Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Resolved Against Resolutions

With the calendar poised to turn from 2010 to 2011, many of us think of this as a time for a fresh start. For some it means making resolutions to do things differently.

For instance, "I resolve to eat better." "I resolve to quit smoking." "I resolve to get into a regular exercise routine and lose 20 pounds." "I resolve to watch less TV and use my time more productively."

The problem with resolutions is they tend to be all or nothing. Once habits triumph over good intentions, we quit in resignation. "I knew I couldn't do it," we mumble, shrug, and return to our old ways. That's why for many years I've resolved not to make resolutions. Instead, I set goals.

Goals provide a target, something I can aim toward over a desired period of time: Where am I going? How am going to get there? How will I know when I've arrived?

Almost every New Year's Day I sit down and review my goals for the year past, evaluate them, and write down new goals. I even classify them according to different areas of my life: vocational, physical, spiritual, family, mental, financial, ministry, and hobbies

Some of these simply carry over from the past year - such as spending time daily to read the Bible, pray and meditate; exercising at least five times a week; maintaining a goal weight; devoting time to mentoring other men.

But other goals are brand-new, whether they involve my work, writing and editing; planning a special getaway with my wife; or setting new financial objectives.

The point is they give me something to shoot for. If I fail one day, all isn't lost. Tomorrow's another day. A goal can take the whole year to accomplish, like reading through the Bible. Or it can be short-term, such as losing any added holiday weight by March 1.

For me the process is as important as the end result. Hopefully, my goals provide guidelines to help me become a better husband, father, grandfather, worker, friend, and ultimately, servant of Jesus Christ.

I try always to remember, as Colossians 3:23-24 instructs us, "Whatever you do , do you work (even goal-setting) as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve."

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Why All the Fuss About Christmas?

Almost all of us enjoy the common Christmas image of the babe lying in repose inside a stable, surrounded by loving mother and father, barnyard animals, shepherds, angels, maybe the three wise men – the Magi. But billions of children have been born through the ages, most of them cute and cuddly. Have you ever wondered, what’s the big deal about Christmas?

The “big deal,” of course, is first, “the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14). If we are to believe the biblical account, God became “incarnate” – took on human form, leaving the realm of heavenly perfection to immerse Himself in the world of flawed, sinful humanity.

Second, this baby – Jesus, the Son of God, whom Hebrews 1:3 describes as “…the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being…” – grew not only to become a great teacher and example, but ultimately the Savior of mankind, willfully dying for our sins on a cruel, torturous cross. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

And there’s a third reason: The first coming of Jesus more than 2,000 years ago was just the prelude, a promise of His second coming. He told His disciples, “…at that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:27-28).

So Christmas morning, as we sit near lighted trees and open festively wrapped gifts, we should pause to reflect on the real meaning of Christmas: not Santa Claus, not gifts, but Christ.

We celebrate because Jesus came – but we also celebrate because we know He’s coming again!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Hearty Anniversary to Me

Four years ago today I lay on an operating room table, ribs splayed open while a gifted cardiothoracic surgeon and his team performed four coronary artery bypass grafts (also known as CABG or “cabbage”), along with an aortic root replacement (correcting an aneurysm in my ascending aorta).

Richard Holbrooke, a distinguished U.S. diplomat, died just last week of an aortic dissection at the age of 69. So it’s serious stuff, for sure.

I don’t remember much about Dec. 20, 2006, although I’m told even under pre-op medication I was cracking jokes en route to surgery. Better than kicking and screaming. My wife says when she saw me the first time in surgical ICU that evening, I was ashen. Kinda like death warmed over (although I don’t know why anybody would want to do that).

What I do recall from the days immediately following was feeling like someone hit me in the chest with a pickup truck, and then backed up and hit me again for good measure. Not recommended. Having to spend Christmas Day in a hospital recovering wasn’t my preference, but I’ll always be thankful for the excellent care I received - as well as the good health I've experienced since then.

That’s why I volunteer at the hospital one day a week, encouraging patients who have undergone similar procedures. When I visit them, along with strongly recommending they engage in cardiac rehabilitation, I point out every morning upon awakening, they should remember they’ve received a gift – another day. The question is: What are they going to do with it?

It’s so easy to take everyday life for granted, presuming we’ll have tomorrow, next week, next year. So struggles like that are not only humbling, but also useful in recognizing, as Psalm 118:24 tells us, “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Looking Behind the Scenes

Have you ever wondered about commonplace things, like how they put silver wrappers around Hershey’s Kisses? Or how they make cardboard packaging that goes around electric appliances we buy for our kitchens? Probably not. We enjoy items like these, but rarely stop to consider the “how’s” and “what’s” of producing them.

Recently, however, it’s been my privilege to learn the behind-the-scenes story of another commonplace commodity we encounter virtually every day: Carpet. How did the technology – and processes – come about for carpet to become such an integral part of modern culture?

Tufting Legacies, a newly published book I’ve written, answers that question. It tells the story of two remarkable families, the Cobbles and the Cards, who quietly sparked a revolution in carpet manufacture.

In particular it spotlights brothers Lewis and Roy Card. Their imagination, ingenuity and innovation advanced the mechanized tufting process, starting with a single-needle industrial sewing machine. One incremental step at a time, their work set the stage for the huge, computer-driven tufting machines now used throughout the world, not only in the United States but also in such diverse settings as Germany, Dubai, China, Russia and Australia.

My time spent interviewing, researching and writing this book probably makes me the foremost expert of all people who have never worked a single day in the tufting industry. But Tufting Legacies reveals what the “American dream” is really about: hard work and determination not to quit in the face of adversity. It also tells how a clearly defined sense of mission and values has been maintained through four family generations – a rare legacy in any field of endeavor.

Oprah won’t consider Tufting Legacies for her book club. But if you have any interest in manufacturing history, or would like to read about what it took to succeed in the early to mid-20th century, I think you’ll find this book interesting. It’s available at

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Sunsets . . . and Other Acts of God

Talking with a friend earlier this week, it occurred to us that God could use a public relations makeover – because apparently many people think of Him only when bad things occur.

Take, for example, the common term used in insurance policies: “acts of God.” When we read that, we know it refers to calamitous events like hurricanes, tornados, floods, and tsunamis. So we’ve become convinced unless we want our day ruined, we should avoid acts of God at all costs.

But why don’t we think of other things as acts of God? Things like sunrises and sunsets, flowers in bloom, leaves changing color in the fall, snow transforming a nondescript street into a crystalline, wintry wonderland?

What about the birth of a baby, a child laboring over a crayon drawing for Mommy or Daddy, or a couple celebrating more than 50 years of marriage – and still obviously in love with and devoted to one another?

Have you ever seen the Grand Canyon? Talk about an act of God! Or viewed a majestic, snow-covered mountain peak? Or listened as waves relentlessly tumbled onto the shore?

I love going to places like SeaWorld or aquariums, where a wondrous variety of creatures cavort for our enjoyment – sharks, rays, killer whales, seals, walruses, otters, alligators, fish of all shapes and a myriad of colors.

Yes, some acts of God result in destruction and despair, often defying explanation, but so many of His other – typically unacknowledged – acts stir up wonder, delight and excitement. He wants us to enjoy His creation; and draw closer to Himself in the process.

As Romans 1:20 tells us, “since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”

Monday, December 6, 2010

Be the Change You Want to See

While visiting with a friend at a local coffee shop, I saw a sign that read, “Be the change you want to see.” I like that sentiment.

I’m convinced we’ve never lived in a time like this, when so much is being said by so many . . . about so little. We’re surrounded by talk and opinions, on radio, TV, even blogs. Too often, that’s all it is – talk. No action.

The adage, “A penny for your thoughts,” is accurate. That’s about all they’re worth. I’m convinced if you really believe something, and aren’t just attempting to add to the cacophony of voices surrounding us, you should do something about it.

That doesn’t mean we should try and do everything. We might not have the expertise (or opportunity) to heal the ailing economy; offer absolute solutions for world poverty; or possess savvy for overcoming ever-present problems of hatred and prejudice in our society.

But when there’s something you’re passionate about – and somewhat knowledgeable – it’s not enough to talk and spout opinions. Do something.

Not to toot my own horn, but there are a number of areas I feel strongly about, enough to be the change I want to see.

For instance, I believe many men yearn for more mature men to meet with, to help them wrestle with everyday personal and professional issues so they can become the people they want to be. So years ago I decided to give time each week to mentoring.

Having experienced the consequences of heart disease and challenges of recovery, I volunteer, to encourage recent open heart surgery patients and give suggestions from personal experience on how they can enjoy a rapid and full recovery.

And being convinced the majority of people professing to be followers of Jesus Christ have little understanding of how to apply principles from the Scriptures on a consistent, everyday basis, I have written books, articles, a weekly e-mail devotional called “Monday Manna,” and even this blog.

Am I doing a lot? I don’t know. Probably not. But I am doing something – at least in some small way, I am trying to be the change I want to see. Are you?

In the Bible, the apostle James is very convicting about this: “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says…. Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins” (James 1:22, 4:17). Look around you. If you feel strongly that something should be done, don’t just talk about it. Do something about it!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

‘Tis the Season to Be Waiting

Can you remember how you felt around Christmastime as a boy or a girl? I recall the giddiness of anticipation, wondering what surprises would greet me from under the tree on Christmas morning.

The problem is, you have to wait. Even though Christmas fervor starts building immediately after the Thanksgiving turkey has been sliced and served, to young minds time passes interminably slow. We know what we want; we just want it right now.

Christmas Eve I would go to bed, wanting so much for sleep to swallow me up, knowing in slumber time would speed forward. Unfortunately, adrenalin coursing through my veins banished sleep from my head. So I waited…and waited…until at long last, weariness subdued my excitement, lulling me mercifully into somnolent release.

Perhaps Christmas no longer stirs the same anticipation for you, but it’s still true – we hate to wait. Whether it’s an important phone call, a job promotion, or a major purchase, we want it immediately. Instant gratification is king – and we’re his servants.

Years ago I was pondering an important career change, ready to move ahead. But days dragged into weeks, weeks into months. Several times I even tried to force the issue, but remained stuck where I was.

Confused, convinced God was preparing me for a new job, I turned to the Scriptures for insight, as I often do. I read Psalm 37, and you know what He told me? Wait.

“Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him…,” Psalm 37:7 said. In case I missed the point, God reiterated in verse 34: “Wait for the Lord and keep his way….” Then I remembered what He said a bit later: “Be still, and know that I am God…” (Psalm 46:10). I tried my best not to utter anything stronger than a sanctified “Oh, man!” But I had no choice; I had to wait.

As it turned out, the result was far better than I could have hoped. My heavenly Father truly knew best. He was just working out the details.

I still don’t like waiting – at traffic lights, checkout lines, even for the mail. But time has shown waiting isn’t necessarily bad. Often it enables the Lord to “do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20).

So if you’ve been waiting on something important, hang in there. Be patient. God’s probably preparing something incredible for you.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Thanks for Everything

This week most of us will join with family and friends for another Thanksgiving Day observance. In addition to traditional feasting (and post-feasting napping), holiday parades and football games, many of us will pause to thank God for our blessings.

By “blessings,” of course, we typically think “good stuff” – good health; warm places to live; ample food; jobs; cars; money to pay bills; loved ones. But have you ever considered giving thanks for the hardships and adversities that are so much a fact of life?

One of the first Bible verses I ever learned, 1 Thessalonians 5:18, instructs us to “give thanks in all circumstances. That, we would all agree, is easier said than done.

How can you give thanks for cancer or heart disease, being unemployed, having financial obligations that far exceed income, having a beloved relative engaged in war thousands of miles away, or some other dire situation that seems to defy resolution?

For many Thanksgiving Day isn’t all turkey and stuffing. It also involves aching hearts and hurting bodies. Yet the Scriptures direct us, according to another translation, “in everything give thanks for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

That doesn’t mean having to be happy about adverse circumstances. If anything, we might be tempted to say, “thanks for nothing!” But the Scriptures assure us God is in control – everything is reviewed according to His sovereign, permissive will. Jesus said, “(God) causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45).

Looking back over my life, I now realize God used some of the worst times in my life for my ultimate best – even when that had seemed impossible.

So Thursday, when you bow in prayer, try to thank God for everything.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Living for Today

Recently I was reminded of a favorite song in my youth, “Today,” recorded by The New Christy Minstrels in 1964. Its lyrics include, “Today while the blossoms still cling to the vine, I’ll taste your strawberries, I’ll drink your sweet wine…. Who cares what the morrow shall bring.”

Wonderful, idealistic thinking, right? Even though I loved the song, I really didn’t take it to heart. I was always looking to the future: What to study in college, who I’d marry, what kind of career I’d have. Even after getting married and finishing college, I wasn’t content with “today.” I was always looking to tomorrow – wondering about looking for a different job, setting professional goals, fretting about finances.

Thankfully, the passage of years offers perspective. It’s not just having achieved dreams and goals. It’s also a result of confronting life’s challenges and, having survived them, gaining more appreciation for the moment. Recognizing the importance, as trite as it sounds, of pausing to smell the flowers. Before long, they’re gone.

When you’re young, you can’t wait for the future; as you get older you realize the other side of eternity is much closer than you thought. Each day is a gift, a sacred treasure. As Psalm 118:24 says, “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

At the same time the Scriptures warn against preoccupation with the unforeseen and unknowable future. Jesus admonished, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:34).

Someone has wisely observed, today is the tomorrow you worried about yesterday. We’d be better off heeding the advice of another classic song of the ‘60s, by the Grass Roots: “don’t worry ‘bout tomorrow, hey, hey, hey…live for today.”

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Deleted from Expletives

All religions have acknowledged leaders: Islam has Mohammed; Buddhism has Buddha, Hinduism has Vishnu and many others; Confucianism has Confucius; Judaism has Moses; and Christianity, of course, has Jesus Christ.

But have you ever noticed of all those names, only one is used by some as profanity? When was the last time, for instance, you heard someone say, “Expletive Confucius”? Or “Blankety-blank Buddha”? Muslims so revere Mohammed, people that write or speak derogatorily about the prophet are threatened with death.

But Jesus Christ? That’s different. Often in films, sometimes on TV, frequently in books, we hear or read people using His name as an angry epithet or sometimes just part of their everyday vocabulary. I once worked for a man that included “Jesus Christ” in his sentences as casually and unashamedly as most people would say “um” or “you know.”

Why is this? Why is the name adored by countless millions throughout the world, the person declared by the Bible as the Son of God, the only one among religious icons deemed fair game for dragging through the mud?

The greatest war being waged on earth is not political, nor ideological or economic. It’s a spiritual war – a battle of eternal truth versus falsehood and deception. If Jesus actually is “the way, the truth and the life,” as He declared (John 14:6), there is bound to be resistance from those who regard that as too rigid or “intolerant.”

But this is more than a clash of viewpoints and opinions. It’s a fight that’s being directed from what the Scriptures term “the gates of hell.” And if it’s true one day “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow…and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Philippians 2:10-11), we can expect intense spiritual opposition until then.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

How’d We Get from There to Here?

Do you remember hula-hoops, Howdy Doody and Dippity-Do hair gel?

A recent e-mail awakened nostalgic memories: Waiting for the TV to warm up; milk and bread delivered to your home; the thrill of a 25-cent allowance; having your car filled up, oil checked, windshield cleaned and tires aired up, all for free at the gas station; the Lone Ranger.

I was reminded in the 1950s and ‘60s, school “weapons” consisted of peashooters, spitballs and slingshots. (In high school, once I saw someone display a switchblade but there was no threat of violence.)

A summons to the principal’s office for misbehavior was nothing – what we really worried about was our parents’ discipline when we got home. Food and medicines we bought didn’t require safety caps or hermetic seals; no one dreamed of poisoning a complete stranger.

Interesting, isn’t it? Despite huge strides in medicine, science and technology, human nature seems to have backslidden over the years. How did we get from there to here?

This complex question defies simple answers. We could blame taking prayer out of schools – “forcing God out of education,” but I doubt legislation or human whim intimidates the omnipotent God. We have, however, seen a slow drift from God-consciousness and, dare I say it, the fear of Him.

Materialism and American prosperity have shifted reliance from God to our own strength and initiative. Academia, media and government have helped erode sacred sensitivities in America – but like boiling the proverbial frog in the kettle, with deceptive slowness.

I think even churches share some of the blame, stressing God’s love - as if to make Him more palatable to the masses - while downplaying His justice and righteous judgment. As a result many people are content, as Judges 21:25 states, to do “what is right in their own eyes,” without regard to consequences. Proverbs 29:18 tells us, “Where there is no revelation (of God), the people cast off restraint.”

Some people today feel confident recent elections will help “restore America.” I’m afraid they’ll be disappointed. The Bible declares this singular “recipe for change”:

“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14). As followers of Jesus, it starts with us.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Intolerant of ‘Tolerance’

A politically correct buzzword today is “tolerance.” If enlightened, we’re told, you’re “tolerant” of those whose beliefs and lifestyles differ from your own. Sorry, but use of the term in this way is both a perversion of language and an insult to those it addresses.

Years ago I had an abscessed tooth while attending an important conference. I tolerated the agony until I could stand it no longer and had to seek out a dentist. I didn’t want the pain and got rid of it as soon as possible.

At a coffee shop engaged in a conversation, I may tolerate background music that’s too loud, it, but certainly don’t like it. When I’m in a hurry and stuck in traffic, I’m forced to be tolerant – but every inch of my being hates having to sit still.

Looking at the word another way, in manufacturing, precision parts are made to a very specific, narrow tolerance to function properly. No place here for “broad-minded” engineering.

However, when applied to ideologies and behaviors these days, “tolerance” implies acceptance – even approval. I fully understand the dynamics of language and how words take on different meanings, but “tolerant” actually means reluctantly enduring something, or grudgingly holding your tongue even though you might want to scream to the contrary.

To me, “respect” is a far better, more appropriate term. I may differ with adherents of other faiths, for example, and have strong reasons for disagreeing with them. But I can still respect them, acknowledging their right to hold to an opposing worldview. However, “tolerance” in such an instance sounds more like, “I think you’re stupid. I just won’t say so.”

Not to mention the tolerance advocates that seem utterly intolerant of those that don’t concur with their way of thinking. So forgive my intolerance of “tolerance.”

Thursday, October 21, 2010

For Our Enjoyment

All around us here, leaves on the trees are turning an amazing array of reds, oranges and yellows. The funny thing is, as I understand it, there is no practical purpose for the color change from green.

Green leaves are the result of chlorophyll, a green pigment that absorbs red and blue light from the sun. In the fall, however, shorter days and cooler nights interrupt the natural process of chlorophyll being manufactured and replaced as it decomposes. Hence the different colors as chlorophyll breaks down and is not reintroduced into the leaves.

Scientists apparently have not discovered any useful reasons for the specific colors. They are a delight to observe, certainly. In many parts of the country, our eyes can feast on a smorgasbord of color – until rain and wind detach the leaves from their limbs and they tumble to the ground.

The same can be said about breathtaking sunrises and sunsets. The vivid reds and other hues appear briefly, greeting us in the morning and bidding us a good evening, but aside from the visual sensation, we are none the better or worse for them.

Why then do we have this ever-changing palette of nature, revealing itself to us from day to day? I think it’s a gift from God, a manifestation of His love – much like a bouquet of flowers from a husband who is not making amends for a wrong, or a parent buying a toy or a treat for a child, for the simple reason of “just because.” They are the Lord’s subtle way of saying to His children, “I love you – and don’t forget.”

“If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give…to those who ask him?” (Luke11:13).

Monday, October 18, 2010

From ‘Who’s Who’ to Who’s He?

Justin Bieber’s a mop-haired, 16-year-old pop/soul singer who’s become the latest heartthrob for the teeny-bopper set. A YouTube video shows a little girl weeping because she “loves” Justin so much. He’s already written a book – and it’s actually longer than five pages! (How could someone so young have much to say?)

I hope he enjoys the fame while it lasts, because it probably won’t. When our girls were little, they adored New Kids on the Block. Who? Where are they now? A few years ago, the Jonas Brothers were the rage. They’re still around, but fading fast. Ten years from now, will young Justin be just another “who”?

Fame, correctly stated, is fleeting. At my exercise class they play a CD consisting of “one-hit wonders,” songs by groups that rocketed to the top and plummeted just as fast. Would you want your legacy to start with, “Whatever happened to…?”

A legacy is established not by long life, but how we live the years we have. I think of people who died relatively young: individuals like Oswald Chambers, 43, whose devotional books bless millions almost 100 years after his death; Dawson Trotman, 50, founder of The Navigators international ministry; and David Brainerd, 29, and Jim Elliot, 28, both missionaries.

Their earthly lives only shone briefly, like candles, yet their impact – through words, inspiration and vision – continues in the lives and hearts of people around the globe. In a world where we can move so quickly from “Who’s Who” to who’s he, it’s important to focus on things that will endure. That’s why I appreciate the last words of a poem by C.T. Studd, a missionary to China, India and Africa at the turn of the 20th century:

Only one life, ‘twill soon be past,

Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A ‘Christian’ Nation?

With general elections approaching, there’s talk about returning the United States to its roots. For some, this means a “Christian nation.” To that I suggest two words: Stop it!

Yes, our Constitution embraces some Judeo-Christian principles, but Christian nation? No.

Consider the following mantras that have shaped the American mindset, particularly since World War II: “Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps.” “God is my co-pilot.” And my favorite, “God helps those that help themselves.” (Not found anywhere in the Bible.) We praise the “self-made man” – who tends to worship his “maker.”

It’s not that hard work and initiative are wrong. Part of our nation’s malaise today is too few want to exert the effort necessary to succeed. They want everything handed to them as they ride the entitlement bandwagon.

But how can we be a “Christian nation” when self-reliance and self-sufficiency run diametrically opposed to biblical truth?

Jesus said, “apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). The apostle Paul affirmed total dependence on his Lord, stating, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). He also stated paradoxically, “when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10). Paul explained why in the preceding verse: “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

At its heart, Christian faith consists not on taking spiritual precepts and implementing them to flex our muscles. It’s recognizing utter helplessness apart from Christ – even when His commands run counter to our culture.

Jesus declared we’re to submit to governing authorities, as Romans 13 affirms, but He never instructed us to be the authority – or to rely on it alone. The goal, the Scriptures teach, is “that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power” (1 Corinthians 2:5). That’s what a true “Christian nation” would look like.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Miracles, Anyone?

Last Sunday the pastor asked us to recall a miracle God has done in their lives. So I started thinking, “What miracles has He done in my life?”

When we hear the word “miracle,” there’s a tendency to think of something magical –parting the Red Sea, turning water into wine, or raising the dead. I have no doubt God can do that and many other similar feats, whenever He chooses to do so. But reviewing my life, what came to mind were things not as spectacular, but every bit of miraculous.

Like the fact my wife, Sally, and I have been married more than 36 years.

In today’s “for better, but not for worse” culture, that’s a miracle! Not only that, but you can still catch us holding hands, kissin’ and stuff.

How about the new aorta I received nearly four years ago – my dad probably died of the same malady, but thanks to medical advancements, I’m still here at the keyboard. My heart’s pumping strong, thanks to my part cadaver, part Dacron aortic root replacement. A miracle.

I consider my grandchildren a miracle. Sure, childbirth is natural; they say it’s even hereditary. But having wonderful little kids to spoil, then to send home – that’s a miracle.

With so many people complaining about jobs they hate, I’m blessed to have been able to devote my entire career to writing and editing, and for three decades use those skills to communicate the practical relevance of the Scriptures. To me, it’s a miracle God would even let me do that!

So to find miracles, we don’t have to look far. The fact we woke up this morning – that’s one. If you had the joy of seeing a flower or the blue sky, there’s another. If you heard a bird chirp, or even someone ranting on a talk show, that’s a blessed miracle. And if you haven’t experienced enough miracles lately, God’s sure to send another your way soon.

As the Scriptures tell us, God is “able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20).

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Everywhere You Look

Did you ever buy a new car and start noticing other models like it wherever you went? Or maybe you decided it was time to replace an old appliance and instantly, advertisements for that kind of product popped up everywhere you looked?

Maybe it’s “heightened awareness” or benign self-interest, but whatever dominates our thoughts at any given time sensitizes us to things we might have been oblivious to in the past: TVs, cameras, computers, clothing, furniture, financial planners, attorneys.

In recent years, my wife and I experienced this in the realm of personal health. Following open heart surgery about four years ago, I became acutely aware of information about cardiac disease, as well as strategies for staying healthy.

Last Sunday we participated in the annual Susan G. Komen “Race for the Cure.” More than 8,500 men and women took part, either in the one-mile walk or the 5K event for both runners and walkers. The cause was to support research seeking a cure for breast cancer. Since Sally has dealt with that issue this year, it was heartening to see such a huge turnout – including many proud survivors.

Along the route were volunteers offering water for sweaty competitors; others stood along the road just to cheer us toward the finish. My goal wasn’t a prize, but I felt power-walking the 5K course was helping in some small way to advance the goal of one day ridding our world of breast cancer. Now, whenever I see one of the signature pink ribbons, whether a car decal, a pin or on auto tag, I think of that important cause.

Seeing those people along the course, shouting encouragement to participants, I was reminded of the “great cloud of witnesses” described in Hebrews 12:1. I sometimes wonder if, beyond the limits of human sight, a similar group of “witnesses” is urging us on as we “press on toward the goal to win the prize” God has waiting for each of His children.

It’s comforting to imagine as we cope with the struggles and challenges of everyday living, we have unseen supporters exhorting, “Good job!” “Keep it up!” “You can do it!” Maybe they’re there, everywhere we look.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Not Working Up a Thirst

Rumor has it that summer is officially over and autumn has arrived. You couldn’t prove it today by the thermometer, but the weatherman is predicting temperatures in the 70’s this weekend. Even so, we won’t soon forget summer’s heat.

I’m not a green-thumb person, but for Mother’s Day I bought my wife some purple flowers to put around the mailbox. The label said they’re “vincas.” (Not to be confused with ancient native Peruvians with a similar name.) I even planted them in special, high-potency soil. The flowers did grow rapidly and adorned the front yard.

Then summer came, with high temperatures and little rain. Safeguarding my botanical investment, I went out at least every other day to water the flowers. Every time I pulled into our driveway, I felt sorry for the little fellers, panting and chlorophyll-tinted tongues hanging out due to thirst. I had to give them a drink once in awhile.

Our little green friends’ plight reminded me of a couple of passages in the Bible. In the Beatitudes, Jesus stated, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness” (Matthew 5:6). In the Psalms, King David had written about himself in similar terms: “O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you, my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you in a dry and weary land where there is no water” (Psalm 63:1).

Do I really thirst for God, for His righteousness? Maybe that’s the problem with Christian America. We’ve become absorbed into the culture, opting for a convenient, comfortable God – not one that has us desperately thirsting for Him, as one thirsts after mowing a lawn on a hot summer day.

As Patrick Morley wrote in his book, The Man in the Mirror, we have settled for the God we want, not the God who is. Maybe once we work up a thirst for God, as described in the Scriptures, we can again serve as salt and light in this “dry and weary land where there is no water.”

Monday, September 13, 2010

Precious in the Sight of God

In June I wrote about my friend Karen, a former coworker who had been dealing with cancer. Last week I went to her memorial service, a true celebration of a remarkable woman who loved her God, and who also loved and served people the Lord sent her way.

During the service I recalled a peculiar Bible passage: “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints” (Psalm 116:15). At first glance, this verse makes God seem like a sadist. How could He enjoy seeing people die? As I’ve pondered it over the years, however, this declaration seems true – and right.

Imagine a baby in the womb: Climate-controlled, continuous food supply, the soothing cadence of mother’s heartbeat. What a life! For the baby, that’s all the world there is. Suddenly things begin to change. The cozy living chamber contracts, pushing the little one toward a narrow opening and into another, unknown world.

If the infant could choose at that moment, it certainly would say, “No, thanks. I’m fine right here.” But the womb world, as comfortable as it’s been, isn’t all there is – far from it. There’s a vast, unimaginable, wondrous world it’s about to encounter for the first time. Soon this new world will be all it knows – or wants.

I believe it’s the same for God’s children. We cling to this visible, tangible, temporal, finite world like it’s all there is, but one day God will introduce us to a world we could never imagine. In 1 Corinthians 2:9 we read, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.”

That's why the death of His saints is precious to God: He has prepared something wonderful, far beyond comprehension, for each of us. Like a parent eager to unveil a special, unexpected surprise for a beloved child, the Lord waits in great anticipation to say, “Welcome, child. Look what I have for you!”

During Karen’s memorial service, the pastor noted one of her last words, with eyes wide open and looking up, was a gentle, “Wow!” Who knows what she saw? I don’t. But I’m convinced with every fiber of my being that for each of us who are God’s children, trusting in “the blessed hope – the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13), a “Wow!” awaits us, too.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Money – and Happiness

Okay, we now have conclusive, definitive proof – at least according to a study conducted by the Center for Health and Wellbeing at Princeton University – that money can buy happiness.


The last time you got a new car, did that make you sad? Or when you purchased a flashy new computer – or the latest cell phone? Or even a new clothing outfit? Did that make you angry?

Of course money can buy happiness – temporarily. But the things money can buy get old, wear out or rust out, break, go out of style, get lost, or we simply grow tired of them. That CD you just had to have a few months ago? Not fun anymore. That shirt or dress that in 2009 seemed as if it had been designed exclusively for you? Boring. The vacation trip last year that took an entire year’s savings? A distant, fading memory.

The fact is, happiness and happenings come from the same root word. So whenever nice things happen, we feel happy. But happiness is fleeting. Just let somebody back into your shiny new car and discover then how you feel.

Years ago I heard a speaker wisely distinguish happiness (which depends on external events) from joy (which is formed within). Being diagnosed with heart disease or cancer won’t make you happy, but you still can feel joy when you have confidence in the God who tells us to, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you have 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).

Interesting: Since this study was done at Princeton, one of the really expensive institutions in the country, imagine how happy those folks are!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Back to the Mac

My first computer was a Macintosh 512k, in 1984. A friend, an Apple dealer, gave it to me. One day he asked, “Do you have a computer?” I told him no, and frankly I wondered why I would want one. My electric typewriter seemed to be working just fine.

Nonetheless, my friend graciously sent a used Mac to me and within three days I was hooked. I had the typewriter extracted from my office and never gave it another thought. Over the next 15 years or so, Macs and I worked wonderfully together. Then around 1999, the non-profit organization that provided an office for me insisted I switch to a PC. Back then Macs and PCs didn’t “gee-haw” well, as they say here in the South.

For more than a decade I grudgingly wrestled with PCs – freeze-ups, system crashes, viruses and spam. Finally, just a couple of weeks ago, I had an attack of sanity and – with my wife’s encouragement – returned to Macintosh. I have a beautiful wide-screen iMac, and I ain’t going back!

For many years I’ve contended Macintosh was the computer for people who don’t know anything about computers (like me), and that Windows was Microsoft’s best effort to replicate what the Mac did naturally. Those opinions haven’t changed. If anything, I’m more convinced than ever.

Instead of a tangle of wires under my computer desk, looking like the machine’s on life support, now there are just two plugs – one for the iMac and one for my printer. There’s no computer tower – the display screen contains everything, including the disk drives. This thing has more gizmos and gadgets than I’ll ever need, but it’s perfectly designed with technological morons like me in mind.

All I can say is, "Thanks, Steve Jobs and Apple." You can go home again!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Is Christianity in Jeopardy?

Recently Christianity has taken a number of hits in the news. Author Anne Rice, best-known for her vampire novels, declared she is renouncing Christianity, although asserting she remains committed to Jesus Christ. A broad-based survey also reported that countless thousands of young people are turning their backs on the institutional church, despite the insistence of many they still find spirituality intriguing.

Does this mean Christianity is on its last legs? And what does it mean for the cause of Christ? Do you think God’s worried?

I’m hardly an expert, but having been a lifelong churchgoer that at one time or another has been affiliated with at least eight different denominations, I feel certain Jesus is alive and well, although His Church may be suffering from acute indigestion.

In America it’s easy to compartmentalize our faith, going through the motions and acting like devout believers on Sundays (and maybe Wednesdays or at small group meetings), then behave like virtual atheists the rest of the week. This counters the Colossians 3:17 exhortation which says, “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus.” I think this means we should be living our faith 24/7.

Seems to me, whether it’s Anne Rice or millions of young people who have tried “church” and found it lacking, what they’re looking for is reality, something genuine they can trust in and live for. Sometimes, with their rituals, traditions, structure – even politics – churches fail to deliver what’s most important: the how’s and why’s of a vibrant, growing relationship with God through Christ.

That’s why, I believe, the apostle Paul wrote, “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). If we get our relationship with Jesus right, everything else will follow. But if we surround Jesus with a bunch of add-ons, or attempt to repackage Him to seem more palatable to the secular culture, people seeking Truth will see through that and look elsewhere for answers.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

My Take on Retirement

Recently I read an article in which experts speculated on how much a person will need to retire and still live comfortably. What struck me was they weren’t talking about people in their 60’s or 70’s. They were projecting the requirements for a person to retire at age 35!

Holey moley! Imagine going to college, earning only a bachelor’s degree, and then actually working at most about 14 years (excluding any part-time work during high school and college). Who in good conscience could work just that short duration and being content to sit back, engage in distractions for the next 35-50 years, and cease making a meaningful contribution to the world around them? Perhaps that seems like heaven to you, but I can’t fathom such a non-productive existence.

It would be nice to be financially secure, not having to fret the next paycheck, but there must be more to life than pursuing a point of continual self-gratification. Not that work should be the primary focus of our lives, but vocation is one way we contribute meaningfully to society.

On the other hand, I also read Germany is contemplating upping the national retirement age to 70 – and its citizens are grousing. The German government’s rationale is the low birth rate (meaning those retiring would leave an unfilled void in the labor pool); longer life expectancies, and the country’s already overburdened welfare system.

Now 62 and an older Baby Boomer, I know many of my generational counterparts eagerly anticipate kicking back from the daily work grind. I understand aging takes a toll on energy, strength and stamina. But for people to retire completely while able-bodied and able-minded seems terribly wasteful.

Interestingly, the Bible addresses retirement only once. Numbers 8:25-26 says, "at the age of fifty, they (Levites) must retire from their regular service and work no longer. They may assist their brothers…but they themselves must not do the work.” So Levites (Israelite priests) were to perform formal rituals between 25 and 50, then defer to younger men – but even then they were encouraged to assist or even mentor their successors.

In Genesis 1, we read God established work and gave mankind stewardship over His creation. He gives everyone different abilities, skills and gifts, not only for livelihood but also for serving others. We often hear about conserving natural resources – and I agree that’s important. But what can be a greater “natural resource” than the wisdom and experience of older workers – accountants or plumbers, medical practitioners or sales people, carpenters or teachers?

As we get older, we might need to transition into less-demanding jobs requiring fewer hours, but suddenly ceasing to offer our talents and capabilities for the benefit of others, in my view, is both selfish and irresponsible.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Travel and Technology

I don’t travel as much as I once did. Actually, when I think of “road warriors” who habitually hit the road – or rise in the friendly skies – on Mondays every week, not returning until the following Fridays, I never traveled that much. But I recall a time, in the early ‘80s, when I had to fly to three different cities in successive weeks.

En route to my destination on the third week of that stretch, I remember having a disconcerting and disorienting thought: “Now where am I going?” No wonder musicians, after hopping from city to city, night after night, occasionally suffer mental lapses and greet their audiences with something like, “It’s great to be here in…uh…oh, yeah… Chattanooga!”

On a recent trip to Denver it became abundantly clear how much things have changed over the three decades or so that I have been an active participant in airplane travel. To start, if you travel very much, you soon discover a jet is little more than a glorified bus. (No offense to my friends at Arrow Stage Lines.) Planes travel higher and faster, but in many respects they lack the comforts and conveniences of modern motorcoaches.

Case in point: Just before takeoff from my connecting city of New Orleans, the flight attendant announced all electronic devices had to be turned off. That meant the young woman sitting across the aisle from me had to “turn off” her book, contained in a Kindle electronic reader. I couldn’t help but chuckle as I continued reading my book. You see, mine had no on-off switch – just black letters on real paper. While her book was in momentary hibernation, mine continued telling its story.

On an earlier flight I had noticed a young businessman next to me also forced to endure technological slumber, shutting down his iPhone, which meant holding e-mails, voice mails and texts at abeyance until we landed. All around me, laptop computers had to be dimmed while our jet began to soar aloft.

I cringed to envision the wheels of industry slowing to a crawl as its captains were transported from the bayous to the Rockies. Imagine high-tech umbilical cords being abruptly severed, only to be reattached upon landing.

How ever did we exist, much less thrive, without cell phones, notebook computers, and electronic books? Was there really “civilization” back then, those “olden days”? I guess we’ll have to leave that for anthropologists of years still to come to determine.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

A Visit to ‘The Shack’

For a Robert, I’m really a Johnny-come-lately: usually trailing the curve in technology advances like computers, camera and cell phones. Sometimes I also lag behind in reading books many people are talking about.

That was my situation in reading The Shack by William P. Young. For more than a year I have been hearing about this book, alternately described as “awesome,” “theologically spurious,” “compelling,” even “heretical.” Finally I decided to “Shack-up” (in a way of speaking) and see for myself.

I found it thought-provoking, imaginative, inspiring, even worth reading again. Some of Young’s theology can be debated, but I don’t think he’s making dogmatic statements on biblical interpretation. If anything, he asks readers to relax religious paradigms, suspend their disbelief (as with any work that involves fantasy), and allow themselves to take a fresh look at God and their preconceptions about Him (or, ahem, Her).

Initially, after discovering the story centers around a little girl abducted by a serial killer, I hesitated. Not exactly light summer reading. But I proceeded and found the author – who has experienced great tragedy of his own – seeking to address with honesty and compassion the paradox of a good God that oversees a world of evil, pain and suffering.

Young is audacious enough to put words into God’s mouth and takes certain liberties that those who recoil at even the suggestion of extra-biblical revelation will find troubling. But considering the Word of God was written for finite minds struggling in vain to understand the infinite and divine, I suspect Young’s exercise of literary license doesn’t unsettle the Lord all that much.

In Isaiah 55:8 God declares, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways.” In The Shack, Young strives to explore those words through narrative. I’m grateful that he does.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Joy of Doing What You Love to Do

It’s said if you love what you do, you’ll never go to work another day in your life. I agree for the most part, except for the reality even the best job has aspects you would like to eliminate or change.

But it’s true work become less like drudgery and more like play if you enjoy what you’re doing. For me, it’s writing, editing and photography – all of which I utilize in producing this blog. There’s nothing more fascinating to me than expressing thoughts in written form, trying to connect those ideas to unseen readers, supplemented when possible with photos or graphics.

This doesn’t apply to everyone, obviously. Many people would rather eat bugs than write. I feel the same way about other types of work – particularly the manual variety. I have great admiration for people that can work with wood, bricks and mortar, electrical wiring or other mechanical pursuits. Asking me to do such things, however, amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.

That’s why in Leaders Legacy, the organization I work with, uses The Birkman Method, a motivational assessment tool to help people identify strengths and interests and try to align those with their vocations, if possible. If you match people with jobs according to how they’re naturally wired, work can become a joy, not a necessary evil.

A large majority of people go to work because they have to – just to pay the bills – not because they want to be there. They greet each new day with, “Good Lord, morning!” rather than a cheery, optimistic, “Good morning, Lord!”

The Bible says, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men” (Colossians 3:23). Easier said than done, but when you love what you do, it’s not just possible; it’s probable.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Scanning the Headlines

Fast cash for fast cars. Porsche plans to produce a 918 Spyder hybrid supercar and make it available to consumers for a mere $630,000. For those who think that sounds a bit pricey, consider it will have a 500-horsepower engine, get 78 miles per gallon, and accelerate to 60 miles per hour in a mere 3.2 seconds.

I doubt I’ll shop for this particular model anytime soon. Not that it costs too much – one could save that much with excellent gas mileage, couldn’t one? No, I just don’t need a car that hits 60 mph in 3.2 seconds. It takes me that long to back out of my garage – and I don’t want to do it at 60 miles per hour!

And I don’t get many invitations to take a spin on the Daytona International Speedway or Talladega Superspeedway, so 500 horsepower under the hood wouldn’t be very practical. I could drive to Atlanta really fast, but why hurry to idle that many horses in a traffic jam once I get into the city? No, I’ll stick with your basic Toyota or Honda – and save a few shekels in the process, even if the gas mileage isn’t quite as good.

Typical date settings? As mentioned previously, I view “The Bachelor/Bachelorette” concept as ridiculous as any of the reality shows. But being a glutton for punishment, I sat with my wife to see how the most recent “Bachelorette” is winding down.

As I understand it, so far Ali and her testosterone-overloaded hunks have toured Turkey, Iceland, Tahiti, and now are wrapping up in Bora Bora. Yup, pretty much the same places I used to take my dates during my years as a single guy. Didn’t we all?

Poor Ali. Even though she had two very promising hunks falling all over themselves to win her affections, she had her heart broken. Surviving hubby candidate Frank stopped by the Le Taha’a Island Resort and Spa (remember the last time you were there?) for a few minutes to dump Ali in favor of an old girlfriend. Don’t you just hate when that happens – especially in Tahiti?

Anyway, the other guys – I think their names were Barney and Fred – had already pledged their eternal love, but being ditched by Frank was like a kick in the gut. Ali apparently was thinking, “I don’t want to be loved by some guys. I want to be loved by all of them!” Understandable, right?

Well, I won’t tune in to see the grand finale. I can’t take so much pain and angst – I might visit my dentist instead. And rumor has it that in the end, rather than choosing between Door #1 and Door #2, Ali decides it’s best to show them both the door.

The Scriptures tell us that love is patient and kind (1 Corinthians 13), but when it comes to lust – what “Bachelor/Bachelorette” are really all about – it doesn’t have to be either.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Saying So Long to ‘Boss’ Yankee

George Steinbrenner, the flamboyant, controversial and oft-vilified owner of the New York Yankees, has passed away at the age of 80. I met him in the mid-70s while a a young community newspaper editor in Ohio. Being a lifelong Yankee fan, meeting the man known as “The Boss” was a unique experience.

Steinbrenner, of course, was the pioneer in capitalizing on professional free agency, offering megabucks to players like Catfish Hunter and Reggie Jackson while his peers were still in their counting houses, squeezing out shekels for their players. In so doing, he restored the once-proud Yankees to their former glory. In more than 3½ decades as owner, Steinbrenner propelled his well-paid Yanks to seven of their 27 World Series championships, 11 American League pennants and 16 AL East titles.

“He ruined the sport!” some people might say, blaming him for starting the stampede to pay outrageous sums to grown men for playing a silly game. There’s some truth to that, but one thing I particularly credit Steinbrenner for was the determination and zeal for making his team the best.

By all accounts his management style made Donald “You’re Fired” Trump seem a wimp, a mere marshmallow by comparison. I doubt I would have enjoyed working for Steinbrenner, but he was committed, clear on his mission, dedicated to excellence and attaining the standard by which all other teams would be measured.

Ecclesiastes 9:10 tells us, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the grave, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom.” I don’t know how pure George Steinbrenner’s motives were, but in terms of pursuing his goal with all his might, he certainly succeeded in doing that. In that respect, we need more people like him.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Encountering an ‘Endangered Species’

Occasionally we hear about endangered species -- birds or mollusks on the brink of extinction. Advocates plea for the species, fearing its loss to nature and subsequent impact on the ecosystem.

Recently I encountered an endangered species – at a cell phone store. Having just purchased a new phone online, I wanted phone contacts and photos transferred from my old phone. The customer service rep not only greeted and signed me in, but also walked me through the steps to get my phone set up for immediate use.

She readily answered my questions and, perhaps sensing my extremely low-tech capabilities, explained nuances of my new phone and helped download new ringtones. All without making me feel like an annoyance or imposition on her time.

What this affable young woman was displaying has become an endangered species in the world of retail: Customer service!

At stores across America, in the name of cost-savings, customer service has been minimized, if not eliminated. I never liked salespeople that hovered over you, but it would be nice being able to find one when you need one.

So it was pleasantly surprising to find an indulgent cell phone salesperson – especially since I already had my phone and simply wanted it operational.

Essentially this person was manifesting the so-called “Golden Rule,” what also has been termed the “ethic of reciprocity”: “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31). I suspect if roles were switched, she would appreciate similar treatment.

With many stores bemoaning subpar sales, perhaps they should restore good customer service – even if it requires hiring additional staff. A business adage is sometimes you have to spend money to make money. Wouldn’t it be revolutionary if retailers did that again?

They might save a “species” from extinction – even revitalize the retail ecosystem!