Saturday, March 05, 2011

Phil Expresses His View Without Saying a Word

Apparently, son Philip didn't want to be videographed while eating at Cosi a few days ago.

Feats of Impressive Physical Acumen

It all started when our great-niece turned somersaults on my mother-in-law's living room floor. I asked her, "Can you somersault backwards?" As soon as I said that, somebody asked me, "Can you?" Since I'm the videographer, there's no evidence; you'll just have to take my word for it, that I did.

At that, my brother-in-law asked us all, "Can you stand on your head?" None of us could. But, of course, we asked, "Can you?" 

Though unsuccessful on this attempt, he did, a moment later, stand on his head while braced against a couch.

Not to be outdone, our niece, mother of the first somersaulter and daughter of the head-stander, announced that she could turn cartwheels. You know what happened next.

Yeah, we're intellectuals.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Selective Mutism

Our daughter did a presentation on Selective Mutism in one of her Education classes this week. One web site begins to define this phenomenon in this way:
Selective Mutism is a psychiatric disorder most commonly found in children, characterized by a persistent failure to speak in select settings, which continues for more than 1 month. These children understand spoken language and have the ability to speak normally. In typical cases, they speak to their parents and a few selected others.
I hadn't thought of it, but Sarah immediately remembered Paul McCartney's song, She's Given Up Talking, to use as part of her presentation. She said that while most of her classmates were into country music, the song seemed to make the issue accessible to everyone. One of her classmates, Sarah said, was "rocking out" to the song.

"She's Given Up Talking" appears on McCartney's 2001 LP, Driving in the Rain. In an interview I heard at the time of the album's release, I remember Macca saying that the track was inspired by the experience of friends, whose daughter seems to have evidenced Selective Mutism.

It must be terribly frustrating to address, but, particularly given the increasing evidence of bullying in public schools, Selective Mutism can also seem like a very rational response to an increasingly irrational world.

Helter Skelter - Good Evening New York City

This is the live performance of the 1968 Beatles tune for which McCartney recently won a Grammy.


The Dusty Baker toothpick holder bobblehead! It will be given away when the Reds take on the Indians this season.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Jesus and the Cross: The Only Way to "Winning"

In a world where a celebrity actor, obviously mired in addiction and the grandiosity it creates, says he's "winning" and finds people gullible enough to believe him, following Jesus is a radical way of life.

Following Jesus entails repentance, humility, honest self-evaluation, and sacrifice.

It also entails acknowledging the reality that we can't master sin, death, or our impulses toward self-destruction on our own.

We need Jesus Christ.

We need the way of the cross, which means letting Christ crucify our old sinful, death-filled ways so that He can replace them with the life He gives to all who repent and believe in Him.

That's the only way to resurrection and hope in this life. To "win" at life, we must first "lose" our delusions and denial.

Jesus puts it this way: "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it" (Luke 9:23-24).

Julie Ackerman Link has some great thoughts on this topic, well worth taking the few minutes required to read it and the passage of Scripture on which it's based.

Here is the link to Link's piece.

Here's a great song by one of my favorite artists and satirists, Steve Taylor. It's called Jesus is for Losers. I aspire to be a "loser" who daily submits to the gracious reconstruction of my whole being Jesus offers, losing the death, the sin, and the futility that sticks to a life in which we pretend to be number one and in control. Get a clue, Charlie; get a life; grab hold of Christ!

Here are the lyrics:
If I was driven
Driven ahead by some noble ideal
Who took the wheel?

If I was given
Given a glimpse of some glorious road
When was it sold?

So caught up in the chase
I keep forgetting my place

Just as I am
I am stiff-necked and proud
Jesus is for losers
Why do I still play to the crowd?

Just as I am
Pass the compass, please
Jesus is for losers
I'm off about a hundred degrees

If I was groping
Groping around for some ladder to fame
I am ashamed

If I was hoping
Hoping respect would make a sturdy footstool
I am a fool

Bone-weary every climb
Blindsided every time

Just as I am
I am needy and dry
Jesus is for losers
The self-made need not apply

Just as I am
In a desert crawl
Lord, I'm so thirsty
Take me to the waterfall

And if you're certain
Certain your life is some cosmic mistake
Why do you shake?

And if you're certain
Certain that faith is some know-nothing mask
Why do you still ask?

They don't grade here on the curve
We both know what we deserve

Just as you are
Just a wretch like me
Jesus is for losers
Grace from the blood of a tree

Just as we are
At a total loss
Jesus is for losers
Broken at the foot of the cross

Just as I am
Pass the compass, please
Jesus is for losers
I'm off about a hundred degrees

Just as I am
In a desert crawl
Lord, I'm so thirsty
Take me to the waterfall

Monday, February 28, 2011

The Saint Matthew Youth Group's 30 Hour Famine

This past weekend, nine Saint Matthew youth and three Saint Matthew adults participated in the World Vision 30 Hour Famine. Giving up food for thirty hours, they experienced the hunger that many people around the world experience. They also raised money to be used by World Vision to feed malnourished and starving people.

This was the first year our congregation's youth participated in the Famine. They set a goal of $150, hoping that maybe they could raise $300. But when the contributions were totaled on Saturday evening, they came to $2017!

During the Famine, we spent some time viewing videos about world hunger and efforts to combat it. We prayed that God would use the Famine experience to sensitize us to the needs of others. We prayed that God would help us to love others with the same love He has shown for the world in Christ.

We also made "Plumpy Nut," a concoction that has been described as the most important weapon in fighting famine and malnutrition in the world today. On Sunday morning, our kids shared it with members of the congregation.

We also had a lot of fun with Wii and Xbox games, board games, movies, and Arena Baseball.

Arena Baseball is something I've been playing with the youth of the churches I've served as pastor for the past twenty-five years. It's sort of a combination of baseball, pinball, and chaos. We like to use soft bats and soft, bouncy baseballs. Here are the basics of Arena Baseball:
  • All balls that are hit are fair, even those hit behind home plate.
  • First base is where third base usually is.
  • Second base is where first base usually is.
  • Third base is where second base usually is.
  • Balls and strikes aren't counted.
  • As in kickball, you can throw a person out by throwing the ball at them and hitting them. (That's why soft, bouncy balls are preferred.)
  • The game is played indoors and the best rooms in which to play it are ones with lots of hard surfaces and numerous nooks and crannies, the better to cause the ball to bounce and rattle around crazily, creating general chaos and laughter.

The Famine began at noon on Friday, February 25. Participants didn't eat again until 6:00PM on Saturday. We broke the fast with a brief service of Holy Communion in the church chapel at 6:00. One of the youth read Jesus' words in Matthew 25:31-40. Two youth distributed the body and blood of our Lord. After the service, the youth and congregational members and friends who had joined us then enjoyed a great potluck dinner!

Throughout the Famine, I took videos on my cell phone and posted them on Facebook. The videos are embedded below.

In the first two videos, the kids rhapsodize about our white, squishy, bouncy baseball! It helps to be a little crazy if you're going to do a lock-in like this. 

As you'll see here, the young women were sometimes hesitant about being videographed while dancing with the Wii dance program.

Our young men were far more sanguine about being videographed. Here they are in their Man Cave playing a video game and listening to country music, courtesy of DJ Jacob.

The kids are gathered in the kitchen for the production of some Plumpy Nut. A report by Anderson Cooper on 60 Minutes four years ago will give you some background on Plumpy Nut.

The women's quarters before lights went out on Friday night. Two women from the congregation, both named Sarah. were with the girls throughout. I thank them and Jean, especially for all they did to make the Famine a success! I somehow deleted a couple of videos I had of the guys' quarters on Friday.

The ladies play a game of Pit, the commodities trading game. Stephen and I were taking a break from our game of Cornhole. (He trounced me.)

The two quarters on Saturday morning are shown below. The girls seemed to stir sooner than the boys, although the girls had stayed up later the night before. But the ome of the girls, owing no doubt to being tired as well as hungry, took naps later on Saturday, while the boys didn't.

Arena Baseball is our youth group's national pastime!

In the homestretch, the participants are mostly very quiet...but persevering. None of these kids complained once!

Below, each of the youth who participated reflect on the 30 Hour Famine experience.

I talk with the kids as they write paragraphs on the Famine.

People gather for the Holy Communion service and the potluck, then I ask the kids how the food tastes.

To learn more about the 30 Hour Famine, go here.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Who is the Word of God? Why Should You Read His Book?

[This was shared during worship with the people of Saint Matthew Lutheran Church during worship this morning.]

John 1:1-3, 14
2 Timothy 3:16-17*
As you know, on Ash Wednesday, March 9, we begin a yearlong emphasis at Saint Matthew: Read the Bible in a Year.

The response to the announcement that we were going to read the Bible together in a year’s time has been gratifying! Some of our overachievers have already started reading the Bible. Several people have gotten or are looking at new Bibles, in translations that are more accessible. And I hope that those who, because of the current conditions of their eyes, find reading difficult will be able get an audio edition of the Bible, either through a vendor or at the library. (If you'd like help finding an audio Bible to purchase, let me know, and I'll try to help you with your selection.)

With Read the Bible in a Year coming in so short a time, I’m departing from my usual practice of preaching on the appointed lessons and instead today, focusing on two important passages of Scripture. I hope that they’ll help motivate and inspire you to join in reading the Bible this year. My aim is to do that by talking about two important questions:
  • First, what do we Lutheran Christians mean when we speak of “the Word of God”? 
  • And second, why should we bother reading the Bible?
So, let’s get to it. Please pull out a pew Bible and turn to page 611. There, you’ll find what’s known as the Prologue to John’s Gospel, John 1:1-18. We’ll consider just a few passages of the Prologue, verses 1 to 3 and verse 14. Read along with me silently, please.
“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 were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.” [Now, slide down to verse 14.] “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”
Long before the universe was created, there was the Word of God. This Word of God is not an “it.” Unlike an impersonal force, the Word of God can be known in the same way you know your family or your friends or your neighbors.

That’s why John says of the Word of God, “He was in the beginning with God” and “All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made” and “We have beheld His glory.”

I’m not emphasizing the maleness of those pronouns. What I am emphasizing is that the Word of God is a Being with passions and preferences and a personality.

It’s this Personality that the Old Testament book of Genesis tells us spoke to chaos and brought the universe into being: “’Let there be light’ and there was light.” It was the Word of God that made the light and you and me and everything else.

The New Testament book of Colossians says of the One John refers to as the Word of God: “In Him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible…all things have been created through Him and for Him.” And it says that in Him “all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.” 

This Word of God, the One Who created the universe, took on flesh and, as John’s Prologue says, “dwelt, lived” among us.

The Bible confesses that Jesus is the Word of God.

God, it turns out, is the Great Communicator. He used His Word to communicate all that was needed to bring the universe into being.

And from the very beginning, He has communicated with His personal favorites, the apples of His eye, the pinnacles of creation, the only beings made in His image: the human race.

We human beings have often turned a deaf ear to the Word of God, of course. But God has never tired of communicating with us.

The Word of God ultimately came to us when He took on flesh, became one of us, bore our sin on the cross, and rose from the dead so His Word of forgiveness and new life could come to all who repent and believe in Jesus.

When we Lutheran Christians speak of the Word of God, we mean first and foremost, Jesus, the Second Person of the Trinity, Who sits on the right side—the power side—of God the Father. The Word of God is, above all, God the Son.

Some people claim to see a different God in the Old Testament than they see in Jesus in the New Testament. Lutherans never have seen such a difference.

And for good reason. When Jesus walked on this earth, He said that He and the Father were one. He quoted Old Testament Scripture and He said that He came not to abolish God’s Old Testament law, but to fulfill it. Everything He did and said was consistent with the Personality of God revealed in Old Testament times. The New Testament writers show how the law and the grace that Jesus communicated for all the world, Jews and Gentiles, was precisely the same law and grace God communicated to His people Israel in the Old Testament. The preacher of the New Testament book of Hebrews says of Jesus, the Word of God made flesh: “[He] is the same yesterday and today and forever.”

As Lutheran Christians, we believe that God speaks and has spoken to people with the same simple message through the centuries, one composed of two parts: Law and Promise.

The Law is the moral law as embodied in the Ten Commandments, which God has never rescinded, revoked, or amended.

The Promise is God’s promise of forgiveness and new life to all who will repent and believe in Him.

God has personalized that promise for the whole human race in Jesus. This is why Jesus has given us the great commission to make disciples of all the world.

It was in response to Jesus' great commission and to help people know the Word of God personally and so, have the chance to repent and believe in Jesus, that John wrote his Gospel. “Jesus did many other things in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book,” John writes near the end of his Gospel. “But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in His Name.” 

Jesus is the Word of God and the Bible is the Word of God because, through the Holy Spirit, the Church has learned that the Bible perfectly reflects the message the Word of God has been communicating since Adam and Eve: Turn from sin, trust in Me, and live. The Bible is God speaking law and promise to us: the law to drive us to Him, the promise to reconcile us to Him for eternity.

So, if the Bible’s message can be summarized in a few minutes, why spend a year reading it?

It’s simple, really. The crush of life—what The Small Catechism calls, “the devil, the world, and our sinful selves”—can turn us into amnesiacs. We can forget all about Jesus, the Word of God, hurtling through our lives without a clue of how to live or what to do.

But in the Bible, God helps us to remember. God knows we need reminding.

That’s why Luther said that the born-again Christians of his day weren’t born-again enough. They thought of repentance and faith in Christ as a one-and-done deal. But Luther said, rightly I think, that if we don’t keep coming back to God each day to repent and be renewed in His forgiveness and love, we can drift away from God and from eternity with Him.

Reading the Bible regularly can help correct our courses through life.

That leads to a second passage of Scripture I’d like to ask you to look up in the New Testament, 2 Timothy 3:16-17. It’s on page 690 in the pew Bibles. It says:
All Scripture is given by inspiration of God [literally, it says all scripture is God-breathed; God invests His very life into the pages of this book!] and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the [person] of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. 
In the Bible, the Word of God—Jesus—gives us a treasury of tools by which God empowers us to live with faithfulness and to share God’s Word of law and promise that can bring eternity to all who believe in Jesus.

True story. Monique Govender grew up in a Hindu home in Durban, South Africa. Her family regularly worshiped numerous idols.

Then, in the space of twenty days, two of her siblings died. Monique’s mother became fearful and, maybe just to cover all her bases, began going to a church to secretly pray to the One the Christians said was the one and only God of the universe revealed in Jesus.

Monique’s father, an alcoholic and a physical abuser of his family, hated Christians. Maybe he’d met the kinds of counterfeit Christians who give Christianity a bad name. However it happened, he misunderstood Christian teachings.

Over the course of her childhood though, Monique encountered the Word of God at different times, each time having an impact on her. Once, at age four, she attended “a memorable church activity.” At seven, buying booze for her dad, she saw street performers do two skits: one about Jesus’ parable of the ten wise and foolish virgins and the other about Joseph, the son of Jacob from Old Testament times. Most influential of all was when she learned that her grandparents, lifelong Hindus, had come to faith in Jesus Christ and joined a local church.

At age 15, Monique herself came to faith in Christ. Then, her brother, after reading a Bible he had been given, came to believe in Jesus.

At first, Monique’s father was angry at his two children and refused to let his daughter worship at church. But, trusting in Jesus, the Word of God, Monique began to pray for her family, asking God to let her worship with other Christians and to help her father recover from his alcoholism and to stop being an abuser. “Eventually, she was allowed to go to church, and [amazingly] in time both her parents came to know Christ as well.”

Monique reflects on the goodness of God. “I am not sure of what God’s thoughts were for me, but in looking back, it seems like He’s been thinking about me. And it’s [amazing] to think that I was just an unknown girl…[But] God knew me, and even as a little child, I could feel that God was there with me.”

Jesus is the Word of God. The Bible is His book, written so that, no matter how “unknown” or alone or adrift or overwhelmed you may sometimes feel, God loves you.

God wants to be in relationship with you.

He wants to give you an abundant life here and in eternity.

He wants to guide you with His wisdom and love.

Read the Bible every day and let Jesus, the Word of God, speak His grace and truth into your life all the days of your life!

*The renderings of these two passages, as linked here, are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible. The Bibles in the pew racks of the Saint Matthew sanctuary are the New King James Version (NKJV).