Saturday, November 27, 2004

Pepsi Isn't Against Our Being "Under God"

A friend sent an email to me, another forward. It claimed that Pepsi had printed the Pledge of Allegiance on the sides of its cans, but had excised the words, "under God." The forward concluded with a call for boycotting Pepsi. It smelled like an urban legend to me and sure enough, the story is a complete fabrication.

Coming Up...

The next book about which I intend to write some reflections is Feeding Your Appetites: Take Control of What's Controlling You by Stephen Arterburn and Dr. Debra Cherry. This straightforward book, through which I've gotten about half-way, is a Christian look at how we can derive the greatest good from God-implanted desires and not let them take control of us.

After that, reflections on Joseph Ellis' new biography of George Washington, His Excellency, a book I'm enjoying a lot.

My Take on 'Imperial Hubris'

Michael Scheuer, the "Anonymous" who has authored Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror, is an equal-opportunity critic whose condescending dismissals of almost everyone he writes about undermines what appears to be a basically serious and important look at America's war with al Qaeda. Among those Scheuer accuses of "moral cowardice," "hubris," or general incompetence are the Clinton Administration, the second Bush Administration, the upper echelons of the CIA, the FBI, America's general staff, and others I may have forgotten.

In Scheuer's universe, it seems, almost everyone in the US government, but him, has been wrong about the nature of the threat posed by al Qaeda and the appropriate American response to it.

It isn't that Scheuer doesn't possess credentials for a thorough understanding of these issues. From 1996 to 1999, he headed the task force that analyzed the bin Laden-group for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). He worked within the agency for twenty years.

But the attitude with which Scheuer writes reads like "sour grapes," an impression reinforced by his recent decision to leave the agency and officially "out" himself as Anonymous, author of this book and Through Our Enemies' Eyes: Osama bin Laden, Radical Islam, and the Future of America.

The key points of this book seem to boil down to a few:
That bin Laden and crew appeal to a mainstream Islamic notion, the idea that when Islamic lands or institutions are threatened, it's legitimate for Muslims to engage in what Scheuer calls defensive jihad. By pinning their murderous campaign to what is seen as a legitimate tenet of the Islamic faith, al Qaeda gains legitimacy in the Muslim world.

That America's response to the attacks of September 11, 2001 have been misdirected, half-hearted, and ineffectual. Scheuer believes that, in a criticism that echoes the very one made by President Bush of the position taken by John Kerry in the recent election, the Bush Administration has been far too inclined to approach bin Laden's group as terrorists guilty of violating domestic law. But, Scheuer insists, America isn't chasing a latter-day Mafia; it's at war with al Qaeda.

That al Qaeda is more than a group of terrorists. While the group clearly is not a sovereign nation, it does exercise much of the power that such nations possess.

That the Bush Administration's decision to go to war in Iraq was irrelevant to the war with al Qaeda and in fact, created new opportunities for al Qaeda and aligned groups.

That the current government's declared intention of establishing US-style democracies in Muslim and Arab nations runs contrary to the foreign policy traditions established by George Washington while he was President and that of perhaps America's most successful secretary of state, John Quincy Adams, who served under President James Monroe. The Bush Administration's policies, Scheuer suggests, are more akin to those of Democrat Woodrow Wilson. (Scheuer dismisses Wilson, too, calling him "inane.")
Whether one agrees with Scheuer or not, his points are worthy of examination due to his credentials. They are harmed because so often, he seems like the smartest kid in the class who, with a smirk on his face, is certain that he knows it all and isn't averse to reminding you of it.

Perhaps the most useful element of the book is its last chapter in which Scheuer presents what he calls "a few suggestions for debate." Some are obvious. Some are provocative. He suggests "guidelines for consideration" in debates regarding our approach to the war with al Qaeda:
  1. Relax, it's only a war, unique like all others
  2. Stop celebrating death and defeat (i.e., constant comemorations of 9/11)
  3. Accept that we are hated, not misunderstood (i.e., by many in the Muslim world)
  4. Get Used to and Good at Killing (this is chilling to me!)
  5. Cant [politically correct cliches] will kill us
  6. Professional soldiers are paid to die
  7. Others will not do our dirty work
  8. Do the checkables [information that can be confirmed] and demand expertise
  9. Do not deal with bin Laden as a terrorist [rather, as the head of a pseudo government that can inflict great harm against the world]
  10. Demand energy self-sufficiency
  11. End the Fifth Column of senior military and intelligence retirees
  12. Recognize that much of Islam is at war with America
  13. A time for discriminant international involvement
Whether one agrees with Scheuer or not, his book is something that I believe all thoughtful Americans should read. Along with the 9/11 Commission's report, it can help us to view and make decisions about events in our world with greater understanding. At this point in international history, that's something that all of us need, I think.

If you've read this book, I truly would appreciate your take on it.

Advent Begins Tomorrow

My colleague, Pastor Glen VanderKloot, from Peace Lutheran Church of Springfield, Illinois, sent out this edition of his emailed inspirations today. As we prepare for the beginning of the season of Advent, it's worth reading...

+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + +

Tomorrow is the beginning of Advent. Advent is the four weeks before Christmas
when we prepare for Jesus. Some people have an Advent calendar with small
doors they open each day until Christmas Eve. Sometimes there are pictures and
Bible verses behind the doors, sometimes a treat. The Advent wreath is another
way we celebrate the season. Each Sunday during Advent we light another candle
on the Advent wreath. But why do we do these things?

Advent begins of the Sunday nearest November 30 includes four Sundays. This
year Advent begins on November 28 and lasts 27 days.

The word Advent means "the coming". Since the fourth century when Advent was a
time to prepare for baptism to the Middle Ages when Advent became a time to
prepare for the second coming of Jesus, Advent has been and still is a time of
spiritual reflection and anticipation.

Today Christians still view Advent as a season to prepare for the second coming
of Jesus. Surprisingly, it is only since the 1900's that Advent has come to
be a time of anticipating the Nativity on Christmas Day.

The Advent wreath is just one symbol of the season. While no one is exactly
sure how it began, it is thought that they began with pre-Christian people who
lit candles as a sign of hope in the long dark winters. In the Middle Ages,
the Christians adapted this tradition and used Advent Wreaths as part of their
spiritual preparation for Christmas. St. John tells us that Jesus is the light
that has come into the world. By the 1600's both the Lutherans and Roman
Catholics had formal practices surrounding the Advent wreath.

The Advent wreath is a circle that represents the never-ending love of God. It
can be decorated in many ways. Often the branches of evergreens are used which
remind us that with Jesus we will have eternal life. The four candles
represent the four weeks of Advent. Some churches use three purple and one
pink candle while others use all blue. There can also be a white candle in the
center that is lit on Christmas Eve for Jesus.

No matter how a wreath is decorated or the color of the candles, we light it
each Sunday to remind us to prepare the way because Jesus is coming.

The light has come into the world,
and people who do evil things are judged guilty
because they love the dark more than the light.
People who do evil hate the light and won't come to the light,
because it clearly shows what they have done.
But everyone who lives by the truth will come to the light,
because they want others to know that God is really
the one doing what they do.
John 3:19-21 Contemporary English


Dear God, thank you for sending your Son, Jesus,
and for things like Advent wreaths that help remind us
what Christmas is all about. Amen

A Great Super Bowl Halftime Show in the Works!

The last Super Bowl show I actually watched was #4, when the Kansas City Chiefs defeated the Minnesota Vikings, confirming what the previous bowl had hinted at: that the old AFL was on a parity with the NFL. I just lost interest in pro football at that time and nothing has re-sparked it since.

But when Super Bowl XXXVI included Paul McCartney, I made a point of tuning in when I guessed he would be on. I guessed right. Surrounding him with inane cheerleaders as Macca prepared to sing the anthemic, Freedom, was a bit silly. But it was good to see the world's most popular and, I think, most accomplished, musician perform at what has become a kind of world celebration.

In the wake of last year's fiasco, the NFL appears to be intent on "cleaning up its act," offering a show not by shallow, would-be musicians like those who headlined last year's halftime program, and to instead, employ McCartney's massive talents. While I can't imagine watching the game, I will check the telly from time to time, watching for Macca's performance.

Below is the press release I received three days ago from McCartney's organization:


Legendary rocker PAUL McCARTNEY will perform in the Ameriquest Mortgage Super Bowl XXXIX Halftime Show on FOX at ALLTEL Stadium in Jacksonville, Florida on Sunday, February 6, the NFL announced today.

“We are extremely pleased to work again with Paul McCartney, one of the greatest musicians of our time, to create a memorable show,” said Steve Bornstein, the NFL’s executive vice president of media.

Added Bornstein, who will oversee the show for the NFL, “As one of the world’s most beloved artists and incomparable live entertainers, Paul McCartney will deliver an inspirational performance.”

"There's nothing bigger then being asked to perform at the Super Bowl," said McCartney. "We're looking forward to rocking the millions at home and in the stadium."

"We're thrilled Sir Paul McCartney has agreed to perform at halftime of Super Bowl XXXIX," said FOX Sports Chairman David Hill. "He is the world's most influential rock artist, and his music has been part of our culture for 30 years. He, more than any other musician, lives up to this year's Super Bowl theme of Building Bridges. His music bridges generations, countries, cultures and musical genres. I'm also sure that the duet Paul performed with Terry Bradshaw at Super Bowl XXXVI was such a major event, that he couldn't wait to reunite with Terry in Jacksonville."

This will be McCartney’s second Super Bowl appearance. He provided a memorable pre-game performance at Super Bowl XXXVI in New Orleans in 2002, the first Super Bowl after the tragic events of September 11.

As the climax to the pregame show and immediately prior to the singing of the two traditional anthems “America The Beautiful” and “The Star-Spangled Banner”, McCartney performed “Freedom,” a new anthem reflecting the spirit of freedom.

Watched by a record 144.4 million viewers in the U.S. last year, the Super Bowl is annually the nation’s highest-rated TV program and the most-watched single-day sporting event. The game also will be broadcast in more than 200 countries worldwide. Game time is 6 p.m. ET.

Emmy-Award winning Don Mischer Productions will produce the Ameriquest Mortgage Super Bowl XXXIX Halftime Show starring Paul McCartney.

Friday, November 26, 2004

Friday Night This and That

Rachel Barenblat, the Velveteen Rabbi, has an interesting post on her multi-cultural Thanksgiving celebration and the happy challenge that presented to her when asked to give thanks. She's a very good writer.


Rob Asghar (AKA The Dime Store Guru) published an interesting commentary in The Jordan Times about life for immigrant Americans in the so-called "blue states," those that John Kerry won in the most recent election. His web site is also worth reading.


Havel Kills Chances of Becoming UN Secretary General in Taiwan

Just as pundits and bloggers around the country were building up a head of steam behind the notion of replacing current United Nations secretary general Kofi Annan with former Czechoslovakian president, Vaclev Havel, Havel dealt a lethal blow to the prospect.

Havel appeared in Taiwan, where he opined that that country ought to be admitted into the UN. While Havel is a great and courageous man and the notion of welcoming Taiwan to the United Nations may have merit, the idea and the person who proposes it would incur the opposition of two very important players: the Republic of China and the Bush Administration. The former, of course, regards the Taiwanese regime as an illegitimate government exercising illegal authority over Chinese territory.

US government policy has long held that the Beijing government is the legitimate one for all of China, including Taiwan, while protecting the island country from any attack by the Chinese. The Bush Administration will not be anxious to retreat from that position. The ambiguity of it has been sufficient to stave off Chinese attack while the US develops ties with the mainland.

Meanwhile, it appears to me that one international statesman stands out as a great candidate for secretary general should the UN decide to replace Annan. I wrote Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit about this:
Vaclev Havel is a great man. But his indelicate suggestion that Taiwan be admitted as a member state of the UN will not only incur the wrath of China, but also be one reason the Bush Administration would offer to oppose his election as UN Secretary General. One doesn't have to disagree with Havel on this point; those are simply the hard political realities.

The UNSCAM scandal only underscores the credentials of another international figure for the position. After apartheid was dismantled in South Africa, it was Desmond Tutu who led the nation to justice and reconciliation. His courage is equal to that of Havel as is his commitment to democracy.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Some Comments Triggered by Rather Announcement Off-Base

Reaction by America's political right has been gleeful with the news that CBS News anchor Dan Rather plans to step down from that post in March. Whether conservative pundits are justified in their feeling that Rather is biased (pro-left, anti-right), I simply can't say because I haven't watched the CBS Evening News in something like twenty years. Literally, Walter Cronkite left and I became a Tom Brokaw-viewer.

But one recurring aspect of some of those gleeful conservative responses to Rather's announcement has really bothered me. I've seen repeated mention made of his age (73) and of the advanced years of his CBS colleagues, always in condescending terms. They imply that the ages of CBS's top newspeople is grounds for dismissing their work. One prominent youngish blogger even suggested that it was strange for Rather to have quoted Bob Dylan twice in recent public statements, as though a septuagenarian had no right to quote a singer-songwriter about ten years his junior. (I wonder what this guy would have said when my seventy-five year old mother-in-law told me this morning that she likes U2?) One prominent conservative commentator displayed a similar hipper-than-thou-because-you're-older-than-I-am attitude about Rather on one of the news networks last evening.

I've seen this attitude before. It's precisely the one my generation displayed when, back in the Vietnam War-era, we sang along with the Who, "I hope I die before I get old." We disdained the old and were sure that we could do a lot better without them, thank you very much.

Well, two original members of the Who did die before they grew old. The two surviving members, Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey, on the brink of senior citizens' status, are soon to go back to a recording studio and produce a new LP. I assume that they're doing so because they believe that they still have something to say (and product to sell) even now.

And there's a good chance that they do. Assuming that we actually pay attention to the lessons our life's successes and failures afford, we really do gain wisdom with the passing of years. As we age, it's possible for us to learn, change, grow, adapt, and have lessons of value to pass along to others.

I find it ironic that young conservatives have been so quick to attack Rather and his CBS colleagues due to their age because just a few months ago, many of these same commentators were celebrating the life, wisdom, and contributions of the oldest man ever to serve as President, Ronald Reagan.

The young have vital contributions to make to our world---new ideas (or perhaps, recycled old ones worthy of another try), fresh energy, different sensibilities.

But middle-aged and elderly persons also have some things to share. In world seeing the elevation of average life expectancies and increases in years of average activity and mobility, it's silly to dismiss a person simply because they've attained what we consider an advanced age.

It's more than silly; it's flat-out wrong!

Besides that, it's shameful to deny our elders our respect simply because they're our elders.

Dan Rather may very well be a biased liberal journalist. But if he is, that's got nothing to do with his age. As his critics assess and criticize his career, his age should have no bearing on what they say.

Of Salvation Army and Target

You may know all about Target's decision to not allow the Salvation Army to collect donations at their store locations. If not, author, radio host, and blogger Hugh Hewitt has been covering the story well. You might also want to check out these two Target boycott groups' sites: and

I love Target stores. But this is a bad decision on their part, I believe. Hopefully, the concern expressed by people across the country will cause them to reverse it.

Take a Virtual Trip with Virtual Doug

Today, I happened upon the blog of Virtual Doug. A Vietnam veteran, he will soon be returning to that country to teach English. In simple, straightforward, and compelling prose, Doug journals his preparations. I really like this site.

A Proposal for Stretching Thanksgiving Out

Michael Main has a fun suggestion in his post today for celebrating Thanksgiving one day early. Doing so, he said, helps Thanksgiving travelers to enjoy safer, less congested highways. And, those who do so--as his wife Amy and he do each year--are more rested and ready to face the shopping madness that is Black Friday.

Of course, if the idea catches on, all its vaunted advantages would vanish, meaning that we'd have to start celebrating Thanksgiving two days in advance. Hmmmm. If we play our cards right, we could could just take the year off.

Pray for the People of Ukraine!

Tulip Girl has this wonderful post, a message from her friend Lena in Ukraine. The people there are striving to throw off the mantle of oppression. Please pray for them, that God will keep them safe, that God will thwart the schemes of Soviet-style pols and thugs, and that Ukraine will be truly free.

Incidentally, when we consider the events in Ukraine, it gives us one more set of things to be thankful for in the US today: That we live in a free country where elections may not be perfectly administered, but are clean and fair.

The Key to Thankfulness, Part 2

Earlier today, I wrote a bit about that incident from Jesus' life on earth that preachers most often use as the basis of their Thanksgiving Eve sermons: Luke 17:11-19.

In it, Jesus gives cleansing and restoration to ten lepers. But only one thanks Him. Like the others, that one had been en route to a priest in Jerusalem, as Jesus had instructed, when he noted that his leprosy was gone. He went back to Jesus, praising God and thanking Jesus as he lay at Jesus' feet. After that, we're told:
Then Jesus asked, "Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?" Then He said to him, "Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well."
I always found Jesus' words to this man curious. Jesus tells this one former leper that His faith has made Him well. But Jesus Himself has just said that all ten lepers were cleansed. And as we saw in my post of earlier today, all ten of these lepers had demonstrated sufficient faith in Jesus and His miracle-working powers to cry out for His help. Furthermore, we have no indication that Jesus has rescinded the miracle He's worked in these ten lives. All ten are still free of their leprosy apparently. So, what gives?

A good principle for understanding difficult passages of the Bible is one introduced by Martin Luther: We need to let Scripture interpret Scripture. That means that we don't irresponsibly isolate passages of Scripture without respect to the witness of the entire Bible.

When I was considering what was up in this passage a few years back, I remembered another one: John 5:1-18. There, Jesus performs another healing miracle. He gives a paralyzed man the ability to use his legs.

Because Jesus performs this miracle on a Sabbath Day, He incurs the anger of religious authorities. Apparently, they thought it was okay to perform loving acts on any day but the Sabbath. (Actually, they saw Jesus' feat as work, a no-no for Sabbath days.)

So, they begin to grill the healed man about who exactly this Sabbath-violator was. He wasn't sure.

Later, Jesus approaches the man and tells him:
"See, you have been made well! Do not sin any more, so that nothing worse happens to you." (John 5:14)
Now, to me, that's a telling statement on Jesus' part. According to John, the chronicler of this incident, the once-paralyzed man had been lame for thirty-eight years. It's hard to imagine anything worse than that. But Jesus seems to say that there is something far worse. It's to unrepentantly violate God's will for our lives and thereby destroy our relationship with Him. It's to turn from God and live life according to our own terms and selfish whims and desires and so, to be separated from God, from life, hope, peace.

This, I think, what underlay Jesus' statement to the thankful former leper in Luke 17: "Your faith has made you well." The other nine one-time lepers were physically healed. But only one had the faith to see Jesus as the God and Lord of life and eternity. He was well because, through Jesus, He would be with God forever.

There are lots of things for which human beings can be thankful. But if we've let Christ's Lordship of love into the center of our lives, that's the greatest source of thanksgiving we can have. With Him, we know that we're well...forever!

[I'm not a big hymn guy, but the lyrics of It is Well with My Soul capture Jesus' words well, I think.]

If Annan is Out at the UN, Who Should Replace Him? Havel? Tutu?

Dishes done, kitchen cleaned up, more of this and that...

Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit has been pressing the case for Vaclev Havel as the next UN Secretary General. Others have taken up the call. Havel is an interesting suggestion, but I have another. If Kofi Annan truly is on his way out, here are my thoughts on those who tout President Clinton for the SG position and my alternative to Havel.

I agree that under current circumstances the chances of Bill Clinton becoming Secretary General range from slim to none. One reason clearly is that as long as the US remains the prevailing superpower of the world, no American will be selected as SG. I can't say that this is a bad idea. US interests are too far-flung, our power too great, and our influence too pervasive for the international community to entrust the SG position to one of our number.

Furthermore, the UN will want to stay free of domestic US politics. With Mr. Clinton's wife likely to make a bid for the presidency (or to at least be touted for the office), I don't see the international community wanting him as SG. I also think that the US would squelch such a move.

Vaclev Havel is an interesting possibility.

Others might include former Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Particularly in light of the recent scandal regarding the sexual misconduct of members of UN peacekeepers in Africa, Tutu could be a great choice. In addition to being a courageous Nobel Peace Prize laureate, he is a man with a reputation beyond reproach. His work as leader of reconciliation in South Africa following the dismantling of apartheid marks him as a notable statesman.

While Tutu is of a more advanced age than Havel, he might serve a helpful interim term at the UN, helping to restore its integrity and reputation.

Thanksgiving This and That

Once again, blogger Mark Roberts has hit a home run. His series on Thanksgiving is worth reading and (Dare I say it?) digesting on this Thanksgiving Day.


Since I am inept both as a cook and handyperson, I have a few hours of alone-time right now. I'm in charge of Thanksgiving, Easter, and Christmas feast clean-ups each year, which suits me just fine.

As a pastor, so little of my work is measurable. I produce few widgets. That's why I enjoy things like cleaning the house, doing the dishes, and mowing the lawn. Once those tasks are completed, you can see it.

Right now, most of my extended family has left here for my brother-in-law's place. He owns a double on the Kentucky side of the Ohio River. My brother-in-law occupies the second-floor unit and spent several years transforming it, restoring it to its original beauty while adding some modern accoutrements. Recently, a tenant left and b-i-l has been working hard to get the place ready to rent. There is painting and some other things to do.

I'm a lousy painter. So much so that a number of years ago, after botching an unbotchable job in a bath room, my wife forbade me from ever picking up a paint brush again. Some suspect me of pulling a Tom Sawyer. But I can assure you that I am helpless when it comes to painting or any other handy task.

So, I'm left to the dirty dishes and, for occasional breaks, the computer.

How do you divide responsibilities when it comes to family feasts?


Our almost twenty-year-old daughter suggested that after our Thanksgiving prayers, we go around to each celebrant and ask them to name the things for which they are most thankful. Having been the one to offer the prayers, I explained that I had already named most of my greatest sources of gratitude: new life from Jesus Christ, our extended family, the safety of all who'd arrived today, our wonderful country, and the food on our table. (Lots of food on the table today!) But when asked, I said that among the things for which I am most thankful is that my wife has stuck with me for thirty years. I don't deserve the wonderful marriage we enjoy, but God decided to bless me anyway. (That's called grace.)

For you Americans, what are some of your Thanksgiving customs? (Most of the hits I've had on this site today have been from Europe. Welcome to all!)

And what are some of the things for which you're most thankful today? (That's for everybody!)


Thanksgiving Day always represents the official kickoff of our family's Christmas celebrations. We do that, in part, by putting a bunch of Christmas CDs in the rack and set the stereo for random play.

This year, we bought two of those special Christmas collections that retailers sometimes offer. They're both really good.

One is the Hallmark release, A Christmas Album by James Taylor. There isn't a bad cut on the whole LP. I especially like his duet with Natalie Cole on 'Baby, It's Cold Outside' and an interesting arrangement of 'Jingle Bells.' Taylor's presentation of 'Go Tell it on the Mountain' is fabulous.

The other collection, sold at The White Barn Candle Company and Bath and Body Works is called, The Perfect Christmas. This is a two-CD set which, like the Taylor CD, is a mix of what are commonly referred to as sacred and secular Christmas music. (Although I chafe a bit at those categorizations.) Cuts from many artists are featured. Bing Crosby, Ringo Starr (singing a song with his Roundheads that was originally composed and recorded by all the Beatles as their annual Christmas greeting record for members of their fan club), B.B. King, Shania Twain, Jewel, Barenaked Ladies, Louis Armstrong, Sting, and others are represented here.

Those two CDs join perennial favorites of our family. Among them: Amy Grant's 1983 release, A Christmas Album and Our Christmas, a collection of interestingly arranged Christmas songs from Michael W. Smith, Al Green, David Meece, Bryan Duncan, Grant, Sandi Patty, First Call, Mylon LeFevre, Kim Hill, Phil Keaggy, Russ Taff, and Roberta Flack.


Okay, it's back to my clean-up operations. I hope to write more about the thankful Samaritan from Luke 17 later today.

The Key to Thankfulness

A popular passage of Scripture used in Thanksgiving Eve worship services across America tells the story of Jesus' encounter with ten lepers.

In those days and for many centuries afterward, lepers were forced to live in "colonies" apart from the rest of society. If, by some unexplained miracle or phenomenon, they experienced healing, they could be restored to society---to family, friends, and daily work. (Ironically, that list of family, friends, and daily work is among the things people most often name as reasons to be thankful on Thanksgiving Day.)

As Jesus approached a village, there were ten lepers who neared Him. "Keeping their distance," they cried to Jesus. His reputation as a healer had preceded Jesus. "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!" Desperate for healing, they begged Him for help.

As was almost always the case, Jesus was calmly understated in His response. "Go and show yourselves to the priest," He said.

Regulations in the Old Testament's book of Leviticus, chapter 14, said that once lepers thought themselves healed, they needed to go to a priest in Jerusalem to have their restored condition officially certified. Jesus' simple directive to the lepers meant that they would soon be healed and could go back to the lives they so desperately missed.

Naturally, one would expect, in reading the unfolding of this incident, that it could be titled something like Ten Thankful People. But this is what we're told:
And as they went, they were made clean. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus' feet and thanked Him. [Then comes the coup de grace.] And he was a Samaritan. [Samaritans were hated by Jesus' fellow Judeans, tagged with reputations as subhuman, irreligious, evil people.]
One person was thankful. Why is that?

I have a theory.

One of the two books which, apart from the Bible, has had the greatest impact on my life is Ole Hallesby's Prayer. (The other is C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity.) Early in his book, Hallesby compares prayer to a common treatment for tuberculosis back in the 1930s, when he wrote. Patients would be placed in the warmth and glow of the sun. Nothing doctors or medical personnel did seemed to matter much, beyond giving comfort. But passive exposure to the rays of the sun had restorative power. Prayer, Hallesby says, is like that: It's placing ourselves under the power of the God we know through His Son, Jesus.

But, Hallesby says, in order for us to come to the Son or to experience the healing and restoration God makes possible, genuine prayer must include two things:
  • Desperation
  • Trust in God
Clearly, the ten lepers met those conditions. And time and again in my years as a Jesus-Follower, I have seen God's positive response to my prayers and those of others when those conditions were present.

But here's the difference between the one healed leper who was thankful over against the other nine who weren't: Vulnerability. He owned his vulnerability. My suspicion is that the nine had the attitude of, "I'll beat this thing. It hasn't got me whipped yet. I'll prevail on this miracle-worker and everything will be back to normal." Jesus was a means to an end for them. Nothing more.

But the other leper knew just how vulnerable he was. His attitude was that of the psalmist, who writes: "I am poor and needy; hasten to me, O God! You are my help and my Deliverer; O Lord, do not delay!" (Psalm 70:5)

I have the suspicion that thankfulness, the key to really having something to celebrate today, is rooted in owning our vulnerability, in knowing that "every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with Whom there is no variation or shadow due to change." (James 1:17)

True thankfulness is born of vulnerability, of an awareness of our total dependence on God. May the gift of vulnerability be ours this Thanksgiving!

(Later, more on the thankful leper and why Jesus told him that his faith had made him well.)

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Orchestral Melee a Sour Note for Symphony

[What would you think if you saw this story in the morning paper?]
“It may be the worst thing to ever happen at Music Hall,” says an official of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, speaking on condition of anonymity. The official was referring to the brawl that broke out as the orchestra concluded its Friday night performance of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 in F Major. The incident has CSO leaders scurrying to repair a reputation so badly damaged that it could have repercussions beyond this season.

Shorly before 10:00 P.M. on Friday, liquid-bearing projectiles were hurled toward the stage from the audience. Several witnesses later confirmed that the thrown objects were cups of White Zinfandel. That variety of wine and other alcoholic beverages are sold at Music Hall during performance intermissions.

The first missile hit cellist Andrew Vander. Stunned, Vander dropped his instrument and charged into the audience. His target was long-time symphony patron, Jacqueline Hunter-Smith. Vander took a swing at the octogenerian and a melee ensued.

Hunter-Smith denied that she was the one who threw the wine at Vander. But, she said, “I did defend myself. And frankly, dousing that bum with wine isn’t such a bad idea. He’s an overpaid, underperforming grandstander who never takes one for the team. He’s a punk.”

Vander was equally angry with Hunter-Smith after police and security guards got the riotous Music Hall under control. “I saw that woman throw her cup at me from the corner of my eye,” he said. “I don’t put up with stuff like that.”

Whether Hunter-Smith was the culprit or not, orchestra officials confirm that more than twenty liquid-laden cups hit the Music Hall stage within seconds, dousing several cellists, violinists, the first-chair trumpeter, and guest conductor Bette Midler.

After the initial onslaught, several symphony members dove into the audience, attacking patrons they thought guilty of hurling the cups. Police say that before the fracas was brought under control, fifteen people were taken to area hospitals for treatment.

Orchestra officials were quick to take disciplinary action. Vander is suspended without pay for the season. Other musicians were slapped with various fines and sanctions.

Vander seems undismayed by the incident or its aftermath. Appearing in an early morning interview on CNN, Vander repeatedly mentioned a new business venture. Holding one of his company’s catalogs aloft, Vander asked viewers to order items from his Vander’s Pet Lingerie. Just weeks ago, Vander incurred the anger of orchestral officials as well as patrons when he asked for a two-month leave of absence in order to promote and fill orders for his company.

On Friday night, local classical deejays were overwhelmed with telephone calls from symphony music fans who had seen videotape footage of the incident on TV. According to Linus (Line-Up) Borkenhamm, one of the deejays, listeners were appalled by the actions of both audience and musicians.

Story still developing...
[If it's ridiculous at the symphony, then it's ridiculous elsewhere, isn't it?]

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Christmas, Eid, and a Holiday Stamp

Earlier today, a well-intentioned friend sent one of those email forwards to me. It dealt with one of the US Postal Service's holiday stamps, one that commemorates the Muslim holiday, Eid. The email suggested that Americans should "adamantly and vocally boycott" the stamp. There followed a catalog of terrorist acts perpetrated against Americans by criminals who happened to be Muslim, which it was suggested we should all remember.

The email frankly upset me and I responded to my friend in part as follows:
I always make a point of purchasing overtly Christian stamps at Christmas time. That means that if I can avoid it, I don't buy stamps with Santa Claus, Christmas trees, or anything other than stamps with artwork that portray the birth of Jesus in some way.

But...there are some other things we should remember besides those...mentioned in your email:

Muslims were among those killed on 9/11. That day, Muslims were perpetrators, but Muslims were also victims;

Not all Muslims are terrorists;

There are many Muslims who are loyal, patriotic American citizens;

Today, young Americans are fighting and dying alongside Muslims in Afghanistan and Iraq in part, according to the Bush Administration, to secure freedom for Muslim people. As a nation, we believe that Muslims are people too;

And it was Christians who unleashed the two worst and most devastating wars in history, our fellow Lutherans in Germany.

Above all, I think that we should remember that, as Saint Paul writes, "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." And, of course, Jesus told the crowd ready to stone the woman caught in adultery, "Those of you without sin, cast the first stone." So-called "Christians" have been guilty of horrible violence through the centuries. But that doesn't make all Christians evil.

I won't purchase an Eid stamp because I want to focus on what Christmas is about: Jesus. But I think it's wrong to paint all Muslims as criminals.

Just some thoughts I had.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!
If any of former CIA intelligent analyst Michael Scheur's book, Imperial Hubris, is to be believed, Americans can ill-afford to be naive about the connection between mainstream Islam and Osama bin-Laden's arguments in favor of his terrorist acts. Islam recognizes the legitimacy of waging what Scheur terms, "defensive jihad." According to Scheur, it's seen as justified whenever Muslim lands, institutions, or individuals are threatened or encroached upon. Many Muslims feel that the US has done just this. It is to this strand of opinion that al Qaeda appeals. Americans and policy-makers need to avoid both the reality and the perception that the US has territorial or economic designs on Muslim lands.

But two points need to be made in this regard:
  • Not all Muslims believe that their religion or its institutions have been thus encroached upon.
  • Few Muslim would agree that "defensive jihad" is presently warranted.
When we use our words to paint our pictures of the world, we need to be careful not to use too broad a brushstroke.

One final thing, like Saint Paul when dragged in chains before King Agrippa, my hope is that all people will experience the liberation of God's unconditional acceptance, forgiveness, and new, eternal life offered through Jesus Christ. My primary aim each day of my life is to help more people know Jesus so that they can follow Him. That, in fact, is the mission Christ gives everyone who follows Him. There is a sense in which Christianity is an "imperial" faith. But true Christianity seeks converts only through the gentle persuasion of committed believers empowered by God's Spirit.

Christ's mission for Jesus-Followers does not include the kind of coercion or violence embraced by radicals, whether they call themselves Christian, Muslim, Jew, or anything else.

Nor does it include making others out to be criminals simply because they share a religious affiliation with people who are criminal.

What do you think?

House-Cleaning Music

I'm about to give the house a pre-Thanksgiving dusting and vacuuming in anticipation of spending the holiday with our family. Whenever I do that, I have to play music---preferably loudly. Our son arrived this afternoon from college and handed me a belated fifty-first birthday present: How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb by U2. (If nothing else, the fellows deserve credit for one of the coolest LP titles of all time.) I'll be popping it into the CD-port of the Apple about now. Let me at the Pledge!

Just for Fun: The Five Living Famous People with Whom I'd Most Like to Have a Conversation

1. Billy Graham
2. Bono
3. Jimmy Carter
4. Paul McCartney
5. John McCain

(Tell me how your list looks)

What About Christian Faith and Moral Values?

Contrary to what gets said these days, Christian faith is not primarily about morality. It's about having a relationship with God through Jesus Christ!

You may remember that the Pharisees in Jesus' day conceived of faith as being about morality. Jesus regularly upbraided them for that. (If you don't believe me, read any one of the four Gospels---Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John---in the Bible's New Testament.)

Morality is to be an outgrowth of our relationship with God. Followers of Christ seek the power of God to live moral lives as a response to God's unconditional love, offered through Christ.

When we have a relationship with God, He gives us both the desire and the ability to (imperfectly) follow His will. (I say imperfectly because even Mother Teresa, Billy Graham, and the Virgin Mary have been sinners saved not because they were good people, but because they believed in Jesus Christ. Christians sin. That's why we need to live in what Martin Luther called "daily repentance and renewal.")

When our relationship with God is non-existent, we are left to our own devices. The result is poor relationships not only with God, but also with ourselves and others, and the commitment of sins.

Even the Ten Commandments begin with relationship and not rules. At the outset, God says, "I am the Lord, your God." That is a word of promise. God is saying, "No matter what, I am your God. I will never desert you. You may leave me. You may decide not to have Me in your life. But I will stay with you. You can always turn to Me and I will always hear." Then, God turns to the commandments themselves, saying, in effect, "Now, here's how life is best lived."

The faith of the Old and New Testaments of the Bible is the only one in the world that doesn't say you must perform these actions to attain holiness, a place with God, higher perfection, or whatever. The faith of the Bible finds God reaching out to pull us up to Him because of His love for us. Through Christ, God performs with perfect holiness and then, accepts the death punishment we deserve for our sins.

The key to America being a moral nation is not in electing political candidates who will pass coercive laws that reflect particular brands of Christian morality or whose "moral values" encompass only a portion of the total package of what the Bible says is moral. Rather, America will be moral when Christians, empowered by God's Holy Spirit, lovingly and respectfully share the Good News of Jesus with others and live the love of God and neighbor to which Jesus calls us. That, according to the Bible is the only method God uses to morally transform people and nations.

The center of Christian faith is Jesus. Period. Until we Christians learn to live and share Jesus and the Good News of how He changes us from the inside out, America's moral squalor will continue to matter who is in the White House. Our call is to have faith in God, not in any political ideology or system of morality.

To be simplitic about it: Relationship, yes; religion, no. Love, yes; legalism no. Christ, yes; coercion, no.

I strongly recommend that you read the series on faith and moral values being written by Pastor Craig Williams. He says far more capably and knowledgeably what I have tried to write here.

Monday, November 22, 2004


A Glasgow company has produced a video game based on the assassination of President John Kennedy. Gamers assume the position of Lee Harvey Oswald, the President's assassin. The company claims a serious intent for their game: Disproving conspiracists. But it's difficult not to see this as anything other than a psychologically sick exploitation of a tragedy. I hope that nobody buys this game!

Sunday, November 21, 2004

A Culture Hostile to Christian Faith?

Super blogger, author, and radio host Hugh Hewitt mentions a letter in the New York Times today, a letter that purports to excoriate Christians. After reading Hugh's post, I dashed off the following email:
Your comments about hostility to Christian faith was timely. While you were addressing the comments of letter-writers of a particular partisan bent, I believe that the hostility you identify is substantially present in the mainstream media. This came up in the discussion during our adult Sunday School class this morning.

Summarizing the expressed views which we all seemed to share:

(1) We definitely feel that the mainstream media portrays faith in Christ as belonging only to people who are prejudiced, stupid, arrogant, or ridiculous;

(2) We know that we live in and accept the reality of our pluralistic society. But whether in the mainstream media or in other places, we sense the expectation that we should never publicly utter a word about our relationship with Jesus Christ;

(3) We think that Christian legalists, by their apparent belief that God is so puny that they must protect Him through verbal attacks on others, play into the hands of those who denigrate Christian faith, making it more difficult for other Christians to present a positive witness for Christ.

It's good for Christians to remember that it was in a hostile environment that the message of Christ and the Church first took root in the Mediterranean basin. The God we know through Jesus Christ is bigger than whatever hostility we may encounter as Jesus-Followers.

The apostle Peter has great advice for us as we face the hostility of those who spurn Christ:

"Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence. Keep your conscience clear so that when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God's will, than to suffer for doing evil." (First Peter 3:15-17)

The stereotype much of the media creates of Christians is that we are hostile people, against progress, judgmental, prudish, and intellectual lightweights. Peter says that we ought to baffle those who malign our faith by loving and respecting them and then, when they suspect that they don't have us figured out, be ready to tell them why we hope in Christ.

First Peter is clearly the book Christians need to read and study voraciously as we cope with a culture substantially hostile to Jesus Christ.

God bless!

Mark Daniels

Totally Committed to the God Who is Totally Committed to Us

Colossians 1:9-20
(shared with the people of Friendship Church on Commitment Sunday, a time when members and regular participants in the life of the congregation commit their time, talents, and treasures for ministry in the coming year)

I had a birthday this past week. I turned 51. It’s strange: the leap from age 50 to 51 seemed bigger to me than that from 49 to 50. Somehow, at 51, I feel a lot closer to the AARP Zone. I wonder how long it will be before I start to order from the seniors’ menu.

Turning fifty-one also caused me to do some prayer, reflection, and thinking. At this crossroads in my life, I asked God and myself, where am I and where am I headed?

The truth is that every day is a crossroads for us. Each moment that we live, we’re confronted with choices as to how we’re going to live and with what habits we’ll live. This past week, I ran across this quote from someone named Charles Reade, cited in a book by author and counselor Steve Arterburn:
“Sow a thought, and you reap an action; sow an action, and you reap a habit; sow a habit, and you reap a character; sow a character, and you reap a destiny.”
At this crossroads moment of my life, I want to sow thoughts, actions, habits, and a character that will help me make the most of my time on this earth, that will help me meet the destiny that God has in mind for me. I bet the same is true for you.

Lutheran pastor Mike Foss says that there are three things you and I need to know if we’re going to make the most of the rest of our lives, all of which are talked about in today’s Bible lesson.

First: We need to know the only God of the universe, the only One Who is worth living for. Our Bible lesson says that we see this God through Jesus Christ. It says of Jesus:
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in Him all things in heaven and on earth, things visible and invisible...have been created through Him and for Him...[And] in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.”
Martin Luther said that if you want to know God, all you have to do is look at Jesus. When you do that, you get a very different picture of God than what most people have. In his book, Living Faith, former President Jimmy Carter talks about how his image of God has changed because of Jesus. When he was younger, Carter says,
“I envisioned a supreme being, [who] was more like Muhammad, the founder of Islam, a patently successful man in earthly terms: a powerful warrior, political leader, founder of a great institutional [religion]. This was in many ways the opposite of the ‘suffering servant’ in [the prophecies of the Old Testament book of] Isaiah, whom Christians identify with Christ: physically unattractive, uneloquent, scorned, rejected...”
In Jesus, we see that God is all-powerful and all-knowing, to be sure. But we also see that He is willing to lay that aside out of consideration of His love for us. One of the early church fathers was a man named Origen. He told once about a village that had a huge statue, so huge that you really couldn’t see what it was meant to be. Finally, someone miniaturized it so you could tell who it was designed to honor. Origen said, “That’s what God did in His Son. He made it possible for us to see what God is like.” Knowing this God can help us find the right direction for our lives.

The second thing that we need to know in order to make the best of the rest of our lives is: what God has accomplished through Jesus. In our Bible lesson, Paul says that Jesus “has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of His beloved Son, in Whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sin.” Jesus spent His blood on the cross to buy our freedom from slavery to sin, death, and purposeless living. Jesus is our Rescuer.

The third thing we need to know in order to make the best of the rest of our lives is: what is the goal of our lives. That’s why Paul writes: “...we have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God.”

For several years now, we’ve spent a good deal of time at Friendship talking about what we call the seven habits of joyful people. You can probably recite them by heart. They are:

regular prayer;

study of God’s Word;

regular worship;

inviting others to know and follow Christ;

encouraging others with the love of Jesus;

serving in Jesus’ Name; and

giving to the cause of Christ in the world.

Time and again, we’ve emphasized that adopting these habits can’t earn us a place in God’s Kingdom. That’s a free gift. God gives a right and everlasting relationship with Him--a place in His kingdom--to all who turn away from sin and receive Jesus as the God and Lord of their lives.

But in order to receive all the power God can give us for making the most of our lives (for making the most of this congregation), we must position ourselves to receive it. We have to open up our hands and heart and will to receive what God gives through Christ. These seven habits are conduits by which the living, loving God we know through Jesus Christ can transform our thoughts, our actions, our destinies.

You and I have not been called into a relationship with Jesus Christ or with Friendship Church simply to settle into a pattern of holy mediocrity. God has called us to join hands with God and neighbor in order to change our lives and the life of the world around us.

Over the course of this past year, your Church Council has been committed to sharing information with you about our financial circumstances. You know that our congregational giving has not kept pace with the demands of our bare bones budget, or even with our collective estimates of giving. You know also that if our giving continues failing to keep pace with our needs, we will have to institute dramatic cuts next year. And you know what a devastating impact that would have on our pursuing some of our long-cherished dreams---outreach events, more community service, the addition of a variety of worship celebrations.

But these financial realities are only the tip of a spiritual ice berg. Martin Luther was fond of saying that every Christian must undergo at least three conversions to Jesus Christ:

The first conversion is in the head. We must be intellectually convinced about Jesus conquering sin and death for us.

The second is in the heart. We need to have a connection of will and emotion to Jesus.

And the third conversion is in the wallet. Luther says that this, by far, is the most difficult conversion of all.

By the time our conversions to Christ have sunk down to our wallets---with our spending, saving, and giving reflecting Jesus’ priorities for our lives and Jesus being the Boss of our lives, other habits will have taken hold as well. As one person told me, “I give God 10% of my annual income not to make God love me, but because I’ve come to know how much He already does love me.” Thankfulness to Christ and a commitment to actively living our thankfulness will impact our wallets and a lot more of our lives.

Over the next few moments, I want to ask all of you to have a silent conversation with God. I want to ask what is almost impossible for we Friendship folks: That we keep silent. I ask you to talk with God about how you are going to develop these seven habits in the coming year. You know the needs of this congregation. But even more importantly perhaps, you know that if you are going to make the most of the year ahead, each of these seven habits need to play a part in your life, probably a bigger part in your life in 2005 than they ever have before.

After you and God have talked things over, I want to ask you to take pen or pencil to paper and make your covenant with God for how you will pursue these habits in the coming year. And then, when you’re ready for it, please bring your completed time, talent, and treasure form forward, setting them on the Lord’s Table up here.

Before you start to do that, would you pray with me?

Lord Jesus, You are the King of kings. We want You also to be the King of our every moment. Lord, we know that You are the only God worth living for; we know what You’ve accomplished for us on the cross and from the empty tomb; and we know that Your goal for us is to live lives worthy of You. Now, God, we ask You to help us to want what You want for our lives. Give us the power to grow in our pursuit of these seven habits. Make them the highways by which You help us to grow and mature as Your people. Help us to move beyond mediocrity and in the coming year, make the most of the life You give to us. In Your Name we pray. Amen!

[I appreciate the inspiration provided by Pastor Foss' sermon for this Sunday. His congregation, like Friendship had its annual Commitment Sunday today.]