Saturday, December 31, 2005

Greatest Hits of 2005: February and March Posts

Continuing to link to the posts on this blog which either got the most hits, the largest number of comments, or that I just liked during 2005. Here are my greatest hits from February and March, 2005:

It's Time to Dethrone Romance!
My Picks for the Four Best U.S. Presidents
What I Do When I Feel Blue
Was Music Born with Elvis? Or Did It Die?
The Effects of Fame on the Famous
Letting High Schoolers Go on Spring Break is a Bad Idea!
Easter: Life Triumphs Over Death!
Go Ahead, Fool Everyone by Being Yourself
Goal Setting, a Christian Approach, Part 5 (with links to previous installments)
What is a Positive Attitude for the Christian?
The Promise and the Perils of Democracy, Part 3 (with links to previous installments)
Hope Meets Despair!
Thinking About Last Night's Good Friday Service
Considering the Terri Schiavo Case from Several Angles

Greatest Hits of 2005: January Posts

Over the next few days, I'll be posting links to my "greatest hits" from 2005. These are the posts that got the most traffic, elicited the most comments, or that I just happen to most like myself.

Here are the hits from January, 2005:

Light of the World!
Foreign Policy Over Burritos and Tacos
Was the Inaugural Address 'Christian'?
Prayer: The Essential Conversation, Part 9 (with links to the previous installments)
What Happens to Believers in Christ When They Die?
Are Infants Who Die in Heaven?
Of Rosemary Woods and the Problem of Loyalty
What Happens to Those Who Die Without Hearing of Christ?

Quick Takes on Our San Francisco Getaway

My wife and I recently returned from a trip to San Francisco, my first trip there. We had a fantastic time!

Rather than composing a long post on the details, I thought that I'd write a rapid-fire review of some of what we experienced. You might find it helpful if you're considering a first-time visit:

Cable cars and trolleys: Charming and practical. The trolleys SF has now come from all over the world. We rode some from Italy and saw one from Cincinnati's former fleet.

Sea Lions on Pier 39 off of Embarcadero: Funny.

Chocolate at Recchiuti Confections: Exquisite.

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art: The permanent collection is outstanding, including pieces from such disparate artists as Calder and Picasso. The current exhibitions are boring and unexceptional.

Union Square: A really fun place, even though the band's cover version of Who Can It Be Now? (an old Men at Work tune) was sort of annoying.

Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART): Wow!

Tadich Grill: Great food, great service, great atmosphere, fun place!

The View from Twin Peaks: Breathtaking!

Ghiradelli's: Tasty, as always.

A Big Regret: Not going into the National Maritime Museum.

Most Enjoyable Shopping Venue: The recently-refurbished (2003) Ferry Building, on Embarcadero where Market Street ends.

People: Incredibly friendly and helpful!

Unexpected pleasure: Saint Patrick's Roman Catholic Church, close to the Museum of Modern Art. Its doors were open and people were praying there. The creche was stunning as was a life-sized depiction of Jesus near the Stations of the Cross.

Not Worth the Time: A wax museum in the Fishermen's Wharf district. We wouldn't have gone if we didn't have free admission. About one-third of the persons portrayed actually looked like them.

Unexpected Treat: Boudin, A bakery, restaurant, deli, and kitchenware store that's really neat.

Biggest Regret: Being unable to hook up with some old high school friends.

Biggest Pleasure: Being able to hook up with some old high school friends.

Greatest Blessing: Taking a pleasure trip with my wife, our first since before our two twenty-something kids were born.

Friday, December 30, 2005

First (and Maybe Only) Pass at This Sunday's Bible Lesson: Philippians 2:5-11

Because I just returned from a trip to San Francisco last evening and didn't have time last week to make a thorough study of the Bible passage around which our worship will be built this weekend, this will probably be my only "pass" at the lesson this week. (By way of explanation, I should tell the uninitiated that to help members of the congregation I serve as pastor and others who might be interested, I've been giving background on the focal passages each week, usually amounting to two or three posts.)

This week's Bible lesson is from the first-century preacher Paul's letter to the church at the city of Philippi. The specific passage is Philippians 2:5-11, one of my favorite in the Bible.

Here it is:

5Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross. 9Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 10so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

A few notes:

v. 5: This is a call to an attitude, a frame of mind, which is different from what comes to us naturally. Our reference point, Paul says, is to be Jesus. But Paul isn't calling us to mimic Jesus. Instead, He's calling us to a conversion of mind that's utterly radical.

In other words, we allow Jesus to take up residence in our minds so that we begin to think as he thought and thereby, live as He lived.

Frankly, though I may say that I want to be like Jesus, the ultimate goal of Christian spirituality, the fact is that I only want to want to be like Jesus.

At heart, I am selfish and self-aggrandizing. I don't really want to be the kind of selfless servant Jesus was when He washed the feet of the disciples on the night of His betrayal and arrest, even though I may want the world to think that's the sort of servant I am or think I want to be like Jesus.

The truth is that I want the benefit of being highly esteemed for having a servant's heart without the pain or self-sacrifice that might entail.

Paul is here commending a commitment of service that's willing to accept anonymity, a servanthood that isn't rendered for the sake of getting credit from either God or others.

It's the servanthood that characterizes the person who knows that there is nothing a human being can do to make themselves more acceptable to God. They know that they already have God's acceptance, a gift appropriated by all who turn from sin and believe in Jesus Christ.

Instead of rendering service out of a sense of religious obligation, these folks have so let Jesus invade their minds (and bodies and spirits) that servanthood springs from them involuntarily.

To understand this, think of the judgment scene parable Jesus presents in Matthew 25:31-46. There, Jesus welcomes the sheep on His right into eternity, citing their clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, visiting the imprisoned, and such.

But these people are oblivious to their good deeds. They ask Jesus when they had done any of the wonderful things that He ascribes to them. Jesus says that whenever they served the least, the most despised, the lowliest esteemed, they had served Him.

What strikes me about this is that the "sheep" had no recollection of the service they had rendered others. They hadn't lived as religious folks trying to demonstrate their goodness. They were humble folks who, like the tax collector in Jesus' parable, cried out, "Have mercy on me, God, a sinner" and allowed Jesus to take up residence in their lives.

Jesus told His disciples in John 13 that true greatness is composed of being a servant to all. One of my frequent prayers finds me asking God to not just to want to be seen as a servant, but to actually want to want that!

v. 6: It's so easy to exploit our human or worldly advantages over others. But those are puny by comparison with the advantages enjoyed by Jesus, God the Son, over we human creatures.

To deal with our rebellion and sin, God could have exploited His power over us quite easily. Like Bill Cosby's Cliff Huxtable talking with his son Theo on the old Cosby show, God has every right to tell us, "I brought you into this world and I can take you out." God could have blown us away. He could have reengineered us to be automatons who unquestioningly do His will.

Instead, God took up a harder course. He embraced human life for Himself, starting out that life as the son of a peasant woman, a child dismissed as a bastard whose first crib was a manger.

His purpose was to woo us so that we would invite Him into our lives, giving Him permission to work on our minds, spirits, and wills to make us like Christ Himself.

v. 7: Jesus emptied Himself. Yesterday at the San Francisco Airport, because we got bumped off of our first flight of choice to Cincinnati, my wife and I got to spend several hours with two women similarly bumped. They were both salespeople with Otis Elevator, planning on flying through Cincinnati and on to Paris. We had such a great conversation and we were so thankful for the opportunity that our delay gave us to meet them!

At one point, we were talking about how hard it can be sometimes to offer to help someone who's hurting. We get afraid that we might do or say the wrong thing. But we all finally concluded that we need to learn to "get over ourselves."

Jesus never had to get over Himself because He was never hung up on Himself. (Although His wilderness temptations indicate that He did have to fight the very understandable inclination to be so hung up.)

To empty oneself then, I think, is to divest oneself of the focus on ourselves that prevents us from caring about another more than we care about ourselves.

It also and more importantly means, willingly laying aside the opportunity to pull rank or look down our noses on others, often a favorite Christian activity. Christians who have emptied themselves know, in Martin Luther's wonderful phrase, that "we are all beggars," utterly dependent on God for "our daily bread" and every blessing from heaven!

Though we may applaud such an other-focused ethic in life, the fact is that it doesn't come naturally. We require the "holy lobotomy" that Paul talks about in verse 5, the transaction between heaven and earth that begins to happen when we surrender our lives and wills to Jesus Christ.

v. 6: Jesus' going to the cross was the ultimate act of selflessness. Selflessness is not selfisness with a pious attitude. Jesus didn't say, "I'm sacrificing Myself; look at how wonderful I am." He sacrificed Himself and invited us all to take up our crosses and follow Him.

vv. 7-11: Because of His Servant path, Jesus has the Name above all names.

(Tomorrow, I may write a bit summarizing words about servanthood from Celebration of Discipline and A Theological Word Book of the Bible.)

Woman Marries Dolphin

Today's news brings the weirdest wedding announcement since the one telling all that the Roman emperor, Caligula, had made an honest horse of the animal he'd been sleeping with for awhile and by joining it in matrimony.

A British woman has "married" a dolphin to which she's taken a shine. The animal is resident in an Israeli sea park.

Now, of course, this is all quite ridiculous. People will say that it signifies nothing. It's just a filler story for the end of news broadcasts.

But I can't help but wonder if, in one way or another, the tale doesn't reflect the world's prevailing "anything goes" mentality.

This wasn't the act of an individual woman, after all. The dolphin's trainer and owner had to go along with this fruity idea. Whether they acquiesced out of a love for the almighty buck--the "bride" is a millionaire rock show promoter--or out of a genuine commitment to trans-specie intermarriage, granting the dolphin's fin in marriage, as one of the news accounts cleverly describes it, is still irresponsible.

I also have no doubt that there will be anthropomorphizing animal-lovers who applaud the ceremony.

Caligula, whose antics have traditionally been pointed to by historians as symptomatic of the moral deterioration and spiritual ennui that led to Rome's fall, probably would have sent a wedding gift.

(I first saw this item mentioned on Rick Moore's blog.)

A Low-Key Christmas Celebration

Recently, I wrote that "God likes simple." My brother, Marty and his wife, Trina, seem to live that reality that I sometimes only talk about. In this recent post, Marty describes some of how the two of them celebrated Christmas this year, including some time spent in Columbus' German Village, one of my favorite spots on the planet.

For obvious reasons, I was personally taken with this passage in Marty's post:
...but I want to also point out the carolers we listened too outside of Helen Winnemore. Now in the Daniels family Helen Winnemore has a real personal connection. My brother, Mark, who is a really wonderful Pastor and talented writer purchased the wedding rings for he and his wife...there back in like, 1970-something. Since then it has always been a place where I have purchased SPECIAL gifts for Trina. When you go there you need to look through their Kaleidoscopes, they are a real treat!
Read the whole thing. (The year when we bought the rings, by the way, was 1974.)

Marty is one of the funniest comedians around. His humor is incisive and perceptive. What makes it all the more remarkable is that it's clean. That doesn't mean infantile. His routines are intelligent. But Marty's not so intellectually challenged as to need to resort to crudity. He does lots of engagements for business groups. If you have the chance to invite him to be with you sometime soon, take advantage of it. In my (admittedly biased) view, he's really terrific!

"If it feels like you're stuck in a rat race...

...perhaps it's because you're stuck in a rat race." As domestic retailers and Chinese manufacturing facilities gear up for what Charlie Lehardy calls "Christmas 2006™," he asks us to consider what's really important. A thoughtful piece from Charlie's ever-interesting site, AnotherThink.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

The Greatest Communicator Speaks to Us

[Message shared with the people of Friendship Church on Sunday, December 25, 2005]

John 1:1-14

No long-winded sermon on this Christmas morning. Just a few thoughts on our Bible passage.

It's one that sounds strange to our post-modern ears. "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God." What does that mean?

Back in the book of Genesis, you may remember, when God wanted to create the heavens and the earth, the plants and the animals, and humanity, He spoke a word and life sprang into being.

God's Word has power. This is something affirmed repeatedly in both the Old and New Testament portions of the Bible.

"Your Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path," one of the Psalms says.

The "...word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart." That's from the New Testament book of Hebrews.

God loved speaking His Word to His ancient people, Israel.

He told them, after upbraiding them for trying to live without Him in their lives, "I alone know the plans I have for you, plans to bring you prosperity and not disaster, plans to bring about the future you hope for."

And He said, "I am the Lord your God; you shall have no other gods before Me."

God spoke His Word and parted waters to free His people from Egyptian slavemasters. He spoke it and gave them a land. He spoke again and allowed enemies to overtake His people after they had forgotten Him and His love. He spoke it again to tell His people that one day, an anointed king, a Messiah in the Hebrew, a Christ in the Greek, would come to save them from their sins and to give them new lives with Him forever.

As the centuries wore on though, most of God's people seemed to have forgotten about Him or to have consigned Him to one hour of their weeks. But one day, God sent an angel to speak a word to a man named Zechariah, a priest. He and his wife, Zecharaiah was told by the angel Gabriel would have a son, a great prophet who would call people to turn from sin so that they could receive the coming Messiah.

Later, Gabriel went to a young peasant girl in the hill country near the Sea of Galilee. He had a word from God for Mary: She was to give birth to the Messiah, God in the flesh.

On the night of Jesus' birth, angels brought word of this great news from God to shepherds who went and worshiped Jesus.

Jesus, you see, is the ultimate, definitive Word from God. God is the greatest of all communicators and through Jesus, His message has been communicated directly into our lives.

He says: "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me."

He says, "Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls."

He says, "For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him will not perish, but have everlasting life."

And later, filled with the Holy Spirit sent by Jesus, Peter said, "All who call upon the Name of the Lord will be saved."

In Jesus, God is speaking His Word to us again this Christmas morning. He says, "Turn from sin, turn from worry, turn from the dying ways of a world edging toward inevitable demise and instead, follow Me. I give life beyond the grave, forgiveness beyond your wrongs, strength beyond your weakness, hope beyond your despair."

Those are good words for us today. And the Word made flesh will make them good for all of who follow Him, for all eternity!
God bless you with a wonderful Christmas. Above all, may you sense the presence, the love, and the transforming power of Jesus Christ in your life!

Merry Christmas, everybody!