Saturday, August 16, 2014

Saturday Song #3: 'Let the Day Begin' by The Call

While their sound was very different, the passion and sensibilities of The Call, formed in 1980, were similar to a band formed across the pond just four years earlier, U2. Like his Irish counterpart, Bono, Call lead singer and main composer Michael Been was a Christian who viewed the Church with a critical eye and had a commitment to justice.

As was true of U2, The Call excited me in the 80s because they weren't a Christian band; they were a band whose music was Christian. They never achieved the commercial success that U2 has enjoyed, probably justly. And they broke up, leaving one to wonder what they might have done together. But they made fantastic music.

Been died in 2010.

I love this song!

Here's to the babies in a brand new world
Here's to the beauty of the stars
Here's to the travelers on the open road
Here's to the dreamers in the bars

Here's to the teachers in the crowded rooms
Here's to the workers in the fields
Here's to the preachers of the sacred words
Here's to the drivers at the wheel

Here's to you my little loves with blessings from above
Now let the day begin
Here's to you my little loves with blessings from above
Now let the day begin, let the day begin

Here's to the winners of the human race
Here's to the losers in the game
Here's to the soldiers of the bitter war
Here's to the wall that bears their names

Here's to you my little loves with blessings from above
Now let the day begin
Here's to you my little loves with blessings from above
Let the day begin, let the day begin, let the day start

Here's to the doctors and their healing work
Here's to the loved ones in their care
Here's to the strangers on the streets tonight
Here's to the lonely everywhere

Here's to the wisdom from the mouths of babes

Here's to the lions in the cage
Here's to the struggles of the silent war
Here's to the closing of the age

Here's to you my little loves with blessings from above
Now let the day begin
Here's to you my little loves with blessings from above
Let the day begin
Here's to you my little loves with blessings from above
Let the day begin
Here's to you my little loves with blessings from above
Now let the day begin, let the day begin, let the day start

Published by Lyrics © CHRYSALIS MUSIC GROUP

Saturday Song #2: 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow' by Israel Kamakawiwo'Ole

It's an infectious medley of the Harold Arlen tune sung by Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz, and A Wonderful World, sung most famously by Louis Armstrong.

Saturday Song #1: 'Someone to Watch Over Me' by Willie Nelson

This great Gershwin tune gets a beautiful treatment by Willie. I love it!

I Have Seen the Future...

...and her name is Mo'ne Davis. Just ask Mamie Johnson.

Major league baseball is the pro sport most likely to see a woman enter the ranks alongside men, I've always felt. And pitcher is the most likely position where that will happen. Wouldn't it be great if the young Davis were the one to hurl through the glass ceiling and even sweeter if Johnson had a "behind-home-plate" seat to witness the event?

A Good Parent Caught in the Act

The good moms (and dads) never do for their kids what their kids can do for themselves.

And it would break their hearts to leave even one behind. (And it really breaks their hearts when tragedy intervenes and their children, despite all their good parenting and prayers, are taken from this world.)

Much of what animals do from instinct, we human beings can opt to do or not, which is why so many kids are hurting these days. Too many parents opt for what's convenient or easy, be it over-protectiveness, insensitivity, or both.

But the good parents choose day to day, moment to moment, to do what is best for their kids--from the womb to near-adulthood. It's dazzling to watch them do their parenting thing. They amaze me. They raise kids who are strong and kind, resourceful and at peace with themselves, able to reach for the achievement of all that their gifts will allow.

If you don't have such dazzling people in your lives and you want to be a good parent, watch this video. You could learn a lot from this mother duck.

PS: I don't draw the same exact lesson from this video as the person who posted it on Facebook. To me, it's the mother duck who's doing the hardest work in this video. Any parent, manager, volunteer coordinator, or leader of any kind knows that sometimes, it would be a lot easier to do things for the people they lead, but then those we parent or lead wouldn't learn or experience the sense of accomplishment that goes with completing a task, facing a problem, making a decision.

Friday, August 15, 2014

A Great Prayer... offer for ourselves and for those we care about. Hold us, Jesus.

This is by the late Rich Mullins from his A Liturgy, a Legacy, and a Ragamuffin Band LP.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Everybody Matters...

from the the tiniest embryo to the most decrepit elderly person, from the wealthiest person with the whitest skin to the poorest one with red or yellow or black or even white skin.

Incidentally, no political statement is being made by me here, although this powerful graphic was shared on Facebook by Democrats for Life of America.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Martin Luther on Suicide

This clip comes from the film, Luther, and portrays his courageous decision, early in his career, to defy the teaching of the Church of his day that suicide was a mortal sin. Because of that teaching, the victims of suicide, of what Luther called "despair," were not buried in church graveyards. But Luther said that God is a God of mercy and love Who is "friendly."

And yes, Luther called Satan a shit. Who better to wear that title?

Robin Williams and the Disease of Depression

Nearly a decade ago now, an elementary school principal in the community where I then lived left a successful faculty meeting, drove up I-71 north of Cincinnati, pulled her vehicle to the side of the road where that stretch of Interstate runs high over a river valley, and flung herself off the bridge to her death. An entire community was shocked, not the least because the meeting which she'd led just before her suicide had found her as her usual bright and funny self.

More than that though, this was a woman who, as an educator, had been passionately committed to doing what was best for the students of her school. She was an encouraging presence in the lives of those kids. She never would have willfully or knowingly done anything to mar their psyches, such as delivering to them the memory of her suicide.

Yet this beloved educator who knew the name of all the students in her building took her own life, an act that deeply risked harming the psyches of her students. But no one who knew her blamed her. It would have been barbaric to do so. People understood, as my thirty years in ministry have confirmed, that suicide is rarely the rational act of a willful, selfish human being. For every suicide bomber or kamikaze pilot who takes their own lives in what are obviously self-centered, hateful acts, there are thousands upon thousands of tenderhearted, loving, caring people who take their own lives. And they don't do so out of selfish rationality or willfulness.

They do it because of depression.

Depression is a disease that can be chronic and low-level. But it also can rage in the lives and psyches of its victims like Stage IV cancer and be every bit as destructive, taking the lives of those who are afflicted by it.

As a pastor, I have observed how the physical disease of depression can undermine the beliefs and values of its victims, leaving them susceptible to self-loathing and self-destruction which is from hell itself. Nobody rejoices over suicide more than Satan.

The death of Robin Williams gives rise to these thoughts, of course. I don't know where Williams was spiritually. But I do know that someone who so cared about people would never have willfully or knowingly committed an act with the potential for plunging so many who relied on him for laughter and uplifting entertainment, not to mention his family and friends, into depression and sadness themselves.

It was depression that killed Robin Williams. And it was Satan, using that depression as a contact gel to Williams' psyche, who overrode the comic actor's better judgment.

When considering his death, it's best of course not to elevate him beyond what he was in life, an imperfect man of massive talent and good will for others who struggled with addictions as well as with depression.

And it is even more important that we not elevate ourselves at Williams' expense by believing lies, such as, that his death was the result of some deficiency in his character. Or that it was the act of a selfish, self-absorbed willfulness. Or that it stemmed from a posited malaise felt by those of his political beliefs, as it least one media commentator has claimed. Such explanations may feed our egos, but they're precisely the kinds of lies that the devil wants us to believe in order to put us off his deadly scent.

Williams was felled by the disease of depression. Period.

Fortunately, we do have means of dealing with depression. There are medications for that depression which is physiologically based or that has become rooted in a person's physiology. There is quality counseling available. There are suicide hotlines.

But the first line of defense is the depressed person's family and friends. It's true that the depressed often become adept at hiding their depression--as was the case with that principal and apparently, with Robin Williams. But when deep depression in those we love becomes known to us, we can say something. We can do something: Talk with the depressed friend, recommend that they see their doctor. Above all, we can pray for them.

These are all the same things we would do for someone we suspect of suffering from other physical maladies--from pneumonia to cancer.

Depression should be thought of in the same way.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

God, Help Me Always Remember This!

This is going way back, Audio Adrenaline with 'Never Gonna Be As Big As Jesus.' Tough on the human ego, though without a Savior Who is also God, we'd have no hope!

For We Ordinary Folk, God Can Be 'Hard to Get'

Rich Mullins did this demo for a song he intended to include in what he was calling The Jesus Record. Tragically, he died in 1997, before undertaking the project. But I love this raw recording, just Rich and his guitar, made shortly before his death.

It expresses the questions every person of faith poses about why suffering comes to us, why seemingly harmless, wholesome desires go unmet, where God is when all is darkness.

Christians don't run from such questions, of course, and must seek the Holy Spirit's power to live each day with the mysteries, ambiguities, and tragedies of this life, trusting that the God Who stepped into our world and bore suffering and death on our behalf, will be with us through the darkness and one day share His resurrection light with us. It isn't easy and it truly can't be done without God's help.

I know that I've shared this song on the blog before. But I love it. And it just seems so right today.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Yeah, Prince Can Play Some Guitar

Bruce's Amazing Catch from Today

Mesoraco's Grand Salami from Today

What the Bible Is

Jesus Walking on the Water...More Than a Neat Trick

[This was shared during worship with the people and guests of Living Water Lutheran Church in Springboro, Ohio, this morning.]

Matthew 14:22-33
The incident recounted in today’s gospel lesson, in which Jesus walks on water, is well known to Christians and non-Christians alike. Something about thinking of Jesus treading across the waves captures people’s imaginations. And in this lesson, we also identify with Jesus’ disciple, Peter, whose name, meaning Rock, never seemed more appropriate than the moment we read that, after taking a few steps on the water, he sank like a stone and had to be fished out by Jesus.

But as was true of last week’s gospel lesson, when we considered how Jesus fed more than 5000 people with a few fish and scraps of bread, as we read this lesson, we need to move beyond the superficial and seek some answers to some basic questions:

Jesus walking on the water is a neat trick, but what exactly does it mean for us today?

What truths for our lives can we garner from this incident?

There are, I think, at least four things to remember from today’s lesson that will help us today and beyond.

Take a look at the gospel lesson, Matthew 14:22-33, please.

It begins: “Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd.”

This happened right after the miraculous feeding. You’ll remember that that incident came about after Jesus had gone off to be by Himself to pray following the execution of His cousin, John the Baptist. Jesus had made Himself available to bring healing to those in need of it and, towards nightfall, to feed the hungry people.

But now, it seems, Jesus has completed His work for the day. He needs to spend time with His Father. Doing so will help Him to continue on the course He had come into the world to run, the course that would take Him, sinless God and man, to die on a cross, to bear our punishment for sin, then on to the resurrection so that all who turn from sin and believe in Him as their only God may have ever new, eternal life with God.

Matthew says that Jesus "made" the disciples get on a boat and go. The word translated as made is literally compelled. To be compelled is to be forced, as when my dad compelled me to go to bed at night. When one more powerful than you compels you to do something, there is no second guessing. There are no courts of appeals.

Just as forcefully, Jesus dismissed the crowd. Jesus has healed them. He has fed them. Now, even though the night is blacker than ink, it’s time for the crowd to go and for Jesus to face the next phase on His journey to cross and empty tomb.

So, from the beginning of the lesson, we see Jesus, the One Who by the touch of His hand was able to reverse the disease and death and deterioration that comes to us all in the fallen world and was able to spread a table for hungry thousands, as being totally in charge. That’s the first thing to remember in today’s lesson: Jesus is totally in charge. Even today, this moment.

Now, you might expect that this reality--the reality of Jesus being in charge in spite of all the grim and harsh challenges of this world--would have been permanently engraved on the consciousness of the disciples after they’d seen Jesus heal and feed all those people. But it turns out that those disciples are as thick-headed and unwilling to trust in God as I know I sometimes can be...and that you sometimes may be.

Take a look, please, at verses 23 and 24: “After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.”

Two scenes, one tranquil, one chaotic. Jesus praying alone to His Father. The disciples out riding the waves through a storm. And despite their expertise as fishermen who had plied these waters many times, they appear to be helpless before the buffeting wind.

A few weeks ago, I mentioned that in Matthew’s gospel, the word house often stands as a symbol for the Church. In this image, the Church is the household of God gathered for worship, gathered to receive God’s healing Word, and gathered to be fed on the body and blood of our Lord. The life of the gathered Church is sort of like what happened when Jesus gathered those thousands together to feed them on His grace and love and power.

But you should also know that Matthew often uses the term boat to symbolize the Church--ordinary believers like you and me--moving out into the world. The disciples riding in the boat with fear and trepidation are just like you when you're facing tough choices on Monday mornings, struggling to keep your lives and your finances together, struggling to maintain relationships, fighting almost to simply get through day to day life. It can be a stormy, rough ride out there outside the safe confines of the household of faith.

And, these two scenes--Jesus praying, the disciples struggling--serve as a good picture of how we may sometimes forget that even when we struggle, all who trust in Jesus Christ as their God and King have Someone Who, though we cannot see Him, is praying for us to His Father. That’s part of what it means for us to pray in Jesus‘ Name. We earnestly invoke the help of the One Who died and rose to set us free from sin and death. When we pray in Jesus' Name, He takes our case the Father and puts in a good word for us. Jesus had not forgotten the disciples and He never forgets you. That’s the second thing to remember from today’s lesson: Jesus will never forget you, no matter how rough the ride may get

Look again at our lesson, starting at verse 25: “Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. ‘It’s a ghost,’ they said, and cried out in fear. But Jesus immediately said to them: ‘Take courage! It is I [literally, in the Greek in which the New Testament is written, Jesus says, “Ego eimi,” not “It is I,” but “I AM,” identifying Himself with the same name by which God identified Himself to Moses in the Old Testament, “Yahweh” in the Hebrew, “I AM.” “It is I.”] Don’t be afraid.’”

Now, what so interests me here is that Jesus didn’t stop the wind and the waves. Instead, He told the disciples not to be afraid of them. I often pray that the storms of my life will go away. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But some of the storms that come to us--and I said only some--are allowed to enter our lives by God. Other storms are the inevitable outcroppings of a planet writhing in sin and death. But whatever the source of my life's storms, maybe I ought to learn to pray not only that God will take away the storms, but also that God will give me strength to go through them.

On the night before His arrest, Jesus prayed that He wouldn’t have to go through suffering and death on the cross. An understandable prayer. Jesus didn't want to go through the storm! But Jesus also prayed, “Nonetheless, not My will, but Your will be done.” It was only through the storm of His cross that Jesus could fulfill His mission of bringing life to people like you and me who would otherwise stand naked in our sins on judgment day and be eternally separated from God.

God loved and appreciated a man named Job, whose story is told in the Old Testament. Yet God allowed Job to undergo a ferocious storm of grief and loss that is almost painful to read about. But from his storm, Job emerged with a stronger faith.

In a world groaning under the power of sin and death, storms are inevitable in this life. But--and this is the third big lesson I draw from this incident--Jesus, I AM, God enfleshed, can give us peace in the midst of the storms.

With Psalm 46:2-3, we can say that the God we know in Jesus Christ is our ever-present refuge,  “...we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.”

Please look at what comes next, starting at verse 28: “Lord, if it’s you,’ Peter replied, ‘tell me to come to you on the water.’  ‘Come,’ he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. ‘You of little faith,” he said, ‘why did you doubt?’”

I hope that we can be charitable to Peter. He sees Jesus walking on the water and He really believes that Jesus can empower him to do the same. He trusts. But His trust is weak. My guess is that many of us here this morning can say the same thing: "We trust; our trust is weak." 

But, if in his falling into the water, Peter is a representative of us and our faulty faith, in what happens after he falls, Peter is a model for us and our faith. He cries out, “Lord, saves me.” Peter’s faith, like ours, may have been of the stumbling, imperfect variety. But he could say with another of the Old Testament songs of worship, Psalm 121:1-2: “I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.”

When we realize that our situation is hopeless--that we confront situations we can’t conquer or comprehend that our sins threaten to condemn us to hell and to separate us from God forever, we can cry out simply to God.

This was a lesson that Peter was to learn well. Fifty days after Jesus rose from the dead, Peter spoke to a crowd of thousands who realized that they had been trying to live their lives--in effect, trying to walk on water--without God, without the saving help that God the Father sent Jesus, God the Son, to bring to us.

They were drowning in sin and hopelessness.

But Peter tells the crowd in Acts 2:21: “Everyone who calls on the Name of the Lord will be saved.”

And that is the fourth major thing I want to hold up today. Whether it’s from eternal separation from God, a lifetime of purposelessness, or a gnawing sense of insecurity that keeps you feeling less than the child of God you are, you (and I) need to do the same thing: Call on the Lord and we will be saved.

No matter the storms that confront us in this life, Jesus is totally in charge.

Jesus will never forget you.

Jesus--and only Jesus--can give you peace even in the midst of storms.

And when we call out to Jesus, we are saved.

It’s these truths that might well cause us after Jesus has brought us through another storm to, like the first disciples, worship Jesus and say with them, “Truly, You are the Son of God.” Amen