Thursday, January 31, 2013

Super Bowl – Not ‘Super’ to Some People

Sunday, as you’re probably aware, is the National Football League’s Super Bowl. Preliminaries are over, and the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens are the last teams standing. Do you care?

Surprisingly, despite the pageantry, overwhelming media attention, and billions of dollars in advertising spent over the course of the four-hour event, millions of people across the USA have no interest in the Super Bowl or the particular teams playing.

Not everyone gets their "kicks"
from watching the Super Bowl.
This fact is somewhat startling to some individuals, particularly those having close personal involvement with sports. For instance, Mike Greenberg of ESPN’s “Mike and Mike” sports talk show annually expresses astonishment that viewership of the Super Bowl is not 100 percent. Out of the more than 300 million U.S. residents, for example, probably half will not watch a second of the Super Bowl.

This only makes sense. I have several friends that, despite the mania that surrounds American football and the near-religious overtones it carries, have no interest in the sport. Many newer residents of the USA might resonate with a soccer match, but can’t relate to the gladiator-like spectacle regardless of its social magnitude and tradition.

I have two little grandsons, both about two years old, who care not one iota who wins the Super Bowl. They’ll want to know if “Little Einsteins” will be on at that time. Think of residents of nursing homes, and people dealing with serious illnesses and injuries in hospitals. The Super Bowl isn’t likely to be foremost in any of their minds. And in some other parts of the world, the event is greeted by a collective “who cares?”

Then there are the folks who have no interest in spectator sports whatsoever. The afternoon and evening of this year’s Super Bowl, they’ll be going for walks, shopping, baking, painting, maybe even watching reruns of “I Love Lucy” or “M*A*S*H.”

Those of us intensely interested in the Super Bowl’s outcome need to understand that for many people it’s not the most important thing in the world. Even for a few hours on Sunday.

So if you greet the coming Super Bowl with a disinterested shrug, enjoy whatever you’ll be doing on Sunday. And if you’re among the fanatics that will be glued to a flat-screen TV, catching every moment of the game – along with the commercials – have fun. But remember, when gathering with friends rooting for opposing sides, avoid being like the people described in the book of Acts:

“The assembly was in confusion. Some were shouting one thing, some another. Most of the people did not even know why they were there” (Acts 19:32).

Monday, January 28, 2013

A Whole Lotta Lyin’ Goin’ On

Is it just my imagination, or does it seem people are lying more these days?

Take last week, for example. Lance Armstrong – after years of adamant denials – finally confessed he used blood doping and other performance-enhancing aids throughout his seven victorious Tour de France competitions. Then we learned Manti Te’o, the Notre Dame linebacker who was runner-up for the Heisman Trophy, had been “in love” for years with a fictitious girlfriend that supposedly died last fall. (Hint: You can’t die if you’ve never been born.)

What is it with all this lying?

Lying, distorting, shading or twisting the truth, or as people in government like to call it, passing along “disinformation,” is hardly new. We find the first recorded cases in Genesis, the Bible’s first book. After Adam and Eve defied God and succumbed to Satan’s temptation by eating fruit from the forbidden tree, they initially hid out of shame.

Could it be that Grumpy of the
Seven Dwarfs was that way because
he was often caught lying?
When God asked about their sin, they responded by saying something like, “Huh? You talking to us?” (Who else would He have been talking to then?) Finally they admitted what they had done wrong, but even then shifted blame. Adam essentially blamed God Himself: “The woman you put here with me – she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it” (Genesis 3:12). Then Eve gave her alibi: “The serpent deceived me, and I ate” (Genesis 3:13).

Proving the adage that apples don’t fall far from the tree, after their son Cain murdered his brother Abel in a jealous rage, he perpetuated the family’s lying tradition. Confronted by God about what had happened to Abel, Cain’s first response was, “I don’t know…. Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9).

Stories about lies and deception carry through the Old and New testaments: Abraham, Sarah, King Saul, Joseph, Joseph, Isaac, Judas, Barnabas and Peter all are members of the biblical liars’ fraternity.

But such behavior is hardly old-fashioned. And it’s pervasive at all levels of society. We’ve heard lies repeatedly from the White House. In recent memory, Richard Nixon’s insistence, “I am not a crook” (of course, he was) and Bill Clinton’s cagey characterization of his illicit relationship with Monica Lewinsky quickly come to mind.

Lying isn’t comfined just to the sports world and politics, of course. We see it almost every day in the business world, in entertainment, and sadly, even in our churches and religious institutions. Does that mean it’s now OK to lie, that we should “tolerate” liars and deceivers?

Certainly not. There are many reasons why truth trumps falsehood, but let me give you three:

1)     The truth is easier. When you stick to the truth, all you have to do is remember and report what’s real. When you lie, you have to constantly remind yourself of the lies you’ve told – because it’s easy to forget stories you made up the last time.
2)     Integrity, once lost, is hard to regain. It takes a lifetime to build a reputation as a person of integrity, but it can be destroyed in one lapse of dishonesty or deception. “The integrity of the upright guides them, but the unfaithful are destroyed by their duplicity” (Proverbs 11:3).
3)     Consequences are unavoidable. When we lie, we might avoid discovery for a time, but eventually untruths will surface. But if you fail to keep your word, then you will have sinned against the Lord, and you may be sure that your sin will find you out (Numbers 32:23).

So instead of going along with the crowd, revering truth and honesty make sense. Sometimes it’s a good thing to not be “in style.” 

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Trying to Do It Alone

We learn at an early age the value of teamwork and being with others.

There is something about the American mystique, the “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” mentality, that’s stuck with us. Pilgrims setting off for a strange, unseen land, uncertain what they would encounter. Pioneers heading westward to explore uncharted territory. Visionary inventors toiling in solitude, pursuing innovative ideas. We take pride in our independent spirit.

But the reality is, to succeed in life we really can’t do it alone. Just as a healthy body is made up of organs working in concert with each other, a successful life is the byproduct of the skills, talents and contributions of many people.

During the years I served as a magazine editor, when each new issue came out I marveled. “The whole is greater than the sum of the parts” was never truer than when examining each freshly printed edition. It had been the result of writers, editors, graphic designers, editorial assistants and the team that brainstormed titles and artwork for each article. As a friend of mine often said, “Not one of us is as smart as all of us combined.”

During the election, President Obama rankled many small business owners when he made the ill-advised comment, “You didn’t build this.” In one respect he was right – without government services and resources, businesses couldn’t function properly. But the people that owned the businesses were the ones that lay awake at night agonizing over issues such as meeting payroll, deciding what risks to take, wondering how to attract more customers, etc.

Yet, even with such entrepreneurial zeal, any successful business has been built upon the shoulders of many gifted, hard-working individuals – employees as well as employers.

Currently I’m helping an individual write an account of rising from the wreckage of a troubled childhood. Through determination and hard work, he’s built a successful career. But he didn’t get there alone. Many people entered his life at different times, making helpful gestures or providing timely opportunities. He was wise enough to take advantage of each, and he’s hoping his life story will encourage others in rising above their adverse circumstances.

Even in the spiritual realm the “I can do it all by myself” mindset seems to have prevailed. When the motion picture, “God Is My Co-Pilot,” came out in 1945, it became a motto for decades to follow, even on bumper stickers. In other words, “God, I’ve got this – but stay close in case I need you, OK?”

The so-called “Christian life” is often perceived as a singular pursuit, trying to be good and doing good things for God. Experience has taught me, however, there is nothing we can do for God. Rather, He desires to do things through us. That’s why Jesus said, “apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5), and the apostle Paul wrote, “I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).

Nowhere in the Scriptures does it endorse a “lone ranger” approach to spirituality. Instead, they teach us to recognize our insufficiency apart from the transforming power of Christ and support from other believers.

This reliance on Christ is clearly expressed in Ephesians 2:8-10, which states, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

We can’t do it alone – but with Christ, the sky’s the limit.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Journey into the Fog

A couple of weekends ago I attended a men’s conference at a mountaintop retreat center. The weather forecast had been for rainy, overcast skies, but on the mountain a cloud descended and refused to leave.

As a result, we spent the weekend walking around in a fog. I’d been there once before, so I knew the layout. But for first-timers, venturing out from the lodge to the cafeteria or meeting hall with very limited visibility amounted to a walk of faith, either trusting that the person they were with knew the way, or relying on directions they’d received.

There’s something disconcerting about proceeding to an unseen destination in the darkening dusk, presuming the fog-enshrouded site is actually there waiting for you. It’s much more pleasant being able to see where you’re going.

In a very similar way, this journey we call life also amounts to a walk with extremely restricted visibility. Whether it involves our careers, families, finances, health, or other concerns for the future, none of us knows what lurks unseen around the next corner.

Life has taught me there will be many times when the way seems obscured, making it difficult to discern which way to go – or whether to go at all. And if you’re not in one of those times right now, be patient – you will be.

The good news is that God does know the way, and He can be trusted to guide our every step. For instance, the Scriptures tell us, “(His) word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path” (Psalm 119:105). As I understand it, that doesn’t refer to a long-range beacon illuminating the way several miles into the distance, but just far enough for us to advance a step or two at a time. Just like navigating an unfamiliar course in the fog.

There have been times when someone has given me directions to some destination, but I begin to question whether the suggested route is correct. “Did he mean right instead of left? Was I supposed to go this far?” That’s one reason the Bible exhorts, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6). Even when the way seems unfamiliar or risky, God promises to guide the way to where we need to go.

Some people wonder, however, “Can I really rely on the Bible? How can I trust in God’s promises?” That’s where faith comes in. As 2 Corinthians 5:7 affirms, “We walk by faith, not by sight.”

Life has taught me one certainty: God is faithful and reliable, 100 percent of the time. “God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?” (Numbers 23:19).

So when the fog descends and it’s hard to see the way, trust in the Lord. He knows the way.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Can It Get Any Better?

Did you ever have one of those days when you thought, “It can’t get any better than this?” Physically you’re feeling excellent – not aches, pains or twinges. You’re upbeat, optimistic about what the new day has to offer. No financial worries for the moment, the car’s running good, relationships are free of conflict, you have plans to look forward to, and life in general seems cast in a rosy glow.

It can’t get any better than that, can it?

I had a morning like that last week. Woke up feeling good, took a shower, mentally ran through my to-do list. Couldn’t wait to get on with the day. And then…I twisted my back the wrong way. Ouch, and double ouch! Everything was downhill from there. Every time I rose from sitting, I felt an agonizing tweak in my lower back. No leaping tall buildings in single bounds for me that afternoon.

In a single moment, “can’t get any better” turned into not-so-good.

Living in the valleys helps us appreciate
moments on the mountaintops.
Sometimes I’m hesitant to enjoy care-free moments because Murphy’s Law could be lurking around the corner. If something can go wrong, often it will. So I’ve learned to temper mountaintop enthusiasm with a realization the valley lies below. But there’s great value in both the highs and lows of everyday life.

The high moments remind of how good life can be, even the simple joys of breathing, the first glimpse of sunlight, enjoying being with loved ones, having something worthwhile and fulfilling to do. The low moments give good times a context, helping us appreciate them since we know they can pass so quickly.

And there’s one other thing: The good times give us a hint, a small taste of even better times ahead, while the not-so-good times remind us not to cling to this life too tightly. God wants us to long for the life ahead, a life when there will be “no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away" (Revelation 21:4).

Followers of Christ are called to carry on lives of obedience and faithfulness, motivated by the hope – an unwavering assurance – that the best is yet to come, beyond our wildest imaginings. That’s why the promises in the Scriptures are so important – the God who truly loves us doesn’t make promises He won’t keep.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade – kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:3-5).

To me, this says when that day comes we can truly declare, “It can’t get any better than this!”

Monday, January 14, 2013

A Bit Fuzzy on This Navel News

Being a former newspaper editor, reading newspapers is one of my everyday habits. But it’s also a way of being constantly amazed by crazy stuff going on in the world.

Last week USA Today reported on something called the “Belly Button Biodiversity Project” (this is not a joke), a joint effort between North Carolina State University and the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh. It's an in-depth study of bellybutton bacteria.

This certainly takes navel gazing to a whole new level.

According to the study, after looking into more than 500 bellybutton swabs, researchers have discovered 2,368 different types of bacteria. Most of this “jungle of microbial diversity” (as they call it) is harmless they say, and may actually be helpful in killing miniscule disease-causing critters. Glad to know that!

I thought about volunteering for this study, but given its magnitude of importance, figured I’d just be put on a waiting list. Didn’t want to be a member of the Navel Reserve.

In case you’re wondering, the article stated “innies” (about 90 percent of all bellybuttons) carry more bacteria than protruding “outies,” since they allow microorganisms to propagate more readily in the inward folds. So if you’re like the majority of us, the next time you contemplate your navel, remember you’re looking at a veritable germ factory.

I don’t know about you, but when I read about this, my gut reaction was, “Seriously? They’re paying people to do scientific studies of the human navel? What next – navel oranges?”

I’m finding this germ of an idea difficult to stomach, if you know what I mean. Kind of strikes the wrong umbilical chord, if you ask me. And what do these noble researchers do after work? Belly up to the bar?

Hopefully they will come up with some useful findings in their research. Like whether bikinis are healthier to wear than one-piece swimsuits, since they expose navels to the open air and inhibit their becoming germ-infested breeding grounds. Or whether it’s safe to knit sweaters from bellybutton lint. We the public have a right to know this stuff.

Somehow this revelation reminded me of Ecclesiastes 12:12, which states, …Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body.” The question is, does much study of the body weary the mind?

Thursday, January 10, 2013

After the Holidays – Entering Calendar Limbo

The holidays are over. The hubbub and hysteria has gone on hiatus, along with all the hoopla. Hallelujah!

I love Christmas, really I do. But with emphasis on everything and anything other than what it’s all about, it’s good to see the Christmas season fading in rear view. And even though New Year’s celebrations tell us it’s time to start over, for a fresh beginning, that doesn’t mean we get a mulligan. We can’t erase past mistakes, only live with them and learn from them.

I’ve had enough “Blue Christmas” and “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” and “Auld Lang Syne” (what’s that mean, anyway?) has never been one of my musical favorites. So we can revert to our normal preferences, whether country-western, pop, blues, jazz or whatever.

Speaking of the blues, once the gift wrapping is discarded, along with the last crumbs of holiday treats, many of us find that’s all that remains…the blues.

Friends living in the Southern Hemisphere are ready to enjoy their springtime. But for us Northern Hemisphere types, Mother Nature seems to have entered hibernation, maybe to sleep off too much holiday revelry. Winter has settled in, with its cold, damp, snow-ice-slush combination. A glimpse of the first snowflakes is fun, but after a while it’s just “stupid snow!”

But even more than the cold and frigid precipitation is the gloom brought on by diminished sunshine. Mankind wasn’t made to live in the dark. We need sunlight to feel energized. So those short winter days and long nights lead to dimmed, lethargic spirits. Experts call it "seasonal affective disorder."

Combined with the reality that the anticipation of the holidays is now history, we face months with little to look forward to. That is, unless you’ve booked a Caribbean cruise or a trip to Hawaii.

As a student at The Ohio State University (we didn’t make a big deal of the “The” when I was there), my spirits generally were uplifted – except during winter quarters. Those were the times when I came closest to clinical depression. It seemed like a dark cloud dropped on the campus during those months, with nothing to look forward to besides exams for boring classes I detested. Blue Christmas? I endured Blue after-Christmas.

Winter or not, we often experience a letdown after something long-anticipated arrives and departs. Kind of like reaching the mountaintop, and then remembering you have to return to the valley.

This is where faith is particularly valuable. For followers of Jesus, we have much to look forward to – along with the confidence that when God’s promises are fulfilled, they will far exceed our expectations.

For instance, Titus 2:13 talks about, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus.” In Ephesians 3:20 we’re told about “Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us.”

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

And in John 14:2-3, Jesus Himself said, “In my Father’s house are many rooms…. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you may also be where I am.”

I don’t know about you, but those promises can rouse me out of any post-holiday, wintertime doldrums.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Living an Exciting Life

Recently one of our daughters informed my wife and me that we’re “boring”; we don’t do anything “exciting.” Ah, to be young again.

Well, she’s right if she meant we don’t go hang-gliding, skydiving, mountain climbing or bungee jumping (unless you’re referring to the “fiscal cliff”). We do watch the July 4th fireworks displays every year, sometimes more than once. Doesn’t that count?

Roller coasters don’t excite me as much as they once did – although I still ride them. When we went to Disney World last year, I rode the Tower of Terror – and wasn’t terrified. But to me, that wasn’t “exciting.”

What’s exciting, I believe, depends on your perspective. As you get older, the meaning of “exciting” seems to change. Sally and I have dealt with serious health issues, so awakening to start a new day is exciting. Each day is a gift, filled with surprises and unlimited potential. And having been married to the same person for more than 38 years and still loving each other – when strains on marriage seem stronger all the time, and the institution is sometimes ridiculed – that’s exciting.

Observing our children mature and marry, having children of their own and carving out their own niches in life, is exciting. The fact they share our foundational beliefs and values is exciting. And having grandkids around, seeing them develop and learn, discovering and doing new things all the time, that’s exciting.

My career has enabled us to travel around the country and stay in very nice places. I’ve had the opportunity to travel to Europe twice, as well as Central and South America and the Caribbean, and that’s been great fun. But most exciting of all have been the relationships I’ve been able to form, some of which I maintain to this day.

For me, exciting is creating an article, authoring or collaborating with someone on a book, even posting on this blog – writing about things important to me and hearing what I’ve written was meaningful for someone else. Many people hate their work, so not only enjoying what you do but also knowing without a doubt you’re fulfilling your calling, that’s exciting.

And it’s exciting to invest time with other men in mentoring relationships, helping them to grow personally and professionally. Especially in their faith, understanding what it means in today’s increasingly secularized society to be a follower of Jesus Christ, believing and applying the Bible's eternal truths in everyday life.

As it says in 3 John 4, relating to both biological offspring and spiritual children, “I have no greater joy than to hear my children are walking in the truth.”

It’s all part of building a legacy that’s worth leaving behind.

Most of all, to me “exciting” means having a daily, growing relationship with the God of all creation. Psalm 37:4 says, “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.” He’s done that for me – and much more.

I’m still not planning to go cliff diving any time soon (the U.S. Congress notwithstanding), but I’m convinced of this: “Exciting” is in the eyes of the beholder.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

“Garbage In, Garbage Out Syndrome”

Recently I cited an old phrase, “garbage in, garbage out,” used by computer technicians to describe faulty data. No matter how good the computer, if it’s programmed improperly or software isn’t working as intended, you’ve got problems.

Sometimes it seems as if our American society – and perhaps the world in general – has become afflicted by what we could call the “garbage in, garbage out syndrome.” We all seem mad, sad, and feeling bad.

This “garbage” comes from many sources. We have violent TV shows, movies, video games and websites, as I referred to recently. But it’s even more pervasive than that.

We celebrate self-absorbed, narcissistic individuals on reality shows and crown them “celebrities,” making them famous for no other reason than they are…self-absorbed and narcissistic. Modern sitcoms and dramas feed us a continual intellectual diet of immorality, greed, selfishness and generally negative thinking.

What's on your mind - or more
accurately, what are you putting into it?
We listen to incessant talk shows on radio and TV, few of them uplifting or encouraging. Most are disparaging toward someone or something, heeding the philosophy, “If you can’t say something bad about somebody, don’t say anything at all.”

We watch cable news networks, where “experts” deliver gloom and doom 24/7, shouting down anyone that disagrees with their commentaries. If you’re not convinced the world is marching toward a cataclysmic end (erroneous, supposed Mayan predictions notwithstanding), you just need to watch more cable news.

Recently on, top trending “news items” were: the breakup of a celebrity athlete and his girlfriend; the Newtown, Conn. shooter’s haircut; misdeeds of another athlete; a country-western singer’s personal despair; conflict in the Middle East; a huge storm-related traffic pileup in the Midwest; and a woman stealing Christmas lights in the dark of night. The only “uplifting” article was about how good an aging actress looks in a bikini.

But it’s not just the fault of the media. How often do we find ourselves listening to gossip about coworkers, friends or acquaintances, and then passing that information to anyone willing to listen? Or read books with such dismal content that prescriptions for antidepressants should be included?

The Bible states, “As a (person) thinks in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7). Information we store in our minds not only affects our attitudes, but also our actions.

As we embark on this new adventure called 2013, maybe it’s time to turn over the proverbial new leaf by adopting the advice of Philippians 4:8 – Finally, brothers, 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.”

It’s easy to consider the negative, to find fault, to criticize and demean. What would happen if we each made a conscious attempt to focus on things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy? It could be revolutionary!