Friday, March 09, 2007

Thoughts on National Get Over It Day

Today, if you didn't know, is National Get Over It Day. While apparently being promoted by the bar and hospitality industries as a way of bringing in business on the slow Friday just before March Madness begins, I think that we're such great grudge-holders these days that it's a terrific idea. Our "I'm a victim" culture needs to hear the bracing words: "Get over it!"

Speaking theologically, an interesting New Testament word is aphiemi. As I pointed out at our congregation's Lenten Soup and Salad gathering this past Wednesday night, it literally means I release. But it's used in the New Testament for I forgive!

I've always felt that that word perfectly conveys the two-sides of forgiveness:
  • We release those who have done us wrong from the consequences of "their trespasses against us";
  • We also are released from the debilitating and grace-blocking burden of holding a grudge.
This is exactly why Jesus says, in His explanation of the Lord's Prayer in Matthew 6, that if we refuse to forgive others, God will not forgive us. The person who refuses to forgive erects a fortress around his or her soul through which God's grace won't penetrate.

And we find it hard to have loving relationships with others when we refuse to get over it, too. People who won't forgive make themselves miserable in prisons that they accuse others of making, their own custom-made hells.

In a cyber-dialog I had with the author Richard Lawrence Cohen last year, I mentioned the song by Larry Norman, Weight of the World. [This song has been covered by such diverse artists as Lost and Found and Ringo Starr.] In the bridge, these lines appear:
It all comes down to who we crucify; We either kiss the future or the past goodbye.
When we refuse to forgive, we may think that we're crucifying others. At least that's the self-righteous buzz we're trying to imbibe as we hold on tightly to our grudges. In fact though, we crucify our futures and our very own souls.

Christ went to a cross so that doesn't have to happen to us!

In the New Testament, the apostle Paul says that our past sins and our sinful selves must be crucified with Christ in order for the new self to rise with Christ. In forgiveness, we put the past in the past and set out to live in reliance on God and His goodness, come what may.

In a sense, it's safer to rely on past hurts and injuries of the past than to step into the future. We know our past hurts (and can catalog them), while the future is a blank screen. But God is always pulling those who surrender to Him to venture into the unknown future. (Christian faith is always more about the future than it is about the past.)

It turns out that the future isn't so unknown, though. I love the part in the New Testament book of Matthew's resurrection account where the risen Jesus instructs Mary to tell Peter and the others to go to Galilee. "There, they will see Me," Jesus says.

This is one of many indicators of how Jesus pulls us from the past--along with all our wallowing and grudge-holding--and into the future where we're with Him.

"I am with you always," He told the disciples just before He ascended into heaven. If he's with me as I venture into a future in which I let go of the past, I don't want, to turn back. I want to keep resolutely pointing toward Him. (At least, some of the time I want to follow Him, imperfect human sinner that I am!)

Got a hang up? Get over it. Let go and let God take care of it. Let go and let God take you into a future.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Prayer for Clermont 20/20 Salute to Leaders Banquet

This evening, I attended Salute to Leaders, an annual event sponsored by Clermont 20/20, an organization in our suburban/rural county that fosters the development of leadership and that recognizes those whose service makes our communities better. There were about 500 people in attendance. It's heartening to note the supportive presence of our elective officials, too.

Two of the leaders recognized this evening are involved with the Boys and Girls Club of Clermont County: Lynn Baird, who works with the high schoolers, received the county wide Civic Award; Deidra Thacker, a nine-year member of the New Richmond club, received the youth leadership award.

I was honored to provide the prayer for the event:
Lord:
You’ve taught us and during this Lenten season we especially remember, that the only true leaders in the world are those who dare to be servants. They put the needs of others ahead of their own agendas. True leaders have learned that to accomplish anything of significance, they must think “we” more than “me.”

This is difficult for us to accept, Lord, and even more difficult for us to live. So, we’re grateful when we find good examples of servant-leaders like those we honor here tonight.

As we salute these Clermont County leaders, Father, help us also to thank them for being living examples of servanthood. And teach us all to be servants.

We thank You for the efforts of those who prepared our meal and those who will serve it and those who readied this room for our gathering tonight.

Thank You for the food that’s set before us. We ask You to use it to strengthen us to be Your servants.

We pray all these things in the Name of the Savior God Who dared to put us first, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amen

I also led the Pledge of Allegiance last night. But when I scanned the room in which we were meeting, I found that the only flag in the place was an enormous balloon-version on the wall behind the stage. I told the crowd it was a first for me, pledging allegiance to the balloons of the United States of America. (Cindy Jenkins, the always-up CEO of Clermont 20/20 said that there was supposed to be a real flag there, then told us all, "First glitch of the evening!" You gotta appreciate people with Cindy's positive attitude!) So, we said the pledge facing this balloon flag, fifty-five stars and all!

Third Pass at This Weekend's Bible Lesson: Luke 13:1-9

[The first two passes can be found here and here. The first pass explains what this is all about.]

Verse-by-Verse Comments (Luke 13:1-9, continued)
6Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none.
(1) In the Old Testament, God's people, Israel, were often portrayed as a fig tree or a vineyard.

(2) As Jesus begins to tell this parable, His listeners would probably have immediately thought of Isaiah 5. There, the prophet tells the tale of Israel as a vineyard that failed to bear fruit, in spite of all the blessings God has bestowed on His people. This is part of Jesus' message here as well. But it's for all whose lives have been touched by His grace and forgiveness.

(3) The traditional definition of a parable, as learned by generations of young people, was "an earthly story with a heavenly meaning." That's true as far as it goes.

I like to look at the original Greek word which is transliterated as parable for understanding just what a parable is. Parabolos is a compound word bringing together the prefix para, meaning along side, and bolo, which means to throw. A parable is a tale that can be read literally, but which has other meanings thrown alongside of it.

7So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’
(1) In land- and rain-scarce Judea, trees weren't watered. If the trees in a vineyard didn't grow from rainfall, a landowner would have been quick to cut them down. Landowners would have had zero patience for an unproductive tree. The reaction of the owner in Jesus' parable would thus have made sense to the crowd He addresses.

8He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. 9If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”
(1) Given the accepted agricultural practices of the day, the gardener's response to his boss' direct order would have been jarring to the crowd with whom Jesus is talking.

(2) What the gardener is really asking for is another year, another chance for this fruitless tree.

(3) We are called as followers of Jesus Christ to bear the fruits of repentance, in other words, to live a life reflecting the presence of Christ in our lives. Paul speaks of the fruits of God's Spirit, evidence of God living in us:
...the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another. (Galatians 5:22-26)
Rick Warren has pointed out that while we Christians aren't called to be "successful," we are called to be both faithful and fruitful.

The business of the Church is making disciples, of course. And the mission of every disciple is the same, which is why witnessing is of central importance to every Christian.

(3) Some people ask me, "Since the world is such a mess, why doesn't Christ come back now?" Of course, Jesus warns us against speculating about times or seasons of His return; we're simply to be faithful and fruitful until His return, whenever it might happen.

Peter writes:
Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish; and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation...(Second Peter 3:14-15)
Instead of wondering why Christ hasn't returned, we're to regard the passage of time as more opportunity to bear fruit for Christ, including reaching out to others with the Good News of Christ.

(4) As long as we still live, God is pouring His grace and mercy into our lives so that we can bear fruit.

(5) Nonetheless, life in this world will end. Jesus will come back. The question for every Christian then, "How are you going to use this day God has given to you?"

I hope to see you on Sunday at 10:00AM for worship. No Saturday worship this weekend, but we resume on Saturday, March 17, at 5:30PM.

John Reuben's Video for 'Word of Mouth'

Word of Mouth is the title track for John Reuben's latest, great CD. Here's the video:



And here are the lyrics. As always, thoughtful, thought-provoking raps from John:

I can’t hear what you’re saying
Just keep the music playing
It all sounds the same to me

Good God please have mercy
Let’s kick the machine till it’s working
Everybody’s got a great idea
Do you own the one you’re encouraging
There’s a first time for everything
After that it starts to get confusing
Hold onto your identities loosely
At least the revolution will be amusing

Word of mouth
This is what everybody’s talking about
So you can tell somebody to tell somebody
That the next new thing is the same old thing

We came and we quickly left
We took what we could get
I guess we weren’t impressed
We bored ourselves instead
What’s after what’s next
What’s left to get off your chest
Walking in circles retracing steps
How many ways can we package the concept
Mundane it’s all the same
Remind me later when nothing’s changed
Time will tell let the future explain
Until then we’ve got history to make
Trend-setters real go-getters
Closed-minded free-thinking hipsters
Instant classics adored by critics
It’s just music for the kids

Word of mouth
This is what everybody’s talking about
So you can tell somebody to tell somebody that
What’s happening has already happened again

Of course you’ve heard this before
What are you trying to figure out
Too much time on your hands
To analyze what doesn’t count
What’s wrong with everyday people
They make the best crowd
It was never that important
And the future doesn’t care about your

Word of mouth
This is what everybody’s talking about
So you can tell somebody to tell somebody
That what’s happening has already happened again

Word of mouth
This is what everybody’s talking about
So you can tell somebody to tell somebody
That the next new thing is the same old thing

Word of mouth
This is what everybody’s talking about
Familiarity breeds content
Are you content like me?

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Jan is Taking an Excellent Adventure

And your life and your faith will be enriched by taking it with her. Read about its latest leg here.

Second Pass at This Weekend's Bible Lesson: Luke 13:1-9

[The first pass and an explanation of what these "passes" are about can be found here.]

Verse-by-Verse Comments:
1At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.
(1) At that very time indicates that these remarks by Jesus continue a discussion He's been having with the crowd introduced at Luke 12:1.

(2) We have several accounts of bloodthirsty actions by the Roman governor Pilate from the ancient Jewish historian, Josephus. While there are no specific accounts of the incident the crowd around Jesus is evidently talking about, such an incident would have been par for the course for Pilate.

2He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans?
(1) Jesus' question indicates that the crowd's account of the massacre holds its victims accountable. This, as I mentioned yesterday, exemplifies retributive theology, which is not Biblical/Christian theology. Retributive theology holds that when even tyrants lash out at people or, as in the example Jesus Himself will cite in this passage, the victims themselves have done something wrong and caused God to punish or even kill them.

These notions go back a long way. Job's friends, as I mentioned yesterday, tried to explain the unexplainable, all the bad things that had befallen Job, with retributive justice. Jesus' disciples too, were guilty of this bad theology.

(2) Jesus asks a rhetorical question, asking the crowd to think about what it's saying.

3No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did.
(1) Events like the massacre the crowd was buzzing about should cause us to contemplate the fragile nature of human life. It should incite us not to condemn others. That reaction is a way of denying reality, pretending that we are in more control than we are, or morally superior when, in fact, we are all human, all vulnerable. Our greatest need isn't to explain things, as Job himself discovered back in Old Testament days. Our greatest need is to repent--turn from sin--and believe in Jesus Christ.

(2) Those who don't repent allow a wall to exist between them and God, between them and God's forgiveness, between them and the life that God gives to the repentant alone.

(3) Brian Stoffregen has a great discussion of the implications of this and Jesus' subsequent statement. Please read what Stoffregen says carefully:
There is some truth to this cause and effect notion. I don't want to completely eliminate our human responsibilities that may cause our own suffering (or the suffering of others). Chain smokers are more likely to suffer from lung diseases. Drunks who drive drunk are more likely to suffer an accident. Our medical science assumes that there are definite causes for illnesses. In our text, Jesus does not deny that those who were killed by Pilate or the tower were innocent victims.

What Jesus discounts is: (1) God caused their deaths because they were sinners; and (2) the fact that they died in such tragedies indicates that they were worse sinners than other Jews.

Everyone needs to repent -- even pious Jews living in the holy city, or Lutherans living in Minnesota -- or even the few in California -- and the need is urgent. The "cause-effect" notion still stands; but now there is a way to avoid the (future) destruction brought about by our sins -- namely, to be repentant.

At the same time, the pain and suffering caused by human sinfulness are not all equal. The drunk who kills a family in a car accident has certainly caused more pain and suffering than the alcoholic who drinks at home; but the tea-totaller [sic] who condemns everyone who drinks is just as sinful as a murderer, even if the results are not as tragic.
4Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.”
(1) While the massacre ordered by Pilate was a humanly-created disaster, the fall of the tower at Siloam was apparently a natural disaster, the kind of thing that happens in a fallen, imperfect world.

(2) The tower of Siloam was constructed near the famous pool of Siloam, a place where Jews thought, healing could happen. (See here.)

(3) The ways we die are insignificant, Jesus says. The fact is that we all will die and usually at a time we don't plan. Repentance is still the essential preparation for death. It won't prevent earthly death, but it will ensure that all who have repented and trusted in Christ will live with God forever.

The greatest tragedy isn't to be victimized by a massacre or the collapse of a building. The greatest tragedy is to die without having given oneself to Jesus Christ.

I hope to complete these verse-by-verse comments tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

With Sympathy for John Schroeder...


whose beloved Butler Bulldogs lost the Horizon League championship to a team from Ohio, Wright State University.

Look on the bright side, John: Now the Horizon will likely send two teams to the NCAA tournament.

Butler has had a fantastic season and I fully expect them to make some noise in the Big Dance.

First Pass at This Weekend's Bible Lesson: Luke 13:1-9

[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 our Bible lesson is usually one from the weekly lectionary, variations of which are used in most of the churches of the world.]

The Bible Lesson: Luke 13:1-9
1At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? 3No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. 4Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.”

6Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. 7So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ 8He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. 9If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”

General Comments
1. This passage culminates a section that begins at Luke 12:1. The foregoing verses in this section contain a series "warnings and admonitions."

2. The lesson is divisible into two sections: vv.1-5 and vv.6-9. The theme of both sections is the need to repent or be reconciled with God and neighbor while it's still possible to do so today. That's because life is fragile, apt to end without warning.

3. In this passage, Jesus deals with bad theology which apparently had currency among His listeners. Then, as now, there were people who thought that when bad things happened to people, it must mean that there was something bad about the victims.

This is basically what Job's "friends" tried to tell him back in Old Testament times. But both God and Job disabuse them of such ideas.

To this day, people adhere to what's called retribution theology for several reasons:
  • Having an explanation of why bad things befall people makes them feel that this life makes more sense than it often does;
  • For some, retribution theology feeds their feelings of moral superiority. "That happened to those people because they're evil; it won't happen to me."
In the late-80s, when the scourge of AIDS began to take off, I heard people, some well-meaning and some nasty, say that the disease must be God's judgment on homosexuals. They did this to distance themselves from the disease and to find some reason for the rise of an affliction of which they'd never heard.

Jesus rejects such approaches here and instead calls us to focus on the more significant issue.

4. And what is that issue? As I mentioned earlier, life is fragile and we all need to repent. We need to be in a relationship of repentance with God in order to be ready for life and death. (By a relationship of repentance I mean, the posture of repudiating sin and of trusting in Jesus Christ.)

5. The people here addressed are the same ones with whom Jesus has been speaking since Luke 12:1. There and in 12:12 and 12:54, we're told of the crowd.

This term, crowd, is almost a technical term for Luke. They form the outer ring of Jesus' audience. From Jesus, concentric rings form various audiences, with those who are closer to Him comprising those who believe in Him more. The circles include: the three, Peter, John, and James; the twelve apostles; the disciples; and the crowd.

The crowd is characterized by an interest in Jesus, but a fickleness in their loyalty to Him. They're basically chasing after Jesus out of two motives: getting what they want and curiosity. John's gospel portrays the crowd in a similar light. They have no real interest in surrendering to Christ.

For Luke, who also wrote the New Testament book of Acts, the mission of the Church is to move out, even to the far reaches of these crowds, and invite them into closer and more intimate relationship with Christ.

I hope to present verse-by-verse comments tomorrow.

Is This Cheney's Agnew Moment?

When, about a year ago, people were suggesting that Dick Cheney might resign from the vice presidency, I dismissed the notion as pure fancy, the sort of speculation in which political junkies like me love to engage on slow news days.

But now that Cheney's one-time chief of staff, Scooter Libby, has been found guilty of four of the five crimes with which he was charged, I really do wonder if Cheney might not become the third US Vice President to resign from that office.

The most recent, of course, was Richard Nixon's veep, Spiro Agnew. In October, 1973, Agnew made a nolo contendere plea to a number of bribery charges stemming from his tenure as Maryland governor. Simultaneously, he resigned the vice presidency. (Less than a year later, Nixon became the first President to resign from office for totally different corruptions.)

For some time now, Cheney has appeared to be trying to distance himself from the Libby trial, traveling to other parts of the world, ostensibly consumed with matters of state, just as Nixon did in his famous--and famously ill-advised--trip to Egypt in 1974. Like Nixon, Cheney may have risked his life with these junkets, as it has been learned that also like the thirty-seventh President, Cheney is suffering from blood clotting in his leg. The clotting makes walking painful and is potentially-life threatening.

Libby was, by all accounts, Dick Cheney's alter ego. There will thus be many questions asked about any association the Vice President may have had with Libby's crimes. A verion of Howard Baker's questions during the Watergate hearings, posed about Nixon, will be foremost among them:
  • What did the Vice President know?
  • When did he know it?
The Bush Administration, trying to assert its leadership on Iraq, the war on terrorists, and a number of domestic initiatives, may decide that they can't afford a drawn-out defense of the Vice President. Cheney, a loyal soldier, may also be able to use his new health issues as a convenient (and legitimate) reason for stepping down. His resignation would give Bush Administration critics one less thing to complain about. And the right replacement nominated by Mr. Bush could earn him points and goodwill.

The most likely opponents of a Cheney resignation, at least in the short run, would be Rudy Giuliani, John McCain, and Mitt Romney, frontrunners for the 2008 GOP presidential nomination. They would be fearful that any new veep who gained popularity would be likely to sweep their cracks at the presidency aside, automatically becoming the frontrunner for Republicans next year. If Cheney is to resign, they will lobby for the President to nominate a Republican elder statesman for Vice President, someone like Richard Lugar or John Warner, people unlikely to run for the presidency themselves.

Democrats will also have reason not to see Cheney replaced, although like moths attracted to a flame, they may feel duty-bound to press for his resignation. They and the GOP candidates might be open to the nomination of someone like Chuck Hagel, a Republican with impeccable conservative credentials who nonetheless opposes the war in Iraq, to be nominated for the vice presidency.

The country at large would likely push for any quality nomination, appropriately heedless of 2008 politics. If vox populi gets the upper hand, the President might nominate a Democrat for the vice presidency. The one Mr. Bush would probably like is Joe Lieberman; but Democrats would howl at that. Another name that might get in the mix would be that of Fred Thompson, a figure whose popularity goes beyond politics, the one-time minority counsel for the Senate Watergate committee, and a close friend and ally of John McCain's who is unlikely to run for the presidency himself.

It's all speculation and wild speculation at that. But at 12:42PM, March 6, 2007, I think that it's far likelier that Dick Cheney will resign his office than it was just one hour ago. This could be Dick Cheney's Agnew moment.

[IN THE COMMENTS: One person says that there's a big difference between the crimes of Spiro Agnew and those of Scooter Libby. I respond:
The analogy I drew was not between Agnew's crime and that of Scooter Libby. The analogy is between the damage Agnew could have done to Nixon had he not resigned and the damage Cheney might cause Bush if he doesn't follow the same course.

Had Agnew stayed on, a weakened Nixon White House would have confronted the question of whether it would expend its ever-depleting political capital on defending Agnew or cut him loose. The Bush White House may confront a similar moment with regard to Cheney. My point was political and historical.]
[THANKS TO: Glenn Reynolds, Andrew Sullivan, Pajamas Media, and Ron Coleman & David Nieporent for linking to this post.]

[THANKS ALSO TO: Michael McElroy of The New York Times political blog, The Caucus, for linking to this post.]

[THANKS TO: Indepundit for linking to this post.]

[THANKS TO: The Daily Briefing for linking to this post.]

[THANKS TO: Richard H├ętu, New York correspondent for the French Canadian, La Presse, for linking to this post.]

[THANKS ALSO TO: Howard Kurtz, Media Notes columnist for The Washington Post, for linking to this post. And to Christopher Beam at Slate for doing the same.]

[FURTHER THANKS TO: Kiko's House and Memeorandum for linking here.]

[THANKS TOO, TO: Joe Gandelman of The Moderate Voice for linking to this post.]

Mark D. Roberts...


on Amazing Grace.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Letters to My Non-Churchgoing Friends (#6: Finding Community, Meeting God)

[This is the sixth in a series of "letters" I'm writing for my column in the Community Press newspapers.]

Dear Friend,
A major coffee house chain speaks of making their establishments the "third place" to which people gravitate. The first place, naturally enough, is home and the second is work. Their coffee shops, they believe, can be the third place, a touchstone where customers make connections with the larger world and can do so without the pressures to be productive that we face in the workplace. (All the while filling the coffee shops' cash registers, of course.)

The coffee house chain is onto something. Especially in an impersonal age in which our professions often take us far from our roots, we need to make connections with others.

There are many ways to fill our need for community, of course. Coffee shops can, to some extent, fill that need as they fill our cups. Even though I don't drink coffee, I enjoy sitting in coffee shops. I sometimes even fantasize emulating a pastor acquaintance of mine who does a lot of his work and writes all of his helpful books while sitting in such a shop, periodically interrupting himself to talk with baristas and other customers.

But in fact, I think that the best way for us to experience that sense of connectedness to others that we both need and crave is the Church. It's a non-commercial community where, to paraphrase the words of an old hymn, we can, with others, come to God "just as we are, without one plea."

Christian faith, as I mentioned in an earlier letter, is primarily about relationships. The Bible reveals that our relationships with God and with others are distorted by a condition it calls sin. The Church is the family insituted by God through which people can turn from sin, get involved in a relationship with Christ, and be encouraged to experience things like wholeness, joy, forgiveness, power for living, and hope for this life and the next, through their relationships with other "recovering sinners."

Relationships and community have two dimensions in the church. There's the horizontal dimension common anywhere else in the world. This dimenion is about our relationships with other people.

But the church is also the place that helps us to experience the vertical dimension of community. This vertical dimension involves God's relationship with us and ours with God.

That both of these dimensions are essential to our wholeness as people is indicated by the answer Jesus once gave to a man who asked, "What is the greatest commandment?" Jesus said that actually, the greatest commandment is composed of two parts: Loving God completely and loving our neighbors as we love ourselves.

When Jesus speaks of love, He isn't talking so much about affection. He's talking about a tough-minded commitment to honoring God and doing what is best not just for ourselves, but for our neighbors. Even when those neighbors are people like wives, husbands, children, or friends.

Love like this doesn't come naturally to us. Which is probably why the book of Hebrews urges Christians not to neglect to "meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another..." In the church, God encourages us and we who worship, study, serve, and give together encourage each other to love as Christ has loved us. You might get that at a coffee shop; but you will certainly get it at most churches, even the smallest.

In the fellowship of the church, we find a third place where God teaches us how to love and, in so doing, also teaches us how to live.

Sincerely,
Mark

[Mark Daniels is pastor of Friendship Church, a Lutheran congregation. Weekly worship celebrations happen Saturdays at 5:30PM and Sundays at 10:00AM at 1300 White Oak Road, Amelia.]

[Here are links to the first five installments in this series:
Can You Be Christian Without the Church?
Worship is Boring
Is the Church Filled with Hypocrites?
The Church Only Wants My Money
I'm Not Good Enough]

Sunday, March 04, 2007

March 4/5 Inspiration for Walter Mittys Everywhere


The overnight hours of March 4 and March 5 mark the two-hundred thirty-first anniversary of a remarkable military feat, one made possible by an even more remarkable feat that preceded it.

As the New England winter unfolded in 1776, Boston was occupied by the British, soldiers in its streets, sailors in its harbor. George Washington, newly appointed commander-in-chief of the Continental Army, wanted desperately to take Boston from the Brits, commanded by Sir William Howe.

But, Washington who had long ago learned to rein in his impulse for recklessness, knew that he simply didn't have the artillery he needed to take advantage of his position on the heights overlooking the great New England city.

That's where Henry Knox comes in. Knox was a rotund Boston bookseller who, before the outbreak of the war, extensively read military history and strategy. Like many who develop armchair expertise, Knox wondered whether he mightn't excel in the field of his intense interest and reading. With little to commend him, Washington appointed Knox to be the chief of his army's artillery.

The problem was that Washington had virtually no artillery to command. But Knox, who must be an inspiration to every Walter Mitty who has ever fantasized about achieving great things, had a plan. It was an outrageous one: He would go to the recently-taken British Fort Ticonderoga, with its cache of cannon and artillery, and transport the big guns 300-miles over the winter snows of upstate New York and through Massachusetts to the heights overlooking Boston. And he would move them on sleds built on the fly at Ticonderoga.

Amazingly, Washington approved the venture. Getting to Ticonderoga in the early part of December, Knox brought the artillery to Washington in mid-January. It was an amazing achievement!

It was the possession of these guns that emboldened Washington to try retaking Boston. The plan was to dig in at Dorchester Heights and call the Redcoats out, making them sitting ducks for the American forces peering down at them behind their enormous cannon. As James L. Stokesbury writes:
The American operation opened with a preliminary covering bombardment. On the night of March 4-5, the troops moved onto the heights and began hammering the frozen ground, under cover of the noise of the guns. Twelve-hundred Yankees with picks, shovels, and crowbars could do a lot of work in the course of a night. British officers heard them, but did not bother to anything about it. So with the dawn, there were the fortifications crowning the heights, and Sir William and his miserable band stood agape. Howe reported home that at least 12,000 men must have been working on the position; his chief engineer thought it would have needed 20,000. There must be a great horde of rebels about if they could do that.
A.J. Langguth writes memorably of what happened on the morning of March 5 and subsequently:
In the morning, Howe found that Boston was now vulnerable to an attack from Dorchester Heights whenever Washington chose to fire Henry Knox's cannon. The March rains that drenched the town made Howe's muskets worthless. As he already had permission to withdraw his men, Howe decided to leave Boston as quickly as he could.

Washington watched the British make their undignified retreat--"in so much hurry, precipitation and confusion as ever troops did"--and shared his glee with his brother John, home in Virginia. Howe ordered his baggage wagons and artillery carts thrown off the docks, along with several hundred blankets. But in his haste he left behind mortars, cannon and shell. On Sunday, March 17, 1776, the British army and twelve hundred loyalists boarded ships to sail away from Boston.
For Washington, the twin miracles of Knox's three-hundred mile sled ride with British cannon and the emplacement of massive fortifications overnight on March 4 and 5, were welcomed events.

Shortly before, American forces had suffered a humiliating rebuff in Canada, in spite of the fact that many in the rebellious colonies had assumed the Americans would be welcomed by the Canadians as liberators and friends.

The evacuation of the British from Boston encouraged Americans to believe that they could win their war.

It also gave them confidence in the commander-in-chief who had won the victory and who had wisely picked Henry Knox to be his commander of artillery.

Washington, almost always a good judge of talented and trustworthy subordinates, would later turn to Knox again, making the one-time Boston bookseller the first Secretary of War in his first years as President.

[Above: Washington at Dorchester Heights; a portrait of Henry Knox and a cannon]

Programmed for God's Will

[This message was shared during worship celebrations of Friendship Lutheran Church, Amelia, Ohio, on March 3 and 4, 2007. If you live in or are visiting the Cincinnati area, you're invited to worship at Friendship. Our weekly services happen on Saturdays at 5:30PM and Sundays at 10:00AM. There will be no Saturday worship on March 10, 2007.]

Luke 13:31-35
A funny thing sometimes happens to me when I’m typing on my computer keyboard. Let’s say I’m going to type the word, freedom. Before my mind can think about it, my hands are typing my favorite word that begins with the letters fr, Friendship.

Or, as I’m thinking say, jeans, I actually type Jesus.

It’s as though I’ve programmed my will (and my slow typing hands) by the things I most commonly think and write about. And even when I’m thinking of writing one thing, I'm apt to write another.

Our human will is a mechanism which we can guide or influence by the thoughts, habits, and practices we feed into it. This can be funny.

But it can also be dangerous, like the guy who programmed himself not to stop for red lights and once, when there was a car coming down the intersecting road, accidentally stepped on the gas pedal when he meant to hit the brake. He had so programmed his will to ignore red lights that he nearly got killed. If we feed our wills the wrong habits and the wrong information, our wills will soon control us and not the other way around.

I bring all of this up because our short Bible lesson for today, Luke 13:31-35, presents a clash of many different wills. And it has a lot to teach us about our own wills.

In the opening verse of our lesson, we’re told, “some Pharisees came and said to him [Jesus], ‘Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.’” If you have the lesson in front of you in our bulletin or if you have your Bible with you, underline the word wants.

That word in the original Greek of the New Testament is theleo, meaning I will, I want, or I desire something.

The Pharisees are saying that it’s Herod’s will to kill Jesus. They’re warning Jesus to stay away from Jerusalem, where Herod can get his hands on Jesus and have Him executed.

And what exactly is the will of these Pharisees here? Most of the Pharisees hated Jesus because He said that life with God isn’t earned by jumping through religious hoops, that salvation is a gift granted to all who turn from sin and follow Christ.

Some Bible scholars suggest that these Pharisees liked Jesus. Maybe. But it seems likelier to me that they were similar to the character Rex, the dinosaur in Toy Story. When asked to decide between following Woody or Buzz Lightyear as his leader, Rex tells the other toys, “I don’t like confrontation.”

The Pharisees may have wanted to avoid a confrontation between Jesus and Herod for fear that if it happened, the bloodthirsty Herod would make life harder for everybody else, including them.

Whatever the Pharisees' motives, in trying to prevent Jesus from going to Jerusalem, they were going against God’s will for Jesus’ life. Jesus had become human so that He could go to a cross, a sinless Savior accepting our punishment for sin and so, allowing the repentant who believe in Him to live with God forever. Even if their motives were kindly, the Pharisees were trying to thwart Jesus from fulfilling the will of the Father.

The Pharisees may have wanted the sort of Messiah...
who would do their will,
who would let them live with their sins of pride and self-will,
who wouldn’t go to a cross or call people to crucify their sins so that they could be made new by God.
But the Christian life revolves around surrendering to the God we know in Jesus Christ with a simple, daily plea, “God, Your will, and not my own, be done!”

Jesus’ response to the Pharisees is emphatic. Read what He tells them next:
“He said to them, ‘Go and tell that fox for me, “Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.” Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!’”
One word left untranslated, though implied, in this part of our lesson is the Greek term, dei. It means, it is necessary. (Not to be confused with the Latin term that can be seen in the phrase, Gloria Dei, which means Glory to God, dei [and deo] meaning God in Latin.) Jesus says, “It is necessary that I cast out demons, perform cures, and on the third day finish my work.” It was necessary for Jesus to do the will of the Father, He says. He refused to consider any other option.

But Jerusalem, which here represents the whole rebellious human race, especially those who wear the robes of righteousness and religiosity to cover their self-will, has other ideas. Jerusalem--the world, you and I--wants to go its own way. We want to pursue the sins of ignoring God and looking out for number one. We don’t want a Savior Who comes to save us from sin. We want a King Who will tell us, “Do whatever you want; I won’t stand in your way.”

Jesus compares Himself to a mother hen who wants to protect her chicks from sin and death. (And faith-killing foxes like Herod.) But the chicks want to scurry away from God.

Jesus here speaks of the clash of wills that goes on between Him and us: “How often have I desired--underline desired, which once more is that Greek word theleo--to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing--underline not willing, theleo again.

Speaking for myself, I admit that lots of the time, I want just enough of Christ to be saved, but not so much of Him that my life is changed; enough of Christ that He will hear my prayers, but not enough for people to think that I'm weird.

But we really don't have a choice in this matter: We will either have all of Christ or we will have none of Him.

That doesn’t mean that we’ll be perfect. It means simply that we're surrendered to Christ’s will for our lives.

So how do we do that? How do we surrender to Christ?

It begins by allowing our wills to be reprogrammed by Christ. Reprogramming our wills isn’t easy.

These days, I’m praying for Josh Hamilton. Hamilton is a twenty-five year old baseball player with all sorts of talent: a fielder with a cannon for an arm, a hitter who can stroke for average and power, a runner who's quick and smart on the base paths.

But several years back, after signing a huge rookie contract, Josh Hamilton got involved with drugs. His addictions were destroying him. He finally got into a Twelve Step-program and has been clean for eighteen months.

But someone on sports radio the other day said that if Hamilton were at the microphone at that moment, he probably would say that he’s been clean for a day, that day.

Josh Hamilton’s will was programmed by drugs and now, day by day, each day, he must reprogram himself in order to stay clean.

Similarly, you and I must live in what Martin Luther called “daily repentance and renewal” in order to reprogram ourselves to remain clean of the stain of sin, to stay away from the habits that rob us of joy, peace, hope, and a relationship with God. (I find that I have to do that moment by moment, not just day by day!)

The Bible says that we reprogram our wills by letting Christ fill our thinking.

At the beginning of Romans 12, the apostle Paul writes, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern the will of God--what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

In Philippians 2, Paul challenges us to have Christ’s mind in us.

Young people, that may mean ignoring the hype of the crowd and instead, obeying the parents God has given to you.

Older folks, that may mean saying no to that second cookie--something I find very hard to do--in order to take care of the body God has given you.

For all of us, it will mean deliberately displacing sinful thoughts--thoughts that don’t express love for God and love for neighbor--and replacing them with thoughts from God.

If we don’t fill our minds with Christ, what’s going on inside of us will become manifest, no matter what fake face we try to show the world.

Once, I was deeply angry with someone. Instead of dealing with it by talking first with God and, then, if necessary, with the person, I stewed over all the things I wanted to say to let the other person have it. This went on for weeks. My will was becoming programmed to spew a Mount Vesuvius of venom. That’s exactly what happened. After I finally let loose on this person, I found out that my anger was completely unfounded. But I did great damage to our friendship.

A friend of mine is blessed with a magnetic personality. Everybody seems to take an immediate liking to him. That’s the sort of thing that could go to your head if you weren’t programmed to do God’s will. My friend, a layperson, uses this facility for making friends not to get things for himself. Instead, as he befriends and listens to people, he becomes a trusted confidante and is able to comfortably and credibly speak to his friends of what Jesus Christ means to him, pray with them, and sometimes, invite them to worship with him. He's able to do this because every day, my friend programs his will to put Jesus Christ first in his daily life.

Reprogramming our wills isn’t easy. It’s a day by day process.

It also isn’t very glamorous.
No weeks in rehab with Britney.
No time on the beach at Cozumel.
No climbing a mountain to consult with a guru.
Just seven simple things that can help replace all the other idols and lies on which we may be tempted to build our lives with the one true God of the universe revealed to us through Jesus Christ.

They are:
  • prayer;
  • studying God’s Word;
  • regular worship;
  • inviting others to follow Christ with us;
  • encouraging others;
  • serving in Jesus’ Name; and
  • giving to Christ’s mission in the world.
When we adopt these seven habits, the will of God becomes paramount in our lives.

And something else happens: We see Christ working in our lives and in the life of the world.

Of Jesus, Who becomes apparent in our lives, we can say, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.”

You might, in fact, want to underline those very words in our lesson today. From time to time this week, look at those underlined words and then offer this simple prayer, “God: Reprogram my will so that people see Christ in me every single day.”