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Friday, May 22, 2015

Don't raise your children in a "Truman dome"

    If you remember the ending of the movie "The Truman Show", we see Truman who has been for his entire life lied to by everyone around him.  He is the only person in the show that is not in on the joke that he is living out his life inside a giant dome where everything is controlled (including the weather).   His life is one magical encounter after another.  He is smiled at by everyone and he is told by everyone how great a person he is.  But then he starts to wake up to the reality of his situation.  Things don't add up and by the end of the movie he must make a decision to stay inside the dome or exit into the REAL world.  (We don't get to see what happens AFTER he leaves but we assume all is well and good for him).

   This decision is the same one our kids make as they graduate from college.

   Which brings me to a trend I have noticed lately on the internet.   This is the season for graduation commencement addresses to be given all across the land.  Colleges are promoting their students to the next level in life and to do so bring in a variety of speakers to do the task of inspiring them for their future endeavors.   What I have noticed is a increase in commencement "truth telling" that we have not seen before.   We hear less of the "you are special", "you can do it", "you are the bright stars of our future we have been waiting for.." and more from truth-tellers are willing to stand up to their podiums and pronounce the hard facts to the youth robed and sitting in front of them.   They tell them things like:
  1. You are not special
  2. Life is hard
  3. You will fail
  4. Life is more than awards
  5. You need to work hard to get anywhere
   These facts are important for them to hear.  But I am afraid for many of them they are too late to be taught.  They have spent the last 21 years of their life coddled, pumped up, lavished with trophies, told they are 1 in a million, excused for their failures and given grade that are meaningless.  Those lessons have been taught in classrooms, soccer fields, playgrounds, at awards ceremonies and at home.   When they lost a game they were told the other team was just a little better and they are really a good team.   When they got a bad grade on a report card they were excused because either "that class was really tough" or "that teacher was not fair" but not because "they failed to turn in assignments or study for quizzes and tests".   At the end of their soccer or baseball seasons we handed out plastic participation trophies most of which are now wasting space in either attics or garbage dumps.   But no matter, it made them feel "good about themselves".

     Now we delude ourselves into thinking that a 20 minute sermon from a Hollywood star or a multimillionaire will undo all those years of damage?   To me, that's like you weighing 400 lbs from spending your whole life eating nothing but McDonald's fast food and you think eating a couple of celery sticks is going to slim you down to a normal weight.   But that is our mode of operation here in America these days.   That's life in the Delusional States of America where we think a motivational speaker can change everything if we pay them enough money.

     Your kids have a long hard row to hoe and many of them are picking up their hoe now for the first time in their life.   They will get blisters on their hands and their arms and backs will hurt.  Many will give up and come back to your nests because the worlds is too painful for them.  My hope for them (and you) is that you don't "rinse and repeat" the same mistakes.   My son came back for a couple of years too (I have written about it before) but he realized how much harder the world is and that he needed that slap of reality to wake him up.  He has worked very hard to change himself and make a life for himself.   He faced his mistakes and bad decisions.  He has surrounded himself with like-minded people who want to travel that "road less taken" to make something of themselves and has since ventured back out on his own to take on new challenges.  He knows he will fall down again at some point.  He knows that both failure and success are in his future and he needs to work through those failures when they come.

     For those of you whose kids are still in elementary school there is still time to change course.  You can be your own child's "truth-teller" and "inspirational speaker" if you want to.  Maybe it starts with you telling your soccer coach that they won't be going to the award pizza party (or at least they don't need a plastic participation trophy).   Maybe it's not rewarding your kids for getting B's when they could get A's.   Maybe it's simplifying their birthday parties and keeping them simple (even just within the immediate family).   Or it is talking about your failures and not just your successes to them so they know that you didn't always have it so easy.   Whatever the case, don't wait for their college or high school graduation to come for unlike "The Truman Show" there might not be so happy of an ending for them.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Bowling for sinners

    Ever since I was about 6 years old I have loved bowling.   I can still remember my family going to a bowling alley in Carlyle Illinois to bowl a few games.   I remember it well because it was the first time I ever bowled a STRIKE!   Back then we didn't have gutter-bumpers to keep the ball in the alley either for the kids.   In those days, it was as difficult for the kids as it was for the adults to get the ball all the way down the alley and hit the pins.  That night I bowled a 52 and I kept the score sheet tacked to my bedroom wall to look at for weeks on end.

    Bowling is a strategic game where you try to hit the front pin (#1) in just the right way that that ball knocks enough pins such that they ricochet in a manner that all 10 get knocked down.  If you don't hit that first pin, your are not going to get a strike unless you are very very lucky.   Also strikes are beneficial in bowling because you add the next 2 balls you bowl to the current frame you just got a strike in.   So if you bowl 2 more strikes after this one (referred to as a "turkey" ...don't ask me why... it just is), you get to add 20 more points to the 10 you got for this frame and that adds 30 points.  Call it the compounding effect.

    Satan uses this same compounding approach in our lives as well.  Our sins have a tendency to replicate and increase in scope those they impact.   A one-night affair for example can lead to divorce, divorce can ruin the children's lives and cause them to hate their father (or mother) and lead to drug abuse, teen pregnancy and even suicide.   Children of divorce also are more likely to stop going to church (if they did before) as they associate their father being a hypocrite and a phoney-baloney christian which they want nothing to be a part of.   Once this is accomplished it may be MANY generations until that family ever has a member darken the doorway of a church ever again.

     The effect of the one sin is thereby multiplied many times over.   This is why parents need to be so careful.  They are not just looking out for themselves but also their children and grandchildren as well.  What caused me to write this blog was I just read a story of a Lutheran pastor in Michigan who is married and has 5 children was found to have a profile on a gay dating website and had apparently several hookups.  How did this happen?   My guess is started by him using porn, but that is just my guess.   For whatever the cause, his sin has tragically destroyed not only his marriage and his children but also untold hundreds of his members.   Many congregations that go through such an upheaval will lose members by the droves and might end up closing their doors for good.

     I call this Satan's "bowling for sinners" and it's extremely effective. 

     I can recall one time when I was faced with a similar situation.   It was late at night (10:30 or so) and everyone else was in bed (my kids were 6 & 7 at the time) and I needed to go do some grocery shopping because we had nothing to make for their lunches the next morning.   I went to a store called Food Source and did my shopping.   When I reached the checkout counter I saw a very beautiful blonde woman checking out in front of me.  Because Food Source allowed 2 people to bag their food in parallel at the same time, we were both bagging our food and exchanged simple pleasantries ("Hi. Nice night").   Since I had less groceries I finished first and exited the store.  As I pushed my cart out to the car I could hear a cart coming up quickly behind me and noticed it was her running with her cart.  She said, "Oh this is nice! I am parked right next to you!".  I put my bags in the car and was intrigued as to what she wanted (I won't lie).   As I was about to pull out she tapped on my window.  After I rolled down my window she asked if I could wait a minute and so I did as she put her cart away.   She then came back and said "I would be really happy if you followed me home.  Hope to see you later!" and with that she got into her car and drove slowly off waiting for me to catch up to her.   As I pulled my car out of my parking space a simple thought came to me:

Nothing GOOD can come from this

     And with that as she exited the parking lot, she turned right and I turned left and I never saw her again.   I don't know what she had in mind.  Maybe it was sex.  Maybe it was all a joke.  Maybe she had a bet with a friend and I was a way to win it.  Maybe she was nuts. I really don't know.   I think that in that moment God spoke to me in those few words inserted into my brain.  Like Joseph  confronted with Potifer's wife asking him to lay with her and him saying "How can I do this and sin against God!" and then running out of the house half naked.   That is how I felt.   Yes, to some of you it would have been better if I had said that suddenly I saw the face of my wife and kids flashing before my eyes or something of that line that made me change coarse but it wasn't.   This isn't a scene from a Hollywood movie and frankly, I don't think men's brains are built that way.   Robin Williams once put it this way when talking to Johnny Carson: 
"God gave man a brain and a penis but only enough blood to run one of them at a time"
     That is how I always feel when I see men destroyed by their decisions they make.  Take for
example Tiger Woods.   The man had everything you could want.  Fame (everyone knows his name).  Fortune (worth millions).  Great wife (a super model).   Now, he's lost it all.  His golf game crumbled (hasn't won a major tournament in years), his wife left him with the kids, he became the butt of late night comics and he lost all his TV/magazine advertising endorsements.    All this because he wanted to spend a few minutes with women who, in my opinion, were nothing more than discount prostitutes. 

     I often pray to God that I never do anything that would destroy my marriage or my kids faith in Him.   I know how easily it can happen today as marriage is held in such low esteem these days among people and so few care if a man has a wedding ring on or not (and for some women it can actually serve as a dinner bell).   I don't want to be pin #1 in Satan's sights with my wife, kids and future grandchildren following close behind. It is for this reason these 10 words in the Lord's Prayer mean so very much to me every time I say them.
"Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil!"
    Let me be very clear here.  I am not saying that I never sin.  I do.  I sin hundreds of times a day.  Just ask my wife and she will tell you that the last thing I am is a saint.  What I pray is that I never commit a sin so grievous that would harm my family or their faith beyond repair.

    That "strike" I could never live with.
   

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Christians thinking small rather than BIG.

     We've all seen the commercials where a star athlete has just won a major victory and the camera comes up to them and says, "Hey ___________! You just won ___________!  What are you going to do NEXT?"  and of course the answer is always the same.  "I'm going to Disney World!".

     You might say the same happened to Jesus after the resurrection.   In Acts 1:6 it says
"So when they met together, they asked Jesus 'Lord are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?' "
     I find it interesting that the passage does not indicate any one disciple asked him the question.  So it must have been a group request that they had been discussing.  Here Jesus has just gone through a excruciating ordeal of beatings, floggings, mocking, crucifixion, death and ultimately being resurrected and now he is being asked what he's going to do NEXT for his "hat trick".    Many of them joined Jesus because they had visions of him ruling from King David's throne and kicking the Romans out.  To many of them, being under Roman rule (or any Gentile rule for that matter) was an injustice that needed to be rectified by God for them to realize their full potential and purpose as God's chosen people.  Maybe they thought there was still a chance Jesus will do that very thing.  After all, in their minds all he had to do was march back into Jerusalem (they could even get another donkey for him to ride in on) go to the Temple, show himself to all the priests and then to Pilot and then "BOOM" he would be made King and no one would dare touch him. 

      Jesus response is simple (Acts 1:7-8)
"It is not for you to know the times and dates the Father has set by his own authority.  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth"
     He in effect is telling them that they are thinking "too small" and they need to think bigger.  They were not just going to sit back in Jerusalem and enjoy the glory days of old.  They were going to get sent out to the very ends of the earth to proclaim the good news of Salvation.  They were not going to "Disney World" but instead to the WHOLE WORLD.   Their eyes must have popped out of their heads when they heard these words. 

      We today often think small too.  We want heaven on earth now just like the disciples did.  We see injustice all around us.  We believe these injustices need to be remedied by God for us to realize our full potential as his children.  Some of us, like the disciples, long for the glory days of old and want God to restore them ASAP.    We may ask God:
  • Lord will you at this time restore our country to the 1950's (or 1980's)?
  • Lord will you at this time end poverty?
  • Lord will you at this time end unemployment?
  • Lord will you at this time end racism?
  • Lord will you at this time end cancer?
   Even within the church we see people thinking small instead of big.  For years the Lutheran Church has been under fire to allow woman Pastors (I am talking about the LCMS and WELS).   We see other churches change course on this in modern times.  The ELCA Lutherans have.  The Presbyterians have.  The Episcopal church has.  So why not our church?   To some this may be seen as an "injustice" that needs to be rectified for them to move forward.  Maybe their request would be "Lord will you at this time allow woman to serve as pastors?".   But given our position on scripture and that there is no clear command from Jesus that this is to change from the old covenant to the new covenant, I would have to say the answer from God would be the same,
"No.  But you go and be my witnesses to the end of the earth!"   
     God knows we have a limited amount of time (he has set the date) and a limited amount of energy to use (cannot be created or destroyed according to Sir Isaac Newton) and therefore we must make the most of the time and energy we have to reach as many as we can with the good news we have.   When we strive to make our heaven here on earth we waste our time and energy.  Yet I see so much of this today in the church as it struggles with non-gospel related subjects.  Many churches have decided that the world is better and fairer than the church and they seek to bring the world into the church.  Even though Jesus had warned us to be "in the world but not of the world".  Like a boat moving in the ocean is in the water but does not let the water into it or else it sinks, so also we must be careful to not let the worlds ways distract us from our REAL mission.
 
      Not that these injustices are small in scope at all.  Poverty, hatred, disease are all immense and important issues and God wants us to be involved in.  But our goal is not the idea we can eradicate these injustices (even Jesus said, "The poor you will always have with you"), but that we as his disciples and witnesses can use these injustices to reach the people with the Gospel of God's justice of paying the penalty of all our sins through his son, Jesus Christ.  We know that these issues will ultimately be fixed when God creates a new heaven and a new earth.  We must therefore be his witnesses to reach the unsaved and give them true eternal justice.

      We need to think BIG as Christians and stop thinking small.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

You're asking for it!

      I can still remember the news story as if it was yesterday.   A congressman had brought to the
attention of Congress that money had been paid under the Endowment for the Arts to an artist who took a picture of a crucifix dipped in a glass of urine.  The piece was called: Piss Christ.   After seeing it, I was the one who was "pissed".   How could someone do something like that and call it "art".    Congress's phone lines went on overload from other angry citizens like myself.   But our anger was not so much that an artist would do such a thing, but that our tax dollars went to pay for this work of art which meant I paid an artist to slap me in the face and call it art.   Did the Pope send out an order to kill the artist?  Did Billy Graham post "Wanted" posters with the artists face and address on it?   Did the artist have to go under FBI protective services?  

     No.  No and No.

     Recently some cartoonists in Texas decided to hold a contest to draw a picture of Mohammad and 2 jihadist from Arizona drove to kill them all and were only stopped by a police officer with excellent aim and precision.   Some, like Bill O'Reilly, in the media have said that the contest members had it coming.   They say that their contest was unnecessary and was "asking for it". 

     Is that what it has come down to?   Is FEAR now the gauge we must use when deciding what to say and what not to say?    Won't this give any other group who doesn't want their views mocked or ridiculed the rationale to commit violence to end all discussion?   Where will it end?  We know many Muslims are against alcohol and scantily dressed women too.  What if Muslims become enraged about how we dress or what we drink?   Would we say a girl in a bikini was "asking" for it if she is killed on a beach?   What if a person like me writes that Muhammad was NOT a prophet and his writings are pure fiction?   Should I be killed for mocking them?   Am I asking for it too?  What if I show up at a Yankees game wearing a Boston Red Sox jersey and I get knifed by an irate fan?  Would it be considered "justified murder"?   I guess using Bill O'Reilly's logic all the cases mentioned herein would be people "asking for it".

     In my opinion fear should have no basis in Free Speech decisions.  Our nation is built on not just the ideal of free speech but also the ideal that citizens who hear speech they disagree with are able to control their emotions and allow others who do not share the same view to voice their opinion without harm to their person.  Those who wish to live here in this country must be willing behave in such a way or be asked to leave.   

     As I wrote in a previous blog, the last line of our national anthem says: "O'er the land of the FREE and the home of the BRAVE".   The BRAVE in our country are not just those who wear military uniforms and go to far off countries to fight for us, but also those here at home who choose to use our freedom to voice our views in the sight of those who would use FEAR to take our FREEDOMS from us.