The Right Stuff

2018 has been a difficult year, but many have written that the difficulties of 2018 pale when compared to 1968. Fifty years ago today Senator Robert F. Kennedy was fatally wounded after winning the Democratic presidential primary in California.  Earlier in the year, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated.  In 1968 the nation experienced the seizure of the USS Pueblo by the North Koreans, the Tet offensive in Vietnam, the unrest at the Democratic National Convention, and the Soviet invasion of  Czechoslovakia. There was a lot of pain and many setbacks.

Then on December 21, Apollo 8 was launched.  Had the launch or mission failed, the US would not have achieved the goal of landing on the moon before the decade of the 1960s ended.  The Apollo crew followed in the footsteps of their predecessors, the Mercury Astronauts who were chronicled in the book and movie, “The Right Stuff.”  Clearly, the Apollo 8 crew and all who worked to get them into space had the right stuff.

The Apollo 8 mission was a great success as the crew orbited the moon, providing us with the iconic photo of earth’s rising.  The crew read Genesis 1 on Christmas Eve and lifted the spirit of the United States.  Some have even written that Apollo 8 saved 1968.  Months later the United States successfully placed a man on the moon.

While chaos swirled around them in 1968 the Apollo 8 team remained focused on their mission.  They would not stop assassinations and unrest but they performed their duties faithfully throughout the year (and before) ant the whole country benefited.

We can learn from the Apollo 8 crew and the team that launched them into space as we experience the difficulties of 2018.  We too need to stay focused on our mission: raising our kids, strengthening our marriage, doing our job in a way that brings honor to God—developing the right stuff.  We can’t control the actions of others but if we do well what we have been put here to do others will greatly benefit.

In Debt to the Unknowns

_absolutely_free_photos_original_photos_unknown-soldier-memorial-4272x2848_69449Each Memorial Day the leaders of our country honor who have made our freedom possible with their lives by gathering at Arlington National Cemetery.  The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is the perfect example of the sacrifice many have paid.  Since we now have DNA testing there may never be another unknown soldier but there are nearly 5,000 unknowns from past wars buried at Arlington.  The Unknown Soldier stands in contrast to those who have gone to schools, churches and other public places and harmed scores of people.  The quickest way to become known to the world is to commit a catastrophic act.  On one day the person is relatively unknown, after some acts there may be few that would not recognize their name or picture.  It has always been this way, we even know the middle names of those who have assassinated important officials.  It has been hypothesized that there have been so many conspiracy theories about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy because of the contrast between his life and that of his alleged assassin.  It is truly as the book of Ecclesiastes (9:18) says, “. . .one sinner destroys much good.”

Today we celebrate those who are largely unknown. They come from all parts of our nation and all walks of life.  Were it not for their sacrifice we would not be able to assemble, worship, travel freely, and enjoy our way of life.  Let us think about them and their sacrifice and do our best to learn their names on this day as we ask ourselves, “Where would we be without the unknowns?”

Pay to all what is owed to them . . . respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.

Romans 13:7

 

What Does God Want from Me?

 

Everyone has expectations of us. Employers have expectations of their employees. Teachers have expectations of their students. Citizens have expectations of their government. Spouses have expectations of each other. Parents have expectations of their children. What about God? Does God have expectations for us?

The Gospel of Luke (Luke 10:25) records an incident where a man asked Jesus, “What do I do to inherit eternal life?” In other words, “What are God’s expectations of me?”

It sounds like the man was asking, “What is the minimum I must do to go to heaven?” When I read this question it reminds me of questions I have heard some students ask like, “What do I need to do to get a B?” It feels like they mean to ask, “What is the minimum needed to do to get by.” Don’t we all think that way from time to time? We may ask inwardly, “What must I do for my kids to turn out all right” or “What must I do for my marriage to survive?” or “What must I do to keep my job?”

Sometimes when we are having a hard time meeting the expectations of someone we throw up our hands and ask, “What do you want from me? What do you expect?” especially if we want to do the minimum and move on.

I think the man who asked this question of Jesus only wanted to do the minimum required to get into heaven because he already new the answer to his question (Luke 10:27) as evidenced when he quoted Deuteronomy 6:5, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” He knew what God expected of him.

Love God 

God expects us to love Him. But how much does He expect? He expects us to love Him with all of our heart so we are not allowed to store bitterness, anger or unforgiveness in our heart (Psalm 4:4). He expects us to love him with our soul, the essence of our being, and the immaterial part of our life. He expects us to love Him with our strength or our aptitude and power. So, when we go to school or work we work for the Lord (Colossians 3:23). He expects us to love Him with our mind so we must love God with our thoughts (2 Corinthians 10:5b), and our attention. God expects us to love Him with all that we are.

Love People

How do you know if you love God? If you love God, you will love people. This man who questioned Jesus knew that God expected him to love people. But how many people and what kind of people did God expect him to love?

Again, he only wanted to do the minimum so he asked, “Who is my neighbor?” He should have asked, “How do I love my neighbor?” Jesus answered his question and the one he should have asked by telling the story of the Good Samaritan. Since Jesus ended this story with the command, “You go, and do likewise” (Luke 10:37) we would do well to examine the story.

First, Jesus answered the question, “Who is our neighbor?” Our neighbor is the person who brings problems upon themselves. This person traveled down a dangerous road alone and fell among robbers (Luke 10:27), just like many had probably warned him about. Our neighbor is also the one for whom there appears to be little hope (Luke 10:30b), this man is referred to as “half dead.”

Then the story took a turn. The people most like the fallen man refused to help him. They would not even get close to him (Luke 10:31-31). The person least like the man, a Samaritan, is the one that actually helped him. Samaritans were the enemies of the Jews, yet this man helped when no one else would. Jesus conveyed to His questionnaire that even his enemy was his neighbor. Therefore, even his enemies (Matthew 5:44).

How do we love other people?

Then Jesus told the man how to love other people. The Samaritan went to the fallen man and when he was exposed to his situation “he had compassion” (Luke 10:33) for him. But this was real compassion, which always will move a person to take action. The Samaritan man performed specific acts that were helpful (Luke 10:34), and even spent around four days of his wages (Luke 10:35) to help the man. What a difference he made in a life of a person who had previously been an enemy. So what does God expect of us?

Love God and love other people (even our enemies). It sounds pretty simple, but if we really apply it on a daily bases it will change the activity our life and the lives of those around us.

For more go to this link.

Do you want to make all of that studying stick?

There are a lot of us who made resolutions about exercise at the beginning of the New Year.  It appears now that exercise doesn’t just help with your weight, physical, and mental health but it actually enables you or learn more.  In fact, if you want to remember something, get moving.

A recent study in Current Biology indicated that people who exercised four hours after a learning session were more likely to remember the material two days later when compared to those who did not exercise after a learning session. The researchers could not explain why memory was aided by exercise but this research does remind me a bit of my own studying when I was a student in grade school.  After several hours of class, my teacher seemed thrilled to thrust me and my classmates on the playground to run and jump and burn up all of that pent up energy. Apparently, that wasn’t just good class management, it also helped us remember more of what we’d learned.

 

So if you made a New Years resolution about learning another language, or reading a few books, throw another one in about exercise.  After studying a few hours on a subject go biking, running, walking or whatever you like to do to get active. You just might find that exercise helps you with your other resolutions as well.

 

Take pictures this Christmas—if you are having a good time

A joyful heart is good medicine.

Proverbs 17:22a

Should you take pictures this Christmas or just enjoy the moment? Actually, some recent research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology indicates that taking photos can increase the enjoyment of positive experiences. This contradicts an often held belief that picture taking can be distracting. In the research, people took pictures while eating meals, visiting museums and taking bus tours. In almost every case there was more enjoyment and engagement for the people who took pictures. But what should you do if that family gathering is not going so well? The same research also indicated that taking pictures while doing something unpleasant made the situation even more unpleasant. So as you are celebrating during the holiday season, go ahead and take some pictures—if you are having a good time!

 

What will They Do on Their “Worst Day Ever”?

r e F o c u s

“This is the Worst. Day. EVER!”

If you have children, I bet you’ve heard them say this once or twice when things don’t quite go their way. Like maybe when they have to clean their room or eat all their dinner. We smile, because we’ve all been there, but at the same time, we know that these things in no way represent the “worst day ever.” Deep in our hearts, we know that one day, our children, who we love, will face their worst day ever and it will involve much more than daily chores and eating vegetables.

On Wednesday, I had the opportunity to hear Dr. Eddie Moody share at a local D6 Connect family ministry event. His talk focused on the story of Daniel and his friends and how to raise godly young men and women in a time where their faith is becoming increasingly unpopular. He talked…

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Thank you Sheepdogs

Lt. Col. (Retired) David Grossman, MD, a former professor at West Point, has written extensively about the different kinds of people in our world.  He says we live in a world that contains, sheep, wolves, and sheepdogs.  Most people are sheep.  The sheep just want to go on with their lives.  They don’t hurt other people and often even resist thinking there might be others who wish to do them harm.  Unfortunately, the world also contains wolves.  The wolves prey on the sheep.  They take advantage of them and wolves would feed on and destroy the sheep were it not for the sheepdog.  The sheepdog lives to protect the sheep.  The sheepdog, Grossman says, often scares the sheep.  Sheep do not understand sheepdogs.  Sheep like to live in denial about the dangers of wolves, and of course the sheepdog is a reminder that there are wolves in the land.

The sheepdog pays a high price to defend the sheep.  The sheepdog must constantly prepare for the moment when the wolf comes knocking at the door.  The sheepdog cannot live in denial as can sheep.  The sheepdog has experienced indescribable horror that a sheep would rather pretend did not exist.  Grossman says, it is not necessary for the sheep to fully comprehend the price paid by the sheepdog, but it is critical that they acknowledge and appreciate the sacrifice that has been made.  Where would we be without sheepdogs?

Those of us who live in the United States you are protected everyday by sheepdogs who serve in our Armed Services.  Many throughout the world benefit from their service.  Each one of them signed up to do what they do.  They knew they would be going into harms way.  They hunt wolves.  Recently, we obtained a bit of a glimpse into the life of a sheepdog, when he was killed in Iraq.

Master Sergeant Joshua L. Wheeler, a member of Delta Force was killed near the city of Kirkuk during a daring rescue mission.  Wheeler had been deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan 11 times.  He’d been awarded 11 Bronze Star medals.  Over his 20 year career he’d likely hunted a lot of wolves.  He’d also saved the lives of a lot of sheep.  In the raid in which he was killed around 70 Iraqi prisoners were freed from ISIS captivity.

Wheeler is just one example of the thousands of sheepdogs who protect us.  Where would we be without sheepdogs?  What kind of life, what kind of society would we be.  Thank you sheepdogs for all you have done for us.

Little Lives Matter

I was honored the other day to conduct the funeral of Lydia Hope. Her life of just over seven weeks is a testament to the value of all life. Any reader of the Bible can clearly see that Jesus loved and loves children.

See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.

Matthew 18:10

Jesus warned people that might not value little lives that failing to do so would be perilous. Lydia Hope was an especially little life. Her mother had carried her for just under 24 weeks. Lydia was born on May 27, long before her September 17. Lydia’s parents, Alan and Cari, gave this little life a biblical name. You can read about Lydia in Acts 16 where we see a woman . . .

Lydia is a biblical name that comes from a godly woman in the book of Acts. In chapter 16 Paul arrived in Philippi and the Scripture says . . .

. . . named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. 

Acts 16:14

Lydia’s family and friends fell in love with the color purple. They gave Lydia the middle name of Hope. Lydia’s parents had a lot of hope. For more than seven weeks their lives were turned upside down. Yet they did not see this little life as an hindrance. Instead they loved her, sang to her and held her. Their behavior embodied the teaching of Jesus after children were brought to Him.

Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” And he laid his hands on them and went away.

Matthew 19:13-15

In Jesus’ day there were many who saw children as a hindrance. Perhaps there were others who saw them as a tool to be used for one’s own benefit. Little has changed as we have seen videos in recent days of those who have callously discussed the selling of the body parts of little lives. It is critical that we understand God cares for little lives, and His care for them began long before their conception.

In the book of Ephesians the Apostle Paul wrote . . .

. . . even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will. 

Ephesians 1:4-5

God was focused upon the life of each and every person before time began. Every parent and every person has a decision to make about how they will honor life and how they will treat a child. Jesus once took a child and said . . .

“Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.”

Mark 9:37

In the case of Lydia Hope, when her parents loved her, sang to her, and held her; they were loving, singing, and holding Jesus. Some might think their efforts were in vain or even wonder if Lydia Hope were aware of them. However, it was breathtaking to see Lydia respond to the skin to skin technique or to open her eyes when she heard her father’s voice. I could not look at this precious life without being reminded of Psalm 139.

For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.

 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.

My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.

Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.

How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!

How vast is the sum of them!

If I would count them, they are more than the sand. I awake, and I am still with you.

Psalm 139:13-18

In a day when so many see little lives as just a group of body parts let us remember it was God who made Lydia and all the other little lives like her. God thought about Lydia and has a chapter in His book about her. Let us all care for little lives like Lydia Hope’s parents cared for her. Lydia Hope and all of the other little lives matter.

It’s Time for a Dialog About Dad’s

Are you old enough to remember shows like Father Knows Best, Leave it to Beaver and the Andy Griffith Show? If you are, you remember a time where fathers were portrayed in the media as wise and helpful. Those days are long gone. A decade ago the The New York Times published an article called The Doofus Dad by John Tierney where he lamented the portrayal of fathers in the media. More recently Seth Stevenson wrote in Slate about the portrayal of dad’s in commercials in an article called The Reign of the Doltish Dad: Men in commercials can’t do anything right. Will that ever change? Though the media likes to portray fathers as unnecessary and unhelpful, the opposite is true. When fathers are not actively and positively involved in the lives of their children it has terrible consequences for everyone.

Consider the atrocity committed upon Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston last Wednesday evening. In the aftermath, many questions have been asked about the proliferation of guns and the appropriateness of the Confederate flag. These are good questions that need a thorough examination. It is also important to ask about the killer’s dad. Where was he? What role did he play in his son’s life? Could this have been prevented?

At this point we do not know a lot about the home of the killer but a picture is emerging. According to media reports the killer grew up in a home where domestic violence was prevalent. The killer’s father reportedly gave him .45 caliber handgun in April for his birthday. We have also seen many pictures of the killer in his home, at a museum and elsewhere that indicate his racist thinking and actions are part of a pattern of behavior that has been going on for some time. Although each individual is responsible for their own actions, dad’s can have a major impact upon the outcome of the life of their child. What is a dad to do?

Be There

A plethora of research studies indicate that a strong relationship between a child and their father is critical to prosocial development. A dad must be with their child though to develop this kind of relationship. Three years ago the Pew Research Center published a study on dads called A Tale of Two Fathers: More are active, more are absent. The data indicate that the majority of fathers (78 percent) in the United States spend about the same or more time with their children than their dad spent with them. However, there were 20 percent who spent less time with their children than their dad had spent with them. In 2010, 27 percent of children were living apart from their fathers. Living apart from dad had real implications. Only 31 percent of children who lived apart from their dad talked with him about their day compared to 93 percent of children who lived with him. In fact, 31 percent of children living apart from their dad indicated they received a call or email from their dad less than once a month. Why is it so detrimental when dad is not around?

Teach

Dads have a critical role to teach their children about life. The Bible says in Proverbs 22:6 to “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” Being with a child creates an opportunity to teach the child. The Bible teaches that parents are to teach their children all day (Deuteronomy 6:4-9) and every day. Teach them when they get up in the morning, as they walk (or drive through the community), when they sit at home, and before they go to bed at night.

What are father’s to teach? They are to teach the child about God and the proper relationship to Him (Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength), and about how they are to treat other people (Love your neighbor as yourself). When a father is with their child on a daily basis there will be opportunities to observe when faulty ideas and attitudes are creeping into the child’s life. This allows for teaching specifically on that subject. For example, if your child is developing a racist attitude you can find some good teaching from the Bible that addresses this (Romans 10:12).

Discipline

Dads have to be with their child to discipline their children. The Bible says in Proverbs 19:18 to “Discipline your son, for there is hope; do not set your heart on putting him to death.” In other words, hold your child accountable for their actions or there will be terrible consequences. This is easier done when a child is younger. If you want to develop a nice retirement portfolio you don’t begin investing when you are 60.  You begin investing early in your life. Similarly, if you want to develop a child who becomes a well-adjusted adult, you have to begin disciplining them from the very beginning of their life. Still, as a father one can continue to wield influence on their son or daughter’s life even in adulthood. A father might ask, does my son still live at home; am I supporting him in any way (e.g., car payment, car insurance, food)? If the answer is yes, he has influence and can wield it if his son or daughter is going awry.

Love

Teaching and discipline must come under the umbrella of love. The Bible says in Ephesians 6:4, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” The Scripture reminds father’s that all that they do is founded upon love. They love their children in spite of their failures. In fact, it is that love that empowers them to teach and discipline their children (Proverbs 3:11-12). They love their children more than themselves. This enables them to spend the time necessary with them to help and develop them.

It’s time to have a dialog about dads.  A recent editorial in The Union suggested that “despite what you see on TV, the role of dad should not be downplayed but celebrated.”  I agree.  Let’s quit pretending dads are irrelevant, and begin encouraging men to embrace this important calling.  A dad that teaches, disciplines, and loves develops a different kind of product than one who is absent, disengaged, and angry. Let’s emphasize the importance of being a real dad.  Failure to do so is detrimental to us all.

Every Square Inch

Are you looking for a summer reading book?  Read Bruce Riley Ashford’s “Every Square Inch:  An Introduction to Cultural Engagement for Christians.”  Ashford’s aid is to help us all develop a theological framework for seeing all of life under the lordship of Christ.

Rather than withdrawing from the culture, simply being against the culture or becoming a mirror of the culture, we are called to go into and do all we can to redirect our culture toward God.  He provides a brief theology of culture and describes the role of the Christian to minister within their cultural context.  This means we are called to minister to our family, church, workplace and community–witnessing “to Christ with the whole of our lives in every dimension of society and culture.”

Ashford describes cases throughout church history (e.g., Augustine, Kuyper, Lewis, Sayers) who have lived exemplary lives in their cultural context.  He goes on to describe how a Christian can engage art, the sciences, as well as politics and the public square, He culminates with the Christian response to economics and wealth followed by scholarship and education.

Ashford advocates for Christians to give Christ preeminence in every square inch of their lives.  It is only through engaging in this mission that we can properly engage our culture.  Take the time to read this little book this summer and ask yourself, “how can I engage every square inch of my life with Christ?”