Saturday, November 11, 2006

"Grace," Mormonism, and Mitt Romney

In a recent post, I pointed out that relative to the teachings of historic, Biblical, orthodox Christianity, Mormonism is a cult.

The term cult is admittedly loaded, conjuring up images of Jonestown and David Koresh. But the popular usage of that term isn't what I had in mind. The more proper term to describe Mormonism is probably heterodox from a Christian perspective.

Heterodox, which is an English transliteration of the Greek compound word meaning, basically to attempt to glorify God in a wrong way, is the opposite of orthodox. Orthodox means to glorify or honor rightly.

Christians believe that over a period of many thousands of years, to many hundreds of thousands of people under the prayerful guidance of God's Spirit, God has revealed Himself and His will for humanity. Christians also believe that God's ultimate self-disclosure came in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Mormonism claims to add something more to God's self-disclosure. There is no inherent reason why God can't disclose more of Himself, of course. But if one believes, as Mormon theology claims to believe, that God reveals Himself and His will for us in the Bible, one cannot also believe in the very different God, with a very different will for humanity, discussed in the Book of Mormon.

In contrast to the Judeo-Christian faith, Mormonism, like Islam, depends on the supposed communication of God with one man. In Mormonism's case, that one man was Joseph Smith; in Islam's, Mohammad. But Christians describe Mormonism, not Islam, as a cult because Mormonism claims to be Christian. Christians don't believe the faith claims of Islam. But Islam never claims to be Christian.

I bring all of this up because in that previous post, I said that three things indicate a heterodox cult from a Christian perspective:
  • 1. doesn't believe in salvation by grace;
  • 2. repudiates the deity of Christ; and
  • 3. repudiates the doctrine of the Trinity.
This engendered a predictable response from one reader:
How do you think that Mormonism does not use the word "grace" in the same sense as the Bible uses it? Mormonism claims that grace is not earned or deserved, but Christ gives it freely upon our obedience. Please address Heb 5:9.
Good question. The Mormon take on grace is, I'm afraid, both facile and, from a Biblical perspective, untrue.

The term grace translates the Greek New Testament word, charitas, from which we derive the term charity. This conveys the character of the word.

God's way of bridging the decimated relationship between Him and humanity has always been through grace, God's charity, and not the works of human beings. When, in the Old Testament, Abraham was made right with God--declared righteous, it wasn't because he was obedient, if by obedient one means in compliance with God's law. Abraham, like the rest of the human race, was never able to fully obey God's law.

Abraham's rightness with God--what the Bible calls righteousness, when applied to human beings means--was solely and totally a question of trust (faith). Abraham trusted God. God called Abraham righteous.
What then are we to say was gained by Abraham, our ancestor according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” Now to one who works, wages are not reckoned as a gift but as something due. But to one who without works trusts him who justifies the ungodly, such faith is reckoned as righteousness. So also David speaks of the blessedness of those to whom God reckons righteousness apart from works: “Blessed are those whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the one against whom the Lord will not reckon sin.” (Romans 4:1-8)
What was true of Abraham and his descendants as God revealed Himself to them is true for all humanity through Jesus Christ:
“no human being will be justified in his sight” by deeds prescribed by the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin. But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus. Then what becomes of boasting? It is excluded. By what law? By that of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law. (Romans 3:20-28)
How are we made right with God? By believing in--trusting in--Jesus Christ. What does it mean to obey God? To heed God's call to believe in Jesus Christ:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life." (John 3:16)

The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He then brought them out and asked, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" They replied, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household." (Acts 16:29-31)
Though it's true that I will want to conform to God's will once I've been saved from sin and death through Christ, my salvation has nothing to do with what I do. It has everything to do with what Christ has done for me on a cross and from an empty tomb.

Sadly, to say that grace is free as long as one is obedient to certain proscribed rules, which is what Mormomism says, is akin to saying, "Charity is free. But first you have to earn it."

And what of Hebrews 5:9? As we've explained, to obey Christ is to trust that He--and He alone--can free me from sin and death. Only Christ. Not my works. Not my "obedience" of God's law, which the Bible teaches none of us is capable of keeping perfectly anyway.

Christians will seek to be obedient to God, out of their gratitude for Christ. But, thank God, our salvation does not depend on our sin-limited capacity to be obedient.

Lest some readers get their stomachs in knots, remember that this discussion all began in the context of debate over the probable presidential candidacy of Mitt Romney. I have always held--and first expressed it on May 29, 2005, that there is no inherent reason to reject a Romney candidacy based on his being a Mormon.

But his faith is an issue insofar as it provides a window onto his worldview. To inquire into a candidates' worldview is not to create a religious test for their election to office. It is a way of understanding what their predispositions and predilections may be.

And it is likely to become an issue if rumors that the Romney campaign is asking Mormon churches for their mailing lists, deeming them fertile territory for fund-raising and volunteer recruitment, are true. I have always been opposed campaigns using churches or churches getting into bed with campaigns in this way. Christians shouldn't do it. Neither should Mormons.

It does bother me that Mormons aren't more forthright in admitting that their religion is not the same as Christianity. Such honesty from Mr. Romney would enhance his chances as a presidential candidate, engendering the respect of Christians willing to accept someone of another religion, but not a phony.

[Interesting: A thorough site called Utah Policy has linked to this post. UP has a sidebar category devoted to the candidacy of Mitt Romney. It's called, Mitt Romney Watch. Welcome to those readers.]

The Drive to the Other National Championship Has Begun

Ranked fourth in the country, Ohio State's Men's Basketball team beat Virginia Military Institute, 107-69, on Friday.

Being in my early elementary school years in the Lucas-Havlicek-Siegfried-Bowman era, I have always been a bigger Ohio State basketball fan than Ohio State football fan. Some of my fondest memories of childhood are of watching OSU basketball games with my dad as our team fought for Big 10 and national titles.

I'm even more excited about the basketball team vying for the national championship than I am about the football team doing the same.


The Drive to the National Championship...

continues today. After a lackluster 17 to 10 win over Illinois last week, the Buckeyes return to Illinois, this time to Evanston, to face off against Northwestern. Like the Illini, the Wildcats are an improving squad with fine talent. They have a particularly fine punt and kickoff return man.

Last week's performance, I think, was a wake-up call to the Buckeyes, who played a bit flat throughout the game. In the second half, Illinois' run defense played well, preventing the Buckeyes from firing on all cylinders.

I believe that the Buckeyes will do well this day, however, setting up a huge game against that team from up north on November 18. The Buckeyes will have to work hard to remain focused on the game at hand, something Tressel-coached teams seem able to do.

(Go here for a sampling of the Columbus Dispatch's great Buckeye coverage from the past week.)


Friday, November 10, 2006

Althouse Subjects Herself to Blogotherapy

She admits to being "depressed about the election." Why? See here.

How do you feel about the election? (At the preceding hyperlink, click on Feelings.) Okay, now go hug somebody. Don't you feel better?

Seriously, unless somebody like a Hitler won an election, I see no reason to be depressed, irrespective of one's politics or what the results may show about the electorate's moods or resolve.

Life goes on, as does one's ability to express one's opinion. There have been many times through the years when I have questioned the judgment of the American people in their voting. But one thing that being a student of history has shown me is how often US voters seem to have gotten it right.

I frankly believe that President Bush feels a certain sense of liberation as a result of Tuesday's vote, though I also agree with blogger Deborah White, that losing the Senate was less liberating for Mr. Bush than losing the House.

But, no matter your views, in America, where the transfer of power is peaceful and minority opinions can become majority opinions, I see no reason for being depressed over the results of an election.

I wasn't depressed even when I lost a primary election two years ago:
Clermont County Ohio
Primary Election '04

Rep - State Representative 66th Dist., Vote For: 1
Joseph Uecker 40.26%
Don Donohoo Sr 22.42%
Carl Dorsch 20.27%
Mark Daniels 12.90%
Jeffrey A. Hardin 4.15%

Second Pass at This Weekend's Bible Lesson: Mark 12:38-44

[To see the first pass, where I also explain what these "passes" are all about, go here.]

Verse-by-Verse Comments:
38As he taught, he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, 39and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets!
(1) As I've indicated time and again in these "passes," the context--I should say contexts, whether historical, cultural, theological, or within the particular Biblical book, can be critical in understanding a specific passage of Scripture. In the first pass, I pointed out that this lesson comes immediately after a confrontation/conversation Jesus has with a scribe which was the last time any of their number dared to ask Him a question.

It was clear from that confrontation that Jesus understood God's Word as presented in the Old Testament. They couldn't hope to trip Jesus up for deficient or heretical teaching. Instead, they would, with other religious elites, resort to political manipulation to have the Roman occupiers of Judea kill Jesus.

Jesus fuels this fire by emphatically condemning the scribes. They--or at least some in Jerusalem, apparently--were motivated not by a love for God and neighbor, a desire to explain His word in accessible terms, or with the aim of helping people experience the liberation that comes from a relationship with God. Rather, they liked being seen "in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets." Any follower of the God revealed to the Old Testament people and ultimately seen in Jesus Christ is, above all, a servant. And those called to be leaders within God's servant community are called to be servants of servants. The scribes Jesus condemns were far from being servants!

(2) Who were the scribes? The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible (IDB) says that:
The original scribe, or sopher, was a person able to "cipher" (saphar), and from this came the meaning of "secretary" or "scribe." At [Jeremiah] 36:26, the term is applied to an official who had charge of legal documents, such as deeds of purchase...and who had a special chamber in the royal palace...At II Kings 22:3ff, Shaphan the scribe appears to have been a kind of minister of finance...

There was another class [of scribes, in this Old Testament period], however...this was the priestly caste, the first specialists in, and guardians of the [Biblical] law...[these] spiritual ancestors of the scribes of later Judaism [in other words, of first-century Judea where Jesus lived] were the pre-exilic priestly exponents of the law...
It was when the Greeks ruled Judea:
that an influential group of lay scribes succeeded in forming a popular, democratic political party...[which included representation from the Pharisees]...
IDB goes on to say that references to the scribes in the four Gospels and in Acts in the New Testament: clearly that they [the scribes] represented [by Jesus' time] a distinctive class in the community. They practiced their legal profession throughout Palestine...
They were associated with the Pharisees, apparently employing their expertise in the law to maintain religious and legal dominion over others. They also were active members of the Sanhedrin, the ruling council of the Jewish faith that would play the major role in having Jesus executed.

The scribes, like their Pharisaic allies, basically saw religious faith as a set of legal transactions. They were backers of the religious status quo and, according to Jesus, at least some of them used their knowledge and status to make themselves wealthy at others' expense.

It should be pointed out that not all scribes were evil, as the earlier encounter Jesus had with one in Mark 12, underscores. Gamaliel was part of an apparently rather large group--a scribe who was also a Pharisee, who counseled his fellow members of the Sanhedrin to not go after the Christians, believing that persecution would give them credibility among the masses and that if the Christian movement grew in the face of being benignly ignored by the powerful, it would prove to be a movement from God. (Gamaliel was the rabbi/mentor of a student who would prove to be sort of important to Christians, Saul of Tarsus, who later changed his name to Paul.)

40They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”
(1) The cynics, exponents of a particular brand of Greek philosophy, apparently saw similar practices among a group like the scribes operating in the religious-cultural world of the Greeks. In every religion, in every time and place, there is a class of people prone to fleecing the innocent, who like to look innocent and devoid of fault.

41He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums.
(1) Having set up the object lesson He is about to present, Jesus stations Himself close to one of the offering receptacles set up around the Temple. One such receptacle was the place to leave their tithes, the most basic offering all the faithful were expected to leave. A tithe amounts to the first 10% of one's income. No believer was to give any less than that. And the tithe was never to be the leftovers of one's income. The 10% was to be set aside first. According to the Old Testament book of Genesis, the first murder occurred after Cain, who had given God his leftovers, noted that his brother Abel had pleased God by giving his offering off the top. Resentful, Cain killed Abel.

(2) There were a number of other receptacles, the offerings in which supported other ministries: people in need and such.

(3) The rich are putting in big sums. But wonders how much they're really putting in, relative to their incomes, and whether they're giving their leftovers.

42A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny.
(1) Is this one of the widows whose living is devoured by the scheming or even by the teaching of the scribes? Is this woman's living being devoured because of a religion of obligation? We all are called to give our whole lives to the God we know in Jesus Christ. That's an appropriate response to the grace of God.

But with her sacrificial gift, isn't she the victim of scribes? Haven't the scribes effectually perpetrated a grave injustice against her?

The scribes have the capacity to be helpful to the poor--and because they had virtually no property rights, widows, as was true of this one, were almost always poor.

The scribes could have dumped a lot more money into the receptacles earmarked for the poor, with no harm to their own finances. That widow might have been helped through their offerings. Instead, the scribes give their leftovers and the widow faced almost certain death. She was faithful, to be sure. But were it not for the greed of the scribes into self-glorifying greed rather than godly faith, she would not have put her life on the line!

43Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. 44For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”
(1) There is, as I suggested in my first pass, a lament in this. Jesus laments legalistic religion. He laments the lack of generous love that consigns this woman to apparently certain death...or, to perhaps the only viable option for widows those days, prostitution.

(2) Versions of this sort of tale and the teaching Jesus gives are found in the literature of the ancient Greeks and of the Buddhists, among others.

This points to an important element of Christians' understanding of Jesus: What makes Jesus important and unique is not what He taught. The Bible makes clear that the truth about God and about life is plain to everybody, no matter how we may try to deny it. God's law--His will--that we love God and love neighbor is written on every human heart. (That's why I find the recent discussion of a biological basis for human moral codes so fascinating.)

But the Bible teaches that we are incapable of keeping God's law because of our fall into sin, our common, inborn condition, a condition of alienation from God, from others, and from ourselves. Jesus gives Himself on the cross, dying in our places, bearing our punishment so that all who renounce their sin and believe in Him see the walls brought down and have life with God forever.

What makes Jesus important and unique is not what He taught, but what He did.

What makes Jesus important and unique is that, unlike any other person to walk this planet, Jesus kept the law written on all of our hearts.

And what also makes Jesus important and unique is that He was not just a man, but also God.

With the sacrifice of her whole living, the widow, in this incident recorded by Mark just before Jesus' sacrificial death on a cross, foreshadows and showcases Christ's offering of Himself.

The scribes demanded that others adhere to a religion of law; Christ gives Himself so that we can be ushered into His Kingdom of grace.

I'll see you in worship on Saturday or Sunday.

Who Will Be TIME'S Person of the Year?

Back on July 1, I ruminated on who would be named TIME's Person of the Year if the magazine had been forced to make its choice based on just the first six moths of the year. The criteria for naming the POY are a bit nebulous and changeable, in spite of the succinct statement the magazine tries to make about them each year. The selection is the person who, for good or ill, appears to have had the greatest influence or is most in sync with prevailing, important trends in the year ending.

In the past, TIME has felt free to be creative its choices. One year, the computer was named Machine of the Year. The American military has been named Persons of the Year and one year, notable for the strides toward equality made by women, the magazine spoke of all women--at least in the US and other western democracies--as Persons of the Year. Despots, simply because of the long shadows they cast over the globe, have, at times, received the tag.

Midyear, 2006, I presented a list of possible POYs that included Warren Buffet, Patrick Fitzgerald, Al Gore, Rick Warren, George W. Bush, Katie Couric, Gnarls Barkley, and Pope Benedict XVI.

In a later update, I hesitantly added two "tyrannical tots: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, president of Iran, and Kim Jong Il, president of North Korea," who, like Hitler and Stalin before them, were casting dark shadows over the world. In the more creative--and I think, easily defensible, vein, I also added two rising economic giants, India and China. If you want to see the rationale I offered for each of those POY candidates, go here.

The funny thing is that, a little more than five months later, few of those candidates look credible.
  • Al Gore seems to have found his stride as a private citizen, but the inconvenient truth is that he still hasn't convinced enough of the country of the severity of global warming.
  • The two Warrens--Buffet and Rick--wield enormous influence over millions of people in different ways, but the influence of each is more of the long-term variety, perhaps immeasurable.
  • Fitzgerald is a dedicated prosecutor, but the jury is still out on his impact on us all.
  • As to President Bush, two words: November 7.
  • Two words also for Couric: low ratings.
  • Gnarls Barkley have proved to be popular on both sides of the Atlantic and will likely have sustained careers, but have thus far not registered very high on the Rochter scale.
  • Ditto, in a way, for the Pope...although one wonders, at his age, how sustained his career will be.
Ahmadinejad and Kim Jong Il still loom as malevolent characters, maintaining their candidacies for POY. And, I think, China and India still could be credibly named Economic Powers of the Year.

A new list is obviously required. But, racking my brain, I can think of only one additional candidate. Ladies and gentlement, I present to you Nancy Pelosi. (Remember, you conservatives wretching at your keyboards right now, the criteria states that the POY "is the person who, for good or ill, appears to have had the greatest influence or is most in sync with prevailing, important trends in the year ending.")

President Bush yesterday accurately said that Pelosi and her Democratic colleagues had administered a "thumpin'" to him and his fellow Republicans. (Thumpin' has been a favorite word around our house for years, by the way.)

Pelosi, leader of Democrats in the House of Representatives, imposed a much-needed and--for Democrats--countercultural, discipline on her colleagues several years back. She also worked with Democratic House campaign leader Rahm Emanuel to enlist moderates and Iraq War veterans to run and win under their party's banner, presenting a different face to the public. All this in spite of her undeniable credentials as a classic liberal Democrat.

On top of that, Pelosi, at year's end is poised to become the first female and first Italian-American Speaker of the House. Given that, as in elections and college basketball rankings, last minute surges give POY candidates the advantage, Pelosi has to be counted as the frontrunner.

As I perfunctorily scan the Arts, the international arena, sports, and academia, I can't come up with any other viable candidates for POY. It's Pelosi, the tyrannical tots, or the emerging economic colossi, India and China.

Of course, as I pointed out in my post in July:
...the very notion of a Person of the Year (called Man of the Year until a short time ago, reflecting, no doubt, our thankfully and belatedly progressing attitudes about the equality of the genders) is an anomaly, a vestige from the past. Much of the history of History as a discipline has been marked by the belief that great people make history and that the rest of the residents of the planet at any given time are also-rans.

Fortunately the ablest students and teachers of History understand that the "great people" usually reflect their times or are part of a cast of millions (now billions) who change the flow of the human story. Yet the prominent often do play special roles as our collective representatives or as catalysts of change.
Given those obvious limits and needed clarifications, not to mention the fact that such selections are inherently subjective, who do you offer as candidates for TIME'S Person of the Year?

[THANKS TO: Joe Gandelman at The Moderate Voice for linking to this post.]

[THANKS ALSO TO: Adam at A List of Things Thrown Five Minutes Ago for including a link to this post with his ideas on this subject. AND THANKS ALSO GO TO: Terry Hull of Terra Extraneous for linking here. I appreciate it all very much!]

Is it room service's fault...

that Dibert creator Scott Adams had an anger-inciting confrontation with an angry woman bent on venting her anger? Maybe. Go read Adams' post. It's hilarious!

Thanks to one of my favorite bloggers, Pastor Jeff, for alerting his readers--including me--of Adams' blog.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Has the Real Bush Been Liberated by Midterm Defeat?

Of President Bush's day-after-the-election-thumping, my blogging buddy Rick Moore writes:
"The President sounded like he's going to go where the Dems lead him, at least initially. That's not good for anybody."
What's funny is that in watching some of the news conference when it was replayed on C-Span last night, I had an entirely different reaction.

I thought that Bush sounded more presidential and more his own man than I'd ever heard him before.

The thought I immediately had was, "He's been liberated by defeat. This seems like the real Bush."

My guess is that the President feels that an overreliance on his handlers, whatever their portfolio, has gotten him low approval ratings and Democratic majorities in the House and the Senate, among other things. Yesterday, I sensed him saying, "It's my presidency. I'll hold fast on principle and I'll give on specifics." That's what good leaders do.

In fact, because of that press conference, I haven't had as much respect for Bush as a leader since he stood on the pile of rubble with that New York firefighter days after the 9/11 attacks. This isn't a policy statement. I neither endorse or lambaste people's politics around least I try not to do so. It's an observation of someone who's into history and leadership.

Unless I totally miss my bet, the real Bush is about to bloom. He'll shock and surprise, but I think he's intent on getting some things done...even with Democrats.


So writes Scotwise today. (Or, since he's in Australia, tomorrow.) Go to Scotwise's site each day. It's a great gloom-eliminator.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The Decider Decides Rumsfeld Must Go

When I predicted last night that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld would be gone within a few weeks, I had no idea how soon he would be going.

But the writing was on the wall. When Senator John Warner, the GOP's grey eminence on military matters in the Senate, came back from Iraq declaring that a new approach was needed, it was clear that things would change at the Pentagon soon.

It's tempting to draw an analogy between this Texas President's replacement of his Secretary of Defense and the move of another President from Texas, Lyndon Johnson, when in 1968, he replaced Defense Secretary Robert McNamara with old Washington hand Clark Clifford. Clifford, respected as a solid guy with credibility and no desire to call attention to himself, was charged with enacting a new policy that might extricate the US from the War in Vietnam.

But the analogy breaks down when one remembers that Johnson tapped Clifford in the waning months of his administration, just weeks before LBJ took himself out of the running for re-election and after his seemingly boundless energy and once-endless capacity for hope had burned out. President George W. Bush still has two-plus years left in his presidency and has hopes of going out on a high note.

There is little doubt in my mind that Secretary of Defense-designate Robert Gates has been given a task similar to Clifford's, though. For weeks, President Bush's tweaking with the meaning of the phrase, stay the course, has indicated changes in tactics and strategy in Iraq were in the offing.

Unlike Clifford, who, as I recall, began his tenure at Defense with no particular plan, only a mandate, Gates may already have a blueprint for turning repsonsibility for the security of the country over to the Iraqi government. The fact that he has been serving on the congressionally-appointed Baker-Hamilton commission, charged with looking into alternative exit strategies from Iraq, may indicate that. Tonight on the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, the usually savvy David Brooks denigrated the frequency with which members of the Administration and Congress talk about new policy recommendations likely to be laid out by the commission. There is nothing new to be said, Brooks asserted, and all that's left is a set of unattractive and difficult options which everybody can see with or without a commission.

All that's true. But it misses the point.

The Baker-Hamilton commission gives the White House and the Congress a classic out. Washington elected officials love receiving tough recommendations from non-elected heavyweight commissions. It gives them cover and justification for taking tough decisions which they might not otherwise find politic to take.

No doubt both the President and Congressional leaders have been kept apprised of the deliberations of the commission.

Who better to implement them than a respected member of that group like Robert Gates?

The nomination of Gates is interesting for another reason. For much of the past five years, the civilian leadership of the Pentagon and certain folks in the White House, anonymously, have painted our intelligence services as hapless twits who have routinely gotten things wrong. (This is something I've never seen attributed to our general officers, by the way.) Now, the Defense Department will be headed by someone whose background is in intelligence.

The departure of Rumsfeld is what I thought would be the first step in a major shift in US policy in Iraq. I just didn't think that it would come so soon. But I guess it should have been expected from a President who calls himself, "the decider."

[This was cross-posted at]

A Book Worthy of a Place in Your Library...and a Great Gift Idea!

My mentor, friend, colleague, and one-time parishioner, Ron Claussen, has written and published a book of devotions called What? God...You Want Me To Do Something?

Back when I was a new pastor, called to serve a church in northwestern Ohio twenty-one years ago, God blessed me big time: Ron was serving a neighboring parish composed of two congregations, each about three miles from me. The day after I arrived on the scene, he visted me and gave me the best advice on being a pastor I've ever heard. "Love the people," he told me.

Whenever I was disappointed that I wasn't proving to be the Lutheran version of Billy Graham, packing them in Sunday after Sunday, or when the grey winter skies, so prominent on the flat farmland that surrounded us, brought me down, my wife co-conspired with Ron. She called him and said, "Ron, it's time" and unaware of their conspiracy and amazed by his providential timing, I received a call from Ron, who asked, "Want to go out to lunch today?" Because of his listening ear and his solid Biblical counsel, I always felt better after those lunches!

The area where we served in northwestern Ohio included the most-heavily Lutheran county in the United States, Henry County. (The building facilities of the church where I served as pastor, Bethlehem Lutheran Church of Okolona, Ohio, set on the line between Henry and Defiance Counties.) We used to joke that you couldn't spit without hitting a Lutheran there and Lutheran church buildings dotted every hamlet and just about every other country road. Each congregation was close to being packed to the rafters on Sunday mornings. Because there were such strong ties among those churches and because unlike the rest of us, Ron had taken the time to figure out how everyone in a four-county area was related to each other, he was known and beloved by every member of every one of those churches. We pastors thought of Ron as our "bishop" and of ourselves as his assistants.

But it wasn't just the Lutherans who sensed the powerful presence of Christ and His love in Ron. Congregations of several different denominations facing pastoral vacancies harbored the hope that maybe they could cajole Ron into becoming their pastor. He also had an easy way of relating to non-believing people, an authentically friendly manner that earned their confidence and their trust.

When he became development director for the Filling Memorial Home of Mercy in Napoleon, Ohio, a Lutheran facility for severely and profoundly mentally retarded children and adults, churches and individuals from throughout our area became more deeply involved in volunteering and financially supporting the institution. On a bigger stage, Ron shared Christ's love and "loved the people." They, in turn, saw the Filling Home as a great way to share the love of Christ with those in need and, at the same time, support the ministry of a pastor they had come to revere. (One of the auxiliary blessings that flowed from Ron going to the Filling Home is that he and his wife and family joined the congregation I served as pastor!)

Ron has retired and now confined to a wheelchair as the result of being victimized by polio back in 1952, he still is loving the people. He has an active email ministry and has, as I've mentioned, written and published What? God...You Want Me To Do Something?

I heartily recommend What? God...You Want Me To Do Something? for you to help you grow in your life of faith. It's composed of 52 weekly devotional pieces that each conclude with a challenge to the reader to compose their plans for living the devotion over that seven day period. The devotions, in other words, are a lot like Ron: A terrific communicator of the Good News of Jesus Christ, his life has always nonetheless been his greatest witness.

With Christmas on its way, think of all the people in your family who could use this wonderful book. Ron reports that some folks have purchased it to send to loved ones serving in Iraq, a great idea!

Getting your own copy of Ron's book will be a bit of a challenge. You can't, unfortunately, order it from Amazon. But the effort you take will be worth it. Here's how to get it:

(1) If you live outside of Ohio, send a check for $13.75 to Ramblings from Ron Ministries. (That's $12.00 plus shipping and handling.)

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(4) For every additional book, add 50-cents to cover shipping and handling.

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First Pass at This Weekend's Bible Lesson: Mark 12:38-44 (A Lament Over Religious Injustice?)

[Most weeks, 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 our Bible lesson is usually one from the weekly lectionary, variations of which are used in most of the churches of the world.]

The Bible Lesson: Mark 12:38-44
38As he taught, he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, 39and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! 40They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”

41He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. 42A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. 43Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. 44For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

General Comments
1. I was at first hesitant about preaching on this lectionary text this coming weekend because the Sunday after, November 19, brings a critical Consecration Sunday to our congregation. I didn't want to be in the position of beating people over the head about giving. I don't like such harangues and, because I try to do unto others as I would have them do unto me, I try to avoid being a haranguer!

My discomfort had to with how I have always seen this text. My view--the traditional one--has always been that Jesus is here extolling the virtue of giving all your money away until there was nothing left to live on.

But Biblical scholarship has impressed upon me the possibility that a different interpretation is possible, even probable. What happens in vv. 38-40 is the context for Jesus' teaching in vv. 41-44.

In the earlier verses, Jesus condemns worldly, money-grubbing, prestige-loving scribes who devour the households--literally the houses--of widows. (More detail on that when I do the verse-by-verse comments later, hopefully tomorrow.)

In the latter verses, Jesus points to scribes ceremoniously filling the coffers of the Temple treasury from the leavings of their wealth while a widow puts in all she has. In the Greek of the New Testament, the word Jesus uses of the two coins the widow puts into the treasury is her bios, her life.

But let me ask you a question: Do you think a loving God would ask a poor widow to sign over her last penny to the Church? As I've thought about it this week, that surely doesn't conform to the picture of God we see portrayed in the Bible or as we see Him in Jesus.

No, says Biblical scholar Joseph Fitzmyer writing in a commentary on the almost-identical account of these events in the Gospel of Luke (Luke 20:45-21:4):
In the broad context of...[the Gospel of Mark, which Fitzmyer believes Luke used as the source for his telling of the incident in our Bible lesson] the episode, when it is normally understood as a comment of praise from Jesus, creates a problem. This arises from Jesus' statement about Corban in Mark 7:10-13. There he is remembered as having said that human needs take precedence over religious values, when they conflict. Compare further his words about healings on the Sabbath (e.g. 3:1-5). Given such a reaction of Jesus in other parts of [Mark]...would...Jesus become enthusiastic about and praise the widow's contribution, when it involves "all that she had to live on"? The Corban-saying seems to set limits to the interpretation of Jesus' words in this episode.

In the immediate context of both...[Mark and Luke]..., moreover, Jesus has condemned the Scribes who devour the estates of widows. Now he comments: This widow has put in everything that she had, her whole livelihood or subsistence. "Her religious thinking has accomplished the very thing that the scribes were accused of doing" (A.G. Wright, "The Widow's Mites," 262). In the preceding episode Jesus was displeased with what the Scribes were doing to widows' estates; here he is no more pleased with what he sees. He heaps no praise on the widow, but rather laments the tragedy of the day: "She has been taught and encouraged by religious leaders to donate as she does, and Jesus condemns the value system that motivates her action"...In short, Jesus' comment contains words of lament, not praise. [bold italics my addition]
2. Jesus is therefore condemning a fat-cat religious elite who shame the poor into giving all that they have to the Temple (or the Church!) while they only give God their leftovers and live high on the hog. Shame has no place in the Kingdom of grace God has ushered in through Jesus Christ. Institutions that shame us into giving aren't speaking for God and don't deserve our support.

It also underscores Jesus' call for Christians to live with a commitment to justice. Biblical justice, as Father Walter Burghardt preaches constantly, goes beyond legal notions of justice, which involves getting what we deserve, or philosophical ones that discuss fairness. Those are valuable ideas. But God ties Biblical justice with the call and the command to love God, love neighbor, and to treat the world with the respect that any gift from God warrants.

Biblical justice, thank God has nothing to do with what we deserve. After all, I deserve only condemnation. Biblical justice has to do with loving others as we have been loved by God in Jesus Christ! The scribes were unjust because they were totally unloving toward the destitute around them. They lived well and gave no thought to how they might ease the burdens--spiritual, material, and financial--of people like the widow, who gave out of a sense of obligation created by the scribes' legalistic, un-Biblical theology.

Jesus laments this horrible state of affairs. To the extent we foster it in our churches, we should lament it too!

3. One note about context: Jesus notes that most scribes don't really understand the central command of God embodied in the Scriptures they supposedly know so thoroughly: to love God and love neighbor (Mark 12:28-34). (It should be pointed out though, that even in Mark 12:28-34, we meet a scribe who does understand that this community of love is central to God's identity and will. Jesus' words in our lesson speak of scribes apparently prevalent around Jerusalem.) Then in Mark 12:35-37, Jesus speaks of how, often, the masses get it, but not the religious elites represented by the scribes. You can see how this sets up what happens in our lesson.

Immediately following our lesson comes an extended bit of apocalyptic teaching by Jesus (chapter 13), followed by Jesus' passion (chapters 14 and 15). The New Interpreter's Bible (and others) suggest that the widow, appearing just before Jesus' crucifixion, is a type of Christ. Like the widow--only in His case, in an ultimate sense--Christ will give His life for the sins of others.

One difference between the widow and Christ, among others, of course, is that He gives His life--His bios--knowingly. The widow was duped. In our lesson, as in other places, Jesus condemns charlatans who employ religion to get others to make sacrifices which they themselves don't even think of entertaining: A widow can go to the poor house while their freezers are stocked with filet mignons and caviar.

Obviously, there are implications in this for our congregation--and others--as we ask people to give their time, talent, and treasure to the mission of the Church and to charitable needs in the world.

I hope to do a verse-by-verse look at this passage tomorrow. Please pray that I prepare a faithful message on this lesson.

This Spin Has Me Spinning

Hugh Hewitt asserts that the main loser from yesterday's GOP debacle was John McCain. That's putting the spin cycle into overdrive. It wasn't John McCain's brand of conservative Republicanism that was repudiated yesterday. It was President Bush's policies that were rejected, a fact that must be acknowledged whether you like the President and his policies or not.

I know that you favor Mitt Romney for the GOP nomination in '08, friend Hugh. But you can't credibly pin the blame on McCain for what happened yesterday.

And speaking of Romney, effective governors are usually able to see their party's nominee succeed them in office. (It happened in Florida, where Jeb Bush campaigned for his Republican successor, for example.) Romney worked hard for the Republican nominee in his state. Yet, for the first time since 1990, a Democrat will hold that office in Massachusetts. Is it fair to blame Romney for that loss? Probably not. But it's even less fair--and frankly, silly--to blame McCain for George Bush's loss yesterday.

Mike DeWine lost yesterday by and large, not, as Hugh suggests, because he was a member of the Gang of Fourteen, the seven Democrats and seven Republicans whose accord allowed two Bush nominees to be seated on the Supreme Court without filibuster or bruising hearings, but because Ohio voters associated DeWine with President Bush. Granted, DeWine did not have the support of some of the Religious Right who supported GOP gubernatorial candidate Ken Blackwell. The result of that is that DeWine lost by a much smaller margin than did Blackwell. No doubt partly because Blackwell was so in the pocket of the Religious Right, a majority of Protestants and Catholics backed Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ted Strickland here in Ohio.

Who should be the Republican nominee in 2008? I don't know and I would never express a preference for who the nominee of either party should be anyway. But today isn't the day for's a day instead, for learning.

[This was cross-posted at]

[UPDATE: A commenter over at RedBlue wondered how I could accuse Hugh of dishonesty without proof. I haven't accused Hugh of being dishonest. I think that he's got a slant on things based on his dislike of John McCain and his support of Mitt Romney. His spin on this appears to be the result of wishful thinking.]

Some Implications of Election Results in Ohio (5:34 AM, the day after the election)

Ohioans were interestingly targeted and nuanced in their voting yesterday. They appear to have known exactly what they wanted to say when they completed their ballots.

Their wrath against Republicans was mostly directed at those running for statewide office. Until last night, Ohio had no statewide Republican officeholders except for a majority of those sitting on the State Supreme Court, an ostensibly nonpartisan body and hadn't had any Dems in such positions since 1990. Among newly elected state executive officers, only one--the new state auditor--is a Republican.

But losing GOP gubernatorial candidate Ken Blackwell was wrong to say in his concession speech last night that he and other Republican candidates for statewide offices were swept along by a tide that had died since 1994--the year Republicans took control of the US House of Representatives, ushering in what many in the GOP thought would be a permanent majority in Washington. Washington trends had little to do with Ohio's election yesterday.

Except for the successful Democratic candidate for the US Senate, Sherrod Brown, Dem candidates for statewide office won because voters were sick of the corruption that appeared to have taken hold within the executive branch offices held by Republicans. (Brown's win was driven by two other--national--issues: the economy and the war in Iraq. And Blackwell probably would have lost even without the State House scandals. It should be said that neither Blackwell or Betty Montgomery, the state auditor running for attorney general who supplied most of the evidence in the Coingate scandal, were either implicated in any wrongdoing. But the scandals no doubt played a part in their losses yesterday.)

But, the national trend toward Democratic officeholders does not explain the drubbing Ohio voters administered to Republicans yesterday

Proof of that can be seen in that while electing a new Democratic governor and other Democrats to executive positions in Columbus, voters returned Republican majorities to both houses of the General Assembly, our state legislature. And, except for indicted Bob Ney's old congressional district, where the Republican nominee lost, Ohio's congressional delegation will remain unchanged--and mostly Republican--despite several hotly contested and ultimately close races.

The implications of yesterday's elections for Governor-Elect Ted Strickland, an ordained Methodist minister and a graduate of one of the finest evangelical institutions in the country, are similar to those for President Bush. (That's Strickland pictured above.) Mr. Strickland, like Mr. Bush, will be dealing with a legislative branch in the hands of the opposition party. As in Washington, to get anything done in Columbus, the chief executive and legislative leaders will have to work together.

In both Columbus and Washington, I expect there to be decided moves toward bipartisan cooperation in 2007. (It will be harder to pull off in Washington than in Columbus, I think. That's because in Congress, there are many Dem members itching for payback. Nancy Pelosi's first task as the new Speaker will be to rein in senior Democrats who will want to do this rather than establishing a positive legislative agenda. Pelosi has shown a decided capacity for imposing discipline and I think that she will work mightily to push a positive agenda and not political revenge.) By early 2008 though, I expect the Washington bipartisan impulses to give way to presidential politics, while having a longer life in Columbus. (In Washington, Mr. Bush by early 2008, will feel increasingly compelled to give way to what is deemed most politic and least intrusive on the campaigns of his would-be Republican successors.)

Ohioans cast interesting votes on statewide ballot issues.

They said NO to expanded gambling--more casinos in the state, as well as slot machines at race tracks. The Ohio Republican Party had pushed the NO position and our senior US Senator, former Governor George Voinovich, actively worked against the proposal.

They said YES to a smoke-free initiative backed by many in the health community and NO to a deceptively worded smoke-less proposal backed by the tobacco industry. The smoke-less initiative would have actually expanded the numbers of public places where people could smoke.

They voted YES for an increase in the minimum wage, something that Democratic members of Congress are bound to pursue at the federal level once the 110th. Congress takes over in January.

All in all, the elections in Ohio and nationally went pretty much as I expected. Ohio voters, like those in much of the rest of the country, have voted in favor of mixed government, opting to put checks on both parties.

One caveat: It's pretty clear to me that races for the US Senate and US House yesterday were nationalized and were by and large, a referendum on the policies of the President. People were voting on Iraq, for the most part. In states like Ohio and Michigan whose economies have lagged behind the national economy, jobs also were a big factor. Yesterday, folks voted against President George Bush, even taking down officeholders who had not always walked in lockstep with him.

Both the President and his key adviser, Karl Rove, are savvy enough to understand these facts and I fully expect Mr. Bush to move quickly to reach across the aisle to ensure that at least some of his two remaining years in the White House are marked by enough comity to get some things done. As I mentioned last night, this is what he did with a Democratic legislature in Texas when he became governor. He's likely to want to do it now.

In Ohio, Governor-Elect Ted Strickland, a Democrat who has always won with Republican support, will, I think, be temperamentally well-suited to a similar reaching across the aisle to get things done. Unlike Mr. Bush, though, he won't be doing so with six years of a history of bad feelings to overcome.

Okay, that's enough politics for now.

[This has been cross-posted at]

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

And History is About to Be Made

When the Democratic members of the new Congress gather to elect their leaders, they will also put forward Nancy Pelosi as their nominee to be Speaker of the House. That, of course, is a pro forma step. Pelosi will be the new Speaker, becoming the first woman to hold that post. That historic first is no small potatoes, folks, no matter what your politics.

Dems Control House 231-204, According to MSNBC

This is huge, meaning, of course, that the Democrats will have subpoena power to investigate all sorts of allegations on everything.

But I still think that there may be a January surprise or two, with both the White House and the House of Representatives feeling motivated to work together. Why?
  • Even if the Dems control the Senate, they won't have veto-proof majorities.
  • And, as I've already mentioned, Bush is looking to legacy, Dems are looking to show they can make government in DC work.

Election Night Update, 10:46 PM

Ken Mehlman is on MSNBC talking about the need for the GOP to be a big tent party. I think both parties should be big tent. See here. Lincoln Chafee lost tonight because of RI's opposition to current policies in Iraq. But both parties ought to be big enough to allow for variations of opinion with agreement on certain core principles. Big tent parties build consensus nationally and are able to work in healthy bipartisan ways.

Meanwhile, Back Here in the 2nd. Ohio Congressional District (10:37 PM)

Ohio News Network (ONN) is reporting that Republican Congresswoman Jean Schmidt has a 6000-vote lead over Democratic challenger Victoria Wulsin, with 48% of the precincts reporting. In a district where George Bush has garnered nearly 70% of the vote in each of his presidential runs, Schmidt barely won in a special election last August 2 and faced a stiff challenge from Wulsin. This will be an interesting one to watch. I think that Schmidt's lead will hold.

Election 2006 More (10:35 PM, election night)

On MSNBC, Joe Scarborough, a straight-shooting ex-GOP Congressman unafraid to criticize his own party, points out that with the defeat of moderately conservative and more liberal Republican incumbents in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island, the Republicans are rendered more conservative in the Congress. True. But I think that Republicans will look at the results tonight and see a repudiation of Neoconservative policies in Iraq...

That's the thorn among the roses for presumptive 2008 presidential frontrunner McCain, who, while no neocon, has supported an even more aggressive approach to Iraq than the President.

The GOP will try to present a more moderate face to America, especially on the war which NBC's exit polls show that 60% of those who voted today don't like, at least as it's now being pursued.

In a way, I think Republicans will see motivation for returning to traditional Republican ideas:
  • Balanced budget, frugal spending
  • Foreign policy realism
  • When looking at prospective wars, employ the traditional cornerstone of US military policy: go in with overwhelming force

Implications of 2006 Elections (as of 9:41 P.M., election night)

Lincoln Chafee: The Chafee family has been immensely popular in RI. (I met his dad, the former governor and later to be senator, when he was Navy Secretary in the Nixon Administration. I was in high school and had won an essay contest to meet him. My essay was on developing a sea-based antiballistic missile system.)

But the Chafee popularity was not enough. The war in Iraq is unpopular in RI and voters there didn't want to return a GOP majority to the Senate.

Implications of 2006 Elections (as of 9:36 P.M., election night)

The Senate: As it increasingly appears that the Dems will also take the Senate, the President will likely strive to revert to the leadership model he adopted when he was governor of TX. Remember that he worked with the Dem Speaker of the House, a powerful figure, on a bipartisan basis. Bush wants a legacy. Dems want to prove that as the majority party in Congress, they can get things done. Watch for give.

Donald Rumsfeld: I expect him to resign within the next few weeks. The congressional races reflect widespread concern about Iraq policy. Someone will have to walk the plank so that Bush is given clearance to change the policy, as I was already convinced was in the offing after the elections.

Implications of 2006 Elections (as of 9:27 PM, election night)

The big winners: Democrats and moderates. A number of those Dems looking to be successful tonight are moderate and the defeat of GOP conservatives like Santorum in PA and DeWine in OH (moderately conservative) means the Republicans will be looking for a different direction in 2008 presidential politics. Both parties are going to undergo decided centrist pushes in the next few years. Whose presidential prospects are helped by this move to moderation? McCain for the Rs; Bayh for the Ds.

In Congress: That moderation appears to mean that we may see cooperation on legislation and confrontation on foreign and military policy.

Iraq: Changes are coming. The House (and maybe the Senate) will use its subpoena and oversight powers to prod the White House on Iraq. But my guess is that the President may get ahead of the Dems prior to January 1, using recommendations from the Baker-Hamilton bipartisan commission as a pretext for bringing changes, substantive and cosmetic. That includes a standdown strategy.

Election Night Posting Will Have to Wait

I leave for a few moments to lead a study of the New Testament book of Acts at our church's building. Until now, you might want to check out some of my 2006 election-related posts linked here.

One for two: Earlier this year, I said that I thought that Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ted Strickland would defeat Republican Ken Blackwell here in Ohio. That looks to happen. But I also expected Senator Mike DeWine, the Republican incumbent, to defeat Representative Sherrod Brown, the Democrat. It appears that Brown will win.

Once upon a time, some twenty seven years ago, I knew Brown. He was already a state representative and I supervised the House's pages. At one point, I also arranged for him to speak to an ethics class at Trinity Lutheran Seminary, which I attended after my stint at the State House. He's a personable guy. By all accounts, so is DeWine. That sort of stuff gets lost in campaigns, especially in a year that has seen the lowest gutterball electioneering I've ever seen.


Monday, November 06, 2006


to Terry Hull of Terra Extraneus for his kind words about this blog and for adding me to the blogroll there.

I think that the picture of me that Terry uses, captured from our church's web site, is about ten years old. It's a little embarrassing, but better than showing my mug from any recent pics!

Sunday, November 05, 2006

'Clothes Makes the Person'

[Here's another great message by my colleague, Glen VanderKloot. You can receive daily emailed inspirations from Glen by sending an email to this address: Type SUBSCRIBE in the subject line.]

Henri Duvernois wrote a short story called Clothes Make the Man. It is the story of Tango, part of a three person band of thieves. They were planning a robbery of a safe in a very affluent neighborhood. The other two members, Mareault and Eel, had cased it thoroughly.

Their plan was for Tango to dress as a police officer and walk up and down the street, easy and slow, like a real cop on his beat. Then if anyone heard the other two, no one would be suspicious. That's all Tango had to do.

Tango put on the police uniform. He felt uncomfortable, after all he was usually running from the police. But when he looked in the mirror, he was impressed. He looked good.

At the scene of the robbery, Tango was a little nervous walking to the street, but nothing happened. So he began walking up and down the street as he was told. As he turned the corner to walk around the block, he saw a police lieutenant coming toward him. He was filled with panic and wanted to run. With tremendous effort he restrained himself and continued walking toward the lieutenant. When Tango was just a few feet from the lieutenant, Tango saluted him. The lieutenant casually saluted him back.

That gave Tango confidence as he continued his job of walking up and down the street. After a few more trips, he found an elderly lady hesitating at the corner. She made two or three false starts to get across the street and each time turned back.

Tango walked up to her and offered her his arm. With dignity he walked her across to the other side. She said…

"Thank you so much, officer."

Tango replied…

"That's what we're here for."

Tango went back down the block. Emotions were stirring in him. In all of Paris there was not a more perfect example of a calm, strong guardian of the law.

Next he came across a drunk and Tango tried to hurry him along. The drunk became belligerent and Tango grabbed him as if to arrest him. As he was doing that his two partners in crime came out of the house. They were shocked to see what Tango was doing and yelled at him to quit.

Tango then remembered the lieutenant returning his salute, the elderly lady's gratitude, and his splendid image in the mirror. He stood tall as he stuffed the shiny whistle in his mouth and blew and blew and blew long enough to bring all the police in Paris. He called out…

"Crooks, robbers! I arrest you. I arrest you in the name of the law."

Tango became the police officer he was dressed as. He became who he acted to be. We can become who we act to be.

On our own, we are like Tango. We're not professional crooks, but we're sinners. In God's eyes, there are no degrees of sin. A sin is a sin is a sin.

However, we can do what Tango did. St. Paul wrote….

Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. (Colossians 3:12 NIV)

Even though those attributes are not natural for us, we can put them on. We can clothe ourselves with Christ-like actions and attitudes. We can act in Christ-like ways even if we do not feel it. Attitude often follows action. In the mean time, fake it `til you make it.

As we grow and mature in the faith, we can become compassionate, kind, humble, gentle and patient. We have to work at until they become natural.

In the movie Dave, the Secret Service need a double for the president. Dave looks just like him. So Dave plays the role of president. He wasn't the president. But Dave faked it. He played the role of president until he felt presidential, until it became natural for him.

It does not matter if we feel compassionate. We can act with compassion.

It does not matter if we feel kind. We can be kind to others.

It does not matter if we feel humble. We can be humble.

It does not matter if we feel gentle. We can be gentle.

It does not matter if we feel patient. We can be patient.

As followers of Christ, loved and forgiven by God, we can do all those things.

As we keep acting in those ways, the Spirit of God transforms us. St. Paul wrote…

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! 2 Corinthians 5:17 NIV

Clothing ourselves with attributes of Christ means that we act like Christ even before we feel Christ-like.

AA advises their members to fake it `til you make it'.

Counselors often advise couples who have fallen out of love, to act as if they were in love until they are in love once again.

Often action precedes attitude. So…

When feeling no passion, be passionate.
When feeling no love, be loving.
When feeling superior, be humble.
When feeling detached, be compassionate.
When feeling unkind, be kind.
When feeling annoyed, be patient.
When feeling harsh, be gentle.
When feeling bitter, forgive.
When feeling upset, be calm.

Fake it `til you make it. Clothe yourself with the attributes of Christ. Clothes make the person. The clothing of the Christ makes you Christ-like. Fake it `til you make it. Amen

Don't Be Afraid!

[This message was shared with the people of Friendship Lutheran Church, Amelia, Ohio, during worship celebrations on November 4 and 5, 2006.]

Stewards of an Eternal Hope
All Saints Weekend

John 11:32-44

In English Literature class in high school, I came to love a poem written by Alan Seeger, a young man killed in battle during World War One less than a year after he penned, I Have a Rendezvous with Death.

One reason I liked the poem so much, I think, is that it was just dawning on my sixteen year old brain that all people--even I--have a rendezvous with death.

But we can go to absurd lengths to deny the reality of death and all the other realities that go with it: aging, deterioration, and sagging bodies. This past week, one of my favorite bloggers, author Annie Gottlieb, wrote of seeing a famous political campaign strategist on TV:
She's on CNN right now and she has had a really terrifying facelift, eyelift and Botox assault. She can hardly move her mouth, she can't smile at all (not that that was ever her strong suit, but even her trademark sneer has fallen to Female Facial Mutilation) and her eyebrows are paralyzed. She's almost unrecognizable. She looks like a particular fake alien face on the original Star Trek. It's a disaster! Hey, I feel bad about my neck too, but at least it's still my neck.
None of us like it, but the truth is that we all have a rendezvous with death.

That reality is acknowledged in today’s Bible lesson. But so is another reality, a deeper, more powerful reality.

In our lesson, Jesus’ friend Lazarus dies. In fact, earlier in chapter eleven of John’s Gospel, we see that Jesus knew that Lazarus was dead even before He told His disciples that they were setting off to Bethany, Lazarus’ hometown.

The disciples hadn’t wanted to go there. Just a short time before, they had escaped their fellow Judeans with their lives, mobs bent on stoning Jesus and those with Him to death. Now, Jesus wanted to take them back into the jowls of death.

According to John’s Gospel, these reluctant disciples had already seen Jesus perform six major miracles, six major signs of Who He is, of His Lordship, of God’s Kingdom. They’d seen Jesus:
  • turn water into wine,
  • heal a desperate father’s son,
  • restore healthy legs to a crippled man, f
  • eed 5000 with a few scraps of bread and some fish,
  • get them to a safe shore while the boat in which they rode was tossed and swamped by a furious storm, and
  • make a blind man see.
But Lazarus was dead. Dead is dead, they thought, the end of the line. Why should Jesus risk His neck and theirs to simply pay His respects? They didn’t know that Jesus had another miracle, another sign, He wanted them to see.

Our lesson finds the disciples, Mary and Martha, Lazarus’ sisters, and the people of Bethany all struggling to follow Jesus in the face of the greatest enemy any of us will face. In the bargain, they can’t help blaming Jesus. Three times in John, chapter 11, and twice in our lesson, they tell Jesus or each other, “If Jesus had been here, Lazarus wouldn’t have died.”

We have similar thoughts when someone we care about has died. We may think,
“If only I had gotten so-and-so to a doctor sooner...”
Or, “If only I had known how much pain he was in...”
Or, “If only I’d arrived five minutes sooner, I could have called the life squad..”
Some even think that if God was in heaven and all was right in the world, this person wouldn’t have died at all. They become angry or even disbelieving toward God.

But it’s interesting to see that in the course of events at Bethany, John reports several times that, not just the mourners, but Jesus was agitated. At one point, He even began to weep. I have puzzled over why Jesus had such a reaction. After years of study and prayerful reflection, I’ve reached two conclusions.

Part of Jesus’ reaction, I think, stems from grief for us. He hates to see us suffer, die, or grieve. This was never part of God’s plan for our lives. But until Jesus returns, we live in a world groaning under the burdens of death, decay, and sin. Jesus wept because His friend, Lazarus, and each one of His precious children, have a rendezvous with death.

But I think that there was another reason for Jesus’ tears. He was frustrated to the core of His being that the people along whom He had lived for several years, the disciples, Mary, Martha, and the people of Bethany refused to get it. They refused to dare to believe in Him. “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” He asks with bewildered frustration. Were they so stymied by death that they couldn’t see that the God Who made life and was among them at that moment could overcome all our fear and dying to give us eternity with God?

Jesus didn’t begrudge them their grief. Grief is natural. But He was frustrated by their hopelessness.

The follower of Jesus need never be hopeless! Pastor Mike Foss tells the story of visiting a man about to undergo surgery. Says Foss:
Eyes sparkling, he laughed. I had met him at the hospital and, before any anesthetic had been administered, he and his wife and daughter gathered with me at his bed side. There I began to talk of his impending surgery. “It’s natural,” I said, “for you to be anxious.” And I didn’t get any further than that, because he laughed. It wasn’t a laugh of derision. Instead, it was the laughter of one who had no fear. As I stood there (at a loss for words) he grinned and said, “Pastor Mike, I’m not afraid. I already died once. I know what’s on the other side because I saw it…and I saw Jesus. I’m not anxious at all because I know that no matter what happens it’ll be okay.” Later, after his surgery, he told me his story of dying on the operating table and being brought back after a long time of great efforts by the surgical staff. He shared his story of traveling above the operating table and into a wonderful light where he met the Savior. He will die, this man of faith, but he has no fear of it.
That was precisely the lesson Lazarus learned that day in Bethany. Dead four days, his body emitting the stench of death, bound in the tight bands of cloth in which the dead in first-century Judea were always buried, Lazarus was called from death back to the once mournful, now astonished villagers of Bethany.

I’ve often wondered if Lazarus hesitated when he heard Jesus call, knowing that on returning, he would reenter a life of death and decay, a place where people get facelifts and eyelifts and Botox injections in order to fool themselves and the world with the lie that we really don’t have a rendezvous with death. Or that we can put it off. Lazarus knew that, in returning, he would have to go through death again. Knowing that, I might have hesitated to return.

But Lazarus knew that deeper reality I mentioned earlier, something C.S. Lewis called “the deeper magic.” Lazarus knew that all who entrust themselves to the crucified and risen Jesus Christ, will live in God’s presence forever.

And I’ll wager that when any time after that, people tried to tell him how natural it was to be afraid, he laughed.

How can a follower of Jesus Christ really be afraid when she or he knows that beside a rendezvous with death, we also have a rendezvous with God that lasts forever?

How can we be afraid to stand against injustice or to help the poor and the hurting when we know that God has committed Himself to taking care of us forever?

How can we worry about parting with some of the gifts God has entrusted to us--gifts of time, talents, and treasure--when we know that one day we will walk with Jesus Christ on streets of gold?

How can we hesitate to do as Marti and Paul did--inviting 51 neighbors to be with us for Friend Day last week--knowing that even if people tell us no, God will spend an eternity telling us YES to all that’s best for us?

This is All Saints’ weekend. In part, it’s a time to remember the blessed dead who have lived and died believing in Jesus, the resurrection and the life, and who are now in His presence. Today, for example, our members Tim and Diana are worshiping at Lutheran Church of the Resurrection, where Tim and his brother join that congregation in dedicating a brick memorializing the memory of their mother.

And it’s appropriate that you and I remember today the three Friendship members who, in the sixteen year history of our congregation, have died believing in Christ, each in their own ways: Karen Hendrickson, Isaac Hauke, and Diane Binder.

But there’s more to All Saints’ weekend than remembering the blessed dead.

A saint, according to the Bible, is nothing more than a forgiven sinner, one who has turned from sin and let Jesus loose them from death.

Whether we’re saints on earth or saints in heaven, we all are spared separation from God.

By His gracious acceptance of those who trust in Jesus, we belong to God forever. The Lord Who has conquered our sin and our death allows us to say, “Yes, we have a rendezvous with death and through Christ, we also have a rendezvous with God!”

And we can laugh!

In two weeks, we will be celebrating our annual Consecration Sunday. We’ll have a potluck on that day. You and I will also be asked to estimate how we will use the gifts of time, talents, and treasure that God has given to us to advance the mission of Friendship Lutheran Church in 2007. This will help us plan for the year to come, something we especially need to do well in what is the most financially challenging period in our congregation’s history.

But, as you prayerfully do your estimating, I want to ask you to remember that we belong to a God Who calls the dead back to life and who gives all who follow Jesus a rendezvous with life that lasts forever.

Don’t be afraid! Keep trusting Jesus Christ. He has eternity in His hands. Let Him have you and let Him have Friendship in those strong hands, too!

Belatedly, I Present Great Thoughts on Luther and Reformation Day

Which just happen to have been written by my son.

2006 Campaign Spending Tops $2-Billion

That's what this story tells us.

In a campaign season that has been more negative and nastily personal than any in my memory--and I have a pretty good memory for things political, has all the cash spent on media been worth it?

I suppose it depends on who you ask. But if you ask me, all that money is more than wasteful, it's obscene. Obscene in the amount, to be sure. But most especially, obscene in how it's been spent!

Most negative ads--what the pols like to call "contrast ads"--incite partisans of the candidate flinging the mud to vote for him or her. They also anger the hardcore supporters of the opposition candidate. Both camps are thus jazzed up to vote. But in the meantime, a sizable and growing segment of eligible voters are disgusted and discouraged by the whole sorry spectacle. So much so that they don't vote.

That means that one of the biggest things $2.6-billion worth of political advertising has bought this year is a dangerous increase in disengagement amd alienation from the political process by Americans.

There is no way that can be good for the future of our country, no matter who wins the elections on Tuesday.

The Gift of Being

A wonderful piece by Linda Apple.

Thanks to...

Spencer Troxell for linking to my post, God is For You.