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Monday, August 29, 2016

Labor Day

Next weekend is Labor Day.  The scorching heat of summer has broken. The air is alive with the first hint of fall.  Kids are back in school.  Friday night football is here. NCAA stadiums vibrate with the first games of fall. The Cowboys have renewed hope and the Rangers are leading the league. Frisbees fly in parks while hamburgers sizzle on the grill.  The lakes are still warm enough for skiing.  Fishing is good. It is a great weekend to gather with friends and family and relax.

Underneath all this lies the significance of the day, a time to step back and celebrate the importance of labor.  It is the core of our culture: the value of hard work, perseverance and discipline.  Most of the time we fawn over celebrities.  But on this day, the common laborer takes the stage.

I think of my father, a blue collar worker who started out trimming grass around telephone poles and worked thirty-five years for Bell Telephone before his death at age fifty three.  I always admired his example of honesty, generosity and hard work.  He taught me something about Jesus, who chose to spend most of his adult life working in a simple carpenter’s shop in Nazareth.  Jesus’ life elevated the role of laborers and craftsmen for eternity.

In our current economy many are taking jobs that are not their first choice.  Some who have trained and studied for years to launch a professional career are finding themselves in the position of accepting jobs that differ from their dreams.  It is important that whatever job we find, that we give our best.  The Bible says, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” (Colossians 3:23-24).

Alexis de Toqueville visited America in the 1830’s in search of the secret that enabled the young democracy to succeed.  At its root, he discovered what would come to be known as the American work ethic founded upon Christian faith. It was not, he observed, merely hard work that made American Democracy successful.  It was the other values along with it that made work meaningful: honesty, integrity and generosity. 

Many Americans are discovering, after decades dominated by greed and materialism, that the value of labor is never truly measured in monetary return.  The way we choose to invest the labor of our minds, our hands, our hearts and our energy will produce fulfillment when the object is not our own self gratification but the service of others. Jesus said, “Whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant … just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28).  Paul exhorted us, “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you.” (1 Thessalonians 4:11).

Monday, August 22, 2016

Telling the Truth

Now that we are into the Presidential election, several news sources are “fact checking” the candidates.  They use different indicators.  The Washington Post awards “Pinocchios” to rate the truthfulness of candidates’ statements: one, two, three and four Pinnochios with one being mostly true and four being “whoppers.” 

Politifact, a web site that won a Pulitzer Award  for fact checking, rates candidates’ statements as “true,” “mostly true,” “half true,” “mostly false,” and “pants on fire!”  Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have both earned “pants on fire!” awards from Politifact.   

Most of us don’t need the Washington Post or Politifact to tell us that our politicians are less than truthful.  Perhaps our confidence in politicians’ truthfulness began to erode 42 years ago when Richard Nixon looked into the camera and told us that he was no crook.  Some politicians are more truthful than others, but they all make misleading, half-truth and, sometimes, completely false statements.

This problem with truthfulness is not confined to our politicians.  Our politicians may reflect a problem that permeates our generation.

People lie to one another. Husbands lie to their wives and wives to their husbands. Employers lie to their employees and vice-versa.  Novels, sit-coms and movies often portray the humor, drama, pain and tragedy created by the lies people tell.  “Why tell the truth when a lie will do?”

When truth no longer prevails and we no longer trust one another, the social fabric is shredded. Relationships are destroyed. Telling the lie destroys families, businesses, careers and nations. Honesty is the root of economic, emotional, psychological and spiritual health.  

It is addressed in the Ten Commandments: “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” (Exodus 20:16).   Proverbs says, “A false witness will not go unpunished and he who tells lies will not escape. ... What is desirable in a man is his kindness.  It is better to be a poor man than a liar.” (Proverbs 19:5, 22). 

Every individual and every generation must resist the temptation to lie.  King David cried out, “I said in my alarm, all men are liars!” (Psalm 116:11).  Isaiah confessed, “I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips.” (Isaiah 6:5).

The Bible teaches that there is a better way. “O Lord, who may abide in your tent? Who may dwell on your holy hill?  He who walks with integrity, and works righteousness, and speaks truth in his heart. He does not slander with his tongue, nor does evil to his neighbor, nor takes up a reproach against his friend. (Psalm 15:1-3)

Jesus said, “You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of  lies.” (John 8:44)  “If you continue in my word, then you are truly disciples of mine, and you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.” (John 8:31-32).

There can be little wonder that George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, men known for their honesty, remain the heroes of American history. 

Monday, August 15, 2016

The Games

All eyes are focused on Rio de Janeiro for the Olympics where the best athletes of the world compete at the limit of their talent and determination.  Michael Phelps boosted his all time gold medal count to 23, far and away the most by any athlete since the modern Olympic Games commenced in 1896.   Simone Biles was gold in women’s gymnastics and Usain Bolt proved himself the fastest man on earth for the third Olympics in a row.

The Olympic Games date back to 770 BC and were expanded in the first century by Augustus Caesar, the Emperor of record at Jesus’ birth.  Writing to Greeks in the first century, the Apostle Paul drew on Olympic metaphors to help them understand how to live the Christian life: “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win.” (1 Corinthians 9:24).

Christianity is not a spectator religion. We all must run!  In spite of the fact that our churches are arranged so that most of us appear to be sitting in the stands watching a few performers on the stage, the truth is that we must compete in the race. Sunday services are more like team meetings in the locker room to get us ready for the main event that starts on Monday. 

The Academy Award winning movie "Chariots of Fire" depicted the 1924 Olympic competition between Eric Liddell and Harold Abrahams, the two fastest men of their day.  Abrahams had never lost a race until Eric Liddell beat him in the 100 meter dash by a single step.  Mortified by the loss, he later sat in the empty stands with his fiancĂ©.  She kept trying to encourage him, but he finally snapped at her, “You don’t understand.  If I can’t win, I won’t run.”  Stunned, she paused for a moment then responded with typical feminine insight. “If you don’t run,” she said, “you can’t win!” That is the Apostle’s point.  If we don’t run, we can’t win.  We must all live out our faith in Christ in such a way that we “run to win!”

This requires discipline. Paul continues, “Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.(1 Cor. 9:25). The athletes we are watching in Rio must exercise great discipline in diet and training. Only by imposing discipline upon their bodies can they compete for the gold. 

Too many Christians think that once they accept Christ by faith and receive the assurance of heaven that they can live however they wish. They are like someone who has been accepted to the Olympics and chooses to train for their event by eating Blue Bell ice cream and watching others compete on TV. They might be at the Olympics, but they won’t win the prize. The Apostle concludes, “I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.” (1 Cor. 9:27).

Monday, August 8, 2016

Back To School

Just when summer starts to sizzle, its almost over.  A few are taking their last fling at the beach. Most are shopping for school.

The aisles at Walmart and Target are filled with crayons, construction paper and glue.  Parents and children pick through the stacks checking off items on their list.  Few things are as inspiring as the unspoiled thrill of children gathering their supplies to go back to school. 

When my wife was a child she spent days organizing her supplies in her backpack anticipating the first day back at her desk.  When she became a kindergarten teacher, she faced the greater challenge of managing preschool children armed with crayons and markers in a room with freshly painted walls.

It will soon be time to put away the lazy days of sleeping late, TV, video games, camp and vacations.  Kids will wake before sunrise and wait for the bus.  Going back to school is the rhythm of life, as surely as the first crisp scent of fall and the turning of green leaves to gold.  We will soon wake up to the early morning echo of school bands, coaches’ whistles and the smack of shoulder pads.  

Going back to school is an international event.  In Latvia children of all ages, whether starting first grade or a Masters degree, celebrate the start of school with flowers on September 1.  In Ghana, Liberia and Guinea grinning children, eager with anticipation, line up to learn.  Teaching and learning is essential to the human experience. It fills the mind with hope and dreams for the future.

Jesus said “The student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher.” Who we follow as our teacher matters. 

Jesus’ invitation to follow Him is an invitation to each of us to go “back to school” with all the child-like enthusiasm and wonder of children skipping expectantly onto the school yard.   That is the meaning of the word, disciple.  He is the Master Teacher.

I was visiting with my best friend’s seven-year-old granddaughter, a very bright girl entering second grade.  I said, “You are very smart. But it is important as you grow up to be wise.” I asked, “Do you know the difference between being smart and being wise?”  “Sure,” she said, “smart is knowing that 3 + 3 equals 6.  Wise is doing the right thing.”  I think she nailed it.

No person ever lived who was as wise as Jesus.  Jesus concludes the Sermon on the Mount by telling the story of two men who built houses, one on the sand and one on rock.  When the storm came, the house on the sand crumbled and the house built on rock survived.  “Everyone who hears these words of mine and acts on them,” Jesus said, “may be compared to the wise man who built his house upon the rock.”

Monday, August 1, 2016


I recently came across comments from a prominent preacher regarding the deplorable condition of young people.  He complained that they were characterized by “inexperience, indiscretion, immature judgment, uncurbed curiosity, undisciplined appetites and misunderstood passion.”  He went on to say that they despised revered traditions and engaged in “vulgar dances, shameful parties, suggestive songs and obsession with sex.”  Their motto is “try anything once.” 

I found these statements in a book of sermons my wife brought home from one of her excursions to garage sales. The book was published in 1923.  The youth about whom he spoke later survived the Great Depression and led our nation through World War II.

The youth of his day are gone, buried in the graves that populate our cemeteries. A 16-year-old in 1923 would be 109 today. They lived out their life-span, as we all shall do, and four generations of youth have come and gone since.

Every older generation, it seems, assumes the young are on a path to destruction, dragging civilization into the pit.  And every new generation assumes they are unique to all of human history, making discoveries no one has ever known before, especially when it comes to sex.

Sociologists have tried to categorize generations by their common historical context. The generations overlap and are inexact.

Most start with the “Lost Generation,” those born between 1890 and 1915.  They were born as the industrial revolution revved up. They drove the first automobiles and flew the first airplanes. Many of them fought and died in the War to End All Wars.  

“The Greatest Generation” (1910 – 1925) is rapidly passing from the earth.  They fought WW II, the definitive war that still shapes our world. They stormed Normandy, launched the space race and landed a man on the moon.  

“The Silent Generation” (1923-1944) was a smaller group due to the Great Depression and WW II.  But “Silent” seems a misnomer. Many of this generation left their mark: Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, Che Guevara, Robert Kennedy, Elvis Presley, Clint Eastwood and Bernie Sanders.

“Baby Boomers” (1945-1964) have dominated the landscape. They got their name from the “boom” that followed WW II.  They left a wide wake. They were the Hippy generation who later developed PCs that connected the world.  Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Donald Trump were all born in 1946.  Steve Jobs and Bill Gates are also members of this generation.

“Generation X” (1961-1981), also called the “Whatever” or “Neglected” generation, fell between two larger generation groups. Often dismissed in their youth, they have earned a reputation for entrepreneurship. The New York Times more recently called them the “1099 Generation.” In 2002 three out of four companies were started by Gen Xers.  The founders of Facebook and Google are Gen Xers.
“Millennials” (1975-1995) are digital natives, the first generation to grow up with computers and cell phones.  Many describe millennials as being optimistic with a high social consciousness. Bernie Sanders found a strong following among millennials.

It might be too early to tell about “Generation Z” (1995-2015). But we know that social media and the internet are integral to their identity.  They represent 25% of the U.S. population.

Every generation must pass the baton.  Every new generation must run their race.

When the Apostle Paul addressed the youth of his day, he said, “Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity show yourself an example of those who believe.” (1 Timothy 4:12).