Saturday, October 07, 2006

This and That...

Jan keeps us abreast of important news.

Charlie tells Panama, "Farewell."

Will Hinton refuses to play the game.

Mark Roberts explains what the Church is.

Pastor Jeff has the lowdown on Louis Jordan.

Craig Williams says to expect to see the holy in unexpected places.

My Favorite Bible Stories, Part 4 (Hannah)

[First Samuel 1:1-2:11]

She lived in an era when infertility was regarded as a curse from God.

What's worse, while it was thought that the male's contribution to a pregnancy was all one needed to make a baby, it was also deemed to be the woman's fault if she didn't conceive.

Her name was Hannah. She lived during the 11th.-century BC, in what would turn out to be the waning days of that era of Old Testament Israel's history when judges ruled the nation. Forbidden to have any ruler but God, God would periodically call leaders referred to as judges. They led Israel into battle against its enemies when wars arose and arbitrated internal disputes that came about. After they fulfilled their responsibilities to God and people, the judges returned to their former lives.

(The judges were somewhat akin to Cincinnatus, the Fifth-century BC Roman leader whose life is shrouded in myth, but who is thought to have willingly walked away from political and military power in order to return to his plow. George Washington is rightly thought of as a real-life American Cincinnatus and it was in honor of him that a city on the Ohio River, Cincinnati, was named.)

Hannah was one of two wives to an Israelite named Elkanah. (Monogamy had not yet been established as the proscribed norm for God's people.) If Hannah's barrenness weren't a difficult enough burden for her to bear, her husband's other wife made matters worse. The other wife, Penninah, was seen as a rival for Elkanah's affections and the Bible says:
Her rival used to provoke her severely, to irritate her, because the Lord had closed her womb. So it went on year by year; as often as she went up to the house of the Lord, she used to provoke her. Therefore Hannah wept and would not eat.
Perhaps typically for a man, Elkanah was clueless. He observed Hannah's weeping and wondered:
“Hannah, why do you weep? Why do you not eat? Why is your heart sad? Am I not more to you than ten sons?”
It was true that Elkanah cared deeply for Hannah. We're told:
On the day when Elkanah sacrificed, he would give portions to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters; but to Hannah he gave a double portion, because he loved her...
But his love for her wasn't the issue: Hannah wanted a child!

And, as a practical matter, whatever consolation Hannah might take from the devotion of her husband and whatever provisions he might make for her upon his death, the fact is that, in that that world, sons were valued for their power not only to continue the family line, but also to provide for their mothers when they grew old. On Elkanah's death, Hannah would be without a family and, likelier than not, without property, too.

No wonder then that Hannah went to pray earnestly for a child. “O Lord of hosts," she prayed:
if only you will look on the misery of your servant, and remember me, and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a male child, then I will set him before you as a nazirite until the day of his death. He shall drink neither wine nor intoxicants, and no razor shall touch his head.”
(A Nazirite was a person who took vows of devotion to God, vows that included the stipulations in Hannah's prayer.)

Hannah prayed so earnestly, so desperately, that the priest, a man named Eli, thought that she was drunk. He told her to sober up! But she explained:
“No, my lord, I am a woman deeply troubled; I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord. Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation all this time.”
Eli, who would spend a lifetime struggling with being faithful to God, was impressed when he observed genuine piety, real-life submission to God. This is the quality that he saw in Hannah. Moved by Hannah's faith, Eli told her:
“Go in peace; the God of Israel grant the petition you have made to him.”
Hannah had her child, a boy named Samuel. True to her word, she took Samuel to be raised by Eli, where he would begin a lifetime of devoted service to God. The priest, an indulgent father to his own three worthless sons, turned out to be a positive influence on Samuel, in whom he saw the same sort of faith in God he'd observed in Hannah.

In Samuel, the answer to her prayers, Hannah saw something of the nature of God. The Song of Hannah, recorded in First Samuel, chapter 2, was obviously a portion of the Bible with which Mary, the earthly mother of Jesus, was familiar. Her own Magnificat would be patterned after Hannah's song:
“My heart exults in the Lord; my strength is exalted in my God. My mouth derides my enemies, because I rejoice in my victory. “There is no Holy One like the Lord, no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God. Talk no more so very proudly, let not arrogance come from your mouth; for the Lord is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed. The bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble gird on strength. Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread, but those who were hungry are fat with spoil. The barren has borne seven, but she who has many children is forlorn. The Lord kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up. The Lord makes poor and makes rich; he brings low, he also exalts. He raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor. For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s, and on them he has set the world. “He will guard the feet of his faithful ones, but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness; for not by might does one prevail. The Lord! His adversaries shall be shattered; the Most High will thunder in heaven. The Lord will judge the ends of the earth; he will give strength to his king, and exalt the power of his anointed.”
Why do I love this story so? Several reasons:

(1) It assures us that there are no hopeless cases for those willing to put themselves in God's hands. Centuries later, Jesus would teach His disciples that "with God, all things are possible." However big the problems that daunt us, God is bigger!

Of course, Hannah knew that when she asked God for a son, His answer to that prayer may have been, "No." That's the chance all who bring their cases before God take.

But having concluded that trying to get whatever they want on their own steam and not getting it doesn't work, they submit to God.

The hardest prayer any Christian ever has to utter is, "Your will be done." We say those word almost every time we worship, when we recite the Lord's Prayer. But merely reciting the words of that petition and truly meaning them are often two different things.

I've seen God give too many affirmative answers to prayer...and seen the wisdom of His other answers: "No," "Maybe," and "Wait," to doubt that there simply are no hopeless situations. Hannah would agree!

(2) It underscores the essential link between desperation and prayer. Until we're desperate enough to admit our need of God and surrender unstintingly to His will, we may engage in religious talk, but it's doubtful that we've really prayed. Hannah prayed.

(3) It affirms that we all yearn for an authentic connection to God. Eli was a priest all his life. He handled the things of God with regularity. But his faith seems not to have really penetrated into his will or life. He couldn't get up close and personal with God. His was an institutional religion. He and his nation had grown so far from God that, in spite of how things apparently should be for people of faith, "The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread" (First Samuel 3:1).

But when Eli saw the faith of Hannah, as we've seen, he wished her well.

When he later saw that God had His hand on Samuel, he encouraged the boy and respected his place in God's plans.

I've found that often, the most hardened atheists respect people of authentic faith. "I wish I had what you have," they tell the humble pious with whom they cross paths.

God is our Father, after all, and we all want to feel connected to our Father.

(4) It tells us that God specializes in bringing down the arrogant and lifting up the humble. Hannah felt that she, derided by others, misunderstood even by her loving husband, had, in the birth of her son, been blessed by God. Whether in this life or most assuredly, in the next, God always honors those who entrust themselves and their cause to Him.

"How to Not Raise a Spoiled Rotten Brat"

You're a high-powered woman in business, politics, or social services. You're also a mom. You pull down eight figures, but you want your kids to use money responsibly.

According to a FORTUNE magazine article, there are certain principles that women like you discussed over breakfast during a recent conference that you just might find helpful in your goal of keeping your kids from being spoiled brats. Go here to learn what they said. (Men and those of lower incomes will find it helpful too.)

By the way, I've always felt that parents who never or seldom say, "No" to their children only set the kids up for failure and disappointment in their adult years. Life doesn't--and shouldn't--always go our ways. Teaching children that is an important lesson for every parent to impart!

The drive to the national championship continues today...

Go, Buckeyes!

In some ways, my Ohio State Buckeyes football team is coming to the most difficult portion of the schedule. Having played and defeated several ranked teams--Texas, Penn State, and Iowa, OSU will now play six consecutive unranked teams. The possibility of letting down on the drive to the national championship is great. But, apparently the Buckeyes are guarding against that.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Third Pass at This Weekend's Bible Lesson: Psalm 8

[To see the first two passes, go here and here.]

(Verse-by-Verse Comments, continued)
5Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor.
(1) A consideration of the vast universe and the smallness of humans who live on a small planet in one corner of a largely unknown universe makes God's regard for us truly amazing. We have infinitely more reason to marvel at this than the Psalmist did. I mention two reasons:
  • We live on the Easter side of history.
By that, I mean, we live after God became one of us, died for us, and rose for us. These are events which, the preacher in the New Testament book of Hebrews reminds us, both angels and ancient believers longed to see, but could only apprehend them by faith. But, we're privileged to look back on the accomplished facts of what God has done through Jesus Christ.

It's no wonder then, that Paul writes, possibly echoing an early confession used by the first-century church as they worshiped:
He [Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross. [Colossians 1:15-20]
  • We know more about the enormity of the universe than the pslamist did.
Our exploration of space has only scratched the surface of all that God has created. Yet God cares about us. And He cares not just about the collective us, He cares for each of us individually. Christ is the sign of this. Weiser seems to throw up His hands at this vast and beautiful mystery and coins a descriptive phrase: "Incomprehensible grace." Wow!

6You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet, 7all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, 8the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas.
(1) Weiser notes that like First Corinthians 15:10, these verses combine:
reverence [for God] and joyful pride [in humanity's place in God's cosmos]. It is only in this way that [the psalm] is able to avoid the risk of taking the wrong course by declining into human arrogance.
This is not, he points out, the celebration of humanity found in Sophocles' Antigone ("Wonders are many, and none is more wonderful than man.") Rather:
human dignity has no value of its own, but has value only as a gift from God.
This reminds me of words from another psalm:
For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.

My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.

Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed. (Psalm 139:13-16)
Our dignity as human beings comes from being made in the image of a creative God, Who not incidentally, has cared enough about all of us to become one of us, die for us, rise for us, and give life to all who turn from sin and believe in Him!

(2) Another note from Weiser:
It has not come about by chance that the...Greek interpretation [as evidenced in Antigone]..., which made man [sic] entirely depend on his own strength, ended in tragedy, whereas the biblical interpretation still represents even today the religious foundation on which all truly creative culture can be built.
When you know that you can depend on the God revealed in the Bible, can try and be unafraid of failure, you live with that assurance that Paul writes about in the New Testament book of Philippians:
I can do all things through [Christ] Who strengthens me!
9O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
(1) We're back to God, the foundation of our hope, again.
“Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (First Corinthians 1:31)

Are You Like Me?

Five weeks left in this year's midterm election campaigning and I can't wait for it to be over. I'm beyond disgusted, I'm bored with it all!

The two major parties have perfected their pitches to an ever-dwindling cadre of partisans with little thought to expanding their bases, appealing to independents, or trying to win over people from the opposition camp. Energizing your base, they call it. Karl Rove is a disciple of this approach. Practiced by both the Republicans and the Democrats, it makes me sick!

It's all about getting "our team" on top. To what end? So that we can keep "our team" on top. It's politics reduced to something like betting on the Super Bowl. And, sadly, it seems to be effective.

This sort of campaigning has little or no regard for principle. Even rank-and-file partisans have bought into the approach. Proof? A new Marist Poll shows that Rudy Giuliani is the most popular of contenders for the 2008 GOP presidential nomination among ordinary Republicans. Rudy Giuliani? Ultraliberal Rudy Giuliani? Yep. Why? Because people think he can win. "Hooray for our team!" they say. (Meanwhile, the rank and file disdain John McCain, the third most conservative member of the US Senate, a guy more hawkish on the war in Iraq than President Bush or Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.)

Mind you, I'm not commenting on whether Giuliani (or McCain) should be the Republican nominee. Others can opine on that. (I've almost gotten to the point where I don't care anyway.) It's just that Giuliani's popularity demonstrates how much more partisanship is about winning than it is about his party's supposed principles.

To some extent, I suppose, this--this partisan pliance for the sake of winning--has always been around. Huey Long, the Louisiana dictator whose life and politics were turned into a novel by Robert Penn Warren, used to excoriate the Democrats and Republicans. Each were offering political snake oil, he asserted: one offered high populorum, the other low popuhirum.

I'm not saying that there aren't real differences between the two parties. There are. (Nor do they have to be philosophically pure; I believe in the big tent. But, even in the big tent, there should be some broad common understanding of principles beyond a common commitment to winning at all costs.)

Savage personal assaults that pass for political campaigning, untrue and misleading caricatures of opponents, don't reflect those real differences or help us decide who best can govern.

I've been a political junkie all my life. But not any more. I'm disgusted and I'm bored. If the politicians have managed to turn someone like me off, imagine what they've long ago done to people with more sense than me!

A bored, repulsed electorate is certainly unlikely to keep our Constitutional system going. If we lose that, we lose America. And if that happens, history will show that we were destroyed not by terrorists, but by thirty-second "contrast" ads.

[Cross-posted at]

[Thanks to Rick Moore for linking to this post!]

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Second Pass at This Weekend's Bible Lesson: Psalm 8

[For a look at the first pass and an explanation of what this is about, go here.]

Verse-by-Verse Comments, Psalm 8:
1O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens.
(1) While the psalm becomes a meditation on the place God has given to the human race, it begins and ends with praise for the Creator of the universe. More than one commentator familiar with the liturgical rhythms of the psalms, especially Weiser, has said that verses 1 and 9 are probably congregational responses to the revelation of God's majesty in worship.

(2) This verse sets the tone for the psalm, about which Carl Schultz observes, "Psalm 8 is anthropology in the context of doxology." (Doxology, remember, is a word of glory to God.) He continues, citing Artur Weiser:
As Weiser notes: "There is no revelation of God except it also throws at the same time a special light on the nature of man; and conversely, a true understanding of man cannot be achieved if God is disregarded."

The biblical view of God is critical to our understanding of the identity of human beings. Anthropology is an essential element of theology. Man-talk and God-talk are closely related and only possible as they are related one to the other. Themes such as sin, grace, faith, redemption, and the church must not only be viewed from the God-side, but also from the human side. While God is absolute in the Old Testament, he revealed his Godness through his contact with humans in words and deeds. In the incarnation in the New Testament he is completely defined.

Now this is not to suggest that the human being is the measure of all things. Anthropocentric concerns must not so dominate theology that its focus is the nature of the human being, rather than the character of God. But there is real danger when the consideration of anthropology is pursued in isolation--quite apart from theology. It is critical that anthropology be considered from a biblical prospective. Human preoccupation results in narcissism. The question "What are Human Beings" must be answered biblically.

As Martin Buber has observed it is difficult, if not impossible, to derive dignity, to derive an ought if the relationship is an I/it rather than an I/Thou. Human beings can be defined somewhat by reference to the animal kingdom but ultimately only adequately identified by reference to their relationship to God.
2Out of the mouths of babes and infants you have founded a bulwark because of your foes, to silence the enemy and the avenger.
(1) Claus Westermann explains this passage:
Even the babbling of a tiny infant bears witness to God's creative power and is thereby stronger than all gainsaying of God's enemies.
(2) Weiser writes:
Even the adversaries (skeptics and atheists) cannot disregard the fact that the child utterly and completely surrenders to the impression produced by things which are great and glorious, and does so in an unaffected and direct short, they cannot disregard those first stirrings of a naive and unaffecting piety which are after all a fact...
3When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; 4what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?
(1) These verses bring to mind an old Randy Stonehill song, Faithful, which begins:
That is the sentiment of the psalmist here.

(2) Westermann points out that another psalm, Psalm 113:5-9, contains similar sentiments.:
Who is like the Lord our God, who is seated on high,

who looks far down on the heavens and the earth?

He raises the poor from the dust, and lifts the needy from the ash heap,

to make them sit with princes, with the princes of his people.

He gives the barren woman a home, making her the joyous mother of children. Praise the Lord!
The vastness of God's creation doesn't result in a feeling of insignificance, but wonder that the big God of all cares about us. We see ourselves through God's eyes and thereby, see ourselves aright. The confession of sin I've written for this coming Sunday talks about this:
...we confess to You today two different inclinations when considering our place in the universe...Sometimes, Lord, we survey the vastness of all You have created and seem small and insignificant in comparison...We therefore underestimate the importance of our lives and decisions. Suspecting that our lives don’t matter, we excuse our failure to love You completely, to love others as though they were other selves, or to care for Your gifts with awe and reverence...At other times, Lord, we block all but ourselves and our own little worlds from view and, like Adam and Eve, tell ourselves in countless ways that we are our own gods...We therefore overestimate our own importance and so fail to love You completely, fail to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, and fail to take care the blessings of time, talent, treasures, and world You have entrusted to us...Help us, Lord, to see ourselves rightly...Help us to understand that in all the universe, only You are greater in power or influence...Help us to understand that without You, we lack the wisdom or the grace or the power we need to live our lives, to love You, to love others, or to use Your gifts rightly...For the sake of Jesus, forgive us our sins... Amen
(3) This sense of wonder corresponds to Mary's song, sometimes called the Magnificat, which appears in Luke 1:46-55:
“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”
More tomorrow, I hope.

Schroeder on Leadership

Blogger John Schroeder has some interesting stuff to say about leadership. Even if you don't agree with everything he says in his post, Leadership Decides, it's worth the reading. A sampling:
We no longer take people places, we figure out where they are going and organize it a bit and call that leadership. That's a whole lot easier, maybe even more egalitarian, but I am not sure it rises to the level of true leadership.
Isaiah records that the Judean people of his time told the prophets, "“Do not prophesy to us what is right; speak to us smooth things, prophesy illusions..." (Isaiah 30:10).

People of every generation and place--including me--would rather hear what we want to hear from our leaders. Far more than what we need to hear. And so, alleged leaders--whether in the Church, politics, or other fields--parrot our preferences back to us and everybody feels warm and fuzzy and nothing of substance happens.

Leadership isn't always a popularity contest. Leaders risk failure. They're unafraid of failure. As more than one person has said, they're more focused on the rewards of success than on the penalties of failure. And when I refer to success, I'm not talking about having the fattest wallet, the most votes, the glitziest house, the biggest trophy, or the largest church. For a leader, as for all of us, success must mean doing the right thing at the right time. That entails huge risk. The leader sees the goal to be attained as worth the risk.

Read John's entire post.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

First Pass at This Weekend's Bible Lesson: Psalm 8

[Most weeks, 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: Psalm 8
1O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens.

2Out of the mouths of babes and infants you have founded a bulwark because of your foes, to silence the enemy and the avenger.

3When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established;

4what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?

5Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor.

6You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet,

7all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field,

8the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas.

9O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

General Comments:
1. The Psalms is sometimes referred to as the Old Testament's hymn book. It contains poetry originally set to music and used by the ancient Hebrews to worship God. The songs are what we call liturgy, a Greek term literally meaning work of the people. The work of the people is to offer praises to God, declaring His worth-ship (the compound Old English word from which we get our term, worship.) The Psalms created the orders for worship at the temple in Jerusalem.

2. Because the circumstances of our lives vary, the individual psalms can be identified as exemplifying various types or genres. (Some of the psalms display characteristics of several different types at the same time.) Scholars differ slightly on how they classify the psalms, but there is basic agreement.

Claus Westermann, author of a handy little book on the Psalms, has identified the following types or genres in the Psalms:
  • Community Psalm of Lament
  • Community Psalm of Narrative Praise
  • The Individual Psalm of Lament
  • The Individual Psalm of Narrative Praise
  • The Psalm of Descriptive Praise or Hymn
  • Creation Psalms
  • Liturgical Psalms
  • Royal Psalms
  • Enthronement Psalms [used when new kings were anointed]
  • Wisdom Psalms
  • Psalm 119
3. Psalm 8 is sometimes seen as a Creation Psalm. But, in the end, it's a contemplation on the grace of God, how the Creator of the vast universe has regard for human beings, even making them "little lower" than Him.

4. Artur Weiser notes that in this Psalm we see the Bible's penchant for viewing anthropology as an element of theology:
It is only if man [sic] stands in awe of the greatness of God, which strikes terror into his heart and makes him aware of his total insignificance, that, taking that awe as a starting point and as the basis of his thoughts, he learns to gain a full understanding of the divine miracle which is made manifest in the relationship between Creator and creature, the miracle namely that it did not seem too small a matter for this Almighty God 'to be mindful' of man and loving 'to care' for him...
5. The Psalms isn't the only Biblical book in which psalms, worship songs, appear. Creation psalms alone can also be found in Amos, Isaiah, and Job.

I hope to begin to address the individual verses of the Psalm tomorrow.

Pajamas Media Interview with Joe Lieberman

He talks about the joys of running as an independent this year and the increasing numbers of unaffiliated voters.

While watching it, I was particularly struck by how, twice, the Connecticut Senator hit the the idea of members of Congress being loyal to their constituents. Lieberman is obviously fighting a rearguard battle over whether he's become such a national figure that he's forgotten the folks back home in Connecticut. No doubt his campaign's polling has told him that he needs to address this concern.

But the overarching theme at which Lieberman hammers is that Republicans and Democrats in Congress put the interests of their parties above those of their constituents or of the nation at large. This is an appealing message and will only become more so in the forseeable future.

To see a transcript of the interview, go here.

(TY to Ambivablog for leading me to this interview.)

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Exfoleyating the House

From January, 1979 through January, 1980, when I began my seminary training, I was supervisor of pages for the Ohio House of Representatives in Columbus.

During my time in that position, there were rumors, never confirmed, that one of the female pages was involved in a relationship with a married male member of the House. And on two occasions, I had to reassign female pages who felt that male members made inappropriate sexually-tinged advances toward them.

But, unlike the high schoolers who make up the page program in Washington, the pages with Ohio's General Assembly are college students, some of them in graduate or law school. The average age of the pages I supervised was about 21, all of them above the age of consent.

Given the possibilities for exploitation, I always suspected that it was better that the pages with whom I worked were older than their Washington counterparts. Back in my State House days in Columbus, for example, twenty year old Rita (not her real name) felt no hesitation about telling me that Representative Downs (not his real name) had more than implied a desire to go to bed with her. I always wondered if high schoolers, intimidated by the powerful "role models" who made such advances would go to their supervisor as quickly as Rita had come to me. (Because she did, the House's then-executive secretary, Joe Summer made sure that Rita never had to interact with Representative Downs and our then-Speaker, Vern Riffe, as I understand it, let Downs have it with both barrels.)

Reports about the IMs between ex-Florida Congressman Mark Foley and at least one high school-aged page have me thinking that it might be time to refashion or rethink the Congressional page program. At the very least, caution should be taken so that no young person is ever left alone with an adult, whether that adult is a member or a staffer. Pages should work in two-person teams.

But more than measures like these, the House needs to be thoroughly ex-folyated. Any member of Congress who knew about Foley's activities has a lot of explaining to do!

Some bloggers are making much of the fact that Foley's sexual preference appears to have been of the homosexual variety. While it's true that the Bible takes a dim view homosexual practice, regarding it as a sin, that really isn't the core issue here.

One thing I've learned as a pastor over the past twenty-two years is that whenever powerful people use their power to manipulate the vulnerable for their own sexual gratification, it's wrong, no matter the orientation. Sexual manipulation, which appears to have been Foley's modus operandi, is always more about power than it is about sex.

[To read more about this developing story, go here, here, here, and here.]

THANKS: To Joe Gandelman at The Moderate Voice for linking to this post. One commenter thought that my suggestion that pages only work in pairs and never be alone with adult staffers and members was over the top. But, that suggestion is merely a variation on a set of practices employed by Billy Graham for five decades, one that has helped preserve his unquestioned integrity. As a pastor, I personally make it a point, unless it's absolutely unavoidable, never to be alone with a woman to whom I'm not related and, unless it's unavoidable, never to be alone with children except in highly visible areas waiting for their parents to pick them up or if I'm taking them home from youth activities. Trust is the coin of the realm, whether in politics, business, academia, public education, social service, or the Church. A willingness to go the extra mile to preserve it is always appropriate.

Monday, October 02, 2006

By the way...

...after reading this post, you may wonder why Pharaoh was only after the male babies. It's because in the ancient world, it was thought that the male's sperm contained all that was necessary for the conception of a child. The woman was thought to be the mere repository of what the male provided.

Thanks, Reds!

No serious fan would have thought, as the 2006 baseball season began, that the Cincinnati Reds would still be in contention for a division title going into the last weekend of the year. But that was where the Reds found themselves this past Friday.

People will be quick to point out that the Reds only won a handful more games this season than they did last year, that they finished below .500 in wins for the sixth consecutive year, and that their finish just 3-1/2-games out of first in the National League's Central Division was the result of the Saint Louis Cardinals playing way below their potential this season. They'd be right to point those things out. But none of them, collectively or singularly, tell the whole story.

One interesting fact to note is that there was a general elevation of play in both the National League's other divisions, the East and the West, at the expense of all the Central Division. Only two of the teams in those divisions had losing records against the Central. The point is that the Reds were better this year, but they, like the rest of their division rivals, kept running into the buzzsaw of vastly improved teams in the other two divisions.

More importantly though, there is a difference in attitude in the Reds front office. When new owner Bob Castellini and General Manager Wayne Krivsky saw opportunities to improve the pitching, a chronic problem with the franchise for over a decade, they made trades. They demonstrated a commitment to winning now, not asking fans to wait for yet another season for a magic someday. They also demonstrated a willingness to open their purse strings to pay for talent. On top of that, they showed real appreciation to the fans for their support with half-off ticket nights and other promotions.

The offseason will be interesting. Most fans and sports journalists appear to expect that the Reds will be active in the free agency and trading markets. The greatest speculation surrounds outfielder Adam Dunn, who I don't expect to be with the Reds next year, although a trade may be difficult to complete.

There have been many Reds heroes this 2006 season. But my choice for MVP is GM Krivsky.

The Reds have the core of a great team. I'm looking forward to the 2007 season! Thanks, Reds organization and players, for a terrific 2006!

My Favorite Bible Stories, Part 3 (The Hebrew Midwives)

God, as revealed on the pages of the Bible, likes the truth and hates lying. In the Eighth Commandment, God tells us, "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor." When God came to our world in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, He called Himself "the Truth," the foundation on which all the universe depends. Jesus also referred to Satan as "the father of lies," saying that he was a liar "from the beginning."

So, is it ever right to lie?
  • Is it okay to keep plans for a surprise birthday party a secret?
  • Is it good sometimes not to tell a friend about the harsh criticisms leveled at them by a gossip?
  • Is it acceptable to withhold news of a loved one's death from someone until the right person can be there to tell them?
  • Is it alright, at times, to avoid hurting a person's feelings by not telling them something that would bruise them deeply?
  • Does God deem it appropriate for us to spy on those who mean to do others harm?
  • Is it right in God's eyes to lie in order to protect people's lives?
These are all important questions. But today's story particularly helps to answer that last one, among others. It's told in the opening verses of the Old Testament book of Exodus.

You'll recall that centuries after humanity had fallen into sin, God began to forge a people into being. These people were to be "a light to the peoples," instructing the world on God and His will as well as the womb from which the Savior of humanity would emerge. The people, of course, were descended from an elderly couple, Abraham and Sarah, and became known sometimes as the Hebrews and, even before they had a land, Israel.

In the course of the history of God's people, they became slaves in Egypt. According to the Bible, their enslavement lasted 430 years. As the decades and centuries rolled on, it was difficult for the Hebrews to keep their faith in the God Who had taught them that, irrespective of the human penchant for worshiping many gods (a penchant we still see evidenced today), He was the only God in existence. And despite their horrible circumstances, He called them to believe that they were still His people and He still was going to take them to a land that He would give to them. It would not be the first time that God's people, whether Jews or Christians, would have their faith tested.

The Hebrews cried out to God for freedom from their oppression, much as African-American slaves would do in this country centuries later. While many turn away from God in times of trial and pain, it's also true that such circumstances often become incubators of faith, also something American slaves have in common with the ancient Hebrews. Having seen the futility of belief in the finite and unreliable things of the world, including other human beings, oppressed people often see with a clarity two facts what others can't or refuse to see: their own powerlessness and their need of the God Who is eternal, reliable, and good.

When our story took place is variously estimated. One source I consulted suggests that it happened sometime before 1526BC, the date they claim for the birth of Moses. Another isn't quite so confident about a date, but does say that evidence in the text indicates that the entire book of Exodus is set during the 19th. Dynasty in Egypt, sometime between 1350-1200BC, a period when Egypt wielded enormous imperial power.

Whenever it took place, the story records what I believe to be a historical event and one filled with many truths about God and about human life:
Now a new king arose over Egypt...[who] said to his people, “Look, the Israelite people are more numerous and more powerful than we. Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, or they will increase and, in the event of war, join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.” Therefore they set taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labor. They built supply cities, Pithom and Rameses, for Pharaoh. But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread, so that the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites. The Egyptians became ruthless in imposing tasks on the Israelites, and made their lives bitter with hard service in mortar and brick and in every kind of field labor. They were ruthless in all the tasks that they imposed on them.

The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, “When you act as midwives to the Hebrew women, and see them on the birthstool, if it is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, she shall live.” But the midwives feared God; they did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but they let the boys live. So the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and said to them, “Why have you done this, and allowed the boys to live?” The midwives said to Pharaoh, “Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women; for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them.” So God dealt well with the midwives; and the people multiplied and became very strong. [Exodus 1:8-10]
A few thoughts.
  • The midwives, Shiphrah and Puah, lied to the Pharaoh. Yet God "dealt well with" them, we're told.
They lied to protect the lives of children who didn't deserve a death sentence from a king or any other earthly power. By their lying, they actually told a deeper truth: Life is sacred.

We've seen others act on this truth while lying. Can there be any doubt that those people who provided safe haven to runaway slaves along the stops of the Underground Railroad were doing God's will? Yet every day, they lied to their neighbors and others about their activities.

And what about all those who, at risk to themselves, provided hiding places to Jews evading the gas chambers of Nazi Germany? Every time they opened their homes or buildings they owned to anyone escaping slaughter, they engaged in deception.

God lauds such deceptions, I think.
  • The Pharaoh suggested that he and his fellow Egyptians "deal shrewdly" with the Hebrew slaves. Yet it was the Hebrew midwives who showed the greater shrewdness.
Shiphrah and Puah understood an immutable truth about prejudice: Though its practitioners pretend superiority and strength over those they enslave, they're really weak and fearful. They're always afraid of their slaves and because they don't really know any of them as people, they project the most negative and fearful stereotyping onto them.

You can almost hear the conversation of Pharaoh and his advisers, can't you? "You know how those people are. They're strong as oxes, not really human. They can't keep from having sex all the time, either. So, they keep making babies. And because they're animals, if we let them, they'll become so populous that they overwhelm us. They'll start an insurrection. Let's keep them at hard physical labor; it's the only worthwhile thing they can do anyway." This is the paranoid logic of prejudice.

The midwives knew what the Egyptians thought. They knew that their overlords would believe them when they said that the Hebrew women were so strong that they were giving birth before they could arrive at the birthstools to assist them with their childbearing. They dealt more shrewdly with the Egyptians than the Egyptians had dealt with them.

Jesus once said that in their interaction with the world, His followers should "be wise as serpents and innocent as doves" (Matthew 10:16). The midwives, with their desire to advance God's plan for God's people and their deception of Pharaoh certainly exhibited both wisdom and innocent. They represent that combination of clearheaded understanding of the world and unshakable commitment to following God's ways that can characterize the lives of those who surrender to Christ. To me, Shiphrah and Puah are notable models of faith lived out in the real world!
  • Either God gets His way...or God gets His way.
When I was a kid, after a rainfall, my playmates and I used to build dams made of twigs, grass clippings, and an occasional discarded Dixie cup or cigarette pack wrap along the kerb. It was fun. But whatever we did, the most we were able to do was divert the water. And then, only for a short time. At first, the water would simply flow around our little dams. Eventually, it would wear them down or they became waterlogged. But whether around or through the dams, the water always flowed toward the nearest sewer trap.

In the Bible, time and again, you read stories that show how the devil or sinful human beings tried to thwart God's plans to give grace and new life to those who turn from sin and follow Him. For a time, arrogance and sin seem to win. But, God wins. God always wins. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the ultimate proof of that.

The Egyptians thought that they could subordinate the will and the people of God to their shortsighted, selfish plans. People still think that today. Wrong.

Either God gets His way or God gets His way. There are no other possibilities.

"My name is Jesus and I approve this message"

That's the title of a post by blogger Tim Merrill refuting preachers who do politics from the pulpit. Merrill is the editor of I think he's right in saying that preachers, as spokespersons for God, the Gospel, and the Church, should shut up when they're in the mood to politically editorialize. That isn't our job! Our job is to declare the Good News of Jesus Christ!

Merrill writes about standing in the pulpit last week:
I looked out at my congregation Sunday morning, and in that specific time and place, I saw a mother with two daughters whose husband has cancer, she is jobless and they're about to lose their home. I saw a man who two [weeks] earlier had collapsed on the sidewalk in front of a hospital. I saw a woman with two children who'd just left her husband. I saw an 88 year woman who was going to have knee replacement surgery in 10 days. I saw a daughter who'd brought her 90-year old mom to church in a wheel chair...I saw "Buster," a quadriplegic who lives two miles away in a mobile home park and drives his motorized scooter--crossing a busy 4-lane highway to worship...I saw a mom and dad with their three children...I saw a woman sitting alone whose husband was at home unsupportive.

Do you think these people give a hanging chad about what I think about the war, about immigration, about Bill Clinton's libido or his dislike of Chris Wallace's smirk, or about local political issues here in Denver?

I don't think so...

Right now, we've got another six weeks to listen to negative political commercials before the country can breathe a collective sigh of relief--it's like on Election Day, we can open the windows to let out the stench and start breathing some clean air again. [italics mine] I find people are coming to worship hoping to leave behind a foul odor. They're very excited to gather and worship in the fresh wind of the Spirit--to let those sacred breezes just waft soothingly over their souls.

It's very healing and empowering. And God knows that in our world we need to be whole and strong to make it through the week.
Read the whole thing.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

The Power to Be the Church! (A Message by My Colleague, Glen VanderKloot)

[Glen VanderKloot is the pastor of Faith Lutheran Church in Springfield, Illinois. Here's the second sermon in a series he's doing on growth patterns for followers of Jesus Christ. He talks about the powerthat causes both Christians and churches to grow. It's wonderful!]

A number of years ago Wendys Hamburger Chain made famous the phrase…

Where's the beef?

That phrase started being used in all types of situations to ask…

Where's the substance?

A legitimate question to ask the church today…

Where's the power?

After all Jesus promised…

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. Acts 1:8 NLT

Was that promise just for the disciples? Surely the early church had power. We are told in Acts 2…

The apostles performed many miraculous signs
and wonders…
And each day the Lord added to their fellowship
those who were being saved. Acts 2:43,47 NLT

That's power! But what about us? Hasn't Jesus given us the Holy Spirit? On the day of Pentecost, after being filled with the Holy Spirit, Peter preached quoting the prophet Joel…

I will pour out my Spirit even on my servants –
men and women alike…
Acts 2:18 NLT

In the Luther's Small Catechism as explanation of the third article of the Apostles' Creed we profess…

The Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, and sanctified and kept me in the true faith.

We have the Holy Spirit. The Spirit has called us to faith and given us gifts.

So where's the problem? Why is there so little power in the church today? Why are 90% of all American Christian churches either stagnant or declining? Where's the power?

Last week as we began to consider the "Growth Pattern for Disciples" we saw that to grow as disciples of Christ we need to establish our faith by becoming firmly rooted through prayer and meditation, worship, Scripture, and following the example of those who are spiritually mature. The next step is to be empowered.

It is imperative that we desire power for the right reasons.
It can't be for pride.
It can't be to make us look good or better than someone else.
It can't be so that we get others to help pay the bills.
It can't be for institutional survival.

What is the purpose of being empowered? Jesus clearly said…

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes
upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people
about me everywhere. Acts 1:8 NLT

We know that life goes better with Jesus .
We know that life is better when we are part of the community of faith.
We want others to have the same experience.

The Holy Spirit empowers us for the purpose of telling others about Jesus.

Recognize that only God can grow the Church, but God does it through us.

I cannot grow the church.
You cannot grow the church.
Billy Graham cannot grow the church.
Bill Hybels cannot grow the church.
Rick Warren cannot grow the church.

Only God can grow the church. Jesus told his disciples…

I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it.
Matthew 16:18 NLT

God can and will grow his church through each of us.

It is important to remember that it is not our church, it is God's church.

When we understand that it is God's church not ours, we no longer see ourselves in competition with other churches.

When we understand that it is God's church not ours, we let go of our jealousy over their growth and success.

When we understand that it is God's church not ours, we celebrate with any Christian congregation that is having success.

Cherry Hills Baptist just moved into their new building. We pray that God will bless that building and let it be a vehicle for growth of the Kingdom of God. Today Southside Christian opens a second campus in the former HPR Service Center on the far Westside. Five pastors, from four different denominations, gathered together on Tuesday morning to pray that God would bless that place and their ministry efforts.

The church of Jesus Christ is one. We will celebrate with our sister ELCA churches in town – Atonement, Grace, Luther Memorial and St. John's as God works through them.

I will be honest. This is not easy for me because sometimes I am jealous of their success. But I have learned that the more I pray for them, the less envious I am of them. Too often we have the protectiveness of Joshua and Jesus' disciples that we heard in the lessons. Instead, let us join with Moses saying…

Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the Lord's people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit upon them all! Numbers 11:29 NLT

I have learned that in my jealousy I minimize the wonders God is doing though us. Pastor John Kelley, retired Assistant to the Bishop, raved about our Community Festival.

Pastor Kelley said…

Of all the Springfield churches, Faith is the most progressive in attempting to connect with the community and to have events that transcend racial lines. I congratulate you for it.

We celebrate that God used our Community Festival to touch the lives of individuals and plant some seeds that someday will bring in a great harvest.

We celebrate our Fine Arts Camp positively touching for Jesus the lives of 100 youth!

We celebrate that Faith sent 18 members and friends on an intergeneration mission trip to Ocean Springs, Mississippi.

We celebrate that the mission trip birthed "Linens for Love".

We celebrate that it is an idea and ministry that was developed by one of our teenagers!

We celebrate the impact of Faith's partnership with Black Hawk School and the difference we are making in the lives of these children.

We will celebrate when mega churches West Side Christian or Calvary Temple continue to grow.

And we will celebrate when one of the small black churches moves forward.

Denomination, race, economics – none of it matters – for together we are the church of Jesus Christ. Together we are the body of Christ. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians…

If one part of our body hurts, we hurt all over. If one part of our body is honored, the whole body will be happy. 1 Corinthians 12:26 CEV

We can do that only as we remember that it is Christ who builds his church.

However, God is depending on us to be…

his voice of good news,
his hands of love,
his shoulders of compassion,
his feet of service.

God wants to build his church through us.

What costs are we willing to pay?
Grace is free.
Salvation is free.
However our response is not. Jesus said…

If any of you want to be my followers, you must forget about yourself. You must take up your cross each day and follow me. Luke 9:23 CEV

Are we willing to put others ahead of ourselves?
Are we willing to forget about what we want?
Are we willing to take up the cross and suffer for Jesus?
Are we willing to risk rejection as we invite someone to come to worship?
Are we willing to have others call us religious fanatics?
Are we willing to wait on the Lord?
Are we willing to spend our financial resources so that others can come to faith and Faith?
Are we willing to use our gifts for the sake of others?
Are we willing to fast?
Are we willing to shut off the TV and come to pray with others for an hour?

Pastor Jim Meeks of Salem Baptist Church in Roseland, one of the poorest communities in the Chicago area, says that one of the reasons churches do not grow is a lack of corporate fasting and prayer. Where are fasting and corporate prayer on our priorities?

Consider what the disciples went through because they shared the good news of Jesus. They were imprisoned, stoned, whipped and shipwrecked. That makes our costs look pretty insignificant. What costs are you willing to pay?

Our congregation will never grow until we believe that God's power is available to us. Pastor Meeks also says that if God can empower Billy Graham, Bill Hybels and Rick Warren, he can empower us. He said…

"If you and Graham, Hybels and Warren fell off the Sears Tower, all would die. There is no suspension of the rules of gravity for anyone. Each would go splat! Even Rick Warren's `purpose driven guts' would be all over the place. God shows no favoritism."

God called Peter to go the house of Cornelius, a Gentile military captain. That was way outside Peter's comfort zone, but Peter went and later he said that he learned…

I see very clearly that God shows no favoritism.
Acts 10:34 NLT

If God can grow Saddleback, Willow Creek, West Side Christian, Calvary Temple, God can grow Faith. Believe it! Pray for it!

There is power for our lives.
There is power for the church and
There is power for the church to grow.

But only when we are connected to the source of the power.

Whenever you look at a power strip, remember that the Spirit's power is there waiting for us to plug into. There is never a power failure at the source. The reason that there is no power in the church is our failure to connect to the source. Let's change that beginning today. Amen.

Putting Our Faith in Action

[This short message was shared with the people of Friendship Lutheran Church, Amelia, Ohio during the Sunday morning worship celebration on October 1, 2006. It came after the youth of the congregation shared this video on their Week of Hope trip in June, 2007.]

James 5:13-20

This is the fifth and final week of worship celebrations built around the New Testament book of James.

In all of our Bible lessons during this period, we’ve seen a central important message: After you’ve said, “I believe in Jesus Christ as the risen God and Savior of my life,” live your faith. Go to Jesus each day for the forgiveness, new life, renewed hope, and the ability to live the faith you confess.

James has shown us that people who live their faith in Christ...
  • care for those within the Church and outside the Church;
  • provide for the poor;
  • tame their tongues;
  • quit trying to prove they’re better than others;
  • rely on God for wisdom; and,
  • as today's lesson shows us, pray and ask God for healing.
I want to briefly mention a few ways you and I can live our faith in the weeks and months to come.

First of all, get behind our youth. An interesting study of effective youth ministries among Roman Catholic churches showed the most important ingredient in such ministries is not having a lot of activities. Their most effective youth ministries are those in which the youth are valued and welcomed into the life of the congregation. I'm sure that's true of our Lutheran youth, too!

Helping youth to experience being valued and welcomed begins with adults who so love Jesus that they live their faith through making young people feel valued and welcomed.

You’ve just seen a video about our youth’s proposed Week of Hope trip. We need your help so that as many of Friendship’s twenty-five middle and senior high students can go, defraying their parents’ and their expenses.

So, please pray for the youth as they raise the money.

Also, please volunteer to help us with our hot dog sale at Sam’s on November 11 and with serving dinner at TGIFriday’s on November 16. For the Friday’s gig, we need twenty adults aged nineteen and above. Our goal is to raise at least $1900 at Friday's and about $300 at Sam's. We can do this. Please sign the sheet you’ll find up here after worship to help.

Second, get involved in Friend Day. Invite people who need Jesus in their lives to be with us for worship on October 29, three weeks from today.

Inviting others to worship with us helps us to grow not only numerically, but spiritually. We expand our own dependence on Christ as we lean on him to give us the silences and the words that will incite people to be with us on that day.

People who invite others to worship and to grow close to Christ with them are displaying compassion and concern for the eternal well-being of others.

Let’s be known as the church that lives its faith in every facet of our lives. Four ways I want to ask you to consider doing that are:
  • pray for our youth,
  • help them with the hot dog sale on November 11,
  • help them with the TGIFriday’s dinner serving on November 16, and
  • help your unchurched friend, your congregation, and your own spiritual growth by inviting a friend to be with us on October 29.