Saturday, October 04, 2014

On a Fall Walk 2

More of last night's sunset. (Click to enlarge.)

On a Fall Walk

Most of yesterday here, the sky was drab and we had rain. But just before sundown, the sun made itself known, bouncing beams off of dark clouds. Even the trees, their leaves turning, seemed to be set on fire by heaven. (Click to enlarge.)

'4 Reasons Christians Must Reject Islamophobia'

It's for the sake of love of God and neighbor and the mission of the Church. Read the whole thing.

John Mellencamp Meets Doctor Who Saved His Life 62 Years Ago

As a result, he says, he is "trying to have faith in something." Good idea.

If you'd like a suggestion as to what...or have faith in, John, I'd love to talk with you.

Friday, October 03, 2014

Library of Congress Restoration of 1924 World Series Film is Beautiful

It's the same great game I enjoy today.

By the way, President Calvin and wife Grace Coolidge were big baseball fans. There's a fantastic display of the couple's baseball memorabilia at the president's boyhood home in Vermont. Coolidge attended the deciding game seen in the film.

The old Washington Senators, not to be confused with the later Washington Senators, who later became the Texas Rangers (or the current Washington Nationals, who used to be the Montreal Expos), won the Series in '24.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

This Is How Bad Things Are at the School Up North

At a recent rally on the campus of a school in Ann Arbor calling for the resignation of the athletic director, a law student wore Ohio State attire. He said until Dave Brandon is fired, he will not wear maize and blue.

The protests, it should be said, were not as much about the performance of the football team on the field, as about its handling of the concussion of a quarterback during Michigan's loss to Minnesota this past Saturday.

ESPN analyst and one-time OSU QB Kirk Herbstreit said on this morning's Mike and Mike radio show that he thought that some of the criticism falling on head coach Brady Hoke for allowing his QB to re-enter the game after sustaining a concussion, was unfair. He explained that on football sidelines, head coaches are dependent on training and medical staff to tap him on the shoulder and inform him that Player X can't return to the game. Herbtreit says that what happened on Saturday is the fault of the medical staff and of the university itself.

I don't know about that. But I do know that all of this is catching Hoke and his program in a perfect storm. At a moment when we're all growing increasingly concerned about the high incidence of life-altering head injuries in football and when the football program appears to be in an ongoing tailspin on the scoreboard, Hoke and his staff must feel like they're trying to wrestle alligators and shake hands with an octopus at the same time.

The more important issue...more important than winning and more important than saving the revenue stream of college athletics or the jobs of coaches and athletic first, finding out what happened during the Minnesota-Michigan football game. Who dropped the ball when considering the safety and health of a young man who, even on the field, evidenced not doing well after taking a hit on the chin at the end of a play? Who looked at him? Who certified that he was good to go back into the game and why? What policies need to be in place in such instances?

Secondly, and more broadly, we all need to know what can be done to make football a safer game?

Ickey Shuffles Again

OK, so it made its first appearance on TV on September 4, but I saw Ickey Wood's Geico commercial for the first time this morning while watching Sports Center on ESPN. The retired Bengals player does the Ickey Shuffle. Only this time, it isn't to celebrate scoring another TD as in his playing days, but after his number is called next in a super market deli department. Love it.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

President Obama's Next Secret Service Director

Anthony Schliegel...

Give In by Lecrae

With help from Crystal Nicole on this love song of surrender to Christ from Lecrae's newest, Anomaly. Another lyric video.

Call Me Back Again by Paul McCartney and Wings

Always have loved this song from the early 70s and, just a few days ago, Paul McCartney's MPL Communications issued this fun lyric video for it.

By the way, I wondered about the telephone number in the video:
Eagle-eyed fans may notice and wonder about the number on the phone in the video. It has now been disconnected but had you called GAR 6922 a few years back you would have reached the McCartney residence, it being the family's home number when Paul was growing up.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Where Real Pain and Real Pleasure Lead Us

"A heart that is broken is a heart that is open" (U2, Cedarwoode Road)

"One day you're waiting for the sky to fall,
"The next you're dazzled by the beauty of it all" (Bruce Cockburn, Lovers in a Dangerous Time)

Through lots of my years, I've sought to live a placid life. I don't suppose that's so different from most people. We all want, in the words of another song, this one Paul McCartney's Too Much Rain, "a happy and peaceful life."

But I realize that much of the placid life I sought was actually a lifeless life.

I tried to avoid confrontation, often when it would have been best to take it on, because I didn't want upleasantness.

I held most people at arm's length, despite a surface friendliness, because, after all, I could be moving on and goodbyes to those you really care about hurt. Besides, some people turn on you and cause you pain.

I would even avoid things of great beauty for the grief I projected they would someday bring me when they were no longer there. ("You're gonna make me lonesome when you go," Dylan sang in his 1974 song.)

What I have come to realize--what I am still coming to realize--is that while a person may achieve a stale, lifeless placidity by staying away from the pains and pleasures of human existence, there is less of life, less of love, and less of God in a life of avoidance.

In his book, The Screwtape Letters, a work of fiction that purports to be the correspondence of a senior tempter with a junior tempter, C.S. Lewis has his evil protagonist advise his charge to keep his patient--the human being the junior tempter is trying to dislodge from relationship with God--from experiencing any real pain or real pleasure.

Real pleasure only comes from God.

It's God Who created the gift of sex, for example. It can bring authentic pleasure to men and women committed to one another and respectful of one another: physical pleasure, emotional pleasure, a sense of being loved and accepted no matter what the rest of the world may think or say.

It's God Who created the gifts of food and taste. It's a wonderful pleasure to bite into an apple and taste its sweet tang, feel the crunch of of the fruit in your teeth. And it's good for us.

But pleasures like these can be marred by misuse or overuse or abuse.

Sex can be seen as an end in itself that doesn't bring the whole package of pleasure God intended it to bring.

Food can be candied and processed and perverted and overeaten, an object that results not in pleasure but dullness, addiction, and obesity.

Lewis' devil concedes that only God can create real pleasure and that hell has found no way to replicate it in its pure form.

Real pain, on the other hand, comes from really living in the depths of life.

There are some who manufacture faux pain in order to call attention to themselves or to invest their lives with drama that makes them feel as though they're living. ("Suffering was the only thing that made me feel I was alive," Carly Simon sang in Haven't Got Time for the Pain.)

We live surrounded by such people: drama queens and drama kings. They parcel out gossip to make themselves seem important. They're people who are, if not in the center of some drama, real or imagined, in the know about it.

They crow about the offenses, real and imagined, perpetrated against them on Facebook, at the water cooler, in the packed dockets of courts, and in church fellowship halls.

But contact with real pain, a real consequence of this world's enslavement to sin, death, and darkness, is very different than contact with fake pain: The news that we've had a major heart attack, when we receive a diagnosis of cancer, when a loved one dies, when a friend deserts us, being physically abused, being persecuted. Those are occasions of real pain.

Real pleasure and real pain can have the same effect on us though, says Lewis. They can bring us back to reality, out of our dream worlds, away from our selfish attempts to insulate ourselves from reality, to deny our mortality, our finitude, and our need for the God Who made us and Who came to our world to save us from sin, death, and darkness and to give us the life with Him for which we were made.

In Psalm 8, King David sings: "O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens." Pleasure in looking at the skies, which are only part of God's creation, led David to the truth that this amazing universe has a creator and He is to be praised. (I find myself looking at and taking pictures of the skies all the time these days.)

Then, David, considering God's goodness, is led later in the psalm to wonder: "
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?"

Real pleasure often leads people to praise, even those who may not consider themselves especially religious. In his 1971 song, Duncan, Paul Simon has the lead character sing, "
I was playing my guitar/Lying underneath the stars/Just thanking the Lord/For my fingers."

Praise, I believe, in fact, is the truest, most real thing that human beings can ever engage in because through it, we acknowledge the fundamental truth of the universe: God is God and I'm not and that's good.

Real pain too, will lead us into the precincts of real truth--and the author of truth, the One Who is truth Himself. This, as we've mentioned here many times before, was the experience of a first century Christian named Paul. In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul talks about the many wonderful things God had shown him. But, he said, to keep him from getting too full of himself for being so blessed, God had allowed an unidentified thorn in the flesh to remain in his life. Paul asked for its removal three times. But God had told him no, "My grace is sufficient." "I'm all you need," God is telling Paul. "Your real pain will pass one day. But I love and am with you now. That's enough. Life with me is all there is of reality, now through the fog of pain and death, but one day in eternity, in its fullness and beauty and peace."

So long as we live in this world, we will be susceptible to real pain and real pleasure. We can't pretend they're not there. But I'm convinced that it's only in the midst of them that we can become either grateful enough or desperate enough to know God and experience His presence in our lives. Real pleasure and real pain break us open to His grace and love, if we will open the door from our sides. The risen Jesus says in Revelation 3:20: "Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me."

Real pleasure and pain usher me into reality and truth, the place where I can most clearly see and know God.

That's because neither real pleasure nor real pain leave me feeling that I am in control.

And that's good, because, despite my efforts to create a false placidity, I never was in control in the first place.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Gratefully taking a place in the ranks of a forgiven murderer and adulterer...

...a coward, a persecutor of Christians, and a slave trader. Thank God that by His grace through faith in Christ, I'm in special company. You can be too.

Recovering 'Rapturist' Shows New Testament Doesn't Talk About Rapture

What the New Testament says about the rapture is, "No, that's not going to happen."

'Left Behind' 'Theology' Isn't the Bible's Theology

With the release of a new movie version of Left Behind, it's important that Christians not get raptured from reality. The entire idea of "rapture" and of Christ returning three times, notions that have only been around for about two-hundred years,  is un-Biblical:
When Paul refers to some being “caught up” (1 Thessalonians 4:17) he's not referring to a rapture which will precede a time of tribulation in the modern world: He is giving his audience hope in the midst of persecution and death and reminding them of the hope that all Christians share, that Christ will come again (just not again and then again!) When Jesus speaks of “one being taken” (Matthew 24:40) he is not referencing how Christians all across the world will escape from a period of trial; rather, he is referencing the Genesis flood story (vv 37-40) and, as the context makes clear, being “taken away” is actually unfortunate, as it is the one who is “taken away” that faces judgment.
Read the whole thing.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Seeing What God Can Do

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

Matthew 21:23-32
Lutheran pastor Brian Stoffregen tells about receiving a telephone call one day at his office from a woman he’d never met. She was a member of a nearby church and wondered if she could share something with Stoffregen and get his opinion. For years, she’d been active in her church, she explained. Her husband hadn’t. In fact, he’d had little use for Christian faith.

Then, not long before the telephone conversation, the man lost his arm in a work-related accident. His life was actually endangered for a time. While at the hospital, the husband had an encounter with God. God gave him a choice to either remain on the earth, a choice that would impose pain, rehabilitation, relearning basic life skills, and numerous adjustments, or to leave the earth. He decided to stay. His encounter with God changed this man’s ideas about God, about Christ, about the Church, and about having life with God.

Now, this woman explained to Stoffregen, not long before the accident, she had felt led to tell her husband, for reasons she couldn’t explain: “When you see my mother [who was dead], don't go with her." Like her husband, this woman’s life and faith had been, as you can imagine, changed by what God had done and was doing in her husband’s life. But there was a problem.

It turned out that the people at church, even some of her closest friends, didn’t believe that the woman’s husband had really encountered God. They didn’t accept his change of heart. They refused to accept that God had really worked in this man’s life. "God wouldn't do something like that for someone who didn't believe in Jesus," some seemed to tell her. Or, "It must have been the devil speaking to him."

Here were people who regularly confessed that they believed that, in Jesus Christ and the faith in Christ created within them by the power of the Holy Spirit, God had saved them from their sins by His grace alone. Yet now, they refused to believe that God had worked a transformation in someone who, though he had probably heard the Gospel of new and everlasting life for all who turn from sin and believe in Jesus Christ, had always lived apart from God. They refused to accept the evidence of what Christ had accomplished in the man and dismissed it all as a sham.

What can you say about people like these? That they were self-righteous, for sure. And I think that there’s good reason to suspect that they didn’t really believe in the gracious God they claimed had saved them.

Jesus encountered people like this in today’s Gospel lesson, Matthew 21:23-32. They refused to acknowledge what God was doing in Jesus‘ ministry, just as they had refused to acknowledge what had happened in the ministry of John the Baptist. Notorious sinners turned from their sin, leaving their sinful life practices behind--things like sexual intimacy outside of marriage and extorting money from others, and, instead, following God with faith and submission. The religious leaders couldn’t accept that God’s hand was in it. 

The Gospel lesson, I think, is an important antidote for Christians to take regularly, for the simple reason that, after awhile, if we’re not careful, the devil, the world, and our sinful selves will snooker us into believing that our faith and our salvation result from our intrinsic goodness.

Jesus says in Matthew 9:13: “...I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." In truth, saving faith in Christ only comes to those who recognize that they’re sinners in constant and desperate need of the Savior God sent into the world to free them from sin and death for all eternity.

If we ever fall into the trap of thinking God is fortunate to have such good people like us on His side, we need to fall to our knees in repentance and ask God for trust in Christ’s perfect righteousness over against our prideful smugness.

Paul writes in Romans 3:28: “For we maintain that a person is justified [that is made righteous] by faith...” and not by their supposed merits. We need always to remind ourselves and each other of this truth.

Turn to our Gospel lesson, Matthew 21:23-32, please. Just a little background is needed.

Previously in Matthew, chapter 21, Jesus had entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.

He then threw the moneychangers out of the temple for turning God’s house into a place of extortionist commerce. 

Jesus also healed the blind and lame in the temple that same day, signs of His being more than just a true man, but also true God. He also upheld the truth of what children were saying about him.

That night, on the way to Bethany where He would sleep, Jesus saw a fig tree that wasn’t producing fruit. And this is an important prelude to today's lesson.

Now, the ancient rabbis had always said that the tree of the knowledge of good and evil from which Adam and Eve at the forbidden fruit was a fig tree, not an apple tree as we often suppose. So, this fruitless fig tree was freighted with symbolism and allusions to human history.

Jesus caused the tree to wither, not because He was having a bad day or was in a bad mood, but because living things should bear evidence of the life within them.

Likewise, people who claim to believe in the God we know in Christ, who claim to be rooted in Him and to “live and move and have their being in” Him, should evidence the presence of God’s life in them by the lives they live, the ways they love.

It’s after all this that our lesson begins. We read:
“And when he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came up to him as he was teaching, and said, ‘By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?’” These were the gatekeepers of first century Judean religious life. They had the authority that goes with human status and human credentials. What they were really saying to Jesus was, “We’re in charge around here. And we didn’t give you the authority to raise the dead, heal the sick, forgive the sins of the repentant, promise life to those who believe in You, or cut into the temple revenue by overturning the tables of thieves who possessed authorized franchises here in the temple mall.”
They said this as though they actually possessed the authority to grant such ministries to Jesus. Yet these were things they’d never shown an interest in doing, let alone evidencing a capacity to do them!

Certain of their own goodness and status as godly people, the chief priests and elders refused to see God at work in the lives of those touched by Jesus.

The lesson goes on:
“Jesus answered them, ‘I also will ask you one question, and if you tell me the answer, then I also will tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?’ And they discussed it among themselves, saying, ‘If we say, “From heaven,” he will say to us, “Why then did you not believe him?” But if we say, “From man,” we are afraid of the crowd, for they all hold that John was a prophet.’” So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, ‘Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.’”
Jesus really wasn’t trying to trap the leaders. It was common for rabbis to answer questions by asking questions that would, in honest students really seeking the truth, result, with the rabbi’s guidance, in their own seeming discovery of the truth.

Besides, John’s authority for his ministry of preparation for the coming of the Messiah came from the same place that Jesus’ authority came from, God the Father. This the leaders wouldn’t acknowledge for fear that ultimately, they would lose their earthly authority.

I’ve known of some people--some pastors--who have refused to acknowledge that Jesus rose from the dead because they didn’t want to look bad to the sophisticates they knew who saw Jesus as nothing but a nice man. How sincere is our own faith when it crumbles in the face of popular opinion?

Jesus told the leaders that if they were unwilling to acknowledge that God was at work in John’s ministry, they wouldn’t be able to see that God was bringing salvation to the world through Himself. By being closed to what God was showing the world, they would never understand His answer to their question.

Jesus then told a parable to the leaders:
“What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.”

Jesus wasn’t being PC in telling this parable. The meaning was clear. All the people who had once said no to God were, through Jesus, now saying yes to Him. It was evidenced in their changed lives.

And the people who had always claimed to speak for God, were saying no to God in human flesh, refusing to accept that, with grace and power, God had broken into the lives of the unlikeliest of people. Faith and eternal life had come to those who laid down their pride.

Cynicism and death were evidenced in those whose pride was in themselves and their own confident self-righteousness.

Jesus‘ words for us today are a call for us to surrender to Him and with repentance and faith, let Him give us what we can never have when we’re turned in on ourselves.

When we turn our eyes to Jesus, we have hope, peace that passes human understanding, purpose for each day, charity for others and for ourselves, a sense that, despite our sins, we belong to God, and a commitment to daily laying our sinful selves on the cross, so that we may be crucified and rise to life with God alongside Jesus.

And, saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone, we find it easy to believe that if Christ can save us, Christ can save anybody. Amen