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!