Monday, January 30, 2012

A Judge That Set an Example

The Chattanooga area lost a significant figure in the legal community last week with the unexpected passing of General Sessions Judge Bob Moon, who died at age 60 of a heart attack.

I never met him, was never summoned to his court, so I did not know him personally. But based on what I heard from other people and the media, Judge Moon was the type of rare individual we need more of in our local, state and Federal judiciaries.

Individuals that appeared in his court – and received his sentences – attested to his fairness and his compassion. One woman who stood before him on several occasions said he later reached out to offer assistance in getting her life turned around.

Other times Moon reportedly used his bench to speak words of caring admonition and wisdom. With prisons bursting at the seams with overcrowding, and recidivism rates distressingly high, it was encouraging to hear of a judge with a eye toward rehabilitating lawbreakers.

Sometimes his judgments were viewed as unorthodox, but it appears the judge sought a reasonable balance between the letter of the law and the spirit of the law, seeking when possible to restore individuals rather than simply meting out prescribed punishment. He also actively participated in Boys and Girls Club activities, recognizing their potential value for young people desperately in need of positive direction.

In the Bible, Micah 6:8 asserts: He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Proverbs 21:3 adds, “To do what is right and just is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.”

Certainly, those guilty of crimes should face appropriate penalties. But whenever possible, if the legal system can succeed in restoring individuals rather than throwing them into environments where they exit worse than when they entered, we all benefit. And this, from what I understand, is what Judge Moon attempted to do. May others like him fill the void.

Friday, January 27, 2012

‘Finding God’

From time to time we hear of someone declaring, “I found God,” as if He were lost, missing, a needle in a haystack, or even playing hide-and-seek.

Whether it’s a friend, relative, or even a famous person saying it, I understand what’s meant. It’s kind of like saying, “You ought to go to this cute little shop I found,” or “I found such a great deal at the grocery store today!” It was there all the time; we just discovered it. Similarly, those who announce they “found God” mean they have had a life-altering encounter with the Almighty they never imagined.

The Bible speaks about seeking – and finding – God. For instance, Isaiah 55:6 instructs us, “Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near.” In 1 Chronicles 28:9 we are assured, “If you seek him, he will be found by you.” And Psalm 105:4 exhorts, “Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always.”

But experience has taught me God does most of the finding. We can run from Him – as I did for most of my first 30 years – but when we stop running, we realize He’s been right there all the time.

British poet Francis Thompson captured this idea in his 182-line poem, “The Hound of Heaven,” written in the late 1800s. Thompson explains even though he tried to flee, he could not evade God’s love and pursuit, “those strong feet that followed…with unhurrying chase and unperturbed pace….”

The history of God with His people is of being the seeker, demonstrating lavish love, grace and mercy to disobedient and rebellious men, women and children. In Luke 19:10, speaking of Himself, Jesus declared, the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

In Luke 15, Jesus told three stories – known as the parables of the lost sheep, lost coin, and lost (or prodigal) son – to convey how zealously God seeks His own.

My point isn’t to dive in over my head theologically, but to affirm a sometimes-forgotten aspect of the “Good News.” Even when we don’t want Him around, when we’re set on going our own way, God is there, waiting and watching, much like a parent keeping careful watch over a young, headstrong child.

Long before Thompson conjured the image of the Hound of Heaven, David wrote a psalm along the same lines: “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there…” (Psalm 139:7-8).

If we view God as a meddler, intruder, or divine spoilsport, that might not sound like good news. But it is – because no matter how far we stray, no matter how much we veer off course, we can be assured the Lord will always be there, ready to embrace when we return to Him.

Monday, January 23, 2012

‘What Do I Do Now?’

Last weekend I attended a men’s retreat at a picturesque mountaintop setting. We had an excellent speaker who addressed biblical manhood from different perspectives.

His observations stood in striking contrast to both the distorted views of masculinity that pop culture serves up, as well as condescending, chauvinistic perspectives some supposedly “Bible-believing” churches teach. Many men left the retreat pumped up – encouraged to live out their faith in meaningful ways, challenged to go deeper in their walk with Jesus Christ, convicted about changes they need to make, maybe all of the above.

During the retreat I recalled similar “mountaintop experiences” I’ve had over the years. Many times I departed inspired, determined to become a different person.

But there’s a problem, as I noted in this blog some months back. Mountaintops aren’t designed for permanent residence. In fact, the first thing Sir Edmund Hillary said upon becoming the first person to reach the summit of Mt. Everest was, “Now what?” (Not really – at least I don’t think so. But seriously, once you’ve reached the top of the world, where do you go from there?)

When you leave your mountaintop, the destination is usually the valley below. And there deadlines, job pressures, financial obligations, relational conflicts, persistent bad habits and other problems can derail even great intentions.

In fact, more than once, my “spiritual high” from the mountaintop quickly morphed into discouragement upon returning to reality. “What do I do now?”

The key to hanging onto such spiritual resolve has two parts. First, it’s important to remember we don’t have to go it alone. If we let Him, God is our constant companion. We might have had a fresh encounter with Him on the mountaintop, but He’s waiting for us in the valley as well.

Psalm 138:7-10 assures us, “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.”

Second, God doesn’t ask us to live our lives isolated from others. As we were reminded at the retreat, our spouses are our helpmates, our completers. His design is for us to team together, as equal partners.

Beyond that, God also sends people our way to serve as friends, counselors, advisers, mentors. As Proverbs 27:17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 expands on that: “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work…. Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”

So the next time you have a mountaintop experience and then find yourself stuck in the day-to-day doldrums of the valley, don’t try slugging it out on your own. The Lord’s no farther than a whispered prayer. If you’re married, God united you with someone for weathering life’s storms and reveling in its joys together. And He’ll send others your way to catch you when you stumble – so you can do the same for them.

Friday, January 20, 2012

A True Developing Story

This morning I read with a twinge of sadness the news that Eastman Kodak has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

Kodak and I go back a long way, to the mid-60s at least, when I was discovering the craft of photography while studying journalism in college. Photojournalism 101 was one of the requirements for my major, and I learned how to develop film and print photographs. In fact, as a graduate student, I taught other students how to do that.

At the time, Kodak was the undisputed leader among film manufacturers. I dabbled with Fuji, Agfa and other films, but Kodak was always my favorite – as it was for most people.

I remember an assignment to take photos that demonstrated mastery of depth of field, in which portions are intentionally in focus and portions are purposely out of focus. That day I went out with my girlfriend, walking around campus and taking pictures I confidently thought would be perfect for the task.

Only one problem: When I developed the film, it was clear. I’d failed to thread the film properly, so it never was exposed. Although the shutter had opened and closed whenever I pressed the button, the film hadn’t been pulled through to capture any images.

From that day on, even after becoming the editor of newspapers and a magazine, when people asked me, “Did you get any good pictures?”, I would respond, “I’ll let you know when I get the film developed.”

Kodak’s announcement was inevitable. And I’m among those indirectly to blame. Several years ago I bought my first digital camera and became an instant convert. I could see immediately whether I’d succeeded in capturing the intended image. No more waiting for film to be developed and photos printed. And the versatility of digital photography was far superior to the limitations of specific film speeds, black and white or color.

So from that day, I never bought another roll of film or shot photos using an “old-fashioned” film camera. Frankly, with the technology where it is today, I’m somewhat surprised anyone shoots with film anymore.

This just proves the truth of Ecclesiastes 3:1, which tells us, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.”

 For instance, in journalism school I learned to write news stories on a manual Remington Rand typewriter; years later I obtained an electric typewriter and thought it was incredible. That is until I received my first computer – my typewriter was discarded days later.

Particularly in the realm of technology, everything has its “season,” and sometimes it’s not very long. We don’t use 8-track tapes or even cassette tapes anymore; TVs don’t have picture tubes. We can even watch films online, bypassing the need for DVDs.

We’re accustomed to things having a given lifespan. Canned and bottled foods show expiration dates. For people who still buy newspapers, the date at the top of the page essentially informs us today it’s just “old news” (compared to broadcast and Internet reports); tomorrow it will become history.

Thankfully, for people of faith, there is one exception to the “time for everything…a season for everything.” Hebrews 13:8 tells us, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” He never changes – and will never go out of date. And that’s good news!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Not At a Loss for Words - Unfortunately

I’m convinced more than ever that our modern society is suffering from a severe affliction, something I would term verbal diarrhea. (Pardon the imagery.) Basically, there’s a flood of words coming out everywhere, and most of them aren’t good.

Last week I considered why Tim Tebow’s such a conversation piece and focal point for the media. Denver lost decisively to New England, but people continue talking Tebow. It seems some are desperately afraid this “Jesus fanatic” will still succeed as an NFL quarterback and continue praising his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, so they persist in criticizing him.

Everyone's talking these days,
but do we really have much to say?
On another front, as momentum builds toward November’s Presidential election, Republican candidates are bashing each other relentlessly. And all of them have only vile rhetoric to spew toward President Obama. If we believe what they’re all saying, the only person worth voting for would be, who…Betty White?

If a celebrity sneezes, makes a wrong turn, or says something foolish, gossip mongers pounce like vultures, ready to tell us more than we care to know. And with Facebook, Twitter and other social media, anyone can say whatever about whomever with no repercussions at all.

Everywhere we look and listen, people are venting venomous verbiage. “If you can’t say something bad about someone, don’t say anything at all” has become today’s mantra.

Not pleading innocence, mind you. I confess my own penchant through the years to give people pieces of my mind I couldn’t afford to lose. But time has taught me an important lesson: A closed mouth is healthy for the environment.

I was reminded of this reading Proverbs 17:28 – “Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue.” Or as author and social commentator Mark Twain expressed it, “It is better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than to open it and remove all doubt.”

We’re brought this problem on ourselves, I suppose. With TV, radio, cell phones (in this context, dare we call them “smart phones”?), the Internet, even blogs like this so pervasive, there’s only so much to think and talk about. But there are so many people – and so much time – to do the thinking and talking. So we spew.

We’ve got quite a problem – and I’m not proposing the solution. Other than to suggest we consider and apply the wisdom of Proverbs 10:19: “When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.”

Friday, January 13, 2012

Exercise Your Body?…What About Your Spirit?

Last week I wrote about the importance of physical exercise, for weight control and fitness. But while we talk about taking care of our bodies, especially in the wake of weeks of holiday gluttony, we rarely consider the need to exercise our spirits.

Each of us is a complex mix: physical, mental, emotional – and spiritual. The first three facets of our identity receive a lot of our attention, but many of us fail to give much recognition to the latter, if any. However, in Ecclesiastes 3:11 we read, “(God) has also set eternity in the hearts of men.” Like it or not, deep down – maybe in the recesses of our human DNA – God has provided an awareness that we, and this life, are not all there is.

So it’s interesting that as we resolve to work our bodies into submission, pursue intellectual stimulation, and strive to improve attitudes and relationships, our spiritual side suffers from neglect – to the point of atrophy.

As 1 Timothy 4:8 points out, "Physical training is good, but training for godliness is much better, promising benefits in this life and in the life to come" (New Living Translation).

Bibles today come in a variety of translations, styles
and even themes. There's one to fit any need.
That sounds good, but even as professing followers of Jesus we tend to think an hour of institutional church activity suffices for spiritual health. But it’s not about religion – it’s about relationship, getting to know the God of all creation who desires to spend time with us.

I’m not one that believes in ritualistically or legalistically reading the Bible each day. But we know from experience that to strengthen relationships – with our spouse, children, or friends – it takes time. The same is true in cultivating a strong, growing relationship with God. There is no substitute for time, ideally on a daily basis.

How much time? I don’t know – certainly more than a minute. Years ago a friend, Robert Foster, wrote a little booklet called “7 Minutes a Day With God” (it’s still is published by The Navigators). In essence, he suggested, anyone can set aside that much time – a couple of minutes in prayer, a few minutes in the Scriptures, and a few moments in meditation. The kicker, he noted, is if you diligently devote just seven minutes a day to doing that, you’ll soon discover it’s not enough.

Early in my days as a disciple of Christ, I also learned what The Navigators called “the hand illustration” to show how to gain a deeper understanding of the Bible. Each finger on the hand represents a different aspect: Listening; reading; studying; memorizing; and meditating. Through the years, I’ve found all of these useful, not only for understanding what the Bible says, but also for discovering who God really is – and who, as one of His adopted children, I am.

So as you’re thinking about working out to get into better shape physically, reading more widely to grow mentally, and seeking to enhance your life emotionally, don’t let your spiritual side suffer. You owe it to yourself!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

This ‘Tebow Thing’

On another blog I occasionally address sports-related topics, but thought I’d give my two-cents worth about what has become known nationwide as the “Tebow thing.”

For the uninitiated, Tim Tebow helped Florida win two BCS (college football) Championships, won the Heisman Trophy, and now – despite unorthodox and widely criticized passing techniques – starts at quarterback for the Denver Broncos. Tebow also is an unashamed, outspoken follower of Jesus Christ.

The “Tebow thing” concerns his phenomenal last-minute performances leading the Broncos to a series of nail-biting victories late in the season, capped last Sunday by an 80-yard touchdown pass on the first play of overtime to defeat the Pittsburgh Steelers and enable the Broncos to advance in the NFL playoffs.

Tim Tebow has become
a national conversation piece.
On top of that, his total passing yardage for the game was 316; dividing that by the 10 passes he completed during the game, he averaged 31.6 yards per completions. By coincidence – or not, some think – those numbers match the Bible verse Tebow often refers to, John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.”

So, as one friend asked on Facebook this morning, “who thinks Tim Tebow’s passing yards are a God thing or just a coincidence?”

Nobody knows for sure, but either way, I think God is having great fun with this. As Tebow wrestled victory away from certain defeat week after week, he captured the attention of the American public and the media. For some, his habit of giving credit to “my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” before any post-game comments is bothersome. “Let’s leave God out of this,” they respond.

But at least two biblical truths come to bear here: Philippians 4:13 assures every believer that “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” And it would appear God has done that, enabling Tebow and his team to prevail even though experts insist he lacks the skills to succeed in “the league.”

Also, in the Old Testament, God declared, “Those who honor me I will honor” (1 Samuel 2:30). This seems what Tebow has been striving to do, rather than thumping his chest or showboating as NFL prima donnas are inclined to do.

Many other athletes – and coaches – have expressed allegiance to Jesus Christ, but probably none as overtly as Tebow. Whether it’s the preferred “style” or not, from all indications, he’s the real deal. A genuine believer, an incredibly hard-working, determined athlete, and person of integrity.

Today our society seems more polarized on spiritual matters than ever. For decades lawmakers have systematically attempted to exorcise God – and specifically, Jesus Christ – from public discourse. Even as individuals, many of us still use “religion is a personal thing” as a default setting.

But in reality, removing God from the equation effectively tears at the foundations that helped to make the United States what it once was. (I’m not sure that it still is.) Spiritual belief – and non-belief – significantly influence how we each think and live.

As British essayist and novelist C.S. Lewis wrote, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”

So if for no other reason, this “Tebow thing” once again brings God to public consciousness. For some, it’s aggravating – or worse.

But if what the Bible says is true, that one day “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10-11), the sooner we give Him serious consideration the better.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Post-Christmas Pound Consequences

With the holidays past, we now process proclamations of the best diets to pay penance for the poundage we accumulated from too much indulgence on seasonal goodies.

High protein, low protein, low carb, high carb, grapefruit juice, strawberry-asparagus shakes, kumquat-artichoke smoothies, just about anything you can think of (other than maybe cardboard or styrofoam) has been promoted as the perfect means for shedding unwanted pounds. Perhaps you’re in the midst of trying one now.

I know a number of people who eagerly partake in the latest fad, whether it’s pills, a revolutionary waist-wrap, even vibrating devices you stand on. Similar to “get rich quick” schemes, these products promise “get slim quick.”

Even the media get into the act, expounding on the most recent gimmicks. But as I’ve learned – the hard way – the secret to weight control and physical well-being isn’t found in a can or a carton. It’s found in a term we all hate to hear: hard work.

Soon after my open-heart surgery five years ago, I resolved to lose some excess weight and avoid habits that had led to my arterial blockages. So I listened to and read the advice of cardiac experts who talked about proper nutrition and exercise.

Cardiologist Dr. Arthur Agatston, who invented the South Beach Diet, said as his practice shifted its focus from treatment to prevention, via healthy eating, exercise and appropriate medication, they saw a radical decrease of heart attacks among their patients. It went from five patients a week having heart episodes to only five in a full year! When I read that, I decided to try what he was recommending.

I learned what foods were good for me (lean meats, nuts, fresh vegetables and fruits, for example) and which were not. I learned how to read food labels so I would know what ingredients I was ingesting. I learned that the sanest way to eat is moderation – occasionally allowing yourself to enjoy favorite, not-recommended foods, but not all the time. And I learned that while watching calories is useful, burning off calories is even better.

So for the past five years I have faithfully (with very few misses) participated in cardiac rehab exercise classes three times a week, power-walking 2-3 other days each week. No question, it’s hard work. Every morning when I go to exercise I tell myself, “I don’t want to do this!” But like the mom of years ago that would administer castor oil to an ailing child, I then tell myself, “Do it anyway. It’s good for you!” So I do.

I still wrestle some with controlling my weight. The first couple of years I was highly motivated, memories of surgery and recovery still vivid. But in the succeeding years I’ve just had to “bulldog” my way, determined to stick with the program, persevering even though quitting would be much easier and much less demanding. I persist because to do otherwise is to risk severe consequences.

The old saying tells us, “You are what you eat.” So what do you want to be – a cream puff, or a lean, low-fat entrĂ©e?

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

It’s a New Year, Ready or Not!

Well, the Times Square ball has dropped; Father Time has passed the baton to a younger 2012 version; the holidays are over – and the real world is starting up again, ready or not.

Some say, according to the Mayan calendar, that this is the year the world ends. If that’s the case, let’s hope it’s before the November elections. Maybe what the Mayans meant was this is the year election rhetoric ends. Wouldn’t that be great? No more promises made with no intention to be kept; no relentless opponent bashing; no feeble attempts to convince voters that any of the candidates are really worth voting for.

Call me skeptical, even cynical when it comes to the current political climate. But where is Abraham Lincoln when you need him? If the Martians were to land and demand, “Take us to your leader,” wouldn't we find ourselves hard-pressed to figure out who that would be?

Last week I offered some thoughts about resolutions vs. goal-setting. I hope you have taken at least a few minutes to do one or the other; whatever works for you. But let me ask (you and me) a few questions as we embark on this great adventure we will forever call “2012.” Just some food for thought:

·       What is one thing you could do, starting today, that would result in a meaningful change in your life this year?
·       Since each day still has only 24 hours, and each week has only seven days, what step might you take to invest more time and waste less of it?
·       We all tend to grumble and complain about the state of the world today, so what is one thing you can do personally to contribute toward making the world a better place?
·       What difference would it make – if any – if you made a conscious effort to devote specific time to God every day: reading the Bible, praying, meditating, or whatever?
·       How could you apply this passage from the Scriptures – and how might it change your attitude toward each day? “Finally…whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things” (Philippians 4:8).

Happy New Year!