Saturday, July 29, 2006

How You Can Leave a Comment on This Blog

I've been asked how readers can make comments on this blog.

Click on the "Comments' line of the individual post.

You'll be able to make a comment if you're a registered member of Blogger. Doing so doesn't require you to have a blog yourself. Nor you will be inundated with spam emails. Becoming a registered user takes only a few moments.

After you're registered, you'll be able to come back to the blog and make your comments.

This will also enable you to make comments at other blogs.

I hope that this helps.

Althouse Presents Stunning Pictures

She snapped some beautiful shots of a Jennifer Steincamp light show at the San Jose Art Museum. Go take a look.

Have You Checked Out '' Yet?

If not here's the link.

It's a Well-Written Post...

...but I may have missed its point. Readeriam thinks I did. She may be right.

Matt Jones Has Some Awesome Pics of the Most Recent Space Shuttle Lift-Off

Go here.

What Should Christians Do in Response to the Current World Crises?

The Saturday afternoon service at the congregation I serve as pastor, Friendship Lutheran Church, usually brings together a handful of people. A preacher might ordinarily be depressed by the paltry attendance, but I love this service.

That's partly because it's a stripped-down affair. There's nothing fancy about it. No pomp in this circumstance.

We open with prayer and sing a song. After that, I ask someone to read our Bible lesson for the weekend and then I give my message.

What comes next is what I like best about the service. It's a segment we call, "Questions and Blessings." I ask people to respond to the lesson or the message, to pose questions, to share an insight or praise God for a blessing, or to simply bring up some spiritual issue with which they'd like us all to wrestle together.

Tonight, understandably, the discussion quickly moved to the current conflict in Lebanon and the continuing war in Iraq, as well as the ongoing threat of global terrorism.

How, one participant wondered, are we to manifest the goodness and glory of Jesus Christ, as our lesson this weekend prays that we Christians will do, in a world seemingly hell-bent on violence and death? What should we do?

Those are good questions.

My answer to both of them may seem simplistic. But I think it's the right answer: We should pray.

But what should we pray?

Honestly, I'm not wise enough to know how the current crises in international affairs are to be resolved. I have my opinions, to be sure. But the older I get, the more aware I become of the limits of my knowledge. I don't know it all.

To paraphrase the late, great Frank Laubach, even if I were miraculously granted ten minutes each day to provide advice to people like George Bush, Ehud Olmert, or even, Hassan Nasrallah, the chances are very good that my advice would be wrong. Even if my motives were unimpeachable. Even if I prayed for God's guidance over the advice I gave to them.

I would likelier give bad advice than good because I'm human, prone to error, apt to follow my own predispositions in spite of all my good intentions to the contrary.

But God is the One Whose counsel is always right. "Yes, O Lord God, the Almighty, your judgements are true and just!" (Revelation 16:7)

So, this is what I pray as I consider the violence in our world:
  • That God's will and not our own, be done
  • That God would open the hearts and wills of leaders to make right decisions
  • That Christ would go to those leaders incessantly, with His counsel and will
  • That peace will come to troubled hearts and troubled nations
When I say, as I do emphatically, that prayer is the most that we can do in response to the current world crises, I don't say it with fatalistic resignation. I say it instead with robust confidence that when we turn to the God we meet in Jesus Christ and ask for His will to be done, we're tapping into the greatest Power in the universe for the purpose of seeing the very best things happen.


[Thanks to Andrew Jackson of for linking to this post.]

[Thanks also to Matt Brown of Good Brownie for linking to this post.]

Meanwhile, To Understand the Anger Felt By Some Westernized Arabs Over the War in Lebanon...

...I go to Rambling Hal's site. You might want to do the same thing. Even if you don't agree with her--and chances are very good that you won't, it's informative to read what she has to say. This is the perspective of a young, educated, cosmopolitan, professional woman in Jordan. Hal often rails against the oppressive attitudes and policies of her own and other predominantly Islamic countries. But she is furious with Israel's strategy in Lebanon. Be warned: Hal's language can sometimes be coarse.

Big Pharaoh and Dawisha Both Disdain Arab Street's Celebration of Nasrallah

Both Big Pharaoh, a blogger in Egypt, and Dr. Adeed Dawisha, an Iraqi-American professor of Political Science at Miami University (Oxford, Ohio), analyze the pathetic respect being given the head of Hezbollah by "the Arab street."

While Dawisha is far more critical of Israel than is Big Pharaoh, they reach similar conclusions about Nasrallah and crew. Both are furious with Hezbollah for initiating this war with their attack on Israel.

Friday, July 28, 2006

There's Larry Flynt and Hugh Hefner

And then, there's another despoiler of culture, the political pornographer, Ann Coulter.

I love Chris Matthews. But for him to compare her to the young George Will, as he does in the linked piece, is wildly inaccurate. Will always knew his stuff. Coulter is a verbal flame thrower.

In fact, I feel that we have miscategorized Coulter. She's no pundit. She's a stand-up comic. And not funny.

How Can Small Communities, Formerly One-Company Towns, Thrive After the Company Has Gone?

Jonathan Shaw has the story of what happened in Kellogg, Idaho.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Christian Faith: The Basics, Part 27

I know. I know. I just announced yesterday that I was putting this series on hold. But I got inspired.

Continuing to use Martin Luther's Small Catechism as our "skeleton" and specifically, explicating the Creed, I want to begin to talk with you today about God the Son, Jesus the Christ.

We start with the grand finale of the beautiful overture to the Gospel of John:
No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known. (John 1:18)
Like another Gospel writer, Mark, John never gives an account of Jesus' birth. We have to rely on Luke and Matthew for our narratives of the Christmas story. But it's John's prologue, read by candlelight and framed with the singing of Silent Night that steals our hearts and stirs our minds at Lutheran churches each Christmas Eve. It's John who succinctly and eloquently captures the essence of Christmas.

How is that? Because his words cut to the very core of what it means to confesses that, "Jesus is Lord." That is, "Jesus is over everything and everyone." (In another place, John quotes the risen Jesus describing Himself as, "the Alpha and the Omega," which is to say that He's the start and the finish, the beginning and the completion.)

Christianity is a faith rooted in the belief that God has revealed Himself to the world, repeatedly. And definitively.

Christian faith isn't based on the singular word of some toga-wearing holy man or some latte-drinking, pipe-smoking pseudo-intellectual, or a treasure-hunting, scam-selling opportunist telling us, "This is what I think God is like..." Or, "This is what God told me exclusively..."

We don't need to speculate about God's nature.

We don't need to accept the word of one person, the way Islam or Mormonism expect us to do.

God has revealed Himself to lots of people. In fact, the Old Testament describes how God slowly, patiently built up a whole people, revealing Himself in countless ways to many over the centuries, preparing that people--the Hebrews--to become the family into which the Savior would be born.

And then He showed up.

God the Son.


None of us, at least none of us in our currently earthly states, could look the perfect God of the universe square in the face. But God wanted to establish a relationship with the whole human race. And so, He became one of us, veiling His glory, sharing our humanity, walking among us. The divine became human. The prince became the pauper. The King became the servant. Jesus made the heart of the Father known to us. God Himself.

But why? That's a story. The best story.

More on that, God willing, in the next post of this series.

Interesting People Ask Questions

Don't you agree?

The Gulf Between Classic Conservatives and the Neocon/Religious Right is Widening

As a pastor, I visit with a lot of folks here in the reddest part of the red state of Ohio. I rarely bring up politics with people. But sometimes, as the news of the day comes up in conversation, my predominantly Republican neighbors share their opinions.

That's why I found this David Broder article so interesting. The sentiments it reports among long-time conservative Republican activists reflect many of the comments that my conservative Republican neighbors are making these days.

Most of the evidence is just anecdotal, of course. But it appears to me that the Republican coalition is at risk of cracking at its seams.

One bit of emprical evidence for this suspicion may be what's happening in Ohio's gubernatorial election. Republicans have enjoyed something like one-party rule in Ohio for nearly two decades. But polls show that Democratic guberatorial nominee Ted Strickland is up by twenty points over the Republican Ken Blackwell as we head for the November election.

There are no doubt many reasons behind this: Strickland's proven vote-getting ability among Republicans and independents, suspicions over Blackwell's handling of elections in his role as Secretary of State, and the single-digit approval rating for the current Republican Governor.

But down below the surface, one sees that it's because Blackwell hasn't won over his fellow Republicans that he's in trouble here. While Strickland enjoys support from 81% of his fellow Dems, Blackwell has 61% of Republicans in his corner.

One possible explanation for Blackwell's failure to excite his base is his close identification with the Religious Right. He's been known to carry Bibles to political rallies, he's countenanced questionable political fund-raising in churches, and he gives stump speeches during worship services.

Many Christians, including me, don't like the second or third activities enumerated above at all. No matter how authentic Blackwell's faith may be, using the church to advance one's political career leaves a bad taste in the mouths of even conservative Bible-believing Christians.

The winning Republican coalition knit together over the past twenty years and exploited most recently by George Bush and Karl Rove to gain squeaker wins in two consecutive presidential elections, has included classic conservatives and the Religious Right.

The conservatives could stand being with the RR so long as conservatism held sway in the resulting governmental policies. But now, it seems that the agenda of the Religious Right has overtaken the Republican Party and that leaves conservatives dismayed.

Of course, Democrats, being Democrats, are likely to find ways to muff the opportunities for midterm election gains that Republican divisions have given them in 2006.

And here in Ohio, the same poll showing Strickland's twenty-point lead over Blackwell also shows that 26% of the electorate remains undecided about the gubernatorial race.

Interestingly though, in this year when the tide seems to be running against Republicans, Senator Mike DeWine, a classic conservative, is only eight points behind his challenger, Sherrod Brown, with 18 percent of those polled undecided.

Nonetheless, it appears that the gulf between conventional conservative Republicans, with their beliefs in small government, frugal spending, unobtrusive policies, and foreign policy realism, on the one hand, and the allies of the Bush Administration, with its robust neoconservative policies, on the other, appears to be widening.

[Thanks to Ruminating Pilgrim for linking to this post.]

[My friend Rob Asghar has linked to this post, perhaps with a bit of relish.]

[Thanks to Article 6 Blog for linking to this post.]

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Putting 'Christian Faith: The Basics' on Ice for Now

I'm taking a hiatus from my Christian Faith: The Basics blog series for now.

I had to stop a series one other time. I was writing about servanthood and didn't feel quite ready to do the series the way I wanted to do it. Later, I was able to present 40-Days to Servanthood, one of the most widely-read and well-received sets of posts I've presented in four-plus years of blogging. So, I'll keep things percolating and keep on praying and have at the series again sometime soon.

There are twenty-five parts to the Christian Faith: The Basics series. You can use the Google This Blog function to find them.

Of course, I'm going to continue blogging here at Better Living!

I'm still praying...

that the war in Lebanon ends soon.

A Brief Reflection on the Rise of the Christian Left

I take as dim a view of it as I do of the Christian Right.

Doomed To Be a Fine Character Actor

Jack Warden died on July 19.

I first became aware of Jack Warden when he starred in the forgettable, Wackiest Ship in the Army, one of a spate of World War Two-related sitcoms that began with 1962's McHale's Navy and included Hogan's Heroes.

(Have you ever noticed how lamely uncreative network programmers are? When, by some miraculous, involuntary turn of events, a new idea makes it past their office transoms and onto the air and, with little thanks to them, becomes a hit, they suddenly order fifty clones into production. "You like 24? Okay, we'll give you fifteen more episodic adventure stories just like it." "You like news magazines like 60 Minutes? Here, have a 48-Hours, a 20/20, and, to prove that we're creative enough not to use a number in the name of our news magazine, a Dateline." "Reality shows? Try this one. We call it The Idol Survivor Dances with the Iron Chef on the Runway."

(McHale's Navy, I'm sure, was partly inspired by the stage and film success of Mr. Roberts. While that was a comedy, the reality of war was never ignored as it was in these 60s sitcoms. Indeed, the title character dies at the end of the production.)

Fortunately by the time the Wackiest Ship sailed onto and off of our TV screens, Jack Warden had already established himself as a fine character actor and a quick perusal of his filmography on demonstrates that he maintained a full four-decade-plus run of film appearances.

I'm especially fond of three Warden performances. The first was as Juror #7 in the incredible Twelve Angry Men (1957). He's a creep whose primary concern isn't doing justice, but escaping the jury room in time to watch a ball game.

His elderly friend of the family in Sandra Bullock's While You Were Sleeping (1995) may have been a bit cliche, but Warden pulled it off well. The part showcases his ability to be tender as well as tough.

His portrayal of the wonderfully flustered Max Corkle in Heaven Can Wait (1978) was part of the glue holding that Warren Beatty vehicle together.

Warden made numerous guest appearances on various TV serials and starred in no fewer than three, each doomed to fail. He never made it as a TV headliner. Nor was he ever a movie star. He was doomed instead to be a fine film character actor. There's nothing wrong with being second fiddle.

(See here and here.)

A: Ken Jennings

Q: What Salt Lake software developer is so desperate to maintain his tenuous hold on near-celebrity status that, on his web site, he bites the hand that presented him with it?

Time to get a life, Ken.

Second Pass at This Weekend's Bible Lesson: Ephesians 3:14-21

Ephesians 3:14-21 is the lesson around which our worship at Friendship Lutheran Church will be built this weekend. You can find the first pass at the lesson, with general comments here.

14For this reason I bow my knees before the Father,
(1) The phrase, "for this reason" refers back to 3:1, in which we're told that Paul is imprisoned for the sake of preaching the Gospel about Jesus Christ to Gentiles.

(2) Although going to one's knees was not an unknown prayer posture in the Biblical tradition, it was not the most common stance for prayer. In the Bible, most instances of people being on their knees refer to subservience to some powerful earthly person. Given the Ephesian culture's penchant for sychophancy to Roman authority, this image of prayer may be a deliberate way of saying, "God is greater than all the Roman governors, emperors, or gods to which you give homage. It's to the living Father of the universe that I bow."

15from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name.
(1) There's a play on words here that isn't apparent in English. The Greek word for father is pater. The word translated as family is patria, which can be aptly translated as clan, race, nation, or patrimony. The sense of the two verses that begin the lesson is: "I bow down in prayer to the Father Who fathers every people." As one scholar notes of this passage, "God is the archetypal father."

16I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit,
(1) Paul presents part one of his prayer for the Ephesian church. He asks that the Ephesian Christians be filled with strength in the power of God's Holy Spirit, the Spirit given to all believers in Jesus Christ.

If believers are filled with the Spirit, why do they need to be filled again? Billy Graham deals with this well in his fantastic book, The Holy Spirit. He says that out of the abundance of His life, God gives His Spirit to all when they come to believe in Christ. But those believers can also be filled again and again, for their consolation; for reminders of God's love, presence, and power in the midst of trying circumstances; and for sharing Christ with others by our words and actions.

(2) God has a storehouse of strength for us, drawn from "the riches of his glory." This is not the last time that God's glory will be mentioned in the passage.

17and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.
(1) The notion of Christ dwelling in Christians is a theme of last week's lesson from Ephesians. (See here, here, and here.)

The idea of Christ living in believers in Him is consistent with Paul's view, as expressed to the Athenians, who were fond of erecting monuments to gods, when he said:
"The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands..." (Acts 17:24)
Jesus was getting at this same point when He told the Samaritan woman He met by the well at Sychar:
"...the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:23-24
While things like altars, candles, and stained glass may help people to worship the God we meet in Jesus Christ, they aren't necessary. Christ doesn't dwell in things. He dwells in living people, who draw their life from Him alone.

18I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth,
(1) The knowledge that Paul prays the Ephesians will acquire is the capacity to comprehend how great the God we meet in Christ truly is. The grandeur of God and his appreciation of the uniqueness of Christ is what attracted scientist Francis Collins, head of the Human Genome Project, to faith in Christ.

(2) See here.

19and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
(1) To know something that surpasses knowledge is to experience something beyond intellectual entrapment.

(2) The thing to be known is the love of Christ. Knowing that fills us with the fullness of God because, as John reminds us, "God is love."

20Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, 21to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
(1) In the Church and in Christ, may God's glory be apparent for all coming generations. This is, as mentioned in my first pass at the passage, a doxology, a word of glory for God.

(2) Once again, the emphasis is on how God's glory comes to live in believers of Jesus.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

I'm Praying...

...that the war in Lebanon ends soon.

You Can't Use the Government to Bring in God's Kingdom

Read this insightful piece. This is a message that the folks of both the Christian Right and Left need to read.

First Pass at This Weekend's Bible Lesson: Ephesians 3:14-21

[Each week, I present as many updates on my reflections and study of the Biblical texts on which our weekend worship celebrations will be built as I can. The purpose is to help the people of the congregation I serve as pastor, Friendship Lutheran Church of Amelia, Ohio, get ready for worship. Hopefully, it's helpful to others as well, since most weekends, our Bible lesson is one from the weekly lectionary, variations of which are used in most of the churches of the world.]

The Bible Lesson: Ephesians 3:14-21
14For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. 16I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, 17and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. 18I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. 20Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, 21to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

General Comments:
1. For background on the book of Ephesians, see here.

2. Paul (or whoever the writer of the letter is) has made a number of attempts to offer prayers for the Ephesian Christians. But each time, he's felt obliged to provide background explanations for the bases of the prayers. In our lesson, he gets down to brass tacks, finishing up the prayers and capping them off (in verses 20-21), with a doxology. (Doxology is a compound word from the New Testament Greek. Doxos means glory and logos means word. A doxology is a word of glory for God.)

3. The basic theme of the prayer petitions here is to ask God to help the Ephesian Christians experience the blessings of spiritual maturity. The first petition asks that God grant them strength to deal with life's inevitable difficulties. The second that they would know God's love.

4. The knowledge of God's love that's discussed here contrasts with the knowledge about God that the first-century gnostics claimed to have about God and Christ. For the gnostics, knowledge was an intellectual acquisition. It was head knowledge which allegedly gave one access to information shrouded in secrecy.

Orthodox Christianity has always held that God has revealed Himself first through Israel and ultimately, in the Person of Jesus Christ. The knowledge to which our passage refers is the knowledge that comes from experiencing a relationship with God as He has revealed Himself to us through Jesus Christ. It's the knowledge of closeness to God.

See here, here, and here.

Christian Faith: The Basics, Part 26

We've been considering what Jesus' parable of the Prodigal Son tells us about God the Father. So far, we've said that this story tells us that:
  • God is unlike any earthly father Jesus' original hearers were likely to have known, willing to lavish blessings on all His children. He's lavish in blessing even those who have rebelled, yet turn back to Him.
  • Although, we owe God complete respect, God Himself isn't overly concerned with His dignity.
  • The Father throws a party every time a sinner turns away from sin and comes back to Him to receive life.
Now, we turn to the last part of Jesus' parable to learn something else about God the Father. Here are what the last verses tell me, as rendered by Eugene Peterson:
"All this time his older son was out in the field. When the day's work was done he came in. As he approached the house, he heard the music and dancing. Calling over one of the houseboys, he asked what was going on. He told him, 'Your brother came home. Your father has ordered a feast—barbecued beef!—because he has him home safe and sound.'

"The older brother stalked off in an angry sulk and refused to join in. His father came out and tried to talk to him, but he wouldn't listen. The son said, 'Look how many years I've stayed here serving you, never giving you one moment of grief, but have you ever thrown a party for me and my friends? Then this son of yours who has thrown away your money on whores shows up and you go all out with a feast!'

"His father said, 'Son, you don't understand. You're with me all the time, and everything that is mine is yours—but this is a wonderful time, and we had to celebrate. This brother of yours was dead, and he's alive! He was lost, and he's found!'"
When originally told by Jesus, this story no doubt caused great discomfort to His self-righteous accusers. Clearly, the younger son was akin to all those sinners to Whom Jesus was extending the possibility of forgiveness and new life. The older son were the holier-than-thou religious folk horrified by His announcement that rebel sinners, like the prodigal son, could return to the Father.

But to the first readers of Luke's Gospel, later in the first-century AD, there would have been another layer of meaning, rooted in an issue that occupied Luke, Paul, and Peter in much of their New Testament writings. It was this: Were Gentile Christians, these johnny-come-latelies to faith in the God first revealed to the people of Israel, as acceptable to God as the heirs of Abraham?

Some Jewish Christians, like the older son in Jesus' story, didn't want to accept the faith of the Gentiles either as being valid or as being equal with their own. Jesus' parable says that it is God's intention for there to be one people, beneficiaries of a new covenant and members of a new creation by virtue of Christ's death on the cross and their faith in Christ. (See here and here.)

A third layer of meaning in this part of the story is also apparent. It's this: Our relationship with God isn't a product of our performance, but a gift of His grace. The older son, like fatheaded legalists of every generation, was incensed by the welcome home the younger son was receiving. (He won't even deign to refer to him as his brother, but calls him "your son," when speaking of him to the father.)

In self-righteous tones, he recites to his father all the good things he has done, a model of obedience as a son. "But you never had a party for me and my friends!" he complains.

The older son sees his relationship with his father as something like a business transaction. If he behaves well, fulfills his responsibilities with diligence, and does his duty, then he figures that the father owes him. He forgets what the younger son has learned: that all the good things he's ever had have been made possible because of his father.

Many people have notions about God the Father similar to those the older son had for his dad. And, as was true of the older son, it strikes them as terribly unjust that God would offer forgiveness and reconciliation to the openly rebellious.

In his way, the older son was even more rebellious than the younger son had been. He went through the motions of love and respect for his father while really viewing him as someone to be contemptuously used for his own short-sighted ends. He could have had a party for his friends if he had only asked. But absent an appreciation of the love his father had for him, he never really enjoyed the relationship with his father that he could have had. This is like most of the people in our world.

The story ends on a disturbing note. The younger son and a large number of people are partying in the father's house. The house is, in essence, the kingdom of God, where there's an eternal celebration. The father comes outside to beg the older son to come in, too. But as Jesus finishes the story, he stubbornly clings to his self-righteousness and certitude. He repudiates grace, charitable forgiveness and reconciliation.

In our next installment, we'll begin discussing the means by which the Father's grace is made available to us, through God the Son, Jesus the Christ.

Monday, July 24, 2006

"We'd love to keep the peace, but..."

Hermann the German has a hilarious take on how his countrymen view the possibility of being part of the peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon.

Perfect Political Success...

for another movie star, Al Gore, might be to not be the top gun, but the supporting actor. So says Michael Grunwald. He believes that Gore ought to run in 2008...for Vice President. It sort of makes sense:
It is difficult to speculate about the politics of global warming without speculating about former vice president Al Gore. He says he's campaigning only against greenhouse gases these days, but as he basks in the success of his new movie, it's hard not to wonder whether the man who came so close to the presidency wants to take another shot.

But there's a more logical job for Gore to pursue, a job that doesn't make any sense until you think about it. It's a job that would give him the power to do something about global warming, along with other major issues close to his heart, without highlighting his political deficiencies. It's a job where it helps to be wonkish, and doesn't really hurt to be wooden. And it's a job he knows how to do -- because he already did it for eight years.

Yes, Al Gore should run for vice president.
Gore, Grunwald argues, would be playing to his strengths should he seek the vice presidency again. Yes, but he would automatically be a lightning rod on a national ticket.

This is just the sort of oddball, somewhat plausible, bit of speculation that occupies political writers during the presidential offseasons. (Although it's difficult to know when those offseasons are any more!)

Perfect Movie Success...

may be that so far enjoyed by John C. Reilly.
“I know you,’’ said a woman behind the counter at the Weiner’s Circle, a food stand here on the North Side, as Mr. Reilly ducked in recently for a Polish sausage. “You’re a musician.’’

Later that day, under a drizzle inside Marquette Park, near the gritty South Side neighborhood where Mr. Reilly grew up, a city recreation worker elbowed a friend and exclaimed: “That guy looks like that guy. He was in ‘Boogie Nights’ with Markie Mark.’’ (Indeed he was.)

A few weeks earlier, at the counter of a greasy spoon called the Apple Pan in the Westwood section of Los Angeles, a woman interrupted Mr. Reilly’s cheeseburger to say, “My boyfriend thinks he’s seen you on TV.’’
Reilly's face and performances are well-enough known to ensure that producers keep calling him. But he's not so celebrated that he's likely to be bothered by stalkers, papparazzi, or other leeches. Unless one is completely overtaken by narcissism, that has to be the perfect movie star success.

Still, this New York Times piece suggests that with his co-starring role in a new Will Ferrell movie about two NASCAR drivers, Reilly's relative anonymity is about to end.

Ironically, last night over dinner, a friend of ours said, "I don't like Will Ferrell. He isn't funny." The other three of us at the table all agreed. So, maybe the stardom the NYT projects for Reilly won't happen and he can continue to enjoy the perfect sort of celebrity. I don't think he'd mind:
Mr. Reilly immediately swiveled around on his stool to sign an autograph. He then returned to an interviewer, a broad grin arching his pitted cheeks, and said: “I love that they can’t place me. They don’t know my name. That’s ‘mission accomplished’ in my world.’’
Now that you're paying attention to him, what's your favorite John C. Reilly performance? I've seen him in two films: The Good Girl and Never Been Kissed. I hated the first film and liked the second. But within the contexts of each, I thought he gave good performances.

Is Bush 'The First Rino'?

That seems to be the opinion of the father of modern conservatism, William F. Buckley. See here.

Why de Tocqueville Said 'Democracy in America' Worked

I re-run a piece that originally ran on this blog over here.

Matt Brown Offers Me Fashion Advice


Sunday, July 23, 2006

We Have Peace

[This message was shared with the people of Friendship Lutheran Church during our worship celebration on July 23, 2006.]

Ephesians 2:11-22
Nearly two weeks ago, fighters from the Hezbollah terrorist group in Lebanon entered Israel, killed Israeli soldiers, kidnapped two, and then demanded that Israel submit to a prisoner swap. Israel responded with a major assault on Hezbollah which has also targeted Lebanese infrastructure like airports and power stations. The pictures of innocent children wounded and killed in the fighting, as well as those of fleeing people, have tugged at all our hearts.

While a recent report indicates that Year 2005 saw the fewest major armed conflicts worldwide since 1991, going from a high of 31 down to 17 last year, we in America have all been especially aware of war ever since September 11, 2001. Most of us probably have family members or friends who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, for whom we’ve offered urgent prayers for protection. We yearn for peace. We crave peace not only among nations and religions, but between ourselves as individuals and within our own souls. Peace often proves to be elusive, though.

Our Bible lesson for today was written either by the apostle Paul or one of his early students to the Christian church in the city of Ephesus, located in what is now Turkey. This congregation was apparently in some conflict. It seems that some Jewish Christians there cast doubts on the relationship that the non-Jewish, or Gentile, Christians had with God. They pointed to the Jewish religious rituals, like circumcision, which they had undergone and claimed that without the Gentiles' submission to such rituals, their faith was incomplete. They weren’t really close to God, they were told.

It was to bring peace to troubled Christians in the congregation at Ephesus that this section of the letter that appears in our Bibles was written. It begins by addressing the Gentiles. Read the first segment of it with me:
So then, remember that at one time you Gentiles by birth, called “the uncircumcision” by those who are called “the circumcision” —a physical circumcision made in the flesh by human hands—remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
The writer of our lesson is inviting the Gentile Christians, now angry with the Jewish Christians and concerned that their relationship with God hung in the balance, to remember how their relationship with God began. It started not with them conforming to some religious ritual or with doing some good deed. It didn’t even start with them. Their relationships with God didn't start with them! Nor do our relationships start with us!

But we often get this wrong. A few years ago, an issue of Reader’s Digest told about a man, named Bill, who had donated more than 100 pints of blood through the years. There are undoubtedly many people who owe their lives to Bill’s kindness. But how do you think they’re viewed in heaven? Maybe he was joking, but this is what Bill had to say on the subject: “When that final whistle blows, and St. Peter asks, ‘What did you do?’ I’ll just say, ‘Well, I gave one hundred pints of blood. That ought to get me in.” If Bill really believed that, he was in for a big surprise. It’s only the blood of Jesus Christ that cleanses us of our sin and makes us acceptable to heaven!

Our peace with God has nothing to do with anything we do and everything to do with what Christ has already done for us on the cross! Everyone who believes in Jesus Christ and trusts that He shed His blood and rose from the dead for us has peace with God and with themselves...forever.

Our lesson makes another point. Now, read the next part of our lesson with me, please.
For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father.
These words were addressed to both the Gentile Christians and to the writer’s fellow Jewish Christians. By the giving of Himself and our faith in Him, Jesus establishes another sort of peace.

Two men had long been at odds with one another. Then, within months, each experienced tragedy in their lives. One man lost his wife in a terrible accident, the other his son to a sudden heart attack. Trying to deal with their grief, both made appointments to speak with the pastor who, unlike some pastors you could name, was a very smart person. She deliberately arranged for these two men to unavoidably meet one another as one appointment ended and the other began. Then, just to make sure they spoke, she announced that she needed to make a phone call before visiting with the second fellow.

As you might expect, the two found that they had several things in common. One, of course, was their grief. The other was that, as their appointments with the pastor demonstrated, they saw Jesus as the One Who could sustain and encourage them and give them hope.

You’ve often seen me during the children’s messages have the kids scatter throughout the sanctuary and then, from their varied starting points, step closer and closer to the cross here in the front. The point is that as Jesus draws us all to Him, we are also inevitably drawn closer to one another.

The Church is Jesus’ family and in it, we can experience peace with God and peace with each other. Jesus can knock down the walls that may exist between us, washing them out in the flood of His charitable love that accepts us and empowers us to accept and love each other. This is one of the things I love most about our congregation: When you folks to the part of our worship when we share the peace of God, you really do share the peace of God!

Read the last segment of our lesson with me now, please.
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.
All who believe in Jesus Christ, no matter what our backgrounds, no matter what our past sins, no matter what our faults, are the living bricks of a living building called the Church. Jesus Christ lives within us. Nobody but the members of Christ’s Church, our lesson tells us, is equipped to share and spread the peace of God with the world. Jesus lives within us!

That’s what makes the Church different from any other institution on the planet. The Rotarians, the Kiwanis, the Boys and Girls Club, the Chamber of Commerce. Those are all great organizations doing great things. But Jesus only lives in the Church!

Lutheran pastor Mike Foss tells the true story of attending a prayer breakfast in his community where he was seated next to an African-American pastor he only identifies as Bishop Collins, a man who has started four different churches in the rough inner city areas of Minneapolis. He’s done this in spite of the fact that he himself could play it safe by serving in churches close to his own home in the Twin Cities suburbs. Foss writes:
Bishop Collins turned to me and said, "It’s not hard to love our neighbors as ourselves. I am an African-American and you are white. Yet we are brothers in Jesus Christ—we don’t see color! Peace comes between us because our hearts have been changed by God. That’s why I plant congregations in the roughest parts of the city. Only Jesus Christ can bring individuals peace and, when the neighborhood sees and hears from individuals the love of Jesus Christ, they have hope… and the neighborhood changes.”
Our neighborhoods, our homes, our families, our marriages, our schools, our places of work, and the entire global neighborhood can change when people are connected to Jesus Christ! He is our peace!

People lack peace the world over--from White Oak Road to Beirut.
  • If you believe in Jesus Christ and know that He lives in you, don’t ever doubt that God has made peace with you.
  • If you believe in Jesus Christ and know that He lives in you, don’t ever doubt that God can help you make peace with those from whom you may be alienated.
  • And if you believe in Jesus Christ an know that He lives in you, don’t ever doubt what you can do to share the peace of God with others in this world that needs His peace.
Commit yourself today to sharing Christ with others, ask God for His help, and let Him use you as He has generations of ordinary saints like you and me to spread His peace!

We know that the world needs peace of Jesus Christ. You have it. Don’t be stingy with it: Share it this week!
  • Tell a friend about Christ.
  • Invite someone to worship.
  • Take time to listen to someone’s hurts and promise to pray for them.
When you and I do these things like these, hearts will be changed by God! We'll truly be sharing the peace!