Friday, June 05, 2009


OK, you didn't ask. But I'm so far behind in blogging, a few items,

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button: I saw it on DVD the other night. While intrigued by the technology that allowed the film to so convincingly reduce Brad Pitt's age, this movie was a crashing bore. It was three hours of both trying to imitate Forrest Gump and to make a case for Pitt having a place equal to Hanks in Hollywood celestial places. Pitt is a good actor. But this was as self-indulgent and meaningless a movie as any I've ever seen.

Obama in Cairo: I thought that it was a balanced speech. He didn't underestimate US values of freedom and rights for minorites. Nor did he excuse the radicalism that spawned September 11, 2001. But he rightly owned those times when our nation has departed from its values--like in the early 50s, when my favorite president of the last half of the 2oth century, Dwight Eisenhower, made the mistake of overthrowing a democratically elected president to install the Shah--and in other instances. This is an important beginning, confirmed by the fact that Osama bin Laden went to such extremes to pan he speech.

Monk's Wipes: I'm a huge fan of Monk. But I approach the upcoming summer season with sadness. It'll be the show's last.

My big question is that with the rise of the Swine Flu and the threat that it may mutate and become deadlier in the fall, I wonder if Monk's obsessive-compulsive reliance on wipes will have been robbed of its farcical quality. Monk seems fairly smart using those wipes right now.

The father of primal scream therapy taught his patients and readers that insanity could be a sane person's reaction to the world's insanity. Adrian doesn't seem very nuts right now.

Prediction: Monk finds Trudy's killer, which brings him amazing peace and stability. Then, he'll marry eiher Natalie or, in a real twist, Sharona, his assistant from the first few seasons.

Big Projects: I've been working on two big projects, one within the congregation and one in the community. The initial responses of people have been great. I suppose I should expect it: I began praying for both regularly almost since arriving at Saint Matthew and in Logan nineteen months ago. I'd appreciate your prayers that God will guide me, as well as church and community leaders in this two big efforts and that both will result in honoring the God Who gives the power to love our neighbors in practical ways!

To see the books I've been reading lately, go to my site on LinkedIn

Update #2 on My Dad

This really isn't "all Dad all the time" here. But I wanted to let you know how Dad is doing now.

Today, I went to visit with him again. (Our daughter once more accompanied me.) When we first arrived, he was sitting in his favorite chair, the TV showing the Indians getting trounced by the Twins. (Dad only watches the Indians if the Reds are not playing or can't be seen on TV.) But Dad was asleep and I decided to let that go so that I could visit with my Mom in the other room instead.

After a half hour or so, we heard him rustling and went in for a visit with him. He was showered and shaved and in fine spirits. When he heard one of my sisters in his living room, he called out jokingly, "Who's that stranger in our living room?" He was glad to see her as she came into the room.

We had a long visit. When I announced it was time for us to shove off, Dad stood. "You don't have to do that, Dad," I told him. "I know," he said, "but I think I'm going to fix myself a pot of coffee." That was good news!

Thank you for your prayers. Dad has separate appointments with his surgeon and his GP next week. The surgeon will be removing his "clamps" and the assistant promised the procedure will hurt. But the man who never flinches when taking a shot says that he doesn't think so. Funny, he given his track record, I'm betting on Dad.

Please continue to pray and thank you very much.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Update on My Dad

I spent last night--from 5:00pm on Sunday through 7:00am today, with my Dad at the hospital. My sisters have been staying there with him to this point in Dad's hospital stay and it's important for me to do my part. (Besides, I remember many childhood nights when I was sick and, once, nearly dying, that my Dad stayed up with me!)

"You're a quick healer!" said Dad's nurse last night after listening to him through her stethoscope. If you read this post, you know that Dad had emergency surgery on Wednesday. Though he had a scary inventory of previously unknown problems, Dad has bounced back remarkably well. Last night and this morning, he sat up for hours at a time and we had great conversations. Dad is eating solid foods, taking walks up and down the hospital hallway, and lobbying to be sent home.

It helps, of course, as my Mom said today, that Dad has always taken care of himself. He's a walker. He rarely overeats. He doesn't drink. He quit smoking years ago.

But prayers are helping him too, no doubt. We've been made aware that Dad is on many prayer chains and prayer lists at many churches across the country. And thanks to The Moderate Voice colleague Holly Robinson, I know that Dad will soon be added to the prayer list for at least one synagogue. Thanks to all of you.

And of course, I thank God for Dad's progress!

[UPDATE ON THE UPDATE (June 3): Dad was released today! I got to see him. He was sleepy. In fact, we sat for a time in his TV room; he slept and I nearly did so on the nearby couch. One of my sisters came by and fixed dinner for him. He snarfed it all up and announced he was taking a shower, something he hadn't been able to do since last Wednesday morning, before his emergency surgery.]

Afraid of the Holy Spirit?

[This was shared during worship with the people of Saint Matthew Lutheran Church in Logan, Ohio on Pentecost Sunday, May 31, 2009.]

Acts 2:1-21
Erv Streng is a retired Lutheran pastor who was part of a group which, for several years, I met weekly for study and prayer. One day, Erv told our little group: “The problem with the Church is that we’re afraid of the Holy Spirit.”

I think that he’s right.

Truth be told, talk about the Holy Spirit in some churches—like, say, Lutheran churches—makes us feel uncomfortable.

One reason for that is that we likely feel that we know little about the Holy Spirit. The average church-going Lutheran can speak more confidently about the God the Father and God the Son Jesus Christ than they can about God the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is more mysterious to us.

But here’s what really makes us afraid of the Holy Spirit: We worry that the Spirit will make us take risks or do weird things.

And, whenever we put ourselves at the disposal of the God we meet in Jesus Christ, the Spirit will put us out on limbs and make us do weird things.

I’m not talking about things like speaking in strange tongues or touching people to bring instantaneous healing, both of which God gifts some Christians to do. But I am saying that the Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Trinity Who never calls attention to Himself, may sometimes cause us to do things to call attention to Jesus Christ which we’d rather not do.

What do I mean by that? On this Pentecost Sunday, our first lesson tells us what happened on the first Pentecost after the risen Jesus had ascended to heaven. Just before His ascension, Jesus told His disciples to go back to Jerusalem and wait for God’s power to descend on them so that they could be His witnesses, first in Jerusalem, then in Judea (the nation of which Jerusalem was spiritual and political capital), then Samaria (the neighboring country, which had once been part of greater Israel), and finally, “to the ends of the earth.”

It’s likely that down in the gut, no matter how willing the first disciples were to be witnesses for Christ, they also hoped to avoid having to tell a hostile or indifferent world about the carpenter they knew to be God. They may have even hoped that once Jesus was out of sight, sitting on the right hand of the Father in heaven, they could put their experiences with Him, including His resurrection, out of their minds. They could go back to life as normal.

But the Holy Spirit doesn’t want us to live normal lives. In The Small Catechism, we’re taught to confess, “I believe that by my own understanding or strength, I cannot believe in Jesus Christ or come to him, but instead the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, made me holy, and kept me in true faith…”

Faith in God—trust in God’s grace and goodness—isn’t a normal thing. My nephew Dan just graduated from high school. He’s joining the Army Reserve. It’s been made clear to him and to my sister Dianne and brother-in-law Ken that there’s a high probability Dan will go to Afghanistan. My sister spoke with the rest of us about that this past week. “I don’t understand why Dan feels the need to do this, though I’m thankful for people who feel the way he does,” she said. “But I have to trust that whatever happens, I know that Dan believes in the Lord and I trust that he is always in God’s hands.”

Mind you, Dianne doesn’t see faith in God as a good luck charm. She sees God as the One Who died and rose, Who doesn’t promise ease in this life, but promises the presence and love of God with us here in our imperfect world AND in eternity.

In the eyes of the world, faith like that is weird. It’s the kind of faith that has Christians regularly praying, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven…” That’s the kind of faith God was forging in the disciples as they waited those ten days between Jesus’ ascension and Pentecost.

Then their waiting ended. And that’s when the real weirdness began. The Spirit filled the place where the 120 disciples were doing their waiting with the rush of a mighty wind. It got people’s attention.

In the meantime, the once-fearful disciples went into the streets of Jerusalem and began to tell all about the mighty acts of God in the languages of all the folks then visiting Jerusalem.

And this exemplifies the weirdest thing that the Holy Spirit does, the thing that makes us most afraid of the Spirit: The Spirit empowers us to share our faith with others.

On Monday, I got an email from my brother Marty. He’s now managing a Chipotle restaurant in the Columbus area. One of his employees, knowing that, a few years ago, Marty and his wife Trina lost a child thirty-six hours after she was born, called Marty and asked if they could talk. The employee and his wife had just lost their own baby. Marty wrote to seek prayers, asking me and others he'd written to ask God to tell him what to say when it was time to speak and to remain silent when there were no words to say. Marty wanted to be able to share his faith with this man who needed the help of Jesus Christ. But he knew that if he tried doing it on his own power, he would fail.

And that points us to something especially fearful about God’s Spirit: The Holy Spirit incites the faithful not only to believe and to share their belief in the risen Jesus, the Spirit also causes us to want to share our faith.

The first book of the Bible I read after coming to faith in Christ as an adult was Acts. I was inspired by the faith of these early Christians, people I recognized as being, in many ways, as ordinary and fearful, as short-sighted and sinful as I am. Yet, they fulfilled the mission Jesus Christ gave to them. They did share their faith in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth. Jesus had become, for me as for the first disciples, the most important priority in my life. And yet, I found it hard to share my faith.

I remember that, in the early days of my faith walk, a friend was going through the slow, tortured crackup of his marriage. Neither he nor his wife were believers. I felt that, at the very least, God could help them whatever happened to their marriage. But every time I started to even say something as simple as, “I’m praying for you,” the words got stuck in my throat. They remained there. Our friends divorced and went through that terrible experience without a connection to Jesus Christ.

I believed in Jesus and I wanted to share my faith. But I didn’t do it because instead of relying on the Holy Spirit, I was relying on myself. That never works!

By contrast, Peter, the disciple who had, little more than seven weeks earlier, denied Jesus three times on the night of Jesus’ arrest, spoke out clearly and lovingly about Jesus on the first Christian Pentecost. That kind of bold sharing of Christ can be characteristic of all who are baptized and who believe in Jesus!

By our front door at home, Ann and I have a little plaque. It’s a prayer, a variation of which I try to keep in my heart every time I walk out of the house. “Dear Lord,” it says, “please put your arm around my shoulder and your hand over my mouth.” There are times when the best thing a witness of Christ can do is to be silent.

But there are also times to speak. Our own Bailey Morgan showed us that in the interview with her which appeared this past week in the Logan Daily News. Bailey talked about her college and career plans and how she hoped to live out her faith in Christ in both spheres of her life. Bailey is a witness for Christ.

The Holy Spirit incites faith in Jesus within us, makes us want to share our faith, and even in those of us who are reluctant or fearful, empowers us to share our faith. Week before last, I got my eyes examined. The doctor seemed like a nice young woman. She found out that I was a pastor and commented, “I could never do that. I have stage fright.” “So do I,” I told her. “I have ever since I was a young adolescent. But I pray about it whenever I have to do things in front of people and God always seems to get me through.”

I thought about that later and realized that I had testified to the mighty works of God without thinking much about it. I had shared my faith. I don’t know what impact my words may have on that young woman. But I do know that the Holy Spirit uses our words—and our actions—about Jesus to incite and build faith in others.

At Saint Matthew, we have the same mission Christ gave to the early Church—to teach and baptize and make disciples—and to do it right here in Logan.

But we needn’t be afraid about doing that. Christ has given us the same Holy Spirit He sent to the first disciples on the first Christian Pentecost day. Now, as then, the Spirit is inciting faith and helping us to share that faith with others.

Today, I ask you to dare to believe that. Dare to believe that in spite of whatever fears you may have, God’s Spirit can help you to share your faith and, through your faithful dependence on Christ, change our community and world.

It’s happened millions of times before. It can happen hundreds and thousands of times again right here in Logan and Hocking County. Amen