Monday, December 29, 2008

Not Making Resolutions

As the year draws to a close, many people pause to make resolutions: stop smoking; lose 30 pounds in two months; read more and watch TV less; be kinder to family and friends. But when they fall flat on their resolve, good intentions are quickly abandoned and former ways restored. That’s why I never make resolutions – I set goals.

The problem with resolutions is they’re all-or-nothing. Once you break them, it’s over. “I knew you couldn’t do it!” Unlike resolutions, goals chart a course, pointing the way toward desired results, and are achieved over time. Like training for a marathon, goals are not instantly accomplished. Progress is what matters, regardless of how small or incremental.

Of course, how do you know if you’re making “progress”? That’s why goals should be measurable and attainable. For instance, “I want to become a nicer person” sounds good, but it’s not a goal – it’s a good intention. However, determining to perform at least one act of kindness on a daily basis is something you can both measure and attain.

If getting physically fit is your goal, you might define that in terms of frequency of exercise, weight loss and other tangible measurements. Over the past two years I have established a very effective exercise regimen and learned about healthier eating. So in 2009 my goal will be to continue my fitness routine and maintain my goal weight. Since this is a goal and not a resolution, if I overindulge on fat grams one or two days, or miss a day of exercise, all is not lost. I just discipline myself to get back on track and refocus on my goals.

Instead of dwelling on failure, anticipate future success. As the Bible says, “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead” (Philippians 3:13).

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Day the Earth Stood Still

Have you seen the remake of the classic science-fiction film, “The Day the Earth Stood Still”? It’s about an alien called Klaatu, who travels across the universe to warn people on Earth of an impending global crisis.

This being Christmas week, I see interesting contrasts between this film and the story of the Christ child. Like Klaatu, Jesus was from out of this world, the Son of God. But when He arrived more than 2,000 years ago, Jesus made no dramatic entrance. Rather than a flying saucer, his mother’s mode of transportation was a donkey.

Jesus’ arrival was not splashed on newspaper front pages, or the lead item on the evening news. Born in a remote village, His birth was largely ignored except for a handful of curious shepherds and, about two years later, some wise men from distant lands who knew biblical prophecy.

These facts are one reason I am convinced the Christmas story – and accounts of Jesus’ life – are true. If they were fabricated, why would He appear in obscurity and live in such humble surroundings? Fables and myths are comprised of the fantastic; incredible exploits performed by superheroes. Jesus’ story is one of humility and self-sacrifice, compassion and mercy.

Concerning Jesus, the Bible says, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). He arrived with no press kit, no publicists, no marketing strategy. Yet our modern calendar is built around His birth date.

Countless millions celebrate His coming. Lives beyond number have been changed by His life. Jesus also warned of doom – but provided the solution. For that reason, this Christmas again we commemorate the real Day the Earth Stood Still.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A Heartfelt Celebration

This week I celebrate an unusual anniversary: Two years ago I underwent open heart surgery to replace my ascending aorta, along with several arterial bypasses. An experience like that you never forget.

Unaccustomed pressure in my chest while power walking one morning had led to a stress test, followed by an arteriogram. I had anticipated needing stents to correct some blockages, but was surprised to discover my aorta was enlarged, twice normal size. Suddenly major surgery loomed.

An hour later I met my cardiothoracic surgeon, who assured me that given my age and overall physical condition, my chances of successful surgery were “about 95 percent.” My initial thought, however, was this meant 5 percent chance of it being unsuccessful.

Where do you turn when unexpected adversity presents itself? Years of experience had taught me to turn to God through prayer and the Scriptures. And when they learned of my situation, friends around the world began praying as well.

Admittedly, the first couple of days awaiting surgery were difficult. It was not the specter of death, but the strong sense that I had many good reasons to continue living, including my family. The second morning I came across this Bible passage that I embraced as God’s assurance: “The Lord will sustain him on his sickbed and restore him from his bed of illness” (Psalm 41:3).

He did bring me through the surgery, and today – through exercise, healthier eating and medication – I’m recovered and doing well. I now greet each new day as a gift. I realize more than ever the incredible privilege and responsibility of stewarding the abilities and opportunities God provides for me daily.

One day I will die, but until then my hope is to live in a way that makes a positive difference in the lives of others

Thursday, December 11, 2008

It’s a Matter of Perspective

Recently I attended a memorial service for a friend’s wife who had died of cancer. The occasion was a celebration of her life and contributions to family, friends and the community, and her hope of being in heaven with her Lord.

During the service the pastor cited Psalm 116:15: “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.” The first time I heard that verse my reaction was, “What kind of sadist is God that He finds death to be ‘precious’?” However, I now regard that passage differently.

Think of a loved one you communicate with only by letter, e-mail or phone. Don’t you look forward to being face to face again, enjoying one another’s company? I believe it’s the same with God. He can talk to us through the Scriptures, and we can reach out to Him through prayer, but if He truly is everything the Bible says, being in His presence will be beyond words.

Or imagine an infant in the womb, comfortable and content, warm and well-fed. If it could choose remaining there or entering the world, it would respond, “I’ll just stay here, thank you!” But would you leave this world and return to the womb? I believe it will like that when we draw our final breath. Since this world is all we know, we cling to it, but when we step to “the other side of eternity,” I believe it will surpass our comprehension. “Blow our minds,” as they used to say in the ‘60s.

The Bible says, “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Much Ado About Nothing?

As a communications practitioner since the early ‘70s, I have been fascinated by words, written and spoken. But I suspect centuries from now, historians and sociologists analyzing our society may reach a conclusion similar to this: “Never in the history of mankind was so much said by so many – about so little.”

We live in an age of 24/7 communication, with countless voices pleading for attention on talk shows, over the Internet, message boards, e-mail, text messaging…even blogs like this one. Traditional media – TV, radio, newspapers and magazines – still exist but lack immediacy. The thirst for gathering and disseminating information has become unquenchable, demanding instant gratification.

The problem is that while the number of those eager to speak out seems limitless, the subject matter is finite. So we hear and read pundits and fanatics, those truly in the know as well as know-it-alls, all airing views relentlessly about the same subject matter – often resulting in a collective sharing of ignorance.

Topics may involve something relatively inconsequential, such as what’s wrong with your favorite football team, or something of greater substance – how to heal the troubled economy, or achieve world peace. But doesn’t it sometimes feel like everyone is saying the same things over and over, just in slightly different ways?

One of my lifelong shortcomings has been putting my mouth in gear while my mind was still in park. Then I came across a helpful Bible verse, one that could easily be applied to the communications glut that threatens to drown us all. It states, “When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise” (Proverbs 10:19). Or as Abraham Lincoln once said, “It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open one's mouth and remove all doubt.”

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Mortgage Mess

We all know about the turbulent economy affecting the entire world, brought on in part by the home mortgage crisis. How did we get into this mess? While hardly an expert on finance, I have some personal perspective on the situation.

Blame can be assigned to greedy lending institutions, eager to exact huge interest sums from home buyers, as well as builders that constructed expensive homes they needed someone to buy. We can also indict those who unwisely sought to obtain homes beyond their means.

When my wife and I bought our first house more than 30 years ago, we had to meet three requirements: A minimum of 20% down, a monthly payment of not more than 25% of our gross monthly income; and a mortgage not in excess of 2.5 times our gross annual income. I understand many banks are now returning to similar stipulations.

Who can buy a house with those limitations? Actually, those guidelines were not intended to be prohibitive, but to ensure we could afford the house we were moving into. Contrast that to what was happening as the current crisis neared: People often buying homes with no money down, receiving loans that sometimes exceeded appraised value (presuming on future appreciation), and agreeing to escalating loan payment schedules (presuming on future income).

I believe everyone should have the opportunity to own their own home, but they should still live within their means. If their "dream home" is more than they can afford, that gives them something to strive for, a goal providing inspiration for achieving their own "American dream."

The Bible says the borrower becomes slave to the lender. Across the nation - and around the world - we are seeing the consequences of ignoring that warning.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Way I See It

I have often defined journalists as people with opinions about everything, whether they know anything about them or not. So being a journalist, I will use this blog to write on various topics, telling the way I see them - hopefully with a sense of reason.

Admittedly, many of my views will be colored by my personal spirituality, which is informed by what I have read and learned from the Bible. Contrary to the opinions of many, the Bible is not archaic or irrelevant. I regard it as the manual for everyday life, written by the Designer for the proper use and care of His creation. I have written about a dozen books and many magazine articles in this vein, dealing with how faith and everyday life intersect in meaningful, practical ways. Not all of my blogs will deal with spiritual topics, but I hope the ones that do will be of interest to those who read them.

By way of background, about two years ago I underwent open heart surgery, in which I not only had four arterial bypasses but also had my entire ascending aorta replaced. To say such an event is life-changing is like saying ice is cold. That experience has colored my life ever since. I won't elaborate now, but may revisit it in future posts. Suffice it to say I now have a much better understanding of proper nutrition, healthy exercise and fitness, and also have a greater appreciation for each day when I awake to live, work, love and play. And more than ever, I have a clearer sense of the power of the Great Physician.

I look forward to sharing more thoughts with you, and hope that perhaps they will stimulate some thoughts of your own.