Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Book of You

I watched the film The Book of Eli this week. The movie wasn't too bad. I would have made some different choices here and there... And since this movie gives a message that has value to Christians, I would certainly have had that message play out in a different way. But over all it was good... just be sure you can handle a few killings along the ride.

The Book of Eli shows life in a world about 30 years after a catastrophic global war. It is a world of terror and survival and there are very few copies of the Bible that survived the war and its aftermath. Eli feels called to protect his copy of the King James Bible and bring it "west." In a world where people kill for the simplest of things, there is a great danger in being the keeper of this book of "power."

How easy it is for us to take the Bible for granted. Billions of Bibles have been produced and I'm sure billions more will be produced. It continues to be world's best selling book. You don't have look too far to get an English translation of the Bible for yourself at no costs. There are not too many churches that would turn you away empty handed. Our congregation just ordered two more cases of give-away Bibles just waiting to be given away.

So yeah the printed Word is all over the place. I have no less than a couple dozen of them in my office alone. But God is not interested in us filling our shelves with Bibles. A heart filled with the Word beats a dozen cases of Bibles.

Test yourself someday. How much of the Bible has been planted in your heart? If you needed to write it down from memory, how many stories about Christ would you remember? How many of Paul's illustrations about God's love through Christ would you know? How many of the Psalms would get in your book? How much of the Genesis family tree would be included?

The day may come when that Bible on your shelf won't be available and give-away copies might not be waiting on a tall pile for you to take one. Open the Scriptures and study the Word and allow God to write his story into your heart.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Snow Globes

I recently watched the Peter Jackson movie The Lovely Bones. It's based on a book by Alice Sebold about a teenage girl murdered by a serial killer. The movie moves between the living people looking to solve the mystery of the crime and the girl who is dwelling in some mysterious place between earth and heaven. It's with some trepidation that I watched this movie, because I'm not really interested in seeing serial killers and little girls murdered. But since it was directed by Peter Jackson and life-after-death was the subject matter, I thought it was worth seeing.

There is much about the film worth discussing, and much I wish would have been done differently. However, the character and image from the movie that has stuck with me is the loving father trying to deal with this act of wickedness and a snow globe that represents the fears of all parents, including myself.

Early in the film the father tells his daughter, at that point a toddler, that the environment within a snow globe is the prefect environment. The penguin inside is protected from the forces of the world and can live in peace and protection for a long long time. What father doesn't want to put his children in such a globe. It is terrifying to ponder the forces that surround us in the world. And serial killers are not the beginning and end of those forces. From subtle jabs and teasing in school, destructive words of hate that can weigh on the child's soul, to the physical dangers that lurk from cars to weather to robbers to killers. It's all out there. Can't I create a snow globe for my kids?

The Book of Revelation names both this reality about the world and our fears. In an amazing way Revelation lifts up the gospel that Christ wins on the cross through metaphors and allegories that throw to us images of battles and armies and dragons and fire. Christ defeats these forces of evil and those have faith are promised to live in the Kingdom of God no matter what we face in this world. Wonderfully, in the epilogue, the final chapter of Revelation, the image is of believers entering the "city by the gates" and having "the right to the tree of life (Rev. 22:14)." Permission is granted in these images: "Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift (Rev. 22:17b)."

Fear is taken away forever because, in essence, God has created for us the perfect snow globe in this Kingdom. The forces that would pull us into despair are gone. Not because they are individuals judged to be sinful, but the very forces that would make people into the monsters that haunt the world would simply not exist. "Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and fornicators and murders and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood (Rev. 22:15)."

What disappoints me about the movie The Lovely Bones, and where I am thankful for the gospel message revealed in Scripture, is that those who suffer at the hands of the wicked are liberated from that power forever. The act of death does not mark us for eternity. We do not stand between earth and heaven or even in heaven tormented by their wickedness. Instead we are defined by the love and hope and waters our God showers upon us as we are held in his mighty arms.

Death will not win: whether it be at the hands of a automobile, a heart attack, a murder, or cancer. Those dogs... those monsters... will be left outside, never to harm us again.

In the mean time God walks with us as we journey outside the "snow globe" in the world of darkness. God has shined his light on us through Christ. He's present through my ups and downs... through my sons' ups and downs, through my daughter's ups and downs... through my wife's... through my siblings' and my parents'... And its not up to me to control their situations. Instead, living through faith, each of us does our best to teach, support, love, care, and stand by our loved ones.

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! (Rev. 22:20b)

Saturday, May 08, 2010


We love our mothers. What person doesn't love his mother? In day's gone by, when tattoos were the domain of sailors and others rough and tumble men, the stereotypical tattoo would say "Mom." Even a tough guy loves his mom.

Thoughts of mom often lead to feelings of warmth and safety. We might picture mom in the context of fuzzy feelings of the past and home. Somehow, childhood and mother and that old house you grew up in and that neighborhood you used to roam all come together as one nostalgic stew of emotions. On Mothers Day those feelings become even more prominent, especially when Mothers Day means a visit to the old homestead and not just a phone call and a Hallmark card.

In John 15:23 Jesus speaks about home and about the Father. "Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them." How many of us think of God dwelling with us and making a home with us when we think of home? Oh sure we may think about the house we live in now, that is home. We may think of the home of our childhood; the house that comes to mind on Mothers Day. But do we ever consider that our Lord has made a home with us?

When we live by faith and allow God's Word to be alive in our hearts, the Lord does make a home with us. The way Jesus put it a few verses later in John's Gospel is that the Spirit dwells in us to remind us of Christ and teach us about faith: "But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you (John 14:26)."

Mothers Day reminds us just how much we owe to our mothers. They were our protectors and caretakers and so much of who we are now is a gift from them. Likewise, Jesus is our Savior and joy comes to us through Christ. The Spirit, who makes his home within us, reminds us constantly of the Lord and points us to the peace of Christ that blesses us every day. The gift of the Advocate means that we don't have to wait for a special day or go to a special place to feel the comforts our our home in Christ. He is always with us. Through faith our God has made a home with us. "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid (John 14:27)."

Unfortunately, there are many people, too many people, that don't feel joy on Mothers Day. The day brings up more feelings of sorrow and loss because of the curve balls life too often throws. Some people have lost their mother and spend the day visiting the cemetery. Some cannot take the lost memories of the past and feel despair hoping they could go right back to that old home. Some mourn their broken relationship with their mother or mourn the fact they cannot become a mother themselves. This is the reality of the world... there are ups and their downs. And for many the world's downs are hard to bear.

Jesus does not give as the world gives. The home that God makes with us is not an idealized memory from the past, it is a present reality found through faith in Christ revealed in God's Holy Word. The home that the Spirit makes will not leave us, nor will it ever be broken. Christ does not give as the world gives, he brings meaning to our worldly lives through the promised eternal life we already live through the Spirit.

And the result is peace. We have a home in our Lord, just as he has made a home with us. It's not a home made of wood that can burn. It is not a home made of flesh that is mortal. God has made an eternal home with us for all our days... our pasts our presents and our futures. This home gives us peace and calms our troubled hearts. Those who love Christ and keep his Word live and celebrate this gift.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

The Voice of the Tigers... The Voice of the Turtle.

I learned last night that Ernie Harwell died. Sights, sounds, smells, feelings all can bring you instantly back to another moment; to a time in the past. Hearing the voice of Ernie Harwell does that for me. In a time of endless reality TV shows on basic cable, mind numbing commercials running over and over again, and all sorts of noises looking for attention the sound of a baseball game being called over the radio is pretty close to a symphony for me. Ernie Harwell was the Bach of baseball announcers in my book. I feel blessed that my family moved to the Detroit area when I was 12. For much of the 80's I got to listen to this man work the microphone.

A well called baseball game does not require a winning team or even an interesting team. It requires an announcer who loves the game, enjoys life and can tell a story like a master. The great ones: Ernie Harwell, Vin Scully, and Bob Uecker don't even need a partner. You become their partner as you listen to them describe the action. Now Ernie is gone... Uke is recovering from heart surgery and I pray will be back in the booth by the end of summer... and Scully has hinted this may be his final year.

Thanks to the modern marvel of the internet and I can steel a opportunity to listen to a few innings. I fell asleep to the voice of Scully calling the Brewers-Dodgers game last night. I did that same thing listening to Ernie 25 years ago.

Ernie was known for several catch phrase. Latter in his carrer he used "Looong Gooone" to call home runs. When a fan in the stands would catch a foul ball he would let the listeners know what city the fan was from. "That was caught my a young man from Livonia." Many listeners still wonder how he got that information; never considering for a moment that the gentle Harwell might have made it up. For a double play Ernie would say "two for the price of one." But my favorite call of Ernie's was a called-third-strike strikeout: "He stood there like the house on the side of the road, and watched that one go by."

Time like an ever flowing stream marches on and God blesses us with moments of peace, fun, and a connection with many interesting people. I'm glad I got spend many moments with Ernie and do miss him. I pray that God's peace will be with his family and his many friends.

Monday, May 03, 2010

The Valley of the Shadow of Death

Typically funerals and Psalm 23 go hand-in-hand. So much so, that there are many people who are brought right back in their mind to a memory of a funeral home when they hear the words of the Twenty-third Psalm. "The Lord is my Shepherd. I shall not want" is all they need to hear to be brought back to that moment.

But Psalm 23 is so much more than a funeral home. Its a Psalm of hope for all time. It invites us to put our trust in God and allow the Lord to lead us. Using a different translation of the Psalm can help us break this powerful prayer away from the grips of the funeral event and help us discover its words of hope for all of us for all times and for all places.

God, my shepherd!
I don't need a thing.
You have bedded me down in lush meadows,
you find me quiet pools to drink from.
True to your word, you let me catch my breath
and send me in the right direction.

Even when the way goes through
Death Valley,
I'm not afraid
when you walk at my side.
Your trusty shepherd's crook
makes me feel secure.

You serve me a six-course dinner
right in from of my enemies.
You revive my drooping head,
my cup brims with blessing.

Your beauty and love chase after me
every day of my life.
I'm back home in the house of God
for the rest of my life.

We are at home with God. The Lord is our eternal home. Our home in the future. Our home in the past. God is our home today. Yes this is great news of hope for those who have lost loved ones. Psalm 23 must be included in a remembrance of the dead.

But Psalm 23 must be included in our daily lives as well. We have a home in God and The Lord will make us feel secure.

The favorite image many people have from the King James Version of Psalm 23 is "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death." It is a masterpiece of the English language. But "the valley of the shadow of death" is not simply in the funeral home... we walk through those darkest valleys constantly. As it says above, sometimes life's way "goes through Death Valley."

If we continue with the Psalm's image of God as Shepherd and we as his sheep, those valleys of darkness are dangerous places where wolves and other predators lurk above us waiting to pounce. Psalm 23 reminds not to worry because the Lord is by our side. "Your trusty shepherd's crook makes me feel secure." A good shepherd will not let the wolves devour the sheep and Our God will not let the forces of wickedness to win over us. God's Word reminds of this truth. This Psalm of trust gives us faith and gives us confidence as we press on in life.

So pull this Psalm out of the Valley of the Shadow of Death and allow and put your trust its message today.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

No Excuses

The Gospels make it clear that followers of Jesus are called to love one another. Love is lifted up as the greatest commandment. Love God and love neighbor. "If you have love for one another," Jesus says, "people will know you are my disciples." When Jesus is asked: "Who is my neighbor?" he answers with a story. When three people encounter a beaten and bloodied man along a road, the one who shows mercy to the man is acting as neighbor. Of course that man turned out to be a Samaritan, a despised and unclean people in the eyes of the religious in Judea. A priest and a Levite had opportunities to help, but passed by the victim. They had many good reasons to not help: among them the fact that touching blood would make them ritually unclean. But this story teaches the lesson that love trumps everything else. No excuses. Jesus teaches that no law or rule can be used as an excuse to refuse to love a neighbor.

The first Christians continued to struggle with this issue in the Book of Acts. Does Christ call us to bring the gospel to just Jews like us or to the whole world? We know the answer. Peter was taught the answer in a most dramatic way. I like the way The Message puts Acts 11:1-3 "The news traveled fast and in no time the leaders and friends back in Jerusalem heard about it - heard that the non-Jewish 'outsiders' were now 'in.' When Peter got back to Jerusalem some of his old associates, concerned about circumcision, called him on the carpet: 'What do you think you're doing rubbing shoulders with that crowd, eating what is prohibited and ruining our good name?'

Like the priest and the Levite in the Parable of the Good Samaritan, the rules that differentiate between clean and unclean are used to separate people as well. Conveniently the priest and Levite could pass by a man in need. Chances are they didn't really want to be bothered anyhow. Likewise for those questioning Peter, kosher laws provide a convenient excuse to stay clear of "that crowd." In Christ there are no excuses. Love God and love neighbor!

Peter recounts a fascinating story to his friends in Jerusalem. God gave him a vision when he was in Joppa. The vision is of a blanket descending from above: a heavenly picnic blanket if you will. On it are all kinds of creatures. Every kind of creature actually: "farm animals, wild animals, reptiles, birds - you name it, it was there (Acts 11:6)." A voice commands: "Kill and eat."

Yes, its a fascinating story... and a little gross. But this is no foretaste of the feast to come. This is a statement: No excuses! Kosher laws cannot be allowed to prevent you from loving your neighbor. "If God says it's okay, it's okay."

Bathed in the light of Christ's love and recipients of his call: the priest is free to get his hands dirty and help the person in need. the Levite obeys the law solely by getting on his knees and showing mercy. And Peter, his friends, and the early followers of Jesus in Jerusalem are to make up a plate for whatever buffet they may step up to if it means people can be reached for Christ. No excuses. If we can't stand "that crowd" or our name is hurt by associating with "that crowd," then that's exactly where we need to be.

The outsiders are now insiders. The laws of Leviticus are not the only systems that have been created to keep people outside the "in crowd." There continue to be outsiders and insiders in the world today: differentiated by race, wealth, nationality, class, sex, age... Know this! The lesson of Acts and the lesson of the Gospels is that Christ will always stand with the outsider. Always! Living as the body of Christ today, we are called to stand there as well. No excuses!

Monday, April 19, 2010


I've been following the events surrounding the eruption of the Icelandic glacier/volcano Eyjafjallajokull. The name of the glacier itself demands attention. I'm glad I'm typing the name and not saying it. Check out Eyjafjallajokull on Wikipedia to get a pronunciation sample. Not that it will help you any. It made me more confused. What a name.

On March 30 there was an eruption of this volcano on the island of fire and ice. I don't remember hearing or reading anything about the eruption then. However, a later eruption on April 14 has led to all kinds of attention. The ash from that eruption cause much of Northern Europe to be left in a cloud of dust and forced the cancellation of thousands of airline flights. Only five days later are flights beginning to take off again. European airlines are losing billions of Euros because of the grounding of their fleets and thousands of travelers have been left stranded. It will take weeks to get everything straightened out. You just never know.

Today I read an article about how insurance will not cover airlines for this event. And there is little hope that any such insurance would be available in the future: or at least insurance they could afford. The purpose of insurance is to protect you from life's "You-just-never-knows." However, by definition you don't see those "you-never-knows" coming. Too often that "you-never-know" becomes a "its-never-covered."

The Bible contains many "You-just-never-knows." Many of God actions and miracles are recorded. My favorite is Jesus' Resurrection which was something Jesus' followers should have seen coming. When you read the four Gospels you think to yourself: "Why didn't they understand? Why didn't they see this coming?" But they didn't. They couldn't imagine for a moment the Messiah winning by dying. And even though they were warned, they just were not capable of even beginning to understand that Jesus could be raised and just what it would mean.

People don't recognize Jesus at first in many of the post-resurrection accounts. It's possible that somehow a resurrected Jesus is changed in such a way that his appearance is different. But, I also think Jesus is not recognized by Mary or by Peter or by men he walked with to Emmaus because they couldn't get a grasp of even the possibility that he could have been resurrected. Really, they should have known all along.

In my lifetime I've read about Mount St. Helens in Washington and Mt. Pinatubo in the Philippines. It would make sense that such an event could happen in Iceland. But while volcanoes bring to mind images of Indiana Jones, the ancient city of Pompeii, and very, very hot lava... it doesn't bring to mind the complete stoppage of the airline industry. You just never know.

Eyjafjallajokull reminds us of two things: We are very small in the face of the powers of nature... which in turn is very small in the face of God. "Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God. You turn us back to dust, and say, 'Turn back, you mortals (Psalm 90:2-3).'" We also are reminded that we should keep awake because the "You-just-never-know" can and will always happen. This is not a lesson in fear though, but of grace. If we are not awake we may miss the Lord, who we don't expect. If we are not awake we may miss the God moments happening all the time. We are dust and God is everlasting, but through Christ he chooses to be in relationship with us and chooses to give us the Kingdom. Don't say no one ever told you.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

This is the Night

When God creates the first person in Genesis, two actions where necessary. God molded the first man's body from the dirt. The body was created. But that was not enough, God then breathed into the first human's nostrils to give him life. A human was created: body and soul.

Those of us who have lost loved ones to death understand how body and soul works. At the moment of death, or at the wake or viewing that follows a few day later, we can see our loved one's body. But the life is not there.

This happened to Jesus when he died on the cross. "Into your hands I commend my spirit." The body that is removed from the cross and buried in the new tomb is a body without spirit... without soul... without the breath of God.

This is the night that breath returns to his body. At some point before sunrise on the day after the Sabbath, Jesus is resurrected. Christ is risen! His residence is no longer the grave. He is resurrected: body/soul/spirit/breath. When the women come to the tomb the body is gone and the space is empty.

He is not the only person reported to have been brought back to life after death. A royal official's son, Lazarus and Jairus' daughter are just some of the examples of people being brought back to life. Medical science today also gives us examples of people being clinically dead for several minutes only to be brought back to life.

Jesus' resurrection is different. The resurrection of our Lord is a new creation and defeats death forever. Jesus will never die again. This is the night that new life entered his body. Baptized into the body of Christ we are promised to live this new life as well. His resurrection life will be our resurrection life.

That is the hope we life up as we gaze upon the body of a dear loved one. Their's is the promise of new life: Resurrection... body/soul/spirit/breath. This is the night that all began.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Happy Feet

What do you know about Jesus' Last Supper? Maybe you automatically think of Leonardo Di Vinci's famous fresco or that it was the first celebration of Holy Communion. Maybe you think of Judas being called out during the meal and fleeing or that it took place in the "upper room." But as John tells it in his Gospel, it is also the place where Jesus gives a new commandment in both words and actions.

His new commandment is this: "that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another (John 13:34)." Love now defines the relationship between friends in community.

Jesus models such love with the act of washing feet. Typical in a Passover Seder is the ritual of washing hands, done by a woman present. Jesus does the washing at the Last Supper, and not of the hands, but of the feet. No act is too lowly when it comes to loving and serving your friends. He commands his disciples to do likewise: "So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet (John 13:14)."

Very few Christians literally wash feet today. If they do... it's the feet of their young children or grandchildren, or it's the feet of their grandparent or loved one who no longer is physically able. The service of literally washing feet is done for those closest to us and not to just anyone.

Of course Christians are constantly "washing feet" metaphorically. In their service to others Christians are making a difference by feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, housing the homeless, and caring for those in despair.

But I think there is an element that is missed when we look at "washing feet" only this way. And no, I'm going to propose we replace handshakes with feet washing. But looking at the words reported by John its pretty clear that Jesus commands "you also ought to wash one another's feet." In order for that to happen those in the community not only need to pick up a cloth and soap to wash their friends' feet, but they need to take off their shoes and allow others to wash their feet.

Jesus' command is not only to serve but to be vulnerable. Generally when we "wash feet" in the figurative sense we do it from a position of privelage. We share from our abundance:
- I have food so I'll give some to you.
- I have clothes so I'll give some to you.
- I have a home so I'll help you with shelter tonight.
- I feel blessed so I'll listen your problems.

But communial feet-washing means all are also called to take their shoes and let those dirty, stinky piggies out in the open. We may have food, clothes, a home and blessings in abundance, but we still need community... we still need love. Can we be vulnerable enough to acknowledge that? When we take our shoes off we open ourselves up to criticism and laughter. When we take our shoes off we submit ourselves to the hands of our friend who is answering the call to serve you.

Jesus commands us to "wash feet" and we do that often in the metaphorical sense. But when is the last time you allowed your friends in Christ to wash your feet? Probably never in the literal sense... but I would wager it's been a long time in the metaphorical sense as well.

Being called to love one another in Christian community means both serving and being served. Metaphorically speaking: pick up that wash cloth, squirt a little soap... and take your shoes off. You will find Christ in the heart of the gathering.

Monday, March 29, 2010


While the word "holy" brings to mind ideas of the divine or living according to a highly righteous moral code, at its core the word "holy" actually refers to setting something apart as not being ordinary. When ground is holy or water is holy it stands apart from the ordinary water or ground we see every day. Holy water would be used for a special purpose, greater than ordinary stuff flushed down the toilet. Holy ground might stand out as being of more significance than the ordinary ground we mow on a warm summer day and Fido uses first thing in the morning. The Bible is holy because it contains spiritual truth about God found nowhere else. This week... this Holy Week... is holy because even as the world continues to move in its humdrum ordinary ways this week stands out because of the holy actions Jesus lived, out of divine love for us.

Sure it is Holy Week, but when we look out our windows everything seems to look the same. Most of us we continue to go to work. Our children continue to go to school. We need to fill up our gas tanks and decide whether we want half and half with our coffee. Yeah... it doesn't seem all that different out there. Children are being born at the local hospital. Couples are deciding enough is enough and divorce is the only answer. Crimes will continue to be reported in the newspaper. The ordinary still surrounds us.

But in the midst of the ordinary we are given a divine gift. All is not ordinary with the world. There is a spiritual truth that impacts our lives... that we miss in the midst of the constant beat of common life and ordinary weeks. The gift of a Holy Week is that even as life continues to tick away we are reminded that God broke into the fabric of time through a Savior. God is united with us through Christ. And Christ becomes one with us fully through the cross. A holy event to be sure. You don't see that every day.

The gift of the holy... whether it be water, ground, the Bible or an entire week... is that the holy reminds us of the divine. Since our minds are all too often stuck in the physical we better have some physical moments of the holy that wake us up to the presence of God in our lives. God is always guiding us, but we tend to forget that.

Allow the rhythms of Holy Week and the opportunities to worship on days and at times you don't usually worship wake up within you the presence of Christ. While surrounded by the ordinary you can experience the holy.