Friday, August 25, 2006

Glenna Salsbury on God's Mercy

Glenna Salsbury is a ball of energy and a tremendously insightful speaker who enlightens business and church groups whose autobiographical tale in the very first Chicken Soup for the Soul inspired me. Through the years, Glenna has been a faithful correspondent with me, who has prayed for my family and my undertakings.

Periodically, Glenna sends out an emailed inspiration called Heavenly Treasures. She's given me permission to share the latest one with you here:


August 21, 2006
The Lord is Merciful
The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy.
Psalm 103:8

God's grace is often defined as "receiving that which we do not deserve." But God's mercy can be defined as "not receiving what we do deserve." How often our behavior would seem to warrant the Lord's anger or serious discipline in our lives. Yet He again and again extends His mercy to us, knowing that, in our flesh, we are but dust!

King David encourages us to especially
praise the Lord for His mercy. He writes that God "has not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities." (Psalm 103:10) Oh, what a relief! What a gift -- God's amazing mercy!
David used every possible description to help us see the magnitude of the Lord's mercy to you and to me. "For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward us as believers." (Psalm 103:11)

One of the incredible demonstrations of the Lord's
mercy is His removing any record of our sins. "As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us." (Psalm 103:12)

How long will He continue to extend His mercy to those of us who know Him? "The mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting...". (Psalm 103:17)

Another amazing demonstration of God's mercy toward us is His gift of
righteousness to those who are His. Not only did He remove all record of our sins, but He gifted us with His perfection, His complete righteousness. We are saved from God's wrath because Christ's life, His righteous life, is His gift to us. (Romans 5:10) We will never receive the wrath we deserve because of His merciful gift.

David tells us that our only worthy response to the Lord's mercy is for us to bless God! It is an awe-inspiring thought to realize that
we can bless the Lord; we can give Him joy! David exhorts his own heart and mind to this activity. "Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless His holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits." (Psalm 103:1, 2)

How often it seems we focus on our expectations, our desires, our frustrations and our daily wants ... rather than simply focusing on the mercies of God in our life ... past, present and future.
Joy actually springs up in us when we delight in His endless mercy in our life, day after day.

He has "redeemed" our lives from
destruction. He has "crowned" us with "His lovingkindness and mercy". He "satisfies us with good things" so that our energy is "renewed like the eagles." (Psalm 103:4,5)

Oh, Lord, when we recount all of our own failures, lapses and sins, Your
mercy is our only solace. Continue to reveal Your magnificent mercy and may we continually praise You for this precious gift. "Bless the Lord, O my soul." (Psalm 103:22)

If you'd like to receive Glenna's Heavenly Treasures at your email address every week, contact her at Please provide your first and last name.

To learn more about Glenna as a speaker, check out her web site here.

Randy Stonehill: Can Hell Burn Hot Enough

Randy Stonehill is one of the finest artists produced by the Christian contemporary music scene which emerged in the 1970s and is, one can argue, largely dead today, having been commercialized and commandeered by corporate interests who don't care much about the Gospel.

Stonehill's music can be, by turns, acoustically folksy, novelty-song silly, or flat-out rocking. I can't convey to you how great I think he is, easily the equal of some of my other favorites, like Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, Bruce Cockburn, Bruce Springsteen, and U2.

I've just been listening to his 1990 release, Until We Have Wings, which contains seven original studio recordings made for the project and seven live performances of songs from his catalog. It begins with the gorgeous, Faithful, an homage to God that mirrors my own personal movement from atheism to faith in Christ, rooted in part in our childhood suspicion that there is "an unseen hand" who cares about us.

Can Hell Burn Hot Enough is a folk-rock tune that hits me (and I think, all of us, faith or no) between the eyes. Here are the lyrics:










Let those words sink in...and then try to find as many of Stonehill's releases as you can!

As for myself, I hope that listening to Stonehill again and listening to Burghardt will be more than passive exercises. I'm asking God to use them to remind me of my call as a follower of Jesus Christ to stand for justice in our world, to remember the prophet's recitation of God's command in the Old Testament:
He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)
[The Wikipedia article on Randy Stonehill (here) is good.]

[This has been substantially cross-posted here.]

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Is Biden's Partitioning Proposal a Plan for Peace in Iraq?

Senator Joe Biden, Democrat from Delaware, is pushing a new peace plan for Iraq, a variant on the partitioning idea that I mentioned here in early August. Under Biden's plan, a partitioned Iraq would function as a federation of sectarian states, rather than as three separate nations, the aim of most previous partition proposals.

But Biden's plan doesn't address the key problem with splintering ideas that has been the sticking-point in previous proposals. A Kurdish nation could be broken off today with very little problem. But, in spite of sectarian violence that has created hundreds of thousands internal refugees in Iraq, the Sunni and Shiite populations and their property are intermingled. Sorting all of that out would be, if not impossible, nearly so.

I don't have answers...and wouldn't offer them if I thought I did. But it will be interesting to see if Biden's plan gets legs as he campaigns for the presidency.

"My very eager mom just served us nothing"

It just doesn't work as mnemomic device, does it?

The old saying, "My very eager mom just served us nine pizzas" was a great way to remember the names of the planets of our solar system. The number of pizzas also helped you remember the number of planets.

But no more, of course.

I wonder when the last time was that a group of scientists voted democratically against a planet?

It's a bit like a reality TV show, isn't it? "Pluto, you have been voted out of the solar system."

But now that scientists have said that Pluto isn't a galactic playah, I hope that some august body can address another important question: How is it that Pluto is a dog--and the pet of a large rodent, at that--while Goofy is evidently, a person?

And how is it possible for a mouse to have a dog smaller than it is? Oh, wait a minute...he is a dwarf planet, isn't he?

Third Pass at This Weekend's Bible Lesson: Ephesians 6:10-20

Ephesians 6:10-20

More General Comments: Keys to Understanding This Passage and Ephesians
Last weekend, I talked about how the writer of Ephesians--traditionally thought to be the apostle Paul--contrasted the old life from which the Gentiles in Ephesus had been called with the new life they enjoyed and could build on through Jesus Christ. There, Paul contrasted light with dark, as well as wisdom with foolishness and drunkenness on the self-driven path with being filled with God's Holy Spirit, encouraging the Ephesian Christians--and we post-modern Christians--to fill the holes in our souls with the power and goodness of Jesus Christ.

In the lesson for this weekend, the writer says that our primary battle in life isn't with members of the Body of Christ with whom we may sometimes disagree or with the wider world living in "evil days." Our primary enemy is the devil and the other fallen angels under his direction.

Now, stop that...I saw that...Your eyes were glazing over. Ephesians is serious when it talks about the devil. And so am I.

I know that there's skepticism about the existence of the devil or, as he's also called, Satan, even among those who believe in God and claim the Bible as the authoritative Word of God.

But the Bible doesn't share that skepticism. (Nor do I!) At another place in the New Testament, we're told: "Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour" (First Peter 5:8).

But how do we stand against a spiritual enemy we can't see?

The Christian believer who wants to remain faithful to Christ and rooted in "the strength of His power" (Ephesians 6:10) faces an even more difficult prospect than those who face guerilla fighters.

Though the guerilla doesn't wear a uniform and is able to blend into the populace to do his worst, he is a flesh and blood human being. He can be seen.

And, unlike the demons of hell, the guerilla can't enter the spiritual vacuums in minds and wills that we can create for the devil and his fallen angels to enter. (See Ephesians 4:27)

The death to which demonic adversaries can lure us is even worse than the death that a guerilla fighter or insurgent can infringe on someone; the death to which the demon can lure us is one into which we walk willingly. The devil entices us into the spiritual suicide that happens when we walk away from the God we know in Jesus Christ, the way, and the truth, and the life.

The difficulty in facing such an enemy is identified in our Bible lesson for this weekend:
For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12)
In my next pass, I really do hope to look at this weekend's lesson verse-by-verse, where we're told how we can resist evil and let God's goodness and power have priority in our lives.

Pray for Marcus' Return

I got my haircut yesterday and my barber asked me, "Where do you think Marcus is?"

Last night, Marcus was a topic of discussion at a meeting of the Clermont County Board for Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities, of which I'm a member.

We prayed for Marcus on Sunday during our worship service.

Marcus Fiesel is a developmentally delayed three year old who disappeared from a park not far from where I live on August 15. He was with his foster mother and several other foster children at the time, when the foster mother fainted, the result of a heart condition. When the foster mother awoke, she was in an emergency vehicle, heading for the hospital. Marcus was missing.

The story has gripped the entire metropolitan Cincinnati area.

As you can imagine, rumors are rampant. One man with whom I spoke recently said, "A lot of people think that the foster parents did something to Marcus. But I have an autistic child and I know how quickly such children can wander off. So, I just don't know what to think."

Extensive searches by the police, helped by citizen volunteers, employing GPS technology, have turned up zero clues.

My personal prayer is that a misguided person decided to take Marcus, is treating him well, and that soon, he will be found, unharmed.

It's a horrible situation! But the one postive to be observed in it all is that an entire metropolitan area cares so much about a single missing child.

May we care about all our children, even those in our midst.

Please pray for Marcus Fiesel's safe return.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006


But at least this happened, keeping the Reds just one game out of first place in the NL Central.

"I know music. I hear it every single day."

This apparently constitutes Paris Hilton's credentialing as a singer. Well, I've listened to music, too. But this isn't what I was doing when I endured some samples of Hilton's new CD on iTunes or when I listened to as much as I could stand of three whole songs on the project's web site.

In her defense, Hilton can carry a tune...sometimes. But she seems to have a...ahem...confined range. Billie Holliday she ain't.

One thing unconfined about the project is Hilton's willingness to trade on her reputation as sex object. ("Gonna lose my clothes...Gonna be exposed," she whispers on one track. Now, that's poetry!)

No amount of overproduction could make this CD good. But will it be a hit? Probably. After all, Paris Hilton has found a formula for success...being Paris Hilton.


Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Dylan Dismisses Modern Records with 'Sound All Over Them'

Bob Dylan tells Rolling Stone magazine:
"I don't know anybody who's made a record that sounds decent in the past 20 years, really...You listen to these modern records, they're atrocious, they have sound all over them..."
Ann Althouse cited Dylan's assessment of "modern records," setting off a typically Althousian discussion in the comments. I had to throw in my two cents:
"Sound all over them."

I think that it was Ralph Gleason who once described Dylan's music as "democratic art." By this he meant that lyrically, musically, and in terms of production, there was still room for the listener's imagination. With his often vague, but rich, lyrics and sparse musical arrangements, Dylan invites listeners to attach their own meanings to his songs.

Gleason's characterization of Dylan's approach fits with Dylan's "sound all over them" assessment of "modern records."

In spite of the many who have wanted to treat him like a deity, Dylan has never wanted to micromanage what people heard in his songs. In fact, he's always seemed to want the potential interpretations of them to be as many and varied as possible; the more different ways people can hear his music, the more people will likely want to hear it.

If the many interviewees--like Joan Baez--featured in Martin Scorcese's documentary on Dylan are to be believed, Dylan never was that committed to the politics with which his music was associated in the early-60s. And yet, many of the lyrics to those and later Dylan songs are broadly "political." That's probably all because of the room his songs gave us to hear...sometimes what we wanted to records [that] didn't have sound all over them.

It's no wonder then that Dylan is critical of recordings that are heavily produced and lyrically unimaginative and artlessly direct. They violate his sense of what should happen in and to a song.

Sparseness, vagueness, richness. These are the things this "song and dance man," as Dylan once jokingly called himself, has aimed to create. In approaching his music in this way, he has often been the musical equivalent of Greta Garbo, the person of mystery who never says exactly what he means--or does he?--but allows you to think that because you perceive what really means, you have a sort of exclusive Vulcan Mind Link with him. You co-create with Dylan in between his lines, in the holes of sparse arrangements.

In the things hinted at but unsaid and in the music implied but not played, Dylan invites you to entertain the notion that you too are an artist, that you too can poke fun at Mr. Jones for failing to get it.

Democratic art.
Of course, in his dismissal of "modern records," as on so many occasions, Dylan may simply be playing us all, suckering us into believing that he means more than he really does. Or something different, if in fact he means anything at all. Doing this sort of thing for decades, he's kept us listening and kept us talking about what he's singing. And of course, we've bought his records, which is after all, the point of making records.

"God is faithful in all the moments, no matter how big, or small, or seemingly insignificant"

That's Jan, in another great post.

Second Pass at This Weekend's Bible Lesson: Ephesians 6:10-20

[For a look at the first pass and an explanation of what this is all about, see here.]

Ephesians 6:10-20

A Few More General Comments
1. Either implicitly or overtly, most commentators organize the passage as follows:
vv.10-13: Opening with God's "command to take up God's weaponry against hostile spiritual powers"
vv.14-17: Linking "divine armor with virtues or gifts of salvation"
vv.18-20: Prayer
2. Walter Taylor sees the entire passage as being composed of seven exhortations. They're found in: 6:10; 6:11-12; 6:13; 6:14-16; 6:17; 6:18a; and 6:18b-20.

3. NIB points out that throughout this section, Paul--or whatever member of the Pauline school of Christianity authored this letter--harks back to themes explored in preceding chapters. This section particularly surfaces Christ's power, mentioned memorably at 12:19-21, and how that power is at work in our world today. (See 1:21; 2:2; 3:10) "His [Christ's] power provides the energy at work in believers and in the ministry of the imprisoned apostle (3:7)."

More later, I hope.

John Schroeder with Interesting Take on 'The Nature of Blogging'

He especially addresses what makes a Christian blog Christian. It isn't necessarily about whether one does devotionals or says, "Praise the Lord," says John. It's more about whether one's faith is evident in how people are treated and issues are tackled, even when disagreeing with other bloggers:
...there is lots of griping in some circles of Christian blogging that Hugh Hewitt is not a "real" Christian blogger because he writes about politics almost exclusively. I beg to differ...graciousness, kindness, and generosity...set Hugh apart as a Christian blogger among the leading polibloggers.

You want to redeem Christian blogging [?] generously, disagree kindly, never insult, make friends..., PRAY FOR OTHER CHRISTIAN BLOGGERS. These things will change our world...far more effectively than arguing about the correct exegesis of some obscure passage.
Amen. Read the whole thing.

By the way, Hugh Hewitt and I don't always agree on things. But I have found him to be unfailingly gracious to me, generous in linking to this blog and others, unapologetic about his Christian faith, and even when he disagrees with those he interviews on his radio show, polite and civil.

It would be wrong to describe Hugh's politics as Christian just as it would be incorrect to label the politics of Jim Wallis or Barry Lynn in the same way. God, I'm convinced, is neither a Republican or a Democrat, no matter how faithfully we may be in attempting to pray about and bring our Christian sensibilites to our politics.

But, allowing for the human imperfections we all bring to political discussions (and every other sort of discussion), I think it's fair to say that Hugh seeks to be a faithful Christian as he goes about his day as a radio host, author, lawprof, AND blogger.

But back to the main point here. (There is a main point here.) John has written something very important here.

Take It Easy

Pope Benedict XVI, the Associated Press reports, has warned people against overwork. According to the article:
During his traditional weekly appearance to bless the faithful, Benedict quoted from writings of St. Bernard in the 12th century meant for the popes of his time on the subject of overwork.

Benedict quoted the saint as advising pontiffs to "watch out for the dangers of an excessive activity, whatever ... the job that you hold, because many jobs often lead to the 'hardening of the heart,' as well as 'suffering of the spirit, loss of intelligence.'"

"That warning is valid for every kind of work, even those involved in the governing of the church," 79-year-old Benedict said.
Rest from work is commanded by the Bible itself. Taking breathers in order to recharge our spiritual and physical batteries, taking it easy and soaking up God's love for us by heeding His Word, is what lay behind the Third Commandment, discussed here.

I am Pumped!

It's tough not to be excited these days...

My Cincinnati Reds won against the Houston Astros last night, engaging in more late-inning heroics. After falling behind 3-0, the Reds rallied late, tying the game on a three-run homer by Rich Aurilia, before going ahead on Royce Clayton's RBI single.

Reds TV play-by-play announcer George Grand pointed out after the game that it was the twelfth game this year in which the Reds line-up went down on strikes ten times or more and still won the game, tied for tops in the NL in that category. The point is that the Reds have an explosive offense that can put a lot of runs on the board in a hurry, as they did against Pittsburgh on Saturday night...twice.

Now that general manager Wayne Krivsky and owner Bob Castellini have acquired pitching that, most days, can keep the Reds in ballgames, the team is starting to give its offense the support it has so long needed.

The win is the third in a row for the Reds, a team that's staying in the hunt for a post-season playoff berth by winning each individual series they play.

Meanwhile, the Boston Red Sox, aren't doing so well. While my baseball universe has always been pretty much the Reds and everybody else, among American League teams, I've long had a soft spot for the Red Sox.

But the team from Boston has taken a nosedive lately. The New York Yankees completed a five-game sweep of the Red Sox in Boston yesterday afternoon. As the ESPN networks pointed out last night, the loss climaxes a month-long skid that has seen Boston fall from first place in the AL East Division, three-and-a-half games ahead of the Yankees, to second place, six-and-a-half games behind New York. A ten game descent in one month's time!

If Boston can't win their division, it's unlikely that they could go to the playoffs as a Wild Card team. The Wild Card slot goes to the team with the team unable to win its division, but has the best win-loss record. Right now, several AL teams have a better shot at that berth than Boston.

While it's way too early to count the Red Sox out of post-season play, things look considerably grimmer today than they did five days ago, when they begam their series with New York.

Lotsa Stuff on Ephesians

Since this weekend's worship celebration at the congregation I serve as pastor, Friendship Lutheran Church--and lots of other churches--will focus on the summary peroration of the New Testament book of Ephesians, I thought that I'd share these posts. Many of the themes discussed in these posts come to play in the text for this week, Ephesians 6:10-20.

Changing Your World Through Amazing Grace
Changing Your World By Being a Disciple
Changing Your World Through Prayer
Sanctification: Growing Up to Be Like Christ
From Prime Time TV: An Unexpected Bible Lesson
Darkness Meets Light
Growing Up to Be Like Jesus
First Pass at Ephesians 2:1-10
Second Pass at Ephesians 2:1-10
What To Do on the Way from God to God
First Pass at Ephesians 1:3-14
Aiming for God's Aims for Our Lives
First Pass at Ephesians 2:11-22
Second Pass at Ephesians 2:11-22
We Have Peace
First Pass at Ephesians 3:14-21
Second Pass at Ephesians 3:14-21
Abundance Beyond Imagining
First Pass at Ephesians 4:1-16
Growing Up...Together
First Pass at Ephesians 4:25-5:2
Second Pass at Ephesians 4:25-5:2
Third Pass at Ephesians 4:25-5:2
Living a New Life
First Pass at Ephesians 5:15-20
Second Pass at Ephesians 5:15-20
Third Pass at Ephesians 5:15-20
How to Use a Life

Monday, August 21, 2006

First Pass at This Weekend's Bible Lesson: Ephesians 6:10-20

[Each week, I present as many updates on my reflections and study of the Biblical texts on which our weekend worship celebrations will be built as I can. The purpose is to help the people of the congregation I serve as pastor, Friendship Lutheran Church of Amelia, Ohio, get ready for worship. Hopefully, it's helpful to others as well, since most weekends, our Bible lesson is one from the weekly lectionary, variations of which are used in most of the churches of the world.]

This Weekend's Bible Lesson:
10Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. 11Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. 14Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. 15As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. 16With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints.

19Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, 20for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.

General Comments:
1. For basic information on Ephesians, see here.

2. This lesson is the rhetorical summarization of the book of Ephesians, which we've been looking at through much of this summer.

3. According to Ephesians 1:10, peace and reconciliation with God and oneness between God and His creation comes from the plan of salvation effected through Jesus Christ (see Ephesians 1:10). That peace includes the Body of Christ, as Ephesians describes the Church, Christ's eternal community of reconciliation already alive in a world darkened by evil. The rulers and powers discussed in this passage know about God's plan and attempt to destroy our peace with God. That's what lay behind this passage's exhortation to the Ephesian Christians--and to us--to cover ourselves in the power of God, protecting ourselves against "the wiles of the devil."

4. I love this summary of the passage by Chris Haslam:
The author now concludes his letter. Earlier, he has prayed that his readers may come to know the power of God operative in the resurrection and exaltation of Christ to heaven, and in his victory over the forces of evil. The Church participates in that victory; its members know something of this power in their conversion: a resurrection from a fatalism that viewed the world as continually declining towards evil.

Now the author tells them that they must learn to rely on that power: they are to equip themselves with “armour” (vv. 11, 13) provided by God, as they oppose not people (“blood and flesh”, v. 12) but the malevolent forces (“rulers ... authorities”) which control them. The metaphor of the soldier is from Isaiah; here he is girded with “truth” (v. 14) and integrity (“righteousness”); his “shoes” (v. 15) give him firmer footing for (paradoxically) proclaiming the “gospel of peace”. His faith will protect him against attack from the devil (“the evil one”, v. 16). He accepts “salvation” (v. 17). He has one offensive weapon, given to him by the Spirit, “the word of God”. Persistent prayer, prompted by the Spirit, is his aid in interceding for fellow Christians (“saints”, v. 18). In vv. 19-20, the author asks his readers to pray for him that he may be given a gift of the right words in telling of the “mystery”, God’s age-long purpose, now disclosed, to call both Jews and Gentiles to share in Christ’s saving action. Paul is (like) a prisoner awaiting trial (“in chains”) yet is able to tell the good news “boldly” and freely.
More on the passage and then, specific verse-by-verse comments later, I hope.

What My Beloved SAS Shoes Look Like


What a Crocs!: A Social History

I had seen Crocs before, of course.

I don't know when I first saw a pair of the brightly-colored clogs. But I do remember that the first people I saw wearing them were pre-teen girls less than a year ago. I figured that the shoes were some passing chintzy fashion accoutrement they picked up at Claire's. (I know all about Claire's because, dutiful dad that I am, I used to take my now twenty-one year old daughter to accessorize there when she was a tweener.)

But, when I underwent oral surgery--a gum tissue transplant--this June, I noticed that all my periodontist's female staff members (there are no males apart from the doctors there) wore uniforms of matching smocks, drawstring surgical slacks, and neon Crocs. "Are they comfortable?" I asked about the shoes, making small talk with one of the assistants as she ushered me to an examination room. "Oh, yeah!" she gushed.

I figured she must have been telling the truth. My observation is that usually, there's a direct corelation between the comfort of any article of clothing and its ugliness. For example, for years now, I've almost exclusively worn what I call "old man's shoes" from SAS. I keep a pair of black and a pair of brown for more "formal wear," as on Sunday mornings or for important meetings, and backup pairs of each color for daily use. (When new formal pairs are brought onstream, the shoes formerly designated for regular daily use are pressed into service as my "lawn mowing shoes.") I love my SAS footwear! But it isn't because the shoes are beautiful. It's because they're comfortable, the only valid reason I can think of for buying or wearing a pair of shoes! But my SAS shoes aren't nearly as ugly as Crocs.

After my oral surgery, I began noticing more and more women, especially those who work as sales floor clerks, nurses, teachers, and others who are on their feet a lot, wearing Crocs. Clearly, I concluded, the shoes had become a fad, like those huge purses with elaborate color prints you see women carrying these days.

But then, last night, I learned just how pervasive a fad the Crocs phenomenon has become. I saw the shoes in a completely new light, as hit items not just for medical personnel, teachers, or pre-teen girls any longer!

My wife and I went to nearby Mariemont to meet some friends for ice cream at a Graeter's Ice Cream parlor. While we stood on the sidewalk outside the shop, chatting, a family passed by us: Mom in traditional sandals, followed by two kids and Dad...the latter three all wearing Crocs.

And Dad's Crocs weren't in some subdued shade! This guy hadn't tentatively stuck his toe in the latest cultural wave, hadn't opted for what some guys might see as a sensible and unexceptionable hue, like brown or black. No! His Crocs were bright, screaming, flaming ORANGE!

Displaying my ignorance, I turned to my wife and our friends and said, "I never knew they made Crocs for men."

It was funny I mentioned that, one of our friends said, also a pastor. She and her husband--like her, another seminary classmate--had just been at a gathering of friends where one of the male guests had also worn a pair of Crocs. Another male present at the gathering had made a crack--a Croc crack?--about the shoes, intimating that the bold male Croc-wearer had swiped his daughter's footwear. "It was good-natured fun," our friend told us, "but you could tell the fellow who said it had been surprised to see a man wearing Crocs."

My education as to the extent of Crocs' acceptance was deepened just this morning. A friend and member of our congregation had outpatient gall bladder surgery. After we shared a prayer, she was rolled off to surgery and her husband and I, one of my best friends, awaited word from the surgeon about how things had gone.

After the surgery was completed, we were escorted to a consulting room where, moments later, the doctor walked through the door. He was a tall guy, surprisingly fit and certainly someone who, in earlier years, had played more than a few sports. Sitting down and crossing his legs, I couldn't help but guessed it: He was wearing a pair of Crocs! (In sensibly subdued dark blue, I might add.)

Once his briefing on my friend's successful surgery was completed, I had to ask the surgeon. "Are your shoes comfortable?" "Oh, yeah!" he gushed.

The evidence of the shoes' quick and pervasive rise to popularity is more than anecdotal, of course. Crocs, Inc., the company that produces the shoes, is making lots of money.

But Crocs do have their detractors. Some people say that it's easy to contract foot fungi from them. For example:
Shoes like Crocs earn high marks for having good arch support, especially compared to some summer favorites such as flip-flops, but the synthetic material of the shoes can cause some problems because they don't wick moisture away like leather and the friction between the foot and the plastic can also cause blisters.
Yet Crocs defenders can point to the same article detailing problems with the shoes with this:
...people [don't] have to give up the comfort and cool style of their Crocs.

For people who wear the shoes frequently, they need to wipe out the shoes with a bleach-based spray or wipe on a good shoe spray that is labeled for killing fungus.

"You don't have to submerge them," Christensen said.

To overcome the blisters, Christensen recommends spraying the feet with a light coating of antiperspirant/deodorant.

"The coating reduces the friction," Christensen said. "It can control sweat and odor, too."
I don't know. That seems like an awful lot of trouble to me. I just polish my SAS's every couple of months, the only maintenance they require other than replacing an occasional snapped shoestring.

I salute those men willing to emulate the male peacocks and cardinals, the more outlandishly colorful of their species, by slipping on screaming yellow Crocs, of course. And I'm glad that all those nurses, surgeons, teachers, and others have found a way to ease the burdens of their poor, aching feet. But I think I'll stick with my bland, extremely comfy--and nearly as ugly--shoes for now.

The jury is still out as to whether Crocs turn out to be like the PT Cruiser, a product which looked dorky, became wildly popular, and has remained a consumer fixture, or more on the order of the Pog phenomenon, which took off like a meteor and is now largely forgotten. One indicator of the shoes' long-term prospects may be this, though: When I had my first Crocs-sighting about a year ago, I never dreamed I'd be blogging about the things!

[More on Crocs here.]

[Thanks to Andrew Jackson of Smart Christian for linking to this post.]

[Here's the corporation's account of its remarkable success.]

Just Read What Juan Williams Has to Say

In today's Washington Post:
With 50 percent of Hispanic children and nearly 70 percent of black children born to single women today these young people too often come from fractured families where there is little time for parenting. Their search for identity and a sense of direction is undermined by a twisted popular culture that focuses on the "bling-bling" of fast money associated with famous basketball players, rap artists, drug dealers and the idea that women are at their best when flaunting their sexuality and having babies.
We must fill the void in kids's lives not with the lies the culture that Williams so eloquently describes, but one infused and empowered by the God Who makes every child and demonstrated His love for each one through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The crisis of identity that Williams sees in the lives of African-American children is seen in many ways throughout all of youth culture in America and should be a call to tough, loving ministry on the part of every church and community in our country.

Who will give our kids hope and a different way of life?

Who will challenge them to turn their backs on the cruise control, take-but-never give ethos being commended to them by so many of their cultural icons today?

See here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Murkowski Loss on Tuesday Would Certify This Year's Key Election Trend

The Washington Post reports that incumbent Alaska governor, Frank Murkowski, is at risk of losing his state's primary as he vies for re-election this coming Tuesday. The Post notes:
A defeat on Tuesday would make him the fourth incumbent to lose a primary election this month. On Aug. 8, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.), Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D-Ga.) and Rep. John J.H. "Joe" Schwarz (R-Mich.) were defeated in primaries. Murkowski, who has been running third in recent public polls, may be headed for the same fate.
In American primary elections, incumbents lose about as often as unopposed candidates for the Politburo used to be defeated in the late Soviet Union. So, this string of losses by incumbents is notable.

With a nod to the maxim, "all politics is local," one must acknowledge the peculiarities at play in each of the races where incumbents have lost--or may lose.

Nonetheless, one can see a trend among the American electorate, as well as the mood in which it's rooted.

The trend: A rejection of the usual suspects, be they Democrat or Republican. The mood: Full-scale, widespread anger with politicians for their seemingly governing life styles.

Probably both rightly and wrongly, Americans are ticked off at their government and the pols in charge, irrespective of their party, and they're finding ways to express their rage at the voting booth.

Whether all of this anger will devolve to the Democrats' advantage in November is still being decided. In the normal course of things, one would expect that a midterm election in the second term of a President's tenure, especially one coming after a period in which his party has enjoyed majorities in both houses of Congress, would go decisively against the incumbent's party. That may happen this year. But if it does, it will be apparently be accompanied by little enthusiasm, as polling shows that voter anger contains almost no impulse to turn to the Democrats for new ideas. Ideology will prove to be even less important in 2006 than in most elections.

My guess is that as the fall campaign season unfolds, the people in trouble will be incumbents or candidates representing the parties of incumbents.

The electorate's anger is going to make credible independent candidacies, such as those of Kinky Friedman and Carol Keeton Strayhorn in Texas, attractive to voters, whether those candidates win or not. If it weren't so prohibitively difficult for independent parties to get on ballots around the country, the current angry mood of the US electorate would possible result in a real apple cart-tilting election in November. As it is, candidates best able to articulate, harness, and express positively Americans' anger with politics-as-usual, as Ronald Reagan did, will have a real advantage.

But candidates who win on the basis of such voter impatience with the political process will have to deliver change...and quickly. Voters are unlikely to be very patient with pols who ride to office on a wave of discontent and then appear unable or unwilling to change the things they railed against when they were campaigning.

How to Use a Life

[This was shared with the people of Friendship Lutheran Church of Amelia, Ohio during worship celebrations on August 19 and 20, 2006.]

Ephesians 5:15-20
I never do three point sermons. Today I’ll be making three points. Here goes.

Christians may be aiming our lives for eternity, but the fact is that you and I live in a time-bound world. While we’re here, we have to put up with time. We have to put up with...
  • the sun setting on the last days of vacations spent with loved ones
  • deadlines on projects that aren’t as good as we want them to be
  • the test that comes tomorrow morning, whether we’re ready for it or not
  • 5:00 soccer practices and 7:00 piano recitals
  • creaking bones, graying heads, and death.
Time is a reality of this life and we must deal with it.

So, here’s a question for you: How are you spending your time?

I was once told about a seminar in which the participants were challenged to log how they’d used their time in fifteen minute increments during an entire day. If you had to make note of how you spent every fifteen minute segment of your day, what would it look like? What might it say about how you were spending your time?

Frankly, I’d be afraid to keep a log like that because I have such a penchant for goofing off, winding down one little rabbit trail after another until, lo and behold, it’s late into the night and time to go to bed. In fact, to tell you the truth, one of the reasons I’m such a nightowl is that I hate giving up on days which I fear I’ve wasted.

Our Bible lesson for today begins with the words, “Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil.”

Our lesson comes from the first century preacher Paul’s letter to the church in the Turkish city of Ephesus. It's taken specifically from a section of Ephesians in which Paul is contrasting two ways of living. One way is in light, the other is in darkness. Life in the light is about goodness, a right relationship with God, and building our lives on the true foundation of Jesus Christ. Darkness is the opposite of these.

Be careful, Paul is saying, not to cave into the foolishness of a life of darkness, away from Jesus Christ, away from forgiveness, and away from hope. In our lesson, Paul equates light with wisdom and darkness with foolishness. It’s all about where we place our lives each moment of every day, in the light or in the dark, on the wise path or on the foolish one.

If I had a bucket full of water here and I dunked a tissue into it, what would happen? No matter how absorbent the tissue was, it would eventually get swamped by all that water. Fluid mechanics tells us that “an object which sinks completely displaces an amount equal to its volume...” A similar kind of displacement can happen to us when we spend time in the darkness away from God. We can be swamped and sunk.

Recently, a RAND Corporation study was released on the relationship between the music kids had on their iPods and what they did sexually. The study showed that kids who spent time listening to music that saw men as sexual predators and women as mere objects were far more likely to have sex at an earlier age than kids with less of that music on their iPods.

I mentioned this study on my blog. (See here and here.) Someone wrote to me and said that these kids who had early sex probably had dysfunctional families. That's undoubtedly true! And the point is that if young people have no contact with affirming adults or more importantly, the God loving Who calls them worthy and lovable without having to prove themselves, they will chase after counterfeit love and intimacy. When there’s no light in our lives, we’ll spend time in the matter what our ages.

There’s a lot that’s evil in our world, of course. Wise people spend time in the light. That means, among other things, being available to God through prayer, worship, and love of neighbor. A man I knew seemed perpetually busy with a demanding job. And yet, he had the capacity to make every person he met feel that they were important. He never was too busy to stop and listen to someone who truly needed an ear. He put me to shame because he always carried a slip of paper in his shirt pocket. On it, he would write prayer requests from people he encountered during his day.

That man used his time wisely.
  • So does the busy executive or teacher who stops to pray for the people with whom they’ll be dealing that day.
  • Or, the student who makes the effort to memorize a passage of Scripture, allowing God’s truth and love to permeate their minds and wills.
  • Or, the parent who gets down on the floor to play a game with their child, knowing that the lawn may have to go un-mowed today.
  • Or, the neighbor, like one of my neighbors, who, knowing what a mechanical ignoramus I am, replaces an old doorknob on my front door and won't let me pay him for it.
Point one: Wise people spend time--they place their lives--in God’s light.

Paul switches metaphors in what comes next in our lesson. He says: “Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts...”

This isn’t about musical comedies or more seriously, teetotling. In an ultimate sense, it’s not even really about having an occasional drink. Once more, we’re dealing with displacement.

It’s about letting God be the source of your joy. “This is the day that the Lord has made,” the Psalmist writes, “Rejoice and be glad in it.” The Bible commends the high that comes to us when we regard each moment of our lives, even the troubled ones, as gifts from God
to be savored,
to be used for His glory,
to love others,
to mature in our faith and the call to self-giving and surrender, or
to learn about His amazing grace toward us.
This past week, I heard a report on the difficulty that US Customs officials are having in finding a technology that will allow them to detect dangerous substances in cargo shipped into our country. One official said that given the nature of the complicated gear that gets imported into the States, any detecting equipment is likely as not to give a “false positive,” labeling items that are safe as dangerous and vice versa.

There are some things in this life, like getting a buzz from booze, that can seem so good. But that’s a false positive. Let yourself instead be filled with God’s Holy Spirit, Paul says.

A few years after I’d come to faith in Christ, Ann and I were at a wedding reception with Ann’s mom. I was having a great time with some of the other guys from our church when I went to the rest room. Ann’s mother pulled her aside and said, “You’d better cut him off.” Ann laughed and told her, “He’s only been drinking Seven-Up’s all night!” Some people will confuse your behavior with drunkenness, I suppose, but when you’re filled with God’s Spirit, you’ll always be good to slip in behind the steering wheel of your car. Point two: When you wisely spend time in God’s light, joy will be its byproduct.

At the end of our lesson, Paul says that wise people spend their time, “ thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Six years ago, comedian Drew Carey was asked if he considered himself ambitious. “Now, yes,” he said. “But before, I always thought I was going to win the lottery or get lucky. I had no idea what I was going to do. Now I would never buy a lottery ticket--that would be like slapping God in the face.”

I really don’t think that Carey was talking about the relative advisability of buying a lottery ticket here. I think that he was talking about how you go through life. It’s so easy to try to float, to try to luck our way through living. But in a world often swamped by evil, people who take that route are more often than not drowned by evil, or by cares and hopelessness, and their lives devolve into irrelevance and what Henry David Thoreau called “quiet desperation.”

Christians don’t live by dumb luck or superstitions. They know the God Who, in Jesus’ death and resurrection, has proved Himself bigger than all the fears and sins that dog us, a God Who has entered our timebound world and given all with faith in Him freedom from the death sentence that our sins have placed on us.

Christians can live with intentionality, with purpose. We can make it our aim, as Paul puts it, to use our time and our lives to give thanks to God the Father for the new and never-ending lives we have through Jesus Christ. Point three: When you wisely spend time in God’s light, joy will be its byproduct and thankfulness will pour out of you all the time.

This past week, at the Athenaeum Library, where I go to study, I ran across a new book of sermons, Let Jesus Easter in Us, by Roman Catholic preacher Walter J. Burghardt.

I learned that he’s ninety-two and in his retirement years, travels the country as an advocate for Christian justice. At times, Burghardt speaks up for the nearly half-million US veterans who are homeless at some point in their lives. At others, he may be an advocate for the one-in-five American children who live in poverty. But he always speaks in the light of Jesus’ love for us all and there is a joy even in his most serious words. (He even has one sermon in which he speaks of the propriety, horror of horrors, of smiling during Lent!)

The point is that Burghardt wouldn’t have to travel the country speaking up for Christian justice. He’s ninety-two, for crying out loud! But he knows that Christians never retire from life. In fact, in Drew Carey’s words, it would be like slapping God in the face to do so.

Jesus’ people can make the most of their time in this often evil world. Jesus’ people live for Him from the Baptismal font to the grave...and beyond! That’s our call and our privilege.

Three points:
(1) The wise spend time in God’s light,
(2) Joy is the byproduct of that time, and
(3) Thankfulness comes from them because of the time they spend living with God, Who graciously loves and accepts them as they are.
How are you using your time?