Monday, May 31, 2010

THE GOSPEL--GOD'S GLORIOUS PLAN

Rob Bell says it so well in this YouTube clip:

Sunday, May 30, 2010

WEEKEND REFLECTIONS - MEMORIAL DAY AND MORE

This weekend is Memorial Day Weekend--officially. It is a day of cultural/national significance with a highly spiritual value as well. I remember as a boy growing up in small town western Ohio, the excite of Memorial Day morning. It seemed like the entire population of that little village of 600 people would show up to the park in the center of the village. It would begin with a great parade from the bridge entering the town to the park at its center. A color guard of veterans in their uniforms and the high school band. This was followed by a ceremony ending with a seven gun salute fired three times and taps. When it was all over, we kids, who had little clue about the solemnity of the occasion would scramble in the grass for the prize - the spent


shell casings. It was only later that I would learn of real war and the real sacrifice that men and women would make to give me the freedom to celebrate childlike on an idyllic holiday marking the beginning of summer. I wonder how many of us will approach this as a holiday for barbecues, mulching the yard, a swim in the pool, a round of golf, or as in my town of Landisville a smorgasbord of yard sales and not remember and thank God for those who went into harms way for our freedom and our peace.



Our church FACEBOOK PAGE now has 137 fans. I wonder if we are using it for good and for God or for drivel and the devil. Social networking is a wonderful tool for the Gospel, but a whole lot of humanity uses it for venting their spleen or expounding on the trivial.


The biscuits? Just for a pleasant visual.
Just to remind you of some of the simple pleasures in life. Gravy or honey. Just a delight.

And now American Idol is reaching is final. Farewell Simon. You have added some interesting things to our culture and have united many Americans in their dislike of your manner. But I confess. You are a cultural genius.

THE GOSPEL AND THE "LOOK AT ME" CULTURE

I am starting to become a huge fan of Jared Wilson's blog The Gospel Driven Church. One fine example is a post from about ten days ago called "The Gospel and the Look at Me Generation." This post begins ....


"Last Sunday our Bible study class was discussing the revelation that Mother Theresa went through a terrible "dark night of the soul" that lasted for years. I thought about how we didn't even know this about her until after she died, until after her once private journals were reviewed. While suffering from deep bouts of depression and feeling as though God's presence had left her, she nevertheless carried on her service to the diseased in Calcutta.

This made me think of how there's almost nothing we do today that isn't blogged, Facebooked, or tweeted. When someone in our culture is having a rough time, they tell us online. When they are serving others, they tell us online. And when they are serving others despite having a rough time, they tell us online. There is almost no thought, feeling, inclination, impulse, or attitude we don't share with everyone who will listen.

On the one hand, such transparency can be very valuable. It certainly is more honest than holding everything in or acting like we're fine when we're not. On the other hand, though, there is a fine line between transparency and vanity. Authenticity is great. Except when it's not.

I think my generation has spun the older Me Generation into a sort of "Look at Me" Culture, and now of course the generations after Gen-X are progressively perfecting "Look at me!" into a science ..."

Read the rest of the post at WILSON and see if you agree. I'd love to hear from you.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

EVERYTHING IS SPIRITUAL

Like all high-profile pastors, theologians, and writers, Rob Bell has been criticized by some as not having an orthodox biblical theology. Regardless of where you may be in that debate, Rob speaks a lot of biblical truth and in fresh ways. Here is an excerpt of one of his best observations.

Friday, May 28, 2010

BILL GATES' RULES

Bill Gates recently spoke to high school students about what to expect in life and what you need to function as an adult. Here are Bill’s Rules:

Rule 1: Life is not fair – get used to it!

Rule 2: The world doesn’t care about your self-esteem. The world will expect you to accomplish something BEFORE you feel good about yourself.

Rule 3: You will NOT make $60,000 a year right out of high school. You won’t be a vice-president with a car phone until you earn both.

Rule 4: If you think your teacher is tough, wait till you get a boss.

Rule 5: Flipping burgers is not beneath your dignity. Your Grandparents had a different word for burger flipping: they called it opportunity.

Rule 6: If you mess up, it’s not your parents’ fault, so don’t whine about your mistakes, learn from them.

Rule 7: Before you were born, your parents weren’t as boring as they are now. They got that way from paying your bills, cleaning your clothes and listening to you talk about how cool you thought you were. So before you save the rain forest from the parasites of your parent’s generation, try delousing the closet in your own room.

Rule 8: Your school may have done away with winners and losers, but life HAS NOT. In some schools, they have abolished failing grades and they’ll give you as MANY TIMES as you want to get the right answer. This doesn’t bear the slightest resemblance to ANYTHING in real life.

Rule 9: Life is not divided into semesters. You don’t get summers off and very few employers are interested in helping you FIND YOURSELF. Do that on your own time.

Rule 10: Television is NOT real life. In real life people actually have to leave the coffee shop and go to jobs.

Rule 11: Be nice to nerds. Chances are you’ll end up working for one.

Monday, May 24, 2010

FAREWELL "LAW AND ORDER"

LAW AND ORDER NBC'S trailer for the final episode.

“In the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate yet equally important groups. The police who investigate crime and the district attorneys who prosecute the offenders. These are their stories.”


For 20 years, since September 1990, a whole lot of us have weekly waited for this opening line as our favorite show on television, Law and Order, would begin its weekly episode. In my household few things took precedence over watching this television drama. My two eldest daughters caught Dad’s passion for this show. Their sorority sisters at Hanover will remember them finding their way faithfully to the nearest television awaiting the dramatic chord “duh duh” that signaled an episode’s beginning.

Created by Dick Wolf, the show followed a predictable formula–a procedural legal drama. The first half devoted to the police and the investigation. The second half to the district attorneys and the prosecution of the case. The show did not resort to heavy doses of action, nor did it focus on the outrageous private lives of its characters. It was just good solid writing, with stories taken from the headlines–carrying a reality and a creativity that made the viewer think week in and week out about our society, its values, our legal system, and the impact on the lives of everyday people.

I didn’t always appreciate its values or its perceptions. Wolf and his writers seemed to lump all serious Christians with biblical values into the same camp as extremists and fundamentalists. And periodically it seemed to go out of its way to paint homosexuality in a light more favorable than I would. But it also promoted justice, a sense of accountability to the law along with characters who were down-to-earth and believable, even if they were passionate and narrowly focused.

In fact, it was those characters that kept bringing me back to Law and Order. I confess Jack McCoy, who rose through the ranks of ADAs to become the District Attorney was my favorite lawyer. Lt Van Buren will always be the face of the police. Lenny was my most memorable police detective. And this final cast of characters, in my opinion, the best ensemble yet in the 20 years of this show.
Law and Order has been canceled by NBC as it concludes its 20th season on television (that final episode being tonight.) It will share longest-running honors with Gunsmoke. Ephata Merkeson, Lt. Anita Van Buren, one of the long-running characters was slated to leave at the end of this season. Many of us would have missed this powerful and empathetic character (this last season she battled cancer). But now the whole show is about to be history.
The show spawned several spin-offs, but I confess, none ever caught my fancy nor claimed my allegiance. I watched them mostly when I couldn’t get my weekly fix of the original. I was very glad when TNT began broadcasting the reruns. many of which I could (and have) watched over and over. In the vast wasteland that is sometimes television, Law and Order was a giant of substance. In a time when absurdly contrived reality shows win ratings, Law and Order was always a view of reality that was purposeful and thoughtful.

Law and Order, I will miss you. I won’t be the only one.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

CHURCH SIGNS

I LOVE CHURCH SIGNS!
ESPECIALLY THE ONES THAT
SAY MORE THAN YOU INTENDED

MARRIAGE AND OTHER WEEKEND THOUGHTS

I have received a distinct honor. My cousin Kelly contacted me by Facebook earlier this week to ask me to perform her wedding ceremony this coming Labor Day Weekend. I had already booked that stretch of time for vacation so I could attend an annual gathering with my adult kids and their families at my daughter's house in Florence KY. Now I'll drive fours further into the Midwest to Ft Wayne IN to help Mike and Kelly start their life together with the blessing of God.

This will be a summer of weddings. Right now I am preparing two members of our Worship Band, Rich and Gail for a June wedding in our Prayer Garden at the church. In late July, Dianne and I will be parents of the groom, when our youngest son Christopher marries Megan Parrott in Columbus IN. BJ, the son of my Associate Pastor Barry and his wife Lori, will be wed the next weekend back in Landisville. So far no more weddings on my calendar either as officiant or guest.
It's a far cry from the year when I had six weddings to perform in seven weeks; but I am sure it will be a high time of celebration.

In my experience as a pastor, weddings are a time of great joy and high stress. People want the perfect wedding--read, a wedding that has no problems or tensions. Yet we are imperfect people and the wedding is a live performance. Trust me, there will be memorable mistakes and/or surprises. In most cases the mistakes will only be apparent to the wedding party. The surprises will make for snapshots ans stories for years to come. I still remember a groom who inexplicably left the altar after being asked "Will you take this woman to be your wedded wife," only to discover that he wasn't having second thoughts, he was in the throes of an ulcer attack. Or the father of the bride, after giving his daughter to be married, proceeded to knock over a set of aisle candles when he stumbled returning to his seat. Then there was the young man who played a drum solo prelude for his wife called "Ode to Joy." The place was rocking even before the strains "Here comes the bride" were heard.

In our country now, more than half of the marriages (including those among Christians) end in divorce. This is a sad and tragic fact. Yet it is not a reason to stop being married. It is just a realization that, as Andy Stanley puts it, "Without Christ in your life I cannot begin to offer you the hope of a healthy marriage that lasts."

So my counsel to all being married this summer, "Except the Lord build your house, you WILL labor in vain. But with the Lord at the foundation you will have the love that never fails. And that love, when we cooperate with it, can insure a happy marriage until death do us part."

Saturday, May 22, 2010

STAYCATION


It's Saturday morning and I have just had four consecutive vacation days. Today will be the fifth. Uninterrupted, I might add. Spent less than $75, which is a miracle. Breakfast out three mornings and taking Dianne to dinner at Friendly's. Can't remember the last time I got off that cheaply for five vacation days.

My daughter Christi said that I had a "staycation." Took vacation, staying at home, doing nothing in particular and doing it on my schedule. "Sometimes those are the best vacations," she added. You know what--my eldest daughter is absolutely right.

I know what's running through your mind. Well, what did you do? The first two days, basically nothing. Just puttered around. Didn't even have a "to do" list (or a "not to do" list, for that matter. The second night I stayed up to "watch" my Tigers play via Gameday on the computer. (They were playing in Oakland.) That's after I slept the early evening on the living room couch.
The third day, Thursday, I "accomplished" some things. Began reading Sue Grafton's U is for Undertow, took my wife grocery shopping, got a haircut, and watched another West Coast game on the computer (this time late afternoon from 3:30-6:30). Today, I actually did some work - on our family budget, thinning out the piles in our guest room/sorting room, and cleaning out the garage. I actually visited my first yard sale since last summer. Barbecued steaks. And, oh yes, talked with Jake and Christi on the phone. Tonight, the Phillies vs the Red Sox on the tube, and the Tigers-Dodgers afterward on the computer.

Today? A yard sale, moving stuff from the garage to the basement, taking Dianne out for a milk shake. and praying about tomorrow's service.

My point in all this. I had a ball. I may take another staycation soon.

Friday, May 21, 2010


For six weeks now I have led an on-line Bible study called BIBLICAL JOY for persons who really want to study the Word but have essentially no small group time. In addition to me, we now have 11 members plus two more people who are using the Bible study but not directly involving themselves in the group. This week we have been reading Matthew, chapter 14. This includes the story of Peter walking on the water. This has been elicited a number of find responses, but I particularly liked this one. It's from Sarah, a women who attends another church but participates in our Preschool Gym program.

I have thought about this story quite a lot in the past few months, actually.

What sticks out to me, before we even get to the part about Peter sinking into the water, is this: Peter getting out of that boat is a WAY bigger deal than it first seems to be. And those 11 “failures” that stayed behind? Well, from the worldly point of view, they are the sane ones. Why?

First, the water was choppy, wild, it was crazy windy. I wouldn’t want to be ON the BOAT, let alone getting out of one to walk on the water.

Second, when they first see Jesus, they think He is a GHOST. The other 11 are freaking out in a boat being tossed about by crazy waves, and Peter is like, “Hey, is that you Lord? I’m going to trust it’s you and not a scary ghost about to eat us. Let me get up out of this “safe” boat and come out to you while you walk in the crazy, choppy, scary water.” Peter faces down a possible GHOST to get to Jesus. A lot of times, our fear of the unknown or the uncomfortable can steal away amazing blessings!!!

But Peter, he shows us some crazy faith. If it speaks to us today, it tells us that even as our lives seem chaotic, like we need to hold on to something for dear life- maybe what we really need to do is hear our Lord, trust Him, and let go, even if that seems like a crazy, risky thing to do. God says to trust Him with all our heart and lean NOT ON OUR OWN UNDERSTANDING. That can be very uncomfortable, but like I said- we miss out on fantastic blessings if we let our comfort-zone dictate our acts of faith!

I think and pray that Sarah's tribe will increase. If you want to read more from this Bible study group or perhaps even join, go to this link.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

LOST IN THE FOREST OF YOUR MIND

two10eleven

Brook Sarver is a church planting missionary in Thailand, supported by my congregation (among many). He has a great blog about Thailand, its culture, and his attempts to learn how to minister there. Here is a recent post. For more of his humorous and informative writing, click on the link above.

"Lost in the Forest of Your Mind"

I had my language exam today. And overall, it went… …ok. It wasn’t awesome; although, I didn’t make a single mistake in reading and telling my two stories in Thai. But another part of the exam is to just explain how you would use these stories to teach other people about Christ. No problem, I did that all the time back in the States; or so I thought.

It started off well. I responded to the teacher’s question by starting down a path talking about some things we did back home in ministry there and how people are people and how we should be more concerned about the people coming in the front door of the church than the Christians leaving out the back door all ticked off about something. The problem is that I was thinking perfectly in English and knew what I wanted to say, but I couldn’t get it out in Thai. I just couldn’t get it out. I was missing words in Thai in my story that were really integral to the telling of my story…. And it sounded awful. It was a train wreck where every time I attempted to say it in a different way, I just kept digging my hole deeper, more trains would come join the wreck.

Eventually we moved on and I was able to scrap together a decent enough Round #2 to salvage the language exam. But it did get me thinking. It’s often easy to get tripped up on words in our own language. You know, like you just can’t think of the word to best use in your situation. Usually you can easily add in a substitute word that will suffice and everyone will move on in conversation. But, in Thai, we don’t have those words yet. The substitute words. And while the Thai person stares at me trying to stumble across the word needed to actually start making sense, I’m running around the in the forest of my mind lost as ever. And every attempt at fixing the train wreck of a conversation on the outside of my head gets me more and more lost in the forest of my mind.

Ah… The joys of language learning…

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

RELAXING AND BEING

"Weekends don't count unless you spend them doing something pointless." - Calvin and Hobbes

Although as a pastor, I work weekends, I have to agree with the eminent philosopher Calvin on at least one level. People need to learn to relax. They need to allow themselves to enjoy what Ken Prunty used to describe as freescence--permitting yourself to do what the rest of the world might consider unnecessary or frivolous. Our wholeness as persons is enhanced when our lives are more than obligation. Tim Hansel has another way of saying it, "People are human beings, not human doings."

I am always reminded that in the Genesis account of creation, God did not work for seven days. He did all that was necessary in six days and on the seventh day He rested. It is in the design of our Creator for us to take time out to rest, refresh, and renew. Relentless activity, particularly relentless work goes against what it means to be created in the image of God.

People seem obsessed with activity and take far too much self-worth from busyness. I know in a world shaped by the Protestant work ethic, and the secular performance culture - that no one wants to be a slacker. Yet as my friend Ed Rosenberry once said in an ordination sermon, "Whether you rust out or burn out ... out is out."

One of the reasons that Christians practice Sabbath is to honor the wisdom of our Designer. Although many of us make a point of worshiping God as a community on that day, we do so by choice. Marva Dawn calls worship "a royal waste of time." Waste equals pointless to a person who does not have a relationship with God, yet we recognize that what others consider pointless actually frees us because we are being who we are- "People who rest in God's grace." We do not live by the creed of the world that says that weekends are for working at your play or getting in more hours of work so we can have more things. "Come unto me all who are burden and weighed down," says Jesus, "and I will give you rest."

I once was knocked down by burnout. A friend sent me to his lake cottage to recover. It took me several days to get past the guilt of not working and being "productive." But laying in a hammock with no schedule, no obligations, and no particular place to go, I found myself experiencing the beauty sketched in the clouds of the blue sky above. I felt the refreshment of breathing easily. I started experiencing the peacefulness that ultimately would restore me to a life of fulfilling freedom instead of destructive obligations. I slowed down and let God remind who I was instead of trying to simply maintain who I had become.

But that road to wholeness began with the freedom to be pointless.

A LITE LOOK AT PRAYER


Jeff Larson has a weblog called THE BACK PEW. Jeff is both a cartoonist and a humorist whose gifts daily bless me. Check out his site. You might even want to subscribe. Click link below.

back pew

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

STILL THINK SOCIAL MEDIA IS A FAD

At our church we have added FACEBOOK. We are working on websites, hoping to create streaming videos. We now have an on line Bible Study. Yet there are still people who won't even use email (of course, they screen their phone calls). In the church - communication is essential. Yet there are people who think most things like this are a fad. Here is the update on an earlier video I posted for you in 2009.

">MEDIA

INVICTUS REVISITED AGAIN

The most popular post to date on Life Matters is called “Invictus Revisited.” It is accessed almost daily since its original publication on March 14, 2010. 17 visits in fact. People may be coming to the site to read the poem itself. But the original purpose of the post was to present Dorothy Day’s revisiting of the poem and her rewritten version.

The original poem was written in 1875 by William Ernest Henley, but not published until 1888. Henley’s personal story. Henley contracted tuberculosis in the bone at age 12 and amputation was the only cure. He lived with and overcame his disability in age when persons with handicaps were given little assistance or encouragement. “Invictus” was written from a hospital bed; but Henley, true to the sentiment of his poem, lived an active life until age 53 when he died.

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

When I was in high school in the late 60s and pastoring in the 70s and early 80s, “Invictus” was the staple of many a valedictorian’s graduation speech. As you read its word, you can understand why it appealed to young men and young women ready to start out on the challenges of adulthood, claiming the confidence that every fresh, and yet unseasoned grad often operates by.

Invictus means “unconquered” in Latin and speaks of taking responsibility for one’s own destiny. An anonymous commentator on the poem referring to is popularity recently wrote to the “Upstage” blog of the Indianapolis Star:

“Invictus” pits the speaker against “the fell clutch of circumstance” and various dire threats, including death, and demands that we admire his courage and steadfastness. How does such rigid, robotic poetry become famous? Because it captures attitudes people like to entertain with so little ambiguity that it can seem the last word on the matter.”

I confess that I generally share this observation without its caustic remark about the poetic style of Henley. People are drawn to this poem in part because it captures attitudes people like to entertain, whether those attitudes are helpful or rooted in reality.

Not every soul is unconquerable. Many persons born into poverty or tyranny, left unassisted and defeated by the principalities and powers of their culture descend into a kind of despair and self-image that forever leaves them prisoners of their self-image.

Not every one is the captain of their fate and the master of their soul. Try saying that to a child who is abused. Try saying that to some who is illiterate and is denied any education. How about wage slaves? How about women in societies that have no rights and are maimed and brutalized in the name of their cultural values or religion? How about the employee of a corporation who is tossed aside after 40 years and has his pension fund looted by the corporate leaders?

Yes, we must take personal responsibility for our actions and not easily surrender to rationalizations and self justifications that defeat us before we even begin. But none of us truly has final say or ultimate power over our own lives and certainly over the universe in which we must live.

For us to rise above it all requires help. On the basic level, we know that we are interdependent not independent human beings and this required some shared values and cooperation in order to survive, let alone conquer. A popular rewriting of Psalm 23 that appeared in the Sixties, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil–for I am the meanest S.O.B. in the valley. In a world of real evil and destructive sin, there is always a meaner S.O.B. in the valley. And to choose that “arms race” usually destroys your soul.

For a Christian – that necessary help comes from the true Master of Our Soul – Jesus Christ. In my next post I will comment on that.

(C) 2010 by Stephen L Dunn

Monday, May 17, 2010

INVICTUS REVISITED

I publish Life Matters on another publisher called WordPress.Com. That blog follows the same format as this one, but is intended for a conversation with a general audience that may have no Christian roots nor is it connected to church circles. I have not marketed it in house, but have allowed outside networks to pass its word. The most popular post was called "Invictus Revisited" and it has continue to be viewed almost daily since its original March 15, 2010 publication. Thought I'd share it with you. - Steve

Many years ago (or should I say decades, there was a piece of philosophy that seemed destined to appear in commencement speeches of high schoolers and college grads. This that poem.

To be honest I always found that sentiment to be a little bit arrogant. It celebrated the human spirit. It was good motivation and rhetorically pleasing, but bad theology. Then I discovered Dorothy Day’s revision. That was a message worth proclaiming.

Invictus

rewritten by Dorothy Day

Out of the night that dazzles me,
Bright as the sun from pole to pole,
I thank the God I know to be
For Christ the conqueror of my soul.

Since His the sway of circumstance,
I would not wince nor cry aloud.
Under that rule which men call chance
My head with joy is humbly bowed.

Beyond this place of sin and tears
That life with Him! And His the aid,
Despite the menace of the years,
Keeps, and shall keep me, unafraid.

I have no fear, though strait the gate,
He cleared from punishment the scroll.
Christ is the Master of my fate,
Christ is the Captain of my soul.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

SUNDAY AFTERNOON - JOHNNY'S MOHAWK, SOME GOOD FUNNIES, AND ALISTAIR McGRATH - ATHEIST TURNED CHRISTIAN

Sunday afternoon and a time to kick back and relax. A time to ponder the great questions of life. Questions like Johnny Damon's Mohawk. The new hero for the Tigers and ultimately a prime candidate for Baseball's Hall of Fame, showed up for Detroit's series this week with the Yankees sporting a new look. If the Tigers can clobber the Yankees like they did, maybe Jim Leyland needs to try this new hairstyle.

I always love the Sunday funnies. I confess I kind of agree with the first cartoon. I have always said that too many prayer meetings are organ recitals where we pray about Aunt Minnie's liver and an upcoming hair transplant operation instead of taking time to pray for AIDS in Africa or even your neighbor across the street who need Jesus. The second cartoon reminds me that as Christians there's a difference between being intensely concerned for persons who do not yet to know Christ and making a royal pain out of yourself. And I love this church sign. In our culture we too often worship the pleasurable and the comfortable, but ignore the essential.

Now to something serious. Alistair McGrath is an intellectual powerhouse and a colleague of Stephen Hawkings. He gives us a compelling story of why he chose being a Christian over being an atheist. I think you'll find this stimulating and informative, whether you are a Christian or not.

WHY VOTERS GROW CYNICAL

The Democratic Senate primary race in Pennsylvania has become brutal (as do most campaigns these days). Not being a Democrat, I will not have a vote in this primary. I have found, however, one commercial particularly annoying. You can watch it here.

commercial

There is a certain irony in all this that brings out our cynicism.

Remember this is the same man who “was not prepared to have my 29-year record in the United States Senate decided by the Pennsylvania Republican primary electorate — not prepared to have that record decided by that jury, the Pennsylvania Republican primary electorate” and decided to switch parties from Republican to Democrat.

When politicians stick to the issues and realistic, concrete solutions--I for one am glad to be a part of the political process. When we resort to tactics that assume the gullibility of the voter, I am offended.

Philippians 4:8ff "Whatsoever is noble, whatsoever is pure ... think on these things."

Saturday, May 15, 2010

SPIRITUAL REFLECTIONS FOR A SATURDAY MORNING

SOME SPIRITUAL FOOD FOR THOUGHT FOR THE WEEKEND FROM MY FRIEND DAN MASSHARDT AND HIS BLOG CHOOSE TODAY.

O Lord, send a remarkable awakening that results in…

  • hundreds of people coming to Christ,
  • old animosities being removed,
  • marriages being reconciled and renewed,
  • wayward children coming home,
  • long-standing slavery to sin being conquered,
  • spiritual dullness being replaced by vibrant joy,
  • weak faith being replaced by bold witness,
  • disinterest in prayer being replaced by fervent intercession,
  • boring Bible reading being replaced by passion for the Word,
  • disinterest in global missions being replaced by energy for Christ’s name among the nations, and
  • lukewarm worship being replaced by zeal for the greatness of God’s glory.

Adapted from John Piper

“All of us are sinners. True Christians are repentant sinners”

-Trevin Wax

Quoted from Tim Keller:

The sacrificial, costly love of Jesus changes us. When we see the beauty of what he has done for us, it attracts our hearts to him. We realize that the love, the greatness, the consolation, and the honor we have been seeking in other things is here. The beauty also eliminates our fear. If the Lord of the universe loves us enough to experience this for us, what are we afraid of?

Friday, May 14, 2010

A PRIZE WORTH MORE THAN A GREEN JACKET

A writer who has been an encouragement to me, and I hope will become friend is Kenneth Kemp. He writes an excellent blog called LEADERFOCUS. I have listed it on the blogroll of LIFE MATTERS. I would encourage you to subscribe.

Recently he wrote about the 2010 Masters and the point-counterpoint between the careers and marriages of Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods, Ken captured poignantly and powerfully what many of us as Christians had observed and have come to appreciate:

"But as Phil walked off the green and into the crowd, he found his wife. They wrapped their arms around each other. Phil held on to his Amy way longer than usual. Like they couldn’t let go. Like they wouldn’t let go. Like nothing can take this away. Nothing.

And as the global audience watched, tight throated with deep emotion welling up at the sight of these two, it was as though the whole world came to terms with what Tiger has lost. And that’s way more than a green jacket. Way more.

Yes, Phil has the 2010 Green Jacket. That’s a good thing. Even better – he has Amy."

Read the full story at KEN

WEEKEND RAMBLINGS - IT'S NOT EASY BEING GREEN, TIGERS WIN, AND OTHER STUFF





Actor Ed Begley, Jr. recently wrote about how he ripped out his lawn when he first arrived in southern California. Found this interesting. He writes:

"What do you do for your yard that is "green" (ecologically sustainable and natural)?

One of the first things I did when I moved into my current home in Los Angeles in 1988 was to rip out the lawn. I realize that this borders on heresy: If the American Dream were a book, it'd probably have a grassy green lawn on its cover.

I have no problem with garden gnomes or lawn-jockeys, if that's your thing. But lawns are thirsty, and in Southern California we get nearly all of our water by dipping our straw in someone else's drink. Nationally, it's estimated that 50 to 70 percent of residential water use goes toward landscaping, most of it to water lawns.

When I got out my shovel, though, I wasn't just looking to conserve water. A lawn is usually composed of a single species of grass - often one that's not local to the area - and this reduces biodiversity. If you're looking at one yard, this isn't a big deal, but nationwide, an estimated 20 to 30 million acres of land is covered by lawns..."

CONTINUE READING THIS POST AT MCNIGHT

My weekend looks a whole lot better because the Tigers took three games out of four from the Yankees this week. The Yankees ran into two relief pitchers, Jose Valverde, the .089 ERA closer and Joel Zumaya who throws 100 miles an hour. Didn't help the Yankees that Justin Verlander shut them out Thursday. Then there was a Game One homer by former Yankee Johnny Damon and the power at the 4-5 spots-Miguel Cabrera and Brian Boesch. The Tigers enter a weekend series against the Red Sox five games over five hundred.

I have a new on-line small group at my church. It's a Bible study called Biblical Joy. Right now we're studying the Gospel of Matthew. Lively discussion, great questions and answers, personal sharing and support--just like a face-to-face group except over the internet. 13 people now are a part. Yesterday the web site had 101 visits--so more people are benefiting, too. Click the link and check it. Maybe you'd like to be a part of this group.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

REGULATING THE MARKET - THE INVISIBLE HAND

I subscribe to an excellent blog called LeaderFOCUS. Kenneth Kemp, its author provides a variety of analyses on a variety of topics to provide encouragement to leaders. Recently he shared an article on the economy called "The Invisible Hand". (The article is coprighted). I excerpt a piece and invite you to link to the full article and subscribe to his weblog.

"Adam Smith, the Scottish professor of philosophy who published his magnum opus the same year that the American Colonies formally declared their independence from the British monarchy (1776), is generally known as “the father of modern economics.” The Wealth of Nations remains a classic to this day.

"A fierce believer in free markets, Adam Smith postulated that a truly free and open market would be by definition a self-regulating enterprise. The rules of the game ought to be developed and enforced, but no government can possibly police every transaction in a booming economy. He believed that the market itself would keep self-interest in check. An “invisible hand,” he said, would both push the economy towards steady growth and keep it from overheating.

" ...From Adam Smith’s analysis, the concept of “fair market value” (FMV) is a guiding light. When a willing seller and a willing buyer agree on a price, we have fair market value. Throw in the “Golden Rule” (“do unto others what you would have done to you”) and the market takes care of itself. For the Scotsman, integrity and character are essential. Fairness and mutual respect remain at the core of an efficient market."

Follow the link for the full article and comments: KEMP

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

LEADERSHP - THE UNSEEN OPPORTUNITY


John Maxwell has two statements frequently quoted both in business circles and in the church. (Maxwell, by the way, is a pastor in the Wesleyan Church)

"Leadership is influence."

"Everything rises and falls on leadership."

Having been a leader in a variety of settings for more than four decades, I can attest to the validity of both statements. To them, I might add a third.

"Leadership takes you to places and responsibilities that cannot be avoided if you truly are leading."

As a pastoral leader, I have experienced this particular truth with a frequency that often makes leadership a constant burden. Some of those obligations: (1) Being the first to speak an uncomfortable truth about the way a group is operating because to remain silent will simply allow the following of a path that will lead to failure. (2) The challenging of those who have been in authority before you who want to operate in a world that no longer exists. (3) The disciplining of a worker or another leader because they are undermining the core values of the group. (4) Sharing the "behind the scenes" pain of a fellow leader, so that they can continue to carry out their public responsibility. (5) To be the first to start down a new path that no one else yet sees, but where the group needs to go.

It would be naive to say that there is no unseen burden to leadership. It would be unrealistic to expect everyone in the group to understand (or even be fully aware of) this burden. It would be destructive to the people you lead to avoid the burden because it will be unrecognized or maybe even misunderstood.

But it would also be self-defeating to miss the point that the burdens of leadership are opportunities to influence your group towards greater faithfulness to the vision and greater fruitfulness in their efforts. For when you speak the truth that transforms, or exercise the discipline that corrects and protects, or prod the reluctant towards their greater potential, or step out to show them a new direction -you become the agent of greatness that helps equip and empower your group to the greatness that is their potential.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

WHERE WOULD YOU GO?

Tammy Gitt recently wrote a post in her blog living3368 that I found stimulating. Here are some excerpts:

"Moving around in space and time can be tricky business. If I go back to change horrendous wrongs in history, will a greater wrong emerge? Or will everything be OK? If I make minor changes in my personal timeline, will it alter my life drastically or in small nearly imperceptible ways?

"That’s the kind of thing I’ve been thinking as I worked on my response for this post. In the end, I decided that no matter what time or place I went to visit, I would be unable to change what is in the historical record. That means I can’t go back to stop Hitler, warn Julius Caesar or stop an assassin from killing Archduke Francis Ferdinand. I can’t tell MLK to stay in the hotel room, JFK to put the

" ... On a lighter note, I can’t go back to tell the Atlanta Falcons just how colossal a mistake they would be making by trading a young quarterback from Mississippi to Green Bay or warn the makers of Ishtar that their film would be a disaster.

Having said that, here’s my list of places to visit (in random order) which is subject to change given the whim of a particular day:

• The Titanic moments before it sank (assuming of course that I could time-travel myself off before drowning in the icy-cold Atlantic). The goal? To solve forever the mystery of where the captain was when the ship went down.

• The Globe theater in the early 1600s to see Shakespeare’s Hamlet performed for the first time.

• While I’m on an arts tangent, let’s add a Billie Holliday concert, the first time Silent Night was ever sung and a meeting of the Inklings.

top up on the convertible or Lincoln stay home instead of going to the theater.

My response to Tammy's post read:

"I think there are a couple of places I would go … back to the birth moments of each of my four children, perhaps to a meeting of the Inklings as you noted yourself above. I think I would like to have been in the crowd at Gettysburg when Abraham Lincoln spoke those words, “Four score and seven years ago …”

I would like to have been on that “mount” when Jesus began to say “Blessed are the poor in Spirit …:

In each of these cases, there is nothing I would change. They are things I’d like to witness.

Most of all, I think that the place that fascinates me most is where I will be in the next 24 hours, armed with a prayer I learned from Jill Briscoe, “Lord, help me to be the blessing that I am blessed to be.”

So here's the question for you. WHERE WOULD YOU GO IN HISTORY IF YOU COULD NAVIGATE THAT TIME/TRAVEL THING?

Read Tammy's original post

Monday, May 10, 2010

RELAXING AND BEING


"Weekends don't count unless you spend them doing something completely pointless." Calvin & Hobbes

Although as a pastor, I work weekends, I have to agree with the eminent philosopher Calvin on at least one level. People need to learn to relax. They need to allow themselves to enjoy what Ken Prunty used to describe as freescence--permitting yourself to do what the rest of the world might consider unnecessary or frivolous. Our wholeness as persons is enhanced when our lives are more than obligation. Tim Hansel has another way of saying it, "People are human beings, not human doings."

I am always reminded that in the Genesis account of creation, God did not work for seven days. He did all that was necessary in six days and on the seventh day He rested. It is in the design of our Creator for us to take time out to rest, refresh, and renew. Relentless activity, particularly relentless work goes against what it means to be created in the image of God.

People seem obsessed with activity and take far too much self-worth from busyness. I know in a world shaped by the Protestant work ethic, and the secular performance culture - that no one wants to be a slacker. Yet as my friend Ed Rosenberry once said in an ordination sermon, "Whether you rust out or burn out ... out is out."

One of the reasons that Christians practice Sabbath is to honor the wisdom of our Designer. Although many of us make a point of worshiping God as a community on that day, we do so by choice. Marva Dawn calls worship "a royal waste of time." Waste equals pointless to a person who does not have a relationship with God, yet we recognize that what others consider pointless actually frees us because we are being who we are- "People who rest in God's grace." We do not live by the creed of the world that says that weekends are for working at your play or getting in more hours of work so we can have more things. "Come unto me all who are burden and weighed down," says Jesus, "and I will give you rest."

I once was knocked down by burnout. A friend sent me to his lake cottage to recover. It took me several days to get past the guilt of not working and being "productive." But laying in a hammock with no schedule, no obligations, and no particular place to go, I found myself experiencing the beauty sketched in the clouds of the blue sky above. I felt the refreshment of breathing easily. I started experiencing the peacefulness that ultimately would restore me to a life of fulfilling freedom instead of destructive obligations. I slowed down and let God remind who I was instead of trying to simply maintain who I had become.

But that road to wholeness began with the freedom to be pointless.

WE HAVE MET THE ENEMY AND HE IS US



Walt Kelly created this cartoon for Earth Day 1971. It was from his popular comic strip Pogo. The characters of Pogo were inhabitants of a swamp that uncannily became a mirror of the problems of society. More philosophical and reflective than much of the human race, the "folks" managed to speak truth into a society often engaged in massive denial. Kelly's black and white cartoon was green before the phrase meant more than dollars.

Now the debate rages over global warming and other environmental issues. There are Christians of the liberal persuasion who are so focused on this that they seem more concerned about saving the planet than saving souls. There are Christians of the conservative persuasion who want to deny any threat to the planet lest they be labeled pantheists or Obamaites. Sometimes I think the latter would deny the Second Coming if Jesus would turn out to be a Democrat--and the former would pass on the Second Coming because they might meet Jerry Falwell or Karl Rove in heaven.

Fortunately, there are Christians who see stewardship of the planet as the purpose of having dominion over it. Thinking green is a way of insuring that we when we are fruitful and multiply that life can be sustained in the holistic manner God the Father purposed when He intelligently designed the Universe.

Any political position or human philosophy that puts us at odds with God's purposes (or seeks to confine God's purposes) is the enemy - not Pat Robertson or Barack Obama, fiscal conservatism or social activism. I suspect we might all have to admit, if we are honest before God, "we have met the enemy and he is us."

Sunday, May 9, 2010

MOTHER


Today is Mother's Day. It is a day of honor and affection for some. A time to remind Mom of how special she is--a reminder that comes from toddlers and adult children who have not been toddlers in a very long time. In fact, their toddlers may themselves now be teenagers. In churches children will line up to sing for their mothers and at Sunday brunches, their eldest child will present a toast. Few kids will be so busy that they won't at least reach and touch Mother with a phone call - or in this day and age Skype her.

And that's really how it should be. In most families mother is the personification of love--the chief model of grace and forgiveness, compassion and encouragement. Few people invest as many hours, and tears, and prayers for us in our formative years than the one we call "Mother." And even after the nest is emptied, Mom is ready to counsel and comfort even the most rebellious of her offspring. The grace that grows from unconditional love seems part of the DNA of most mothers.

I know that for some this is an idealization of mothers that does not match their experience. I do not believe that any mother is perfect (although my late mother, Marilyn, and my living mother-in-law Babs would be in the running for such a recognition). I know that there are exceptions--abusive women, Moms on crack, distant women whose pursuit of a profession has treated their children like a trophy or a business asset. But those are the exceptions, not the rule. Even in our fallen world, motherhood is often an incarnation of God's love.

So today -- wherever you are, whoever you are - take some time and honor your mother.

I LOVE IT!

Andy Stanley and the people at North Point Church in Atlanta have a great sense of humor. This is a little prophetic reminder to keep things in perspective--God's.

"Sunday's Coming" Movie Trailer from North Point Media on Vimeo.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

MAGGLIO ORDONEZ AND DAGLY


Magglio Ordonez has been one of the outstanding players for the Detroit Tigers. He was one of the heroes of their 2006 American League pennant winning season. But the 2009 season was something very different indeed. The power seemed to leave Mag's bat. He struggled offensively and defensively. Although the Tigers led the American League Central most of the season, only to be overtaken by the Minnesota Twins, Ordonez became the focal point of the frustration of Tiger fans and target of a tremendous amount

of vitriol. As the 2010 season has begun, the old Mag is back and in many ways he seems a better player than he has in many years. He is one of the four .300+ hitters at the front of the Tiger line-up that are making fans forget the departure of Polanco and Granderson.

Only now is the story of 2009 coming to the forefront. It is a love story of Magglio and his wife Dagly. It is a story of dedication and sacrifice, of a man demonstrating that being a husband and a father is far more important than any accolade our sports satiated culture can offer. Dagly found she had thyroid cancer. It is a treatable cancer, but still dangerous. The doctors operated immediately. Then there was the radiation treatment that meant Dagly had to be separated from her family. Magglio had to become a single parent. He didn't talk a lot about his family situation, did not add the spotlight to Dagly's suffering and his children's fears. Later Ordonez would comment:

"The thing is, you have to understand that life is first -- life, family," he said. "And the thing is, it's not easy when you're working or you're playing baseball, to try to focus mentally. You see last year at the beginning of the season, I was struggling. My mind wasn't on baseball. But you know, the support with family and friends, when you're in good hands with good doctors, [helps]."

A lot of baseball fans (no, fanatics) are now hanging their heads in shame. Magly is better, doing well, in fact. Ordonez is now turning his attention to cancer victims in his baseball community. Hitting home runs again. Thrilling Tiger fans. Giving the team a great shot at the 2010 pennant.

But on humanity's all stars ... Magglio Ordonez now has earned a place.

For more on this story, go to JASON BECK:

Friday, May 7, 2010

ANTI-ME

Andrew Sullivan of Atlantic Monthly recently published this note from one of his readers:

"I have a friend - one of my very best, actually - who I affectionately refer to as my "anti-me". She is everything I am not.

She is Republican, Evangelical, Christianist, and Liberty University educated. She married at 22 followed in short order by 2 kids. She lived in the suburbs when we met and now lives in a rural area outside of a very small town. She is homophobic, anti-abortion, and a Tea Party sympathizer. She loves Sarah Palin. She thinks Barack Obama is an over-educated socialist who is trying to ruin America.

I am a Democrat, a skeptical Catholic, never been married and with no kids. I live in the city and can't imagine living in a small town. I have gay friends and gay relatives and I am pro-gay marriage. I am pro-choice. I think Sarah Palin is an uneducated extremist who is trying to ruin America (to say the least). I voted for and continue to support Obama.

There is no reason that we should be friends. But we listen to each other. We talk, civilly, about the things we disagree about but it doesn't dominate our friendship. We respect each others' viewpoints, even when we think it is the craziest thing we've ever heard. I think I have become a better, more intellectually well-rounded person because I know her. I am less quick to judge and more open to hearing new ideas. I challenge my own beliefs more and I am better at examining view points I oppose.

We should all have an anti-me. "

Steve continues ... I find I agree with this anonymous reader. We live in an age of intentional ignorance and information cocoons that keep up us from even knowing what other people are thinking. As such we predetermine that dialogues are diatribes instead of conversations. There cannot be an honest exchange of ideas because neither honesty nor accuracy is really valued. Protecting our position or proving our point is the main motivation in communication.

In a truly democratic society (which we all claim to value), such intellectual isolation is anathema. When Jesus says, "You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free" he meant that the truth never need fear other opinions or ideas, for the Truth of God will ultimately be understood and embraced by those who want to be truly free. More of us fit Jack Nicholson's famous outburst in A Few Good Men, "Truth--you can't handle the truth."

To one like myself, who truly wants to connect people to God, the anti-mes are invaluable. They help me see and understand others--their dreams, their burdens, their beliefs, their fears. If I don't know and understand the people not like me then my attempts to communicate the Good News to them is simply shouting into a wind storm. My words go nowhere and do no good because no one can hear them.



ERNIE HARWELL - MY BASEBALL MENTOR













I grew up in northwest Ohio. Many a night I listened to WJR Radio in Detroit. One of my fondest memories were the rich tones with a twinge of the South that came from Ernie Harwell. Ernie Harwell was the voice of the Detroit Tigers and I suspect his warm, engaging play-by-play portraits of men like Norm Cash and Al Kaline, Micky Lolich, Bill Freehan and others helped make me a passionate fan of the Tigers long before I made the trip to Michigan and Trumbull to hallowed Tiger Stadium. Before I ever saw my first game, I saw the Tigers through Ernie’s eyes and felt the excitement through Ernie’s heart. Ernie Harwell was in many ways my baseball mentor and I came to love the game because of him.

Ernie began his baseball career as a catcher with the Brooklyn Dodgers. He then moved onto to broadcasting, a profession he pursued for 55 years, 42 of them with the Tigers. Harwell was named to the Hall of Fame for his leadership and contributions to baseball as the voice of the Tigers.

Ernie Harwell died Tuesday at age 92. He was the victim of bile duct cancer. A man of great faith, that faith simply added to the impact of a great man.

“Whatever happens, I’m ready to face it,” Harwell told The Associated Press on Sept. 4. “I have a great faith in God and Jesus.” He would later add this testimony to the fans at Comerica Park. “In my almost 92 years on this earth, the good Lord has blessed me with a great journey,” Harwell said at a microphone behind home plate. “The blessed part of that journey is that it’s going to end here in the great state of Michigan.”

Ernie Harwell was a gift of God that enriched baseball by his presence, his passion, his integrity and dedication. He is already missed.

ESPN has a great tribute that I have linked for you to learn more about one of the premier broadcasters of what I still believe is America’s past time. HARWELL

Thursday, May 6, 2010

SLACKTIVISM

I came across an interest blog-posting recently. It was by Nancy Lublin on a business blog called FAST COMPANY. Nancy was commenting on the growing phenomenon of acts of charity that are done by the click of a mouse, or a checked box in a super market, etc.

"Sending a text or clicking to vote may be the trendy way to help humankind. The question, says Nancy Lublin, is whether such so-called slacktivism really works.

"Name-calling is never nice -- that much most of us learned in kindergarten. Go ahead and criticize the substance of an action or the content of a speech, but just calling a person a nasty name is like pulling hair. Unfortunately, a lot of it happens in the do-gooder sector--and lately, much of it has been directed at projects that could fall under the umbrella of a newish movement called "slacktivism."

It's not hard to see where the word comes from (slacker + activism = slacktivism), and obviously, it's usually not meant as a compliment. Basically, it refers to doing good without having to do much at all. It's inch-deep activism that you can do from the comfort of your own couch, whether that's clicking for good or texting to save the world. One of the earliest forms of slacktivism was wearing one of those rubber wristbands that, for a while, were so ubiquitous -- doesn't cost much money and takes even less effort. I'll even give you extra points if you're still wearing a Livestrong bracelet five years after it was last fashionable, though if it's just inertia that kept it on your wrist, you have really earned your slacktivist cred."

You need to know that Nancy is generally affirming of this trend. Read her post FAST. From the standpoint of a pastor, I have some different thoughts, which Nancy might not affirm.

"It's inch deep activism that you can do from the comfort of your own couch ..." is precisely my concern. Loving your neighbor is indeed at the heart of the Christian life--its values and its lifestyle. Any time we see a brother in need and do more than just wish him the best and prayer for him, we provide practical resources to help him in his need. The recipient of our charity is rarely concerned about the motive of our gifts, especially when they are in the midst of their need. I am more concerned about its impact or lack thereof on us.

A young man named Jeremy recently commented on a posting about "slacktivism" these observations:

"At some point our culture decided, rather capitalistically, that we could solve the world's ills through the marketplace. Through dollars and cents.

Here's a problem.
Here's why you should care.
Here's how you can do something about it from your home office.
No pain for you. Small gains for the world.

Congratulations, problem solved. Well, not really.

What we're experiencing is a widening gap between the problem and the solution.

Rarely is the solution simply monetary, though, that seems to be all we ask of people, and ask of ourselves. God doesn't need us for that. The first Christians were called "Followers" because they were literally on the move. God doesn't want us to sit on our asses watching our 401k's grow and tossing a few bucks around to fix everything.

It's gone beyond donor fatigue. It's an identity problem. We think we have the power to change the world by having a nickel from our $5 coffee support something somewhere that i'll never see or feel. And yet we somehow feel good about it and most of it is drivel.

What we need is loving relationships. Relationships that demand mutual sacrifice, reap mutual transformation, and result in human identities converging into a God-designed picture of his kingdom. Yes, it will still require resources. But the greatest resource we have is not in a bank account." See HUMANITY

Jeremy really sums up my own thoughts quite well. What do you think?