be a much better place if we all took a similar approach as we observed the pressing needs around us. Individually, we can’t possibly make a difference for everyone or for every situation. But within the scope of our gifts, abilities and experience, we can make a difference in the lives of at least a few – simply by being willing to expend a little time and energy.

Who knows what difference your investment will bring?

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Price of Prominence

The sports world has been rocked by reports of misdeeds by many of its prominent figures:

• Michael Vick recently completed his jail term for sponsoring illegal and inhumane dog fighting.
• Former Tennessee Titans quarterback Steve McNair was found murdered by his girlfriend, who committed suicide. McNair’s survivors included a wife and children.
• Ex-New York Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress was indicted by a grand jury for illegally carrying a gun into a New York City bar (wounding himself in the process).
• Boston Red Sox star David Ortiz was the latest baseball player exposed for using illegal supplements – although he claims not to have known he was doing anything wrong. He joins the elite club that already included Mark McGuire, Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez and others.
• Most recently, Louisville head basketball coach Rick Pitino, also married with children, purportedly admitted providing money to a woman with whom he had one or more sexual liaisons when she said she could not afford an abortion.

The reaction? I have heard everything from “ban them from sports forever” (in McNair’s case, relegate his memory to public disgrace) to indirect references to Jesus’ statements, “Judge not lest you be judged” (Matthew 7:1) and “let him who is without sin cast the first stone” (John 8:7).

Frankly I don’t favor either complete condemnation or complete exoneration, but while we’re quoting Jesus, He said, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked” (Luke 12:48).

Each of these men was given much – talent, fame, money, influence. Shouldn’t we have a right to expect much in return, at least in terms of personal ethics and integrity, as well as on-field (court) performance?

Monday, August 10, 2009

Advice for the Newlyweds


Our daughter, Amy, married Chris on Saturday. At the rehearsal, I offered them advice from more than 35 years of marriage experience:

Who’s most important in your marriage? Putting your spouse first, rather than yourself, brings unimaginable joy and harmony. “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider one another more important than yourself” (Philippians 2:3).

Love isn't a feeling. Love is not an emotion, something to fall into and out of. It’s determining to honor and serve one another unconditionally. “Love is patient, love is kind…. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered …. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7).

Marriage is not ‘50/50.’ A successful marriage requires a 100% commitment from both partners. Two becoming one isn’t easy – very different individuals, with different interests, both broken by sin. “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord…. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…” (Ephesians 5:22-28).

You can’t meet all of each other’s needs. When God said it was not good for man to be alone, His intent was not for the spouse to meet all of the other’s needs. Ultimately, He wants to meet our greatest, deepest needs – for fulfillment, significance. “And my God will meet all your needs…” (Philippians 4:19).

Eliminate “divorce” from your vocabulary. If you never say the word, it never becomes an option. “For better and for worse” acknowledges some times will be worse, some will be better. “Consider it pure joy…whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4).

Monday, August 3, 2009

The Unshakable Kingdom


Earlier this year, my wife and I had an opportunity to spend time at Walt Disney World in Florida with some of our family members. We had been there before, but each return trip is just as amazing an experience as the one before.

We visited the Animal Kingdom, EPCOT and Hollywood Studios theme parks, enjoying the sights and sounds of each. But without question our favorite – and probably the favorite of millions of visitors annually – was the Magic Kingdom. It’s where you find all of the popular Disney characters: Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy and Pluto, Peter Pan, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and many others.

The Magic Kingdom is a feast for the eyes with a brilliant kaleidoscope of colors in every direction. Whether you’re taking leisurely boat rides through “it’s a small world” or the more raucous “Pirates of the Caribbean,” experiencing the ups and downs of the Big Thunder Mountain roller coaster, or just strolling toward Cinderella Castle – the park’s focal point – you tiptoe to the brink of sensory overload. What a testament to human creativity and imagination.

However, there is another kingdom, one I have yet to see, that intrigues me even more. In the Bible’s New Testament we read, “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our ‘God is a consuming fire’” (Hebrews 12:28-29).

Without question, our earthly kingdom has been shaken repeatedly; economic turmoil, natural disasters, war, health scares and numerous other concerns keep our emotions on edge. For that reason alone, I find great encouragement and comfort in the assurance that the coming kingdom – God’s eternal kingdom – “cannot be shaken.” Nothing we can do, although God knows we have tried, can upset His divine plans.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Who Inspired You?

What person – or persons – providing inspiration for you earlier in life? Who strongly influenced some area of your life – career, interests, beliefs or values?

A pastor asked this question during his sermon this week. He suggested noted individuals like Mother Teresa, Thomas Edison, Michael Jordan, Helen Keller, Rosa Parks and Winston Churchill as possibilities. No question, these are people many of us have admired for various reasons. But in reality, the people that touch our lives most significantly often are those who never attract national attention.

For me, educators made a tremendous difference – Mr. Mazzocchi, the fourth-grade teacher who informed my mother that I had “college potential”; Mrs. Looser, my freshman English instructor who told me that I had potential to become a writer; Dr. Clarke, my first journalism professor who introduced me to the craft of writing a news story.

My uncle, Joe Tamasy, taught me the value of initiative and hard work; Johnny Miller was the first pastor to show me the practical, down-to-earth relevance and application of the Scriptures. Duane Jacobs took a chance by providing my first opportunity in full-time vocational ministry. Ted DeMoss and many others served as examples of what it means to be totally committed to serving God, both personally and professionally.

But I think there is a question greater than who it was that inspired us: Who are you inspiring? Whose life has become – or is becoming – better because of your investment in them?

Approaching the end of his life and ministry, the apostle Paul issued an amazingly bold, yet honest challenge: “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put into practice” (Philippians 4:9).

Would you have the confidence to write or say something like that to someone in your life? If not, why not?

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Moon and Marriage


Today marks a momentous anniversary: 40 years ago, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin first touched the surface of the moon. But for me, today commemorates an equally significant event that occurred five years later: My wife and I got married.

I hope it does not seem too self-indulgent to compare the moonwalk with 35 years of marriage, but both are wondrous and perhaps, miraculous.

It took much of mankind’s ingenuity, intelligence and initiative to transport astronauts to the moon, enable them to walk on it and get them home safely. But marriage is an incredible journey as well – joining two very different human beings to a lifetime partnership. Sadly, about half of these partnerships fail.

Like flying to the moon, forging a strong marriage demands hard work, dedication and determination. It requires accepting one another’s shortcomings, as well as capitalizing on each other’s respective strengths.

Love is a key part of the equation, both for space exploration and marriage. For everyone at NASA it was a love of the unknown, of going where mankind had never gone before.

The love needed to sustain a marriage is not the warm, tingly feeling we see depicted in romantic comedies or “The Bachelorette.” It’s a love 1 Corinthians 13 describes as patient, kind, not envious, boastful, or proud. This love is not rude or self-seeking, not easily angered, nor does it keep a record of wrongs. It rejoices in the truth, protects, trusts, hopes, perseveres. This love honors the vow to accept the worse with the better.

How is such a love possible? By our own efforts, I don’t think it is. But for Sally and me, marriage has confirmed that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us (Philippians 4:13). And it’s just as exciting as flying to the moon.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Why Are We Here?

It has been my privilege to consult with two companies that have well-thought-out, clearly stated mission statements. These written documents answer two questions for them: Why are we here? What do we do?

As individuals, it’s important that we can also answer those same questions. Last week I was discussing this with several professional people. Some of them admitted that, caught up in the frenetic pace of the typical workday, they rarely pause to consider, “Why am I here?” or “What am I doing?”

For followers of Jesus, however, the Bible directly provides us with the answers for both questions. We know from the Scriptures that we cannot earn God’s acceptance. His grace – or unmerited favor – comes to us as a gift. But that does not mean what we do is not important. In fact, work is a big part of why we are here.

Ephesians 2:10 states, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” And after we read that the Word of God “is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,” 2 Timothy 3:17 tells us, “so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

From the beginning, as recounted in the opening chapter of Genesis, God’s plan was for humankind to perform work on earth, to “fill the earth and subdue it” – which theologians describe as “the cultural mandate.”

Each day, whether we sit at a computer, build cabinets, practice medicine, teach a class, run a company, or perform countless other tasks, God is calling us to good works, performing them in ways that honor Him and serve others. Not to earn His love and favor, but because we have His love and favor.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Joy in the Unexpected


I spent last week in Nebraska on business, expecting to see cornfields, cattle, and lots of flat plains. One thing I did not expect, however, was riding a seven-passenger motorboat on a lake. Lakes in Nebraska? (The lake was manmade, but a lake just the same.)

The evening came to a picturesque climax with a beautiful sunset I was able to capture with my digital camera (see above). Another happily unexpected event.

Some of life’s greatest joys are not those things we most anticipate, but unexpected surprises we encounter without warning. Like the time I was driving home from Valley Head, Alabama and literally found the end of the rainbow.

While meeting with several people to gather information for a book I was working on, I had noticed storm clouds gathering. As I drove north toward Chattanooga, the clouds let loose their contents. My serendipity occurred because was the rain was cascading in front of me, but the sun was shining brightly behind me. As beams of sunlight bounced off the raindrops, they created not one but numerous rainbows spanning the northbound lane of Interstate 59.

One of these miniature rainbows actually spilled onto the roadway and I was able to drive right through it! Sorry to disappoint you, but I can attest from firsthand knowledge there is no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

For me, such occurrences are one of the delights of being a follower of Jesus Christ. God is the God of surprises, so I’ve learned to expect the unexpected. In fact, in Jeremiah 33:3, He declares, “Call on Me and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things, which you do not know.” I think in the original Hebrew, the Lord is saying, “Child, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet!”

Friday, June 26, 2009

The Real Measure of a Life

The entertainment industry recently has lost luminaries of varying intensity – Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson.

McMahon was best known as Johnny Carson’s late-night sidekick and the pitchman for Publisher’s Clearinghouse. Farrah was adored as one of Charlie’s Angels, but guys of my generation will remember her most for her little red, one-piece swimsuit poster. She set many young men’s hearts aflutter. And of course, Michael was the grandest icon of all, already being ranked with Elvis, the Beatles and Frank Sinatra in terms of his musical magnitude and impact on pop culture.

Over the next days and weeks, we will continue to hear reports and commentaries on them all, particularly the enigmatic Michael. An unquestionably talented and charismatic individual, his latter years unfortunately were shrouded by his eccentricities and controversy.

All three were larger than life in their own way, and their departures leave a void. But as discussions of their legacies advance, the most fitting question might be, “What difference did they really make?”

For Michael, it was music and mystery. For Farrah, it was glamour and sexuality. For Ed, he just seemed like a fun kind of guy. They entertained us and offered an escape from reality, but in terms of long-term impact, was there more to them than that?

It may be, in the context of eternity, that the elderly shut-in who faithfully prays for others, the anonymous philanthropist who gives to help others in need, and those who invest time to encourage and counsel others may have as much – or more – enduring influence, despite their obscurity.

In Isaiah 43:4 God says, “Because you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you, I give men in return for you, people in exchange for your life.” That sounds like a life well invested

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Back to the Bookshelf

This summer I’m returning to a first love: Reading books. As a boy I always had my nose in a book; that continued well into adulthood. But in recent years, my time with books has diminished dramatically. I’m aiming to change that, at least for a few months.

I used to read 30-40 books a year. Now I struggle to get through a dozen. I read a lot via the Internet and e-mail, of course, but it’s not the same. To me, reading a book is similar to nurturing a relationship. It demands commitment and hours of dedicated attention. Holding a book is tangible, organic; the texture of the paper under my fingertips, the rustle of the pages as they turn.

Reading also requires giving something of myself, unlike passively watching a TV program or even browsing Internet sites. In reading a good book, fiction or non-fiction, I eagerly anticipate what a turn of the page might present – new information to learn, a new adventure to experience. Finishing the last page is like bidding farewell to a good friend.

One reason for my recaptured zeal is that my favorite TV shows are on hiatus. “House,” “Bones,” “Grey’s Anatomy” and “The Mentalist” are taking a break, a respite they and I both need. I have temporarily escaped TV’s gravitational field.

There is no biblical mandate to read books, although we are exhorted to study and meditate on God’s Word. But the apostle Paul indicates he was an avid reader, writing in 2 Timothy 4:13, “When you come, bring…my scrolls, especially the parchments.”

I’m off to a good start. Already I have finished two books and am well into two others. More volumes near my desk seem to beg, “Read me!” I intend to appease some of them during the next weeks.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Reflections on Fatherhood

As Father’s Day approaches, we read articles and hear commentaries about the role of fathers. A friend in TV news even asked the question recently, “Dads, do you feel like you get ripped off on Father's Day?” I’m not sure what prompted the question, but I suspect it’s because Father’s Day typically gets less “pub” than Mother’s Day.

I don’t feel “ripped off” at all. It’s not about the cards or gifts I might receive – although those are nice. If they were to hold a “best father” competition, I wouldn’t bother entering because I’ve blown it more times than I can remember. But as the Scriptures say, “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). Although I have messed up a lot, I hope my heart has been in the right place – at least most of the time.

To me, the greatest Father’s Day gifts I’ve received have been comments from my daughters to the effect, “Dad, thanks for always being there for me,” and the smiling “Pop!” that greets me whenever my grandchildren visit.

It’s sad when TV cameras pan the sidelines during college football games and young men yell, “Hi, Mom!” because rarely do they say, “Hi, Dad!” And that’s an indictment, I think, on many fathers who failed to keep their end of the deal. If more dads had done a better job, maybe their kids – and our society – would be in better shape.

I like this description of a good father: “For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God…” (1 Thessalonians 2:11-12). If a man can succeed in achieving that, I think he’s doing a good job.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Humor at Others’ Expense

During a recent opening monologue, late-night talk show host David Letterman made a comment that still has people debating its appropriateness.

Letterman said "an awkward moment" occurred for former Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin when, "during the seventh inning, her daughter was knocked up by (Yankee third baseman) Alex Rodriguez." Without naming her, the joke apparently referred to Palin's 18-year-old daughter, Bristol, an unwed mother. But it was 14-year-old daughter, Willow, not Bristol, attending the game.

When Palin reacted the next day with understandable anger, Letterman offered a weak, halfhearted apology – couched within another joke.

I wonder: What if Letterman had said something like that about Chelsea Clinton while the Clintons were in office, or about one of President Barack Obama’s daughters? Or a daughter or granddaughter of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi? No doubt Letterman today would be among the ranks of the unemployed; at the very least taking extreme measures to demonstrate genuine remorse.

Growing up, and even as late as the 1980s, I heard jokes about various ethnic groups – Italians, Poles, Jews, Hispanics, etc. Today most of us agree such efforts to elicit laughs at the expense of individuals or specific groups of people are unkind, inappropriate, and just wrong.

Perhaps because she is Caucasian, conservative and Christian – apparently the “unholy trinity” for elitist, left-wing wags – Palin and her family are considered fair game. But ideological and political differences do not excuse insensitivity and bigotry.

Once again, the Bible offers a simple, yet profound principle to apply to these situations: “Do not let unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29). In other words, “If you can’t say something nice about somebody, don’t say anything at all.”

Monday, June 8, 2009

The Greatest of These…

Last week while on vacation, I saw a woman wearing a T-shirt that read, “Faith – Hope – Love.” I’m not sure whether the shirt held spiritual meaning for her, or whether it was just something purchased for “the look,” just as many people today wear ornamental crosses as fashion accessories.

Those words, of course, come from 1 Corinthians 13:13, “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” That verse comes immediately after the passage – often used at weddings – that describes love in many ways, including patient, kind, humble, trusting, hopeful and persevering.

Have you ever wondered why love is called “the greatest of these”? I have heard sermons on this, but most seem to just miss the mark. It’s true that love compelled Jesus Christ to go to the cross on our behalf. And love can prompt us to do unusual, extraordinary, even heroic acts on behalf of others. But there is something more.

Both faith and hope pertain to the “not yet.” I define faith as, belief plus trust. And hope as, “earnest expectation” or “confident assurance.” Both are grounded in an inner certainty of the reality of God. But the fact is we still have not yet seen Him. When we all pass to “the other side of eternity,” however, the Bible assures us, “we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).

At that moment, our need for faith and hope will end – forever. All that will remain is love, a profound, enduring love for the One who first loved us, not because we deserved it, but because we did not deserve it – and He loved us anyway. And when we see Him as He is, we can’t help but love Him back.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Half-Full – or Half-Empty?

Michael J. Fox’s TV special, “Adventures of an Incurable Optimist,” intrigued me. Fox talked about his personal optimism despite battling Parkinson’s Disease, and explored possible roots of optimism.

Why are some people optimistic, he wondered, while others are pessimistic? Or putting it another way, why do some individuals see glasses as half-full, while others see them as half-empty? A friend of mine describes himself as a “optimistic pessimist”: “I’m positive things are going to get worse,” he explains.

In the documentary, Fox interviewed optimistic people, consulted with psychologists, even visited Buhtan, “the happiest country in the world.” He mentioned “faith,” but the faith he described basically believes “everything works out for the best,” or as some would phrase it, “It’s all good, man.”

I’m also optimistic, but my attitude has a more specific basis. It’s not confidence in myself, because I know how often I have failed others – including myself. I’m not confident in mankind, because everyday we hear about how wretched, mean and self-centered people can be – and I see no evidence things are getting better.

My optimism is grounded in unwavering faith in God and His perfect, sovereign plan for His creation, including me. When He declares, “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11), I believe it.

And when He says, “do not fear, for I am with you, and do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10) that means despite a troubled economy, health challenges, or any of life’s many other terrors, He’s in control.

With promises like that filling the Bible, why not be optimistic?

Monday, May 25, 2009

Thanks For the Sacrifice

The closest I ever came to serving in the military was one quarter of ROTC in college. I attended Ohio State during the height of the Vietnam War, while the draft was still in effect, but my lottery number was 279. As long as I remained in good standing with the university, I did not need to be concerned about rice paddies, monsoons and jungle warfare.

But my father was in the Army for 22½ years, serving in armored and infantry divisions in North Africa and Europe during World War II, including the famed Battle of the Bulge, being wounded twice. So I still have a very personal interest in Memorial Day. Julius Tamasy was one of the courageous men and women who since the founding of our nation have experienced war’s horrors – literally devoting their lives for our freedom.

Dad hardly ever talked about the war, at least not when I was around. But I do remember the nights when his muffled screams would shatter the quiet, a vivid wartime nightmare disrupting his sleep. So I knew that, unlike depictions in the John Wayne movies, his were not fond memories of battlefield camaraderie.

I’m glad this day is devoted not only to those who did not come home, but also to those noble veterans who did return and resumed lives unpunctuated by gunfire and explosive concussions. We owe them all far more than we could ever repay; more than we can truly imagine.

Jesus, looking ahead to what would prove to be His ultimate of “ultimate sacrifices,” said, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). To the servicemen and women who have ventured to foreign lands to help protect freedom and combat tyranny, we are in your debt.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Free Speech – An Endangered Species

When the year 1984 arrived and left, George Orwell’s futuristic novel “1984” suddenly seemed archaic. America had no “groupthink” or “Thought Police” as Orwell envisioned in the fictional totalitarian regime. Fast forward to 2009 and it seems his prognostications just might have been off about 25 years.

Recently Miss California Carrie Prejean, while competing in the Miss USA pageant, was asked by an openly gay-activist judge to give her views on same-sex marriage. It was a classic lose-lose situation, like asking a man if he has stopped beating his wife.

Prejean attempted a polite but honest answer: “Well I think it's great that Americans are able to choose one way or the other…. You know what, in my country, in my family, I do believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman, no offense to anybody out there…."

For her response, even though Barack Obama and Joe Biden took similar stances while seeking election, she was blasted by the 21st century’s version of the Thought Police. How thoughtless of her to wave her beliefs in the face of “politically correctness.”

In 1791 the Bill of Rights was ratified, stating, “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press….” Obviously, this excludes the “right” to yell “Fire!” in crowded theaters. But opposing same-sex marriage is hardly yelling “Fire!” Nor is it “hate speech.” Prejean was simply asked for – and expressing – her sincere, personal opinion.

The Bible states, “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone” (Colossians 4:6). Prejean seemed to be trying to be gracious in her reply, but apparently that’s not good enough.

If we don’t act quickly to protect free speech, groupthink may soon become more than a fictitious notion.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Wanted: Redemption

Deep down we all long for redemption – to see the broken made whole, wrongs made right, “happy ever after.” That’s why we enjoy stories about puppies rescued from bad circumstances; disadvantaged people receiving a needed break; romantic comedies morphing like-hate relationships into true love just before the credits roll.

Someone has observed Creation, The Fall, and Redemption are common elements of all great films, reflecting the biblical narrative. Things start well, but something shatters the idyllic moment. For the rest of the film, the characters work toward resolving the problem – and pursuing redemption. We see it in movies as disparate as “It’s A Wonderful Life” and “Star Wars.”

The film version of C.S. Lewis’s “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” introduces us to stark, snow-encrusted Narnia, where it is “always winter, but never Christmas.” By movie’s end, Narnia’s pristine beauty is restored – good conquering evil.

Two recent films also prove the point. In “Seven Pounds,” actor Will Smith’s character initiates a traffic accident killing seven people. For the remainder of the movie, he seeks to make amends by helping to save the lives of seven other individuals.

And in “Gran Torino,” Clint Eastwood’s curmudgeonly retired autoworker sees his lifetime of bitterness and bigotry transformed, culminating in a courageous act that redeems himself and his beleaguered neighbors.

Why this fascination with redemption? I believe it’s because we’re created in God’s image, and redemption has always been His prevalent theme: to redeem fallen creation to its former glory, even going to the cross to die and pay the ultimate price for our sins.

“…our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good” (Titus 2:13-14).

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Fear . . . and the Media

In his first inaugural address, President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” But he never heard about commercial jets flying into giant skyscrapers; bridges collapsing without warning; tainted peanut butter; crazed shooters on school campuses; spiking oil prices, or swine flu.

Or a relentless media that delights in preying on our fears.

In our ever-changing world we have learned to expect the unexpected. Swine flu’s the latest example; it certainly won’t be the last. Last week frenzied news reports sparked concerns that swine flu (now officially known as H1N1 virus) could become the 21st century version of the black plague. The world, as we knew it, seemed poised at the brink of calamity.

Not to belittle potential health risks, but common flu reportedly kills 36,000 people in the U.S. each year, yet somehow life goes on. I suspect the collective media had wearied of bantering about the economy and leaped at a chance to babble about anything different – at least temporarily.

How quickly our inner anxieties boil to the surface. Even if you’re not fearful now, just wait – the media will find something to worry us about.

If our trust is in the government, economy, or human nature, we have every reason to be afraid. But if our hope and faith are in God, fear need not be a constant companion.

In 1 John 4:18 it says, “perfect love drives out fear.” God’s love for us is perfect, even though our love for Him may not be. Despite global terrorism, disease, economic gloom and doom – or personal problems – we can trust Him without fail. As Hebrews 12:28 tells us, “since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe.”

Monday, April 27, 2009

It’s Not Easy Being Green

Last week we celebrated “Earth Day,” reminding one another to protect our natural environment. I support this premise, but it’s not easy being green.

I patronize the restaurant/deli of a local natural foods grocery store. They have an array of menu items that would pass muster (if not mustard) on any nutritional diet list. They also encourage recycling trash used for meals. That’s where it gets difficult.

Their disposal area features several receptacles, and diners are instructed to discard waste according to category: glass and cans; plastic bottles and containers; paper (clean cardboard, newspapers and magazines); miscellaneous trash; and a bin for plates, silverware, cups and plastic glasses.

The first time I attempted to dispose of my trash, that took longer than it did to consume my meal. I confess putting my plastic glass in with the plastic bottles and containers (an understandable mistake, right?), and started to put paper napkins in the paper receptacle, until a friend pointed out the error of my ways. I tell you, this recycling stuff isn’t easy!

I endorse environmentalism: We should try to keep our world as healthy a place as possible. I don’t worship “Mother Earth,” but do worship the God who created it. In the creation account, it states, “Then Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it” (Genesis 2:15). In other words, we’re to be good stewards.

When I’m a guest in someone’s home, I feel obligated to leave it as nice as it was when I arrived. The Bible says one day the earth as we know it will come to an end, but that’s God’s job, not mine. In the meantime, we all have a responsibility to be conscientious caretakers – even if being green isn’t always easy.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The People We Meet

My friend Jim passed away last week. He hired me in 1978 as editor for his newspaper in suburban Houston, Texas, and my three years there proved pivotal for my career. Jim was a hard-working, multi-faceted individual whose exploits ranged from Marine pilot to director of photography for National Geographic to entrepreneur.

I learned much from Jim about newspapering, photojournalism, business and perseverance, and I’m a different person for having known him. Thankfully, I was able to talk with him by phone a week before he died and again express appreciation for his impact on my life.

Someone has suggested that years from now we’ll be the same except for the books we read and the people we meet. (Another person has added “the food we eat” – but that’s fodder for another blog.) We don’t read books as we once did – thanks to the Internet, cable TV and myriad other forms of communication. However, the idea that our lives are greatly influenced by the people who cross our paths still holds true.

Throughout our tenure on earth, dozens – perhaps even hundreds – of people leave their imprint on our lives. I can think of family members, teachers, friends, pastors, bosses and coworkers that each have touched my life in unique, invaluable ways. They have helped in molding and shaping me into the person I have become.

Ultimately, I believe this is the measure of our lives – our legacy. It’s not about the money we earn, stuff we collect, titles we hold, or awards we win. It’s about making a difference. Even if we can influence just one life in a positive way, our own lives have significance and meaning.

Proverbs 27:17 tells us, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” Whose life is better today because of knowing you?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Identities in Crisis?

At one time or another, we probably all have thought, “Someday, I want to be somebody!” I remember thinking how nice it would be to be included in the “Who’s Who” listings of important people. Alas, I recently discovered I’m still stuck in “Who’s He?”

Thanks to the Internet, all would-be somebodies have the solution. Anyone can become somebody almost without doing anything.

You can make a name (and face) for yourself on sites like Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn and Plaxo. If you like to perform, you can download a video of yourself on YouTube – whether it be reasonable or outrageous, whichever you prefer. You can do a personal blog (imagine that), hoping people will actually read what you have to say! You can even “Twitter” to the world via cell phone.

Instead of waiting for recognition, we can achieve it on our own in many ways. Years from now, some people’s main claim to fame will be their attempt to attain a measure of fame.

Yes, you can find me on Facebook, and I blog away. But I don’t have to await the world’s verdict. In some quarters, I’m already somebody – a significant one at that.

I’m important to my wife, my children and grandchildren. I have friends who actually think enough of me to give me a call or send an e-mail once in a while. And most important of all, the Bible clearly states that to God I am indeed somebody.

It says God so loved the world (including me) that He gave His one and only Son (John 3:16). And in Isaiah 43:4, God declares, “…you are precious and honored in my sight and…I love you….”

Those and many other passages assure me that, even if the publishers of “Who’s Who” never call, I truly am somebody!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Bunnies, Baby Chicks and Jelly Beans

Through the years, Easter has become associated with bunnies, baby chicks and bonnets; eggs, jelly beans and baskets. But the two preeminent symbols of Easter are neither cuddly nor colorful: a cross, and an empty tomb.

The cross, as Christendom has confessed through the centuries, represents the death of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, for mankind’s sins – a sacrifice once for all, as Romans 6:10 states.

The empty tomb represents Christ resurrected, victorious over death, offering the same to all who trust in Him. As wonderful as that is, one essential element of the resurrection remains too often forgotten or ignored.

Preachers assert the resurrection assures our sins are forgiven and believers will join God in heaven after we die. But what about the meanwhile – the time between the moment of receiving the Lord’s forgiveness and the moment of experiencing life after death?

In pondering the Scriptures over the years, I have learned the resurrected Christ promises not only the “sweet by and by,” but also provides the key to dealing with the “nasty now and now.”

“How do you live the Christian life?” someone once asked me. I responded with a to-do list – pray, read the Bible, go to church. My friend shook his head: “It’s impossible to live the Christian life – the only one who has ever done it successfully is Jesus.”

Years later, I understand what he meant. Religion is mankind’s best effort to reach God. Jesus is God’s best effort to reach mankind. We can’t live the life He demands, not even close. But He, through His Spirit that dwells in every believer, can live His life through us.

As it affirms in Galatians 3:3, “Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?”

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Accountability: A Missing Ingredient?

Recently a friend spoke to some younger business people about accountability. One individual asked how he would rank accountability, compared with other professional traits and skills.

The question was asked because accountability apparently is alien to many emerging leaders. Certainly nothing they have studied in college or business school.

With this vacuum of personal and professional accountability, the surge of scandals in the workplace is hardly surprising: Serious ethical transgressions performed without remorse; top executives skimming exorbitant bonuses while their companies suffer unprecedented losses; headline-making moral failures. When no one holds you accountable, having permission to ask hard questions, it’s easy, as the Bible puts it, to “do what is right in your own eyes.”

This applies to workplace responsibilities, home life, even leisure activities and financial decisions. As poet John Donne wrote, “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent.” We think our ethical and moral decisions are independent, of no consequence to others. But in fact, their effect is profound – good or bad – on our families, friends, coworkers and companies.

In reality, we can only be as accountable as we’re willing to be. Some people are readily accountable in some respects, but unwilling to give access to other areas they don’t want to have scrutinized. So we continue to see leaders tumble into cataclysmic ethical and moral failures, even while appearing open and honest. That can happen when they reveal only what they were willing to have examined and questioned.

James 5:16 exhorts us to “confess your faults to each other and pray for each other.” It’s not a matter of having people “check up” on us, but rather communicating our willingness to be totally vulnerable - to safeguard our integrity and, ultimately, our standing and effectiveness as ambassadors for God.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Where Is Your Faith?

There seems to be much discussion about faith these days, pro and con. Facing economic travail, many declare their faith in the United States remains firm. Some still retain faith in the stock market. Many people say they have faith in Barack Obama, convinced the President can restore our nation to brighter, more prosperous days.

Then there are the naysayers, those who have no faith or confidence in anything they cannot see or grasp. There is a small but militant, and very vocal, army of atheists who rail against all who entrust their faith in a God that cannot be seen or touched. Faith, these supposed intellects would argue, is utter foolishness.

But think about it: The simple act of living is impossible without faith. When you board a jet, you entrust your life – a true act of faith – in the integrity of the aircraft and the skill and expertise of the crew. You would not dare to drive down a road without having faith that oncoming drivers will stay on the proper side of the center line. When you are hired for a new job in a different part of the country, you relocate as an act of faith – trusting that the job will await you when you arrive.

I have devoted much of my professional life to writing about the necessary intersection of faith and practice, whether in the workplace, the home, or the community. While I respect those who disagree, I also humbly assert they are dead wrong.

“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God…. For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength” (1 Corinthians 1:18-25)

Monday, March 16, 2009

Good News...and Bad News of Change

Most days one of my first acts is to retrieve the morning newspaper. With two journalism degrees and having spent the first decade of my professional career as a newspaper editor, newspapers have been part of my life for many years. But I know I’m a member of a dying breed.

Recently, a friend and I were commiserating on the uncertain future of newspapers. Across the country, most have seen significant circulation drops; with the economy, many are drastically reducing staff. With the immediacy of cable news and the Internet, the efficiency of current events on newsprint has diminished. That’s bad news – and good news.

Online is the future of newspapers – probably exclusively one day. We live in a high-tech world, and content of a printed newspaper often seems like yesterday's news -- even the day it's printed.

Things change: In the early ‘80s I marveled upon learning about USA Today using satellite technology to link regional presses and become a national newspaper. And was amazed to discover desktop publishing; the old cut-and-paste method now seems ancient.

Two years ago I purchased my first digital camera in preparation for my youngest daughter's wedding, and have not removed my old SLR from its bag since. When I got my first computer (a Macintosh 512K) in the mid-80s, after two days I permanently parted with my ole trusty electric typewriter. Compared to the computer, as slow as it was back then, the typewriter seemed like writing in stone.

Ecclesiastes 1:9 says, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” It’s true that fundamental requirements of society – transportation, commerce, recreation, communication, etc. – remain constant. But ways of meeting those needs do change, taking different forms. And that’s not all bad.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Glory of Grandparenting

More than 20 years ago I first heard someone say, “If I had known grandchildren were so much fun, I would have had them first!” Now, having my own grandkids, I resemble that remark.

The other day, our oldest granddaughter here in town spent the night with us. She loves to watch videos, so I suggested a DVD that I had bought for $1, containing several episodes from the “Howdy Doody” children’s show filmed in the late ‘50s. I wondered how Buffalo Bob Smith, Howdy, Phineas T. Bluster, Clarabell, Dilly Dally, and the Peanut Gallery would connect with the mind of a 21st century child.

To my delight, as grainy black-and-white images took me down Memory Lane to around 1957, Avery loved it. Strings clearly holding up Howdy Doody, Mr. Bluster and friends did not faze her at all, nor the silly slapstick comedy conducted by Buffalo Bob.

But what I had forgotten was how they cleverly interwove commercials into the context of the show. There were Buffalo Bob and Howdy extolling the virtues of Wonder Bread (and its “red, yellow and blue balloons”), Hostess cupcakes, and Tootsie Rolls. It’s no surprise I grew up consuming those products: Who wouldn’t trust good ole Buffalo Bob?

The next morning we went to buy some items for lunch. In the parking lot, in all its red, yellow and blue glory, was a Hostess Bakery truck. Avery spotted it right away, as well as the loaves of Wonder Bread and Hostess cupcakes in the baked goods aisle inside the store.

Our nation may be facing a monumental struggle right now, but we still have vintage Howdy Doody; Wonder Bread – and grandchildren. Things could be worse!

“Children’s children are a crown to the aged, and parents are the pride of their children” (Proverbs 17:6).

Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Rest of the Story

America lost an icon last week with the passing of Paul Harvey. His distinctive voice, unique slants on the day’s news, and most of all, “The Rest of the Story,” were legendary.

Every day listeners were treated to intriguing, little-known stories about people, both "Who's Who" and "Who's He?" types. We listened intently to hear the unexpected twist at the end of each account. These narratives will be missed – as will his signature close, “Paul Harvey…Good day!”

As a follower of Jesus Christ, my studies and meditations have shown me that in a similar way, Christianity also offers a “rest of the story.”

Those who call themselves Christians understand Jesus by His crucifixion and resurrection offers forgiveness and salvation, promising life after death. I think equally important, but too often overlooked, is the life He offers BEFORE death.

Trying to fulfill the standards God presents in the Scriptures seems like “mission: impossible.” Humanly speaking, it is. Again and again, however, the Bible asserts God does not expect us to do it on our own.

For instance, we are told, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 2:5:17). Similarly, every believer is assured, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).

Jesus told His followers, “apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). At the same time we are told, “I can do all things through Christ” (Philippians 4:13). Many other passages make similar assertions.

This underlies the essential difference between Christianity and the world’s religions: As someone much wiser than me has said, religion is mankind’s best effort to reach God; Christianity is God’s best effort to reach mankind.

When God commands, “be holy as I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16), He does not ask the impossible. As we appropriate the life and power of Christ available to every believer through His Spirit, we can become transformed and experience the reality of walking “in newness of life” (Romans 6:4).

And THAT’S the rest of the story!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Boomers and Retirement

While Baby Boomers have advanced relentlessly toward retirement, the muddled economy has befuddled many of them. With 401k plans shrinking worse than wool sweaters in hot water, the word “retire” suddenly provokes anxiety.

For many “Boomers” – the oldest born in 1946 – this means foregoing long-anticipated retirement dreams to remain active members of the American workforce. Disappointing? Perhaps. But not necessarily bad.

We often hear discussions about preserving our natural resources. But one resource we seldom consider is the cumulative experience and expertise of veteran workers, sometimes too eagerly replaced in the corporate world by cheaper, fresher, more tech-savvy personnel. You can educate, but you can’t teach experience – whether it’s for safe driving, raising children, or successfully carrying out job responsibilities.

That’s why we somehow need to learn how to tap into this growing reserve of workplace experience slowly phasing itself out of the workplace. Colleges and technical institutions may teach the “what” of work, but often only time and experience can teach the “how” and “why.”

The Bible addresses retirement in only one scenario. Speaking of Levitical priests, who handled responsibilities of ceremonial worship, it says, “but at the age of fifty, they must retire from their regular service and work no longer. They may assist their brothers in performing their duties . . . but they themselves must not do the work” (Numbers 8:25-26). Other types of work have no such stipulation.

Without question many workers deserve, even need, to ease out of full-time work. But it’s a matter of stewardship: After 30, 40 or more years of productive work, senior workers have much they can teach their successors, whether through direct training or mentoring. Sixty-somethings have forged a rich workplace legacy – worthwhile practices, values and traditions for others to preserve and add onto for future generations. We can’t afford to lose that.