Saturday, September 06, 2014

Antidote for Lots That Ails Us

"Let everything that has breath praise the Lord." (Psalm 150:6)

I've been doing quite a bit of navel gazing lately. So this is a good reminder.

While praising God and worshiping God is about God and not about us, about remembering God's goodness and His acts, a byproduct is that when we focus on Him, we focus less on ourselves. The less self-centered we can become--the more focused on God and on others, the more joy we experience. Joy isn't happiness. Happiness is fleeting. Joy is that sense of being in sync with God and His will for me.

Joy is the default mode in which God created all human beings to live. We were made to live for God and His glory, not because God is an egomaniac Who needs us, but because God is our lifeline and we need Him.

Sin though, the state of self-absorption and self-will into which we're all born, robs us of joy. But the more we consciously surrender to the God we know in Christ, the more we turn to Him for forgiveness, new life, and direction, the more joy we can experience, irrespective of the circumstances of our lives.

Praise lifted to God in our hearts when we're by ourselves and when we're in the company of other believers is the antidote for much of what ails us.

I only wish I remembered that more. Praying that God will keep reminding me.

Friday Was Bill Mazeroski's Birthday

Who is Bill Mazeroski?

He was the unlikely hero of the 1960 World Series. In the bottom of the ninth inning of the seventh and deciding game of the series, Maz, the Pittsburgh Pirates' capable second baseman, never known for his home run acumen, jacked one out over the left field fence to beat the New York Yankees.

It's the only time in baseball history that feat has been accomplished.

On Friday, Mazeroski turned 78. I'm sure that the man has led a rich and interesting life. But for many people, he will always be remembered for that one amazing moment at Forbes Field in 1960.

By the way, as I understand it, the only recording made of the entire game appeared on the MLB Network a few years ago. The recording had been made for singer/actor Bing Crosby, then a part-owner of the Pirates. Crosby, I've been told, was so nervous about the Series that he escaped to Europe to await news of the outcome. But he had someone record the Series. It was only years later that the recording was discovered somewhere in the late Crosby's archives.

If Bill Mazeroski happens to read this: Happy belated birthday, sir.

[Thanks to Howard Wilkinson for linking to this video over on Facebook.]

Friday, September 05, 2014

Aaron Hill's Just Filling In

He hadn't played third base since 2005, but recently, Aaron Hill treated playing the position like just another day at the office. Wow!

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Check It Out

Musically adventurous. Challenging. Inspiring.

What warrants all those descriptors? Lecrae's about-to-be-released, Anomaly. Listening to it through 'First Play' on iTunes.

The Right Kind of Fame


Then maybe, look here.

Reactions of Christians to Decisions by Christian Artists to Go Mainstream Disturbing


Joanne Freeman on 'Alexander Hamilton and the Idea of Honor'

"A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold." (Proverbs 22:1)

The Bible acknowledges that a good reputation is a good thing, although when God came into the world in the Person of Jesus of Nazareth, He was willing to take on a bad reputation, enduring the form of execution reserved for Rome's worst criminals, in His mission of saving all who repent and believe in Him from eternal separation from God.

For this, Philippians 2:9-11, tells us, Jesus achieved supreme honor, the highest reputation one can have:
...God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.
Those of us who are only human, and not like Jesus, both human and divine, may attain respect and honor from others, but it won't be any good to us when we face God in eternity.

Then, the only question will be, "Have we emulated Christ and humbled ourselves by trusting in Him and what He achieved for us on the cross and from the empty tomb?"

To look for honor anywhere else but in humble submission to Christ is pointless. "
For whoever wants to save their life will lose it," Jesus says, "but whoever loses their life for me will find it." (Matthew 16:25)

All of which helps explain why I listened to Yale historian Joanne Freeman's lecture on Alexander Hamilton's idea of honor so intently. (That and the fact that Freeman is a terrific historian and lecturer.)

Other than Washington, Hamilton is my favorite figure from the American Revolution. But his idea of "honor," shared by many of his contemporaries, is self-driven, futile, and ends in death...physical as well as eternal.

In the end, we can't earn honor. All of us are ordinary sinful human beings. Honor must be conferred on us. It's only conferred on those who did what Hamilton refused to do on the fateful day when Aaron Burr killed him in a duel, surrender.

But our call isn't to surrender to just anyone or's to Christ alone.

Alexander Hamilton was a good man, in many ways a great man. But his guiding principle in life led him to a tragic, early, and ultimately, stupid death. Hamilton, always the young man in a hurry. While his achievements had already been enormous, his death at age 47 denied the country he loved his services far too early. It all could have been avoided if he had only looked for honor in the right place.

[Here's a sampling of Alexander Hamilton blogging I've done here.]

Thursday Song #2: 'The Servant King' by Graham Kendrick

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Death: Weapon of Satan, Weapon of God

From today's C.S. Lewis Daily (I love the very last sentence.):

C.S. Lewis Daily

On death
On the one hand Death is the triumph of Satan, the punishment of the Fall, and the last enemy. Christ shed tears at the grave of Lazarus and sweated blood in Gethsemane: the Life of Lives that was in Him detested this penal obscenity not less than we do, but more. On the other hand, only he who loses his life will save it. We are baptised into the death of Christ, and it is the remedy for the Fall. Death is, in fact, what some modern people call “ambivalent.” It is Satan’s great weapon and also God’s great weapon: it is holy and unholy; our supreme disgrace and our only hope; the thing Christ came to conquer and the means by which He conquered.

Satan produced human Death. But when God created Man He gave him such a constitution that, if the highest part of it rebelled against Himself, it would be bound to lose control over the lower parts: i.e., in the long run to suffer Death. This provision may be regarded equally as a punitive sentence (“In the day ye eat of that fruit ye shall die”), as a mercy, and as a safety device. It is punishment because Death—that Death of which Martha says to Christ, “But . . . Sir . . . it’ll smell”—is horror and ignominy. (“I am not so much afraid of death as ashamed of it,” said Sir Thomas Browne.) It is mercy because by willing and humble surrender to it Man undoes his act of rebellion and makes even this depraved and monstrous mode of Death an instance of that higher and mystical Death which is eternally good and a necessary ingredient in the highest life. “The readiness is all”—not, of course, the merely heroic readiness but that of humility and self-renunciation. Our enemy, so welcomed, becomes our servant: bodily Death, the monster, becomes blessed spiritual Death to self, if the spirit so wills—or rather if it allows the Spirit of the willingly dying God so to will in it. It is a safety device because, once Man has fallen, natural immortality would be the one utterly hopeless destiny for him. Aided to the surrender that he must make by no external necessity of Death, free (if you call it freedom) to rivet faster and faster about himself through unending centuries the chains of his own pride and lust and of the nightmare civilisations which these build up in ever-increasing power and complication, he would progress from being merely a fallen man to being a fiend, possibly beyond all modes of redemption. This danger was averted. The sentence that those who ate of the forbidden fruit would be driven away from the Tree of Life was implicit in the composite nature with which Man was created. But to convert this penal death into the means of eternal life—to add to its negative and preventive function a positive and saving function—it was further necessary that death should be accepted. Humanity must embrace death freely, submit to it with total humility, drink it to the dregs, and so convert it into that mystical death which is the secret of life. But only a Man who did not need to have been a Man at all unless He had chosen, only one who served in our sad regiment as a volunteer, yet also one who was perfectly a Man, could perform this perfect dying; and thus (which way you put it is unimportant) either defeat Death or redeem it. He tasted death on behalf of all others. He is the representative “Die-er” of the universe: and for that very reason the Resurrection and the Life. Or conversely, because He truly lives, He truly dies, for that is the very pattern of reality. Because the higher can descend into the lower He who from all eternity has been incessantly plunging Himself in the blessed death of self-surrender to the Father can also most fully descend into the horrible and (for us) involuntary death of the body. Because Vicariousness is the very idiom of the reality He has created, His death can become ours. The whole Miracle, far from denying what we already know of reality, writes the comment which makes that crabbed text plain: or rather, proves itself to be the text on which Nature was only the commentary. In science we have been reading only the notes to a poem; in Christianity we find the poem itself.

From Miracles
Compiled in Words to Live By
Miracles: A Preliminary Study. Copyright 1947 C. S. Lewis Pte. Ltd. Copyright renewed © 1947 C. S. Lewis Pte. Ltd. Revised 1960, restored 1996 C. S. Lewis Pte. Ltd. All rights reserved. Used with permission of HarperCollins Publishers. Words to Live By: A Guide for the Merely Christian. Copyright © 2007 by C. S. Lewis Pte. Ltd. All rights reserved. Used with permission of HarperCollins Publishers.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Last Night's Amazing Sunset

Taken while walking with son Philip and his girlfriend in the James M. Cox Arboretum in Dayton. It's a beautiful place, an oasis--combining planned gardens with a largely untouched forest--in the midst of he city.

Last night, God was painting with light that Maxfield Parrish himself could never have duplicated on canvas.

Monday, September 01, 2014

When Does a Bad Video Nearly Ruin a Good Song?

Do I Wanna Know? is an infectious tune by the Arctic Monkeys. The lyrics well express the feelings of a person who's in love but uncertain of the other's feelings: They "wanna know," but they're afraid of what they'll learn.

Having said that, the official video looks like a sexist tire commercial. Thumbs down!

It must be true... was cited in an amicus. That appears now to be the moral equivalent of, "It's a fact. I read it on the Internet."

Evidently, justices of the US Supreme Court have, on at least several occasions, buttressed their opinions with assertions passed off as facts in friend-of-the-court briefings. The problem is, no one seems to know where the supposed "facts" come from.

A few examples:
In a 2011 decision about the privacy rights of scientists who worked on government space programs, Justice Alito cited an amicus brief to show that more than 88 percent of American companies perform background checks on their workers.

“Where this number comes from is a mystery,” Professor Larsen wrote. “It is asserted in the brief without citation.”

In a 2012 decision allowing strip searches of people arrested for even minor offenses as they are admitted to jail, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy cited an amicus brief to show that there are “an increasing number of gang members” entering the nation’s prisons and jails. The brief itself did little more than assert that “there is no doubt” this was so.
And in a 2013 decision, Justice Stephen G. Breyer cited an amicus brief to establish that American libraries hold 200 million books that were published abroad, a point of some significance in the copyright dispute before the court. The figure in the brief came from a blog post. The blog has been discontinued.
Read the whole thing.

When Prayers Go Unanswered...and You Don't See What God Seems to See

Ever been here?:
...when days, weeks, or even months pass and our prayers seem to go unanswered, it’s easy to feel God has forgotten us. Perhaps we can struggle through the day with its distractions, but at night it’s doubly difficult to deal with our anxious thoughts. Worries loom large, and the dark hours seem endless. Utter weariness makes it look impossible to face the new day.
Yeah, me too. But we're not forgotten. Seeing that is often about asking God to help us see things as He does. And that's not easy either. Then, I'm left to consider God's gracious track record, His "unfailing love" as Psalm 13 puts it--including Christ's death on the cross for a sinner like me and of His resurrection from the dead to give me life with God.

Sometimes, living through the mystery of seemingly unanswered prayer is about praising God anyway. When I do, I often end up asking the same question with which Bono ends, When I Look at the World:
Tell me, tell me, what do you see?
Tell me, tell me, what's wrong with me?
Read the whole thing.

Psalm 13

For the director of music. A psalm of David.

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
    and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
    How long will my enemy triumph over me?
Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
    Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
    and my foes will rejoice when I fall.
But I trust in your unfailing love;
    my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the Lord’s praise,
    for he has been good to me.

Labor Day Song #3: 'In a Little While' by U2

Sometimes even the dreams and the prayers that seem "out of this world" come true.

Labor Day Song #2: 'Better is One Day'

As recorded by Kutless.

"Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked." (Psalm 84:10)

Labor Day Song #1: 'My City Was Gone' by Chrissie Hynde and the Pretenders

Memories. They're tricky things.

But I do lament suburbanization, the destruction of good farmland, the abandonment of perfectly good housing stock in the pursuit of McMansions (often done by we middle class whites in a racist chase to avoid contact with the poor, the brown, the black, the red, and the yellow), and the destruction of community life around little and large downtowns replaced by discount box and online megastores. (Of course that doesn't stop me from living and buying in these ever "new" environments. So, I'm part of the problem.) Sigh...

Landscape as a Character in Fiction

One of the things that struck me when first reading the Sherlock Holmes stories by Arthur Conan Doyle is how nineteenth century London served as a character in most of them. The city, its traditions and sights, its size and its underbelly of criminality all loomed large.

The TV series rebooting the old stories, Sherlock, successfully duplicates that.

And the Law and Order TV franchise sees New York City appear as a "character" in each episode.

Landscape and locale are anchors that make works of fiction come alive.

In his latest Writerly Witterings video, crime fiction writer Michael Jecks talks about what he does to ensure that the fourteenth century Dartmoor landscapes of his novels are part of the story. Most of us aren't blessed with the many talents Jecks possesses--things like sketching and painting, which he uses to help him create the settings for his fiction. But it's interesting to learn about some of the work that goes into his writing.

Jecks' point about not getting too specific in the description of landscapes or other "props" is interesting, as most "how to" pieces about writing fiction seem to include the command to "be specific." Don't say that it was a hot day, the fiction gurus says, give the temperature and note its effect on people. Don't say it was evening, but give a sense of the darkness of it.

But Jecks, it seems to me, is onto something.

Best-selling crime novelist Agatha Christie was and still is often panned for what is seen as a lax and superficial approach to character development. But I've often found that Christie's refusal to dig too deeply into the characters that populate her stories allows me to imagine much more, like the radio shows Jecks refers to in the video. As her stories unfold, the reader becomes a collaborator with Christie in what Hunter S. Thompson, speaking of Bob Dylan's lyrics, once called "democratic art."

Anyway, enjoy Jecks's video.

[By the way, I love the way Brits say, "ennathing."]

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Billy Hamilton, Rookie Thief

The roster riddled by injuries all season long, it seems like the Cincinnati Reds have been stuck in the starting gate from the beginning. But center fielder Billy Hamilton has been revved up all along. Today, he set a new record for Reds rookies by stealing his 54th base of the season. Sweet!

Upside Down World

[This was shared during worship with the people of Living Water Lutheran Church in Springboro, Ohio earlier today.]

Matthew 16:21-28
In his book, Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream, Pastor David Platt tells about several people from underground house churches in Asian countries where it’s illegal to worship or witness for Jesus Christ.

He mentions Jian, a “doctor who has left his successful health clinic and now risks his life and the lives of his wife and two kids in order to provide impoverished villages with medical care while secretly training [a] network of house-church leaders.”

There’s Lin, a woman who teaches at a university where it’s illegal to talk about Jesus. She secretly meets with students interested in knowing more about Him though, risking the loss of her job in the process.

People like these, who embrace living with the risk of suffering or death in order to glorify God and who share Christ with others, live in an upside-down world.

It’s a world in which living for Jesus, and not for comfort or status or material success, is the highest priority.

Death, sacrifice, and risk looms over their lives.

Yet the people I've met who live like this are more alive and more joyful than most of the people you and I know or know about.

Jesus talks about the strange alternative universe—the kingdom of heaven or the kingdom of God—in which people like Jian and Lin live, in today’s Gospel lesson. It’s the world in which He calls us all to live, too.

If that scares you, it should. I know that it scares me. Yet there is no other place where true life can be found than in Jesus’ kingdom.

Let’s learn more about it. Please turn to the lesson, Matthew 16:21-28 (page 687 in the sanctuary Bibles).

The lesson actually continues the incident that we looked at in last Sunday’s Gospel lesson, in which Peter confessed that Jesus is “the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” The first verse of today’s lesson follows: “From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.”

Now, Jesus had a typical way of “explaining” things He wanted them to know. Turn please, to Luke 24:27, as the risen Jesus spoke with two disciples on the way to Emmaus: “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets [the phrase, Moses and the Prophets, like the Law and the Prophets, referred to what we call the Old Testament], he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.”

Jesus always pointed to the God of the Old Testament to explain Who He was and what He was about. Jesus taught that everything that Christians confess about Him—from His virgin birth to His sacrificial death for our sin, from His kingship to His resurrection—was foretold in the Old Testament.

Peter though, wasn’t interested in what Jesus or the Old Testament had to say about the Messiah suffering, dying and rising. Peter wanted Jesus to be an earthly king who could produce results, like freeing him and his countrymen from Roman rule and their oppressive taxes. Peter wanted Jesus to make his life easy. That’s why, in verse 22, we read: “Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. ‘Never, Lord!’ he said. ‘This shall never happen to you!’”

Peter wanted a king who would do things the way he thought that they should be done.

He wanted a God who would be complicit in his favorite sins, things like pride and the disdain of foreigners he presumed God didn’t care about.

Sometimes, I confess, I can be like Peter. I go to God in prayer and say, "Now, Lord, what you need to do is thus and so. That will cause such and such a person to do what you and I both know they need to do. Then, I can step in and do this."

I’ve got everything figured out for God. All He needs to do is sign off on my plan.

Do you know what God's reaction to a "prayer" like that is?

After He stops laughing, He treats my calling out to Him in Jesus’ Name as an invitation for Him to do what He thinks is best.

Peter thought he was going to tell Jesus how to be God and King. He soon found out how off-base he was. Look at verse 23: “Jesus turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.’”

The man Jesus had just called “the rock” is now “a stumbling block.”

The man who was commended for listening to God in order to know Who Jesus was, now is being condemned for listening to Satan!

Jesus uses the same word for Peter, the word Satan, which means accuser, that He used for the devil when the devil tempted Him in the wilderness.

Back then, Satan tried to tempt Jesus to avoid the cross and take the easy way to becoming a king. No suffering. No cross. All Jesus had to do was worship Satan and Jesus could have the world He had come to reclaim for God.

Jesus refused to take the easy way.

Like the devil, Peter wanted Jesus to take the easy way. The easy way, the way of going along with the world to get along with the world, the way of cutting corners on ethics and our characters in order to get what we want, is exactly what Jesus warned anyone who wanted to follow Him to avoid when He said, “The gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life.”

What path are you and I following in life: the Jesus way or the easy way? This is a question worthy of asking ourselves each day.

My mentor, Pastor Bruce Schein, used to tell us about counseling parents whose high school or college-age children were addicted to drugs. He told these parents that if they loved their children, they wouldn’t give the kids the money they knew the kids would just use to buy more dope. “But we can’t stand the thought of our kids hating us and thinking they can’t turn to us for help. We can’t see them in such agony either,” they would say. “It’s too painful.” “How painful will it be,” he would ask them, “if you give them what they want and you lose them forever?”

Peter, like Satan before him, confronted Jesus with the same sort of choice that confronted those parents. It would have been far easier for Jesus to give people what they wanted, to be a king who led a revolution and tossed out the Romans.

But if He had done that, His mission would have remained unfulfilled. You and I would be left hopelessly imprisoned to sin and death.

Jesus willingly endured the hatred of the whole human race and the punishment for sin we deserve so that He wouldn’t lose us forever.

He endured suffering and death on the cross so that on Easter Sunday, when the Father raised Jesus from the dead, He could give new life to all who repent for sin and believe in Him.

It was by the hard way of the cross that Jesus won life for all who trust in Him. God’s saving grace in Christ is free, but we must give up life as it’s usually lived in order to be free to grab hold of it!

In verse 24, Jesus amplifies this point, when He says in part, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” To take up our cross has nothing to do with enduring the pains or inconveniences of life, no matter how severe they may be.

Rather, to take up our cross is to acknowledge that our sins put Jesus on the cross.

I love what Martin Luther says when, in The Small Catechism, he explains the meaning of Holy Baptism for our daily lives: “[Baptism] signifies that the old Adam in us, together with all sins and evil desires, should be drowned by daily sorrow for sin and repentance and be put to death, and that the new person should come forth every day and rise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.”

Just as Christ’s crucifixion led to His resurrection, daily taking up our crosses, confessing our sins, and submitting to the death of our sinful selves brings us fresh new life every moment we walk with Jesus.

When we live in daily repentance and renewal, we can confess with Jeremiah, writing in the Old Testament book of Lamentations 3:22-23: “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.”

But what does it mean to deny ourselves? It means to ask God to help us to dare to trust God’s revealed word and will and not in our own reasoning or experiences.

Psalm 118:8 tells us: “It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in humans.” That includes the humans you and I know best, ourselves.

Denying ourselves means admitting that we need God not as we want Him to be, but God as He is, the God Who can only save us from sin and death when we give Him our daily surrender and daily--moment by moment--sign over control over our lives to Jesus Christ.

In Philippians 1:21, the apostle Paul writes, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” I pray each day to live with more of that risky, “upside down” attitude of faith, of trust in Christ.

Peter rebuked Jesus because he was concerned about living and organizing life as he wanted life to be. He wanted God to bend to his plans rather than submitting to whatever God had in mind for him. It seemed to risky for Jesus to submit to death on a cross (Jesus might stay dead), too risky to give up on His preferences and give God control of his life (that seemed to frighteningly uncertain). I confess, that following Jesus, even on this side of His cross and resurrection, seems awfully risky me today. And it is risky.

True living though, whether in this life or in eternity, doesn’t belong to those who play it safe, who take a pass on the risk of faith. It belongs to people who give control of their lives to Jesus—to people who deny themselves, who take up their crosses, and who follow Jesus.

After all, truly, this life, no matter how many years we live here, is simply a warm-up lap for the one to come.

Let Jesus take control of your life now.

Start living in Jesus’ alternative universe—the kingdom of heaven—today.

Let Jesus call the shots.

Let Jesus set your priorities.

Do everything you can to tell the world about the new life that only those with faith in Jesus have.

You may not win any popularity contests for living in Jesus’ kingdom. You may not gain power or wealth or ease. But you will live in the power of the only one who can give you life, the only One Who will be left standing when sin and death have done their worst to us.

And as you live with Jesus each day, you will, as Jesus promises at the end of our Gospel lesson, “not taste death before [you] see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” You will see the imprint of Jesus on every moment that you breathe. And you will be alive!

"Getting" Jesus