Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Early Wednesday This and That

Earlier this evening, I read a bit of Gretchen Rubin's Forty Ways to Look at Winston Churchill. For anyone who has never read anything about the British leader (or for those who have read a lot about him), this book provides you with a variety of prisms through which you can glimpse him and his significance.

Basically, Rubin has looked at virtually every book written by or about Churchill. She gives forty separate chapters which present the events of his life from widely disparate perspectives.

Was Churchill a military genius or a muddling amateur?

Was he a Victorian imperialist or a wise diplomat?

Was he a great writer or a self-indulgent hobbyist-historian?

Rubin is a good writer. At present, she's working on a similar treatment of John Kennedy. It should be interesting.


After the New York Yankees jumped to an 8 to nothing lead over the Boston Red Sox in the first game of the American League Championship Series on Tuesday night, things changed. The Red Sox, owners of the most potent offensive line-up in the AL, roared back at their rivals. The Yankees held on for the win.

Unlike many sports nuts, I wasn't looking forward to a series between these two Eastern Division teams. They hate each other and there is so much bad blood, fights seem likely to happen. I for one, don't think that fighting is good for a sport. It certainly doesn't make NHL hockey compelling, as ratings and gate receipts attest.

But these are two good teams. My humble prediction: Boston wins in the AL and will face Saint Louis from the National League in the World Series. I think that the Cardinals will win it all. (Note: I could very well be wrong. It happens all the time...just ask my wife.)

More posts on more subjects later, the good Lord willing...

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Prayers Needed

Every day, a small---but growing---band of people from all over the world click on this web site and I am grateful for that.

I would appreciate it if you would take a few moments to pray about the following things...

Please continue to pray for the people of Florida, Alabama, Haiti, Cuba, the Bahamas, and everywhere that has been hit by hurricanes this season. Once catclysmic events like this leave the headlines, we tend to forget about them. But these folks are still trying to rebuild their lives while mourning their dead and grieving other losses. Please pray that God will encourage them.

Please pray that justice and peace will come to the people of Sudan, scene of what the entire world community is calling genocide, rightly so.

Please pray that peace will come to Afghanistan and Iraq.

Please ask God to guide the American people as we select who will be our President over the next four years.

Pray that God will guide Australian Prime Minister John Howard as he prepares to reshuffle his government following his huge victory on Sunday.

At a personal level, I ask you to grant that God will continue to bless the congregation I'm privileged to pastor, Friendship Lutheran Church, with growth in faith, love, unity, outreach, prayer, discipleship, worship of God, and in the numbers of people we reach with the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Also: Please pray that God will guide me in the writing of an essay I've been writing for this site. Tentatively titled, The Hunger, I've been sort of struggling with it. Pray that God will give me the words.

Thanks for reading and thanks for praying!

Friends of God: Who Has Friends

Matthew 18:1-5
(shared with the people of Friendship Church, October 10, 2004)

Who has friends? I mean, who are the kinds of people who make lasting friendships?

When I talk about friends, I’m talking about the person you would call if:

your wife or husband walked out on you,

or a close family member died,

or if you got the promotion you’d always wanted and you needed to celebrate,

or if the deal on the dream house went through.

Friends are soul mates. That’s why no person, no matter how popular, well-known, or well-connected, can have more than a handful of friends in a lifetime. Building real friendships requires too much time, energy, vulnerability, and soul-baring honesty for us to have lots of close friends.

We’re looking at different aspects of friendship as we move toward Friend Day on October 31. My dream---and it’s just my dream, I admit---is that on that day, you and I will welcome 200 people to worship with us. A few years ago, we had 167 people for a Friend Day at the gym of the elementary school where we once worshiped. So, 200 is not an outlandish dream for us this Friend Day, meeting here in this building God has given to us. I hope that you’re prayerfully considering who you’re inviting to be with us on that day.

So, who has friends?

Jesus shows us today that there is a key element of our personalities that must be defeated if you and I are to have and to be friends: Competitiveness, the competitiveness to prove that we’re better or more worthy than others.

Last Sunday night, I saw some of the premiere of a dark television comedy called, Desperate Wives. In one scene, a former fashion model and her high-powered businessman-husband are heading for a wake. He tells her that if so-and-so is there and within earshot, she should mention how much the necklace that she’s wearing cost. “Why don’t I just wear the price tag?” she asks sarcastically. Her husband justifies his request with the fact that the same so-and-so in question had mentioned the price of some big ticket item he’d purchased at the last social gathering, so it was only fair for them to do the same thing now.

It’s hard to make friends if your whole life is built around grinding others into the dirt.

And it isn’t just high-powered businesspeople who do this!

When I was a kid, my mother quit going to elementary school PTA meetings because she was fed up with the crowing of other moms whose primary message in conversations seemed to be, “My kid is great; your kid is a loser.”

You see the same sort of comeptetiveness in those Christmas newsletters people often send with their card each year. Often you can read between the lines and see their real messages, things like: “Suzie got accepted to Princeton and Tommy received the Nobel Peace Prize. What have your loser kids done this year?”

Children on playgrounds are afflicted with this same competitive drive. You'll hear them say: “My dad can beat up your dad. My game system is better than your game system. My pager has more downloadable tones than yours does.”

And on and on it goes. We get so busy trying to portray ourselves, our family, our team, our church, our school, our country as heroes and everyone else as zeroes that we close ourselves off from God and others.

In our Bible lesson, Jesus’ closest followers approach Him. They’ve been having what they probably think of as a deep theological discussion. But it's probably been nothing more than a brag session, like lots of other things that pass for discussions (or even debates). The disciples want Jesus to act as umpire over their dispute.

“Who,” one of them begins (no doubt thinking, Pick me, pick me, pick me!), “is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” In other words: Who’s the biggest, most important, most superlative superhero in God’s everlasting kingdom, Jesus?

Jesus doesn’t answer right away. Instead, our Bible lesson says, “He called a child, whom He put among them, and [then] said, ‘Truly, I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Don’t misunderstand Jesus here. Jesus is not idealizing children. He knows that among a child’s favorite words are, Me, Mine, and No! He isn’t saying that little children are more virtuous or purer than the rest of the human race. He’s saying something else altogether.

A few weeks ago, our soon-to-be-married daughter asked me, “Dad, for all the work and money and heartache that can go with having kids, why do people have families, do you think?” In Jesus’ day, people would say that they had kids to share the work on the family farm or with the business or to have someone to take care of them in their old age. Children were more like economic investments or functional utilities than family members you loved. They had no rights and they were expected, by and large, to keep busy and keep their mouths shut. They had less power than anybody else around.

Jesus told the bragging disciples, “If you want to be great in God’s kingdom, you’ve got to change, turning away from a life style of competitiveness, of always trying to prove yourself.”

He goes on to say, “Whoever becomes humble [before the world] like this child, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. [And] whoever welcomes one such [humble, lowly] child in My Name welcomes Me.”

Getting into God’s kingdom isn’t about anything you and I do. We can’t earn our places in God’s kingdom. We can’t earn forgiveness.

Instead, we enter God’s kingdom when we:

humbly admit that God is bigger than us,

acknowledge that we need Jesus Christ, and

when we open ourselves to God and to others.

I’ve found in my life that by and large, the people who do those three things are also the ones who have friends. And they have friendships that last for eternity!

I’ve read that in a novel by Wallace Stegner called A Shooting Star, two childhood friends, Barbara and Sabrina, reminisce about their experiences at summer camp. Suddenly, Barbara’s children burst into the room each wearing the suits and dresses of adults. Laughing, Sabrina says, “Look at them. That’s the real pleasure of childhood. You can be anybody you want to be. You can be Mama just by wading around in high-heeled shoes and Papa by snipping a mustache off the dust mop. When you grow up you get stuck with yourself.”

One Presbyterian pastor, Thomas Erickson, considers that character’s words and concludes that Sabrina was wrong. “You need to be stuck with yourself,” he says, “only if you think you already know it all. The truth is you can be what God wants you to be if you will humble yourself...”

People don’t need sour-faced Christians telling them how horrible they all are. And this is one preacher who will never tell people that because that's not how people become friends or friends of God.

Instead, people need friends who are followers of Jesus who can honestly say, “I don’t have all the answers to life’s big questions. But I know Who does and I know the One Who can help us to keep on when the questions of life are so big that we don’t think we can keep on.”

The world needs friends of Jesus who love them enough to invite them to have Jesus as their friend too.

Who has friends?

They’re the people who have dropped their competitiveness and stopped trying to be superheroes.

They’re people who own their need of God and of others.

They’re people who have submitted their whole lives to the only real hero there is: the God we know in Jesus Christ.

It’s people like this, Jesus tells us, who live in God’s kingdom. And it’s people like this who have friendships that are here today and forever.

[This series is suggested by a four-session small group study created by the Division for Congregational Ministries of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, called Encourage: Living Faith in Daily Life.]