Saturday, November 25, 2006

Coming This Advent: Opening Your Spiritual Gifts

Advent, the season that kicks off the Church Year and anticipates Christmas, starts on December 3. The Servanthood/Outreach team at our congregation is planning a special emphasis on spiritual gifts during the four weeks of this season. As part of it, I'll be presenting a series of daily readings for the congregation--and readers of this blog, called Opening Your Spiritual Gifts.

The readings for Opening Your Spiritual Gifts will be similar in length and tone to a series I presented here during the Lenten season, 40-Days to Servanthood.

I hope that people find it helpful. Feel free to give your feedback once that series begins.

Here is an explanation of Advent.

Here is some information about Advent Wreaths.

Remembrances of Thanksgiving Past


Making Contact: Come, Lord Jesus

[In this new series, Making Contact, I present a series of short (almost) daily considerations of Biblical texts that I hope you'll find helpful. The idea behind the name is that in the Bible, we make contact with the God Who has revealed Himself to humanity to millions of people over thousands and thousands of years. God can make contact with us today. The texts are based on the daily lectionary found in the Lutheran Book of Worship.]

Making Contact: Revelation 22:14-21
14Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they will have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gates. 15Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and fornicators and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood. 16“It is I, Jesus, who sent my angel to you with this testimony for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.” 17The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” And let everyone who hears say, “Come.” And let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift. 18I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this book; 19if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away that person’s share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.

20The one who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! 21The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen.

A Few Thoughts:
1. These are the last eight verses of the last book of the New Testament. Revelation is, in many ways, a weird book, its imagery often stretched and misconstrued by religious sensationalists, some of whose motives are questionable at best.

2. The traditional English title of the book, more fully The Revelation of John, is a literal translation of its name in Greek: Apocalypsis Joannou means Revelation of John.

3. The book claims to contain statements made to the apostle John, by then an elderly man, by the risen and ascended Jesus. Here, Jesus reveals things to seven churches, each in various states of spiritual health, as they face persecution by the Roman Empire. Like Daniel, the apocalptic book found in the Old Testament, Revelation deals most clearly with the historical situation that existed at the time it was written. Claims that it deals with current world circumstances are as dubious as those that once claimed it dealt with the now-dead Soviet Union.

4. This doesn't mean that the book is irrelevant to our circumstances. It is relevant. But it's a misreading of apocalyptic literature to treat it like tea leaves, assigning rigid meanings to various images and symbols. Its application to understanding the human condition and our need of Jesus Christ as Savior is more universal than that and less self-aggrandizing than many tea-leaf-style interpreters usually are.

5. Speaking of the imagery and symbolism of the book, it's consistent with what's found in the Gospel of John and the three New Testament letters attributed to the disciple traditionally thought to be "the beloved disciple." If you ground yourself well in those four books, Revelation will become a bit more accessible.

More specifically:
Adam and Eve, after their fall into sin, were banished from the Garden of Eden to keep them away from the tree of life. This was an act of compassion toward the human race on God's part. Had our two ancestors gotten access to eternal life while still in their sin, the whole human race would have been lost to God forever.

But because His death and resurrection have made it possible for all with faith in Christ to have new lives, we will once again eat the fruit of this tree, living forever with God. (C.S. Lewis plays wonderfully with this image in The Magician's Nephew, one of the seven volumes in The Chronicles of Narnia series.)

Believers in Jesus (saints) have been washed clean of their sins in the waters of Baptism, through which we become heirs of Christ's self-sacrifice. Revelation also says that we are washed clean in the blood of the Lamb of God, Jesus.

The bride here and at other points in the so-called Johannine literature in the New Testament is the Church, with Christ as our Husband. This conveys the intimate relationship Christ has with His people.

To more fully understand the phrase, "And let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift," check out John 4:1-15. The Baptismal allusion is clear.

Jesus could return at any time. While the world still exists and while I still exist, I pray that He will help me to remain faithful in following Him. Amen, come Lord Jesus!

Friday, November 24, 2006

Anita O'Day, 1919-2006

I've been reading about jazz singer Anita O'Day, who died yesterday. The Washington Post had a terrific profile. But I loved looking at what Mike of Mike's Noise has collected on his site. I think that you will, too.

The Ayatollah Khomeini, Osama Bin Laden, and Tony Hendra

Writer Tony Hendra joins the likes of fanatical haters like Khomeini and Bin Laden with a "prayer" at Huffington Post:
I give thanks O Lord for Dick Cheney's Heart, that brave organ which has done its darn-tootin' best on four separate occasions to do what we can only dream about.

O Lord, give Dick Cheney's Heart, Our Sacred Secret Weapon, the strength to try one more time! For greater love hath no heart than that it lay down its life to rid the planet of its Number One Human Tumor.
There are many legitimate reasons for disagreeing with Cheney and for expressing disapproval of his politics. But wishing for his death is sick, sick, sick, sick.

For another perspective, see Helen Smith's post here. I don't agree with Smith that Hendra's words are worse than those contained in Michael Richards' recent rampage. But I do think that they're every bit as despicable!

Has the Eleventh Commandment Been Violated Already?

Has Massachusetts governor, Mitt Romney violated the Eleventh Commandment promoted by Ronald Reagan: Thou shalt not speak ill of any Republican, just as the 2008 presidential campaign begins?

This past week Romney went after John McCain and Rudy Giuliani on the issue of gay marriage. The New York Sun reported on Wednesday:
With most potential presidential candidates still making final decisions about whether to pursue a White House bid, one prospect, Governor Romney of Massachusetts, is already slugging away at his rivals for the Republican nomination.

In an interview published yesterday, Mr. Romney alleged that two other prominent Republicans likely to enter the race, Mayor Giuliani and Senator McCain of Arizona, are not true conservatives.

"I'm a conservative Republican. There's no question about that," Mr. Romney told the Washington Examiner. "I'm at a different place than the other two."

Mr. Romney said his positions were more conservative than those of the other men on immigration, campaign finance restrictions, same-sex marriage, and interrogation of detainees, but the governor took particular aim at Mr. McCain for claiming to oppose legalized gay marriage while also opposing a federal constitutional amendment to outlaw the practice.

"In my opinion, it's disingenuous," Mr. Romney said. "Look, if somebody says they're in favor of gay marriage, I respect that view. If someone says, like I do, that I oppose same-sex marriage, I respect that view. But those who try and pretend to have it both ways, I find it to be disingenuous."
McCain opposes gay marriage, but respects the right of states to allow it. The regulation of marriage and domestic relationships has always been the prerogative of states under our Constitution. McCain appears to wish to uphold that conservative principle.

Romney, on the other hand, seems to accept the neo-conservative view, ascendant during the Bush years, that the federal government should be involved in such matters. That's a legitimate position, of course. But it doesn't make him more conservative than McCain.

Philosophical issues aside though, one of the lessons drawn from the midterm elections this year is that Americans want more civility in their politics. Does Romney's accusation of disingenuousness on John McCain's part flout that sentiment and does it bode ill for civility in the 2008 campaign? I hope not.

[For more on the shifting notions of what constitutes conservatism, see the "third angle of vision" here.]

[This is being cross-posted at]

[UPDATE: For what seems like a balanced and fair overview of Mitt Romney's one term as Massachusetts governor, see here.]

[THANKS TO: Joe Gandelman of The Moderate Voice for linking to this post. Mitt Romney's candidacy for President is the subject of several posts at his site.]

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Everything Thanksgiving

Matt Brown has it.

Thanksgiving Inspiration from Glen VanderKloot

[This Thanksgiving devotion comes from my friend and colleague, Pastor Glen VanderKloot from Faith Lutheran Church of Springfield, Illinois. If you'd like to receive Glen's daily emailed inspirations, send an email to Type SUBSCRIBE onto the subject line.]

Thought for the Day

The Pilgrims made seven times more graves than huts. No Americans have been more impoverished than these who, nevertheless, set aside a day of thanksgiving.

H.U. Westermayer
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Scripture Verse
Psalm 100:4 TNIV:

Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name.


For flowers that bloom about our feet;
For tender grass, so fresh, so sweet;
For song of bird, and hum of bee;
For all things fair we hear or see,
Father in heaven, we thank Thee! Amen

~Ralph Waldo Emerson
Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

An Excellent History of Thanksgiving...

by Pastor Mark Roberts. It's outstanding! A sample:
The idea of a permanent, national celebration each November came 242 years after the first Pilgrim-Indian festival in the early 17th century. During the Civil War, many Americans clamored for some sort of national religious holiday. One of the most vocal was Sarah Josepha Hale (who, by the way, wrote “Mary Had a Little Lamb”). Hale used her clout as editor of the influential Godey’s Lady’s Book magazine to motivate President Lincoln to proclaim a national holiday. On September 28, 1863 she wrote a letter to the President encouraging him to “have the day of our annual Thanksgiving made a national and fixed Union Festival.” Five days later Lincoln issued the “Thanksgiving Proclamation of 1863” (which we’ll examine below).

In his proclamation, Lincoln set apart the “last Thursday of November” as “a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.”
Read the whole thing.

A Great Thanksgiving Post...

by Pastor Jeff, includes historical background, a few personal thoughts on the habit of thankfulness, and a few Thanksgiving prayers. All in a relatively short post, adapted from several tracts. That Jeff sure packs a wallop!
Thanksgiving is recognizing with gratitude who God is and what He has done. It's looking to God as the source of everything in our lives. It is believing He rewards those who diligently seek Him. Even when "bad things" seem to be happening to us, God is still there -- and He loves us. When we understand that, we will give thanks to God from a heart full of gratitude. That’s worth doing anytime.
Read the whole thing.

A Thanksgiving Confession of Faith

One of the ways in which I try to make worship a bit more interesting and meaningful is by occasionally writing confessions of faith related to the themes or holidays being celebrated in worship on particular days. Here's one I composed for tonight's Thanksgiving Eve worship service.
We believe in the God Who gives every good and perfect gift.

We believe in God the Father, Who created the universe, and gives us life.

We believe in God the Son, Jesus Christ, Who has entered our world incarnated in human flesh, so that He could give His life on a cross, the perfect offering for our sin, and so that He could rise from the dead, opening forgiveness and eternity to all who entrust their lives to Him.

We believe in God the Holy Spirit, Who even today, calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies a people devoted to the God definitively revealed in Christ.

We believe that all who follow Christ will spend eternity with God, thanksgiving ever on their lips and always in their hearts. Amen

Thanksgiving Eve: How to Overcome Worry

[This message was shared during the joint Thanksgiving Eve worship celebration of All Saints Lutheran Church (Cincinnati, Ohio), Lutheran Church of the Resurrection (Cincinnati, Ohio), and Friendship Lutheran Church (Amelia, Ohio), on November 22, 2006.]

Matthew 6:25-34

I spent a long time as a student: thirteen years in public school, four years in college, four years in seminary. Somewhere around the end of my twentieth and the beginning of my twenty-first and final year as a student, I figured something out. Do you want to know what it was? It was this: If the teacher repeats something, it’s probably important. (I figured that out all by myself. I didn’t say I was the brightest student.)

Now, I bring this up for a reason. Jesus’ words to us tonight come from the Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of Matthew. Ed Markquart, a wonderful Lutheran pastor in Seattle, has calculated that in the four gospel books of the New Testament--Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John--”there are 60 teachings, 40 parables, and 25 miracles of Jesus.” And the Sermon on the Mount contains a whopping twenty-five of Jesus’ sixty teachings. They come at us at such a furious pace in chapters 5, 6, and 7 of Matthew’s book, that you think Jesus would hardly have the time to repeat Himself in order to highlight what’s important.

But He does repeat Himself in the ten verses that make up our Bible lesson. In fact, Jesus punches home the same teaching three times in these verses. And then, to underscore His teaching, He asks seven rhetorical questions, all with the same message: DO NOT WORRY!

Jesus also gives us plenty of good reasons for heeding that imperative. He says that life is more than food or clothing and that if God the Father takes care of the birds, He’ll take care of us. He says that worrying won’t add a single second to our earthly lives and that to be consumed with these things is to be as futile in our thinking as the Gentiles with no knowledge of God. I think that Jesus would endorse the words of Canadian folk rocker Bruce Cockburn, when he sings, “You can take the wisdom of this world/ And give it to the ones who think it all ends here.”

You and I know that Jesus is right. We shouldn’t worry. We know that God cares about our every moment. We know that we’re in the palms of God’s hands, that God hears our prayers. We know too, that all with faith in Jesus Christ belong to God eternally. Even non-believing people realize the silliness of giving our minds over to worry. The writer Mark Twain, an atheist, once said, “I am an old man and have known great troubles, but most of them never happened.”

So, why exactly do we worry?

And what does this all have to do with Thanksgiving?

We worry, let’s face it, because we’re control freaks. Adam and Eve were lured into sin because the serpent told them that when they ate the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they would “be like God.” It bothers us that while, unlike all of God’s other creatures, we can project and to some extent, predict, what the future will bring, we can’t control what happens to us. This past week, several people on the staff of the school where my wife works learned that they’re dealing with various threatening health conditions. I’m sure that when this year began, that wasn’t part of their plan.

Yet we persist in stewing over things over which we have no control. I once visited a man who had recently undergone a quadruple heart bypass surgery. The procedure had gone well and he was recovering. But his face was twisted with worry when I arrived. “How are we going to solve the federal budget deficit?” he asked me. His wife shook her head and told me, “He worries about that all the time.”

It’s good for us to make plans and it’s good for us to be engaged in trying to solve problems in our world. But we need to realize that worrying about things solves nothing. The number one fact of the universe is that God is God and we’re not. So, make your plans and when the time comes, willingly move on to Plan B.

Jesus puts it this way: “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” Pastor Gerald Mann summarizes Jesus’ imperative this way: Wait to worry. I would add: And live today.

So, worrying is a bad thing. But what’s it got to do with Thanksgiving? Just this: No matter how facile you may be at multitasking, there are two things that are very difficult to do simultaneously. Though you may be able to do them both at the same time for awhile--maybe decades--eventually, one will win out over the other and become the prevailing habit of your life. You can’t keep worrying and remain thankful at the same time.

You see, in the end, worrying is a form of self-worship. Even though we may express our worry by saying things like, “What am I going to do?,” seemingly confessing helplessness, the underlying assumption is that my immediate problems and, by extension, the long-term good of the known universe, depends on me.

Thankfulness, on the other hand, takes an inventory of our lives and asks, “What has God already done?” How has God already blessed us, starting with our eternal salvation through the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ? I liked it a few years ago when Michael Bridges, of Lost and Found, told me that instead of those little "What Would Jesus Do?" bracelets that were so popular at the time, there ought to be ones that said, "What Has Jesus Done?" Thankfulness is a byproduct of faith and it gives us the capacity to face whatever life may bring to us.

The people of this congregation have heard me tell the story of my visit with an elderly farmer shortly after I was ordained twenty-two years ago. “You know, Pastor,” he said, “if you’re a farmer, you have to have faith or you won’t last long.” He went on to explain that you could pick the best seeds for your crops and be diligent about cultivation and weeding. But farmers know that they have no control over the sun or the rain or temperatures that if not just right, could scorch or freeze their crops. What this farmer discovered is that over his long life, God could be trusted. Thankfulness displaced worry. Faith supplanted anxiety.

I found this to be true generally of the people of that congregation in northwestern Ohio. And out of this thankful attitude, not only was worry banished, something else happened. Thankfulness led to generosity. I never saw people who were so generous in giving to the relief of hungry people around the world. Here in the burbs, we may go to Biggs, Meijers, or Kroger and take food for granted. But those folks knew what a miracle food is and they were thankful.

And we followers of Jesus have much for which to be thankful. This past week, I heard again a story that took place during the Holocaust, that spasm of murder and barbarism perpetrated by Nazi Germany against the Jews. When the Nazis put people in concentration camps, they would work the imprisoned until they could no longer do anything. Then, they would execute them.

One family was composed of a father, a mother, and their two children, one of whom suffered from a physical disability. Every day, the mother and two children were taken to one work site and the father was shipped to another. And every night, the father checked on his family. One night though, the father found only his one son. "What happened?" he asked. The surviving child said that the brother with the disability had no longer been able to work. And so the guards had taken him to be executed. He clung to his mother's skirt, sobbing. She picked him up and, holding him close to her, said, "Don't be afraid. I'll go with you." And so she did.

That's akin to the God we have through Jesus Christ. In Christ, God stands with us in the darkest and the worst of times--even in death--so that all who trust in Him will be ushered into eternity with Him! For that, we can be the most thankful of people.

Having heard me say how bad worry is and how important thankfulness is, you all have a right to know whether I worry or not.

Well, I do. I worry every time my son and daughter take trips. I worry how my daughter and son-in-law are going to make it financially down in Florida and how they'll deal with their first holidays on their own. I worry over what my son may do in his future. I worry about bills and debts. I worry too, about the people of Friendship and their spiritual well-being. I worry how Friendship is doing. I worry whether I’ll be able to do a good job as president of the Boys and Girls Club board next year.

But if I worry, then I suppose that I fit right in with the rest of the Church. It’s been my observation that the Church is Jesus Christ’s community of recovering control freaks. We’re learning to replace our worry over tomorrow with gratitude to the God Who tells all who believe in Jesus, “You belong to Me for eternity!”

Years ago, I learned about a man who had a “worry tree.” He had a stressful executive position and every night, before he walked through the front door of his house, he touched a tree close to the porch and said, “God, all these worries I’ve been stewing over, I’m giving to you here now at the worry tree. I’ll pick them up from You tomorrow if You seem to be telling me there’s anything I can do about them. Otherwise, I’m turning them over to You...and thank You!”

Martin Luther said that we recovering control freaks are to live in “daily repentance and renewal.” A suggestion for how to make each day--and not just tomorrow--a day of Thanksgiving: Leave your worries with God and when you do, thank Him for all your blessings. Thankfulness can become our way of life and God can make us a blessing to everyone and everything we touch.


Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Richards' Racially-Charged Rage

I never watch the David Letterman show and I've seen all of about twenty minutes of the old Seinfeld sitcom. But like most of America, I suppose, I had seen the clip of Seinfeld cast member Michael Richards's profane, racist diatribe during a recent performance at a comedy club and learned that he was to appear on Letterman's show last night. So, I tuned in.

"I'm not a racist. That's what's so insane about this," Richards proclaimed with intense emotion during a satellite-link interview Letterman conducted, Jerry Seinfeld at his side.

If Richards isn't a person of racist attitudes, how to explain the racism he expressed or the venom in his words as he wandered the club stage, catlike, for what seemed like an interminable time? Is he simply an angry man who grasped at the most apparent tool, the only thing he really knew about them--their race--to bludgeon two hecklers? Or is he a racist--perhaps one who's never realized it about himself--smoked out by his inexplicable anger?

As the Washington Post notes in its account of Richards' appearance on Letterman:
Richards described himself as going into "a rage" over the two audience members who interrupted his act Friday at the Laugh Factory in West Hollywood.
That's when the laughter stopped.

Richards has apologized and that's to his credit. Seinfeld said that Richards was a person he loved and that Richards was "shattered" by the incident.

Obviously, I believe in the efficacy of apologies and in forgiveness for the repentant. But I wonder if people will ever be able to look at Michael Richards the same way again.

God is able to forgive and forget. That's harder for we human beings.

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

"Who will see? Who will do something?"

Those are the questions that Washington Post writer David Montgomery says are posed by images of the genocide in Darfur. The pictures are being displayed on a facade of the US Holocaust Museum, facing the Tidal Basin.
After the Jews, the Cambodians, the Bosnians, the Rwandans, the people of Darfur are the victims of systematic rape, murder, pillage and displacement.

In a three-year-old war between ethnic African rebels and the Arab-led central government, more than 400,000 people have died. The Holocaust Museum was one of the first institutions in the world to call the Darfur tragedy "genocide." The U.S. government followed suit.

Leaders of the museum, who consider it part of their mission to address contemporary cases of genocide, deliberately picked the week of Thanksgiving to thrust Darfur in Washington's face. The display runs from 5:30 p.m. to midnight through Sunday.

"During Thanksgiving week, a time of reflection and gratitude, we are lending the museum's moral stature to alert the public to the urgency of stopping the human catastrophe in Darfur," said Fred Zeidman, chairman of the Holocaust Memorial Council. The idea was that as commuters and pedestrians hurry by in a fog of preoccupation, they might be jolted to consider other dilemmas beyond free-range or Butterball? Mashed or sweet? Store-bought or baked?

If the pictures "stir some sort of curiosity in the average person as they go by and see it, then the job is done," said Omer Ismail, a refugee from Darfur who was on hand last night. "They will go out and ask, Why?"
Read the whole thing. This is a holocaust actually happening as I tap out these letters on the keyboard. When will we stir ourselves to take the substantive steps to bring it to an end?

[See more about the Holocaust Museum photo display on Darfur here.]

Monday, November 20, 2006

More Egyptian Bloggers Arrested

Glenn Reynolds links to an article from the BBC and includes contact information for the Egyptian embassy in the US. Repression is a major tactic of the Egyptian government.

First Pass at This Week's Bible Lessons

[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.]

We'll have two worship celebrations this week. On Wednesday night, we'll have our annual Thanksgiving Eve worship celebration with our friends from All Saints Lutheran Church and Lutheran Church of the Resurrection. The text for that night is Matthew 6:25-34:
[Jesus said:] 25“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 28And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ 32For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34“So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.
The lesson for our upcoming weekend worship celebrations, when we'll commemorate Christ the King, is John 18:33-37:
33Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” 35Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” 36Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” 37Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”
A Few Comments:
1. Thanksgiving is meant to be an integral part of the Christian life. We thank God for all His "good and perfect gifts," especially the gift of new life through Jesus Christ.

2. Jesus' words in the Matthew text highlight the difficulty that comes when we allow worry to dominate our lives. We find it hard to be thankful when we're worried about the bad things that might happen. Worry and thankfulness, both being attitudes, are almost mutually exclusive.

And yet, though there are things that happen in our lives that can be difficult or tragic, we can be thankful to God in all circumstances, if not for all circumstances. (See here.) God is still our God when the chips are down. And glorifying the God we know through Christ is still our highest priority.

3. Solomon, king of Israel at its zenith, was his country's greatest and wealthiest ruler ever. In the Matthew text, Jesus is saying that even Solomon, with all his bling, would have to take a backseat to the lilies of the field when it comes to stunning adornments. Unlike Solomon, the lilies do nothing to acquire their clothing, Jesus says. All of it is a gift from God.

There may be a double meaning to Jesus' reference to Solomon. After Solomon died, Israel split in two. Its former glory was gone. This is what happens when followers of God fall prey to living life like the Gentiles--non-Jews. Wealth and power may be impressive. But it's doomed to die. Only God and the things given life by God keep living.

4. As to the John text, this coming weekend brings us to the end of the Church Year. That always means celebration of Christ the King. This text finds Pilate, Roman governor over first century Judea, worried that Jesus may threaten Roman rule by claiming to be a king. Pilate thinks of Jesus' possible kingship in the same terms as the crowd Jesus fed in John 6. They wanted to make Him a ruler who would throw out the Romans and do their bidding. Jesus eluded their desires to make Him that sort of king. Yet Christ is the King of all creation.

5. Jesus discusses the concept of truth a lot in John's Gospel. I like how Father Walter Burghardt explains it in a sermon on another text from John:
...what sort of truth did Jesus have in mind? I harked back to my years of philosophy. Remember epistemology, the science of knowing? An idea, a statement, a judgment was true if it was conformed to reality, was in harmony with the real. If I say that George Washington was born in 1732, and it turns out that he was, then my statement is true. And that went back to common Hellenistic usage, where "truth" hovered between "reality," "the ultimately real," and "knowledge of the real."

Now is that the truth Jesus had in mind when he told his disciples, "The Spirit of truth will guide [you] along the way of all truth" ([John] 16:13)?...The best scriptural scholarship declares this not untrue, simply inadequate...[In Jewish thought] "truth" often serves as a synonym for wisdom. Proverbs, for example, commands us to "buy wisdom" (Prov 23:23). Moreover, "truth" is associated with "mystery," so that to know the truth is to know the plans of God...; truth speaks of God's plan of salvation as revealed to humans. The two ideas, wisdom and mystery, come together when Jesus declares that he is "the truth" (Jn 14:6). He is wisdom incarnate and he is the expression of God's mysterious plan of salvation (Col 1:27; Eph 3:4)
In addition to God's wisdom and the mystery of how Christ's passion works our salvation, I believe that there is a third dimension to the truth Jesus speaks about: Jesus as God in the flesh--God incarnate--is the rock hard foundation on which we can place the full weight of our whole lives. As I wrote in a post on John 8:32, just a few weeks ago:
Jesus Himself and the word about Jesus--His life, death, and resurrection which brings new life to repentant sinners who trust in Him--is the truth He's talking about. Build your life on Him and the truth about Him and you will be forever free of sin and death.
Maybe more later in the week.

"Drama is life with the boring bits left out"

That's what Alfred Hitchcock said.

A problem for many of us is that we've expected life to be a full-fledged, Technicolor, HDTV dramatic epic all the time. I know that I've lived most of my life under this delusion.

But if we're fortunate, we trip over the wisdom that most of life is lived in the little places of daily routines and mundane tasks.

For many, this realization is a disappointment. For others, though, it's a vital learning, leading to mature acceptance. Tamar Jacobson writes:
...recently I have been noticing that, in fact, life is quite ordinary. It seems so much smaller, and my expectations have become almost non-existent. Dreams of academia or the one love of my life have been brought way down to size. I don't think they have been shattered. It's not disappointment, cynicism or disillusionment. I am not sad or bitter about it. Rather, it feels like a peaceful acceptance that life is just that. Little acts, mundane, daily routines. Every now and again someone will surprise me with an act of kindness, compassion or generosity of spirit. Or there will be a beautiful sunrise bringing me out of a painful night. Sometimes life will be sprinkled with fiction that might suspend my reality for a moment, filling me with joy or pleasure and then on I go again, plodding along through life.

In fact, I realize, it is quite comforting not to have to go crazy any more, trying to cover all this reality up with desperation and pain, angst and glorious passion.

Plodding feels just fine to me right about now.
Read the whole thing.

(For more on life lived in mundane, everyday places, go here and here.)

Sunday, November 19, 2006

The Further Adventures of Moe and Joe: Consecration Sunday?

[This is the second Moe and Joe pure cornball skit I've written for our worship celebrations at Friendship Lutheran Church. Here is a link to the first one. It's the companion of this message.]

[As the scene starts, Joe is standing by himself, facing the congregation, scrunching his face as though trying to understand something or maybe, to see something in the distance.]

Moe: Hey, Joe.

Joe: [a bit impatiently, as though he’s being interrupted from doing something important] Oh...hey, Moe.

Moe: [looking in the direction toward which Joe is squinting] What are you looking at?

Joe: [still impatient] I’m not looking at anything.

Moe: Then, what are you doing? Did you have too much Skyline last night? I warned you about that.

Joe: [squinting harder] No! I’m concentrating!

Moe: Concentrating? Concentrating on what?

Joe: [gives up on the “concentrating” to look at Moe] I have no idea. But I just know that I’ve got to do it.

Moe: Why?

Joe: Because this is concentration Sunday.

Moe: No, Joe, it’s Consecration Sunday. Consecration.

Joe: Oh. That changes everything. It’s Consecration Sunday. [pauses] What does consecration mean, Moe?

Moe: I wondered the same thing myself. It does sound like one of those goofy words we only use at church. So, I looked it up. It comes from the word consecrate, which... [JOE INTERRUPTS WITH HIS LINE BELOW]

Joe: I remember that word! It’s in the Gettysburg Address. [goes into a mock-baritone speaking voice, as though imitating a speech-maker] “But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground.”

Moe: Right, Joe. And that speech was given at the dedication of the cemetery honoring all who lost their lives at the Battle of Gettysburg during the Civil War. To consecrate something means to dedicate it to some purpose.

Joe: So, what are we dedicating on Consecration Sunday?

Moe: We’re dedicating ourselves.

Joe: Hmmm. Dedicating ourselves. To what?

Moe: As nearly as I can tell, we’re going to dedicate ourselves or re-dedicate ourselves to one what and one whom.

Joe: Whom? What whom?

Moe: We’ll be dedicating ourselves to God. That’s the Whom. And we’ll also be dedicating ourselves to the mission of Friendship.

Joe: That sounds great, but how do we do that?

Moe: Well, at the end of the worship celebration, we’ll be asked to bring forward the time and talent surveys and the estimated giving cards we received in the mail.

Joe: So, we’ll dedicate our time, talents, and treasures to God and to the mission of the Church.

Moe: Hey, that’s good. [turn to the congregation and direct them to the PowerPoint] I think that we all should say it together, “On Consecration Sunday, we dedicate our time, talents, and treasures to God and to the mission of the Church.”

Joe: Hey, Moe. I have one more question.

Moe: What’s that?

Joe: Why can’t we just call it Dedication Sunday?

Moe: Oh, you know the pastor: He loves those goofy church words.

Joe: See ya, Moe.

Moe: See ya, Joe.

Consecrated to God

[This message shared with the people of Friendship Lutheran Church, Amelia, Ohio, during worship celebrations on November 18 and 19, 2006.]

Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18
Hebrews 10:19-25

In the Dallas Cowboys locker room before the 1993 Super Bowl, head coach Jimmy Johnson spoke with his players. Johnson later recalled what he said. “I told them that if I laid a two-by-four across the room, everybody would walk across it and not fall, because our focus would be that we were going to walk that two-by-four. But if I put that same two-by-four 10 stories high between two buildings only a few would make it, because the focus would be on falling. Focus is everything. The team that is more focused today is the team that will win this game.” The Cowboys won 52 to 17.

What is the primary focus of your life?

If following the God we know through Jesus Christ isn’t our focus as individuals and as members of the part of the body of Christ known as Friendship Lutheran Church, we could fall.

But if we will put our trust in God and follow Jesus Christ, acknowledging that all of our time, all of our talents, and all of our treasure are God’s gifts to us, we will lead focused lives that accomplish great things for God and God’s Kingdom

God isn’t looking for perfect people. God isn’t looking for self-righteous people. God is looking for forgiven people who will acknowledge what Jesus Christ has done for them on the cross and from an empty tomb with their whole lives. Today, you and I are being asked to focus--to really focus--on consecrating (or dedicating) our whole selves to God.

The first of our two Bible lessons today recounts an incident that happened at the end of the life of Joshua.

Joshua was the leader of God’s people, the Hebrews. He succeeded Moses and was the one who led the people into the promised land.

Now, he was soon to die. So, he called the leaders of the people together. We’ve given you an extremely condensed version of what Joshua said that day. He spent a long time reminding the Hebrew leaders of all that God had done for them. He recalled how God had called Israel into being with just two people, Abraham and Sarah, a couple who had once lived comfortably in what is today Iraq. He remembered that God had saved them at the time of the great famine through the leadership of a dreamer named Joseph. Then, he recalled that, through Moses, God had gotten His people out of slavery in Egypt and, in spite of their stubborn rebelliousness, led them to the land in which they now lived.

But there was a problem: Even though God had never given up on them or stopped blessing them, the people kept chasing after other gods.

Like the person who claims to believe in Christ, but then spends every waking hour giving other things their highest priority and greatest effort, the Hebrews let other things crowd God out of their lives.

That’s why Joshua tells them: “Now therefore revere the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness.”

Frankly, our translation dainties things up a bit. Far better is the rendering of the New International Version, which says, “Now fear the LORD and serve him with all faithfulness.” No matter how confident we can be of God’s love for us and of God’s desire of the best for us, we never dare get over our fear of God. God is greater than we are. God made us. We are in God’s hands. But Joshua’s point is that this great God Who has done everything for us--and Who is awesome in His power, strength, and perfection--deserves our complete surrender.

It’s also in our interest to surrender to this God. Only those who surrender to the God we know through Christ clear away the obstructions that would otherwise block His grace and blessings from our lives.

The lesson from Hebrews was addressed to a group of Jewish Christians in the first century, many centuries after Joshua lived. The issue in this address was that the Roman Empire was starting to persecute those who confessed Jesus and it was tempting for these Jewish followers of Jesus to renounce their faith in Him. The writer of Hebrews tells the believers to not give up on their relationship with the God revealed to the world in Christ. Just before our lesson, he talks about all that Christ had done for them, enduring the cross to win life for them. He says that because Christ gives us confidence to come before God in our prayers and because Christ is our great advocate--our high priest--Who sacrificed Himself for us, we can approach God with trusting faith, hold onto Him with hope that He’s good for all His promises, and dare to love one another. Because of Christ, we can live in faith, hope, and love.

For twelve-and-a-half years, Friendship Church wandered in the wilderness. Our worship, for most of those years, happened in a building so bad that the West Clermont Local School District is trying to get voters’ authorization to tear it down and build a new school. Bible study, small groups, and other activities happened in homes and shopping malls. We couldn’t wait to get into our promised land. Then, we thought, we could really be a church. We’d be able to be together for worship any time we wanted, even Saturday nights and Wednesday nights in Lent and Christmas Eve. We could have as many Bible studies and service activities as the building would hold. And we would be bursting at the seams.

Funny. Most of that hasn’t happened. Why?

Maybe we lost our focus.

Maybe we got apathetic.

Maybe we took God and our congregation for granted.

Maybe we got so involved in the stuff of being a church that we forgot that growing in the faith, hope, and love of the living Christ is meant to be our focus, building or not.

Maybe we forgot that the only truly happy people in the world are those who are focused on God’s purposes, the people who focus their time, talents, treasures, their whole lives on God. They do it, not to try to get God’s attention or to procure heavenly fire insurance. They do it because of their gratitude to Christ and because of the need that all of us have to give ourselves over to a great cause--the greatest cause: Jesus Christ and His mission in the world.

Joshua knew and the writer of Hebrews knew what we must know: When our lives get out of focus, it’s time to renew our covenant with God, to rededicate ourselves to Christ.

This can be such a day for you.

In a moment, I’m going to ask you to bring your offerings and your completed Time and Talent surveys and your 2007 statements of estimated giving to the Lord’s Table. I ask all of you to approach this as the truly important moment that it is.

If you’ve already filled out your forms, take some time to pray about it and pray that God’s good will be done for Friendship. Ask God if there’s anything He’d like for you to change about your commitment.

If you’re planning on filling out the forms during this time of commitment and prayer, ask God to guide you and our congregation.

As we begin, pray with me for just a moment...

[The true story of Jimmy Johnson and the Dallas Cowboys is told in 100 Ways to Motivate Yourself by Steve Chandler.]


Go, Buckeyes!