Saturday, February 12, 2005

Lincoln Birthday Linkin'

Lincoln's birthday seems like the perfect time to link on to a bunch o' blogs for your reading pleasure...especially since I'm not posting anything new today. So, here is Joe Carter's list of evangelical blogs...

18. (1167)
19. the evangelical outpost (1165)
28. La Shawn Barber's Corner (1019)
32. ScrappleFace (951)
40. World Magazine Blog (912)
64. Parableman (716)
109. Le Sabot Post-Moderne (518)
116. Adrian Warnock's UK Evangelical Blog (506)
149. Patriot Paradox (428)
157. In the Agora (419)
178. Wittenberg Gate (394)
191. SmartChristian Blog
209. Blue Goldfish (361)
227. Evangelical Underground (343)
253. Sidesspot (323)
296. (290)
298. Broken Masterpieces (287)
302. Blogdom of God (285)
314. King of Fools (280)
318. Ogre's Politics & Views
326. Logicus bLogicus (274)
341. CoffeeSwirls (267)
345. Spreading Understanding
369. Philosophical Poetry
372. Wallo World (258)
403. Daddypundit
428.TulipGirl (237)
438. Cadmusings
439. A Physicist's Perspective (235)
447.Sounding the Trumpet (232)
452. Vox Popoli
452. Pajama Hadin
456. 21st Century Reformation
467. Ales Rarus
468. The Dawn Treader
478. Uncle Sam's Cabin
504. The Flag of the World
524. (208)
540. Back of the Envelope
545. Challies Dot Com
561. Philosophical Poetry
652. The Minor Prophet
681. Daddy Pundit
682. The Dawn Treader
750. Rebecca Writes
882. Semicolon
923. Reverend Mike's House of Homiletic Hash
1079. Darn Floor
1106. New Covenant
1131. Damascus Road
1153. Proverbial Wife
1153. The Great Seperation
1203. Allthings2all
1239. Every Thought Captive
1242. Marriages Restored
1277. Wesley Blog
1281. Cerulean Sanctum
1293. Every Thought Captive
1294. Imago Dei
1302. Crossroads
1314. Joe Missionary
1356. doubletoothpicks: worldviews behind the news (113)
1383. notes from the front lines
1422. Pete's Journal
1423. the outer...
1430. Antioch Road
1467. Weapons of Warfare
1480. Deep Calls to Deep
1500. a ticking time blog
1593. Fallible
1597. SteelerDirtFreak :: A 21st Century Missional Redneck Geek
1630. Ex Nihilo
1717. Mark Byron (83)
1720. Through a Glass Darkly
1730. prosthesis
1758. Imperfect but Forgiven
1795. The Rooftop Blog
1962. The Wardrobe Door
2121. JivinJehoshaphat
2166. He Lives
2181. Grapevine
2360. Darn Floor
2364. View from the Pew
2422. Church of the Acronym
2452. Stand Up and Walk
2562. The Regulator
2589. Half Pint House
2624. Bird of Paradise
2662. Now I don't want to get off on a rant here...
2672. The Happy Husband
2794. Dr. John Mark Reynolds (43)
2969. Wittingshire
2970. Amy's Humble Musings
3156. espresso roast
3390. Voice in the Wilderness
3441. XBIP
3643. Feeble Knees
3731. It Take A Church…
4607. Eternal Perspectives
4695. AnotherThink
4702. Better Living: Thoughts from Mark Daniels
4840. Off the top
5279. Hill Country Views
5307. TheDuke's Domain
5516. Abide in the Word
5569. Abigail Brayden
5752. lawreligionculturereview
6488. Confessions of a Jesus Phreak
6599. Much (of a which of a) Wind
6705. A Youth Pastor
7075. Abstract Musings
7404. TRUTH BE TOLD (8)
7441. Happy Mills (8)
7450. Media Culpa
7727. personal trainer
7916. Hard Starboard
8029. Midwestern Mugwump (mw)2
8108. Revenge of Mr Dumpling
8634. Dunker Journal
8715. The 'Grub Street' Plumber
8910. Pete the Elder
9081. The Wardrobe Door
10151. DM'S Loose Ends
10921. Blogcorner preacher (3)
10991. Proverbs Daily
11228. Tim Thompson . . . Reflections
11555. On An Azure Field of Gratuitous Advice
12365. Sonspot
12456. Getting Elected Blogline
12578. Procrastinators of the world- Unite! (Later)
14641. Reed's Blogged Ateries
17080. ??? ???
18153. Itsara
18949. The Plodding Pilgrim
NR - Mentor Mark Memoirs
NR - secundum Christum
NR - ChristianHillsblog
NR - Grace Notes 4 Teens
NR - Peacful Chaos
NR - C.H.U.R.C.H.
NR - The Greatest Pursuits
NR - Be Bold, Be Gentle
NR - Foundations
NR - For the Joy
NR - Sarcasmagorica
NR - Jeff Blogworthy
NR - A Simple Desultory Dangling Conversation
NR - Run To Win
NR - Marginal Comments
NR - Northern 'burbs blog
NR - The Grey Shadow
NR - Penguin Ploddings
NR - Blog on the Lillypad2
NR- sprucegoose
NR -- Mere-Orthodoxy
NR -- worship naked
NR -- Jim Street
NR -- RealGodseekers
NR -- Just Thinking
NR -- His Wonderful Gift
NR -- defiant lamb
NR -- All Things Possible
NR -- Bear Witness
NR -- Thought Crime
NR -- A Bellandean! God, Country, Heritage
NR -- Living Hope
NR -- Menorah
NR -- Dappled Things
NR -- Random Responses
NR -- Dispatches from Outland
NR -- Fr. Greg's Anglican Blog
NR -- Red Letters Blog
NR -- The Conservative Citizen Weblog
NR --
NR -- The Convoluted Muse
NR -- TwentySomeone
NR -- Classical Education
NR -- Fire and Knowledge
NR -- Newton's 1st Law of Motion
NR -- Aramaic Dreams
NR -- Americanian
NR -- Christianity and Middle-Earth
NR -- Warriors Creed
NR -- His Warrior Bride
NR -- Desperate Vision
NR -- Allen's Ruminations on Zeitgeist
NR -- Berkeley Godspot

"That'll Be a Shake, Some Fries, and 'Crime and Punishment'"

Eric Seymour of In the Agora linked to an article about the special way McDonald's Restaurants in the Washington, D.C.-area are celebrating Black History Month. They're giving away copies of the play, A Raisin in the Sun.

Eric suggests that the chain shouldn't stop at that and says they should consider giving away copies of MacBeth. (That's funny enough to make me wish I'd thought of it first.)

Seriously though, for the past several years, McDonald's has been dealing with declining revenues. The underlying reason apparently is that Ronald McDonald and the playgrounds featured at many locations have been such great marketing tools that McDonald's is seen as a "kid's place." Teens and adults without families are not frequenting the franchise giant as they once did.

But what if, along with some of their more health-conscious menu items, McDonald's made a concerted effort to bring adults back to their restaurants? (I mean other than the lame commercials I see during televised sporting events and hear on sports radio.)

One part of that effort might include book give-aways or books at dramatically discounted prices. They could even ask local college English professors to come into their dining rooms on slow nights (Mondays come to mind) to preside over monhtly book discussion groups. The books identified as the 100 best of all time by the philosopher and encyclopedist Mortimer Adler and the Great Books movement could provide the reading list.

With this strategy, McDonald's could have a positive effect on their communities, make new friends, sell lots of food, and out-Starbuck's Starbuck's.

I think it would be cool.

By the way, I really do applaud McDonald's for what they're doing this February and for their corporate commitment to literacy.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Thoughts on Peace, North Korea, Pessimism, and Optimism

Yesterday, I suggested three reasons that the North Korean government's announcement that it possesses at least one nuclear weapon came as no surprise. The third reason I enumerated was:
nuclear weapons appeal to the dark nature of the human race. They give the impotent the illusion of power, which is the appeal of all impulses toward violence. As God told Noah, "the inclination of the human heart is evil from youth." (Genesis 8:21) Like Adam and Eve, we human beings are constantly falling prey to the temptation to "be like God." (Genesis 3:5)
This may have left readers with the impression that I am pessimistic about human beings or a fatalist when it comes to the work of diplomacy and statecraft.

At one level, I am pessimistic about human beings. Barring a reconstruction of our psyches and spirits, we are prone toward seeking advantage for ourselves at the expense of others. That's as true of nations as it is of two year olds in a day care center. Sir Alfred Zimmern, an expert on international relations, was once asked what the greatest obstacle "between us and the building of an enduring world peace" was. He replied, "The small scale individual."

The small scale individual is the person steeped in self. The Bible teaches that we are all, using Zimmern's phrase, small scale indivduals. One definition of evil or of what is demonic that emerges when reading the Bible is of people turned in on themselves, their hearts and wills closed to God and others. Hell is seen then, not as a place where happy rebels enjoy an eternity of cantankerous fun, but rather as an archipelago of incommunicado islands, each with one occupant consigned to live with their choice of hollow self-aggrandizement for all eternity. (No wonder Jesus says that they will gnash their teeth forever; without anyone to lord it over, what good is it to have one's own island?)

It is small scale individuals who become despots and enslave nations. It is they who go their own ways, no matter the cost to others. I am not optimistic that left to their own devices, or the standards of their own crippled consciences, that unreconstructed human beings can ever avoid these pitfalls.

But I am entirely optimistic about what can happen in the lives of those who follow Jesus Christ.

A Jesus-Follower is like a formerly musty old house. The shutters have been thrown wide open and the windows are raised. The fresh, cleansing wind of God's Spirit has been let in. Suddenly, rooms that had been locked tight from God and others are open and the goodness of God surges through, changing everything. Paul writes, in one of my favorite Biblical passages which I've cited here before:
"...if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, Who reconciled us to Himself through Christ..." [Second Corinthians 5:17-18]
I've seen the transformation Paul talks about happen in hundreds of lives.

It's the work of the Church and of individual Jesus-Followers to present the transforming news that when we follow Jesus--which is what the Bible means when it talks about believing in or trusting Jesus--our lives are made new. Paul even uses diplomatic language to describe this part of the Church's mission:
So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making His appeal through us... [Second Corinthians 5:20]
Every Jesus-Follower is called to reach out to others with the love and goodness of God, serving and loving others in the Name of Jesus, so that everyone experiences this reconciliation.

That's long, hard work. So, what do we do about the North Koreas of the world if they haven't been reconciled to Christ and undergone spiritual reconstruction? Should we just grab their cute despotic hands and ask them to join us in singing Kumbaya?

Of course not.

According to the Bible, God has established governmental authority, including diplomacy and statecraft. (Romans 13:1) Why? Martin Luther, in his phenomenal essay on what he calls God's "two kingdoms," says that if all of us were following Jesus Christ--in other words, if we were all living the opposite of the evil life and were instead, turned upward to God and outward to neighbor, rather than inwardly toward the interests of the self--there would be no reason for governments, armies, or diplomatic agreements. All would live according to the ethic commended by the New Testament to Jesus-Followers:

Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.

Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

This is the life style that Jesus summarized in His great commandment to love God and love neighbor. [Matthew 22:34-40]

But as Walgreen's is wont to remind us, we don't live in a place called Perfect. So, God established governments whose job it is to create oases of fragile and imperfect (and often porous and violable) stability and safety in a dangerously sinful world.

(This isn't to say, by the way, that governments ought always to be obeyed. When governments ask us to go against the will of God, it is imperative that they be resisted. Brave people, like the martyred theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, showed us this in their resistance to Nazi Germany. Christians are taught, "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God--what is good and acceptable and perfect." [Romans 12:2])

The work of diplomats and generals and others in government is important. Like all good, productive, helpful work, it comes from God. But it would be naive for diplomats, generals, presidents, prime ministers, kings, or anybody else to think that their good work can stand the long tests of time.

There will always be another generation of small scale individuals who work to undermine even the most wisely-crafted peace agreements.

There will always be another unscrupulous person who finds loopholes in reforms enshrined in law.

So, while we must value the work of diplomacy that must now happen in the wake of North Korea's announcement and pray for its success, those of us who are Jesus-Followers need to also attend to the deeper work--prayer, service in Jesus' Name, telling His Good News to others--that will bring real peace, eternal peace, to people.

True transformation that ensures peace among family members, communities, and nations only comes from Jesus Christ.

Elvis Costello and Thoughts on What Makes a True Artist

This is an interesting piece on Elvis Costello. He's working on an opera and is quoted:
"Of course the minute opera is mentioned it's like a big, fat woman with a Viking helmet. Everyone sees that image and thinks that it has to sound like Puccini.

"What I am actually doing is telling a story about Andersen. I didn't want to set one of the tales because that has been done.

"I'm right in the process of writing it - it's about Andersen who was this weird misfit kind of guy who came from a very poor background and rose to prominence because he basically invented children's stories. Andersen was a very conflicted person in his own sexuality. He kept falling in love with the wrong people.

"But it is not going to be written for an orchestra and I'm singing two of the roles in the initial production so it won't be like formal opera."
A chief characteristic of a true artist, I've always felt, is that they're willing to branch out, to take chances, and to risk failure. Artists take adventures they wouldn't otherwise have to take.

Pablo Picasso did that. Some hated the work of his later life. But he had the guts to keep experimenting.

Costello's sometime-collaborator Paul McCartney has done the same with his symphonic poem, oratorio, occasional chamber pieces, alternative music, poetry, and painting.

So have Elton John, Billy Joel, and others. Even Jimmy Carter, between peacekeeping gigs manages to write poetry, fiction, and social commentary.

Of course, one can argue that it's easier for people like these. Having achieved success in one field, they're given opportunities we might not have. Their past successes act as safety nets should they fall on their faces.

That's true, of course.

But one might just as well say of Costello, McCartney, John, Joel, Carter, and others that these opportunities come their ways because they were risk-takers in the first place. They were willing to take to life's stages and earn their spurs, so to speak, in one field, thereby opening up other possibilities. Indeed, many people refuse to take risks by branching out as artists--and as people--for fear that past glories will become tarnished by new failures.

But instead of just wallowing in a single success, true artists have always boldly gone onto other stages. On each one, of course, they've faced detractors and critics, sometimes justly.

They prove however, that the most breathtaking achievements are attained by the adventurers, by those who understand they could fail but strive just the same.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

More Great Lenten Links

Check out Mark Roberts' site (here and here) for more great writing inspired by Lent.

Great Lenten Links

Tod Bolsinger is writing great stuff on this Lenten season and its meaning (here, here, here, and here).

What If?

That's the question that Ohio State's men's basketball team and those of us who care about the program, can't help but asking. Still, OSU's decision to voluntarily ban the team from an appearance in the NCAA tournament was understandable.

Ashes, Ashes, We All Fall Down!

My colleague, Pastor Glen VanderKloot of Faith Lutheran Church in Springfield, Illinois, has given me permission to post his excellent Ash Wednesday message and notes here.

As children when we danced and sang…

"Ring around the rosey, pockets full of posies.
Ashes, ashes, we all fall down."

we had no idea that the song was about the Black Plague that
occurred in Medieval times.

"Ring around the rosey..." describes the sores with the rings
around them that the plague caused.

"Pockets full of posies..." is talking about how they hid
flowers in their clothes to hide the smell of the illness.

"Ashes, ashes, we all fall down" is talking about the death
the black plague caused.

Yesterday was Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday is a day when
we do talk about death. As we receive the ashes, we are
reminded of our own mortality…

"You are dust and to dust you shall return."

"Ashes, ashes, we all fall down."

We fall down in sin. All the time. Everyone of us.
Romans 3:22-23 teaches…

There is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall
short of the glory of God…

We know that we do not measure up. We know that we fall short.
We let down ourselves. We let down others. And we let down God.
And we know it. Like King David wrote in Psalm 51:3…

For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.

We have failed to love God with our whole heart, mind
and soul. We have failed to love our neighbors as ourselves.
We have even failed to love ourselves. We sin and we fall
down day after day after day.

However, we get back up in the forgiveness God gives us.
In the song "We Fall Down", Bob Carlisle sings:

"We fall down, we get up
We fall down, we get up
We fall down, we get up
And the saints are just the sinners
Who fall down and get up."

We sin and fall down day after day. However, because God showers
us with his forgiveness day after day, we get back up.

"The saints are just the sinners who fall down and get up."

We never have to stay down. Just like the boxer who can get
back up after being beaten down, we too can get back up.
God's complete and absolute forgiveness gives us new life.
God breathes into us a new breath giving us the power to get
back up. Don't ever let guilt hold you down. Instead remember:
God's forgiveness enables us to get back up.

We have been washed clean in the waters of baptism. We come
and receive the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ along
with the bread and wine for the forgiveness of our sin. Daily
we rise to newness of life. We get back up in the forgiveness
God gives us.

"Ashes, ashes, we all fall down." We fall down in death.
Everyone of us is going to die. There are no exceptions.
I am going to die and you are going to die. It is only a
question of when.

"Ashes, ashes, we all fall down."

Psalm 103:15 reminds us of our fleeting mortality…

As for mortals, their days are like grass;

I Peter 1:24 makes it even clearer that death will touch us all…

All flesh is like grass
and all its glory like the flower of grass.
The grass withers, and the flower falls,

We cannot escape death. Ecclesiastes 3 tells us that…

There is a time to be born and a time to die. (v. 2)

There is a rhythm and cycle to life. That rhythm include
birth, life and death. Some of us are trying to kid ourselves,
but the truth is we are headed toward death. We can deny it
all we want, but that does not change anything. We are all
going to die.

"Ashes, ashes, we all fall down."

However, we get back up in eternal life that God gives us.
Romans 6:23 tells us…

The free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Jesus stretched out his arms on the cross in love so that
we can live with God forever. We were created to live with
God forever. This life is only a prelude of the life to come.
The resurrection of Jesus proves that death is not the end.
There is something more. Something far better and richer
awaits us. As we pass from this life to life eternal, we
will live in the presence of God forever. The scriptures declare

God will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no
more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more…
Revelation 21:4

Jesus has prepared the way for us. He told us that in John 14…

Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe
also in Me. In My Father's house are many mansions; if it
were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place
for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come
again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you
may be also. And where I go you know, and the way you know.

We live and die as God's children.
No matter what, we are in God's hands.
No matter what, God is our father.
No matter what, we are God's children.
No matter what, we are loved and forgiven.
No matter what, we are headed to eternity with the father.

Our relationship with God defines our lives. Paul taught
in Romans 14:7-8…

For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for
himself; for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die,
we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we
are the Lord's.

Our first challenge then is to live every day remember
whose we are…

Therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord's.

Remembering whose we are makes a difference in our…

relationships, and

Our second challenge is to live every day with the sure
and certain hope of the resurrection. This is our baptismal

Believe it.
Claim it.
Remember it.
Live it.
Die in it.


Glen VanderKloot

Ashes, Ashes, We All Fall Down
Sermon Notes

We fall down in ___________.

There is no distinction; for all have sinned
and fall short of the glory of God…
Romans 3:22-23

For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.
Psalm 51:3

However, we get back up in the ________________ God gives us.

We fall down in ______________.

As for mortals, their days are like grass;
Psalm 103:15

All flesh is like grass
and all its glory like the flower of grass.
The grass withers, and the flower falls.
I Peter 1:24

However, we get back up in ____________ ________ that God
gives us.

The free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 6:23

God will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no
more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more…
Revelation 21:4

We live and die as God's ______________.

For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself;
for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for
the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord's.
Romans 14:7-8

Our challenges are…

To live every day remembering ____________ we are
To live every day with the sure and certain _______ of the

Three Reasons the North Korean Bomb Announcement is No Surprise

The North Korean government's announcement that it has a nuclear weapon, that they're not giving it up this Lent, and that they are withdrawing from the six-party talks designed to keep them under control has rocked the world nearly as much as the news of Charles' and Camilla's engagement. (The fact that those two stories are receiving nearly as much play in the media may be one indication of how out-of-whack our priorities are!)

Be that as it may, North Korea's announcement has predictably, loosed a "Who lost China?"-style debate.

Some, of course, are blaming President Bill Clinton and the deal worked out with the North by former President Jimmy Carter during the former's administration.

Others are blaming President Bush for not engaging in face-to-face talks with the North Koreans.

I leave those judgments to people more knowledgeable than me.

But I will say this...

The announcement is no suprise, for several reasons.

First, North Korea's possession of the bomb has been a dirty little secret for some time. The global community has been wishing it weren't so, but that was diplomatic denial.

Second, despotic regimes inevitably see nukes as a great equalizer. The North Korean demand for a face-to-face with Mr. Bush which accompanied this announcement is the moral equivalent of an attempted blackmail or kidnapping. The Pyongyang regime wants legitimacy and they want the President to cry, "Uncle."

Third, nuclear weapons appeal to the dark nature of the human race. They give the impotent the illusion of power, which is the appeal of all impulses toward violence. As God told Noah, "the inclination of the human heart is evil from youth." (Genesis 8:21) Like Adam and Eve, we human beings are constantly falling prey to the temptation to "be like God." (Genesis 3:5)!

Just a few lunchtime happy thoughts. More on this topic later...

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

The Sorrow That Leads to Freedom

Psalm 51:1-17
(shared with the people of Friendship Church, February 9, 2005)

I read a story earlier today about Frederick the Great. He was a king of Prussia, the nation that formed the core of what later became Germany, back in the eighteenth century. The story, which may or may not be true, says that Frederick was inspecting a prison in Berlin. Most of the prisoners, as prisoners usually will do, told him that they were innocent and begged to be released.

One man though, was silent. Frederick asked the man what crime he had been accused of and if he was guilty of it. "Yes, your majesty," the prisoner replied, "I deserve my punishment."

Frederick called for the warden and ordered the immediate release of that man. "I will not have him kept in prison," he said, "where he will corrupt all of its innocent occupants." You and I can only be free from our prisons when we confess that we too are guilt and deserve our punishment.

Ash Wednesday, which today begins the season of spiritual renewal called Lent, is an artificial holiday, just as Lent is an artificial season. God didn’t invent either of them; human beings did. There’s nothing saying that we have to mark them. But they can be helpful to us.

Ash Wednesday in particular, is a day devoted to repentance. When we repent, we confess our sin and own up to our lack of innocence to God so that we can be freed from the prisons of sin and death.

These days, I’ve read, insurance companies are offering counseling to doctors on how to apologize to patients they may have mistreated. (Can you imagine a class on How to Apologize?) Apology is seen as a good strategy for avoiding malpractice law suits. And evidently, there are statistics to back that up. But the questions I have are these: Do the doctors who've been schooled in apologizing mean it when they say they're sorry? Do they truly regret their actions? And most important of all: Are they intent on doing differently in the future?

I'm not picking on doctors. The fact is that God asks similar questions when it comes to our repentance. In the psalm that ancient King David wrote after he had committed both adultery and murder, which we read at the beginning of our worship, he tells God, "Sincerity and truth are what You require..." Then he implores God, "Create a pure heart in me, O God, and put a new and loyal spirit in me."

David doesn’t just want off the hook. He’s asking God to help him to avoid ever getting hooked by sin again. And in this very request, David demonstrates that his heart and spirit already have been made new.

You see, in the Bible, talk about the heart and the spirit of a person usually has little to do with emotions. The heart of a person is the seat of their will. Genuine repentance, telling God that we are sorry and meaning it, isn’t measured by the fervor with which we pray. God can spot a phony. Genuine repentance happens when we ask God to make war on our selfish wills and to conform them to His will.

Jesus has done everything necessary for us to be reconciled with God, to have our sins forgiven, and to live with God forever. They are free gifts granted to those who believe in Jesus.

But just because they’re free doesn’t mean they come cheap.

The only person who grabs these free gifts are those willing to let go of their sin.

One of my brother’s and sister-in-law's neighbors is a homosexual. In his mind, that’s his orientation, although he has renounced the homosexual life style. He’s living celibately. That’s because he’s also a Christian. He knows that God’s Word forbids the practice of homosexuality. He may not understand that, but he accepts it because he would rather be right with God than follow his own selfish impulses. That is what repentance looks like.

The Christian life is not easy. Each day, God asks us to forgo our selfish impulses, whatever they may be, and to ask God to graciously make His will, our will. We do that for a simple reason, one that we sometimes sing about here at Friendship, paraphrasing a Bible passage: One day with God is better than thousands elsewhere. (Psalm 84:10)

In repentance, tell God that you want this to be that one day. Then, tell Him the same thing again tomorrow. Let God’s will infect your will and you will be free forever!

[The story of Frederick the Great as well as the information on insurance companies counseling doctors on how to apologize come from

[The quotation citing Psalm 51 is taken from the Good News Bible, Today's English Version .]

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Help Needed!

No, this isn't an ad for a job. I am totally helpless when it comes to the computer. How and, more importantly, where do I insert the Blogrolling javascript in the Blogger template? Every time I try to put it on my site, it ends up in weird places. Any insights you can give to a non-techie would be deeply appreciated. Just leave it in the Comments, please. Thanks!

Sojourners' Review of 'How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb'

This review from Sojourners magazine says it better than I could. It is one fantastic CD!

Leave Room at the Table for People of All Ages

Have you ever been set off by something someone said right after you woke up, sick and out of sorts? That happened to me today.

Awakened by one of my flu's symptoms, I flipped on an all-news TV channel sometime before five this morning. A perky anchor, interviewing an entertainment reporter, introduced a clip from David Letterman's monologue. The subject of Letterman's gag: the Paul McCartney halftime show at Super Bowl XXXIX. The punchline: it "sucked."

That, of course, is a matter of subjective taste. I loved it. Letterman didn't. I agree with me, but he's entitled to his opinion. It wasn't Letterman who set me off, though.

No, it was something that the perky anchor said after the Letterman clip. Laughing, she said to her guest something like, "I have to agree. I mean, Paul McCartney is okay. But he's sixty-two years old!"

Apparently Ms. Perky Anchor--I never did catch her name--thinks that there should be an age cut-off for when you can be seen in public. If you're sixty-two, it seems, you have no business performing on a stage.

The problem is that Ms. PA probably speaks for much of contemporary society. Dr. Gerald Mann, whose credibility may be clouded because he's in his sixties, observes that our society is the first one in history to have contempt for its elders. We have elevated youth culture to a place of primacy, encouraging children to "grow up" to libidinous obsessions before they're psychologically ready and adults to do almost anything to mask their ages.

I have nothing against youth culture. My CD collection includes releases by artists in their twenties.

But is there no room for artists or others who the gatekeepers of mainstream culture deem "over the hill"?

There should be. Consider these examples:

Winston Churchill, after long years in the political wilderness, was finally elevated to the prime ministership at Great Britain's moment of greatest peril, when he was sixty-five. He performed magnificently.

Grandma Moses first picked up a paintbrush and wowed the world--experts and laypeople--with her nativistic paintings after she'd turned seventy.

Pablo Picasso was creating until the very end of his long life.

Jimmy Carter is traversing the globe to promote peace, democracy, and decent living conditions. He continues to write fascinating books and be a profound witness for faith in Jesus Christ. He's doing all of this in spite of being eighty years old.

Biblically, Moses stands out as someone who was vital at an advanced age. He apparently sensed while he was still young that he was to be a leader. But after a spectacularly failed attempt at leading his fellow Hebrews, he went into exile. He himself was eighty before he was called by God to lead his people from slavery in Egypt toward the promised land.

People don't necessarily cease being interesting or creative at a certain age. I've known twenty-somethings who were old and washed-up. I've known eighty-somethings who were vital and engaged.

I've enjoyed Paul McCartney ever since he epitomized youth culture. But he continues to be a creative force. His two most recent studio CDs--1997's Flaming Pie and 2001's Driving Rain--are among the most artistically satisfying ventures of his long career.

There are reasons to dislike McCartney's music. Sometimes, his lyrics veer into banal indecipherability. Sometimes, he believes so much in the power of random inspiration that he fails to be discerning about what he releases. And sometimes, he advocates things with which I disagree. But it makes no sense to reject him simply because he's sixty-two years old.

I don't want to overthrow youth culture. But let's leave some room at the cultural table for people of every age. After all, if things go well for her even Ms. Perky Anchor will be sixty-two some day.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Please Excuse My 'Silence'

This is a note of apology to the loyal band of readers who regularly frequent Better Living. I haven't been posting with much regularity. That's because I've been feeling lousy with the flu and its attendant stuff. Hopefully, I'll be back at it again tomorrow or the next day.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Letting God In

Matthew 17:1-9
(message shared with the people of Friendship Church, February 6, 2005)

In Tucson, Arizona, they have laws limiting the brightness of street lights at night. These regulations exist to avoid interfering with what astronomers call “good seeing” at a nearby telescope.

Maybe that was why Jesus took Peter, James, and John to the top of a mountain, as we’re told about in today’s Bible lesson. Jesus may have wanted to give these three key followers, the ones He had chosen to be the leaders of His leadership group, “good seeing,” a clear vision of Who He is. The account of what happened that day also shows us Who Jesus can be for every one of us.

And, what Peter, James, and John saw was spectacular! While standing there on top of that mountain, Jesus was “transfigured...and His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white.” Then, two Old Testament figures showed up. One was Moses, the one to whom God had given the Ten Commandments and who had been Israel’s leader out of Egypt, through the wilderness, about 1500 years before the birth of Jesus. The other was Elijah, a prophet whose ministry began about 870 years before Jesus was born and came to an end when God sent a chariot to taxi him to heaven. The two of them represent the two great strains of Old Testament tradition, the law and the prophets. It's these that hundreds of years before Jesus came on the scene, bore witness to His coming. Now, in a moment of fulfillment, Jesus stood talking with Moses and Elijah, the center of human history and of all our best hopes.

You can imagine that Peter and the others were impressed by the amazing sight of the transfigured Jesus, along with these important Old Testament people!

Peter was so impressed, in fact, that he spoke up, foot firmly in mouth as almost always was the case with him, and said, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”

That word translated as dwellings could mean everything from huts to temples. I think it’s safe to bet that Peter was thinking in grander terms at that moment. He wanted to build three religious shrines.

It didn’t take long for his suggestion to be unceremoniously vetoed. A bright cloud came down from heaven and from it, a voice--the Voice--said, “This is My Son, the Beloved; with Him I am well pleased; listen to Him!”

This command to listen to Jesus would have hit Peter rather pointedly. Just six days before, Peter had confessed his belief that Jesus was the Son, or the very reflection, of God, on earth to be our Savior and King. Jesus applauded Peter's answer. But then He told Peter and the others that He was to be crucified in Jerusalem and rise again on the third day after His death. The very mention of such a possibility had been repulsive to Peter. "This will never happen to You, Lord," Peter tried to tell Jesus. But Jesus, angered by this well-intentioned attempt to thwart Him in His mission of dying and rising for us, turned to Peter and said, "Get behind Me, Satan." "Listen," Jesus was telling Peter, "to what I'm saying; not what you want Me to say!"

Now, on the mount of Transfiguration, Peter shut up and, along with the other two disciples, fell to the ground, terrified.

Jesus went to them and He touched them and He told them, “Get up. Don’t be afraid.” As the three lifted themselves off the ground and tentatively looked, they discovered that, Moses, Elijah, the cloud, and the dazzling brightness were gone. Only Jesus remained. The same was true for those disciples as is true for us: When life frightens us or jolts us or throws us or hurts us, the only reliable helper guaranteed to be there is the compassionate God we know through Jesus Christ!

So, what was the point? There were many points, I suppose. But I want to zero in on just a few this morning. Point number one clearly was that Jesus is God the Son, in the flesh, come to earth with the full approval of God the Father.

Point number two is seen in God’s implicit rejection of Peter’s proposal to build three shrines. This past summer, you know, my wife’s mom took her to the Mediterranean. Among their stops was Rome and the Vatican. I was interested in her impressions of this place with its grand basilica and priceless works of Christian art. I shouldn’t have been surprised by her reaction, but I was. Like virtually every person I have ever known to go there, my wife said that she had been totally turned off by all the money spent on a religious shrine and wondered whether God is really glorified by it all.

Be that as it may, we know that God isn’t necessarily glorified by buildings, icons, symbols, rituals, or much-recited, scarcely-meant words. The Bible says that we, followers of Jesus, are His temples. In other places, it says that we’re to be living stones built on the cornerstone of Jesus Christ.

Too often, our religious stuff may be nothing more than monuments to our own egos and supposed piety. But the God we know through Jesus Christ doesn’t build His kingdom with brick and mortar. He builds it in the lives of those who turn from sin and follow Jesus. That, I’m sure, is one reason that God cut Peter off when he offered to start a construction project.

A third point that I think the disciples were to take from their experience on the mountaintop is perhaps, the most important one. It can be seen in that simple, moving moment when Jesus approached the frightened disciples, touched them, and told them to get up and not be afraid. The God we meet in Jesus Christ wants us to let Him into our lives. He wants us to welcome Him into all that we say and do and are each day. Jesus can do wonderful things when we do that.

The late E. Stanley Jones was a missionary, evangelist, and author. In one of his books, he tells the story of a man known to be, “the biggest grouch in Trenton.” One day, this man called someone he knew in another town and said, “All Trenton’s different---everybody’s different this morning since that meeting in the high school last night where we heard [the evangelist]. Of course, only I may be different, but all Trenton seems different.”

When we let God into our lives, everything is different. We have a different relationship with God and so can build different relationships with those around us. We can face life with hope and openness. We live in the confidence that our sins, which would otherwise earn us eternal separation from God, have been forgiven and that God will help us resist temptation in this world and that in eternity, living directly in the presence of God, sin will have no more power to mar our characters or our lives. We can be like the backwoods Christian I’ve mentioned before who could say, “I ain’t what I want to be and I ain’t what I’m gonna be. But I thank God, I ain’t what I was!” “If anyone is in Christ,” Paul writes in the New Testament, “there is a new creation; everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new.” God wants us to let Him into our lives so that we can be made new.

But I think there’s another reason God wants us to let Him into our lives. A pastor was driving along a country road, came to a corner, and saw an elderly woman walking along with a heavy load in her arms. He stopped beside her, rolled down his window, explained that he was the pastor of a neighboring church, and offered the woman a ride. She recognized him and said that she would love a ride. She climbed into the front seat and closed the door. As they pulled away, the pastor asked her, “Why don’t you put that load in the back seat?” “Oh, it’s kind enough of you to give me a ride. I can still carry this, though,” she said. They rode in silence for a time and then the pastor said, “Thank you for giving me an inspiration for my next Sunday message.” “How did I do that?” the woman wondered. “Well, I think our relationship with God is a lot like you and that heavy package you’re still holding in your arms. We trust God to get us through life, but not to help carry the burdens.”

I could almost write a book about all the times I thought for sure my personal life or even the life of this wonderful congregation were going to go bust. But each time that happens, I’ve learned the importance of letting the God we know through Jesus in. Our burdens become lighter and He shows us what to do, if we only let Him.

The God Who came to this world and touched the frightened disciples on the mountain, Who went to a cross and rose from a grave, wants to come to you this morning and each day of your life. He wants to help you carry your burdens. He wants to be your chief counselor, the One you turn to even when the whole world seems to have turned away. This week, why not make this your prayer at the beginning of each day?: “Lord Jesus, all day long, show me when I’m wrong. Affirm me when I’m right. Help me to make good decisions. Make me an agent of Your love. Today, I choose to let You into every moment of my life.”

And then, like the disciples becalmed by Jesus on the mountain, face your day with confidence!