Saturday, December 29, 2012

Worth Remembering: Saint Matthew Youth Mission Trip, 2012

We served others in Jesus' Name, sweated, worshiped God with ninety of our closest friends from other states (and Logan, too), sweated, showed off our talent, sweated, prayed together, sweated, studied the Bible together, sweated, served one another breakfast and dinner, and we also sweated.

Snow in the Church Garden II

You can hear my wife washing a pot in the kitchen and the wood floor creaking beneath my feet as I shift around.

A beautiful sight...wonderful if you don't have to drive in it!

Snow in the Church Garden

Like much of our region, we got snow overnight here in southeastern Ohio. This was taken from our house, looking onto the church garden.

[You can click on the image to enlarge it.]

Friday, December 28, 2012

Do Tote Bags or Charitable Deductions Encourage Giving?

Here's yesterday's installment of The Daily Stat from the Harvard Business Review:

DECEMBER 27, 2012
Why You Don't Like Donating to Charities That Offer Thank-You Gifts

Research participants were willing to donate 38% less, on average, to public broadcasting if the U.S. nonprofit offered a thank-you gift, in this case a pen, say George E. Newman and Y. Jeremy Shen of Yale University. A promised gift of a tote bag brought intended donations down 17%. A thank-you gift creates ambiguity in the donor's mind about whether the donation is supporting the charity or is a quid-pro-quo, the researchers say.

Source: The counterintuitive effects of thank-you gifts on charitable giving

Frankly, thank you gifts have never enticed me to make a contribution to a not-for-profit organization.

In fact, they act as a reverse incentive on me, making it less likely that I will give.

Rightly or wrongly, I have a visceral reaction that goes something like this: If they can afford to give me something for my contribution, maybe they don't need my money. Maybe, I think, they could save a few bucks and lower their cost of operation by not buying thank you gifts.

Now, I'm sure that at least some of the thank you gifts offered by not-for-profits are donated by corporate sponsors who, in turn, are able to write the donations off on their taxes.

But that raises another issue. Even though taxpayers, individual or corporate, would be crazy not to take advantage of the charitable deduction of our tax laws, I'm not a fan. There are several reasons for this.

First, there's a matter of principle: I think that giving ought to be based on genuine commitment. I give to my church because I believe in the mission off the Church to make disciples for Jesus Christ. I give to other not-for-profits because I believe in what they're doing, not because I get a tax write-off.

Second, I don't think it's right for the taxpayers of the United States to effectively subsidize my charitable contributions or the charities I support. I believe that every taxpayer should expect to put her or his money where their commitments.

Third, and this is in a way my most serious concern, I stew about the possibility of coercion from some governmental entities over charities that have become dependent on the charitable deduction used by their benefactors.

For example, in some European countries, churches are still affiliated with the state. Pastors of the official state churches are, in effect, government employees. As Western culture comes increasingly to reject the very notion of sin, some clergy are being charged with "hate speech" for implying that there are, as I believe is revealed in the Bible, objective standards of right and wrong from God.

We have no official state churches in the United States, thank God. But with shifting mores, what might happen to the giving of congregations whose not-for-profit status is revoked for speaking God's truth in love to a culture that increasingly views truth as a pliant and personal thing? Would those who give to their local church be inclined to give less because they could no longer get a charitable deduction on their income taxes?

Maybe. In any case, I prefer that the possibility of such leveraging over the missions of churches and all other not-for-profit organizations didn't exist.

In 1 Corinthians 9:15, in the New Testament portion of the Bible, the apostle Paul says to a group of first-century Christians: "Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver."

Thank yous are nice, though unnecessary for the committed giver. But thank you gifts are utterly superfluous, cheapening the entire transaction.

And, I will keep taking my charitable deduction each year. I'm not nuts. But I wouldn't shed any tears if this provision of our tax laws went away either.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Keeping on the Right Track

In my life I've learned that whenever I begin a task (or even a day) drawing on the strength and inspiration of God, cognizant of my own weaknesses and deficiencies and my need of God, things go well.

But when I begin a task with little thought of God, confident in myself, I bungle.

The irony is that the more I rely on the God we know in Christ alone, the more confident I feel.

Check out Joshua 7:1-13, from the Old Testament, and then read today's installment of Our Daily Bread.

Never make a move without reliance on God. He keeps us on the right track!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Speak Life!

I love this track from the newest TobyMac LP, Eye on It. Speak Life is all about using our speech to lift others up and not tear them down. With so much negativity and pain in the world, much of it caused by our misuse of the gift of speech, the song is a great reminder.

Of course, it's naive to think that we can successfully resolve to use our mouths the way God intended. Our experience with busted new year's resolutions should tell us that. Our sin gets in the way. We get in the way.

That's why Jesus warns us, "I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in Me and I in them bear much fruit [by which Jesus means when we believe in Him and are so connected to Him, we're supplied with His life and goodness, and so life and goodness spring from us], because apart from Me you can do nothing" (John 15:5).

If we are to "speak life" and not death to the world, enlivening others with the love and goodness that comes from God, we must retain our focus on Jesus Christ, God the Son, Who has brought love into our world. (We need to keep our eye on Him!)

And when our attention wanders onto the lost, dead pathways of this self-centered world, we need to return to Christ, turning from sin and trusting Him with our past, present, and future.

I love Paul's words in the New Testament book of Philippians: "Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things" (Philippians 4:8).

 Think Christ.

Trust Christ.

Then, you'll speak life!

 (And if you're the praying type, ask God to help me practice what I just preached.)

Remembering Valley Forge

The Valley Forge National Park has a tremendous set of web posts delving into the history of the critical, life-threatening encampment of the fledgling United States Army under the command of George Washington during the Revolutionary War.

You can read the first profile of the people involved in this encampment, which began on December 19, 1777 and continued through a bitterly cold winter, here.

 If you've never been to Valley Forge, I recommend a visit highly. It helps make vivid all the sacrifices made and hardships endured by Washington and his army in order to simply keep the fledgling American republic alive and to pursue the war of survival and attrition needed to make independence from Great Britain possible.

Got Any Unused Gift Cards?

If you're like me, just one day after this Christmas, you may have realized that you still have holiday gift cards left over from last year that you haven't used fully.

Holiday gift cards can be a sweet deal for retailers since, in some states, after the sale, recipients leave hundreds of redeemable dollars unclaimed and in the retailers' coffers.

Other states however, don't let retailers get off so easily.

In any case, use your gift cards! The money's been spent already. So, you may as well take advantage of it.

Check out the following, from today's Harvard Business Review Daily Stat:

DECEMBER 26, 2012
Americans Carrying Around Big Money in Unused Gift Cards

The typical American home holds an average of $300 in unredeemed gift cards, according to an estimate reported by Rocky B. Cummings and Joseph Carr in the Journal of State Taxation. These cards are often misplaced, accidentally thrown out, or only partially redeemed. Between 2005 and 2011, $41 billion in gift cards went unused, the authors say. But retailers don't always benefit: Many states require issuers to report unclaimed balances as abandoned property after a prescribed period of time.

Source: Holiday Gift Card Season is Upon Us—Has Your State Been Naughty or Nice?

UPDATE: Just had a brainwave. If you have unused gift cards, instead of letting them lapse, as they might do with some merchants or in some states, why not donate them to a local charity, like a food bank, homeless shelter, battered women's shelter, or a Boys and Girls Club? You won't miss the money and you could provide agencies with tight-budgets and big missions with the ability to purchase needed items!

Happy Second Day of Christmas!

Happy second day of Christmas! Or, if you like, Happy Saint Stephen's Day

Since on the Christian calendar, Christmas just began yesterday, I thought that it might be helpful to re-run an old tried and true post I first wrote at least seven years ago, explaining the Church Year. Hope you find it helpful.

The Church Year is a human invention. Observing it won't make us better than anybody else. Nor does keeping it "save" a person from sin and death.

But the Church Year is one of those customs or traditions designed to help people know the God we meet in Jesus and also help believers to grow in their faith.

The Church Year is built around three great festivals: Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost.

Christmas, of course, is the celebration of Jesus' birth.

Easter is the day remembering Jesus' resurrection from the dead.

Pentecost remembers the occasion fifty days after Jesus' resurrection and ten days after His ascension into heaven when the Holy Spirit came to Jesus' praying disciples and gave birth to the Church.

Historically, Easter was the first holiday (that word, by the way, contracts two words: holy day) that Christians began to celebrate.

This only makes sense, as it's Jesus' resurrection that gives Christians hope for this life and the one to come. While early Christians did seem to remember Easter on a Sunday falling at the beginning of the Jewish Passover, the practice of the first Christians, all of whom were Jews like Jesus, was to worship on the traditional Jewish Sabbath--from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday--and to celebrate every Sunday as a little Easter. (Some echo of this can be found in the Gospel of John's occasional references to an "eighth day," a new beginning in a new week.)

Over time, a Church Year developed which allowed for the retelling of Jesus' life, death, resurrection, and ascension, followed by Pentecost. The Church Year, in order, moves through these seasons:
  • Advent
  • Christmas
  • Epiphany
  • Lent
  • Easter
  • Pentecost
Advent, with which the color blue is most often associated today, is celebrated on the four Sundays preceding Christmas, which always occurs on the fixed date of December 25. The word advent, means coming or presence. The theme of Advent is waiting. This season remembers more than the centuries when the world anticipated or waited for the coming of the Savior, Jesus, on the first Christmas. It also calls us to patiently await both God's activity in our own lives and the return of Jesus at the end of earthly time. Advent's blue, the color of the sky, reminds us of the endless hope all believers in Jesus Christ have.

Christmas begins on December 25 and ends on January 6, with Epiphany Day. (That's why people sing about The Twelve Days of Christmas.) We don't know the exact date of Jesus' birth. Our current date was long ago selected to be a Christian alternative to a pagan Roman festival, Saturnalia. Christmas has a short season of two Sundays associated with it, running right up to the season of Epiphany. The color of the Christmas season and of Easter, because they are both festivals of Jesus, the sinless Savior, is white.

The word epiphany comes from a Greek compound word meaning to shine upon. The Epiphany Season begins with January 6, the day we commemorate the arrival of wise men from foreign lands who followed a star to the baby Jesus to a house in Bethlehem. It was there that Mary and Joseph lived with their Child for several years after the Savior's birth. January 6, in fact, is called Epiphany Day. (Because the wise men brought gifts, Epiphany was historically the day on which Christians gave gifts to one another.) The Epiphany Season is composed of between four and nine Sundays after January 6. The season is bracketed by a first Sunday, which always remembers Jesus' Baptism, and a Sunday at the end that remembers Jesus' Transfiguration. At the Transfiguration, on top of a mountain, accompanied by three of His disciples, Jesus' image was transfigured by the luminescence of heaven and God spoke, confirming Jesus' identity and mission. On the two bracketing Sundays of the Epiphany Season, the color is white. During the season in between, the color is green.

During the Epiphany season, Christians look at the early signs that pointed to Jesus being more than just a human being, but also God in the flesh, the Light of the world. The emphasis of the Epiphany season is usually on sharing the good news of Christ with others, shining the light of Christ on those around us.

After Epiphany comes Lent, a word which in the Old English, meant spring. Just as spring is a time when the earth is renewed, at least in the northern hemisphere, so Lent is a time for spiritual renewal and precedes the holiest days of the Church Year, including Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday.

Lent is referred to as a season of forty days, which it is if you know how to count the days. Because Sundays are always "little Easters," the Sundays in Lent (not of Lent), are not counted as part of those forty days.

The color associated with Lent is purple, the color of royalty because in ancient times, purple dyes were so rare and expensive that only royalty could afford cloth of that color. Historically, the season of Lent was a time of preparation for adult converts to the faith to prepare for their initiation into Christianity at Easter.

There are several key days on the Lenten calendar. The season begins with Ash Wednesday. This is a day of repentance, that is, of turning away from sin and turning to Christ for forgiveness. Of course, as Martin Luther phrased it, "daily repentance and renewal" are meant to be an ongoing element of the Christian's life as, out of gratitude for the undeserved gifts of God's love and forgiveness given to us in Christ, we routinely strive to orient ourselves to God and His will for us. But Ash Wednesday, along with Maundy Thursday, are times when all are especially reminded of the need for repentance.

Near the end of the Lenten season comes Passion Sunday (also known as Palm Sunday). On this day, we're called to remember both Jesus' seemingly triumphal entry into Jerusalem on the Sunday before His execution and Christ's passion, as well as its foreshadowing of Easter. Passion, a word that is used in entirely different ways today, really means to be so committed to the well-being of another that we're willing to die for them. Christ had that kind of commitment to us and so, went to a cross. Passion Sunday begins that portion of Lent called Holy Week.

The next major day on the Holy Week calendar is Maundy Thursday. Maundy is rooted in the Latin word mandatum, from which we get our word mandate, related to the word commandment. That's because on the Thursday night before He was executed, during the Passover celebration at which He instituted Holy Communion, Jesus also gave His disciples "a new commandment": that they love one another.

Many churches have foot-washing rites during their special gatherings on this day. Jesus washed the feet of His disciples before they ate together on that first Maundy Thursday and also commanded all of His followers to be servants like Him.

Good Friday, which comes on the next night, is a solemn remembrance of Jesus' death on the cross. For me, this is one of the most moving worship services of the year. At our congregation, as is true of many churches, we have a service called Tenebrae. This word comes from the Latin and means darkness. The service remembers the darkness that engulfed the world at Jesus' execution as well as our need of Him as the light in our darkness. The service ends in silence as all contemplate Jesus' sacrifice of Himself for us.

Easter Sunday brings the celebration of Jesus' resurrection in a special way and continues throughout the Easter season. This is usually the high point of the year, even in churches that don't use the Church Year. The Easter Season lasts about seven weeks. The Gospel lessons incorporate accounts of the resurrected Jesus' appearances. Tucked in the midst of the season, on a Thursday, is Ascension Day. This comes forty days after Easter. More on that below.

Pentecost Day, as I mentioned, is the celebration of the Church's birthday, when the Holy Spirit, Who hovered over the waters of primordial chaos to bring life into being back in the Old Testament book of Genesis, once again creates. This time, He creates new life by bringing Christ's Church, His body in the world, into being. The color of this day is red.

There follows after that a season that lasts from twenty-three to twenty-eight weeks. It's referred to simply as the Pentecost Season. The color is green because the emphasis here is on growing in our faith, learning to be Jesus' disciples or followers at ever-deepening levels of maturity.

The very first Sunday after Pentecost is Holy Trinity Sunday. This focuses on the great mystery of the God we meet in the Bible: One God in three Persons, revealed in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

The whole Church Year comes to a close, on the Sunday closest to November 30, with Christ the King Sunday.

Associated with each of the Sundays and many of the festivals of the Church Year are three cycles of appointed Biblical lessons. These cycles, referred to as Years A, B, and C, are called lectionaries. There are several sets of lectionaries, the the most well-known being those associated with the Roman Catholics, another with Lutherans, and another with a consortium of several Protestant denominations. The lectionaries are fairly similar, but do diverge occasionally.

Each Sunday and special festival day of the Church Year has appointed lessons from the Old Testament, the Psalms, the New Testament (either Acts, Revelation, or the letters), and a Gospel lesson. Generally speaking, the Old Testament, Psalm, and Gospel readings are thematically linked. The New Testament lessons are designed to make it possible over a three year period, to have almost all the letters, Revelation, and Acts read in public worship.

The three different cycles are built on the three synoptic Gospels: Matthew, Mark, and Luke. (Synoptic is a word that means to see together. These three Gospels are quite similar to one another--they see things similarly, while the Gospel of John has the most unique material.) Because Mark, with only sixteen chapters, is so short, the appointed Gospel lessons during its year are often taken from John.

Through my years as a pastor, I've felt free to spring loose from what one of our former Lutheran bishops, David Preus, called "the tyranny of the lectionary," looking at Biblical texts not appointed in the lectionary, in order to address issues that seem to be important in our community or world. But the lectionary does provide a well-rounded diet of Biblical material which, when looked at in a disciplined and devoted way, can help Christians develop a deeper faith.

[The image above, showing the cycle of the Church Year, comes from Augsburg Fortress, the publishing house of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.]

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas: D-Day for the 'Lion of Judah'

Luke 2:1-20
Andrew Greeley tells the story of a little girl who hated Christmas because of the fuss and rush of the season. Her mother explained to her that the true meaning of Christmas had nothing to do with the December frenzy, that it's Christ Mass, the celebration of Jesus' birth. The girl said, "That's great! It's just too bad that Christmas has to come during the holidays!"

Sometimes, our holiday traditions and habits get in the way of our experiencing what Christmas is about. But what is Christmas about?

On a mountain in the desert some 1400 years before the birth of Jesus, the presence of God descended from heaven to communicate the moral law for the human race--what we know as the Ten Commandments--to His chosen people, Israel. But the glory of God was so overwhelming, so intimidating, so blazingly terrifying, and so perfect, that the people of Israel turned to the leader God had chosen for them, Moses, and said, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, or we will die.”

The Bible gives consistent witness to this sense that God is so searingly perfect that any human being who would dare to stand in God’s presence naked in their sin, uncovered by the saving grace that comes to those who repent and believe in Him, will surely be destroyed.

That’s why the Bible describes God as holy, meaning different, unique, set apart.

That’s why the Bible calls Jesus, God in the flesh. “the lion of Judah” (Revelation 5:5; see also Hosea 5:14).

It’s why when Jesus, revealed His deity in all His glory to Peter, James, and John on the Mount of Transfiguration, His visage took on a brightness that nearly blinded the three disciples by Christ’s holiness and perfection.

It’s why both Old and New Testaments describe God as “a devouring [or consuming] fire” (See Deuteronomy 4:24; Hebrews 12:29).

Now, folks, I am not bringing all of this up to frighten anyone. As a minister of Word and Sacrament, there are a lot of things I wish God had never said or done because then I wouldn’t have to talk about them and it would make my life a lot easier and people wouldn’t find it nearly as annoying to have me around.

But the truth must be spoken. We live in a world that has turned the “lion of Judah” into a tame lap cat. It's a world that has turned God, “the consuming fire” into a comfortable blaze in the hearth. In the minds and in the ways many live their lives, no matter what they say with their lips, they have whittled the infinite, almighty God of the universe down to a size they can manage.

The world does this, even we Christians sometimes do this, though we wouldn’t put the choices we make in these terms, in order to free ourselves from worshiping the one true God of all creation and so that we can, instead, worship our gods of choice.

People are worshiping false gods when they justify their selfish choices by saying, “I have to look out for myself.”

People worship false gods when, as well-meaning parents, they put their children, rather than God, in first place in their lives.

People worship false gods when, despite knowing that sexual intimacy is a gift God has reserved for husbands and wives united in marriage with the blessing of God, they instead do what feels good or feels right to them, replacing their judgment for the judgment and the will of God.

And what does this all have to do with the true meaning of Christmas?

In Luke’s telling, we see that, among other things, Christmas is an important battle in an ongoing war for our eternal lives.

Luke begins by saying: “In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered.”

One scholar writes:
Augustus was the adopted son of Julius Caesar. He became ruler of the Roman world after a bloody civil war...he proclaimed that he had brought justice to the whole world; and, declaring his dead adoptive father to be divine, styled himself as "son of god."...Augustus, people said, "was the ‘saviour’ of the world." [They said he] was its king, its "lord." Increasingly, in the east [the very region in which Jesus was born], people worshiped [Augustus] a god. 
In the midst of this world, where many of God’s own people had forgotten all about God, the true Son of God, the real Savior Who came to bring God’s justice to the world, the only deity worthy of worship had come to claim all who turn from sin and trust in Him for His kingdom of love and grace!

The first Christmas then, was D-Day, the opening salvo in God’s final push to liberate us from the gods to which we often choose to enslave ourselves.

We use the gods of this world--momentary pleasure, money, sex, drugs, alcohol, pornography, popularity, selfish pursuits--to anesthetize ourselves against the world’s grim realities, only to find that these things we use to exercise control over our lives really have become gods that control us.

The only one capable of destroying the power of sin, death, and futility over our lives and freeing us to live as the fully human beings God made us to be is the baby who invaded our world on the first Christmas.

The God Who came to us at Christmas didn't come to anesthetize us against the world's realities. He came to give us the strength to face those realities and to give us the certainty that, finally and eternally, He will create a new and everlasting reality in which death is eradicated, tears are dried, and we live with God, in what Luther's Small Catechism calls, "righteousness, innocence, and blessedness."

If the sad events in Newtown, Connecticut a few weeks ago tell us anything, it is that, though the ultimate defeat of sin and death were made inevitable by Jesus’s death and resurrection, this world is still enemy territory.

This world, as is, isn’t the place God intended for the creatures He made in His own image, Who are, in the Bible’s phrase, “the apple of [His] eye.” You and I weren’t made to live with tragedy, poverty, disease, heartache, war, or death.

This old creation, Paul says in the New Testament book of Romans, groans as a woman in childbirth awaiting the beginning of the new creation the crucified and risen Jesus will bring fully to life when He returns one day.

But, for now, sin, the sin within us, the sin around us, and the sin that is incited by that fallen angel, Satan, has the world in its grip. Sin tests us. It tries us. It tempts us.

That is why the Lion of Judah, the consuming fire, the Lord of lords, and King of kings entered our world at Christmas.

He has come to liberate us from the power of sin and death over our lives.

Jesus once told a grieving friend, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in Me, even though they die, will live.”

He said in another place, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”

And this is not sweet by-and-by stuff! The hymn we sing at Christmas reminds us that, “where meek [meaning humble, surrendering] souls will receive Him still, the dear Christ enters in.”

The New Testament tells us, “If anyone is in Christ Jesus [in other words, if anyone dares to lay aside their gods of choice and the sins they love and take up Christ as God and King over their lives], there is a new creation; everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new.” That's true of every baptized, believing Christian today, in this present imperfect world.

That doesn’t mean that everything in this life will go perfectly if we worship the God we know in Jesus as our only God and Lord. We still live in a fallen world.

But the God Who invaded this world at Christmas and has already conquered sin and death through the death and resurrection of Jesus, has promised, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (See Deuteronomy 31:6 and Hebrews 13:5)

He also promises, “I am with you always, even to the close of the age.”

And, “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you...”

Friends, tonight, let me tell you that I know for a fact that Jesus is good for all His promises!

This sorry old sinner has experienced His forgiveness.

I have known His love when I knew how unlovable I really was (and still am).

I have been given His strength when I was at the end of my rope, overwhelmed by illness or a sense of my unworthiness.

I have seen the bankruptcy of life lived in service to the gods of this world or to the sin in my soul and I have known the fullness of a life lived in surrender to Him.

I have been empowered to live the life the master designer designed for me to live when I have laid aside my own plans and schemes to follow the better plans God has for every one of us.

I still sin.

I still lose my way when I should be following my Savior.

But I know this: Life with Jesus is better.

Life with Jesus is really life.

Following my own drumbeat or other gods is a waste of time, a waste of life that can only lead away from God.

So, tonight, I invite you to do as the shepherds did on the first Christmas: Follow the Lion of Judah, the protector and redeemer of your soul, the King of the universe, the perfect Lord of all.

Follow Jesus!

You will never regret it.

Merry Christmas, everyone!


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

Monday, December 24, 2012

Ready to Celebrate

Snapped this picture of the Saint Matthew Senior Choir awaiting the arrival of the first group of celebrants for 'Follow the Light' last Saturday evening, December 15. Groups of people walked to seven different downtown Logan churches, each helping guests to celebrate Advent and Christmas. All proceeds from the sale of tickets for the event went to support the new Inspire Shelter, a place for the homeless in our community.

By the way, if you're going to be in southeastern Ohio this evening, you're invited to celebrate Christ's birth with us during our 11:00 PM candlelight worship service. For more details on our location, go to the church web site, here.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Ryan Freel

A utility player who fielded two infield and three outfield positions while hitting for a lifetime average of .268, Ryan Freel will never be considered for entry into baseball's Hall of Fame. But Freel, who played in Cincinnati for six years, is one of my all-time favorite Reds. He played the game with reckless and joyous abandon.

Just a few weeks ago, I was talking with my Dad, like me a Reds fan, about Freel, surfing the web for his career stats as we remembered his hard-nosed play.

Freel died on Saturday of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. He was only 36. The news saddened me.

And, as is inevitable in such circumstances, one wonders what drove this young man to take his own life.

Of course, that's even more true of those who actually knew Ryan Freel, like Anthony Castrovince, who filed this piece.

May God bless the family and friends of Ryan Freel with the comfort, hope, and peace that belongs to all who know and trust in Jesus Christ!

Logan Christmas Lights II

Logan Christmas Lights I

Taken tonight.