Thursday, February 28, 2013

TV Programs We Should Really See

Believe it or not, TV networks are already lining up their programming for next fall. Many of the shows announced seem like retreads – spinoffs or rehashed plot lines. Proof of the biblical adage, “there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9).

But since the new TV season is still months away, perhaps there is time to suggest some fresh ideas. I thought I’d give it a try. Here are some new shows I would suggest:

“Found” – a group of individuals, disenchanted and just plain fed up with modern society, seek to get lost on a remote Pacific island, using airplanes, yachts, even bass boats to make their escape, but despite their best efforts, they’re always located.

“Moat” – an aspiring crime novelist named Claudius Moat shadows celebrated author Richard Castle, trying to master the craft of mystery, suspense, blood and gore. If the show succeeds, it would lend itself to a ready-made TV spinoff, “Re-Moat.”

“CSI: Little Rock” – crime scene investigators apply their detective and forensic skills to investigate any number of heinous incidents, ranging from spontaneous pig roasts to an epidemic of energy drink-fueled pep rallies.

“Person of Disinterest” – a self-absorbed military veteran, uniquely trained in everything from black ops to martial arts to ventriloquism, somehow manages to ignore and remain oblivious to a myriad of crimes occurring all around him.

“Gray’s Lobotomy” – an esteemed hospital finds its crack medical team in disarray, realizing their hysterical high-jinks have had their last laugh, and they face severe sanctions from the American Medical Association for denigrating the entire health profession.

“Dancing With the Scars” – a cast of former cardiac rehab patients display skills on the dance floor that they began perfecting while engaging in therapy following open-heart surgery.

“Alaska 5-1” – crime fighters in the other non-contiguous state seek to restore order to the U.S.’s northernmost frontier, battling stealthy offenders ranging from soccer moms secretively putting lipstick on pigs to swindlers selling covert glimpses of Russia from the Alaskan coastline.

“The Cell” – miniaturized scientists and techies find adventure, danger and romance inside cell phones. Each episode will feature their struggles to avoid demise at the hand of the latest interactive apps.

“The Bachelor Party” – a group of disillusioned, never-married men determine, against overwhelming odds, to form their own political party.

“The Big Bling Theory” – a reality show in which women compete to wear the biggest, heaviest jewelry while maintaining bright smiles and perfect posture.

“Muscles” – this spinoff of the forensic drama “Bones” each week shows investigators called to the scene of horrific weight training accidents.

“Honey Poo-Poo” – an infant boy, competing in “most beautiful baby” contests, displays the unsettling habit of filling his diaper at the most inopportune moments.

“American Icon” – middle-aged executives, politicians and washed-out entertainers strive to emulate and imitate Donald Trump, Betty White, Colonel Sanders, the Pillsbury Doughboy, Flo the Progressive Insurance lady, the Jolly Green Giant and the Michelin Man to earn the status of “the next household name.”

“Downtown Abbey” – an aristocratic British family immigrates to the United States, settling in midtown Manhattan, determined to create leagues of cricket teams in Central Park and open a tea and crumpets boutique in Greenwich Village.

“The Hoarse” – would-be entertainers do their best to choke out scratchy vocals despite the ravages of laryngitis, bronchitis and chronic body odor.

“The Sentimentalist” – a crime investigator with seemingly psychic powers finds himself lapsing into sentimental reveries each week as he revisits familiar settings from his childhood.

Hey, Hollywood: Any takers?

Monday, February 25, 2013

Thoughts About Positive Thinking

For years I’ve had mixed feelings about positive thinking. Sorry to sound negative, but positive thinking can take you only so far. For instance, I might think positively about becoming an accomplished jockey, but at nearly 6-foot-2 and over 200 pounds, I’m more than a tad beyond the size limit for that diminutive profession. At the same time, I might desire to be a center in the NBA, but that’s unlikely in the forest of 6-foot-10 and seven-foot giants.

"I think, therefore I am...what?"
“What the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve.” That’s been the positive thinking mantra. Sometimes it’s right. A friend dreamed about becoming a successful salesman, and that’s what he did. But it took much more than just thinking. It required training, hard work, planning and perseverance, along with determination not to become disheartened by setbacks.

Early in my career as a newspaper editor, I conceived and believed about writing magazine articles – and also a book. I achieved these goals and more. But again, it required diligence, dedication, acquiring the necessary skills, and tenacity to try-try again, even when rejection letters arrived in the mailbox.

So positive thinking’s OK to a point, but it takes a lot more than that.

At the same time, negative thinking can destroy your day before it even gets started. So thinking positively definitely trumps thinking negatively. It’s even recommended for good health. Studies have shown that long-term pessimistic thinking can triple the likelihood of a serious “heart event” or other life-threatening health issues.

The late Zig Ziglar, one of the world’s foremost motivational speakers and writers, talked about people sometimes commenting, ”Zig, I loved your talk, but for me, motivation doesn’t last.” Ziglar always responded, “Bathing doesn’t last either. That’s why I recommend it daily.”

So, is it a matter of thinking happy thoughts, or as the Bobby McFerrin song of decades past suggested, “Don’t worry, be happy”? I’ve found positive thinking works best when it’s based not on wishful thinking, but rather on reality – and reliable promises.

For instance, addressing followers of Jesus in the ancient city of Philippi, the apostle Paul wrote, “…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).

In an age when we’re bombarded by negativity – bad news, reports of gloom and doom, harsh conversations and people just waiting for an excuse to spew their anger – it helps, stating it another way, to accentuate the positive.

As Zig Ziglar advised, I’ve found it useful to make it a habit of meditating on positive, motivational thoughts on a daily basis. And I can’t imagine a greater thought than the promise Jesus left His followers, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

To parrot one of my favorite speakers, “Think about that.”

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Looking for the ‘Quick Fix’

Are you old enough to remember the adage, “A watched pot never boils”? The modern equivalent says, “A watched microwave never beeps.” We toss frozen meals in to “nuke” for two minutes, then grow impatient as the seconds seem to crawl by.

If there’s one thing most Americans seem to desire, it’s the “quick fix.” If there’s a problem or a need, we want it resolved immediately, if not sooner. Got an ache? Take a pill – maybe more than one. Got a financial problem? Go to an “expert” who promises to make it all go away in the blink of an eye.

Recently posted a link to a story, “Improve your marriage in just 21 minutes.” Sounds great, doesn’t it? Why spend a lifetime trying to forge a strong, growing marriage bond when you can get it done in 21 minutes? Then you can get on with whatever else you’ve been wanting to do – train for a triathlon, read a book, plant a garden, write a symphony. “Hey, honey, love ya. Remember, I just gave you the best 21 minutes of my life!”

The holidays are over, but many of us still carry the consequences of too many parties, cookies, candy, cakes, pies, and other seasonal delights. So our ears perk up when someone – or some diet – promises, “Lose 20 pounds in just seven days.”

Wanna talk physical? Maybe the latest exam says our numbers are out of whack and need to be improved. “Isn’t there some medication for that, Doc?” Heaven forbid we do something drastic like committing to a regular exercise program or learning how to eat healthier. No, we might want to look like Mr. America or Miss Universe, but we don’t want to invest the effort needed to get there. And it takes too much time.

We see the “quick fix” mentality manifested in many other areas, whether it’s career tracks not moving fast enough, living standards not rising as quickly as we’d like, or even our favorite sports teams not winning as much as we think they should. We want it – and we want it now! Instant gratification.

The problem is, quick fixes hardly ever last and they’re easily un-fixed. As a friend of mine says, “Why, if we have time to do it over again, didn’t we have the time to do it right the first time?”

In the Bible, we see these observations: “The plans of the diligent lead to profit as surely as haste leads to poverty” (Proverbs 21:5), and “It is not good to have zeal without knowledge, nor to be hasty and miss the way” (Proverbs 19:2).

Sometimes a need can be met quickly, like getting a drink of water when you’re thirsty, or applying a Band-Aid to a cut. But there’s something about being willing to commit to something long-term, being in it for the long haul – whether it’s a marriage, an education, a fitness goal, or a career path. This can reap rewards and a sense of satisfaction the quick fix can never do.

Monday, February 18, 2013

“Finding” God’s Will

Wouldn't it be nice if God guided our lives similar to a GPS in a car?

At spiritual conferences, one of the most popular workshop topics is “How to Know God’s Will.” (That is, unless you don’t believe in God, in which case, who cares?) But for those of us that do believe, wouldn’t it be great to know, without a doubt, what God’s will is – whether for your career, marriage, family, maybe even which flat-screen TV to buy?

I’ve often heard people talk about “finding” God’s will, as if it’s some kind of treasure hunt, or a search for a divine needle in a haystack. Frankly, that approach is a bit too mysterious for me. “Is it really God’s will, or just the jalapenos I had on my nachos last night?”

Dozens, if not hundreds, of books have been written on this subject. And I’m not going to attempt giving a definitive answer in several hundred words. But there’s an aspect to following God’s will that’s similar to following the GPS in your car.

I remember the first time I drove a vehicle with a global positioning system, a rented car in Houston, Texas. I entered my destination, drove off, and when I failed to heed the spoken instructions and missed a turn, a feminine-sounding voice calmly announced, “Recalculating.” (Which I’ve since learned means, “You idiot! Pay attention. Now I have to revise the directions I gave you. I’ll get back to you in a few seconds.”)

As we journey through life, we usually feel we’re on the right course and right on time…until we realize we’re not. We might have missed a turn, or taken an exit we shouldn’t have. Most of the time these aren’t fatal errors – at least if we’re willing to take note when God offers a course correction, using “God’s positioning system.”

Unfortunately for those of us who are particularly dense when it comes to advice and reproof, He doesn’t usually speak in an audible voice. Instead, He speaks through the Bible, through fellow believers we trust – and through circumstances. There have been times in my life when I felt so low there was no place to look but up. That’s when I’ve heard the Lord most clearly.

Such moments have taught me the truth of Proverbs 16:9 – “In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.”

So whenever we sense we’ve strayed off course, that we’ve remained on the main road when it was time to exit, or we’ve taken an exit and realized too late we shouldn’t have, we can almost hear God saying, “Recalculating.”

He’s also prompting us to apply another of my favorite biblical promises: “Trust in the Lord will 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).

Thursday, February 14, 2013

What’s Love Got to Do With It?

Today being Valentine’s Day, it seemed appropriate to write something about love. (Not that I’m an expert or anything – although I highly recommend it.)

The question is, what is love – really?

According to the media, entertainment industry, even our nation’s evolving culture, love is all about feeling. Something you fall into or fall out of, depending on your mood, the time of day, or the person you’re with at the moment.

Shows like “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette” showcase a couple dozen attractive women (or men) throwing themselves at a willing member of the opposite sex. Everyone “falls in love” countless times during the progressing episodes in the series. If someone catches your eye and you feel a pleasant tingling in your “naughty bits” (as classical singer Katherine Jenkins termed it on “Dancing With the Stars”), you most definitely must be in love.

Of course, this idea’s hardly new. Years ago the TV sitcom “The Love Boat” (I called it “The Lust Boat”) assembled sexy-looking singles and over the course of a several-day cruise, many of them found “love.”

But is that what true love is all about – “You look good, you make me feel good, therefore I love you”?

Years ago I was a newspaper editor in Tomball, Texas. (If you’ve never heard of it, it’s a town about 30 miles north of Houston. Its name actually came from a fellow named Tom Ball.) Anyway, I joined the local Rotary Club to connect with some of the community’s movers and shakers.

One of the members – moving, but no longer doing much shaking – was a engaging old guy named Jimmy Tanner. He was Rotary’s self-proclaimed poet laureate, and every couple of weeks or so he’d regale us with a brief recitation of “poemtry.” One he offered frequently fits Valentine’s Day. According to Jimmy:

A song is not a song until it’s sung;
A bell is not a bell until it’s rung.
Now love wasn’t given in your heart to stay –
For love isn’t love ‘til you give it away.

There’s a lot of wisdom in those few words. Contrary to the prevailing notion that love is something you get, love should be something you give. I suppose that’s why 1 Corinthians 13 is so popular at marriage ceremonies, when idealistic notions of happily-ever-after momentarily overshadow the harsh realities of two becoming one.

The passage talks about love being patient and kind, not envious, boastful, prideful, rude, self-seeking, easily angered or keeping a record of wrongs. ”Love does not delight in evil but rejoices in the truth,” it says. “It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

Elsewhere the Bible instructs, “Husbands love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25). What? Give yourself up? How restrictive; how intolerant! “Isn’t love supposed to be all about memy wants, my needs, my happiness?”

Apparently not, according to the Scriptures. Otherwise it wouldn’t declare, “For God so loved that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

That, it seems to me, is what love is – really.

Monday, February 11, 2013

We All Have an Important Part to Play

Do you know the sign of healthy joints? It’s when you don’t notice they’re there. Throughout my life I’d never paid much attention to my knees – until 12 years ago when my left knee started feeling like a needle was sticking into it. Suddenly, whenever I walked anywhere, I was painfully aware of my left knee. I needed arthroscopic surgery to repair a torn meniscus. (I told my surgeon if I’d known I had a meniscus, I would’ve tried not to tear it!)

A similar thing happened years earlier when I sprained my right thumb. Have you ever tried doing simple things, like turning doorknobs or picking up books, when your thumb isn’t working right? Over time it healed, but I realized how easy it is to take sound, healthy joints for granted. If you notice they’re there, something’s wrong.

It’s the same in other areas of life. Take music, for example. In an orchestra, if you keep hearing one instrument more loudly than the rest – unless the conductor has assigned a solo – the musician is overplaying or playing incorrectly. The assembled instruments should blend to make cohesive, harmonious, ear-pleasing sounds.

This might seem a bit sexist, but I’ve always thought something similar about makeup on women: If you notice it, there’s too much of it. It should enhance, not call attention to itself. (Having a wife and three grown daughters, I think I have license to say this.)

The reason for these observations is because so many of us feel unimportant, convinced we’re not adding value to the world around us. We’re not doing anything to call attention to ourselves, so we must not have much to contribute, right?

We see this a lot in sports. The quarterback gets the headlines, but no one notices the center that snaps him the ball – unless the ball is mishandled. We celebrate the homerun hitter and the pitcher that throws a no-hitter, but pretty much ignore the catcher calling the pitches.

But the fact is, we’re all important. Even if we don’t get our names on the marquee, or have our names called out at awards ceremonies, that doesn’t mean what we’re giving to the cause doesn’t have value.

Consider a blockbuster motion picture. We talk about the starring actors, maybe the director. But hundreds of other people are involved in making the film possible, ranging from costume designers and equipment handlers to actors in small roles and assistant producers.

Years ago I was a magazine editor and did much of the writing and editing for our small publication. But we also had an assistant editor, graphic designer, illustrator, administrative assistant and others involved in the total process. Each time a new edition came out, I was reminded: “The whole is greater than the sum of the parts.”

That’s why the Bible affirms the value of each member of the body of Christ. “The body is a unit.... If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.... As it is, there are many parts, but one body" (1 Corinthians 12:12-20).

So take heart. If you’re doing what you feel youre called to do, and doing the best you can, it’s important – even when nobody notices. There's no shame in being an unsung hero.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

A Rose is a Rose is a Rose...

It seems the world is a-twitter (literally and figuratively) about Kate Middleton having a baby this July. Ah, we can almost hear the pitter-patter of tiny feet in Buckingham Palace now. And Kim Kardashian, the famous-for-being-famous reality show celebrity, has proudly displayed her “baby bump” for the child she and rapper Kanye West are expecting, also in July.

What if someone were to approach lovely Kate, or controversial Kim, and declare, “That’s not a baby you’re carrying. It’s only a fetus!”?

We’d be appalled, maybe even incensed. How dare someone say such an insensitive, uncaring thing? But every day, that’s what thousands of women in fact are saying. Mrs. Prince William and Ms. Kardashian are still early in their second trimesters, a time when many pregnant women choose to abort their “fetuses.”

Recently many churches observed “Sanctity of Life Sunday.” The 40th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision affirming women’s rights to abortions was either celebrated or mourned, depending on which side of the pro-choice/pro-life fence one stands on. Jan. 25, many thousands participated in the annual “March for Life” in Washington, D.C. to protest abortion.

Abortion proponents talk about a woman’s “reproductive rights,” but what about the rights – or non-rights – of the unborn?

Following the elementary school shootings in Connecticut, and during his second inaugural address, President Obama asserted his commitment to the safety and protection of children. We envision bright, shining faces of young ones and agree they are priceless resources. But what about babies being aborted at all stages of pregnancy that never will see the light of a single day?

Thankfully, our grandson's birth mother
made the choice to let another couple adopt him.
Well, what about pregnant women not wanting babies – don’t they have rights? Yes, but they could exercise them in other ways. Celebrated football player Tim Tebow and entertainer Justin Bieber are just two prominent examples of could-have-been abortions. Instead, their mothers chose to keep them rather than exerting the sterile-sounding right to “terminate a fetus.”

Another option is surrendering a baby for adoption. Across America millions of women – and couples – desperately desire to have a child but for various reasons, cannot. One of my daughters and her husband are an example of that.

My grandson, Maclane, a two-year-old ball of energy they adopted, is a delight. His addition to our family has been life-changing for us all. What if his birth mother, instead of making him available for adoption, had exercised her legal “choice” to abort him?

We can understand the inconvenience for a woman having to dedicate nine months to the gestation of a baby she doesn’t want. But as we express heartfelt concern for the welfare of children that succeeded in making the passage from the womb to the world, how can we not have like compassion for “fetuses” not yet ready for life outside the womb?

Psalm 139:14 states we are fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” Pregnancies are not accidents. They are part of God’s grand plan – if not for the birth mothers, then for others that will have the opportunity to experience the joy of parenting babies into toddlerhood, adolescence and beyond.

Somehow I think the line from the poem, “Sacred Emily,” written by Gertrude Stein, applies here: “Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose.”

Similarly, baby is a baby is a baby is a baby. To assert otherwise is simply to deny an inconvenient truth.

Monday, February 4, 2013

It’s Money – and It Matters!

Apparently we’ve survived the so-called “fiscal cliff.” At least for now. Unless you count the two-percent payroll tax increase most of us are being assessed.

Unfortunately, the Federal government continues to gobble up money like popcorn in a 20-screen multiplex movie theater, so the ominous threat of financial doom will continue hovering over the United States until further notice.

When the next impending calamity approaches, of course, we’ll need to call it something. You can’t have a crisis without a calling card. But in all likelihood, fiscal cliff will already have lost its shine. When you cry “Wolf!” too many times, people stop paying attention. I think the same is true about fiscal cliffs.

So, in the interest of public service, here are some suggestions. Blogs, unlike radio and TV stations, aren’t required to have public service spots – at least I don’t think so – but civic-minded soul that I am, I’m eager to help:

How about “economic eclipse”? Or “budgetary blitzkrieg”? “Financial fiasco,” or “monetary morass”? (You might prefer “monetary maelstrom.”) “Fiduciary conflagration” anyone? Or maybe, “pecuniary peril”?

No matter how you slice it, we can feel confident of one thing: The government geniuses will continue to misuse and abuse tax dollars (even ones we haven’t sent them yet) unless major changes are made.

Years ago Ronald Blue, a leading Christian financial adviser and president of Kingdom Advisers, testified before a Congressional subcommittee about how to deal with economic uncertainty. One senator asked, “What would you tell the American family about their finances?”

Before responding, Blue figured the senator would scoff at him because all he had to offer were basic, biblically based financial principles he’d seen work countless times.

When he proceeded, Blue said, “Senator, I would tell the American family four things: 1) Spend less than you earn. Live within your income. 2) Avoid the use of debt so you don’t obligate the future. 3) Build liquidity or flexibility by having reserves set aside, so that when the unexpected occurs – as it always will – you have prepared for that. 4) Set long-term goals so you have targets to shoot at, know the direction you are headed, and know what your priorities are.”

Upon hearing this, the senator responded, “Mr. Blue, it seems to me that would work at any income level.” Blue paused, and then he said, “You’re right, Senator – including the United States government.”

There’s one other principle Blue has often presented to Christian audiences, although he did not cite it at the Congressional hearing: “God owns it all.” In other words, whether we’re individuals, a family, or the Federal government, we are merely stewards of the resources God provides.

The Bible states, “The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender” (Proverbs 22:7). Every day we’re seeing this truth demonstrated by the financial shenanigans in Washington, D.C.

But let’s not bother our wise leaders with such foolishness. Church and State being separate and all.