Saturday, January 22, 2005

Even Without the Glare, We're Called to Care

The white-hot glare of world attention may no longer be on the Indian Ocean region affected by the December 26 tsunami. But the needs are still great. Please consider making a donation to one of the following (or some other) reputable relieve organizations:

Lutheran World Relief
American Red Cross
Catholic Relief Services
World Vision

Friday, January 21, 2005

Bush Takes Oath...Here Are Consequences, Unintended and Otherwise

One of the unintended consequences of the 22nd. amendment to the Constitution, passed in 1951 and limiting Presidents to being elected to just two terms or serving a total of ten years (should they be elevated to the presidency from the vice presidency), is that one day after his Inauguration to a second term, George W. Bush is a lame-duck.

From this point forward, the President's vaunted "capital," a term he used repeatedly in his news conference on the day after the November election, begins to diminish. Some would argue that, like a life bar in a computer game, the depletion of the President's capital began on November 3.

A second-term President, particularly one in the second two-year period of that term, which President Bush should enter after the 2006 mid-term elections, can be increasingly ignored by the Congress and others. Aware that time is running down for the Chief Executive, his fellow partisans and his opponents have less reason to fear his wrath and so, can ignore him with greater impunity.

This is why second-term Presidents often find their domestic agendas thwarted and, looking for the path of least resistance, they frequently seek and attain great success in foreign affairs, where they have more latitude.

The irony, of course, is that presidential term limits were pushed through a Republican Congress in the early-1950s as a reaction to Franklin Roosevelt's string of wins in four consecutive presidential races between 1932 and 1944. It's ironic because in 1952, the Republicans elected the wildly popular Dwight Eisenhower, who could have easily been elected to a third term in 1960, but couldn't do so because of the 22nd. Amendment. Many think that Republican Ronald Reagan could have also been elected to a third term in 1988.

Term limits are generally a horrible idea.

For one thing, they ignore that term limits were built into our system of government from the beginning. It's accomplished through a little thing called elections.

Here in Ohio, we have term limits for statewide offices as well as for members of the General Assembly, our state's legislature. Term limits, of course, are designed to bring fresh blood into political office. What has happened here instead, is a big game of musical chairs, with the parties recycling known names through various elective offices and a much higher percentage of office holders than was previously the case establishing incumbency by being appointed to their jobs.

Term limits also deny citizens the service and expertise of elective officials who have learned the ropes. Don't underestimate the importance of this. When elective officials are term-limited, they're less able to overcome the defenses of those government bureaucracies interested in concealing inefficiencies, selfishly-hoarded turf, or outright dishonesty. Term limits make some agencies and departments the permanent government, rolling along like the megalomaniac Master Control Program in the movie, Tron, insusceptible to the command and oversight elective officials are supposed to exercise over them.

Be that as it may, George W. Bush has entered a second term with a definite end date. No matter what, his presidency will end, at the latest, on January 20, 2009.

The consequence of that is that right now, any number of Republicans and Democrats have begun the presidential campaign of 2008...and poor Condi Rice hasn't even started her new gig at the State Department yet.

Whoever gets elected in 2008 should remember the lesson of the lame duck second-term President and get as much accomplished in their first term as possible.

Not Bad for a Retiree

Lots of retired guys take jobs at Wal-Mart, where you might find them greeting customers. The pay isn't that great, but it's something. Roger Clemens, who retired at the end of the 2003 baseball season, won't be greeting people in a store near you very soon, though. For the second year in a row, he's going to be pitching for the Houston Astros, at something more than minimum wage.

The Inaugural Address...Was It a Christian Statement?

The lead story in today's Cincinnati Enquirer, written by staffers Carl Weiser and Howard Wilkinson, dealt with the President's Inaugural Address. The opening paragraph, like so many commentaries and accounts, called attention to the references to God laced throughout Mr. Bush's speech. Weiser and Wilkinson write:
President Bush summoned the nation to "the great objective of ending tyranny" in an inaugural address that was remarkable for the way it looked outward, toward the world and upward, toward God.
A good observation. But was the address a Christian statement? That is, was it the statement of a Christian person, reflecting a Christian understanding of the world?

We all know that the President is a practicing Christian who appears to take his faith seriously.

And, of course, no Christian perfectly reflects God's will in their life. "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God," the Bible says. [Romans 3:23]

So, it would be unfair to hold the President to a standard of perfect consistency in living or articulating his faith in Christ. I can't live up to that standard and frankly, I don't know anyone who can. Christians are, in that metaphor first used by Martin Luther, beggars, people made acceptable to God not by their virtues or their good works, but solely because God gives the charity of forgiveness to those who turn from sin and walk with Christ.

This is the way the Bible completes the thought cited from Romans above:
since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by His grace [the Greek word is charitas, from which we get the word, charity] as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus...[Romans 3:23-24]
I think one has to conclude that, as is true of the statements of any political figure who represents a pluralistic society and who wants to maintain popular support for his agenda, the Inaugural Address was, spiritually speaking, a mish-mash, reflective as much of Enlightenment notions as Christian ones.

This fact hit me when I heard the President say yesterday:
There is only one force that can break the reign of hatred and resentment, and expose the pretensions of tyrants and reward the hopes of the decent and the tolerant, and that is the force of human freedom.

From a Christian perspective, this assertion is suspect at many levels.

For one thing, we should ask, by what standard will the "force of human freedom" wield its power? The framers of the Constitution knew that free peoples are as capable of despotism as kings. If "freedom" is given as an ultimate value, how will those who exercise it decide the manner in which they will use it?

In his book, Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis talks about the danger of elevating any virtue, however laudable, to a position of ultimacy. He writes:
The most dangerous thing you can do is to take any one impulse of your own nature and set it up as the thing you ought to follow at all costs. There is not one of them which will not make us into devils if we set it up as an absolute guide. You might think love of humanity in general was safe, but it is not. If you leave out justice you will find yourself breaking agreements and faking evidence in trials 'for the sake of humanity', and become in the end a cruel and treacherous man.
Is "the force of freedom" as an ultimate value any less susceptible to manipulation and the justification of tyranny than is love? Clearly, it isn't.

Another problem area in the President's statement came when he referred to "the hopes of the decent and the tolerant."

Not to be flippant or to split hairs, but who exactly might that be? My Bible says that while we all come into this world with God's laws written on our hearts, and therefore, possessing an inherent sensibility about what is right and wrong, we also come fully equipped as sinners. David writes in the Psalms in the Old Testament:
...I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me. [Psalm 51:5]
One of the reasons that the New Testament writers, like Paul, urge followers of Christ to be obedient to governments, even governments with which they may disagree, is that governments constitute a necessary emergency arrangement in a fallen world. They're made necessary by the sin that corrupts all human beings. If all would surrender to Christ and acquiesce to God's authority, people would be the "decent and tolerant" beings the President spoke about. As it is, however, governments exist to coerce those unwilling to acquiesce to God's rules (i.e., loving God and loving neighbor) into behaving decently and tolerantly toward those with whom they must share air, land, water, communities, states, and nations.

Something far less than a majority of people are "decent and tolerant," and most of the time, I wouldn't include myself in their number.

A small example:
(Manchester, New Hampshire-NBC) Jan. 20, 2005 - A New Hampshire woman working for a cleaning crew had an opportunity to clean up in more ways than one.

Maria Kater was having a routine day at work as a cleaner when she noticed something going on at a nearby automated teller machine.

A pile of money was next to the machine, and when she got closer to check it out the ATM spit out more. When the out-of-order machine finally stopped, Kater was left with more than $1500.

Kater unplugged the machine and called officials, but she admits she thought about what the stash of cash could have done, "I could pay my rent with it. You know, gas, food, bills, but then I thought, 'It's not worth losing my job or getting in trouble.'"

No word yet on whether or not Kater will be offered a reward for her honesty.
I read that story hoping that the woman in question acted as she did because is a member of the "decent and tolerant" contingent of humanity to which the President referred. Perhaps she is a decent and tolerant person. Perhaps she described her actions from the perspective of humility, refusing to take public credit for her virtue. But she seemed to say, "I acted the way I did because of the coercion I face in my life."

I'm not picking on Ms. Kater. None of us can say how we would react under similar circumstances. I like to think that I would act honestly...and for the right reasons. But it's far from certain that I would.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not a pessimist about human nature. I am in fact, an optimist about human beings. I believe that when Jesus Christ becomes God and Lord and Savior to a person, their lives undergo the beginning of a transformation that will ultimately be completed in eternity. But I do not believe that any of us are inherently "decent and tolerant," just awaiting the opportunity to grab our neighbors' hands and sing, "Kumbaya."

Although we know it's right to live with decency and tolerance for others, we only really do so to the extent that our wills are subordinated to God's.

But the biggest problem I had with the President's statement from a Christian perspective was in its insistence that "only one force" could break what tyrannizes humanity. That force, he asserted, is "the force of human freedom."

As a Christian, I believe, have observed, and have experienced, that only the God made plain to us all through Jesus Christ can really break our tyrannies.

It was the Gospel (Good News) of Jesus Christ that propelled the work of those who sued for an end to slavery in Great Britain and the United States.

It was the Gospel of Jesus Christ that sustained Martin Luther King, Jr. in the US and Archbishop Desmond Tutu in South Africa as they faced down injustice.

This same Gospel lay behind the Oxford Movement which resulted in the transforming power of Alcoholics Anonymous and the Twelve Steps.

This Gospel inspired the reforming work of Martin Luther, John Wycliffe, and John Calvin.

It also incited the work of John Wesley, setting people free of sin and often, the slavery of alcoholism, to live with God's approval and power working in their lives.

In the end, for whatever other virtues the Inaugural Address may have had, it was not a particularly Christian statement.

While I understand the need for a President to mobilize a nation behind a particular program, I would prefer Presidents to reflect a more humble and realistic understanding of what governments, no matter how virtuous their leaders, can accomplish. No government and no set of political principles can transform a human life, society, or world. The President then, might very well have said something like:
Political and economic freedom are good things. Democratic nations are peaceful neighbors. We believe in political and economic freedom and we will support, in whatever ways we can, all movements around the world that work to bring these good ends about.
But real human freedom comes only from a relationship with Jesus Christ, a topic I hope to tackle here in the next few days.

Anyone who reads this blog knows how opposed I am to Christians forcing Christ or specifically Christian values down the throats of society at large. We live in a pluralistic society and we must acknowledge that fact.

Furthermore, it is absolutely contrary to the will of God for Christians to force their beliefs on others. Followers of Jesus are called to share their the hope of Jesus Christ in gentle ways.

So, I didn't expect the President to make some overtly Christian declaration of public policy.

But I am more than a little disappointed that the President assigned a place of preeminence to a value which, unless subordinated to Jesus Christ, will render monsters of us all.

In the end, I suspect, I'm making too much of this. Inaugural Addresses are generally hollow and meaningless wind. My hope for this address is that it's mere rhetoric and not presidential acquiescence to the false idol of human freedom.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Wrestling with Tragedy in a World Loved By an Omnipotent God

Like you, I wrestle with just how horrific the tsunami of December 26 was. I don't have any glib explanations. But I have wrestled with the question of tragedy in a world God loves on this blog before. Here are links to some posts you might find helpful:

When Tragedy Hits the Innocent, Part 1
When Tragedy Hits the Innocent, Part 2
When Tragedy Hits the Innocent, Part 3
When Tragedy Hits the Innocent, Part 4
The Light of the World!

A Blog to Visit Every Day

Rob Asghar has a great blog. I go there every day! I hope that you will go there too.

Post-Inaugural Thoughts

Most Inaugural Addresses are forgotten and eminently forgettable. Only time will tell if President Bush's second address is long-remembered.

But if the President is in earnest about the foreign policy declarations he made today, it represents, at the very least, a major departure from conventional Republican approaches. Historically, Republicans have fallen into the realist category pioneered by George Washington and most magnificently exemplified by Dwight Eisenhower.

The stance enunciated by Mr. Bush today represents the most robust form of Wilsonian foreign policy imaginable. As such, his remarks are more in the tradition of Democrats like Johnson, Truman, and Kennedy than of Republicans like Theodore Roosevelt, Reagan, Nixon, or Bush the Elder.

As the years unfold, several things will be interesting to observe:

1. Whether the President intends to pursue this policy evenhandedly or selectively. For example, will the US government walk hand-in-hand with dissidents in China or Russia? The President's rhetoric today would seem to indicate that he will.

2. Whether the President intends to push other wars of pre-emption, most notably against Iran and North Korea.

3. Given the President's robust intentions, whether Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld will make changes in his approach to configuring America's military. Rumsfeld, as you know, advocates a smaller force which is more technologically-dependent. Under the policy the President enunciated today, will US military obligations become more far-flung?

As to domestic policy, the President forcefully declared his intention to reform Social Security.

Whatever one's feelings about his policies or his November win, there should be no doubt about Mr. Bush's mandate. He did, after all, win the election and did so with a majority of votes.

The complaint that the President has only appointed people who agree with him to his second-term cabinet strike me as silly. (They have been echoed again today by some.) Elections are supposed to be about something. Presidents are elected with the expectation that they will pursue certain policies. It's absurd to think that once elected, they should only appoint people who disagree with them and will thereby thwart their policy initiatives.

Whether the President possesses the mandate to universalize the policy he is pursuing in Iraq is another question, one that both the nation and the Congress will answer one way or another in the next few years.

Prayer Series Completed...For Now

Although there is a lot more that could and should be said about the subject of prayer, I've decided to put the series, Prayer: The Essential Conversation to bed for now. I hope to address this important subject again sometime soon. Here are links to all nine installments:

Prayer: The Essential Conversation, Part 1
Prayer: The Essential Conversation, Part 2
Prayer: The Essential Conversation, Part 3
Prayer: The Essential Conversation, Part 4
Prayer: The Essential Conversation, Part 5
Prayer: The Essential Conversation, Part 6
Prayer: The Essential Conversation, Part 7
Prayer: The Essential Conversation, Part 8
Prayer: The Essential Conversation, Part 9

I hope that you find the entire series enjoyable.

It's not my best writing. But with the pieces I write just for the blog, I try to do it a bit more "on the fly." It's sort of fun and intimidating writing.

Lunch with Lileks...Again

James Lileks can be vulgar, insightful, irreverent, and funny. I find my attention turned to him from time to time, in the same way I find myself beckoned by train wrecks or re-runs of Full House. He's a memorable phrase-maker, a good writer. He reminds me of many of the people my wife once worked with in the Arts community: talented, prolific in their output, nasty, caring, and at times, frustratingly petty.

He's got a new book out. His daily "bleats," blog entries, are something I check into from time to time. He also is composing a blog-based novel built around his collection of matchbook covers. (Each chapter is dashed off in about twenty minutes every day.) Lileks also writes a column.

I usually check Lileks out at lunch time, like I have today. You might find some of his writing interesting...or addictive.

Q-and-A: What Do You Think of Prayer to the Saints?

[I write these Q-and-A columns for a local chain of suburban newspapers and for our congregation's newsletter. They're based on real questions I've gotten. I hope that you find them helpful.]

I’ve been asked, “What do you think of the whole notion of asking saints to pray for us?”

When I began to consider this question, I pictured Cole Sear, Haley Joe Osment’s character in the movie, The Sixth Sense, whispering, “I pray to dead people.”

That’s because the term saint, as popularly understood, is someone who has died.

When used of living people, we’re usually talking about someone we think especially virtuous. “He’s a saint,” we say.

In the Roman Catholic tradition, long-deceased believers in Christ are honored as saints, often because the beatified persons are thought to be the agents behind miracles occurring after their deaths.

Other Christian traditions, like my own, infomally recognize some persons with the title, saint, because they’re thought to be good examples of faith. That’s why we Lutherans have so many churches named Saint Paul, Saint John, Saint James, and even a few Saint Olaf’s and Saint Jacob’s.

But the Bible has a very different understanding of the term, saint. There, a saint is a sinner who trusts Jesus Christ as God and Savior. A saint isn’t someone who is especially virtuous, according to the Bible, but someone who believes in Jesus Christ as the Savior Who erases the power of sin and death over their lives.

Saints are, simply, forgiven sinners. This is why in his New Testament letters, for example, Paul instructs recipients to “greet the saints”; he wants to say, “Hello” to other forgiven sinners like himself.

If you believe in Jesus Christ and have turned from sin, you are a saint. Period.

So, what do I beieve about praying to departed people we think were especially faithful?

I understand the comfort it may bring to do so, especially when the saint to whom we direct our conversation is someone we knew and loved. I heard a Baptist preacher say once that after his wife died, he often asked her to put in a good word for him with God.

But we really don’t need another intermediary between God and ourselves. We already have one. His Name is Jesus Christ. Jesus has told us, “I will do whatever you ask in My Name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in My Name you ask me for anything, I will do it.” [John 14:13-14]

Just in case you have a sense of foreboding because you know that Jesus and God the Father are one (John 14:7), put your mind at ease. Because of His humanity, Jesus understands everything that we go through in our lives. In Jesus, the New Testament says, we don’t have an advocate “unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin.” Because of that, we’re told that we can “approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” [Hebrews 4:15-16]

In the risen Jesus Christ, we have someone who understands our humanity and has the divine power to hear and answer our prayers. Jesus tells us, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” [John 14:6] I believe that prayers offered in Jesus’ Name are ushered into the very heart of God the Father and no third party, however saintly, needs to be involved.

What's Behind 'Rolling Stone' Decision to Ax Ad?

Why did Rolling Stone magazine decide, at the last moment, to not run an advertisement for a new translation of the Bible? One can only guess and such guessing would probably be irresponsible.

But if the magazine has decided that they simply won't take advertising dollars from anyone with a religious message, I hope that this policy will be clearly enunciated and adhered to consistently. As the article linked above points out, at least one religiously-based ad appears in the most recent issue of the magazine.

Some Inauguration Day Thoughts

With today's Inaugural ceremonies, President Bush will take the oath of office for a second term as President. As he does so, he and the entire Administration will be in my prayers. I'm asking God to give them all guidance and wisdom, along with an openness to that guidance and wisdom.

I think this is important to do because, as the late Frank Laubach, founder of the literacy movement which bears his name and a committed Christian, liked to point out, whatever counsel I might give to the President is infinitely inferior to that given by God to those with open wills. So, instead of emails, I'm going to send prayers.


The peaceful transfer of executive power from one living individual to another was unprecedented in the history of the world before George Washington stepped down from the presidency in 1797. Prior to that, power was often wrested from one holder to the next, usually accompanied by a very permanent retirement program: death. Or power came to the descendants of executives, kings, and despots.

Of course, ten years before, the framers of the Constitution had created an executive office, the holder of which was to be elevated to the position as the result of quadrennial elections. But nobody really knew if this unprecedented arrangement would stand the tests of political ambition and time. Some urged Washington to be a king, for example.

But Washington, who had already given up complete power when he resigned his commission as general of the army following the Revolutionary War, willingly handed over the reins of power to John Adams, his presidential successor. This voluntary resignation of power changed the world's political landscape. Gradually, one nation after another has adopted variations of this arrangement ever since.

Today's events in Washington, D.C. demonstrate what an important precedent Washington and the other founders established for us.

Still a Place of Crying Need

The death toll related to the tsunami of December 26 continues to rise. Relief efforts will be needed there for some time to come. Please continue to remember one of the following reputable relief agencies (or others) with your contributions.

Lutheran World Relief
American Red Cross
Catholic Relief Services
World Vision

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Interesting Conversation on 'Government Intrusion' and the Productivity of Government Workers

Punch the Bag, anonymous contributor to the enjoyable, In the Agora, has provoked an interesting conversation-by-comments today.

Frankly, I think his original post was off-base both on two counts: (1) The allegation of pervasive government intrusion in people's lives; (2) The trumpeting of the oft-repeated and unfair characterization of all government workers as being less than productive.

One of the temptations with which we're afflicted when composing posts for blogs is to paint with too broad a stroke. It's easy to do.

There are many things about blogs that are exciting. For their creators, the lack of editors or accountability to some larger structure and the ability to comment on anything quickly is certainly an asset. For readers, blogs provide quick access to information and opinions.

But these attributes can be negatives, too.

My concern is that there is such a premium put on being glib when it comes to composing blogs, that sometimes the very best of blogs (and ITA is one of the best) can be hurtful and inaccurate.

A Different Perspective on the ELCA Sexuality Study

I've given my response to the study, where I hope you'll also find a fair overview of the entire matter. Here is a completely different point of view from my own.

A Blog Worth Perusing

Ray Grieselhuber's blog, Sacking Rome, is on my frequent-visit list. He's just returned from a trip to Mexico, where he helped build homes for people. Ray, like me, is a Columbus-area native and a graduate of The Ohio State University. But don't hold any of that against us!

Were People Disenfranchised in the 2004 Election?

In the weeks following the November 2 election, John Kerry impressed me with the class and magnanimity with which he accepted his defeat. He resisted calls by Democratic supporters to challenge the results.

This approach echoed the surprisingly good-willed response of Richard Nixon following the 1960 elections when there were substantial, credible claims of vote fraud in Illinois and Texas. I believe that in reacting this way, Nixon, in spite of his loss of the California governorship in 1962, helped pave the way to his win of the presidency in 1968.

I believe that given his performance in the 2004 race, Kerry must be considered the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination.

But, questioning the fairness of the 2004 race could create the same impression that Al Gore made of himself in the wake of the 200o election, of being a sore loser.

The senator has alleged, according to this article, that:
voting machines were distributed in uneven ways and in some Democratic districts, it took people up to 11 hours to vote.

Kerry claims Republicans were able to get through in 10 minutes.
I live in an overwhelmingly Republican area where George Bush got about 70% of the vote. I waited about an hour-and-forty-five minutes to vote and that was similar to the experience of many in this county, where Bush received similar percentages of the vote.

Voting procedures here in Ohio and elsewhere throughout the country clearly could use some repair or change, to be sure. Fair minded people of all political persuasions can agree to that, I think. But I don't think the evidence bears the sorts of allegations that Senator Kerry made the other day.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Prayer: The Essential Conversation, Part 9

You hear it or variations of it all the time. "We pray these things in Jesus' Name," people say.

Why exactly do people pray in Jesus' Name?

And what does it mean anyway?

Followers of Jesus pray in His Name for several reasons. First: Because Jesus has promised us that God the Father will hear prayers offered in His Name.

: Because Jesus, Who from the very beginning of the Christian movement was regarded as God-enfleshed by His followers, has commanded it.

: Because it only makes sense.

In one of the New Testament's most famous passages on prayer, Jesus says:
"...And I appointed you to go and bear fruit [meaning, in part, to accomplish good things through the power God gives], fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask in My Name..." [John 15:16]
In another place He says:
"So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!" [Luke 11:9-13]
In these two passages, we see Jesus making promises and commanding that we pray in His Name. He promises that when we do so, our prayers are heard. As is true of every command God makes, Jesus makes this one because it is for our good. Approaching God the Father in Jesus' Name assures that our connection with heaven is secure.

In another place, Jesus makes one of His famous I AM statements. These statements all underscore Jesus' authority as God because I AM (in the Greek of the New Testament, the phrase is ego eimi and in the Hebrew, it's Yahweh) is the Name God gave Himself in the Old Testament.

By way of background, God first did this is His encounter with Moses at the Burning Bush. There, God is commissioning Moses to end his exile and to return to Egypt. Moses, God tells him, is to sue for the freedom of God's people, the Israelites, and to act as their leader, taking them to freedom. They had been slaves there for more than four-hundred years.

Moses makes a series of excuses for not doing God's will. (Many of which I've used myself!) One of those excuses is that if the people of Israel ask Moses exactly who sent him, he wouldn't know how to answer. Then, we're told:
God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM." He said further, "Thus you shall say to the Israelites, 'I AM has sent me to you." God also said to Moses, "Thus you shall say to the Israelites, 'The LORD, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you': This is My Name forever, and this is My title for all generations..." [Exodus 3:14-15]
Jesus' most jarring use of I AM as a designation for Himself comes in John 8, where He uses the grammatically incorrect sentence, "Before Abraham was, I Am." [John 8:58] Here, Jesus is clearly indicating that He was around a long time before Abraham, echoing the point made by John the Evangelist as he began his account of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection. [John 1:1-18] (More significantly, this strange phrase echoes the words Paul wrote about Jesus sometime around 55-60 A.D., found in Colossians 1:15-20, indisputable proof that, contrary to what some shoddy scholarship says today, the early Church always said that Jesus was not just a human being, but also God.)

As it specifically relates to prayer in Jesus' Name, Jesus made this I AM statement:
"I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me." [John 14:6]
Jesus is the authoritative means by Whom we know God and can have a relationship with God. Through Him, we have access to God. This is why it makes sense to pray in His Name. Why, when prayer in Jesus' Name allows us to speak directly to God, would we not pray in His Name?

But praying in Jesus' Name is more than saying a word or employing an incantation, as though communicating with God is like using a Little Orphan Annie secret decoder ring.

People who pray in Jesus' Name:

1. Acknowledge Jesus' Lordship. This means the pray-er understands that Jesus is Boss of the universe. Like Peter, the person who prays in Jesus' Name, says to Jesus, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God!" [Matthew 16:16...By the way, that phrase, Son of God, doesn't denote derivation or subordination to God the Father on Jesus' part. Rather, as the Colossians passage I mentioned above says, it means that Jesus was the very image of God Himself.]

2. Ask God to provide answers to our prayers in ways that are consistent with the character and the will of Jesus. In essence, when we pray in Jesus' Name, we subordinate ourselves to the will and the infinitely greater wisdom of God. In one of the New Testament letters, First John, it's written:
And this is the boldness we have in Him [Jesus], that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have obtained the requests made of Him. [First John 5:14-15]
This, of course, isn't a carte blanche to offer selfish prayers. To ask in Jesus' Name, in ways that accord with Jesus' character, is to adopt to an attitude of humility and submissiveness to God. That doesn't mean that God wants us to wallow in self-loathing or be miserable. Quite the contrary! It means that we acknowledge that since God is the One Who's made us, He knows what He can give that will allow us to live our lives at their optimal levels. One of my favorite passages in the Old Testament says:
Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart. [Psalm 37:4]
I think this is intriguingly phrased. It says if we take our greatest pleasure in what pleases God and puts Him first in our lives, God will give us our desires. But what will the desires of people who put God first be? That God will do what is best in God's eyes, not our own.

Many times when I talk with God, I have very particular ideas about how God should go about answering my prayers. I'd be happy to be God's consultant, micromanaging how He wields His power in the areas of concern I bring to Him. But I try to remember that God isn't a Cosmic Cookie Jar, filling me up on what I want without regard to what's best for me or others or for what God wants to happen.

In spite of what I want, I always ask that God's will be done, praying in Jesus' Name and then trying, with the help of God's Spirit, to truly want to want what God wants.

3. Have confidence that their prayers are heard. Jesus has told His followers, “I will do whatever you ask in My Name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in My Name you ask me for anything, I will do it.” [John 14:13-14]

And just in case you have a sense of foreboding because you know that Jesus and God the Father are one (John 14:7), put your mind at ease. Because of His humanity, Jesus understands everything that we go through in our lives. In Jesus, the New Testament says, we don’t have an advocate “unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin.” Because of that, we’re told that we can “approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” [Hebrews 4:15-16]

In the risen Jesus Christ, we have someone who understands our humanity and has the divine power to hear and answer our prayers. Jesus tells us, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” [John 14:6] I believe that prayers offered in Jesus’ Name are ushered into the very heart of God the Father

[To read more on this subject, you might want to check out:
Prayer: The Essential Conversation, Part 1
Prayer: The Essential Conversation, Part 2
Prayer: The Essential Conversation, Part 3
Prayer: The Essential Conversation, Part 4
Prayer: The Essential Conversation, Part 5
Prayer: The Essential Conversation, Part 6
Prayer: The Essential Conversation, Part 7
Prayer: The Essential Conversation, Part 8]

Will They Buy Tickets Anyway?

As is true of most of my baseball fan-friends, this poll indicates that a large majority of them across the US, are skeptical about the sport's new steroid policy, feeling it not nearly stringent enough. As a fan myself, I felt that it was a step in the right direction. We'll see how badly the game is tarnished or how unimpressed fans are by the new policy once the 2005 season rolls around.

The Freddie Krueger of Rock and Roll

Elvis scores a #1 in the UK, twenty-seven years after he died...or went to work at a Burger King in Ann Arbor.

I'm Skeptical

Maybe this puts me in the category of the Flat Earth Society, but I just don't see how this is going to fly, financially that is, for manufacturer or airlines.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Back to the Moon...and Beyond?

Two good pieces on space exploration, past and future.

Q-and-A: What Happens to Believers in Christ When They Die?

I was recently asked, “What happens to the follower of Jesus who dies? Do we go into some sort of sleepy holding pattern or do we go immediately to heaven with God?”

First, it should be said that people who entrust their lives to Jesus Christ can face death and what lies beyond with confidence.

The first-century preacher Paul writes in the New Testament portion of the Bible: “...we know that if the earthly tent we live in [our bodies] is destroyed, we have a building from God...eternal in the heavens.” [Second Corinthians 5:1]

From Jesus Himself, we have the assurance that all who believe in Him won’t forever be erased or go to hell, but live with God forever, something He tells us in the Bible’s most famous passage, John 3:16.

Jesus-Followers know that whatever lies ahead, they belong to Jesus Christ. period.

But the Bible seems to say two different things about what happens to followers of Christ when they die.

There are numerous passages that intimate believers fall asleep, awaiting what the Bible calls “the day of the Lord,” when Jesus returns and brings them back to life again.

In the Old Testament, for example, the book of Daniel says, “Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake; some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.” [Daniel 12:2]

In a New Testament account of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, we’re told that Jesus knows that his friend, Lazarus, has died and says of it that Lazarus has “fallen asleep.” [John 11:11]

Paul, in another place in the New Testament, spoke of the more than 500 believers who had seen the risen Jesus, and then noted that while most were still living, some had “fallen asleep.” [First Corinthians 15:6]

On the other hand, there are passages of the Bible which intimate that the Christian’s transfer to heaven follows death immediately.

For example, there are the words Jesus spoke to one of the criminals executed on a cross at the same time as He was. The criminal turns from sin and pleads with Jesus, Who hardly had the look of a king at this point, “Jesus, remember me when you come into Your kingdom.” Jesus replies, “Truly, I tell you, today you will be with me in Pardise.” [Luke 23:39-43]

So, what are we to make of these seemingly conflicting teachings? An important principle to apply in understanding the Bible is this: When confronted with such apparent conflicts, we should avoid the easy-outs of harmonizing or of choosing one teaching over another.

Christians believe that the entire Bible was inspired by God. [Second Timothy 3:16] Nothing is there accidentally.

Beyond that, particularly as it relates to the New Testament’s witness for Jesus, the Bible is a far more historically-reliable document, written closer to the events it describes, than almost any other historical writings we have from the ancient world. The whole Bible deserves a fair hearing from fair-minded people.

So, I would say that these seemingly conflicting perspectives on what happens to the Christian who dies are both true.

I believe that these two teachings--death as sleep, on the one hand, and immediate transfer to heaven, on the other--are really two perspectives of the same experience.

From the earthly perspective, the believer has fallen asleep. They’ll remain that way, as Jesus’ dead body had from Good Friday through the first Easter Sunday morning, until Jesus returns and wakes them to life again.

But from the perspective of eternity, which is a state of timelessness, what C.S. Lewis called “the eternal now,” believers who have died already are in heaven, already in God’s presence.

This is what I believe. I could be wrong. But no matter the actual facts, believers in Jesus know, as Paul writes, that “whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.” [Romans 14:8]

It's Not Bread and Whine!

Parableman has an excellent post on "Christian Victimology." Here's the response I posted:
This "victimology," as you call it, is present in many forms among Christians in the US. Discouraged by the drift of our culture, instead of sharing Christ's love, speaking intelligently about the bases for their hope and the blessings of a relationship with God, or serving their neighbors without expectation of reciprocation, Christian "victims" bellyache, whine, and rail against such enemies as "liberals" and "secular humanists." They lend their support--verbal and monetary--to leaders who employ the inferior weapons of political activism and threats, rather than patiently, lovingly, and respectfully lifting Christ before the world.

The upshot? New enemies of Christ are created and old ones affirmed in their opposition to Him by the very people commissioned to share Christ with others.

Who then, turn out to be the real enemies of Christ?

In the first century, Peter addressed the maligned Christians of Asia Minor in order to encourage them. He didn't direct them to start a PAC, to wrest the levers of political power, or to complain about their victimhood. Instead, he advised, "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." [First Peter 3:15-6]

The Sacrament is bread and wine, not bread and whine.

Two from King

Deborah White has posted the Letter from a Birmingham Jail composed by Martin Luther King, Jr. after his arrest.

Mark Sides has posted the complete text of King's I Have a Dream speech.

Is This the Next Project of the Bush Administration?

If this is true, I think that everyone in the US, of all political stripes, would want to have a thorough discussion of what our foreign and military policies are exactly.

In Honor of Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. fought for justice as a follower of Jesus Christ. Here are the lyrics to U2's song praising Christ and celebrating King's work, Pride (In the Name of Love). The dream is still worth pursuing!

What's All This Cash Buying?

Money, money, everywhere!

Recently, there have been revelations of money sent to a commentator and a blogger by the US Department of Education and Howard Dean's presidential campaign, respectively.

The President's official Inaugural activities, paid for by private donations, will cost at least $40-million. Apart from the unseamliness of a major blowout happening at the same time that Americans are fighting and dying in Iraq, the amount of money being spent and the glitziness of the overabundant celebrating is disturbing.

But that's just the tip of the financial iceberg. This week will also see numerous other "celebrations" for various other political figures, many of them paid for by corporations and interest groups.

It's all very dangrous, it seems to me. Royalism appears to be alive in America and it's a bipartisan phenomenon.

No matter what the state of our union, there always seems to be enough cash around to grease the gears of our political machinery.

Gergen Students at Harvard War Game Chuck Hagel to Presidency in 2008

I found this really interesting. Implausible perhaps, but interesting.

Tsunami Relief Continues to Be High Priority

Please do give serious consideration to donating to one of the following relief agencies as they continue their important work in south Asia:

Lutheran World Relief
American Red Cross
Catholic Relief Services
World Vision

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Kindness, Not Condemnation, Leads to Repentance

World Magazine Blog's Mark Bergin applauds the Philadelphia Inquirer for an editorial. In it, the paper comments on the indictment of four protesters who used a bullhorn and carried placards telling participants in a Gay Pride block party, "God Abhors You!"

The paper deemed the indictments over the top.

But it also condemned the protesters for their tactics and their sentiments.

Bergin agreed with the Inquirer. His post has elicited a wide variety of responses. Here's what I wrote:
Hurrah for the Inquirer! When will Christians realize that the only people Jesus ever scoldingly upbraided were the religious folks who knowingly violated God's holiness, not unbelievers or marginal believers?

The people who fell into these latter categories were shown kindness, patience, and understanding by Jesus. Even fiery Paul understood that it is the kindness of God that leads people to repent (turn from sin) and receive new life through Christ.

The indictment of the Christian demonstrators was over the top.

But the un-Christian tactics of the demonstrators were also wrong. Their aim shouldn't have been condemnation, but evangelization.

A Book That Demands to Be Read Aloud

Some books simply cry out to be read aloud. Doing so showcases the richness of the language the author has labored to achieve, along with the book's cadences, images, and nuances of meaning.

I wouldn't dream of reading one of Shakespeare's plays silently, for example. Speaking words written to be spoken on a stage allows one to understand the antiquated phrases, the meaning of which would otherwise be impenetrable to twenty-first-century people.

The Bible, much of it originally written on scrolls carried from place to place and read to groups of people, also is best read out loud. I do so every chance I get.

London: The Biography by Peter Ackroyd is a book which demands to be read aloud. Be warned that you're apt to grow hoarse doing so, though: It's more than 770-pages long. I'm only about one-seventh of the way through it, but I can already tell that I'm going to love this book.

And during a recent jaunt in the family van, I was able to read a bit of it out loud. Whenever we take little trips, I read while my wife drives. So, I read some of London to her.

Ackroyd's narrative is beautiful, bringing varied aspects of London's character alive.

While he covers the history of the city, this really isn't a history, but more of a series of biographical sketches, as the book's subtitle implies.

One of the intriguing things to emerge so far for me, is how similar Ackroyd's picture of London is to that of New York City created by Ric Burns in his wonderful PBS documentary. While the media are completely different and the specifics of the city's histories, both London and New York are places built on the rough-and-tumble of cutthroat commerce. It's intriguing.

Another analogy is the absolute consistency in manners, outlook, and pace extant from the beginnings through to the present in both London and New York. No matter who thinks they may rule these two cities, the wheels of economic activity, the two cities' obsessions, keep grinding on, as incessant as the seasons.

I'm looking forward to reading more of Ackroyd's book and hopefully, will be able to read a lot of it out loud!

Big Bunch o' Blogs

Check out any and all of the blog sites listed below. They're part of evangelical outpost's exhaustive list of evangelical Christian bloggers. While most seem to tilt in a particular direction politically, there is a surprising degree of variety among the entries.

I don't know what the numbers in parenthesis mean. But those on the left reflect their overal ranking in what is called "the blogosphere."

18. (1167)
19. the evangelical outpost (1165)
28. La Shawn Barber's Corner (1019)
32. ScrappleFace (951)
40. World Magazine Blog (912)
64. Parableman (716)
109. Le Sabot Post-Moderne (518)
116. Adrian Warnock's UK Evangelical Blog (506)
149. Patriot Paradox (428)
157. In the Agora (419)
178. Wittenberg Gate (394)
209. Blue Goldfish (361)
227. Evangelical Underground (343)
253. Sidesspot (323)
296. (290)
298. Broken Masterpieces (287)
302. Blogdom of God (285)
314. King of Fools (280)
318. Ogre's Politics & Views
326. Logicus bLogicus (274)
341. CoffeeSwirls (267)
345. Spreading Understanding (266)
372. Wallo World (258)
428.TulipGirl (237)
438. Cadmusings
439. A Physicist's Perspective (235)
447.Sounding the Trumpet (232)
452. Vox Popoli (230)
456. 21st Century Reformation (229)
478. Uncle Sam's Cabin (223)
524. (208)
545. Challies Dot Com
681. Daddy Pundit
682. The Dawn Treader
923. Reverend Mike's House of Homiletic Hash
1106. New Covenant
1131. Damascus Road
1239. Every Thought Captive
1277. Wesley Blog (119)
1293. Every Thought Captive
1302. Crossroads
1314. Joe Missionary
1356. doubletoothpicks: worldviews behind the news (113)
1383. notes from the front lines
1430. Antioch Road
1442. Antioch Road
1500. a ticking time blog
1593. Fallible
1597. SteelerDirtFreak :: A 21st Century Missional Redneck Geek
1717. Mark Byron (83)
1730. prosthesis
1758. Imperfect but Forgiven
2166. He Lives
2121. JivinJehoshaphat
2360. Darn Floor
2562. The Regulator
2662. Now I don't want to get off on a rant here...
2794. Dr. John Mark Reynolds (43)
3156. espresso roast (36)
3643. Feeble Knees
3731. It Take A Church…
4702. Better Living: Thoughts from Mark Daniels
4840. Off the top
5279. Hill Country Views (16)
5516. Abide in the Word
5713. (14)
5752. lawreligionculturereview
7404. TRUTH BE TOLD (8)
7441. Happy Mills (8)
7450. Media Culpa
7727. personal trainer (7)
8634. Dunker Journal
9081. The Wardrobe Door
10921. Blogcorner preacher (3)
10991. Proverbs Daily
11555. On An Azure Field of Gratuitous Advice
12365. Sonspot (2)
NR - Mentor Mark Memoirs
17080. ??? ???
NR - secundum Christum
NR - ChristianHillsblog
NR - Grace Notes 4 Teens
NR - Peacful Chaos
NR - C.H.U.R.C.H.
NR - The Greatest Pursuits
NR - Be Bold, Be Gentle
NR - Foundations
NR - For the Joy
NR - Sarcasmagorica
NR - Jeff Blogworthy
NR - A Simple Desultory Dangling Conversation
NR - Run To Win
NR - Marginal Comments
NR - Northern 'burbs blog
NR - The Grey Shadow

Prayer: The Essential Conversation, Part 8

In the most recent posts in this series, we've been talking about myths, false notions, that keep people from praying. Today's post will be a short one. I'm cutting right to the chase.

Myth #3: "I'm not good enough to pray to God."

Let me immediately put your mind at ease on this one. You're not good enough. Neither am I. In fact, none of us can really claim to be good enough to even converse with, let alone ask things of, a perfect God. "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" is the way one passage in the New Testament portion of the Bible puts it. [Romans 3:23]

This is precisely why the Old Testament people were so afraid to see God face-to-face and why those who did (Moses and Hagar come immediately to mind) were amazed that they remained alive afterwards. They were certain that the brightness of God's perfection would strike them dead.

So, we really aren't good enough for God, if by that you mean that your behavior doesn't measure up to God's standards. It doesn't.

Fortunately, that's not the end of the story.

It turns out that even though we disappoint God, hurt God, and anger Him sometimes, He doesn't stop loving us. And God doesn't stop wanting to hear from us either.

That should make sense, I think. When people that we care about disappoint, hurt, or anger us, most of the time, we aren't going to want to bring a complete halt to our relationships. How much more will God, Who loves infinitely more than any of us, be open to hearing from us? In fact, Jesus drew this very analogy once when telling people to pray:
Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!’ [Luke 11:11-13]

This is why the very first thing that Jesus, God in the flesh, called people to do when He began His public ministry was to repent, to turn away from sin, to repudiate it, and to instead, turn to Him for life, forgiveness, and fulfillment. According to the New Testament book of Mark, Jesus said, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news." (Mark 1:15)

Repentance isn't so much an action as a change in orientation, like the maneuver undertaken by US spacecrafts when they returned from the moon. Without a deliberate re-orientation to earth orbit, the crafts would have skipped out into space, never to be seen or heard from again. All this re-orientation really accomplished, by the way, was to put the spaceship in the gravitational pull of the earth. So, it was gravity and not the astronauts' efforts that secured their re-entry. When we repent, we change our orbit. Our lives revolve around Christ and He pulls us close to Himself, so that we begin to change from the sinful people we once were into the Christlike people we'll be one day in eternity.

This change in our orbiting patterns breaks the communications blackout that may have existed between God and us. No longer are we on the dark side of the moon, so to speak, but we become linked to God again.

Can I prove this to you rationally? There are an increasing number of studies done which demonstrate that amazing things do happen when people pray. But, as is true of so many things in the Christian life, until we dare to come to Christ in repentant prayer, we will never know, believe the truth about prayer, or experience it. As one who turned from atheism and to faith in Jesus Christ though, I can tell you, that prayer--communications with God--has proven to be a conduit by which God has changed my life in hundreds of ways. I'm far from perfect and sometimes I deliberately shut off communications with God so that I can do the rotten things I want to do, but I have found God is always there, ready to restore, renew, and help me.

So tonight, before you go to bed, I dare you to do something. Tell God: "Even though I'm not even sure You're there, God, I want You to be there. I know that I can't depend on just myself or the people in my life or the things in my life. So, I repudiate my sins. I want to orbit around You. Please let me know You and show me what it means to be Your child. Help me to know what it means to believe in Jesus, the One Who shows us just how much You love us." You don't even have to say, "Amen," if you don't want to say it!

Chances are, there will be no sudden flash of lightning when you say this prayer. But I guarantee that if you mean it when you say it and if you will continue to converse with God in this way, things will change in your life, beginning your inner attitudes about life and the people you know and the circumstances you observe.

You and I aren't good enough to pray. Pray anyway. When you do, you'll be letting Jesus Christ into the core of your being. And you'll find that He's the best partner you could have in your life.

[To read more on this subject, I invite you to follow these links:
Prayer: The Essential Conversation, Part 1
Prayer: The Essential Conversation, Part 2
Prayer: The Essential Conversation, Part 3
Prayer: The Essential Conversation, Part 4
Prayer: The Essential Conversation, Part 5
Prayer: The Essential Conversation, Part 6
Prayer: The Essential Conversation, Part 7]

As an Ohio State Grad

(Class of '75), I was happy to read this editorial in the Toledo Blade.

Another Good One from Mark Roberts

Mark Roberts has an interesting post on a confrontation about the nature of happiness that happened recently at a California middle school. It's part of a larger series that Mark is doing.

Christians Must Pursue Justice Says Fiji Methodist Leader

I couldn't help but think of the Old Testament prophecy, Micah 6:6-8, with its call away from hypocritical show-dog religion to genuine service of God and neighbor, when I read this news story about a presentation from Methodist leader in Fiji.

Sam Brownback for President?

I never would have thought it, but apparently, he's testing the waters. Stranger things have happened. But he would have to pass through a gauntlet that includes front-runner John McCain, Bernard Kerik-tarnished Rudy Giuiliani, Bill Frist, Chuck Hagel, Rick Santorum, and other possible entrants.

How he could take support from Santorum, another hard-right pol who enjoys support from the conservative camp of Christians, is not clear to me. That's what Brownback would have to do because, like Santorum, it's his natural voter, volunteer, and contribution base. But, he is making the obligatory trips to Iowa already. After all, there are only three years before the presidential caucuses there.

Jerry Springer's Newest Gig

Before he was the king of Garbage TV, Jerry Springer was a news anchor and analyst here in Cincinnati, a respected citizen.

Before that, he was a local pol and as the biggest vote-getter in City Council elections, served in the then-ceremonial role of mayor of Cincinnati.

In spite of some very bad personal decisions, through serious work in both of the aforementioned careers, Springer had refurbished his somewhat tarnished local reputation before being offered the chance to do a syndicated daily TV talk show, for which he later became internationally famous...or perhaps, infamous.

Springer wants to plunge back into politics in Ohio and last year, was named the state Democratic Party's volunteer of the year for his fund-raising accomplishments.

But today, virtually an entire generation of voting age people in this state know him only as the P.T. Barnum of People Behaving Badly.

So, what's a 60-year old multimillionnaire with a reputation for presenting sleeze to the masses, but who wants to be governor, do?

Springer is going back on the airwaves in the Cincinnati area with a radio talk show. He intends to become a liberal Rush Limbaugh. It's a bid to re-establish his credentials as a political thinker and serious person.

There may be a market for Jerry Springer on the local radio dial. Cincinnati is sated with conservative talk radio. Springer's show will be the local production of a station that plans to present Air America talk. (There are plans also to syndicate the new Springer show.)

In fairness to Jerry Springer, he's a bright man. Anyone who's heard him interviewed by Chris Matthews or listened to the straight commentaries he once did on WLW in Cincy knows that.

But he's always wanted to be governor or senator. (Because, like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Springer is foreign-born, he can't be president.) Back in 1982, he made a bid for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in Ohio. He lost the primary to the man who eventually became governor, Dick Celeste.

It'll be interesting to see how this all plays out and if Springer is able to use the radio show as a springboard to the political career he's always wanted.

What's in a Name?

John 1:29-42
(shared with the people of Friendship Church, January 16, 2005)

When my family and I arrived here fourteen-and-a-half years ago, one of the first decisions I had to make was what to name this new congregation we were here to start.

Actually, I agonized over this. It seemed very important to me. That’s because not long before arriving, I’d read about how one member of Community Church of Joy, a Lutheran congregation out in Arizona, had come to join the congregation. He had just gone through a painful divorce, when he stumbled onto one of the congregation’s advertisements. He’d never seen the word joy in the name of a church before. So, he decided to check it out. He stayed.

I wanted the name of this congregation to be like joy: Biblical and compelling. Friendship fit the bill.

It was Biblical. Jesus called His followers not His servants or His slaves, but His friends. The Old Testament patriarch of the Jewish people, Abraham, was referred to as a friend of God. And both the New Testament's Gospel of Luke and Acts were addressed to a man named Theophilus, which means, friend of God.

I thought that the name was also compelling. Friendship is, after all, friendly word, conveying warmth and hospitality, the very things that the Bible says we Christians are to share with strangers and one another.

And you know, it’s interesting. Through the years, one of the things that new members have consistently said about Friendship Church is how warm and welcoming and friendly the people of Friendship are. All sinners, every last one of us, are welcome. I think that our name has something to do with that warmth and friendliness. I believe that people looking for the friendship of God and of others come here and together, we find it.

Not to plagiarize Shakespeare, but what exactly is in a name? In Biblical times, names and nicknames meant a lot. Parents dubbed their children with names that came from their family trees or that reflected some attribute the child seemed to display during pregnancy or early in life.

Names were so important to people in Biblical times that they would sometimes change them after an encounter with God or some new experience of God.

Just this past week, during my devotion time I was rereading the Bible’s account of Jacob, the son of Isaac. Jacob was a piece of work and that’s not a compliment. His name, Jacob, means something like, one who grabs the heel. According to the Bible, Jacob, who was a twin, grabbed his brother Esau’s heel just as Esau was about to go down the birth canal. In doing so, Jacob supplanted his brother to become the first-born himself. It set the tone for much of the rest of Jacob’s life because he was almost always a heel himself. He was always scheming to gain advantages, assuming that others, even God, were out to get him.

One night, sleeping alone beneath the stars, Jacob wrestled with God or with an angel sent by God. He wrestled for blessings that God wants to give freely when people will simply stand aside and allow God to bless them. That night, God gave Jacob a new name: Israel, which means, one who contends.

Even today, names can define us. I remember reading once about a boy who barely made the high school baseball team. He was slow. But without a trace of irony or putdown, his coach nicknamed the kid, Speedy. This boy never set any land speed records. But by the end of the season, he had become one of the fastest base-runners on the team. What had changed? He’d been given a new name by someone who believed in him and he proceeded to live up to it all!

In our Bible lesson for today, we find several different names being used of Jesus. Each tells us something about Him.

At the beginning of the lesson, John the Baptist is near the Jordan River, baptizing those who are turning from sin and turning to God, when he looks up and sees Jesus. “Here,” John says, “is the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world!”

The meaning of that name for Jesus, Lamb of God, would have been absolutely clear to everyone who heard John that day. Every year on Yom Kippur, the great Jewish day of atonement, an unblemished lamb would be slaughtered on the temple altar. The lamb represented the people of Israel and it took the rightful punishment for their sin, which is death. But Jesus came to be the perfect Lamb Who secured forgiveness and new life for us, in a phrase repeatedly used in the book of Hebrews, “once and for all.”

But Jesus is more than just the Lamb of God. When two of John the Baptist’s followers--or, disciples, or students--hear what John has to say about Jesus the next day, they follow Jesus. “Rabbi, Teacher” they say to Him, “where are you staying?” Jesus says, “Come and see.”

Jesus proved to be a great teacher because it's been my experience that the best teachers always invite their students to, "Come and see!"

I was fortunate all the way through my years as a student to have had some great teachers. Every time I was in their class rooms, they opened up new worlds to us. They were always prompting us to, “Come and see. Learn. Stretch. Become your better self.” Dorothy Everett, my fourth grade teacher was like this. So was my senior English Composition teacher at Columbus West High School, Rosemary Leuchter; Stan Swart, my History instructor for my first two quarters at Ohio State; and Bruce Schein, one of my New Testament professors at Trinity Seminary.

They all had two things in common: They cared for us and they challenged us to be our very best!

Jesus, our Rabbi, our Teacher, is the ultimate expression of those two attributes.

He cares for us. That’s why He went to a cross.

And He challenges us to be our very best because He knows how badly sin has marred us, but also that when His power and forgiveness and newness are surging through our lives, He makes us new creatures, capable of living life to the full

After these two students of John the Baptist have become students of their new rabbi/teacher, Jesus, one of them, a guy named Andrew runs off to tell his brother about Him.

Andrew’s brother is a fisherman named Simon. Simon’s name means God has heard.

But until that moment those sentiments may have been nothing more than a wish in the experience of Simon. He worked hard each day under broiling suns and threatening clouds to bring back a catch, only to be taxed exorbitantly by the Romans, who enslaved his people.

At synagogue and temple, he would have found life with God, which should have given him hope and guidance, to be nothing more than demands upon his time and his life, always threatening him with God’s punishment.

Like others in his culture, he may have prayed for the coming of the Savior promised hundreds of years before. He may have even grown tired of praying for Him. Maybe he doubted that God really does hear when we call out to Him.

Andrew shows up and tells Simon, “We’ve found the Messiah,” yet another name for Jesus. Messiah means Anointed One, the long-promised Savior from heaven. The Greek version of the name is Christos, Christ. Andrew was telling Simon: “We’ve found the One for Whom we’ve been praying. God has heard us!”

Early in the animated Disney movie, Aladdin, this young street rat, is with the princess, who has escaped the palace in order to experience something of normal life. But the palace and the army, on alert to bring her back home, see her and are in hot pursuit as she runs away. Then comes a key moment. Aladdin extends his hand to the princess and asks, “Do you trust me?”

That was the question with which Simon was confronted when his little brother Andrew came with this startling news about a Savior. Would he trust that God had heard his prayers and sent a Savior?

Every day, you and I face the same question. Will we trust Jesus? Will we trust that the One Who went to the cross for us and rose again for us is the One Who can give us new life? Not our money, not achievement, not a good reputation, not the applause of friends and neighbors, not nice things. Will we trust Jesus?

Simon answered that question when he ran with Andrew to meet Jesus.

And what do you suppose happened next? Jesus changed Simon’s name. “You’re Simon, the son of John, Simon Johnson. But now, you’re going to be Cephas, Latin for Rock.” The Greek version of the name is Petros, that's Peter in English.

At that moment, Simon became Peter, the Rock. Simon Peter knew that God had heard his prayers and those of His people and that Jesus was the rock hard foundation on Whom to build our lives.

It took awhile for Peter to live up to his new name. Once, you may remember, he saw Jesus walking on the water. He asked Jesus to call out to him so that he could walk on the waves, too. Jesus told him, "Come on then." Peter climbed out of the boat and for a few steps, he did just fine and then, his faith crumbling in the face of this impossibility, he began to sink like a rock.

Then ther was that awful night when Jesus was arrested and Peter, the Rock who had stated firmly he would never abandon Jesus, denied even knowing Jesus three times.

But Jesus forgave Peter and in time, Simon Peter the Rock would, with the confidence born of personal experience, declare to all who would listen that, “Whoever calls upon the Lord will be saved!” Peter knew that God really does hear and care about us and that through a relationship with Jesus Christ, God changes our names...and our lives.

I want you to know that when you were baptized, whether as a child or an adult, the God we know through Jesus Christ, changed your name. When you first came to follow Jesus, He changed your identity. That new name and identity is: Child of God. Having that name, through the amazing charity of God offered to us from the Lamb of God, our Teacher, our Messiah Savior Jesus is the most wonderful thing in the world.

I sometimes wonder if I will ever grow into it. But I'm thankful that, in spite of my unworthiness of it, that's the name God gives me nonetheless. It's the name He gives to all with faith in Jesus Christ.

And so, today, Do you trust Jesus? That’s the question we must answer today and every day. Day-in and day-out, it's the most important question we can ever answer!

[I had decided to do this week's message on the names of Jesus and the names He gives His followers when I ran across two terrific messages that gave me added inspiration. One was by Pastor Paul Gauche ( and the other from]

Let Me Continue to Recommend...

that you consider making a contribution for tsunami relief to one of the following reputable organizations:

Lutheran World Relief
American Red Cross
Catholic Relief Services
World Vision