Saturday, January 09, 2010

Why is it that with a proven track record of physically abusing women with whom he has relationships...

that Charlie Sheen has not been suspended from his job on a CBS sitcom? And why hasn't he been required both to get help and to face whatever unconscionably-delayed judicial charges may be pending from his December 25 altercation with his wife?

Hanes, the undewear people, have already dropped Sheen for fear that his inveterate abuse of women is bad for their company's image. I realize that Sheen stars in "Two and a Half Men," which is a top-rated show on CBS. It's a cash cow.

But what messages is the airer of Sheen's show sending to women when they allow a serial abuser to be a playboy cad on the screen? What's more important to CBS's bottom line: alignment with the perpetrators of sexual violence or with the hundreds of thousands of women who are subjected violence each year? Do they want an abuser to be seen as an attractive date or life partner and for younger women to think that it's OK to accept abuse as the price of a relationship? By retaining Sheen at this point, CBS is siding with abusers. Not good.

I don't expect that any boycott would be effective in responding to CBS' insensitivity in this matter. But you would hope that "the Tiffany network" could act with a little more class. I guess not.

CBS, all eyes are on you. What are you going to do?

Faith Tidbit #13

In Faith Tidbit #5, we said that sin is our human condition. Sin is our inborn alienation from God. We Lutherans routinely confess that "we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves." This, the Bible teaches, is the common problem of every human being. To get free, we need God's help. That's where Jesus comes in.

Friday, January 08, 2010

"One day, there will be another opening ceremony, and everyone in heaven and on earth will bow at the name of Jesus..."

"And those from every nation who have accepted God’s plan in Christ will worship together in the flawless New Jerusalem."

Jesus is the exclusive Bridge between heaven and earth. "No one comes to the Father except through Me," He says (John 14:6).

But Jesus isn't exclusionary. All who repent and receive Him come to the Father for all eternity. That's why the only sermon by Jesus recorded in Mark's gospel says, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news" (Mark 1:14-15).

As John notes of Jesus in the prologue to his gospel in the New Testament, " all who received Him, who believed in His Name, He gave the power to become the children of God" (John 1:12).

God is incredibly gracious and loving. Through Christ, God makes eternity and everlasting reconciliation between Himself and His fallen children, available to all people.

Receive Christ, trust in Christ, and eternity is yours. Even if your capacity of for faith is non-existent, if you are willing to believe in Christ, God is committed, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to build faith in Christ into your life. Will you let God do that?

If you're willing to receive Christ, it will have an impact not only on your eternity. In Christ, God's eternal kingdom of love will invade your everyday world here and now. You'll be walking with the God of all eternity as you go about your daily work, decisions, and relationships. What a positive, life-changing difference that will make.

And it's all a free gift for those who will receive Jesus and allow God to give you the power to confess that Jesus is master of everything and everyone...and by His cross and resurrection, deserves to be.

Faith Tidbit #12

Why did God bother to reveal the birth of Jesus to magicians from the East, people who didn't even worship the God of Israel? While Jesus said that His personal mission was to "the lost sheep of the house of Israel," in His ministry, He also showed that He had come to be Savior of the world. Forty days after His resurrection, just before He ascended to heaven, Jesus met the eleven surviving apostles. Then, He gave the Church its "great commission," the core of which says, "...make disciples of all nations..." The epiphany given to the wise men said that Jesus had come not just to save God's people, Israel, but the whole world.

Hey, Bearcat Fans, Here's Proof That We in Buckeye Nation Feel Your Pain

The University of Cincinnati Bearcats lost in their bowl game with the Florida Gators a few days back. The same thing happened to my beloved Ohio State Buckeyes in a game for the national championship a few years back. Here's a little sympathy and inspiration for Bearcat fans; maybe you can learn from how we coped with our loss to the Gators back in 2007.

I titled the post in which I originally linked to this video three years ago, Like Saddam's Statue Being Brought Down in Baghdad.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Abraham Lincoln's 1864 Re-Election Win

"The history of the United States during Reconstruction, and for generations afterward, only makes sense if it’s considered within the context that nearly half of white Northerners rejected Abraham Lincoln and what he embodied, even at the height of his glory."

Oh Boy (That's Exasperation, Anger, and Sorrow)

Apparently some synods of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) are using intimidation and scare tactics-and bad theology--in an effort to stop congregations and pastors from expressing their opposition to the August, 2009, decisions of the ELCA Churchwide Assembly to allow congregations of our denomination ordain practicing homosexuals in committed relationships and to allow congregations to legitimize/recognize same-sex committed relationships. See here.

The pastor who wrote this post, Eric Ash, is a member of his synod's council and has incurred some angry responses to his own opposition to the Churchwide Assembly policy and theology changes. Read the whole thing.

Funny, I thought that the proponents of these departures from Scripture and Christian teaching wanted the "bound consciences" of all to be recognized.

This ELCA pastor's experiences are interesting:
I myself was put on notice by a member of our synod council's Executive Committee that she was going to make a motion a that I not be allowed to participate as a synod council member because of my protest against the ELCA. Also, another member of our synod council showed up at a class I was teaching in my parish to publicly say that she is married to a gay man who is living with another man, and who has had other homosexual lovers, and that this all biblically and theologically justified, in her opinion, because God gave him a need for "male sexual energy." No one has taken any action to exclude her from the synod council.
He goes on to reflect:
The last I heard, more than 130 congregations have already taken a first vote to leave the ELCA, and nearly 100 of them have received the necessary 2/3 majority. You can be certain more will follow. I know of several parishes in our synod that are redirecting their benevolence away for the synod and the ELCA. Undoubtedly, for many of them this is a first step toward leaving the ELCA. The ELCA has already cut its budget 10% and terminated more than 40 employees. It is said financial receipts at ELCA headquarters are down 20-40%. What the exact figure is, the ELCA isn't saying. Our synod was looking a deficit for 2009 nearing $200,000 before some of its largest parishes voted to redirect their benevolence. It will be interesting to hear -- if I'm actually allowed to be at the next synod council meeting -- what that deficit is today.
I pray that the ELCA will reverse itself and repent for the actions of last August.

Thank You...You Know Who You Are!

I heard the scraping of snow shovels, but had no idea. I simply assumed neighbors were being more ambitous than I was being, clearing off their walks as the snow kept falling.

Meanwhile, I kept reading about the amazing first one-hundred days of Franklin Roosevelt's administration. It was a period, you know, when a special session of Congress, on behalf of a country desperately mired in a depression which, by that time, had gone on for four years, waited for the Great Improviser to send the next piece of legislation. (At least one of the bills from this period wasn't even printed, but simply rolled-up newsprint representing what the Administration and the Congress had agreed to do.)

The whole thing was so absorbing, I guess, that I didn't really think about the scraping of shovels I heard.

Then my wife came upstairs and said, "Mark, there are people out shoveling our walk and I think they're from the church!"

I ran downstairs and sure enough, that was exactly the case. I felt like a slug...and very thankful.

What an incredibly wonderful thing to do...and so typical of this family!

Their kindness is an example of the common graces God's people share with others. I surely didn't deserve the kindness. But I just as surely appreciated it!

Need Faith?

Last night, before hitting the sack, I read this from Faith Alone: A Daily Devotional, composed of selections from the vast library of writings by Martin Luther:
Immediately the boy's father exclaimed, "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!"
Mark 9:24

If you have difficulty believing, you should ask God for faith. For the ability to believe is in God's hands alone. God sometimes gives faith openly and sometimes secretly.

But you can spur yourself on to believe. To begin, you shouldn't continually focus on the suffering of Christ. This has already done its work and frightened you. Rather, move beyond that and look at Christ's caring heart. See how full of love it is toward you, so that it drives him to lift the heavy load of your sin. Then your heart will be filled with love toward him, and your faith will be strengthened.

After this, move beyond Christ's heart to God's heart. You will see that Christ wouldn't have shown you love unless God in his eternal love had wanted him to. Christ is being obedient to God when he loves you. You will discover the good heart of the good Father, and as Christ says, you will be drawn to the Father through Christ. Then you will better understand what Christ says in John 3:16: "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son." We recognize the nature of God best, not by thinking about his power and wisdom, which are terrifying, but by thinking about his goodness and love. Then we are truly born anew in God, and we can grow in faith.

Faith Tidbit #11

Who were the wise men? The term used for them in our English Bibles, transliterated from the Greek New Testament, gives a good idea: Maji. (Magoi in the Greek.) These were foreigners who dealt in magic. While they were serious students of astronomy, the study of the stars, they also were practitioners of astrology, the Biblically-forbidden superstition that stars controlled human actions and destinies. Magic and astrology are both condemned in the Bible, undboubtedly because they're kinds of idol worship, giving human or demonic power or created objects a place of authority that rightfully belongs only to God.*

*The form of entertainment we call magic has nothing to do with what the Bible condemns and is harmless.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

God's Word Never Changes

I fully expect to witness the convergence of Venus, Jupiter, and our moon on November 18, 2052. I'll be 99 years old on that date, my birthday. Be that as it may, the reliability of God's physical universe and our certainty about when this convergence will next happen, reminds us of the complete reliability of God and of His Word, which does not change, says Dave Branon. I agree.

The psalmist applauded God's law and how it guides us through life and leads us to repentance and renewal: "Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path" (Psalm 119:105).

In August of last year, the denomination of which I am a part, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), voted to depart from God's Word and to follow a different path. The Churchwide Assembly voted to allow congregations to ordain gays and lesbians involved in committed relationships and to provide congregational legitimization of such relationships among the laity.

This action, seen by its advocates as an act of love and justice, is, in truth, a deeply hateful act.

It pours contempt first of all, on God. God's will when it comes to sexual intimacy is clear. When God created Adam and Eve, God's intentions could be seen. The genders, each equally created in the image of God, were also created to complement one another. To prevent the man from being alone and to offer him the intimacy which God enjoys within the Trinity, God made the woman. It is deeply instructive that there is no "Adam and Adam" story.

Among the cultures by which it was surrounded, ancient Israel, God's people, were alone in seeing homosexual behavior as wrong. Homosexuality was widely practiced throughout the ancient world and seen as acceptable. But Israel's God said this shouldn't be so. Much of the Old Testament book of Leviticus details laws relating to sacrifices, laws supplanted by the once and for all sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. But a section of Leviticus is an explication of the Ten Commandments, valid for all time, including today. There, sandwiched between proscriptions against incest and bestiality, an expansion on the Sixth Commandment, "You shall not commit adultery," God says to the men of Israel, "You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination" (Leviticus 18:22).

Jesus affirms heterosexuality expressed within marriage as a lifelong commitment in his discussion of marriage and divorce in Matthew 19. In spite of the prevalence of homosexuality in the Greco-Roman culture that was so omnipresent in first century Judea that the New Testament was written in Greek, Jesus never once utters a word indicating that homosexual behavior is an option for human beings. (By the way, there are those who say that because the Church is so accepting of divorce these days and so willingly looks the other way when it comes to fornication, sexual intimacy on the part of unmarried heterosexuals, it's perfectly OK for the Church to change its teaching on homosexuality. Although the Church has been lax in addressing divorce and fornication, the Church has never officially said that congregations that want to legitimize such behaviors may do so if their consciences tell them it's OK, which is what the ELCA did when it comes to homosexuality last August.)

Jesus assumes that sexual intimacy may only happen between heterosexual partners in a lifelong marriage relationship.

In Romans 1, Paul says that the orientation to homosexual behavior, along with a catalog of other human sins, is a consequence of our inborn human alienation from God, something we all inherited from Adam and Eve, who fell into the condition of sin because they wanted "to be like God."

I was born with a penchant toward egomania. It is my orientation. God didn't make me that way; I was born that way. It is a manifestation of my fallenness as a member of the human family. Woe to me if I seek to legitimize my penchant to egomania by pretending that it's OK. It's not OK! Jesus calls me to acknowledge my sin and seek His help in acting in accordance not with my sinful orientations, but in accordance with God's Word and will.

God's will is clear. We do not act lovingly toward those engaged in homosexual behavior if we lie to them and tell them that, while God hasn't changed His mind about His Word or will when it comes to any other sin, He's willing to fudge on this one.

How dare the Church show that kind of contempt for people who may want a relationship with Christ, but who are encouraged to continue doing things that will, if engaged in unrepentantly, destroy that relationship, denying the unrepentant a place with God for eternity?

There are those who say that my position on this issue--the position historically taken by God, the Bible, and the Church--is unloving. But, let me ask you to imagine a scenario for a second. If you see a woman saunter out into the middle of a busy highway, heedless of the cars that speed by and threaten her life, what is the more loving act: Affirming her right to be in the road or reminding her of the consequences of such behavior and urging her, even helping her, to safety?

The Church has been commissioned by its Savior to present the truth about sin and death, as well as the truth about forgiveness, the power for holy living, and eternal hope that comes only through Jesus. We are to help people to the safety and life that comes from a faith connection with Jesus Christ.

The Church should welcome all people to wrestle with sin and redemption, death and life, grace and faith. The Church is not authorized to, as Pastor Jaynan Clark has put it, "unsin sin."

Nor is it authorized to replace the authority of God's Word with its own reasoning or preferences.

It would be far easier for the Church to acquiesce to the world's current preferences on matters sexual, far pleasanter for we who bear the Name of Christ to simply "go with the flow" of contemporary society. We could be very comfortable, all the while dying by degrees for our disconnection from Christ! Discipleship and faithfulness aren't always easy. At times, we are called to speak "the the truth in love" (Epehsians 4:15).

I favor full civil rights for all people, no exceptions. I favor justice for all people, no exceptions. That is clearly God's will.

But I do not favor the Church editing God's Word to suit its desire for acceptance in a world that wants to follow its own ways and deities.

It's gut check time for the ELCA: Will we follow the Word or the world?

My prayer is that God will guide us all again back onto the path of God's Word. I pray that we ELCA Lutherans will regain our commitment to "Word Alone. Grace Alone. Faith Alone."

God's Word and will do not change. As I've said before, truth doesn't come with an expiration date.

May we turn back to God and trust in God's Word before all our congregations lose their saltiness and become a string of nice religious clubs that do nice things, but are devoid of the life-transforming power of God by which we are called to life styles of daily repentance and renewal and, in growing closer to Christ rather than to the world, are given God's power to draw the world to Christ!

I'm a believer in confessional resistance to the heresy which has taken hold in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. I pray each day that the ELCA will reverse and repent. God's Word demands nothing less.

"Called to Be Stars"

That was the title of my Sunday morning sermon delivered one year ago today, January 6, 2008.

On the Christian calendar, January 6 is Epiphany Day, kicking off the Epiphany Season.

In a way, Epiphany reminds us that God calls all of us to be stars, not celebrities who love soaking up media attention for clubbing or deigning to give their attention to the pitiful hoi polloi. God calls us, like the start of Bethlehem, to point to the God, Savior, and King of the world, Jesus.

Here, with slight modifications, is the biggest part of Called to Be Stars:

Matthew 2:1-12
Once, the pastor of Ann’s and my home church in Columbus told us the story of how he became a follower of Jesus Christ. You see, he came from a non-churchgoing family. He’d never been in a church building until, when he was a small boy, he heard that there was going to be a magic show in the fellowship hall of the local Lutheran congregation. Curious, he went. He came for the magic. But he stayed for the Savior.

I thought of our home pastor’s experience as I prepared for this morning. We call the visitors who brought gifts to the baby Jesus in our Gospel lesson wise men. We also sometimes call them kings. And while there’s nothing terrible about those designations, they’re really not accurate. The original Greek of the New Testament calls them magi. We get our word magic from the term.

The magi were, to put it bluntly, first century versions of palm readers or fortune tellers. They enjoyed a high status in places the New Testament called “the East”—they probably were from countries that set in what is modern day Iran or Iraq. They served as the powerful advisers to kings.

But God’s people, the Jews, took a dim view of people like the magi. God was clear in His Word that things like horoscopes and consulting with fortunetellers was wrong. God’s people were (and are) to rely on God and His Word alone.

The magi though, thought that events in the heavens bore a relationship to events on earth. In the year 7 BC, probably about one year before Jesus’ birth, the planets Jupiter and Saturn were in conjunction, emitting a large and noteworthy light. Jupiter was always thought to be the planet of royalty and many thought that Saturn was the planet of the Jews. The magi who observed the conjoining of the two planets might very well have thought that a new king of the Jews had been born. Although we can’t know it for certain, the conjunction of the two planets may be what led the magi to Jerusalem.

You know the story of what happened there. Probably unschooled in the prophecies of a Savior Who would be more than the king of the Jews, but also the Savior of the whole human race, they went to Herod. In 40BC, Herod the Great had been declared to be King of the Jews by the Roman Empire. The magi may have figured that a baby had been born into his household.

Instead, Herod’s household and servants were thrown into an uproar, something they tried to conceal from the visitors from the East. Scholars and theologians were consulted and magi were told that the Old Testament prophets had said that a king of the Jews, the Messiah, was to be born in a tiny village about five miles from Jerusalem, the hometown of Israel’s first king, David. The place was called Bethlehem.

That’s all the magi needed to know. They left the king and found the baby living in a house in Bethlehem. There, we’re told, they “paid… homage” to Jesus. The original verb as Matthew wrote it was proskuneo, meaning worship. The Magi worshiped Jesus as God and King.

You see, like Ann’s and my home pastor who had been attracted by a magic show and instead found the Lord of his life, the Magi had been attracted by what they thought was a portent of a birth in the Judean equivalent of Buckingham Palace. Instead, in a humble home in a tiny town, they found the God of all creation, come to save the world from sin and death!

You never can tell what might attract people who have never had anything to do with God before to come and worship Him! The unlikeliest people can be attracted to follow the Savior.

And magic shows and stars aren’t the only things that can attract people to Christ. Sometimes other people, even husbands and wives can do it.

Although raised in a Christian home, as he went through his high school and college years, he considered himself an atheist. He was, he thought, too smart for that God stuff. Even if there were a God, he could fend for himself. But as far as he was concerned, if you couldn’t see God, he wasn’t there.

He fell in love and he married. His wife was a person who went to worship each Sunday. She often found him after she’d returned from worship and the fellowship hour, still laying in bed, worshiping at Saint Mattress of the Springs. Just to get her off his back, he started going to church with her. The liturgy of the worship service mystified him at first. He couldn’t figure out what was going on as the people shuffled from one section of their hymnal to another, from one paper to another, and as they stood and sat and kneeled and stood again.

And yet, as he spent time with these people, as he saw the earnestness with which they worshiped, as he observed their good humor and experienced their warm welcomes, as he saw that they weren’t holier-than-thou religious prudes, but really followed a real Savior in Whom they really believed, he found his attitudes about God—and about Jesus—being changed.

Eventually, the pastor who had come to faith in Jesus because he’d wanted to see a magic show went to serve at the church that the atheist was attending with his wife. The pastor offered a class called, Life with God. The atheist, still skeptical, still wondering if there was anything to this Christian stuff, decided to attend the class. He resolved that he would do all the readings and participate in all the classes. He wanted to know for sure for himself whether there was a God he could worship.

Sometime in the ten weeks of that class, the atheist became a believer in Jesus. I am that atheist who became a believer. And it all began when I fell in love with Ann.

Now, here’s my point. This is Epiphany Day. The word epiphany is what’s called a transliteration of a Greek word, epiphaneo. It literally means shine upon. But it carries the meaning of making something clear, of manifesting something.

On the first Epiphany, a bright star, maybe the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn, shone upon the magi. But having received clarification from the Word of God in Jerusalem, they understood that they were doing more than following a star. The Savior of the world, the One Who gives the gift of new and everlasting life to all who repent, or turn from their sin, and believe in Jesus Christ, was made clear to them.

Some three decades after the Magi visited the baby Jesus, after Jesus died and rose from the dead and spent forty days instructing His disciples, it was time for Him to ascend to heaven. But before He did, Jesus gave one last bit of instruction to His followers, including me and you. “As you go through your lives,” Jesus said, “make disciples of all peoples, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” This is often called the Great Commission.

You and I are called to be stars who shine the light of Christ’s Gospel into the lives of others.

You and I are called to make Gospel clear to others, so that they can see the goodness and the greatness of the Lord Who was born among us, died for us, and rose for us to give us life with God forever. In short, God has called us to be something that is a bad word to some people: witnesses.

We’re to invite our friends to worship with us. We’re to invite them to Sunday School with us. We’re to invite them to activities of the Church so that people see that those Christians aren’t a bunch legalists throwing stones at the world, but people filled with the life and joy that only comes from following Jesus.

Jesus calls us to be "stars," people who bring the light of His love and salvation to others so that they too can enter into eternity with Christ, so that they can too be empowered by God to live this life to its fullest.

Stars light others to Christ in an otherwise darkened world. Today, ask God to help you be a star!

Paying Attention in 2010

From Pastor Deb Grant's daily emailed inspiration from yesterday:
Psalm 29
Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory of his name; worship the Lord in holy splendor.
* * * * * * * *
The call to worship is quite simply an appeal to pay attention. I recall a line
of a poem that said, "I don't know how to pray but I do know how to pay
attention." As New Year's resolutions are kick started, we might consider being
more intentional about growing in our relationship with God. The first steps of
any good resolution are to make small, do-able goals. Experts tell us that it
takes 28 days to break a bad habit or adopt a new one. For those of us whose
relationship with God is about on the same par as our exercise regime, we may do
well to spend January less concerned about finding time to pray or knowing what
to say and more time, as the psalmist says, "Ascribing to the Lord...." We can't
deepen this friendship with God without acknowledging he is in the room. A month
of days in which we pay attention is a beginning of beautiful friendship.
* * * * * * * *
Holy God, in a nip of cold air, a strike of sunlight, the sound of traffic, the
pulse of children we acknowledge you, the giver of all life. Amen.

ELOGOS is written by Deb Grant, pastor of Faith Lutheran Church, Dickinson,
Texas. Replies to ELOGOS are read only by Pastor Grant. Deb Grant is the author
of ELOGOS in book form and Pedestrian Theology - both titles are available at Grant's website:

Faith Tidbit #10

In Church History, Epiphany Day--which is January 6--was when people exchanged gifts, remembering that on the day it commemorates, the maji (or wise men) brought gifts to the Christ Child.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

I Loved This

See here.

You might also want to read here, here, and here.

Faith Tidbit #9

On the first Epiphany, which many scholars believe may have happened as much as two years after Jesus' birth, the maji from the east brought gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Why? Of course, gold was associated with kings and Jesus came to our world to be King. Frankincense was associated with the ascension of prayers to heaven; the gift thus acknowledged Jesus as the great high priest of the world whose sacrifice of Himself would open the way between God and humanity.* Myrrh was first used by the Egyptians for embalming, an acknowledgment that Jesus had come to die for us all.

*The New Testament book of Hebrews has a lot about Jesus as our great High Priest, as well as the perfect sacrifice for our sin.

Monday, January 04, 2010

The Obama Effigy in Plains, a Sad Report

I was saddened to read the report of an effigy of President Obama being hung in Plains, Georgia, the hometown of former President Carter. In August, 2004, I wrote here about a visit my family and I took to Plains and Sumter County:
My family and I sat in a Pizza Hut in Sumter County, Georgia and it was dawning on us: This place was different. Throughout this rural, deep South community, blacks and whites related to one another with an ease and friendliness one seldom sees in the North.

We had decided to stop in Sumter County on our way back from Florida, where my daughter had been on a college internship. We’re nuts for presidential history. In Sumter County is the town of Plains, home of our thirty-ninth president, Jimmy Carter. We arrived in Americus, the county seat, late one afternoon and visited Plains the next day.

I was unprepared for how small Plains and Sumter County are. Or how impoverished. According to, the average household median income is $30,904, compared to $49,386 here in Clermont County, Ohio. The disparity in the median family income is even greater: $35,379 in Sumter County and $57,032 here. The numbers quantify what we saw with our own eyes.

Plains itself is neat, simple, tiny, and while not boarded-up poor, not overly prosperous either.

Outside of town is Carter’s boyhood home and farm. The house is a small structure. Sometime during his childhood, Jimmy’s father had indoor plumbing installed. The bathroom included a handmade shower: a pipe fitted with two elbows that ran up from the tub and spewed water into a bucket that hung on the pipe. Into the bottom of the bucket Earl Carter pounded a set of nail holes that created the shower as the water drained out.

I marveled that a president had come from such a place, just as I have at the birthplaces or boyhood homes of other chief executives.

But I also marveled that a man from a poor, segregated community became such a fierce advocate of human rights, winning a Nobel Peace Prize, and who as a southern governor, would boldly declare the end of segregation as a way of life.

Standing there on the Carter farm, I began to see a larger picture, though.

You see, Sumter County is also the home of Koinonia Farms, the Christian commune started in 1942 by pastor and writer Clarence Jordan as a place where blacks and whites would work and live together in peace. Jordan and the Koinonia Partners have been a beacon of reconciliation to many in the world for six decades.

Sumter County is also the home of Habitat for Humanity, the Christian movement started by Millard and Linda Fuller, that is building affordable housing for people in need around the world.

How is it possible that such good and notable things that honor God and give hope and help to millions can spring from a seemingly unpromising place?

Jesus once told a parable--a story--about a farmer indiscriminately scattering seeds around his farm. The seeds fell on all sorts of soil and most either failed to take root or quickly died. But some seeds fell on good soil and grew and thrived.

The seeds in Jesus’ story contained the good news of God’s deathless love made available to all who turn from sin and let Jesus be the Center of their lives. The good soil is anyone who lets Jesus into their lives and follows Him.

Even in its segregated past, there were people in Sumter County who were “good soil.” The seeds of God’s love and power entered their lives and like time bombs of goodness, exploded in their souls---in people like Jimmy Carter, Clarence Jordan, Millard and Linda Fuller, and those whose lives they touched. Those soul explosions in turn, helped them to positively impact Sumter County and the world beyond.

God can do wonderful things in our lives when we let Jesus be our Center, God and Boss. Ask God to help you be good soil for His plans and purposes. You don’t know what He might do through you!
The Obama effigy is a sad incident and will be sadder still, if not shocking, if it's learned that any residents of an area from which so much Christian good has come, rather than some outsider, were responsible for this shameful act.

Did Brit Hume "Evangelize" Tiger Woods

Blogger Ann Althouse says that Brit Hume "evangelized" golfer Tiger Woods in this clip from Fox News. Many of Althouse's commenters seemed to agree and they didn't like it.

I have a slightly different take on the matter from that of Althouse or some of her readers.

The term "evangelize" is rooted in the New Testament word euangelion, meaning good news. (The New Testament was written in Greek.) For Christians, the good news (or Godspell, Gospel, in Old English) is that God restores relationship between God and humanity in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. All who repent and trust in (or believe in) Christ have forgiveness of sins, restored relationship with God, the capacity to believe in God's promises, and so on, in addition to eternal life.

In a way, Hume does "evangelize" in this clip, I suppose.

But in commending "good" news, did he violate the tenets of another "good," that of good journalism?

What interests me about Hume's comments to me is that I once saw Juan Williams give an interview in which he was asked about his involvement with Fox News. (Williams used to be a commentator there. I have no idea if he still is.)

Williams, who is overt about his Christian faith and often reports and opines on the intersection between faith and daily life, said that one of the most interesting aspects of his work at Fox came in his relationship with Hume.

Hume, he said at that time, had always been skeptical about Christianity and felt deeply uncomfortable with any discussions of the faith, on air or off. He was wary of Christians, regarding them as suspect, intellectually and otherwise.

Williams said that he felt that he had opened some sort of door of insight onto Christian faith for Hume, revealing to him that it wasn't as suspect or foreboding as he had seemed to think it was.

To me, Hume's prescription for Woods, though clearly informed by sympathy for the golfer, is almost distant and clinical, utilitarian. It doesn't come off as the endorsement of a "satisfied customer" of God's grace given in Jesus Christ, but as the observation of an outsider suggesting that the Christian faith might offer to Woods exactly what Hume believes the golfer needs right now.

Hume observes that Woods needs forgiveness and redemption and says that, based on his observations, Woods is less likely to find those things in Buddhism, to which Hume understands Woods to be an adherent, than in Christianity. Hume's comments were presented with a kind of objectivity, it seemed to me, an impression buttressed by Williams' comments, unless, of course, Hume has undergone a conversion since that time.

As for the appropriateness of what Hume said, it appears to have come during some sort of round-robin discussion. Under those circumstances, he's functioning as a commentator, not an objective journalist, and he has as much right, under those circumstances, to express his views as any other commentator. What he said certainly isn't the most outlandish thing I've ever heard in a cable news bull session.

I should put my biases on the table, so that you can better assess whether to totally dismiss what I've written here.

First, I'm a Christian and I do believe that Christ brings forgiveness, hope, and restoration. I would gladly--and I hope respectfully-- commend following Jesus Christ to Woods if the opportunity presented itself.

I'm a Lutheran, a pastor of a denomination which is seen as being liberal, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). But I'm unabashed in quoting Jesus when He says, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life." I believe Jesus restores relationship with God, giving new life and hope to all who believe in Him. I'm a very evangelical Christian. I think that there's good news to tell and I'm unabashed about telling it, but I hope I do so in a way that is respectful of everybody's perspective. Back when I was an atheist, one of the things I most hated in the world was Christians who went beyond telling me about what Christ meant to them to forcing their version of Christianity down my throat!

Second, I haven't watched Fox News in several years, other than for several seconds when my channel-surfing landed me there. It just isn't my cup of tea. (It should also be said that I haven't seen MSNBC in more than two years, either. When we moved to our new community in 2007, we found, to our chagrin, that MSNBC wasn't part of the basic cable package to which we subscribe. We miss Chris Matthews, but not Keith Olbermann, the latter of whom I loved as a sportscaster, but who I found abrasive and self-important as the host of Countdown. I haven't seen any of the newer personalities there--at least not for more than a few moments on the Internet--in order to be able to comment on what they're like.)

Third, I've never been much of a Brit Hume fan, even when he worked for Jack Anderson or later, ABC. But I did enjoy watching CSPAN's Brian Lamb, the most admirable of objective of journalists, interview Hume several years ago. Lamb helped me to see Hume a bit differently than I had before and again, then, there was no indication of Christian zeal on Hume's part.

If any of these disclaimers help you to explain away my less-than-critical take on Hume's comments regarding Tiger Woods, so be it.

Faith Tidbit #8

In popular usage, the term epiphany refers to a moment of insight or enlightenment. January 6 is more than Epiphany Day for the Church, it also kicks off the Epiphany Season. The Gospel lessons for this period all recount moments when people gained insight into Jesus' true identity, when they saw that He was more than a great teacher, but also God-in-the-flesh. They were enlightened by the light of the world.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

The Christmas Story: The Word Made Flesh

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

John 1:1-18
This morning, as we consider our Gospel lesson, I need to ask you to do a big favor for me.

I’m going to ask you to puncture the Sunday morning fog, to leave the New Year’s celebrating behind, and to even forget the fact that the Buckeyes CAN win the big ones and instead, put on your thinking caps.

God gave us brains and sometimes our faith is deepened when we use them to consider the amazing, life-changing truths God presents to us in Scripture. So, please pull out the Celebrate inserts, where the Gospel lesson is printed and sort of follow along this morning.

It starts, “In the beginning…” Now, the first thought that hits us when we read that phrase is of Genesis 1:1, the first chapter and verse in the first book of the Old Testament. There, we’re told that, “In the beginning,” God created the heavens and the earth.

But today’s Gospel lesson takes us to before that beginning, before God created anything, back when all that existed was God. And with three occurrences of the verb “was,” we’re told a lot about this God. Or, at least, we’re told about one person of God. It says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” This Word existed back when all that existed was God. So, if the only thing that existed was God and the Word was around, then the Word was God.

Now, that sounds pretty strange to us. We think of words as things that come from our mouths or that we read on a page or a computer screen. Words may describe something, we think, but they don’t actually live, do they? Don't they?

Let me ask you a question. Feel free to be un-Lutheran and shout out an answer. Do our words—our measly human words, I mean—have power? They sure do. Walk up to a person and tell them, “You’re stupid!” and I guarantee you will get a reaction of some kind. Words have power.

If that’s true for us, think how much more true that must be for God. God’s word must have power.

And in fact, when you think back to Genesis again, you find that we’re not told anything about the mechanics of how God created. It doesn’t say, “God took a teaspoon of hydrogen and mixed in some oxygen…” It says, “God said, ‘Let there be light!’; and there was light…God said, ‘Let the earth bring forth living creatures…’ And it was so.”

God spoke; things happened.

For God, there is no distinction between words and actions.

For God, words are actions. Powerful actions!

In the Old Testament book of Isaiah, God affirms this: “My word [God tells us]…shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”

We believe that God’s Word still does what God sends it to accomplish. When a person is brought to the baptismal font and water is poured over her or his head in the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, we believe that the water connected with the Word of God brings them new life. God declares the baptized as His own. “You are sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever,” we say for God.

And we believe that the only way in which the baptized person’s bonds with God can be broken is if the baptized person herself or himself unrepentantly sins and chooses to walk their own way, rather than God’s way. (And even then, it won't be God Who breaks the bonds, only us.)

When God created, His Word did exactly what it set out to do. God’s Word created a perfect world.

But we know what happened next. Humanity rejected God. We decided to go our own way.

Unless God intervened, God knew that His whole creation, including the pinnacle of His creation, the apex, the ones created in the “image of God”—you and me—could be lost for all eternity. God is willing to allow us to choose separation from God. God lets humanity choose hell. But God refused and God still refuses to let us go without fighting for us.

And so, centuries ago, starting with a couple named Abraham and Sarah and their descendants, God began to speak His Word to us again.

God knew that we don’t always wear our thinking caps.

God knew that He would have to use many active words to gradually penetrate our skulls and our wills in order to get through to us.

God spent centuries wooing the human race, helping humanity to get to know Him as a God of perfect love and perfect justice, as God with a will—expressed in the Ten Commandments—and a desire to forgive our failure to keep those commandments.

God kept speaking His Words to humanity, particularly to Israel, until He was ready to invite the whole planet back into the eternal intimacy He has always wanted to share with all of us.

Let me try to illustrate to you what I think this centuries-long project of God has been like. Very soon after Ann and I started dating, I knew that I loved her. But I didn’t tell her right away. I waited a while. I knew that she wasn’t ready to hear that. In words and actions, I built up to the point when I could finally say, “I love you.” Even then, I didn’t know either if I would convince her of my love or that she would respond by loving me back.

When I remember the moment when I first told Ann that I loved her, I recall that—whether it was true for Ann or not—my words had power for me. My palms sweated. My heart raced. And I can tell you that those words were more than mere abstract representations of my emotions. When I said, “I love you,” I put myself out on the line. My words weren’t just words. They were me.

Look again to our Gospel lesson. Let your eyes move to the first few verses: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”

The word which we translate from the original Greek of the New Testament as overcome, is katlambenon. It can be translated as comprehend or understand, instead of overcome. I think it should be translated that way, meaning that the passage tells us that those mired in the darkness of sin or life without God may not comprehend or understand God’s love and will for them…Not because they’re stupid, but because they've let the sin of the world, the sin in themselves, and the sin that comes from the devil himself take their capacity for thinking away from them. They live in a fog. They refuse to hear when God is speaking to them. They refuse to see when God’s light breaks the darkness.

And make no mistake about it, on the first Christmas, when Jesus was born, God was speaking His definitive word to us all.

Christmas is more than a date on the calendar.

It is the cosmic equivalent of D-Day. On that date, God stormed the beaches of resistant human sin and darkness—our love of independence, our desire to be our own masters--and on a silent night shouted that He doesn’t intend for His fallen children to experience desperation and disappointment in this world or death and hell in the next.

Verse 14 tells us the Christmas story, “The Word became flesh and lived among us” and then John says, “we have seen His glory.”

God’s Word is more than just God’s power. God’s Word is God and we know Him as Jesus, the Christ Child…Jesus, the Crucified Savior…Jesus, the Risen Lord.

The New Testament book of Hebrews starts out with these words, “Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets [God was building up to telling us and showing us how much He loved us], but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word.” [Hebrews 1:1-3]

When I first started seminary, I resumed something I hadn't done for about five years; two days a week, I substitute taught. One day, I was teaching a sixth grade English class when a student came in with a note from the office. Ann had left a message with the secretary there. It said that our happy suspicions were true; we were going to be parents.

I believed this word and yet, the first break I had, I called Ann to get her assurances that it really was true.

The Word was made flesh and has lived among us. God the Word—God the Son, Jesus—has lived on this earth and lived this life. He has died for our sin and risen from the dead. Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection tell us Who God is—“God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart,” or lesson says, “had made [God] known.”

And our good news is that all who receive Jesus, who trust in Him as their only hope in an otherwise dark and hopeless world, are given the power to be the children of God. The Word of the Bible, all sixty-six books of it, is designed to assure us of this truth: All who repent and believe in Christ are saved as a gift of grace from God.

We are in a time of crisis in the Church and in the world. Both Church and world are mired in darkness, unable to trust in the Word made flesh, or in the Word of the Bible. We need reassurances that the Bible’s strange witness about God is true. That’s why John’s words for us today are important. God calls us to receive Jesus. If we can receive Him, God's Spirit will make it possible for us to believe in Him. If we truly believe—trust--in Him, our faith will be more than words we speak. They will be words we live—God’s Word made flesh in us. God's Word, Jesus Christ, will live in us.

This year, welcome Jesus every day. Receive Jesus and God’s Word—law and gospel—the stuff we like and the things we don’t want to even think about or consider—as God’s Word to us and for us. Trust in God’s Word. That is more than our heritage and theology as Lutherans; it is the only way to life forever with God. Amen

Faith Tidbit #7

Epiphany arrives on January 6. The Greek word epiphany is a compound meaning to shine upon. According to the Gospel of Matthew, the star shone upon the place where the baby Jesus was, leading the magi from the east to Jesus.

'Stranger Than Fiction'

We watched this movie starring Will Ferrell again on Saturday night. I enjoyed it and remembered that the first time our son showed it to me two years ago, I wrote post about it here. If you haven't seen the film, you might enjoy it.

(By the way, it's still the only Will Ferrell movie I've seen. The trailers and clips I've seen for his other stuff hasn't appealed to me. It would be great if he would tackle more parts like his character in Stranger Than Fiction from time to time.)