Friday, June 29, 2007

Was Matthews Right to Say, 'Thank God' That Piccadilly Bombing Was Averted?

On his show this evening, Chris Matthews talked about the averted terrorist bombing near London's Piccadilly Circus. At least three times Matthews issued a "Thank God" that the attack was avoided.

Was he right to say that?

Did God prevent the bombings from happening in London today?

And if so, why didn't this same God prevent the Holocaust, the attacks of September 11, 2001, the July 7 London bombings, the Madrid bombings of March 11, 2004, or the Beslan school crisis of 2004?

As a Christian, I believe that the answers to these questions will only fully be apparent in eternity. Until then, as the New Testament portion of the Bible tells us, "we walk by faith and not by sight."

But, as I look at the historical record as presented in the Bible and at the experience of believers in the centuries since the last book of the Bible was written, I affirm several historic Christian teachings:
  • God hears prayer
  • God cares about what's happening in our world
  • God intervenes in our world, first, out of consideration for His long-term will for us, and second, in response to our prayers, which are really invitations to God to act in our world
These assertions are either brave or stupid, I suppose. Or they are true.

That's because they diverge dramatically from the sorts of explanations offered by simplistic religious legalists, even those who identify themselves as Christians.

Remember the Muslim cleric who said that the tsunami of Christmas, 2004 was caused by the failure of Muslims in the affected countries to maintain their religious discipline?

Or the Christian clergyperson who said that the 9/11 attacks were the result of America's abortion laws and acceptance of gay relationships? (He later recanted for that comment.)

Christian theology refuses to accept such simplistic explanations of God or of world events, primarily because God is bigger than our capacity to fully comprehend Him and also because in Jesus Christ, we meet a God Who cares about and is aligned with the human race, particularly with those who suffer.

So, does God intervene in the events of history?

Just last night, during a raucous commercial air flight back to Ohio from Florida, I read some of Philip Yancey's fantastic new book, Prayer. He dealt with this very question. He writes:
Our own time has witnessed uprisings led by prayer.

In the 1980s, a pastor named Laszlo Tokes took over a small Reformed church to minister to his fellow Hungarians, an oppressed minority living inside the borders of Romania. His predecessor had openly supported the communist Romanian government, even to the extent of wearing a red star on his clerical robes. In contrast, Tokes spoke out against injustice and protested government actions. Soon the sanctuary began filling each Sunday, bringing together worshipers and dissidents of both Romanian and Hungarian descent. Membership grew from forty persons to five thousand.

The courageous new pastor attracted the attention of special agents as well. They threatened Tokes many times with violence, and one evening the police were dispatched. Word spread quickly and hundreds of Christians--Baptist, Orthodox, Reformed, and Catholic alike--poured out of their homes to surround Tokes's house as a wall of protection. They stood through the day and night, singing hymns and holding candles.

A few days later, police broke through the protestors to seize Tokes. Rather than dispersing and filing home, the protestors decided to march downtown to the police station. As the procession moved noisly through the streets, more and more people joined in. Eventually the crowd in the town square swelled to 200,000, nearly the entire population of that area. The Romanian army sent in troops, who in one bloody incident opened fire on the crowd, killing a hundred and wounding many more. Still the people held their ground, refusing to disperse.

A local pastor stood to address the protestors in an attempt to calm the rising anger and prevent a full-scale riot. He began with three words, "Let us pray." In one spontaneous motion that giant mass of farmers, teachers, students, doctors, and ordinary working people fell to their knees and recited the Lord's Prayer--a corporate act of civil disobedience. Within days the protest spread to the capital city of Bucharest, and a short time later the government that had ruled Romania with an iron fist toppled to the ground.
I've gotten myself in trouble suggesting that the collapse of the old, evil Soviet empire had more to do with prayer than the policies of governments, important though the latter may have been, especially the policy of containment as pursued by every US president from Harry Truman to George H.W. Bush.

But Yancey catalogs one instance after another in which the eyes of faith see the hand of God, responsive to the prayers of people. Yancey recites prayers offered and prayers seemingly answered in Poland, East Germany, and South Africa.

There must be many elements in the world's response to Islamist terrorism:
  • Citizens, like the London EMS worker, need to be vigilant, watchful for suspicious and menacing behaviors
  • Governments must enforce the law and guard their citizens from terrorists
  • Christians must proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ that frees people from hatred and from performance-based religion, freeing believers in Christ to become the people God made them to be.
  • Christians also must pray for protection of the world from people bent on violence, inviting the power of God into our world.
With solid historical warrant, Yancey points out:
...wherever Christian missionaries have traveled they have left behind a trail of hospitals, clinics, orphanages, and schools.
In response to Jesus' command that we love God and neighbor, Christians have always and continue to serve their neighbors--whatever their neighbors' religious affiliation.

But in addition to acting in the power of God, we're also called to pray.

Who knows? Somewhere on this planet it may be that vigilant, compassionate Christians have been praying that God would thwart terrorist attacks in Britain and that had something to do with an emergency worker seeing smoke emanating from a suspicously parked vehicle near Piccadilly Circus. Maybe it was God who ensured that the would-be terrrorists bungled their plot to violate the laws of God and of humanity.

I wouldn't be surprised.

Which is why, in an act of faith tonight, I say with Chris Matthews, "Thank God!"

[For a discussion of tragedy befalling the innocent, see here.]
[For a discussion of the role of governments in the life of the world and the rule of God, see here.]

[THANKS TO: Bill Hobbs, Annie Gottlieb, Aramis of Three Mass'keteers, Ann Althouse, and Glenn Reynolds for linking to this post.]

[THIS POST HAS been substantially cross-posted at]

What's Goin' On?

With that Marvin Gaye title, I give an explanation for my absence from here of late.

At the conclusion of the mission trip in Canandaigua, NY, with Group Work Camps, I got home one week ago.

On Tuesday, my wife and I flew to Florida to spend time with our daughter and her husband. It was a wonderful visit!

Yesterday, our daughter's boss, seeing that she was distraught from having said goodbye to us at breakfast and knowing that we wouldn't take off until 7PM, told our daughter to take the day off. That was a gift!

Among the most special of memories I'll take from this short foray to Florida was late-night ice cream with our daughter. (My wife is an early-to-bed, early-to-rise person.) The best memories and the best experiences always seem to happen in the supposedly mundane and inconsequential encounters we have with those we love. The old saying is absolutely true: Love is spelled T-I-M-E.

Our daughter seems to be doing very well with her new job and appears to have the respect of her bosses. She's a on a track for management, which is exciting. Given her childlike enthusiasm and love of people, that doesn't surprise me.

My wife and I also got some "just the two of us time" and that too, was fantastic. Whenever we get to do that, we remember again how much we love and value one another. That's good for a couple soon to be married thirty-three years to remember!

The only down part of the trip was a group of loud, inebriated fellow passengers on the return flight. Particularly annoying were a man and a woman who spoke so loudly that I'm sure that two-thirds of the passengers heard their every word. They'd met at the airport lounge and gotten pretty loaded even before we boarded. She was married; he wasn't. His subtle spiel included several expressions of regret that the woman was married. She indicated that that didn't really matter to her and toward the end of the flight, they exchanged telephone numbers...and planned to find a bar to which they could retire.

But as smarmy as their dialog was, it was their loudness and that of several of their fellow revelers that was most annoying. About three-quarters of the way through the flight, a man several rows behind me asked if the two "flirts" could keep it down.

They were quieter for a short time. But soon they were as loud as before, he with his booming and increasingly profanity-laced pronouncements and unsuccessful attempts at humor, she with a loud, penetrating cackle.

When the flight ended, we waited for awhile as an elderly man was escorted from the plane by paramedics. From my seat sixteen rows back, I saw the old man kiss the flight attendant in gratitude, his wife close at hand.

During that brief wait, the cackler smacked the shoulder of one reveler and asked, "Did you have a good time?" Several people in the back replied instead: "None of us had a good time. You made it insufferable for the rest of us!" When the boomer tried to explain that he was celebrating a $300,000.00 sale he made earlier in the day, the crowd was unimpressed.

In all honesty, it's the first time I've ever encountered anything like that on a flight. My feeling is that the attendant who might otherwise have cut off the annoying group, was too busy with the special needs of the elderly man up front to note what was going on in aisles fourteen and fifteen.

A highlight of the entire trip, including the flight, was time spent reading Philip Yancey's fantastic new book on prayer. I'm sure that I'll be writing more about this in the future.

My wife, daughter, and I also had the chance to look up and briefly visit with a Lutheran pastor with whom I've corresponded and had phone chats. He's every bit as nice in person as he is from a distance!

So, have you read Yancey's book?

Have you dealt with long distances from your grown children?

Have you ever spent time on a commercial air flight with noisy drunks?

Tell me about those experiences, if you want.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Who Really Threw Windy Hager's Life Away?

"She could have done anything," says the mother of a sixteen year old high school student who has just married her track coach. "She could have set the world on fire. She threw it all away."

Windy Hager's mom may be right in saying that the young girl has thrown her life away. But if that's the case, Windy appears to have had help. When her parents had the chance and the responsibility to draw a line in the sand, they didn't do it. Instead, they signed the consent form allowing their daughter to marry a man two-and-a-half times her age. In my eyes, that makes them accomplices to Windy throwing her life away!

The relationship between Windy and her coach, Brenton Wuchae, had troubled Dennis and Betty Hager for several years. But attempts made by the parents to put an end to the illegal and clearly immoral relationship were unsuccessful.

Instead of redoubling their efforts to bring their daughter to her senses or protect her from a predatory coach though, the parents just gave up. Dennis explains pathetically: "Signing those consent forms was the hardest thing I did in my whole life, but we had to move on, it was going to kill us all."

That explanation is suspiciously similar to ones given by the parents of kids who've fallen into drug addiction, who say, "It was just too painful to see him or her going through DTs. So, I gave him or her the money to buy their drugs."

Or, "We decided to let her or him have the party with alcohol here rather than at someone else's house."

Or, "All the other sixteen year olds were going to Florida for spring break. We think it's wrong. But we can't let our kid be the only one stuck at home."

In each of these instances, as in the case of Dennis and Betty Hager, parents abdicate their jobs as parents. They willingly subject their children to risk, danger, heartache, and pain because they don't want to deal with ongoing confrontations or anger from their children. They exchange their kids' well-being for freedom from parental responsibility.

The Hagers may think that they've consented to their daughter's marriage out of love. Or maybe they think that by acquiescing to Windy's desire to marry Wuchae, they're removing a bone of contention between them and that they can now have a positive relationship with their daughter. If either of these thoughts informed their decision, they were being shortsighted.

As I see it, expressions of parental love come in two forms:
The latter expression of love is one which many parents seem loathe to perform these days. They shy away from saying, "No," to their children.

Yet, parents who truly love their children will say, "No" to destructive desires or habits of their kids.
  • "No, you can't have a second candy bar."
  • "No, you can't stay up until eleven o'clock on a school night."
  • "No, you can't have beer at the party."
  • "No, you can't go to Florida just because all the other parents at school are silly enough to permit their children to do so."
Apart from acquainting kids with the fact that life doesn't always go our ways, saying "No" in these and other circumstances demonstrates love for children, even if the kids never see it that way.

By most measures, a teen under the age of eighteen is a minor and still very much an adolescent. Dazzled by the promises of adult freedom so within their reach and twitterpated by hormones, adolescents are prone to making lousy choices, which loving parents must prevent them from making, if possible.

Parents who accede to their teens' irrational requests--such as wanting to marry someone twenty-four years older than them, whether to avoid conflict, to gain poplualrity, or because of a perverted notion of what love is all about, are really throwing their kids' lives over a cliff. And it's a shame!

[THANKS TO: The Big Lead for alerting me to this story.]

Sunday, June 24, 2007

"God is not a marshmallow."


Please Pray...

for Charlie Lehardy's son. Pray too, that you will have faith like that of the Lehardy family, trusting even in the midst of the difficulties.

Christmas in June

Following this past week's mission trip, I had today off. So I worshiped at All Saints Lutheran Church in Cincinnati's Eastgate area, where my colleague, Jim Dinkel, is pastor.

It turned out to be a fun and meaningful experience as Jim led a Christmas in June service. Jim says that we focus on the meaning of Easter every Sunday, when we always celebrate Jesus' resurrection. But in the midst of what he calls the Hallowgivemas "holiday" that begins in about September when Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas decorations mingle insensibly in stores and on homes, we tend to ignore the true significance of Christmas, when God reached down and became one of us in the person of Jesus, all so He could rescue us from sin and death!

Jim is right, I think. The Christmas season is actually supposed to begin on December 25 and go to January 6. But each December 26, we hurry it away like so much discarded wrapping paper. (For more on the church year, see here.)

It was fun singing several Christmas songs during worship, although I did feel a little silly whistling them when I headed to Chipotle for lunch.

It's good for a pastor to occasionally worship with someone else leading and to listen to someone else's preaching...even I get tired of the sound of my own voice!