Thursday, January 08, 2009

David Wayne Tells His Cancer Story

So far.

Ohio Ranks Seventh in Education

Education Week, the publication of a not-for-profit organization that seeks excellence in education, says Ohio has the seventh-best public education program among all the states. Ohio was given a B- overall.

For a severely cash-strapped state whose public school funding program has been ruled unconstitutional by the State Supreme Court on four different occasions, this is, quite frankly, amazing news.

Governor Ted Strickland, who was elected in 2006, has said that if he doesn't get the school funding mess straightened out and institute other education reforms during his tenure as chief executive is through, he will consider his term a failure. If Strickland can convince the General Assembly, the state's legislature, and all the relevant players to go along with his reform plans, he will do what none of his predecessors, Democratic or Republican, have been able to pull off.

Strickland may have a better chance of getting a reform program through in the next two years. While his first two years were marked by uncommon cooperation between the Democratic governor and the Republican assembly, the State House of Representatives will now be under the control of the Democrats, presumably smoothing passage of Strickland's agenda in that body.

Here is an interactive state report card map.
Here is detailed state data.
Here is a statement from the governor.

Here are links to several pieces I've written on Ohio's public school funding crisis over the past four years:
It's Time to Get Mad About Ohio's School Funding Crisis (March 25, 2005)
A Blueprint for Reforming Ohio's Public School Funding (March 30, 2005)
Governor Working on Master Plan for Ohio Education (October 30, 2008)

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

How to Help a Grieving Friend

How do we help friends who are grieving?

Over the course of the years, I've learned some important basic lessons about this, both from personal experience and from my reading of the Bible.

If you have a friend who is grieving, whether over the death of a loved one, a divorce, a job loss, or a move that has taken them many miles from familiar faces and places, they can use your help. Fortunately, the principles I've discovered can be used in face-to-face conversations, over the telephone, and even, I have learned, in internet instant messaging. So, to help you help your grieving friend, here are three of those lessons I've learned. In my next column, I'll share four more such lessons.

First and most importantly, listen to your friend. Frequently, whether it's because of our own discomfort or a penchant for wanting to "fix things," we can go to our grieving friends and shower them with torrents of consoling words. But what grieving people most need is to be listened to. Their pain and grief need to be acknowledged.

In the Old Testament book of Job, a man is aggrieved when he loses first, all his sources of wealth and then, all of his children in a natural disaster. Three friends come to visit Job (pronounced with a long "o"). One scholar has pointed out that the friends do something very wise at first. They let Job "vent," allowing him to give full expression to his agony, his questions, his anger. Then, they make a mistake: They open their mouths. My biggest mistakes in life and in trying to help hurting people, have never come from listening. They've always come from talking.

Second, don't try to talk people out of their grief. Grief is something which, over time, follows a more or less natural course. Sometimes more time and sometimes less is required. It depends on the person, their level of faith, and their particular grief. You can't truncate grief with words.

Some people think that they need to give the aggrieved person a "pep talk." But such talks are really designed more to make the talker feel they've done a good turn than to do any real good for anyone else. A woman's husband died. At the funeral home viewing, a man decided to "cheer her up." He said, "I know you feel bad now. But you'll get over it." That's a true story and it's truly awful.

Thirdly, don't try to explain what you don't understand. When people grieve over their losses, they wonder, as all of us do, why this has happened. The person who wants to help the friend who is asking this question must resist the temptation to answer it. In all honesty, your friend doesn't want to have a rational explanation anyway. They simply want to be able to say, "This isn't fair!"

And it isn't fair. Life often isn't fair. At the end of Job's forty-two chapters, we're left with this answer to the question of why grief befalls us: We live in a world where bad things happen. In the New Testament, Jesus tells us that bad things rain on the good and the evil alike. Why that is so, no one living on this planet is wise enough to say. Only God knows the answer to the question of why and you don't need to play God by pretending to have that answer.

Lesson four is this: Let your friend be angry with God. A deeply faithful Christian man whose granddaughter had recently died told me, "Sometimes I get angry with God. I know it's horrible; but it's true." I assured him that what he was feeling wasn't horrible. I reminded him of such people in the Bible as David and Job, who always believed in God, but also got angry with God when dealing with grief or the threat of death. And I told the grieving grandfather, "The fact that you're angry with God proves your faith in God. You would never be angry with someone you didn't think was there."

Most of the time, when we respond to people's anger, no matter its source, with condemnation, it only makes them dig in their heels. God says in Proverbs 15:1, "A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger." Letting your friend get angry with God will prevent their anger from becoming an ongoing feature in their life.

Lesson five: Don't avoid talking about your grieving friend's loss. Often, friends fear that if they do so, they'll only make their friends feel sadder. But a grieving friend already is sad and if it seems natural to mention a friend's dead loved one, for example, or if your friend mentions that person, you should be willing to talk about them as well.

A woman once told me, "My friends avoid speaking of my late husband like a plague. What they don't seem to understand is that when they do that, it makes me feel as though they think he was unimportant or that they want to pretend he was never there." Through the years, I have heard that grieving woman's words echoed by other grieving people. You honor your friend when you're willing to discuss with them the people or circumstances they grieve.

Lesson six: Pray for your friend. You should pray that God will bring them comfort, for sure. But you also should pray that God will use you as a conduit for the blessings you want your friend to receive. Whenever I visit people who are dealing with grief, I always ask God to fill me with His Holy Spirit, allowing God's love for my friend to flow through me. Jesus says that the world will know Him when His love is visible in us. Pray that God will love your friend through you.

Finally, if you're a follower of Jesus, your friend will probably eventually want to know what has allowed you to be so helpful to them. You can honestly say that it isn't you who have been helpful, that you have prayed over every step you took with them and that God has guided you. You can tell them that you belong to an eternal God Who has destroyed the power of death and that anyone who trustingly follows Jesus Christ has hope beyond the grave. At the right time, after you've lovingly taken the journey of grief with your friend, that will come as very good news.

[This piece distills two columns I wrote five years ago for The Community Journal, a suburban Cincinnati newspaper. I presented this earlier today at two gatherings, the women's group of Saint Matthew Lutheran Church and the Hocking County Cancer Support Group. This has appeared in various incarnations on the blog.]

Getting Ready for Sunday (A Look at the Lessons for January 11, 2009)

[Each week, I try to present a few thoughts on the Bible lessons for the upcoming Sunday. I do this, in part, to help myself prepare my sermons, but also for the benefit of the people of the congregation I serve as pastor, Saint Matthew Lutheran Church in Logan, Ohio. Because we use lessons from the Revised Common Lectionary, I hope that others will find what I write helpful as well.]

The Baptism of Our Lord
(The First Sunday after the Epiphany)
January 11, 2009
The Bible Lessons:
Genesis 1:1-5
Psalm 29
Acts 19:1-7
Mark 1:4-11

The Prayer of the Day:
Holy God, creator of light and giver of goodness, your voice moves over the waters. Immerse us in your grace, and transform us by your Spirit, that we may follow after your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen

General Comments:
1. January 6, Epiphany Day, kicks off the season of the Church Year called Epiphany. As pointed out before, the word epiphany literally means to shine upon. It has the idea of making something clear.

The theme of the Gospel lessons appointed for the Epiphany season is the many ways in which Jesus was revealed to be not only fully human, but also fully God. The other lessons, including those drawn from the Old Testament, also help us more fully see Christ as "the Word made flesh."

2. Light is often associated with the Epiphany season. This is related to more than the star which led the magi to the baby Jesus. It also relates to how Jesus reveals the nature, character, will, presence, and intent of God, among other things. In Jesus, we see God.

3. Another theme of the Epiphany season is the call to be witnesses who point to Jesus as God, Lord, and Savior. This is precisely what Peter, a devout Jew who comes to see that through Christ, God is reaching out the entire world, does in our second lesson. Followers of Jesus are called to reveal the truth about Jesus, so that the whole world can come to be His followers and so, live with God forever.

4. This Sunday's Gospel lesson, as is always the case on this Sunday of the Church Year, is about the Baptism of the Lord. Unlike the birth of Jesus or even the Last Supper, the baptism of Jesus is recounted in all four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). This underscores its importance. We'll talk about that a bit more in the next pass at these lessons.

5. Psalm 29: This psalm echoes our first lesson, a portion of the first of two creation accounts in Genesis. "The voice of the Lord is upon the waters; the God of glory thunders...The voice of the Lord is a powerful voice; the voice of the Lord is a voice of splendor." God speaks; life happens!

6. Acts 19:1-7: Acts is the second volume of Luke's writings found in the New Testament. Our lesson finds us deep into Luke's account of Paul's ministry in the mid-first century AD. Ancient Corinth was a wealthy seaport city where Paul founded a church. He wrote at least two letters to the congregation there which appear in the New Testament as First and Second Corinthians.

According to Luke, when Paul arrived at Corinth, he met people who, through the teaching of John the Baptizer that had somehow been shared with them, were awaiting the coming of a Savior. They reported that they had been baptized. But they told Paul that they had only undergone John's baptism. All baptized in the baptism instituted by Jesus receive the Holy Spirit, the power of God to believe in Christ and to live with God. That was happened to the believers at Corinth.

(Of course, if you're familiar with First or Second Corinthians, you also know that the Corinthian Christians were a dysfunctional lot who became obsessed with the gifts of the Holy Spirit, particularly tongues. Many among them were convinced that they were spiritually superior because they possessed this gift. One reason for Paul's letters to them was to straighten them out on that score.)

7. Mark 1:4-11: Some of these verses appeared in one of our Gospel lessons for the recent Advent Season. Go here to see comments on Mark 1:1-8.

Here is my sermon from The Baptism of Our Lord Sunday in 2008. It's based on Matthew's account of Jesus' Baptism, which differs in some and amplifies what's seen in Mark's account. In the sermon, I deal a bit with the question of why Jesus, sinless, underwent a baptism of repentance.

It's important to keep in mind that John the Baptizer's baptism was for repentance. It was a symbolic act of commitment to God on the part of the person being baptized.

That is completely different from the Baptism instituted by Jesus, which is an act of God, not of the baptized. In Baptism instituted by Jesus, Christian Baptism, God's Spirit creates new life (John 3:3) in the same way that God's Spirit moved over the waters to create life in Genesis 1:1-5.

Verse-by-Verse Comments: Genesis 1:1-5
v.1: God created: In the Hebrew of the Old Testament, bara (he created) is only ever used of God. Human beings might form, fashion, or make things, but they never create them. That's the domain of God alone.

v.2: formless void: In Hebrew, the words used here convey confusion and emptiness.

the deep: Here, Genesis says that there was a chaos--picture a churning, roiling, out-of-control sea--before God created anything. This would have been a powerful image for the ancient Hebrews to whom this book was first addressed. Israel was a nation with no major seaports. For them, the sea was a frightening place, filled with sea monsters. (This also added special power to the Old Testament book of Jonah, where a giant fish would become the unlikely vehicle by which God saved a rebel Israelite.) God's creative activity brings order and peace to the chaos.

a wind swept over the face of the waters: The Hebrew word ruach can be rendered as wind, breath, or spirit. The same word is used in the second creation account in Genesis to describe God breathing life into the first man. Here, God, the only living being, omnipotent, is imparting life to His creation.

v.3: "Let there be...": God speaks and life happens.

"...light...": This is not the sun, moon, or stars. That will come later, in vv.14-19. God creates light. God creates the phemenon of light, the reality of light, the concept. The sun is just the sun. Stars are just stars. They wouldn't be possible without the phenomenon of light.

God, of course, is often described as "light." Jesus is called "the light of the world." But God is uncreated light, Whose being stands in contrast to the darkness of "the deep" and "the darkness" of sin which human beings prefer, according to Jesus in the Gospel of John.

Here, God seems to impart something of His character and nature to what He creates, in the same way that an author or a composer or a carpenter put something of themselves in their work. You wouldn't say that the things they created were actually pieces of the people, the way some religions insist that everything and everybody is part of God. But you would say that authors, composers, or carpenters invested their minds, hearts, bodies, and souls in what they make. (Of course, in the person of Jesus, God would come to actually invest Himself in us.)

This is what I believe: God, uncreated light, created light whereby His creation could come into being. In a strange, darkened room, light brings clarity and order. So maybe the light God created, reflecting His own internal order, functionality, and fullness, brought those things to the stormy chaos.

God is still doing that in our Baptism.

v.4: saw that the light was good: The idea of looking at His creative activity and declaring it good (tov, in the Hebrew) recurs throughout Genesis 1. God delights in His creation. (He delights especially in the pinnacle of His creative ventures, human beings. After creating the first humans, God declares the creation to be "very good," tov tov!)

Monday, January 05, 2009

"Lord, what do you want me to do today that I've never done before?"

[My colleague and friend, Glen VanderKloot presented the following in his daily emailed inspiration today. God wants us to attempt good and faithful things for His glory, even if they may be out our "comfort zones." They don't have to be "great things," whatever they are. They simply have to be ways of doing God's will that we never before dared to do or thought to do. It starts in prayer. Ask God, "Lord, what do you want me to do today that I've never done before?"]

+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + +
Thought for the Day

It is time to dream again.
It's time to dream of what if.

What if I climbed out of the box?
What if I let my faith out of the box?
What if my prayer life were free of the box?
What if I began asking God to work, manifesting his presence
in tangible ways?

Fred A Hartley III

Scripture:
Matthew 19:26 TNIV

Jesus looked at them and said, "With human beings this
is impossible, but with God all things are possible

Prayer
Lord, help me to break loose and dream again of
what you might do through me. Amen

Sunday, January 04, 2009

From Rich Bordner, on marriage...

I don't know much about what else this Better Living commenter says over on his blog. But I love the post from which these lines are taken:
...There is no such thing as "the one." Whoever you marry...well, s/he becomes "the one" when you say "I do."

"Well, maybe I didn't marry 'the one.' Maybe I married the wrong person and my soul mate is still out there."

Nope....sorry Sparky. She became your "soul mate" at the altar. You'd better take your man pill and stop sniveling about your "real soul mate" still out there.
My late Uncle Carl gave me similar advice when I was in my teens. I think that he was right. Go to Rich's blog and read the whole thing.

You also might be interested in checking out some posts I've written here on related topics:
It's Time to Dethrone Romance
Thoughts from Valentine's Day, 2006
God and Our Sex
The Deep Descent to Coarseness
How Will I Know?

The Word Made Flesh

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

John 1:1-18
One of my favorite parts of the Christmas Candlelight Worship Service each year happens when the lights are dimmed, we hold our lit candles aloft, and listen again to the opening verses—the prologue—to John’s Gospel.

Like the familiar opening chapters of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, these words too, tell the story of Christmas. But in them you’ll find no inn or manger, no shepherds or wise men, no star or shepherds. John’s account of the first Christmas, comprised of the first eighteen verses of his gospel, is told in more abstract terms and it goes way back even before the universe was created.

Back then, John says, in the time before time, when God was all there was, there was the Word, the Second Person of the Triune God composed of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. John’s use of the term The Word for the One you and I know as Jesus Christ was no accident. The Wordho logos in the original Greek of the New Testament--was a Greek philosophical term used for the creating agent of the universe.

But that term—The Word—would have also been meaningful to the Jews who were among the first to hear and read the Gospel of John. The Jews had a deep reverence for the Word of God. God spoke His Word, the Old Testament tells us, and creation came into being. By God’s Word, Israel came into being, was set free from slavery in Egypt, was called to obedience when it strayed, was guided, was punished when it sinned, was soothed and reassured when it repented and walked with God, and was promised a Savior. The Word of God, they knew (and know) is a powerful thing!

On hearing the prologue to John’s Gospel, first century Jews and non-Jews alike would have immediately understood what was being said about Jesus. They might not have liked it that John was saying that Jesus was God in the flesh. That, they may have thought was foolish or scandalous. But they wouldn’t have misunderstood him at all.

We don’t always have or take the opportunity to look at John’s prologue on Christmas Eve. We usually consider Matthew's or Luke's narratives of Jesus' birth. And so this morning, the Second Sunday of Christmas, I want to talk about three passages within the prologue.

The first is John's telling of the Christmas story itself. It's one of the most joyful passages in the entire Bible: “And the Word became flesh and lived among us…” God, the Creator of the universe, came into our world, still God, but shrunk, if you will, to human size, born in a cave. Why did God do that?

Journalist Philip Yancey says that he began to understand why the Word became flesh when, as a kid, he got an aquarium. He learned that managing a marine aquarium is a lot of work. He writes, “I had to run a portable chemical laboratory to monitor the nitrate levels and the ammonia content. I pumped vitamins and antibiotics and sulfa drugs and enough enzymes to make a rock grow. I filtered the water through glass fibers and charcoal, and exposed it to ultraviolet light.”

He goes on: “You would think, in view of all the [work I did]…on their behalf, that my fish would at least be grateful. Not so. Every time my shadow loomed above the tank they dove for cover into the nearest shell…Although I opened the lid and dropped in food on a regular schedule…they responded to each visit as a sure sign of my designs to torture them. I could not convince them of my true concern…”

The young Yancey came to believe that the only way to reach these fish he cared so much about would be to become one of them. He thought, “I would have to become a fish and ‘speak’ to them in a language they could understand.”

The Word—God the Great Communicator—became flesh and communicated His love to us through His words and His actions, including sacrificing Himself on a cross.

This has great practical significance for us. The God Who refused to stand off from us, wants us to do more than sit on the sidelines in life or in the Church: The Word made flesh calls His people to put flesh and bone behind our belief that He is Lord of all.

Unfortunately, most churches seem afflicted with living by the 80/20 Rule. You know what that is. It's the observation that in most organizations, including the Church, twenty percent of the people do eighty percent of the work while eighty percent of the people do twenty percent of the work. Twenty percent give eighty percent of the money and eighty percent give twenty percent of the money.

Often, particularly in small towns where people have known one another their whole lives, there can be great fear about trying to break out of that eighty percent pack and taking on a ministry. We can become paralyzed by the fear that we'll be criticized. Martin Luther has advice for us. Luther said whenever we were unclear about our what to do, we should pray about, consult with Christian friends, and read Scripture. If, after all of that, we remain unclear about our course of action, we should "sin boldly," doing what we think will honor God and do right by our neighbor.

Chances are that whenever we try to do something for the cause of Christ, we will be criticized. The only people who are never criticized are the people who do nothing. But if we're intent on being true to the Word made flesh, enacting Christ's love in the world, doing nothing is not an option. We need to be involved in ministry, service in Christ's Name!

Another passage in John’s Gospel is among the saddest in the Bible. It’s this: “He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.”

God wants to help us. God wants to love us. God wants to be in our lives. But even when He comes to us, communicating all of His grace and His truth, we want to spurn God.

We know, in the words from Micah, that God has shown us what the He expects of us, “to do justice,…to love kindness, and to walk humbly with…God.” But we prefer looking out for number one.

We know that we’re to worship only God and yet we find millions of other things that we hold in higher esteem than God—from pleasure and ease to hard work that crowds out our relationships, from children we indulge to cold hard cash, from being thought of as important by the people in our community to whatever our drug of choice may be.

We know that we’re to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. But we love the sense of superiority we get when we gossip about and put others down.

We know that “a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh,” but we prefer making up on our own rules about sexuality.

In these ways and countless others, we, like the people who encountered Jesus back during His time on earth, often refuse to know Him or accept Him, rejecting His authority over our lives.

Fortunately, God is a stubborn lover. He’s like the guy I know who, without any planning or forethought, found himself one night telling a woman he had known for eight years, but only dated for a few weeks, “I love you.” At first, she said nothing in response to his declaration of love. She wasn’t sure that she loved this fellow, so quick to speak his mind and heart. Besides, she’d been hurt before. She didn’t know whether she wanted to risk loving someone else. But he was stubborn. Not certain that it would make any difference to the young woman, he kept insisting for several weeks that he loved her, that he wanted to spend his life with her. Then, one night, she embraced the man and said, “I love you.” She could have said no. But instead, Ann said yes to my love. January 11, will mark the thirty-fifth anniversary of our first date and August 2, will bring our thirty-fifth wedding anniversary. I am blessed because Ann returned my stubborn love.

Now, there’s no comparing my imperfect, human love to the love that God offers to us through Christ. But, just as Ann could have said no to me, God lets us say no to Christ, the Word made flesh. But God is so stubborn in love for us that even when we do say no, He won’t give up on us.

In the prologue to his Gospel, John observes of some who encountered Jesus during his time on earth: “to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.”

In Christ, God makes us His children.

In Christ, God stands with us, no matter what.

In Christ, God gives us an eternal inheritance that nothing and nobody can steal that from us.

No matter what you face in 2009, know that you are a child of God. The Word of God has come to you and to all who receive Him, who receive Hiis judgment and His grace, this is His simple message, “You are mine.”