Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Chinese Lunar New Year and the Great Heavenly Reunion

See here.

Also here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Faith Tidbit #48

In his book, Money, Sex, and Power, Richard Foster compares our sexuality to a river. When we use our sexuality within the boundaries created for it by God, sex also is a good and beautiful thing. But when misused, sex can hurt and destroy and disrupt people’s lives. To King Solomon, who certainly would have done well to pay greater attention, God said, "Drink water from your own cistern...rejoice in the wife of your youth...May her breasts satisfy you at all times; may you be intoxicated always by her love..." Sexual intimacy, one component of that special order of the friendship between a wife and a husband, is a beautiful (and even intoxicating) thing, meant only for a wife and a husband.

Friday, February 12, 2010

To Mark Lincoln's Birthday: Thoughts on His Second Inaugural Address

Several years ago, I wrote a seven-part blog series on Abraham Lincoln's second inaugural address. Since then, posting the following links to the series has seemed a good way to mark the anniversary of Lincoln's birth each year on February 12. I hope that you enjoy these articles. Let me know if you find them helpful.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7

Faith Tidbit #47

The second creation account in the Old Testament book of Genesis reveals God's intent for human beings who choose to express their sexuality in an intimate way. There, we're told, "...a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh." Sexual intimacy is meant to be the sign and seal of a lifetime connection between a husband and wife.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Iran is Feeling the Heat

While protesters celebrate the thirty-first anniversary of their country's Islamic revolution by taking to the streets and the country's president declares Iran to be "nuclear," the regime in Tehran is already feeling the heat from imminent US sanctions, according to Mark Dubowitz.

"Write your plans in pencil and let God have the eraser"

Great thoughts.

Two for Housecleaning Chores

I crank up the jams while doing household chores. This morning's selection was Bob Dylan's 1979 release, Slow Train Coming. For some self-appointed high priests of all things Dylan, Slow Train is an embarrassment, the audio equivalent of the crazy uncle in the attic, an aberrant episode in Dylan's career.

I'm a huge Dylan fan and I disagree with this self-appointed intelligentsia. Slow Train Coming is an overt expression of Christian faith, to be sure. But it's also got a lot of great music and some profound lyrics.

Great art and Christian witness aren't mutually exclusive ends for an artist to pursue. People as diverse as Johann Sebastian Bach, Anne Rice, J.R.R. Tolkien, Bruce Cockburn, Annie Dillard, and C.S Lewis, have been, at least at times in their careers, about expressing faith in Christ in great art. There is undeniably a lot of Christian schmaltz that masquerades as art. (I won't name names.) But, at least in the case of Slow Train Coming, Dylan need not hang his head. Nor should anyone who believes that a great Savior deserves great music.

Here are two of my favorites from the LP: I Believe in You and Gotta Serve Somebody, videos and lyrics.

The video quality of neither is great, but I still like them:

I Believe In You
They ask me how I feel
And if my love is real
And how I know I'll make it through.
And they, they look at me and frown,
They'd like to drive me from this town,
They don't want me around
'Cause I believe in you.

They show me to the door,
They say don't come back no more
'Cause I don't be like they'd like me to,
And I walk out on my own
A thousand miles from home
But I don't feel alone
'Cause I believe in you.

I believe in you even through the tears and the laughter,
I believe in you even though we be apart.
I believe in you even on the morning after.
Oh, when the dawn is nearing
Oh, when the night is disappearing
Oh, this feeling is still here in my heart.

Don't let me drift too far,
Keep me where you are
Where I will always be renewed.
And that which you've given me today
Is worth more than I could pay
And no matter what they say
I believe in you.

I believe in you when winter turn to summer,
I believe in you when white turn to black,
I believe in you even though I be outnumbered.
Oh, though the earth may shake me
Oh, though my friends forsake me
Oh, even that couldn't make me go back.

Don't let me change my heart,
Keep me set apart
From all the plans they do pursue.
And I, I don't mind the pain
Don't mind the driving rain
I know I will sustain
'Cause I believe in you.

Copyright ©1979 Special Rider Music

Gotta Serve Somebody
You may be an ambassador to England or France,
You may like to gamble, you might like to dance,
You may be the heavyweight champion of the world,
You may be a socialite with a long string of pearls

But you're gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You're gonna have to serve somebody,
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you're gonna have to serve somebody.

You might be a rock 'n' roll addict prancing on the stage,
You might have drugs at your command, women in a cage,
You may be a business man or some high degree thief,
They may call you Doctor or they may call you Chief

But you're gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You're gonna have to serve somebody,
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you're gonna have to serve somebody.

You may be a state trooper, you might be a young Turk,
You may be the head of some big TV network,
You may be rich or poor, you may be blind or lame,
You may be living in another country under another name

But you're gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You're gonna have to serve somebody,
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you're gonna have to serve somebody.

You may be a construction worker working on a home,
You may be living in a mansion or you might live in a dome,
You might own guns and you might even own tanks,
You might be somebody's landlord, you might even own banks

But you're gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You're gonna have to serve somebody,
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you're gonna have to serve somebody.

You may be a preacher with your spiritual pride,
You may be a city councilman taking bribes on the side,
You may be workin' in a barbershop, you may know how to cut hair,
You may be somebody's mistress, may be somebody's heir

But you're gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You're gonna have to serve somebody,
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you're gonna have to serve somebody.

Might like to wear cotton, might like to wear silk,
Might like to drink whiskey, might like to drink milk,
You might like to eat caviar, you might like to eat bread,
You may be sleeping on the floor, sleeping in a king-sized bed

But you're gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You're gonna have to serve somebody,
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you're gonna have to serve somebody.

You may call me Terry, you may call me Timmy,
You may call me Bobby, you may call me Zimmy,
You may call me R.J., you may call me Ray,
You may call me anything but no matter what you say

You're gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You're gonna have to serve somebody.
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you're gonna have to serve somebody.

Copyright ©1979 Special Rider Music

Faith Tidbit #46

The Bible speaks more explicitly and with greater appreciation on the subject of sex than even many Christians may know. According to the first creation account in the Old Testament book of Genesis, the first man and first woman were both created in and uniquely reflecting God's image. "So God created humankind in his image," it says, "in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them."

A Nice Version of 'The Times They Are A-Changin'' from Bob Dylan Appearance at the White House

[Thanks to Ann Althouse for pointing me to this.]

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Harold Holzer on Lincoln's Cooper Union Speech

This much is certain: Had Abraham Lincoln failed at his do-or-die debut in New York, he would never have won his party’s presidential nomination three months later, not to mention election to the White House that November. Such was the impact of a triumph in the nation’s media capital. Had he stumbled, none of the challenges that roiled his presidency would ever have tested his iron will. To paraphrase his own later words, he would likely have “escaped history” altogether.
Read the whole thing.

Update on LutheranCORE, Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ, and WordAlone


Faith Tidbit #45

Contrary to a common misconception, the Bible doesn't teach that angels are human beings who have died and gone to heaven. Angels are a separate order of God's creation. The word angel means messenger. When you look at the accounts that include angels in both the Old and New Testaments, you notice that they are message-bringers. Angels are important, but only human beings were created in the image of God, making them the highest and most significant of all God's creation.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Faith Tidbit #44

We've been discussing the use of the acronym of ACTS to guide us in our prayers. The S stands for supplication, asking for God's help for others and for ourselves. If we have already adored or praised God, confessed our sins, and thanked God for blessings, it will give us a heightened sense of assurance and peace when we offer our supplications. That's because adoration, confession, and thanksgiving (ACT), will remind us that God has been faithful in the past, is faithful now, and can be trusted to be faithful to wisely and graciously handle in the future anything we bring to Him in prayer.

Repeatedly, the Bible confirms that God wants to hear our requests. “Delight in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart,” the Old Testament says. “Ask,” Jesus tells us in the New Testament, “and you will receive.”

In our prayers, God ACTS.

Monday, February 08, 2010

"In Praise of Slowness"

"In our rush to meet goals and deadlines, let’s remember to speed up our listening and to slow down our tempers and our tongues."

Faith Tidbit #43

We've been talking about using the ACTS acronym to help us in our praying. The Gospel of Luke tells about the time when Jesus healed ten lepers, but only one returned to thank Him. One analyst of that passage has said that you can be sure that all ten were grateful for their healing, but only one expressed that gratitude. Probably most of us here today are grateful for the blessings we have in our lives. But when we take the time to thank God for our blessings, we remind ourselves of where our blessings come from and so, our relationship with God is deepened. So is our faith.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

The Hunger, the Sign, and the Call

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

Luke 5:1-11
Today’s Gospel lesson, the scholars tell us, can be divided into three sections. I’ve given the sections names. There’s the hunger, the sign, and the call. I want to talk about each one of those sections with you this morning.

First: the hunger. We see it in the first three verses of the lesson, in which Jesus is by the lake of Gennesaret (another name for the Sea of Galilee), surrounded by crowds wanting to be near Him and to hear Him. They hunger for the Word of God.

At this phase of Jesus’ ministry, we learn, from a few verses at the end of Luke 4, His focus was more on teaching than on giving miraculous signs. He was sharing God’s Word with people. That might not seem very exciting to us. Maybe that’s because our lives and conditions aren’t as desperate as those of the crowds who hungered for God’s Word from Jesus even more desperately than many of us are anticipating a certain football game that’s happening later today.

The longing of these people for the Word of God was as strong of the psalmist who wrote nearly a millennium before Jesus’ birth: “My soul longs, indeed it faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and flesh sing for joy [or, another translation says, “cry out”] to the living God.”

Often, we go through our lives unaware of our hunger for God. It takes a cataclysmic event for us to realize that, despite all of the things with which we distract ourselves, what we really want and need is God.

The call came to a friend of mine in the middle of the night. It was an old friend he hadn’t seen in years. The friend revealed between sobs that his wife had been diagnosed with cancer. Was there something his pastor friend could say? He wasn’t looking for miracles; just a word from my friend’s experience with God that could help him.

Once I got a similar late-night call from a colleague. “Mark,” he said. “There is something really evil happening in this church. I don’t know what it is. But it’s ugly. People are gossiping about one another. They’re undermining all the good things that God has been doing here. I know that you pray. Would you please pray for us?” That pastor was hungering for the presence and power of God to work in his church.

The crowds that flocked around Jesus hungered for the word of hope, peace, and strength for tough times that only the God we know in Jesus Christ can bring.

God's Word brings us peace, the assurance that God is in our corner.

I’ve learned that when the hunger leads me to God, He always feeds me. Sometimes that’s an insight that leads me to repent for a sin. But even then, the result is the same: the peace of God that, even in the fragmentation and the chaos of life, helps me feel whole. That’s what the crowds hungered for. It’s what we hunger for. We all hunger for the peace of God that assures us of the presence and love of God in our lives.

The next section of our lesson shows us a sign. Jesus tells Simon Peter and the other experienced fishermen with whom he was in business to go out into the deep and let down their nets. Fishermen there always went out trolling for fish at night. They would come back in the mornings after, clean their nets, head home to sleep, and arrive back on shore sometime before dusk to do it all again.

Simon Peter, a professional fisherman, knew that the fish were swimming so far down in the sea that he and the others couldn’t possibly snag any fish if they lowered their nets again. Yet, when Jesus told them to do so, they took their boats out into the deep and lowered their nets just because Jesus said that they should.

When Peter saw that their boats nearly sank from the haul of fish, he fell at Jesus’ knees and gave Jesus worship. Peter became aware of his sins and of his unworthiness to stand in the presence of One so holy and powerful, Someone He would come to know was not just a man, but also God.

Jesus didn’t leave Peter, even when Peter begged Jesus to go away. He won’t leave you either! Christ’s promise is the same for all who, like Peter, dare to trust Him even when it may not make sense to us, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” Never!

Sometimes it’s only when we venture into the deep places of life, trying things for God that we may feel sure that we cannot do, making ourselves of service to others in Jesus’ Name, or submitting ourselves to Him when calamity strikes and we know how helpless we truly are, that you and I are ready to see and trust in Christ.

Against their better judgment, at Jesus’ command, Peter and the other disciples launched out into the deep, saw God do wonderful things through them, and in Jesus, found themselves in the presence of God Himself. God wants us to have the same experience every day!

But, of course, signs don’t point to themselves. When you pass a billboard on Hunter Street after worship today, it’s unlikely that any of them will have a message like, “I’m a sign. Look at me.” Signs point beyond themselves. That will be true any time you and I see signs of God’s presence and activity in our lives. It was certainly true of the sign Jesus gave when he filled the nets of Peter and the other fishermen with an enormous catch.

That brings us to the final section of today’s lesson: the call. When Simon Peter realized Jesus’ greatness, He fell at Jesus’ feet and begged Jesus to to go away. Our lesson says, “Then Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.’ When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.”

Now, that phrase translated in our Gospel lesson “left everything” is, in the original Greek of the New Testament, “aphentes panta.” The first word, in its root form, is a word we’ve talked about several times in sermons and Sunday School classes: aphiemi. Literally, it means release or let go. It’s also one of the commonest New Testament words for forgiveness. When we repent and God forgives us of our sins, we are released from the eternal debt we owe to God. When we forgive others, we release them from guilt and we release ourselves from the imprisonment of self-righteousness.

In our Gospel lesson, Simon Peter, James, and John let go of all things to follow Jesus. At the same time, they were released from their bondage to all things in order to follow Jesus.

I once heard a fellow tell about putting together an elaborate play set for his kids. It took him the better part of a day. The instructions were something like twenty pages long. When he finished, on the last page, he noted additional instructions that advised that moving parts should be lubricated every three weeks and all bolts and screws should be checked and tightened weekly. As the spent father read these parting words, a question crossed his mind: “Did he own this play set or now, with all of the maintenance it supposedly required, did it own him?”

How many things—not just sinful things, but otherwise innocent, good things—have us imprisoned? What do we need to release—let go of—in order to heed the call of Jesus to follow?

Our following won’t likely mean that we will have to become itinerant preachers like Simon, James, and John. But Jesus calls us to follow, too. And while that call will release us from enslavement to sin or ventures of secondary importance, it will also call us to do things we might rather not do sometimes.

In first century Judea where Jesus lived, the sea was a dark, foreboding place, even for fishermen who earned their livelihoods from it. The sea conjured up images of the chaos that the Old Testament book of Genesis says existed before God created the heavens and the earth. There, a churning deadly sea was the stuff to which God gave order and peace and life. To God’s people, the sea was a deadly place full of evil and monsters they called leviathan. When Jesus told Peter--and us, “From now on you will be catching people,” He was really giving us our mission as Christians.

After releasing us from sin and futility, Jesus calls us to go into the deep places of life: the places where people work and play, the places they go for employment counseling and looking for jobs or food, the places where they laugh and mourn, the places where they know success and failure, where they struggle with problems and challenges. And it’s into these places that Christ commissions us to fish our friends, neighbors, and family members out of chaos and place them into the waiting arms of the Savior Who died and rose to give all who believe in Him new life that lasts forever. We’re to be the open arms of God, letting all know about Jesus Christ.

And Jesus wants our nets to be teeming! He wants this sanctuary to be filled each Sunday with people hungry for God's Word. You “will be catching people,” Jesus tells His Church, including our church.

On April 6, 2000, Ricky and Tony Sexton were taken hostage in their own Wytheville, Virginia home. A fugitive couple on a crime spree roared into the Sexton’s driveway as Tony stood outside with her dog. Brandishing pistols, Dennis Lewis and Angela Tanner ordered Tony back into the house.

Once inside, the Sextons did something utterly unexpected: They demonstrated Christ's love to their captors. They listened to Dennis and Angela's problems, served them dinner, read to them from God's Word, and even prayed for them and cried with them. During negotiations with the police, Ricky Sexton refused his own release when Lewis and Tanner suggested that they might end their standoff by committing suicide. But the whole thing came to an unusual end: Before surrendering to police, Angela Tanner left $135 and a note for the Sextons that read: “Thank you for your hospitality. We really appreciate it. I hope [Dennis] gets better. Wish all luck and love. Please accept this. It really is all we have to offer. Love, Angela and Dennis.”

Sometimes we wade into the deep chaos of our fallen world. Sometimes it comes through our front doors, unbidden. But no matter what our circumstances, our call to fish for people for Jesus Christ remains the same. Ricky and Tony Sexton knew that. So do we.

God wants our nets to be full. He wants our church to be full! That can happen when we feed others’ hunger with God’s Word; when we allow ourselves to be signs of Jesus’ presence through our service and our love; and when we go fishing, asking others to join us as we follow Jesus.

Faith Tidbit #42

We've been talking about using the acronym ACTS to help us when we pray. The C stands for confession. If adoration opens us up to communicating with God, refusing to confess our sins to God is sure to close off our communication with Him.

But we need to be earnest about this. I sometimes find myself simply saying, “God, forgive me for my sins.” At times though, I may not really be confessing at all, just mouthing religious-sounding words. A good rule for effective praying of whatever kind is: Get specific. We might say, “God, forgive me for being such a critical, stick-in-the-mud.” Or, “Forgive me for trying always to get my way.” Or, “Forgive me for cutting off that red Volvo the other day.” Take the risk of inviting God to forgive and help you change in the specific places of your life. “The prayer of an innocent person is powerful and it can help a lot,” the Bible says.

God makes us innocent when we confess our sins in the Name of Jesus. And that gives God's power to our praying.