Thursday, December 24, 2009
Saturday, November 14, 2009
Saturday, November 07, 2009
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
Friday, October 23, 2009
Friday, October 16, 2009
Saturday, October 10, 2009
Friday, October 02, 2009
Monday, September 14, 2009
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
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
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
- We can only succeed if we work together.
- We are called to share our talents and help others.
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
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.
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.
Friday, May 29, 2009
Friday, May 15, 2009
Thursday, May 07, 2009
Thursday, April 09, 2009
Saturday, March 28, 2009
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
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
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
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
"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
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
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.