Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Time is Right

The time is right for an angel to once again proclaim the good news about the birth that occurred in the ancient city of David over two millennia ago. A child has been born who will change the course of human history and destiny forever. "Do not be afraid; for see - I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord (Luke 2:10-11)." The time is right for this message.

So often in life timing does not work out all that well. This Christmas thousands of American soldiers are still stationed in Northern Iraq. They must be away from their homes this holiday season. At least 1,000 of those soldiers in Northern Iraq are women and among those women four of them have learned that they are expecting a child. It would seem the timing of their pregnancies could not have been worse. Can you imagine being a soldier, stationed in Iraq, only months away from becoming a mother?

Today there are neighbors, right here in this town, facing life crises. The timing could not possibly have been worse. Here in the midst of the Christmas cheer discovering the need to move in a new direction... to give up an abusive relationship... to throw away the bottle for good... to accept that the only truth in life comes from Christ. It seems like a tough time to be doing that... but actually the time is exactly right!

The time is right to embrace the good news of the angel's message. Time is right to hear that a Savior has been born for all people... for you. On the surface it doesn't appear that the timing for Jesus in Luke's Gospel was all that good for Mary and Joseph. Luke is intentional in letting us know the point in history God chooses to rip into the fabric of human events with the gift of Messiah. It was during the reign of the great Roman Emperor Augustus. At the time he issued an edict that the Empire would conduct a census. It was when Quirinius was governor of Syria. At that moment in history God acted, not the most convenient time for Mary and Joseph. For you see Joseph's family was from Bethlehem so the census required that he actually go to the town. 2000 years later there would have been internet registration.... but not then. Yet even so... the time was right.

Of course, wouldn't you know that Mary had to go into labor while they were in Bethlehem... on a night when there was no room at the inn. What terrible timing... ahhh... but the time was right. God worked to make it right. They needed to be in Bethlehem. The shepherds needed to hear the message. What seemed so imperfect became perfect because the right time was God's time.

Oh yes, the time is right. God will work through the lives of our soldiers in Iraq to hopefully, we pray, become catalyses for peace. God will comfort those four expectant soldiers and those babies may touch the lives of thousands. The time is right. For those facing crises... for those giving up the lies of the world and exchanging them for the truth of Jesus Christ... the timing is right... Tonight is the night.

For to us is born this day... in the city of David... a Savior... who is the Messiah... the Lord!

Tonight out there, somewhere, there is a man who has lost it all: His home, his job, his livelihood. Everything, except the van he sleeps in. And as people walk by along the sidewalk, close to where he has parked his van, he worries. He is scared. He does not want to be discovered. Cold and afraid, he chooses to stay where he is at: frozen in mind, body and soul.

The time is right... for the birth of Christ.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Why Give?

God wants hearts of people. People want money. When people give away their money generously to others in need and to the mission of the church they are giving to God exactly what he wants: their hearts.

The story of the widow's mite is one of the best examples of this in Scriptures. Jesus sees a great many rich people giving a lot of money to the temple treasury. He also sees a poor widow giving her last two copper coins (her mites). He uses this as a teaching moment. He says that the woman is giving more because she is giving her heart through her act of devotion. The "large sums" the rich give do not reflect the same faithful, heart-giving devotion as when the woman gives all she's got.

God doesn't want all of your money... he wants your heart. There are three things going on when you give generously in a heart-centered, living-faith way. First the act of giving recognizes that everything you have is a gift from God. Second, the act of giving puts your faith in the hope that God will continue to provide. Third, the money you give helps Christ's mission and others in need.

When Christians instead give, let's say, twenty bucks to their church occasionally on rare weeks when they have some extra money after paying bills, going shopping, and spending a few nights out, they are indeed helping through their gift. But that $20 offering is not the act of living faith because it neither recognizes all that they have is a gift, nor does it put their faith in the hope that God will continue to provide. "Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on (Mark 12:43b-44)."

Determine how blessed you are. Take stock of your income and make a commitment to give a percentage of what you receive back. Give it to help others. Give it to the ministry of your church. When giving is done as a way of faith and a way of life, the act of giving is no longer about the money... it becomes a spiritual act of giving God your heart.

Thankful, intentional giving is living faith; and it is through living faith in Christ that we see and live the spiritual reality that surrounds us. When the world says you don't have enough, living faith reveals that God, who blessed you yesterday, will bless you again now and forever. Its an act of liberation. It's a gift of freedom.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Joyful Music

Monday is the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. On November 9, 1989 Germans living in the totalitarian communist state known best as East Germany were first allowed to move through the locked down border that divided a people. History tells us it was a mistake of bureaucratic miscommunication that led the border guards to allow the first swarms of people through. But praise be to God, it was a mistake that changed the world. Once the gates to freedom were opened, nothing was going to turn back the clock. The Cold War was essentially over.

There were spontaneous celebrations throughout Berlin. East and West Germans came to the wall and stood in mass, unable to comprehend that this was happening. Just ten months earlier the leader of the DDR (East Germany) spoke of the wall standing for another 100 years before conditions might change for it to come down. Little did he know that within a year the DDR would be no more.

How do you celebrate such an event? Words could not express the feelings. Cameras took photos. Tears ran down cheeks. What can you say when a wrong which affected generations was finally made right?

A few days after the initial euphoria, when movement through Checkpoint Charlie was no different than movement through a Tri-State Highway toll booth, the great cellist, Mistislav Rostropovich, was moved the make a statement of pure joy. You see Rostropovich, music director of the National Symphony Orchestra and considered by many the greatest cellist of the twentieth century, was directly touched by the Cold War. A Russian, Rostropovich became great while learning and practicing his art in the finest musical institutions of the Soviet Union. But political pressures from the Communist Party forced him to make the difficult decision to defect to the United States with his wife in 1974. He thrived in America and continued his storied career. But he could never go home. He lost his country. He lost his people Or so he thought.

Then November 9, 1989 happened. So moved by joy... the great cellist did what he does best. He gave no speech. He wrote no articles. Instead he went to the wall, near Checkpoint Charlie, took out his cello, and played... and played... and played.

There are times in life when the only way we can express our joy and gratitude is through music. There are joys so inexpressible that only sounds can do the justice that words can't. And not just any sounds.... Music!

"Praise the Lord. Praise the Lord, my soul. I will praise the Lord all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live (Psalm 146:1-2)." Music is such an essential part of how we worship God. Yes we have words. We have God's Word. Yes we lift up prayers. But there are aspects of our gratitude and awe for the Lord our God that require more than words. There are joys we feel that cannot be expressed in any better way than through music.

Rostropovich expressed the inexpressible that day in Berlin twenty years ago. The world had changed and he had to make a statement... a statement through his cello... a statement through music. Praise be to God!

Friday, November 06, 2009

I am the Dollars of Life

A church started a new gimmick a few weeks ago. As a way of trying to get more people to come to worship services they began giving away three prizes of cold hard cash. If you want to be one of the winners you have to attend. The top prize is something like $1000. Guess what happened? Attendance not only grew (from 1600 to 2500 on a Sunday) but they also got all kinds of local media attention. Talk about an avalanche of good fortune. They may reach 3000 by the end of this month.

My initial reaction was judgemental. Here's another one of those Evangelical Gospel-of-Victory churches telling people they can get free money if they come to church. They are missing the point, i thought. They missing the true calling of Christ to be disciples... servants of all.

Then I read more about their scheme in the paper. According to the stories, it is true that the church started the program as a way of bringing people in, but they are bringing people in with a purpose. Understanding that most of those attending are looking for the free money, they are apparently intentional of then sharing with them a message of truth: money is a trap that enslaves us. People are encouraged to destroy their credit cards in the shredder stationed in the church. Representatives from a local bank are on hand to help people open savings accounts, with $25 already in place. Reading what was described in the paper, I was impressed and moved. Did not Jesus do the same thing?

In John's Gospel Jesus impresses a whole lot of folks with miracles and give-aways. In chapter 6 he feeds thousands with only five loaves of bread and two fish. People love a free lunch. No wonder there were at least 5000 there. The next day many of them come looking for more since they are hungry again. Jesus tells them this: "Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you (John 6:26-27)." They are perplexed by this and ask Jesus to give them a sign so they might believe. I guess they forgot about yesterday's meal already.

The rest of chapter plays out like this: "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty (John 6:35)." Jesus himself is the bread of liberation. Faith in Jesus frees us from the daily struggle of I want this, I need this, I hate this. And this is not because we are showered with all the fish we can eat, but because we no longer live the day looking for fish first, but looking to serve first. What you need will come.

John is wonderful about showing us that not everyone bought into this stuff Jesus was teaching. Its not as if 5000 suddenly understood everything that next day and believed. Actually very few understood Jesus and replied "This teaching is difficult, who can accept it (John 6:60)?" Most went looking for their bread elsewhere.

Most of those going to this church looking for free money will also go away disappointed. Even those lucky enough to win. After all $1000 only goes so far. They will ask for more signs and probably start reaching for credit card number two. But some will believe. Some will be changed. If what is reported in the paper is true, and their message is naming the enslaving lie called money as the phony idol it is, then people will be changed. Jesus is the dollars of life. Whoever comes to him will never be poor, and whoever believes in him will never go without. Not because you will be showered with millions, but because you will be living your faith in him first. What you need to live will come.

Friday, October 23, 2009


I don't know all the details about what happened in Colorado last week. All I know is that the media is pretty angry. How dare someone play a hoax on them! They are the instrument through which truth is shared to the American public. If there is a boy in a giant balloon lost in the stratosphere, you better believe they are going to cover it. And when it comes out that it might be a big stunt, a way for a reality TV show family to get back in the public eye, oh boy you better believe they are not too pleased.

Like I said, I don't know about everything that has happened. I certainly didn't watch the whole thing live on CNN. What I know about it, I've read in the Chicago Tribune, that "old school" instrument of truth telling. They report that people are not happy. The police might arrest the father. Social Services might take the kids away. ABC might need to show re-runs of the reality series Wife Swap, so we can see for ourselves just how crazy this family is. If only the networks had bought one of the dad's crazy ideas for a show, none of this would have happened.

Personally I am suspicious of just how much "reality" is given to us through the media. If cable television calls Jon & Kate "real," then what is fake? Might it be possible that fame, fortune, celebrity are some of the phoniest things the world dishes out to us. Can't you just hear the lies running through the heads of those involved with the Balloon Boy fiasco? (yes, the media is calling him Balloon Boy)

There is a truth that surrounds us that can't be found in the media, fame, or fortune. The media serves up what it needs to serve up to get people's attention. Fame is dependent on other people being curious enough about you to wanna keep watching you. Fortune is a dead end because there is never enough stuff for security, happiness, or eternal life. They are all lies that take the life out of you instead of bringing you meaning and joy.

The truth that surrounds us is found in God's Word through Jesus Christ. "If you continue in my Word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free (John 8:31b-32)." Living your life for Christ, instead of for fame, fortune, or media attention, feeds the soul and liberates you from phony lies of death. Love for others is a truth found in the Word and a recognition that every day and every gift is a blessing from God to be treasured.

There will be no end to the media's "three ring circus" and you know there will be many others who follow in the Balloon family's footsteps, searching for truth in the world of "reality" TV. But they will find no satisfaction down those paths. The path to truth is found in the Word, and it leads us to a fulfilling, life changing life of discipleship.

Friday, October 16, 2009

You aint so great!

History is loaded with great people. Alexander the Great, King of Macedon, created one of the largest empires in world history... all before the age of 32. Herod the Great, King of Israel, is responsible for enormous building projects in and around Jerusalem. Many of his buildings still can be found today. Peter the Great, Tsar of the Russia, transformed Russia into a modern, western empire. And to throw in some equal time for women, Catherine the Great, Empress and Autocrat of all Russias, expanded the empire, improved its administration, and continues to modernize in the style of that other "Great" Russian leader.

Now of course that's not the whole story of good ol' Alexander, Herod, Peter, and Catherine. Alexander the Great had all his rivals killed in order to secure the throne and in his quest to conquer the world and spread Greek culture he killed thousands and conquered peoples from Greece to India. Herod the Great was a puppet king for Rome, enslaved his own people to work his building projects, killed members of his own family to protect his position, and according to Matthew murdered innocent boys in an attempt to kill Jesus. Peter the Great enacted sweeping reforms in Russia by brutally suppressing any opposition. He squashed rebellions throughout his Russian Empire by killing thousands. Catherine the Great ascended to power a half century after Peter's reign, but continued his policies of absolute power with no remorse. She famously said: "I shall be an autocrat, that's my trade; and the good Lord will forgive me, that's his."

These are the figures in history we call great? Is there something about getting kicked around that we thoroughly enjoy? With fear and admiration we look upon these bullies with some sense of awe. "Ahh, If only I could be like him," one might say. Another person will think "I better be on her side, or I'll be the next one she kicks." And so in our worldly way of pondering these things when someone reaches the point where they can kick and kill millions of people around they are somehow entitled to have the two words, "the Great," go after their name.

Jesus sure knew what he was talking about in Mark's Gospel. After James and John ask Jesus if they could be his right and left-hand men as Jesus steps up to the kind of greatness they expect from him, the rest of the Twelve are furious. They want to be at Jesus-the-Great's side. Jesus calls them out. He gives them a lesson about greatness. "You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them." Hmmm... Yeah that describes Alexander the Great, Herod the Great, Peter the Great, and Catherine the Great.

"But it is not so among you..." Ahhhh... here's the lesson. It is not so among you. For followers of Jesus greatness is different. We are called to reject that natural instinct we have to both fear and admire the worst bully on the playground. Through the lens of the cross we see that killing millions of people does not make one great. Spreading influence and culture does not make one great. Through the lens of the cross Alexander, Herod, Peter, and Catherine are not great at all. They are bullies. They are murderers. They are sinners. They represent the worst the world has to offer... Jesus represents the best.

"But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all (Mark 10:43-44)." Alexander and his crew actually model the opposite of greatness. Greatness in the eyes of God comes through love and service. Greatness in the Kingdom of God is found through sacrifice and being selfless. The Emperors, Kings, Tsars, and Autocrats in history are nothing more than over glorified bullies. In many ways they are a human take on dinosaurs. Dinosaurs ruled the world for millions of years: a super-sized example of dog-eat-dog survival of the fittest to the extreme. Eat or be eaten. Kill or be killed.

The Kingdom of God, is different. It is not so among you. Christians are called to take a stand against the norm of greatness the world has lifted up for far too long. Only God is great, and out of his love for this fallen, dog-eat-dog world, he gave us his Son be the gate through which we see a new truth and new creation. We worship Christ who is our King. He isn't great because of the worldly power he exerted on others. He is great because he died on the cross for us. "For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45)."

Jesus is great because through his death, and resurrection, he exposes the greatness of Alexander, Herod, Peter, and Catherine as nothing but an impotent lie. Therefore "it is not so among you." Stop kicking yourself in the back. Stop lifting up rulers who only repay you with threats and force. Stop admiring the worst of them. A CEO who made billions cheating the people who work for him is not to be admired. A politician who cheats the people who elected him and then arrogantly insists he is untouchable is not a great man. An investor who swendles those who trust her and back stabs her way to the top should not be the plot for a great TV show.

It is not so among you. They are not great. They are dinosaurs. And their day of extinction is coming. "The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom of many." We worship the Lord and follow him through lives of service and love. Now that's GREAT!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Drop the Stuff and Run the Race

I can't imagine running in tomorrow's Chicago Marathon since running is not one of my favorite pastimes. Running over 26 miles sounds like wicked torture. But I started pondering this week: what if I ran a marathon carrying a big box of my favorite things. Could my favorite books, mementos, and good-luck charms give me the extra push I need to finish the race? No... not likely.

A rich man in Mark's Gospel approaches Jesus with an interesting question: "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" He really doesn't know and I'm sure this is a question that has been bugging him for some time. There must be some hole within his heart that's telling him that his life just is not on the right path. He knows about God's Law. He's learned about the Ten Commandments and follows them. Is there something that he is missing? If there is something missing he's certain he can find and posses it.

Jesus understands the rich man's struggles. He knows that the rich man's question is sincere. The poor guy truly wants the answer so he can find the peace of God's eternal life. Jesus feels terrible for the man and loves him, but that doesn't prevent him from giving the rich man the genuine answer he needs to hear. It is an answer that the rich man surly didn't expect. "Give away your stuff," Jesus says. "Then come follow me."

Oh the grief the rich man felt with this answer... a deep grief. Why? Because its the answer he least expected, but at the same time the answer he has known all along because it is the one answer he just is not able to follow at that point in his life.

If I were to ask Jesus this very same question i suspect his response might very well be: run a marathon. (Yes that opens a big box of issues, I know.) And being the loving, but challenging, Savior he is, he might even give me a little advise. "If you're going to run that marathon, you are not going to want to run it with a box load of stuff. Give it up."

Yes, give it up. It only ties us down. The baggage we carry, whether it be our stuff or our sin or our worries, prevent us from living the hope-filled, liberating life of faith we could otherwise be living.

This doesn't happen over night. I took a look at a marathon training website. It takes 18 weeks for a novice runner to train to run a marathon. It is a disciplined regimen of daily 3-mile runs, cross training, a weekly longer run and rest. The problem is that I would be out by day number two! A three mile run??? I think I'll need a 18 week training program just to get to that point.

Living a life of faith that reveals God's gift of eternal life to you does not come over night. Giving up our dependence and reliance on our stuff takes time and discipline. But you can start somewhere. If you are carrying a 30lb box of stuff... go through it one pound at a time. If you buried in your home with room after room of things you have hoarded... start with one corner. If you are used to keeping all of your money for your own use... start today by giving 1% of your income away. And if that sounds to you like a 3-mile run sounds to me, then give 0.5% or 0.1%. It's important though that you use percents instead of an amount, because its not about the amount you give, but the amount that God has blessed you with in the first place.

Nothing is impossible with God. If a life of living faith is the marathon you are facing then remember you don't do it alone. Through God's Spirit you will be encouraged and inspired. You can do this. Don't fall into the rich man's trap and depart in despair. You can do this. You do not need to live your life following the dead end trap of stuff.

Why are thousands of men and women running the Chicago Marathon this weekend? Because there is a sense of great joy and accomplishment that comes from knowing that you were able to finish such a daunting task. What a great feeling it is, they say.

Well, likewise, the rewards of living a life of faith are tremendous:
- Liberated from the dead weight of dead stuff.
- Greater understanding of the roll God plays in blessing you every day
- Helping others through your generosity
- A real faith in the eternal life given to you through Christ
- Receiving a hundredfold more than enough of the things you need to live.

Drop your stuff and come and run the race. Don't miss out on this life of faith another day!

Friday, October 02, 2009

Let's Play Two

Both the Cubs and White Sox played doubleheaders this past Wednesday. It's the final week of the baseball season and they needed to get the games in. There was a time in baseball history when several doubleheaders were scheduled right into the calendar for every team, long before the season began. But that doesn't happen any more. With the exception of Ernie Banks, players hate doubleheaders, managers hate doubleheaders, owners hate doubleheaders and the media hates doubleheaders. So, guess what, doubleheaders are planned today only when there are simply no other options.

I've had a week of doubleheaders in my own life this week and now that they are behind me I can understand where all these baseball folks are coming from. It is exhausting to change topics and switch gears on a dime. There is no time for batting practice before the second game of a doubleheader. The lineup cards need to be filled out for both games long before the first pitch of the first inning. From "Eleanor Rigby" to Ghost trailers... from Jesus' prayer for unity to youth learning to pray... from Clarence earning his wings to Peter denying Jesus three times... it's a lot to keep straight.

But what's cool, looking back, is that God has blessed me with the chance to have valuable conversations with youth and adults; with men and women. We talked about God and we talked about life. Connections were made and seeds were sown. I saw people this week I hadn't seen in months. Friends shared stories about their thoughts and struggles. It was an honor to be part of all that. Now that the week of doubleheaders is behind me I sit back and thank God that I didn't play the trailer for Paranormal Activity for the junior high kids learning about baptism.

Yeah, Let's play two. It's better than not playing at all. And hey, Ernie always seems to be smiling.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Sunshine Cleaning

I saw the movie "Sunshine Cleaning" a week ago. It's about two sisters who, down on their luck, start a cleaning business specializing in tackling the nasty messes left behind after moments of extreme violence. I expected to like the movie, but I didn't.

There's a scene early in the film where a white-collar man, obviously having a bad day, goes to a gun shop looking to purchase a shot gun. "Ahhh..." we wonder. Is he looking to off his wicked boss? Has he finally come to the end of the line with his cheating spouse? No... it's neither of those. Taking a 12 gage shotgun shell out of his pocket he quickly puts it into the shotgun and without hesitation kills himself.

The next scene involves police detectives, including one who's mistress (the star of our show) has money problems. He decides to suggest that she go into the lucrative and well paying clean-up-blood-and-guts-and-brains business the next time he meets up with her at the local Motel 6. In the mean time this black comedy has our stereotypical gun-shop-workers nonchalantly discovering more pieces of our now deceased while-collar gentleman. "Ah... here's a little more of his brains over here."

I didn't like this movie. At its core it looks at the question of how people face the various and many problems that we all have. Our hero's father faces his problems through delusional dreams of making it rich someday. The main character's sister, a partner in the business, chooses to walk through life in a coma-like clueless state. Even our main character, though responsible enough to start a business and do fairly well at it, regrets her past but still desires the approval old girl friends and remains the plaything of his old (now married) high school boyfriend.

The people we don't get to know in this movie are the one's who choose to tackle their problems in ways that leaves a big mess: the murdered lover, the recluse mother who dies without anyone noticing for months, the white collar worker who has run out of options.

What horrible hopelessness. I wonder how many others in this world feel cornered like many of the characters (and victims) in this movie. And I certainly hope they are capable of making some better choices.

I must turn to the gift of faith in Jesus Christ. Even when we make pour choices in this life there is always a road back to Christ. He is the Sunshine Cleaner who cleanses us from our sins through his messy death on the cross. The more I live the more convinced I become that he is truly God's answer for us in contrast with the options the world leaves us with. "Sunshine Cleaning" displays many of the world's options. They are all dead ends. When rays of acceptance, community, friendship, and abiding love appear at the end of the film, however, you see a tiny glimpse of the kinda gift God gives us so powerfully through The Light of the World.

The world's options are a disgusting dead end. The options provided by Christ are a ray of Sunshine. Bask in the light and never give up hope.

Friday, September 11, 2009

A Busy Signal

Valerie said the internet was not working this morning. She tried rebooting it, but still nothing. In the back of her head she wondered whether our old, slow, antique Compaq desktop computer was finished. I said I would take a look at it. Shortly thereafter I discovered that the cable was out too. It's not our computer after all, that's a relief. Ahh, but then the phones must also be out. I checked. Yes, they were dead. The problem was with Wide Open West, and nothing on our part. Their "Triple Play" of cable television, telephone, and high-speed internet was just thrown out at the plate: out of commission. It was now 8:45am... I thought I better give WOW a call on my cell. They didn't have a grip on my AT&T cell phone, so I knew it would work.

Of course, the line was busy. And with that busy signal my mind went in directions I didn't expect. Today is September 11.

This morning I had gone about my business as I would have any other day. I went for a walk and mailed a bill at a mail box. I had breakfast with my kids and did a little laundry. The TV was not on, nor was the radio. It was just us and our usual weekday morning rituals, problems, and routines.

September 11, 2001 was a morning not all that different, except I was in the hospital with my wife and our two 4-day-old babies. (Yes, four DAYS old.) Grant was under the bili lights for phototherapy to treat jaundice. We didn't have the TV on that morning, nor any radio either. I walked down to the cafeteria to get some bagels and cream cheese. It was after 9 and things just seemed so quiet down there. The TV was on when I returned to Grant's hosptial room. You know what I saw.

Hearing that busy signal this morning reminded me that today was September 11. Maybe there were more sinister reasons why my WOW Triple Play was not working this morning. Now my mind didn't stay there for long... just a few moments, after all there was no terrorist plot against my broadband. But my mind went there anyway.

On September 11, 2001 I heard a busy signal all morning as I tried to call my brother who lived in New York City. He lived in Upper Manhattan, but often enjoyed taking the subway straight down to the World Trade Center to go to the Borders in the mall that was located in the lower levels of one of the towers. It was 100 to 1... no 1,000 to 1 chance he actually would have made the trip down there that morning. But it was a chance nonetheless. It was not until early afternoon, when I heard his voice, that I knew the odds were with him that day. There finally was a ring instead of a busy signal.

There are many people remembering this eighth anniversary today. Everyone has a memory... a story... about that day. Together we remember those who lost their lives and remember those who continue to mourn. But let us also remember that every day is a blessing from God to be embraced. You never know when you are going to get a busy signal.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Black Hole Revisited

Last summer I posted a blog entry about how the summer months seem to become a black hole for me when it comes to blogging. After that post I thought to myself, I'm not going to let that happen again. Well... it's happened again... over a month without a blog entry. Oh well... I'm not going to beat myself up over it. I could have posted entries about lying on the beach with my wife, visiting the Art Institute of Chicago for the first time, taking my son to see the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, visiting Hershey Chocolate World with my family and in-laws, or worshiping at a church as visitor and being touched by the preacher's message on the old "Feeding of the 5,000" text. Let's see... all kinds of good topics there: in-laws, art, marriage, sermons, visiting churches, father/son outings. But no... instead its all a black hole in the world of the LoveChristLiveFaith Blog. Guess I was too busy living life to write about life. Guess I didn't want to lug my laptop to a wifi spot. Maybe I need an I-Phone.

Na... I needed sabbath rest. I thank God for the chance to travel and experience all kinds of new things both with my family and by myself. It's been a great summer once again. God is great!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Lessons of Camp

At confirmation camp there is a daily activity that is connected with Bible study called ENAC: Eagle's Nest Adventure Course. Stations are spaced out throughout the woods and surrounding area that pose a problem for a group. For example a group of 15 students might need to get everyone through a "spider web" made up of ropes without anyone touching the ropes... or attempt to get all 15 from one end of a "chasm of lava" using only a hanging rope, Tarzan style.

Generally there is confusion among the group as they attempt to solve the problem. One or two will start yelling in order to take charge. Another three or four will just go through the "web" or swing over the "chasm" immediately since they know they can do it and just want to get it over with. After about ten minutes most of the group gets through, but left behind are the more timid and less athletically skilled. The very ones who need the most help getting over are the ones left with no help at all.

Groups can only succeed in these challenges if they all can accomplish the task. Even so, there is a feeling that some did the challenge better than others. "I was able to get over four times," one camper might say.

What are the lessons here?
- We can only succeed if we work together.
- We are called to share our talents and help others.
- We hurt others when we only look out for ourselves.

In the ropes courses it tends to always be the athletic and physically fit who always succeed. Their gifts shine. The really good ones learn the lesson by the end of the week that they need to help those not as good athletically. But obviously athleticism is not only gift that God gives to people. I wonder what kinds group building "ropes courses" could be developed that allows other types of gifts to shine besides the physical ones.

"The Spirit has given each of us a special way of serving others. Some of us can speak with wisdom, while others can speak with knowledge, but these gifts come from the same Spirit. To others the Spirit has given great faith or the power to heal the sick or the power to work mighty miracles. Some of us are prophets, and some of us recognize when God's Spirit is present. Others can speak different kinds of languages, and still others can tell what these languages mean. But it is the Spirit who does all this and decides which gifts to give to each of us. The body of Christ has many different parts, just as any other body does. Some of us are Jews, and others are Gentiles. Some of us are slaves, and others are free. But God's Spirit baptized each of us and made us part of the body of Christ. Now we each drink from that same Spirit. (1 Corinthians 12:7-13)"

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Crosstown Classic

After being rained out last night the Cubs and the White Sox have gotten their annual "Crosstown Classic" on the way this afternoon. With two games this week, three games next week, and a make up for yesterday's rain out in September: the Sox and Cubs will play six games to determine who is the best ball club in Chicago.

Since the beginning of Interleague Play in 1997 the Cubs and Sox have played a total of 66 games with each team winning half. And if you count the total number of runs they have scored the Sox are winning by only 3 (if you include the two they have scored through six innings today). All it will take is a four-run Cub rally to turn that all-time total around.

Bottom line: its close. Baseball plays out that way. Your up one day your down the next. You finish a six-game losing streak just in time to start a five-game winning streak. A career .300 hitter is bound to pull his .222 average up before September. It just works out that way.

There's a whole lot of emotion expressed by fans in this series. And there have been stories in the past of violent confrontations. No doubt fueled by the beverages served at the fine establishments in Wrigleyville and Bridgeport. But ultimately, this frustrating game is all about enjoying yourself really... and a good rivalry is all in fun. Sox and Cub fans can watch the games together... maybe not in peace... but in a way that brings plenty of laughter and smiles to go with the occasional tear.

In my life I have been proud to wear my Michigan sweatshirt among a room full of Buckeye fans I have called my friends. I have worn a Breat Favre jersey while being outnumbered by Viking and Bear fans. I have cheered for my Brewers sitting 10 rows up from the Cubs dugout in Wrigley Field... And while the sounds of a sea of Cubs fans singing "Go Cubs Go" after Prince Fielder struck out to end the game made my stomach ache at the time, I look back at it now and thank God for the fun night I had.

Cubs fans... Sox fans... let's have some fun and enjoy the great game of baseball.

Friday, May 29, 2009

It Is To Your Advantage That I Go Away

A mother was mowing her front yard on a warm July afternoon. Her 13 year-old son sat at the front steps playing his Nintendo DS video game. Disturbed by this sight, their retired neighbor walked over to the kid and asked why he wasn't mowing the yard. "I don't know how to start the lawn mower," he said.

There's nothing wrong with a mother mowing the yard. But ignorance is no good excuse for the son not to be doing it instead. I can understand how families get to this scene. As a father there are many times my expectations for my kids are not quite what they should be. If my kid can't tie his shoes when he's 4 then why not just keep tying them for him when he's 5 or 6 or 7. Before you know it you got a 13 year-old who can't tie his shoes... completely dependent on a parent for this task. Hey if it works, why change it? It would just be aggravating for everyone involved.

But there is something good about a 13 year-old with the ability to operate mowing equipment safely. There is something good about a 6 year-old son being able to tie his shoes, take a shower on his own, pour his own cups of milk and read his own books. Equipped and empowered there is no limit to what a child is capable of learning and doing.

During Jesus' ministry, his followers learned much about him and the Kingdom of God. They depended on his acts and teachings to understand what all God was doing through him. The Gospels reveal that those same followers had a really tough time understanding just what Jesus was doing.

In order for them to grow in faith and become the instrument through which the gospel would be made known to the world, Jesus had to leave. They depended on Jesus for their every move while he was still around. But after he was gone they depended on Jesus in a new way: in a way that empowered them to use their gifts... in a way that equipped them to reach all the corners of the world with the message about Christ.

Jesus says, "Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you (John 16:7)." That Advocate is the Holy Spirit, given to us in our baptisms. Yes we depend on Jesus, but we are not puppet children waiting for Jesus to tie our shoes and mow our yard for us. Through the Spirit, Jesus is with us to give us faith in him and an ability to serve that not only surprises others, but often surprises ourselves.

After the teen boy told the retired man that he doesn't know how to start the lawn mower that retired gentleman took the boy aside and showed him how to do it. With some patience, encouragement and determination that boy now understood how to make that lawn mower go, from pressing the priming button to emptying the collection bag. By August that empowered boy was making $50 a week mowing yards for 3 of his neighbors.

The Spirit is our gift from Christ. He guides us in the truth and shows us all the amazing things we are capable of doing.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Show A Little Love

I'm new to all this Chicago Blackhawks excitement going on around the Chicago area... but not because I'm only now hopping on the bandwagon of a team that's playing well. I'm new because I've only lived in this area for three years. Hockey was always a game I found exciting to watch. Growing up near Detroit it was fun to put on the CBC and catch Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday nights. Those Canadians sure know hockey. It was also fun in those days to cheer an up-and-coming team called the Red Wings who hadn't won a Stanley Cup in decades. In the 80's they still found themselves on the losing end of the playoffs, usually to teams like the Edmonton Oilers.

After I left Michigan my excitement for the Wings faded, even as they became Cup monsters like the Oliers were. I couldn't get CBC on my TV in Iowa or in Ohio... and the glowing puck of the Fox TV years were too hard to bear.

When I moved to Chicago I knew I was ready to get back into the sport... especially since the Blackhawks were a struggling team just beginning to show some signs of life. (Love those up-and-comers.) What I didn't realize when I made the choice to start following the Hawks was that the Hawks fan was an abused, lost and angry soul. Year after year of abuse by the ownership had left the United Center half empty, never ever any home games on TV, and their favorite announcer sent packing for no good reason except to punish the fans.

The abandonment of the Hawks by the fans was not simply because the team hadn't made the playoffs since 2002. That year the higher seed Hawks played those playoff games in front of plenty of empty seats. What the Hawks have been missing the past 15 years has been love. Without love even a winner will not attract fans.

The Scriptures reveal that God is love. In John's Gospel we learn that God's love is poured into his son, Jesus and that Jesus then pours out this love onto us. Love defines our relationship with God. Love is our call from Jesus. We abide in Jesus' love when we love others. Now im not talking kissy kissy love or love out of pity... This is a friendship kind of love! The love Christ calls us to live by is a love that's not looking for payback. It's sincere love. It's love for love's sake.

Somewhere along the line the love between the Hawks ownership and the Hawks fans was lost. All that remained was bitterness and hate. A great NHL franchise almost was ruined and arguably began playing second fiddle to a minor league team called the Wolves.
In early 2007 I naively asked a bunch of guys, Chicago sports fans everyone of them, if we should try to get to the UC to see a Hawks game (after all there were plenty of seats available). To a man, they all gave me a look of horror and disgust... with a tinge of sadness, because they felt awful they had to think that way about their beloved Hawks.

Under new ownership things changed. Apologies were made. Relationships were rebuilt. Genuine love began to shine. You would think that regaining trust after a long separation would take a long time, but it didn't. The Hawks set attendance records this year, long before the first playoff game was played.

"I have said these things to you so that my joy my be in you and that your joy may be complete. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you (John 15:11-12)." I know its just hockey... but the story of the Hawks is a lesson of love and hate, poor choices, grudges, and reconciliation. God wants us to live lives filled with joy. We can do that because of the love he has showered on us through Christ. But such joy only becomes real for us if we take the courageous step of loving others just to love them. A genuine friend lovingly sticks by a buddy to the end: that's what love is. It's not easy and because of sin its not our instinct, but man is it worth it.

Go Hawks!

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Living Bubbler

I was born in Wisconsin. There are some unique aspects to life in Wisconsin. People wear fake cheese on their heads. Intersections must have no fewer than 2 "taverns" on the street corners. The Friday Fish Fry is central to life, not for religious reasons, but just for the love of fried fish. Only after living outside of Wisconsin for twenty years did I come to discover that yes indeed there is a Wisconsin accent. But even after calling far off places like Michigan, Iowa, Ohio, and Illinois home, I still can't help but call drinking fountains... bubblers. That's right bubblers! In Wisconsin the fountain is not named after what a person does at it, but by the sound it makes when it is turned on: "bubble... bubble... bubble."

I love drinking water, so bubblers have been very important to me. I still remember my favorite bubbler at the University of Michigan. It was on the first floor of Angell Hall. It was cold, powerful and delicious every time. Those are the keys to a good bubbler: the water must be cold, it must taste like clean water and not some rusty stuff, and there must be enough water pressure to produce a good flow. "C" hall in my high school had a really good bubbler. I discovered recently that the bubblers in the upper deck of Miller Park in Milwaukee are quite good. When you don't want to pay another $4.50 for a watered down soda, you can be confident that you can have your thirst quenched by the fine bubblers there. Even Chicago's U.S. Cellular Field has some pretty good bubblers.

For a while I was on the bottled water kick, but a "green" conscience (I mean saving money more than the planet) has led me to return to good old bubblers. After all... I'm only human... and humans need water to survive. We will die if we don't drink water. The bubbler is society's gift to a thirsty community.

People have always needed water. In the days before indoor plumbing the daily need for water meant constant drudgery for woman traveling the distance to the water source. It was just part of life. When Jesus encounters a woman at a well in John 4 she was in the midst of performing this daily task. In the course of their conversation with each other Jesus tells her that if she had asked, he would have given her "living waters." The woman eyes got wide... no doubt envisioning a bubbler for her dining room. It would mean no more daily trips to the well. Give me this water, is her response. But of course Jesus is speaking about our spiritual needs and faith. He didn't mean a bubbler in every home. Just as the body needs water to survive we likewise need Jesus to survive spiritually. Jesus is the spiritual equivalent of water.

In my life I have discovered great bubblers in some strange places. Who knew that the Sox Park would even have a bubbler, much less a good one. Likewise we can find "Living Waters" in some strange places as well... and when we least expect it. We all need Jesus... we need his love... we need all that he offers us through faith. Without him we find ourselves in a spiritual Death Valley. Look for those sources of "Living Waters" in the unexpected places... but also don't neglect the obvious places. When you practice living the 7 priorities of faith you are drinking from the bubbler of Living Waters. Give us this water always!

"Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, 'Out of the believer's heart shall flow rivers of living water (John 7:37b-38).'"

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Service or Selfish

There are many things assocated with Jesus' Last Supper. Jesus and his disciples meet in the Upper Room to celebrate the Passover. Jesus institutes the sacrament of Holy Communion through his words: "This is my body... This is my blood..." In John's Gospel Jesus chooses to wash his disciples' feet with the command: "you also ought to wash one another's feet (John 13:14)." But John's Gospel is not alone in lifting up this idea that followers of Jesus should not seek to be served but should serve. The day we commemorate the Last Supper is called Maundy Thursday because "maundy" means commandment.

Also occuring during the Last Supper, and is often forgotten is, that Jesus tells his disciples that one of them is going to betray him. It become clear, before the evening is over, that Judas will be the one to betray him. "The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him (John 13:2)."

I think we miss something when we forget this event from the Last Supper. Judas' actions and Jesus' actions makes quite a contrast. It is clear that followers of Jesus have two paths they can travel as they live a life of faith: service or selfishness.

Many have pondered what motivated Judas. Was he still upset about the money wasted by woman who annoited Jesus with costly perfume? Was he disapointed Jesus didn't seem to moving in the direction of becoming a military leader? Was it just greed? Maybe... hard to say. But whatever his motives: there can be no doubt that they based solely on the best interests of Judas. His decision to betray Jesus was based on his needs, desires, feelings and wellbeing. It was selfish. And selfishness is a dead end!

Followers of Jesus are called to follow a different path from selfishness. Instead of holding grudges they forgive. Instead of hating they love. Instead of moving up the chain of command they look to serve. Jesus is clearly revealed as the Son of God, the Great I Am, in John's Gospel. When he gets on his hands and knees at the Last Supper and takes the role of a servant by washing his disciples feet, Jesus' body, blood, mind, and spirit are modeling for the world that faith means service. Being selfLESS is the path we are called to take.

Selfishness is always a dead end. You cannot have enough money to ever be secure. You cannot step on enough people to ever have ultimate power. You cannot achive eternal life through your selfish actions. The eternal life road, which Jesus us points us toward and is paved by God's love for the world, is a road of service and love.

Go ahead and keep looking out for yourself. You won't get anywhere. But the moment you give yourself up to Christ and sincerly get on your hands and knees, not just to worship him, but to serve your brothers and sisters... My word... you will get a taste of eternal life right here and right now. Taste and see that the Lord is good. Take his body. Drink his blood. Serve his children.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Pull Me Close

There's a line in John's Gospel that Jesus says after his finally entry into Jerusalem. He says: "Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself (John 12:31-32)." The power of Jesus' cross is that he takes upon himself the sinfulness of all humanity. He carries it freely; by his own choice. Through his act of sacrifice he defeats death (the ruler of this world) and gives us all the opportunity for eternal life through faith in him.

Through our baptism into Christ we are drawn into his cross. When I was a kid growing up near Milwaukee one of my favorite pastimes was going to the Milwaukee County Museum. I loved seeing the Streets of Old Milwaukee, the totem pole outside, and the display of the stuffed lions getting hunted. I also loved the big yellow coin funnel in the main lobby of the museum. I could spend hours putting coins in the little slot and watching them roll in a circle along the sides of the funnel. At first they would roll slowly, but as gravity pulled the coins closer to the middle they rolled faster and faster and faster. There was no escape for that coin. Eventually it was going to be sucked in.

Through our baptism we are released into the "coin funnel" that is Christ. We live our lives thinking we might want to pull away... that our way is best. But the Lord does not let go. He has pulled us close to him through his cross. He has promised us abundant life... eternal life. As we roll faster and closer to the core we see that the Lord's cross stands in the middle. The cross is Jesus' glory. It reveals that he has done all of this because of his love for us.

There are plenty of ups and downs in life. I'm sure you have had your share. It feels like you are rolling out of control. The future is uncertain and your faith may seem distant. Through it all, though, the Lord is still pulling you close to him. Through his cross Jesus makes the ruler of this age impotent in his attempts to pull you away. You belong to Christ! Enjoy the ride and tell your story because there's only one place you're going... and that's to him.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Giving Up

I ran across a few things surfing the web today about the Season of Lent. A Chicago Tribune columnist is asking readers to share with him their funny stories about giving something up for Lent. He gave examples of people giving up Facebook for the 40 day fast, a child giving up Playstation (but not X-Box), and a Saturday Night Live character giving up menthol cigarettes. Another site asked the question: Are you giving up beer for Lent?

I think there is value in giving something up for Lent. We are society of instant gratification. We can have pretty much anything we want... right this second. I could obtain a burger, a weather forecast, have a conversation with a cousin in Colorado, purchase a bottle Bordeaux wine, or find a box score for Game 5 of the 1982 World Series within 20 minutes. For the most part, the world is at my doorstep or at my fingertips. Therefore, to purposely go without something for Lent can be a powerful spiritual experience. We depend so much on the gods we surround ourselves with that we forget our true God who is the source of our life and being. A daily discipline of going without even one item or habit you treasure can remind you of your sinfulness and help you seek God.

But lately my mind has been centered on words from Isaiah 58. It lifts up concerns about fasting: the kinda concerns that create our so called "funny stories" about Lent. After all, more often than not we will fail in our endeavor. We will break the fast to early or turn the whole thing into a big joke. (Like God doesn't know you play X-Box instead of Playstation. Who are you trying to kid? Just who are you fasting for?) Too often our fasting causes us to turn inward and think only of ourselves and our pitiful situation. We don't end up looking for God, just for ways out. Serving others for our fast? Not likely.

If you are not familiar with the Isaiah 58 text, I included a portion of it in my post about Abraham Lincoln. But I want to lift up verses 6 and 7 again: "Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?"

How about giving Isaiah 58:6-7 a try for your Lenten fast this year. You may fall short once again and not live up to what it requires but there no better way to look outside yourself this season of Lent than to intentionally seek out those in need. The fast becomes you giving up the chocolate or the burger so you can give it to someone else.

A friend of mine for some time now has been giving up his Whopper lunches at Burger King, not just to become more healthy, but to use the money saved to feed the hungry. Somehow, that seems to be the type of fasting God would have chosen for Lent.

Friday, February 20, 2009

His Light Shines in our Hearts

Last weekend the remake of the movie Friday the 13th made over $40,000,000. It was the most popular movie of the weekend, earning more than double the highly anticipated Confessions of a Shopaholic, which came in fourth. The universally panned slasher movie also did far better than any of the movies nominated for Oscars. I guess people today are more interested in a new old scary movie than that are in Frost/Nixon.

People like to be scared.... or at least scared in an environment where they have some semblance of control. In Friday the 13th its the beautiful young people in the movie getting all cut up, not the audience. The theater may be dark, but the audience can hold the hands of their dates, or just get up and walk out. They have control.

The things we have no control over are far more terrifying than a horror flick. The current economic situation is what frightens many people today. It has surprised us. Looking at our economy we have discovered how so much of what we believed in was a lie.

And what were those lies?
- You can't loose money if you invest in a home: lie.
- Put your retirement in the stock market, in the long run it always goes up: lie.
- If you have enough stuff you will be happy: lie.

There's a verse in 2 Corinthians that speaks to this: "The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God (2 Cor 4:4)." Notice the first word "god" is with a small "g." What is the god, or the gods, of this age? It's all those things that would have us turn away from God and seek only personal gain and safety. The god of this world makes us believe that security is found in money and meaning comes from stuff. The past few years has exposed this wickedness as a lie... and people are terrified. Unfortunately, you can't just walk out of this theater. You can't just take delight in fact it's only the actors who get burned. You know you've been burned yourself. We all have been blinded by this darkness.

Someone turn on the lights! Someone let us see again!


"And [Jesus] was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white... [Peter, James and John] were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud came a voice, 'This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him (Mark 2a, 3, 6a-7)!'"

God has turned on the light. God has given us the Light of the World. All along we have been listening to the god of this age... the god of this world... and all his lies and darkness. Now that we know the truth we are scared to the depth of our souls. I think the reason Peter, James and John are so terrified up on that mountain of the Transfiguration is because the lies of this world have been exposed to them as well. When God turns on the light, it becomes crystal clear that everything else that they, and we believe in is simply darkness. Once see that the message of Jesus shines like the sun we know in our hearts that he must be the focus of our existence and the source of all meaning.

"For God, who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God's glory displayed in the face of Christ (2 Cor 4:6)." We don't need to act like unbelievers any longer. We don't need to live in fear. We will not be controlled by money, or by our desire for money. We will not seek comfort from stuff or need to confess our "shopaholism." We will not pretend we are forsaken when we know for a fact that millions of children live in the slums of Mumbai in India and that millions of people right now face a future of only injustice and abuse.

Oh no... we will not dwell in this darkness any more. God has turned on the light. We have heard his gospel and feel his light shining in our hearts. We have knowledge of God's glory. We have seen the face of Christ and it is bright and it is beautiful and it deserves our worship and praise.

So what do we learn from Peter, James and John? They were terrifed, just like you, discovering the wickness of the world. They were terrified, just like you, once the truth about the lies of the god-of-this-ages were exposed. The light shined in their heart... told them to listen to Jesus... they were terrified.

But they didn't stay on the ground for long. They stood up. They walked down that mountain. And only after Jesus' resurrection did they fully understand what all this meant.

Think about what the Light of the World has done for you. Understand it through the lense of the cross, and get yourself up! It's not the same as walking out of a theater, rather its quite the opposite. Your getting up because you have hope and know that so many are still afraid. You are getting up and entering the story so that unbelievers may be pulled out of the darkness. The lies of this world will be exposed and the light of grace will finally shine within all people. Together we will see the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Make Men Free

In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea, with a glory in his bosom that transfigures you and me. As he died to make me holy, let us live to make men free, while God is marching on. - The Battle Hymn of the Republic

Today is Abraham Lincoln's 200th birthday. Considered by many the greatest of our presidents, Lincoln's image is often dominated by the idea of him as a "monument," while the flesh and bone Lincoln takes a back seat. Historians remind us that Lincoln was a politician, having both lost and won elections, displaying occasionally the poor traits associated with the profession. Yes he was concerned about his image. Every photo we have of him was carefully planned and artistically put together. Yes there were other political motives behind even Lincoln's greatest act: the Emancipation Proclamation. But Mr. Lincoln truly displayed the very best traits a successful politician could have: integrity, strength, courage, and a practical understanding for what is right. You certainly cannot put any other president forward as being greater.

"The Battle Hymn of the Republic" is the song most closely associated with Lincoln's time. An anthem for abolitionists first, it serves today as a symbol for what the Union stood for in the Civil War. It calls upon Christians to recognize the power of Christ whom they worship. It lifts up a message of grace: through the glory of the cross humanity has been made righteous. It then lifts up a call: "live to make men free." In other words, respond to God's grace by obeying Christ's call: Serve those in need. Stand against oppression and injustice.

The greatness of Lincoln is that he acted. When others would have allowed the Union to dissolve, Lincoln acted. When others would have given up after early Confederate victories, Lincoln acted. When others would have stepped down against great political opposition, Lincoln acted. When others would have kept the status quo on slavery, Lincoln acted. When others would have punished the defeated south harshly, Lincoln acted... until he was shot dead.

Yes Lincoln was a man... but he accepted his call and acted on behalf of his people. He served those in need and stood against injustice. In our own ways, obeying our own calls, seeing our own opportunities, we are called to do the same.

6 "Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?

7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.

9 Then you will call, and the LORD will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
"If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,

10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. (Isaiah 58:6-10)

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Stand Against Hate

President Obama spoke this morning at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington. Dignitaries from around the world and many of our national leaders were present at this important event. President Obama's brief speech lifted up the theme of unity. He observed that while the religions of the world are diverse, at the heart of all faiths is an understanding that humans are called to stand against hate. We are called to love others.

"Jesus told us to 'love thy neighbor as thyself.' The Torah commands, 'That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow.' In Islam, there is a hadith that reads 'None of you truly believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself.' And the same is true for Buddhists and Hindus; for followers of Confucius and for humanists. It is, of course, the Golden Rule - the call to love one another; to understand one another; to treat with dignity and respect those with whom we share a brief moment on this Earth (President Obama 2/5/09)."

Being created in the image of God means that all humans have a desire to know their Creator and have his will written within their DNA. A careful of study of all religions reveals that it is the desire of our God that we love others instead of hate... that we help instead of compete. God is love. Humanity, though still sinful, stands out as unique in all creation because we are called to reject the "dog-eat-dog" reality of nature and stand instead for love for all people. That global religions all express this same hope in their own ways is a powerful witness to God. It is also a call. Allow yourself to be a instrument of God's will for peace and love.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inaugural Thoughts

President Obama became President of the United States today. For two years now I have been impressed with the President's ability to inspire. His speech, after he took the oath of office, was no less inspiring than any of his best speeches. He referred to Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians in his speech as challenged America to step forward and put our childish ways behind us. Those childish ways include everything from racism to our greedy consumerism. Yes indeed! It is time to move on. As Christians we strive to build the Kingdom of God... a kingdom of love and peace that puts those childish ways behind us.

Rick Warren gave the invocation prayer near the beginning of the events. I was moved by his words which echoed the President's sentiments, even before President Obama spoke. It was a lengthy prayer... but one, I don't believe, that sought to draw attention to the pray-er. (Appropriate from the one who emphasizes in his books that life and faith are "not about you" but about discipleship.) He finished with the Lord's Prayer: Jesus' prayer. It's the prayer that says it all.

As someone who presides often at rituals and public events I appreciated the gaff that Chief Justice John Roberts made. He goofed when leading President Obama through the oath, causing an awkward moment. Maybe he should have had the words written down, though you would have thought he would have known them pretty well. It doesn't really matter much, but I do think it serves as a nice witness to our humanity. For as much as we would like to build up this earth shaking, watershed moment of first bi-racial President being sworn in by the great Chief Justice of the Supreme Court: in reality it is just two men who make mistakes and get nervous when billions of eyes are upon them.

If these "giants" can make mistakes... If these "giants" can pray from the heart... You can be yourself as you do your best for others and for God. Somehow, putting our childish ways behind us means being authentic in all of our relationships and actions.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

A Light Shines in the Darkness

Most people are saying "good riddance" to 2008... relieved to have the fresh start of a new year. Around 40% of respondents to an unscientific Chicago Tribune poll said 2008 was the worst year ever. Well... I don't know about that... but it sure was a tough one. I don't need to enumerate the reasons here again. A review of some of my posts from 2008 will remind you of the struggles of the previous year.

What I want to bring to light is some persepctive. If you take a look at human history from the clouds, or maybe even other galaxies, 2008 doesn't seem all that tough. It's is a small blip in God's history. We humans are but a blip as well. Yet God the Creator chooses to make himself known to us through his Word. In the beginning was the Word... and God gives us the chance to hear it.

The Creator didn't stop there. To reveal himself even more clearly to us blips the Word becomes flesh and lives among us. In Jesus we recieve the definitive revealation of God. Wonderfully Jesus does something about this world of sometimes miserable years by promising to establish a new Kingdom of hope and life. Sin won't rule anymore for we are made righteous in his glorious light. "The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it (John 1:5)."

2008 was not the worst year ever... as bad as it seamed. The light of God's love shined even as people faced the reality of tough times and lamented their decisions to believe the lies of those who would have us worship things other than God. Light shined, nonetheless.

The Light of the World will shine in 2009 as well. We still will suffer the consequences of our sins but those consequences will not destroy us. Many of us resolve to change in the new but I encourage you to no so much change what you do but instead allow God to do what God always does... come to us daily through Christ with love and grace. The light shines, whether you notice it or not. Bask in the light of Jesus... the darkness will not overcome it.