Saturday, September 22, 2007

Until a New Season of 'Monk' Begins in January...

you can play Monk Shui.

Or take the Monk-o-Phile trivia quiz.

Or read Mr. Monk Goes to the Firehouse, which I really enjoyed reading earlier this year.

Or, in the spirit of the Obsessive-Compulsive behavior Monk exemplifies, you could arrange your identical sportcoats and shirts by date of purchase.

Okay, so I'm obsessed with Monk. But it's only one of my 812 obsessions.

Friday, September 21, 2007

The Big Ten Season Begins

Following its impressive win over Washington, Ohio State takes on Northwestern for its Big Ten opener tomorrow. Northwestern did lose to usually lowly Duke last week. But the Wildcats feature a spread offense, the very brand of offense that gave Michigan fits in its opening losses to Appalachian State and Oregon.

Nonetheless, I believe that Ohio State's defense is sterling and will be prepared for the spread. OSU's offense, under the leadership of QB Todd Boeckman also appeared to take a quantum leap forward in last week's win in Seattle. The Buckeyes, still I will remind you in what can only be described as a rebuilding year, should win.

[Photo credit: OSU Quarterback Todd Boeckman from Yahoo]

Of course, there's a lot of interest in how the Penn State-Michigan game will turn out tomorrow. The match will be a major test for both schools, for different reasons. For Michigan, it'll be a chance to prove that their win over Notre Dame, so far one of the worst teams in the country this 2007 season, wasn't a fluke. But they'll have to beat a Penn State team that many expect to win the Big Ten and to play in one of the BCS bowls at season's end. It's no gimme for Penn State either, because they'll have to play in Ann Arbor. But I expect Penn State to win by about ten points.

In other games...
LSU should handle an improving South Carolina team.
Michigan State should beat Notre Dame.

That's as bold as I'll get. After all, I'm just a preacher, not a football expert.

[See Tim May's always interesting comments here.]

Go Buckeyes!

[UPDATE: As a friend of mine said today, "Ohio State's win over Northwestern yesterday is like the games the two teams played back when we were students at OSU." Todd Boeckman seemed to become a big time college QB during the third quarter of last week's game against Washington. His work yesterday seemed to confirm that.

[I was shocked by Michigan's win over Penn State. But Michigan does have a lot of returning talent and Lloyd Carr is no slacker as a coach. Also, Penn State doesn't really play a spread offense. Nonetheless, yesterday's game seems to indicate that Michigan, along with Penn State and Wisconsin, have legitimate shots at a share of the Big Ten title this year. While my beloved Buckeyes made huge strides forward yesterday, they beat an obviously weak Northwestern team, and there are still big question marks about how really good they are.]

A Brief Pass at This Weekend's Bible Lesson: Luke 14:15-24

[Although I've broken with this custom during what's been an extremely busy summer and early fall, here on the blog I usually present notes--I generally call them passes--on the Biblical texts on which my weekend messages will be built.

[This weekend, I'm beginning a four-part series on Overcoming Worry. (There will be a break from this text next week, when I'll be preaching at another church.)

[Below, you'll find the text. My comments are numbered after the verses.]

The Bible Lesson: Luke 14:15-24

15One of the dinner guests, on hearing this, said to him, “Blessed is anyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!”
(1) The "on hearing this" refers to comments Jesus makes in the preceding verses of chapter 14. The setting for them and for what Jesus says here is "the house of a leader of the Pharisees" (v.1). The entire dinner party is something of a trap, designed to cause Jesus to say things that can be used against Him, either with the Jewish religious authorities or with the Roman governor.

(2) In Jesus' preceding comments (vv. 12-14), He's demonstrated that the command to love our neighbors as ourselves is a call to what homiletician George Buttrick calls, "fundamental neighborliness." He tells the host that when he holds a banquet, he shouldn't invite friends, relatives, or wealthy neighbors. If he does so, all of them will feel duty-bound to return the favor. Instead, he should invite, "the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind," people incapable of paying him back. But, Jesus says, such righteous living will be noticed at the "resurrection of the righteous.” (This passage, by the way, sets prominently in the background of next week's Gospel lesson, Luke 16:19-31.)

(3) The comment made by "one of the dinner guests," to eating "bread in the kingdom of God," refers to the great feast which, since at least the time of the prophet Isaiah in the 7th.-century BC, it was believed that all made right with God (the righteous) through their faith in God would enjoy. (Christians still believe this.)

Isaiah 25:6-9 anticipated such a feast with the Messiah:
On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear. And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever. Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken.

It will be said on that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us. This is the Lord for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.
16Then Jesus said to him, “Someone gave a great dinner and invited many.
(1) Jesus responds, as He so often does, with a story, a parable. Stories were good ways for Jesus to place the things He wanted to convey in His hearers' minds. They're still powerful!

17At the time for the dinner he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come; for everything is ready now.’
(1) According to the editors of the Archeological Study Bible:
It was the Jewish custom to send two invitations to a banquet: an advance invitation and a follow-up announcement when the feast was ready.
18But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a piece of land, and I must go out and see it; please accept my regrets.’ 19Another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please accept my regrets.’ 20Another said, ‘I have just been married, and therefore I cannot come.’
(1) Each of the original invitees were so consumed with the cares of life that they couldn't say, "Yes" to the invitation to the feast.

Of course, Jesus has in mind how we allow our own agendas get in the way of heeding God's invitations to worship, prayer, service in His Name, love of our neighbor, and ultimately, life in His Kingdom.

(2) In Luke's Gospel, Jesus often shows us that "heaven is a party." Jesus most famously draws this analogy in the parable of the Prodigal Son. There, the father, clearly representing God, throws a party when his once-rebellious and now-repentant son returns home. In that story, the father also begs the older, self-righteous son to join in, but he refuses to do so. Through Jesus Christ, God invites all of us to His eternal party. Whether we will or not is up to us.

21So the slave returned and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and said to his slave, ‘Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.’
(1) There may be a hint of Jesus' frustration with His fellow Jews here. And of God's frustration with them as His people.

Familiar with "the Law and the Prophets," the Scriptures we Christians refer to as the Old Testament, the ancient Jews nonetheless regarded wealth and health as signs of God's favor. But the witness of the Law and the Prophets, as well as of Jesus, is that God doesn't look at people the way we often do. (See here and here.).

Those writings, as the resurrected Jesus would show the two disciples He met on the way to Emmaus, pointed to Him as the "host" who could take all with faith in Him into the heavenly banquet hall.

Those same writings also pointed to God's advocacy for the poor, the lame, and the marginalized. Yet, God's people, as is true of many Christians and others in the world today, ignored Jesus and ignored too, His call to compassion and "neighborliness," a call to hospitality and concern for those who can't pay us back. (I blame myself for this as much as I do anybody else, by the way!)

(2) Jesus' story also underscores the fact that often, wealth and the cares created by possessions can make us deaf to God's invitations. So can success and relational happiness. Even the best of blessings, if we allow them to, can lure us into a false sense of self-sufficiency. We can delude ourselves with the idea that we don't need God. It becomes easy to put God on the back burner. (See Matthew 13:22, but read all of Matthew 13 to understand the context. Also see here.)

Keep in mind, Jesus isn't condemning wealth, per se. Abraham was wealthy. Joseph of Arimathea was wealthy. Lydia was wealthy. All were followers of God.

Jesus is condemning those who regard their wealth as an entitlement. He's also condemning those who refuse to use their wealth, along with the rest of their lives, to glorify God by loving their neighbor.

22And the slave said, ‘Sir, what you ordered has been done, and there is still room.” 23Then the master said to the slave, ‘Go out into the roads and lanes, and compel people to come in, so that my house may be filled. 24For I tell you, none of those who were invited will taste my dinner.’”
(1) In the topsy turvy Kingdom of God, the last will be first and the first will be last.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Mark D. Roberts Reminisces

Mark D. Roberts is taking on a new challenge after sixteen years serving as senior pastor at Irvine Presbyterian Church. An extaordinary writer and blogger, as well as an inspiring Christian, Mark is reminiscing on his blog about his years at Irvine. Here's a link to the series of posts he's writing. It makes for good reading, as usual.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Please Join Me in Telling the Thief Blogger to Knock It Off!

Somebody is running a thief blog, a site that leeches off of this site for its title, its look, and its copy.

The thief does attribute my posts to me. But usually only after duplicating 90-100% of the original post, so that it would be pointless for a reader to actually come to this site to read it. More than half of the posts on the thief blog come from this site. The balance are ripped off from other blogs.

Clearly, the person engaging in this thievery is hoping to use the rip-off blog to make money. Advertising is seen at the tops and prominently, on the sidebars of each page.

Several days ago, I wrote in a comment to one of my posts appearing on this person's pseudo-blog:

Look, if you want to make money from blogging, that's up to you. But do it with your own posts.

The thoughts I express on my blog are my thoughts. If, occasionally, other bloggers link to something I've written or cite a sentence or two, that's part of the dialoging that makes blogging so interesting. But what you do is effectively swipe other people's copy, most notoriously, my copy, and preface it all with advertising.

At best, what you do is mooching. More accurately, it's stealing. So, knock it off!

Mark Daniels

What the thief blogger does goes way beyong linking, citing, or quoting this blog. He's using it for himself.

I learned this morning that, even since I wrote the comments above, the thief blogger has once more posted a piece from Better Living.

So, I'm asking readers of this blog to send comments to the thief to say exactly what you think of his/her thievery.

[UPDATE: Both Hugh Hewitt and Joe Gandelman, uber-bloggers, have called attention to the tawdriness, if not outright illegality, of thief-blogging, a far more widespread phenomenon than you might think it is. Thanks to both of them!]

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Those Funny Church Words: LOVE

[This message was shared during the Sunday worship celebration of Friendship Lutheran Church, Amelia, Ohio, earlier today.]

1 John 4:7-21
Over the past few weeks, we’ve been looking at funny church words, terms that only Christians use or which we use so uniquely that the world may need a translator to understand us. We may be tempted to think that everybody understands today’s word, love.

But I’m not so sure about that. Years ago, a young man spoke with me after a third consecutive romance had gone sour. “Pastor,” he told me. “I wouldn’t know love if it bit me in the backside.” That may be true for all of us, at least some of the time, whether we’re Christians or not.

So, what is love? My favorite writer, C.S. Lewis, once described four major types of love, using Greek terms to describe each.

The first of these is storge, the kind of love a loyal pet feels for its owner. The pet appreciates the care and the comfort the owner provides. It’s a bit like a warm blanket on a cold night. But ultimately, storge isn’t a terribly satisfying form of love.

A second kind of love is eros, which is romantic or sexual love. Eros may be the most exciting kind of love, at least in the short run. But men and women who try to build long-term relationships on only erotic love end up bitterly disappointed. Often, when erotic love is the only glue holding a relationship together, someone feels used. Besides, when the money runs low, or tragedy hits, or when depression happens, the person whose love for you is based only on eros will leave, looking for someone else who turns them on.

A third kind of love is philos, the sort of love that may exist between two loyal friends. Twenty-four years ago, when I had graduated from seminary and was still without a call, my wife was expecting our second child, the only work I had was that of a part-time janitor, and we were without a place to live, my old high school friend, Tom, invited us to live with him. Tom didn't need to do that. But that's the kind of thing that philos does.

A fourth kind of love, what’s known as agape, is well-described in a passage from the New Testament often read at weddings. Oddly enough, Paul, its author, wasn't writing about marriage when he dictated the words we find in First Corinthians in the New Testament. They were addressed to a congregation in which a supposed spiritual elite looked down their noses on those who, unlike them, didn't possess the spiritual gift of tongues; where wealthy Christians weren't sharing with poorer Christians; and where unrepentant sin was rampant. Listen to some of what Paul wrote in the thirteenth chapter and see if you recognize his words:
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Often, if, during weddings, couples pay attention to anything other than their own nerves, they’ll listen to those words and the smug smiles on their faces seem to say, “That’s us to a T.”

It’s then that I feel duty-bound to remind them that, “Nobody I know is always patient and kind. No one I know is always free of jealousy or conceit. Nobody I’ve met or heard of is guiltless when it comes to keeping records of the wrongs done to them.”

And yet this selfless, self-giving, agape love is exactly what Jesus had in mind when He told us, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength” and “love your neighbor as yourself.” That’s the great commandment and agape love is what it’s about. Agape love is what we need to make all of our relationships become what we want them to be. And, Jesus says, loving like this is required of us. To live with agape love is the only way you and I are acceptable to God. Yet agape love is the only kind of love of which not a single person here is capable. What are we supposed to do with that? Fortunately, God doesn’t leave us to our own devices!

Instead, through Jesus Christ, God does three big things to help you and me to have a relationship with Him.

First, Jesus covers us with His agape love. Last week, I mentioned a passage from Romans in the New Testament, where we’re told, “while we still were sinners Christ died for us.” Another translation renders it, “while we were still helpless Christ died for us.”

In a dream of mine, I’m back in college and given an assignment. The professor says something like, “Write a ten-page history of ancient Babylonia and write it in Russian. Turn it in tomorrow.” I’m terrified. I know nothing about Babylonia. I can’t speak, read, or write Russian. And even if I did, twenty-four hours isn’t enough time! I’m completely incapable of doing anything for myself, yet it never seems to dawn on me to approach my professor to explain my problem or to ask for help. To do so, would entail admitting my helplessness. Apparently, the professor can’t see or doesn’t care about the panic that must be written on my face. I usually wake up from this dream in a sweat, frightened out of my mind.

Fortunately, Jesus, the One Who gives us the required life assignment to love God completely and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves understands how incapable we are of doing this. In this, He reflects the compassionate understanding God has always had of our human nature. And so, Jesus does the assignment for us on the cross. He covers all who believe in Him with His agape love.

Why? Jesus explained it once to the Jewish teacher, Nicodemus, “God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (He also explains that God will never condemn us, but that we can condemn ourselves by refusing to follow Jesus. But God wants to cover us with His life-giving love!)

In another part of the New Testament, we’re told to “put on" Christ. This is more than a fashion statement. Putting on Jesus Christ is the only way you and I can have an eternal relationship with God!

Second: Jesus fills us with agape love. Once, I was visiting a hospitalized member of the church I served in northwest Ohio. A nurse came in with a stack of get well cards. “You must be from that church in Okolona,” the nurse said. “I am,” the patient confirmed, “but how did you know?” “Because,” the nurse answered, “the people of that church always send more get well cards than any congregation around.” Now, get well cards may not seem like such a big deal. As an act of self-giving love, it's certainly not akin to throwing oneself between a firing squad and its intended victim. But I took those cards as one strong measure of how deeply Christ’s love had penetrated the life of that parish. Because of Christ's agape love, many members of the church took the time to pick out and send get well greetings to others.

Back in the second century, an unbelieving Greek named Lucian remarked on the Christians he’d observed, “It is incredible to see the fervor with which the people of that religion help [others]...They spare nothing...[This Jesus seems to have] put it in their heads [that others are their brothers and sisters]...”

It’s precisely Jesus Who puts this idea in our heads. Christians voluntarily undergo a kind of brain transplant. I call it a holy lobotomy. It’s what Paul was talking about when he urged Jesus-followers to “let this mind be in you, that was in Christ Jesus.” We let Jesus into our minds and lives and He fills us with His love.

After covering us with His agape love, Jesus then fills us with His agape love. Writing in today’s Bible lesson, the apostle John says, “...everyone who loves is born of God and knows God [and]...In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.” John also writes that, “God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God.” When we surrender and believe in Christ, our behavior begins to reflect His presence in our minds, wills, and lives.

Finally: Jesus’ agape love never gives up on us! Years ago, I spoke with a couple, who were happy in what was a second marriage for both of them after both experiencing bitter divorces. The woman told me of how at her former church, her pastor had told her she was unfit to be a Sunday School teacher because of what she’d been through. But on the day I spoke with her and her husband, they both were involved in a church where they sensed the love and acceptance of Jesus for them. They knew that however others may have regarded them, the God we meet in Jesus Christ hadn’t given up on them.

Among the many things I love about Martin Luther, the founder of the Lutheran movement of which Friendship is a part, is how he saw the positives in the Bible that had been covered over or ignored by the Church of his day. For example, he noticed that the Ten Commandments don’t begin with the commandments themselves, but with a word of promise. “I am the Lord your God,” God says. “No matter what,” God is telling us, “through thick and thin, I am your God.”

And maybe more than anything else we can say, that’s what makes the love we find in Jesus Christ so unique. When God covers you with His love, fills you with His love, and then, never withholds His love, it gives you the hopefulness, the confidence, and the God-power you need to dare to love God and to love others with something of the passion and tenacity we see in Jesus on the cross. That may be what John is getting at in our Bible lesson for today when he says, “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God...”

There are different kinds of love. But only one kind of love can change us from enemies to friends of God, bring us everlasting life with God, give us the power and the patience to forgive and live with others, and fill us with the power to fulfill Jesus’ great commandment to love. That’s the love that comes to us from Jesus Christ when we admit our helpless need of Him and then, take up the adventure of following Him.

Next week, we begin a new series of messages on Overcoming Worry.

"I think (the game) was a statement that they want to be good."

So says Ohio State head football coach Jim Tressel after his rebuilding Buckeyes won at Washington.
"Now I hope none of us thinks it's a statement that we are good, but that's where we want to get, and we did what we had to do today."
Read more here.

Also, Michigan beat Notre Dame on Saturday, in a game that pitted teams that had gone 0-2 in their first contests. The win demonstrates that Michigan, which had lost to Appalachian State and Oregon, two teams that feature the spread offense, isn't as horrible as some were claiming. But it's not clear yet how good the Wolverines are, given that they beat a Notre Dame team that, by all appearances, is awful. What's worse, the Irish face an absolute meat grinder of a schedule. People now are speculating about whether Notre Dame will win a single game this year. Who would have thought it?