Friday, September 19, 2008

It's Going to Be a Bumpy Ride

My pension monies are split between five different funds, each comprising 20% of the total portfolio. On Tuesday night, I checked how the funds were going and found that I had lost a total of $19,000 since the start of the third quarter. When I logged back on today, I learned that because of the market's response to the bailout initiative announced by Henry Paulson and Ben Bernanke, my pension had gained $6000 and I'm "only" down $13,000...for the quarter. At this rate, I could be out of the hole in two more days, three tops. But I am suffering from whiplash. Anybody else?

To quote Bette Davis, "Fasten your seatbelts. It's going to be a bumpy ride."

"Experience is not enough"

Charlie Lehardy hits yet another home run.

Also see here.

Torture

Yesterday's reading here, included this passage from the New Testament book of Hebrews:
"Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured." (Hebrews 13:3)
Torture isn't a political issue. It's a relational issue, meaning that it cuts to the heart of what Christian faith is about, our relationship with God and our relationships with others.

In addition to being stupid from the standpoint of any government wishing to protect its combatants and foster goodwill in the world, torture is wrong.

God's Word says that we're to identify with the tortured, not the torturer.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Who Are the Smartest People in the World?

[This was shared during worship with the people of Saint Matthew Lutheran Church in Logan, Ohio, this morning.]

1 Corinthians 1:18-24
John 3:13-17
It’s an old joke. But I like it. A doctor, a physicist, a Boy Scout, and a pastor were out for a Sunday afternoon flight on a small private plane. Suddenly, the plane developed engine trouble. The pilot did his best, but the plane started to go down. The pilot grabbed a parachute, told the passengers that they'd better jump, and jumped. But there were only three parachutes left. The doctor grabbed one and said “I’m a doctor! I save lives, so I have to live,” and jumped out. The physicist said, “I’m the smartest person in the world, I deserve to live!” He grabbed a parachute and jumped, too. The pastor looked at the Boy Scout and said, “Son, I’ve lived a long and full life. You're young and have your whole life ahead of you. Take the last parachute and live in peace.” The Boy Scout handed the parachute back to the pastor and said “Not to worry, Preacher. ‘The smartest person in the world’ just jumped out with my back pack.”

The world encourages the sort of “wisdom” that “the smartest person in the world” exhibited when he picked up what he thought was a parachute, the wisdom of cunning and self-preservation. But the Bible teaches that what the world regards as foolishness can bring life and what the world sees as wise can bring death.

On the church calendar, September 14 is Holy Cross Day and has been since 355 AD. But it’s a day that doesn’t get a lot of play in the church, let alone in the world at large. We Lutherans only celebrate it, if at all, when September 14 falls on a Sunday. Maybe one reason we don’t celebrate it is that the cross as the way to eternal life seems counterintuitive, foolish, to the world and sometimes, even to us. The cross can even be offensive. But only for those who don’t get it.

A Roman Catholic parish in Myrtle Beach had a tradition of setting up lots of crosses in the churchyard during Lent and draping them in black on Good Friday. One year the priest got a call from the Chamber of Commerce. "Look, father,” the caller said, “we've been getting complaints about those crosses out in your churchyard. Now inside the church, who cares? But out in front, where everybody can see them, they are offensive. The retired people here find them depressing. The tourists don't like them either. They're bad for business. People come down here to get happy, not depressed." The cross is depressing to some people. But for the Christian, it’s a symbol of joy and hope.

In our second lesson for today, the apostle Paul says that “the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

It’s understandable that the world sees the cross as a symbol of weakness. Crucifixion is, I think, the most horrible form of execution ever devised. It was reserved by the Romans who invented it for murderers and blasphemers against their gods, the lowest low-lifes of the empire. In a world that regards things like power, wealth, prestige, and personal achievement as badges of legitimacy and worthiness, God could have hardly chosen a worse way to show His love for us or to bring us life or forgiveness.

But you see, when Jesus—God in the flesh—went to the cross, He didn’t do it to impress us. He didn’t do it to convince us of anything. He did it to accomplish a task. He did it to reconcile all who dare to trust in Him with the only source of life in the universe, God. As Jesus told Nicodemus in our Gospel lesson for today, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”

The cross is the place where the power of God to save, to revitalize, to connect, and to make new went to work on behalf of the human race, the place from which Jesus Christ calls all of us to ignore the supposed wisdom of the world and to embrace the foolishness of following Him.

Those who dare to follow Jesus Christ find their priorities in life reshuffled and because they know they have life beyond the grave, they can dare to be foolish.

One of my favorite preachers, William Willimon tells about meeting a corporation president, one of whose subordinates was a member of a congregation Willimon had once pastored. “You know, he’s quite a fool, that one,” the CEO said. “That idiot comes up with about one good idea for every ten which he proposes in our company.” “Well," Willimon asked, “why on earth do you put a guy like that in charge of your marketing division?" Replied the president, “He’s the only guy I’ve got who has one good idea!”

One day a few years ago, I was with a group of Lutheran pastors. We were talking about what a Christian looks like, what a real Christian acts like. We agreed that because God is so creative, no two Christians are exactly the same. But then one of our group said something insightful. “My experience has been,” he told us, “that anybody who is really sold out to Jesus is sort of strange. I don’t mean that they’re sociopaths or bizarre. I mean that they don’t think like everybody else.”

We don’t think like everybody else. We’re sort of out of sync with the rest of the world, as a friend of mine observed this past week. Maybe that’s to be expected. After all, we follow a Savior Who says that the most blessed people in the world are peacemakers…Who says that it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for people of wealth to get into His Kingdom…Who says that when we grieve with those who grieve, we’re more blessed than when we laugh…Who says that, if we want life, real life with God, the maker of life, we turn to Him on the cross and surrender our lives to Him. Only fools would follow a Savior like that.

But I’ve noticed, foolish though following Christ seems, that there are people who want what Christ’s death on the cross gives to believers in Jesus.

Three decades ago, Ann and I had a wonderful friend. He and his wife were enjoying what our world calls the good life—successful careers, nice home, glamorous vacations. He knew that our relationship with Christ had become important to us, but they always kept God at arm’s length. I think that we were just going through a phase of strangeness, not knowing that we’d remain strange—foolish--the rest of our lives.

Then, our friend’s marriage went bust. He called us up and asked if he could come over. “I would give anything to have what you have,” he told us. We didn’t have two pennies to rub together and some days, maybe both of our cars started. We were and are everyday sinners who make mistakes all the time. But what we had was the God-granted ability to face life each day, even when we felt defeated. We had Christ and His cross, foolishness to a world that’s dying, but wisdom to people who know that through Christ and that cross, God is with us always and we are with God for eternity. You can face anything when you have the Christ of the cross as your God, king, and friend.

Jesus Christ calls us to follow Him on the way of the cross. When we say yes to Christ and His cross, we aren’t promised success or an easy life. But we are promised a life here sustained by God and an eternity lived in His presence. And those are free gifts to all who turn from sin and trustingly surrender to Jesus.

From my cockeyed perspective, it strikes me as pure foolishness not to follow Jesus.

And it strikes me too, that no matter what the world says, those who follow Christ are the smartest people in the world.

OUCH!


The Dispatch put it best with its online headline: WIPEOUT!

[The above picture from Fox Sports was, I think, taken after the Buckeyes' second consecutive BCS National Championship loss. Not all Buckeyes fans are crying tonight. We knew how good USC is...or at least, suspected it. We had braced ourselves.]