Saturday, July 19, 2008

Ringo's LP is Okay, But He Should Think Again About Jesus

Ringo Starr is no Bob Dylan. He has a below-average voice. His songs are mostly hokie. But he's a great drummer and, as the three members of the Beatles who invited him to replace Pete Best as they began their recording career knew, a tremendous personality. The Beatle-y spirit of fun lives on in the music he continues to produce.

In January, Starr released Liverpool 8, timed to coincide with his concert in Liverpool, part of that city's degination as "culture capital" of Europe for the year.

The title track, co-written with Eurythmc Dave Stewart, is a fun remembrance of his hometown and the Beatles years. Overall, it's a nice little LP, although Starr's collaboration with Mark Hudson--who, along with longtime Ringo sidemen, the Roundheads, is co-composer and producer of all but one of the LP's tracks--is growing a bit tiresome and predictable.

I also enjoy the rather offbeat and evocative tribute to his late buddy, Harry Nilsson, Harry's Song.

Two of the tracks could be omitted: Pasodobles, a Spanish-tinged song that wouldn't be good even if Starr could sing it and R U Ready?

The latter song reflects Starr's apparently growing, if superficial, interest in spiritual things and in his own mortality. In it, he equates Jesus, Buddha, and Krishna. He sings at one point, "Jesus was a wise man and everyone's a Saint/Are you ready to cross over, are you ready?"

I'm glad that Ringo thinks that Jesus was a wise man. But if he thinks that makes him ready to face death and eternity, Jesus would ask him to think again.

Jesus made bigger claims for himself than being wise. "The Father and I are one," He says, equating Himself God. And He says, "“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."

Starr's lyrics reflect one of the commonest ways of dodging Jesus' call to turn from sin and believe in the message that His death and resurrection are the way to life with God forever. People call Him a nice man, a good teacher, or one of many ways to God, but not the one and only Lord and God Jesus claims to be. These dodges are attempts to have it both ways, to have Jesus without following Him.

Jesus won't have any of it, though! When confronting Jesus' message about Himself, that He is God and the only way to eternity with God, we have, as C.S. Lewis pointed out, three alternatives: We can (1) call him a liar; (2) call him a madman; or (3) fall down before him as the Lord and God he claims to be.

If Jesus is lying about Himself, He can't be the wise man that Ringo and, it seems increasingly, many, dismissively call Him.

The problem with these common statements about Jesus is that they overlook what's been revealed about Him and chronicled in the very books--the New Testament gospels--that anyone would have to call upon to label Jesus as wise.

Ringo Starr is no Bob Dylan. And though I like him, he's no theologian. And clearly, logic isn't his strong suit either.

Did Beaver Experience Any Desperate Hours?

At lunchtime today, I turned on the TV and saw the last two minutes of The Desperate Hours, starring Humphrey Bogart and Frederick March. I've never seen the film before and so was stunned by what I saw: March walking into a house that looked like that of the Cleaver family from Leave It to Beaver. Not the house from the early years, but the last few seasons. A Google search showed that mine isn't the only Baby Boomer mind cluttered with unnecessary facts and images. March really was in Beaver's house.

Here's a picture of the first Cleaver house.

How many brain cells do we waste on memories like this one?

[UPDATE, 8/29/2012: Because the link above doesn't work, here's a new one that gives the rundown on Beaver's house. Later, Marcus Welby moved in.]

"The Eagle Has Landed!"

Tomorrow marks the thirty-ninth anniversary of the landing of Apollo 11 on the lunar surface. The space program that resulted in human beings walking on the Moon is a testimony to what human beings, driven by a positive purpose, can do together. There are countless other endeavors that would benefit from similar efforts.

Friday, July 18, 2008

To Help You Prepare for Worship on Sunday

For many of us, including those of us at Saint Matthew Lutheran Church in Logan, Ohio, this coming Sunday, July 20, will be the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost. The Gospel lesson, Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43, presents one of several parables (and its explanation) told by Jesus in this section of Matthew's gospel. A great and challenging overview of the text can be found here.

In addition to the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) translation linked above, I also love the rendering of the passage by Eugene Peterson in The Message:
[Jesus] told another story. "God's kingdom is like a farmer who planted good seed in his field. That night, while his hired men were asleep, his enemy sowed thistles all through the wheat and slipped away before dawn. When the first green shoots appeared and the grain began to form, the thistles showed up, too.

"The farmhands came to the farmer and said, 'Master, that was clean seed you planted, wasn't it? Where did these thistles come from?'

"He answered, 'Some enemy did this.'

"The farmhands asked, 'Should we weed out the thistles?'

"He said, 'No, if you weed the thistles, you'll pull up the wheat, too. Let them grow together until harvest time. Then I'll instruct the harvesters to pull up the thistles and tie them in bundles for the fire, then gather the wheat and put it in the barn.'"...

Jesus dismissed the congregation and went into the house. His disciples came in and said, "Explain to us that story of the thistles in the field."

So he explained. "The farmer who sows the pure seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, the pure seeds are subjects of the kingdom, the thistles are subjects of the Devil, and the enemy who sows them is the Devil. The harvest is the end of the age, the curtain of history. The harvest hands are angels.

"The picture of thistles pulled up and burned is a scene from the final act. The Son of Man will send his angels, weed out the thistles from his kingdom, pitch them in the trash, and be done with them. They are going to complain to high heaven, but nobody is going to listen. At the same time, ripe, holy lives will mature and adorn the kingdom of their Father.

"Are you listening to this? Really listening?"

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

How to Find Your Spiritual Gift

Good advice here.

Also: Here is a link to a series of devotions I presented during the 2006 Advent season, called Opening Your Spiritual Gifts.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Needed: People to Scatter Seeds

[This sermon was shared during worship with the people of Saint Matthew Lutheran Church in Logan, Ohio, this morning.]

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
Mike Herman was a Saint Louis Cardinals baseball fan. From the time he was a little boy, he went to ball games hoping that he could catch a souvenir baseball. Grown to adulthood, he’d go to batting practices before games just to have a shot at grabbing a big-league ball.

Back in the mid-90s, during one batting practice, Herman got to know a five year old boy named James. James was on the same quest for a souvenir and after a time, Herman found himself telling James “he could have my ball if I caught one.” The promise may have been hollow in light of the fact that Mike Herman had been unsuccessful at retrieving a big league baseball for twenty-eight years! But, five minutes later, Herman explains, “I caught a ball, and yes, I gave it to James.” “I wonder,” Mike Herman asks, “how often God waits to give us something until we are willing to give it away?”

Today, Jesus tells one of His most famous stories. It’s called the Parable of the Sower. You know it well. A farmer, representing Christ or you and me with Christ working in us, sows or scatters seeds. Farmers planted seeds back in Jesus’ day by simply tossing them everywhere. This method of farming wasn’t so efficient, as you can imagine. Even top-notch seeds flung in the wrong places aren't likely to grow.

Some of the seeds flung by Jesus' fictional farmer, He says, fell along a path and birds quickly ate them up.

Other seeds fell onto rocky ground and warmed by the stones, sprouted quickly and died just as quickly for lack of soil depth and the sun being able to fry them, roots and all.

Another bunch of the seeds fell among weeds and thorns. As the thorns grew, they choked the life out of the good seeds.

Finally, one last batch of seeds fell into good soil and Jesus says that they gave yields of thirty, sixty, and a hundred times.

To show you how impressive that is, in first century Judea where Jesus lived, harvests of four- to tenfold were the norm. Harvests yielding fifteen times the seeds sown were considered really great. So, the seeds that landed in good soil in Jesus’ story gave a bumper crop!

Later, Jesus explained His story. The seeds are the message about Him, the good news that, because He died and rose for us, we can have our sins forgiven and enjoy right relationships with God and live with Him forever. That happens when we entrust our lives to Him.

The different spots in which the seeds in Jesus’ story lands represents different sorts of reactions you and I may receive when we share the Good News of Jesus with others. We may encounter people who simply refuse to listen; those who who will be enthusiastic about Christ at first and then leave Him behind; those who allow themselves to get preoccupied with other things like money or family worries; and finally, those who receive the Good News of Jesus and strive to live for Him from that moment forward.

Jesus is telling us that the Word about Him is always a good seed, whether people let it take root in their lives or not! We’re to keep spreading the word about Jesus all around us, no matter what reaction we may get.

One evening back when I was in seminary, Ann and I had dinner with two other couples, all people with whom we’d gone to high school. We were being silly when the conversation turned serious. “Mark, what do you think needs to happen for a person to go to heaven?” one person asked me.

I have to tell you that I was afraid. I wanted these people to accept me and I was fearful of being written off as some religious fanatic. What would they think of me if I said that getting to heaven involved simply entrusting your life to Jesus Christ and letting Him be their Lord and King? So, instead of telling them this truth, I made a joke.

About a year-and-a-half later, the man who asked that question of me left his marriage. I have often wondered what might have happened had I planted the seed of Jesus’ message in his life that night. Maybe nothing. Maybe his heart and will would have proved to be bad soil. But I’ll never know this side of heaven because I chickened out and failed to scatter the good seed among my friends!

I guess that I was waiting for a "better time." I was hoping that maybe later, I would have a little more courage and "success," whatever that is. But Jesus tells us that we should keep scattering His Word, whether it’s convenient or even if we see little prospect of our message being welcomed.

I try to always remember that. Just this past week, I was talking with a person I’ve gotten to know here in Logan. I’ve sensed that he and God haven’t exactly been on speaking terms. But I’ve been praying for him and his family and have tried to treat him with Christian friendliness and dignity. “Do you think that it would be okay if I came to your church sometime?” he asked me the other day. “Absolutely!” I told him.

Like the farmer in Jesus’ parable, we’re to recklessly scatter the Word about the God Who is for the whole human race! I pray that in God’s good grace, I never blow an opportunity to share the message of Jesus again. First Peter 3:15, one of my favorite passages of the Bible, says: "Be prepared always to give an account for the hope that is in you, but do it with gentleness and reverence." In other words, 'Don't beat people over the head with the message of Jesus; but never be afraid to share it! Just as it gives life and hope to you, it can give life and hope to others!'

When we commit ourselves to scattering the Word about God, God will orchestrate amazing coincidences that give us the opportunity to do that.

Just yesterday, I got an email from a blogging buddy, Andy. A resident of Arizona, he’s spent the last four months in Turkey and is getting ready to return home soon. In Istanbul on Friday, he ran into a group from Arizona State University’s School of Global Management and Leadership. Andy explained that he’s working on a book comparing Christianity and Islam a bit like an earlier book he wrote comparing Christianity and Mormonism. The professors, one Buddhist and the other Jewish, asked him to teach a class on Saturday on Islam. Andy did that. “You have a gift for teaching,” one of the professors said and at dinner that night, Andy was able to further scatter the Word about Jesus Christ!

The fact is that, whether they try to conceal it or not, all people have a hunger to be reconciled with God, to have the God revealed to all the world through Jesus Christ in their lives. I was struck several years ago when in some of the interviews I heard with survivors of terrorist bombings in London, they reported that almost all of the passengers, fearing that their lives would end, cried out to God.

People want God in their lives, even the people who in recent polling—I’m not making this up—called themselves atheists, but reported that they believed there was a God.

When we share the Word about Jesus, we’re telling people that in every time of need and through every day of their lives, they can call to the God of love and goodness we know through Jesus and that they can do so with confidence and hope, knowing that He is with them and able to take the world's worst circumstances and turn them into heaven's best.

Through the Word about Jesus Christ, they can experience a hope that endures forever!

Keep scattering the seed of the message about Jesus, whether it seems to make a difference or not. Just as you can’t see the ways in which seeds are taking root beneath the soil, we sometimes can’t see the ways in which the Word about Jesus is taking hold and transforming people’s lives.

Are you looking for blessings in your life? Then resolve to be a blessing to others; bless people with the word about Christ! Let the seed of God's Word grow strong within you by giving it away.

As Mike Herman, the fellow who wanted a major league baseball found out, you just don’t know what blessings God is willing to give to you when you are willing to give them away. Resolve to do it this week: To spread the message of Jesus and then trust God to do good things with the seeds you scatter!

[Mike Herman's true story is contained in the book, Perfect Illustrations for Every Topic and Occasion.]