Sunday, August 30, 2015

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Joe Morgan, my all time favorite Red


Today in Reds history, 1978: Joe Morgan smacks his 200th home run and becomes the first player in history to have 200 homers and 500 stolen bases.
Posted by Cincinnati Reds on Thursday, August 27, 2015

More have died from civilian gun wounds since 1968...

...than have died in all the wars in US history, from all causes. Sobering paragraph from Politifact:
There have been 1,516,863 gun-related deaths since 1968, compared to 1,396,733 cumulative war deaths since the American Revolution. That’s 120,130 more gun deaths than war deaths -- about 9 percent more, or nearly four typical years worth of gun deaths. And that’s using the most generous scholarly estimate of Civil War deaths, the biggest component of American war deaths.

Another word for photoshopping: defamation

This is not a political rant. You can like President and Mrs. Obama or not like them. You can like Obama's policies and philosophy or not. I express no opinions on politics...except to family members and sometimes, friends, and in the voting booth. This post is not about any of that.

What it is about is the manipulation of imagery to misinform, stoke fires, generally get in the way of civil discourse, and defame people.

Yesterday, a friend who undoubtedly did not suspect manipulation on the part of the person who created the image he shared, posted this:



Frankly, to paraphrase Patrick Henry, "I smelt a rat."* For one thing, I couldn't imagine Michelle Obama being so stupid as to play into the hands of those who think she's a radical whacko who hates the United States of America.

Her outfit was unique, one that she likely would have worn on only one patriotic occasion.

So, I googled "michelle obama Veterans Day." I found this image, a still from the news story of a local ABC affiliate from Veterans Day, 2011. It was captured during the playing of the national anthem prior to the first NCAA Carrier Classic basketball game that day. As you can see from the jacket he's wearing below, even President Obama was photoshopped from a different event in the picture above.



This is the full report from which the above still was taken:



The great thing about the Internet is that everyone has access to it and can share all sorts of things. The bad thing about the Internet is that everyone has access to it and can share all sorts of things. even false and defaming things.

The Obamas aren't the only victims of such nonsense, of course. It happens to all kinds of people: Republicans, Democrats, Christians, atheists, Muslims, white people, black people, brown people, yellow people.

But this kind of defamation is always wrong.

And it makes me think: If you have to resort to character assassination to make your point, maybe you don't have a point.

As a Christian, of course, I've been taught that God takes a dim view of defamation. It's a sin. The Eighth Commandment says: "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor."

And as a Lutheran Christian, I'm privileged to be familiar with Martin Luther's explanation of that command from God: "We should fear and love God so that we do not betray, slander, lie, or gossip about our neighbors, but defend them, speak well of them, and put the most charitable construction on all that they do." Even when we disagree with our neighbor.

To the person who created this photoshopped image: You may doubt both Obamas' patriotism, but that doesn't warrant making up "facts" to buttress your doubts.

One last comment: When I think about what the families of public officials and would-be public officials are put through, it's a wonder that anybody runs for political office. Ever.

[By the way, I looked up the investigation of this meme on snopes.com after I wrote the above. It's here.]

*Henry was talking about the Constitution, and he was wrong in his gloomy assessment of the document, which completed America's Revolution, coupling the cause of liberty with the sustaining principle of mutual accountability.

Message in a bottle, yeah

A German woman, Marianne Winkler, on holiday at the German North Sea island of Amrum, has found a message in a bottle.

It came from a marine biologist in Plymouth, England who set that bottle and over a thousand more of them into the North Sea sometime between 1904 and 1906. The researcher, George Parker Bidder, was trying to learn more about "deep sea currents."

Bidder's reward for those who broke the bottles, retrieved the messages they contained, and notified him at the Marine Biological Association of the retrievals, was a shilling. The shilling basically went away in the UK in 1968, then definitively in 1971. But the association was true to Bidder's promise. According to the smithsonianmag.com, "the association found an old one for sale online" and forwarded it to Winkler.

Read the whole thing.

What seems wrong with cable news

Today's events in Virginia were horrible. Their coverage by most cable news outlets--I looked in on CNN, MSNBC, HLN, Fox, and OAN today--brought into view what, to my mind, is one of the cable news industry's biggest faults: Its incessant, exploitative coverage of tragedy.*

Because the channels broadcast twenty-four hours a day, having long ended what used to be called "news cycles," even before the coming of the Internet, the beast of unfilled, advertising revenue-rich time must be fed. The more sensational and horrific the tragedy, the better, as far as the news channels are concerned.

And, it doesn't matter how little new information is surfaced or how trivial it may be, as the hours grind on, it goes on the air. If it bleeds, it not only leads, it stays there.

Even when the cable channels stick to the facts and resist the temptation to report rumors from fear of being beaten to the punch by the competition, the long and obsessive continuation of "coverage" of tragedies, amplifies them, giving them more prominence than the millions of other events--good and bad--that happen every day, more prominence than seems healthy or to the benefit of news-consumers.

Constant repetition of even "straight reporting" of a tragic event amounts to yellow journalism.

And I can't help suspecting that, in ways nobody at the cable channels intend, people with psychological issues, are encouraged to take out their resentments in violent ways when they see how a whole nation can appear to be paralyzed by one sick person's rampage.

I don't want horrible events to be swept under the rug, denied, or ignored. And I certainly want the victims of violence to be honored for the good people that their family and friends experienced them to be.

But I also don't want those who bring us news to ignore what happens in the lives of the 7-billion other human inhabitants of Planet Earth in order to boost their ratings. Or, exploit the victims of violence. Or effectively, for some people in bad places psychologically, make heroes of killers.

*OAN is a straight news operation by day, which I sometimes look in on at breakfast and lunch. The network was not sensationalizing today's events. I've never watched the network's evening programming.


Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Beautiful Night by Paul McCartney

A Verse to Remember

For my 5 by 5 by 5 devotion time (and yes, I am way behind schedule) this morning, I read Colossians, chapter 2. I was so struck my Colossians 2:6-7 that I decided to commit to memorizing it. Now, I pray God will help me to live it.
As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in Him, rooted and built up in Him, established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.
Now I need to check if I got it right. This is from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) translation. 

I mentioned this passage today on Facebook and explained my motivation for memorizing Scripture: "...I've decided that if my memory ever goes, I want some of God's Word to be lodged in [what's left]..."

Monday, August 24, 2015

Confession and Absolution Song

I began composing this song about twenty years ago and finished it as I drove to church for worship on August 16. This completion of songs has never been my forte. That's a confession from me before you read this Confession and Absolution Song. (I have finished some songs over the years. But right now, I have about 180 song fragments recorded on my phone.)

There is a melody for this and all the songs, but since I neither read music nor play it, just the lyrics here for now.

A few years ago, a friend heard a few of my song fragments and encouraged me to finish them. Here's one.

Father, forgive us for all of our sins
Come, Holy Spirit, make us clean within
Through Jesus Christ, we know You're our Friend
Alleluia
Alleluia

A Friend indeed, but also our King
The One to Whom all creation sings
Our needy selves are all we can bring
Alleluia
Alleluia

Now all who call on the name of the Lord
The One Who saints and angels adore
You have new life and life evermore
Alleluia
Alleluia
© 2015, Mark Daniels

God's Word...Nothing More, Nothing Less

[This was shared yesterday during worship with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church, Springboro, Ohio.]

Mark 7:1-13
Sometimes, I’ve thought of compiling a book of common sayings that people attribute to God, Jesus, or the Bible, called Stuff God and the Bible Never Said

There are lots of untrue things people claim come from God. 

Like, “The Lord helps those who help themselves.” In fact, the Bible teaches the exact opposite of that. Psalm 54:4 says: “Surely God is my help; the Lord is the one who sustains me.” 

Another fake Biblical saying goes: “The good die young.” According to Genesis, Methuselah lived to be 969 years old. But it makes no mention of him being an especially bad man. 

Years later, when life expectancies were shortened by the working of sin in the human race, Moses lived to the ripe age of 120 years old. And, Deuteronomy 34:7 says “[Moses] died, yet his eyes were not weak nor his strength gone.” According to the Bible, people die when they die and it has nothing to do with how good they are in the eyes of the world. All human beings are sinners who deserve death. That's the bad news. But as Paul says in Romans 6:23: “...the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” That's the good news. Whether we’re young or old, repentance and faith in Christ give us life, here and, in perfect unmediated fellowship with God, in eternity.

A common falsehood attributed to God these days tells us: “Jesus taught tolerance.” Not true. Jesus taught love. And He lived love. Love and tolerance are not the same thing

This isn’t to say that Christians are supposed to act as moral vigilantes, enforcing God’s moral law. We’re not Muslims. 

But loving a spouse or a friend or a child or a fellow disciple doesn’t mean that you let bad behavior go unchallenged. 

A Christian congregation shouldn’t tolerate false teaching from a preacher, for example. And the reason is very simple: You love the people who will be guided the wrong way by false teaching and you love the one who gives the false teaching. 

We shouldn’t even be tolerant of sin within ourselves. Love of God should compel us each day to come to Christ, seeking awareness of our sins, forgiveness for those sins, and the Holy Spirit’s power to overcome the temptation to repeat them. [See here.]

What all these sayings falsely attributed to God have in common is that they reflect a desire to put human thoughts and human ideas into the mind and mouth of God. They’re a human effort to cut God down to manageable, controllable, understandable human scale. We attempt to evade God’s Lordship over our lives by claiming that these human thoughts come from God, that God is our co-conspirator in believing in and doing the exact opposite of what God, the Creator and King of the universe, has revealed to be His will.

This was the core problem with the Pharisees. We run into them at the very beginning of today’s gospel lesson, Mark 7:1-13. We’re told: “The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus…” The Pharisees were in first century Judea, at the time Jesus walked on the earth, and for several centuries after His resurrection, a sect of Judaism. Pharisaism was the biggest movement in Judaism at that time.

Despite claiming great devotion to God and to God’s Word, the Pharisees’ teachings really did forget God and God’s Word. They spun off pious-sounding falsehoods like the ones I would include in my imaginary book, assuring themselves that by keeping these laws, they would be too good for God to keep out of His kingdom. And in the meantime, they would crush others less knowledgeable of their arcane rules under layers of humanly-created laws, allowing the Pharisees to feel superior and in control.

We see all this in what comes next in our gospel lesson. Verses 2 to 5: “[The Pharisees and teachers of the law] saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.) So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, ‘Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?’”

Let’s be clear. This is not about hygiene. The Pharisees had created a series of laws that existed as an oral tradition in Jesus’ day and which, 200 years later, were gathered in a book called The Mishnah. Among the laws they made up was one based on ritual laws for the cleansing of hands by priests serving in the temple found in Deuteronomy and Leviticus. But the Pharisees taught, and many Jews unfamiliar with the Bible thought, that every Jew had to engage in ritual washing before every meal. 

The Pharisees put human tradition on the same level as the revealed Word of God. In fact, they really don’t claim to do anything other than that when they ask Jesus: “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders…?”

No matter how well-intentioned, whenever we equate human traditions, human thoughts, or human wisdom to God’s revealed will and Word, we stray from God, we lie about God

And this is true whether it’s done by the legalistic Christian who says you can’t dance, play cards, or drink beer (which would kill Lutherans), or it’s done by what we call antinomians, the loosey goosey Christians who say that God’s moral law is outmoded, so people don’t have to repent for shacking up, telling white lies, or approving of same sex marriage in the Church. 

All of this adding to and taking away from the Word of God is something people do in order to take control of their lives, others' lives, and this world. But it’s a foolish effort

As God reminds us in Isaiah 45:5: “I am the Lord, and there is no other; apart from me there is no God.” 

And just in case we’re inclined to replace our wisdom for that of God, God tells us: “There is a way that seems right to a man,  but its end is the way to death.” [Proverbs 16:25] 

As I’ve often told my Catechism students through the years, “If God and I disagree, guess who needs to change his mind?” 

Look at the first part of Jesus’ reply to the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law. He quotes Isaiah 29:13 in verses 6 to 8: ““Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’ You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.’” 

For all their scrupulous adherence to religious traditions, Jesus was saying, the Pharisees were really far away from God. 

That must have been a jarring thing for people who were in the temple all the time and thought of themselves as super-believers. 

They have their contemporary counterparts. In his book, Evangelism That Works, George Barna, a Christian who is a sociologist and student of church and societal trends, claims that half of those who attend worship at Protestant churches on Sunday mornings have never intentionally accepted Christ as their God and King. 

I’m not talking altar calls here; I’m talking intentional surrender to Christ. Beyond the ritual. Beyond the recitation of the Creed or the Lord’s Prayer or verses from Scripture, as wonderful and foundational as that all is. 

Surrender entails following the God we know in Jesus Christ, in tough times and easy, through life and through death. Barna says that half of all churchgoing Christians are committed to that, meaning that the glass is half full. But shockingly, it's also half empty. 

Someone has said that the gospel ”is not just a gift to be received, but a new leader to follow.” The Pharisees weren’t following the God you and I are privileged to know through Jesus. They were following human rules which they were attributing to God. That left them far from God.

There is good news in all of this for us today, though! 

We don’t need to be in ignorance about the will of God for our lives. And we don’t, as much of the lies attributed to God would have us believe, have to follow a weak God Who surrenders to us or our adherence to rules or our traditions or wisdom

We can know God through His Word, the sacraments, and the fellowship of believers. 

We can know that we follow the living God Who made the universe Who has entered our world and told us in John 6:29: ““The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” (If you had your Bibles with you today, I would urge you to underline that passage.) 

You don’t have to follow a human rule book. You have to follow the Jesus testified to on the pages of the Bible.

This past week, I had a conversation with a man who isn’t a member of our congregation, who lives in this community. He asked about our building situation. He seemed baffled that I wasn’t worried. After a while, he said, “I guess you’re trusting in God.” 

I am. I’m certain that God will take care of us, first of all, because God sent His Son Jesus to die and rise in order to save those who dare to believe in Him. And I’m certain too, because of my experiences and your experiences with God’s faithfulness. We know, as God taught Abraham centuries ago, that God will provide for His people. 

No matter how many ways people try to distort the Word and the will of God, irrespective of how many things people claim that God and the Bible say, we know and we follow the God revealed for all as the way, the truth, and the life in Jesus Christ. He alone is true. We can say, with Psalm 62:6, “Truly [God] is my rock and salvation [not my performance, not my reasoning, not my supposed goodness, not my adherence to humanly-created religious rules or expectations, but God]; He is my fortress; I shall not be shaken.” Amen


Thursday, August 20, 2015

Praying

For President Carter.

Philippians 4:13 (a 5 by 5 by 5 Reflection)

Today’s 5 by 5 by 5 reading was Philippians 4. Philippians 4:13 is an obvious focus: “I can do all things through Him [the Lord] Who strengthens me.”


I have often used this verse and heard this verse used to encourage Christians, including myself, that Christ can take us through adversity. I still think that’s an appropriate reading and one that’s true to the context in which it falls.


But it’s interesting to consider that context. Paul is writing to the Christian church at Philippi. This church seems to have its spiritual/faith life act together and Paul thanks them and rejoices in the Lord for what he sees as a revived concern and material support for him by the Philippian Christians.


But then, he says: “Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have.” Then he presents these couplets:

“I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty.

“...I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need.”

That’s when he says: “I can do all things through Him [the Lord] Who strengthens me.”


Paul says that there’s a secret not only in knowing how to get through circumstances like having little and being hungry, but also a secret to knowing how to get through having plenty and being well-fed.


And, it seems to be the same secret: trusting in the Lord to help us endure “in all things.”

It seems to me that Paul is saying that there are peculiar spiritual dangers both in plenty and in  poverty. Each circumstance and every other in between have the potential to lure us away from dependence on the God Who “is the giver of every good and perfect gift,” tempting us to go our own way (James 1:17; Judges 17:6; 21:25).

In poverty, we may be tempted to give up on God’s will to provide and be prone to pursuing other gods.

In wealth, we may be tempted to give up on God because our plenty deludes us into thinking that it’s all ours by birthright or because we’ve worked so hard for it. We or our achievements or our money can become our gods.


This can probably also apply to the other ways in life in which we can experience plenty or need: happiness or its lack in our relationships; fulfillment or its lack in our careers; good or poor health; anger or acceptance toward our physical health; and so on.


At times, I seem to fluctuate between resentment and smugness toward God, life, and other people. And, in it all, God can be forgotten, blamed, or consigned to spectator status.


But Paul says that he has “learned to be content with whatever I have.” This isn’t resignation or fatalism. In verse 8, he tells the Philippian Christians: “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

I love the way that entire verse is phrased! Being content wherever you are at a particular moment does not mean resignation to the circumstance always remaining the same. Instead, Paul says not to worry about it. Don’t stew. Don’t obsess over what you perceive yourself to lack. (In fact, we’re to occupy our minds with other thoughts and occupy our lives with the activities of disciples, he says in verses 8-9.) Instead, take all your requests to God, take your vision of how your life or the lives of those for whom you pray could be better…”let your requests be made known to God.” Do this with “thanksgiving,” with thankfulness for how God has already blessed believers, especially in the forgiveness of our sins and in the promise of our resurrection through our faith in Christ. Paul says that when we do this, even as we still lack the the things for which we pray, God’s peace, a state of being that is insusceptible to scientific analysis, will fill us and keep us close to Christ, through Whom we have life and peace and hope.


There are many things for which I pray. I find that as I pray for them with an attitude of thankfulness and praise, I can live with their lack. Maybe God will one day teach me that some of the things I pray for are things that I don’t need; He’s done that with me in the past. But maybe, as I learn to be content with the incredible blessings God has already given to me, I will be spiritually ready to handle the things for which I pray. I can receive them with thankfulness, knowing Who has given them and that these blessings aren’t mine because I deserve them, or because I’ve earned them, or because I’ve acquired them by the force of my effort or my personality. They are gifts from God alone.


In the meantime, I can be content and thankful for being a child of God, happy to be set free from sin and death through Christ, thankful that in all circumstances, God empowers me to do all things, including loving God, loving and serving my neighbor, and sharing Christ with those who need Him as much as I do.


God, even as I make my requests known to You, help me to be content in the circumstance in which I find myself and to be about the mission You have given all who trust in Christ: loving God, loving others, serving in Christ’s Name, making disciples. In Christ I pray. Amen


Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Bad by U2



"If I could, through myself, set your spirit free
"I'd lead your heart away, see you break, break away
"Into the light and to the day."