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May 29, 2010

A Salute to the Last Men of the Greatest Generation

Years ago, on a business trip to Washington D.C., I visited Arlington National Cemetery and the Iwo Jima Memorial. On the evening I was there, I was fortunate enough to see a special ceremony where marines from the battle were being honored. One account really struck me as it was being read. The citation read that the marine being honored had "with rifle, grenade, bayonet, and eventually fists, valiantly fought off the advancing enemy" until he was one of the last men standing. That description painted a perfect picture for me of a tough, resourceful, and determined man fighting with whatever he had available to the very end. Even after he had fired his last bullet, thrown his last grenade, and buried his bayonet into an attacking enemy, he still defended himself with his bare fists and fought to the end.

I've never experienced anything like the bloody battle of Iwo Jima in World War II. I was in the Air Force at the very end of the Cold War, so all my military "battles" were fought from behind a computer terminal in safe and sunny Florida. Still, I grew up with a WWII veteran as my grandfather and role model and I think some of his spirit rubbed off on me. I should say I hope he rubbed off on me, because like most of the men of his generation, there was much to be admired.

Sadly, we are quickly losing the last members of the World War II generation. As of last count in 2008, there were estimated to be less than 2 million WWII veterans still alive in the US, and we're losing them at a rate of over 1,000 per day. It's estimated that the very last WWII veterans will be gone with in the next ten years.

These are more than cold statistics to me and my family. My grandfather, a Navy gunner who fought in the Pacific, died last November. My wife's father, an Army radio man who fought in the Battle of the Bulge and helped liberate Nazi concentration camps, died two years ago. The picture below was taken of him with a local group of Battle of the Bulge veterans only three years ago. Sadly, I read this year that the same group has suspended their formal meetings because they are down to only four remaining members. We are losing these good men far too quickly.


When the men of that day were called to fight evil in the world, they quickly volunteered and left their families and homes to go fight on the other side of the world. And back then, we didn't just drop smart bombs or launch missiles from the safety of airplane cockpits and ship decks. Our men stormed beaches, parachuted behind enemy lines, and fought the enemy hand to hand.

While the men were gone, the women they left behind not only kept the country and their homes running without help, but they also picked up wrenches and welding torches and made the weapons and equipment that their men needed overseas. Perhaps most admirably of all, when the war was over, the men came home (those fortunate enough to survive) and once again became husbands and fathers and peaceful citizens.

I've been greatly inspired and influenced by the World War II veterans I've been fortunate enough to know. We can learn much about being real men from their example. Like I said, I have not had to fight in a war, as they did, but in my greatest battle in life, I tried to fight with the same resourcefulness and determination as the marine being honored at the Iwo Jima Memorial. In trying to save my first marriage and then to save my sons, I tried to use every available resource and never gave up. My story might have read, "fighting with the aid of counselors, pastors, elders, lawyers, judges, small groups, and eventually nothing but prayer..." In my personal Iwo Jima battle, I've run out of resources and am down to my bare fists of daily intercessory prayer for my sons. But like the marines, sailors, soldiers, and airmen of my grandfather's generation, I won't stop fighting until I'm dead or victorious.

If you are fortunate enough to still know someone from the greatest generation in our country, especially a veteran, I encourage you this Memorial Day weekend to reach out to them, show them your appreciation for who they are and what they've done, and to learn from their example. Take the chance while you still have it.



May 10, 2010

Decide to be Decisive


Being a real man will mean that you develop the ability and willingness to make decisions. Being decisive, when necessary and after appropriate reflection, is an admirable and useful trait in a man. As husbands, fathers, and leaders in our churches and communities, it will be something expected of you.  Your failure to be decisive when called upon can cause you (and others) great difficulties.

Women want a man who’s not afraid to make a decision. Girls like dating a guy who can pick a good restaurant on his own and wives sometimes need their husbands to take responsibility for family decisions. Children find security in knowing that someone’s ultimately in charge in their family, even if they don’t always agree with every decision made. Workers and citizens will follow a decisive leader acting with confidence and commitment. And God calls for men of action who will decide, then go. Every prophet, king, and apostle in the Bible was called to make a decision for God and then move into action with resolve.

So why do so many men flounder and fail to make decisions, even when they are asked to? I believe there are two reasons that account for most of the indecisiveness in men – fear of failure and a desire to be nice.

Most of us men have a deep seated fear of failure. We don’t always admit it and it varies in intensity from man to man, but most of us try pretty hard not to mess up in front of others. Because of this, we often see decisions as yet another opportunity to be wrong. What if I pick Applebee’s and everyone really wanted to go to Friday’s? What if I buy her a necklace and she really wanted a bracelet? What if I tell my daughter that she can’t date that boy with the mohawk and then she rebels even worse?

For Christian men, the desire to be nice and accommodating might paralyze us even more than the fear of being wrong. We’ve been taught in the church not to make waves, to be considerate to all, to put others before ourselves. When we’re married or dating, this gets reinforced even further, as we’re taught and encouraged to love our wives sacrificially, “as Christ loved the church."  Of course, these are all biblical teachings and not wrong in themselves. But many of us nice guys have failed our wives by allowing those sentiments to keep us from being leaders in our relationships. We may think that constantly telling our wives things like “Whatever you want dear” and “I don’t care honey, wherever you want to go” may be nice and thoughtful. In reality, these words of indecision may often leave our precious wives feeling unsure, unprotected, and uncared for. They may end up viewing their own husbands as the type of indecisive, unsure man described in James 1:6-8.
...the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
Think I’m making too much of this? Still not sure what’s wrong with a man letting others decide everything or making no decisions at all? Can’t see how letting your wife make all the important decisions could be anything but undemanding and nice? From my personal experience, I can tell you that there can be a great cost to being indecisive and weak. In large part because of decisions I failed to make, failed to stick to, or failed to make in time, I lost the respect and submission of my first wife, I allowed my sons to go down a path leading to shallow ungodly lives, and I brought misery and heartache upon myself that still burdens me to this day.

So am I telling men to make all the decisions, control everyone around them, and insist on their way all the time? Am I encouraging men to make rash decisions and snap judgments without thinking or seeking other’s guidance? Of course I’m not.

Before a godly man makes any decision of consequence, he should first do all of the following:
Then, after you’ve prayed, thought it through, asked others for advice, and submitted your will to God’s – get off the fence, make a decision, and take action!

And by the way, in case you think you can somehow avoid failure or disappointing others by not making a decision, just remember the Rush song which tells us, “And if you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.”  There’s still a cost to not deciding, since you’re essentially deciding to keep things exactly the same by doing nothing.

The Greek historian Thucydides once considered the courage required to make tough decisions and then to act on them. He wrote “The bravest are surely those who have the clearest vision of what is before them, glory and danger alike, and yet notwithstanding, go out to meet it.”

So Christian men, size up what’s before you, man up and make a decision, then go out and face the world with confidence. Better to be decisive and risk being wrong than to remain ineffective and paralyzed by indecision.