Monday, December 27, 2010

POEM: Why don't we listen?

Some read nothing but Daniel and Revelation
Some stick to Genesis, Exodus and maybe Matthew, Mark and Luke
There are those who hod onto the Pentateuch and Paul
Myself, I like anything by John
There are those who love the Psalms and Proverbs
Many stick with the prophets, major and minor
Some are convinced that all that matters are the morsels they're rationed
by pastors or televangelists or political ideologues
It's amazing how many mistake Ben Franklin and Bill Shakespeare for something from the good book.
I can't tell you how often I've heard people quoting the code of Hammurabi, convinced they were repeating Jesus', smugly pleased that He backed up their opinions.
I wouldn't be surprised if the same is sometimes true of Machiavelli or even Ayn Rand.
Many have never read any of it at all.
Many figure if they've heard Exodus 20 or Luke 2 once, they've heard it a million times
Many have never even heard that much, and how can they know the Author, if after all, faith comes from hearing?
Some say that if you've read John 3:16, you've heard it all
But how many have seen "John 3:16" a million times, but never actually read or heard John 3:16 at all?
May I humbly recommend reading the parts in red letters?
You might be surprised and impressed, hopefully inspired
or perhaps shocked and dismayed, maybe convicted or offended.
May I further recommend the only sermon we have recorded that Jesus preached?
If enough of us listened, it may change how we think of both Jesus and His Word,
not to mention how we think of our neighbor.
But don't take my word for it,
read it for yourself.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Prayer at family Advent devotion

"Dear Jesus,
Please help us so that nobody has bad dreams tonight
And when Santa comes, keep him safe
And thank you for all of the things that we already have
and thank you for all of the things that we don't have yet that maybe we're getting
but help us be thankful for everything you give us.
And help other people who maybe don't have much stuff.
We love you Jesus,

This was my 5 year old! And then later she was singing the Galatians 5 song, "Love, Joy, Peace and Patience, Kindness, Faithness, Goodness..." She didn't quite get all the lyrics right, but how awesome that your kid is singing about the fruit of the Spirit?

Thank You Jesus, for the faith of a child. How blessed are my wife and I?

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Advent in a Crumbling Empire, Sojourners Magazine/December 2010

Advent in a Crumbling Empire, Sojourners Magazine/December 2010:

"in Advent we dare to hope. Advent leads to Christmas. At Christmas we celebrate a baby who became a political refugee, grew up to preach God's love, and was executed as a rebel. His life was a failure, his followers scattered, his hope for a new community dust. And then it all turned around. Our Advent hope is this: All empires are under judgment. Out of death comes life. God's will is shalom. The one who loses life will save it.

The manger leads to the cross, to the empty tomb, to the upper room. And the upper room becomes an empty room when the Spirit fills us so that we too are transformed and offer our lives in love for others."

Bby Shelley Douglass, who lives and works at Mary’s House, a Catholic Worker community in Birmingham, Alabama."

Friday, December 03, 2010

Advent2010- better to light a candle
than curse the darkness

"Do everything readily and cheerfully—no bickering, no second-guessing allowed! Go out into the world uncorrupted, a breath of fresh air in this squalid and polluted society. Provide people with a glimpse of good living and of the living God. Carry the light-giving Message into the night so I'll have good cause to be proud of you on the day that Christ returns." ~Philippians 2:14-15 (the Message)

"better to light a candle than curse the darkness" is an ancient Chinese proverb used as a motto by the Christophers, a group founded by Catholics to promote tolerance, service, political honesty, caring for the sick and poor, and dealing with substance abuse.

It is a theme dramatically illustrated in this 1935 etching by Picasso, The Minitauromachy, in which even in the very face of death, destruction and evil, a little girl holds up a candle of hope against the onslaught of fascism, imperialism, and militarism symbolized by the minotaur.

This first week of Advent, the candle in the wreath is the candle of hope, sometimes known as the Prophets' candle. True, we often look to old testament prophecies of the coming messiah (Jesus), but in Philippians 2, Paul challenges us to be prophets- people who speak God's Word into a dark world. We can hold onto and carry the light of Christ's love into our daily lives, and into even the bleakest situations.

It's easy to become negative, either angry and cynical or discouraged and depressed- but God calls us to be different, to be full of hope. People with Jesus have hope, and people with hope have a sense of security and stability that the world really needs right now.

In a world of poverty, unemployment, alcohol drug abuse and dependence, divorce, non-traditional and broken families, my students sometimes think of me as boring, conservative or an anachronism. But they also see me as safe and steady, caring and approachable and I hope as trustworthy. I'm not the world's greatest teacher or coach. But I can try to be as patient, kind, empathetic, and caring as I can. 

It sounds Pollyanna or naive', but sometimes just being a decent person can make someone's world a better place. Certainly just being friendly and smiling can make someone's day.

This Christmas season, try lighting candles instead of just cursing the darkness. Try to be a prophet of hope.

"17 Life will be brighter than noonday,
and darkness will become like morning.
18 You will be secure, because there is hope;
you will look about you and take your rest in safety.
19 You will lie down, with no one to make you afraid,
and many will court your favor." ~Job 11:17-19

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Advent2010- grow in grace & knowledge must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. 4 They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.”
8 But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. 9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. ~2 Peter 3:3-4, 8-9

Monday morning, my daily devotion was 2 Peter 3 (read it yourself). You almost couldn't find a better chapter if you wanted to  study Jesus' second coming, like many Christian denominations do in this last part of the church year.

In verse 2, Peter tells us to think about what the Old Testament prophets had to say about Jesus, the promised messiah.  Peter empathizes with readers about being laughed at for looking forward to Jesus' return (verses 3-4). He tells them that the same skeptics doubt that God created the world (v.5). 

There are actually Republican lawmakers in Congress who deny global warming because in Genesis 9, God promises not to destroy the earth with a flood again. First of all, I figure, PEOPLE are destroying it this time with pollution, whether rising sea levels are part of that or regional climate changes. But in verse 10, Peter explains that the next time God will use fire, not water. 

Now, I tend to be one who thinks he's speaking metaphorically, but if you really want to engage in speculation you could imagine solar flares or nuclear Armageddon. But it's important to keep reading 2 Peter 3 because in verse 10 he also reminds us of what Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 5:2 Jesus Himself said in Matthew 24:36 and Mark 13:32- that no one knows when He'll come back and you can't predict it- so just trust that He's coming. 

As God's children, we can look forward to a new Heaven and a new Earth. We have hope, not fear and we should focus on trust, not speculation. Prophecy for us should mean, speaking God's love and forgiveness, not claiming to predict the future.

Most people think of the book of Revelation as being about the end times and imagine that it predicts the last days. One of my all time favorite books is about how Revelation is really a letter of comfort, hope, and joy- things we associate with Christmas time. The book is Joy in Our Weakness: A Gift of Hope from the Book of Revelation by Dr. Marva Dawn.

Sure, as a progressive, I tend to use verse 8, a day is like a thousand years to rationalize being able to believe that God is the creator, yet it's hard to dismiss evidence of at least some evolution- but Peter meant it to assure them that just because Jesus hadn't returned yet, didn't mean He wasn't still coming.

Today we may look around and easily be overwhelmed with doubt and discouragement. The world is pretty dark, the times are pretty hard. But that doesn't mean that God isn't still there, or that He doesn't still love us, or that He isn't coming back again to abolish death, darkness, doubt and despair once and for all.

That's why the real core of this whole chapter is verse 9. Verse 8 isn't about evolution or when the second coming will happen, it's really about verse 9. And verse 9 is all about God's patient love. He doesn't want ANYONE to be lost. He doesn't WANT anyone to go to Hell. His will is that EVERYONE would come to Him for the free gifts of His love and forgiveness. 

What Peter wants for his readers (and he gives Paul kudos for wanting the same in his letters) is for us to keep working at learning and growing in our faith: " But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen."

That's what Advent should be all about. Sorry if this post got a little long, or if I wrote more from the head than from the heart- but my hope for you this Advent season, is whether it's here at this blog, some other kind of Advent devotional, or just digging into the Bible on your own- try to grow in both grace and knowledge of Jesus. 

Peace, hope and joy!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Advent2010- Christmas is for Children

"1 See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2 Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. 3 All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure." ~1 John 3:1

Advent (Adventus in Latin, or Parousia in Greek) means looking forward to or preparing for the royal arrival of our Lord and receiving our inheritance as heirs to His kingdom. In case you never heard of it before, Advent is is the season between the Sunday after Thanksgiving through Christmas in the Lutheran, Roman Catholic, Anglican, and Methodist churches.

Official Church liturgy and Bible readings often focus on Jesus' second coming, although most of us lay-people tend to focus on the whole Baby-Jesus traditional Christmas story. The secular world tend to focus on the innocent wonder of childhood, Santa, and of course retail commerce.

If time, inspiration, and inclination, permit me, I'd like to address all of these issues on this blog over the course of the next month.

Regular followers of this blog, know that I'm a big fan of  I John. A great way to think of 1 John 3:1 is like we're little kids anxiously waiting for our Daddy to come home from a business trip. We know He loves us and we've talked to him every night on the phone, but we can't wait to finally get to see us in person. On top of it, He's bringing us presents from his trip!

That is some lavish love indeed. But the part that really gives us hope and fits the Advent theme is, "... now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is"

We are saved and justified, but our new lives have just begun, our purification and sanctification will be a life-long process, not completed in full until His return on that last day. I had a pastor once call this the "now, not-yet" factor. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:12, " For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known."

I kind of like how the British version of Santa Claus is called "Father Christmas." He can be a metaphor for how we already know that we are loved and cherished children, but we also wait excitedly for when our daddy comes to pick us up from the babysitter and take us home.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Advent2010- Ad te, Domine, levavi

1To You, O LORD, I lift up my soul.
2O my God, in You I trust,
Do not let me be ashamed;
Do not let my enemies exult over me.
3Indeed, none of those who wait for You will be ashamed;
Those who deal treacherously without cause will be ashamed.
4Make me know Your ways, O LORD;
Teach me Your paths.
5Lead me in Your truth and teach me,
For You are the God of my salvation;
For You I wait all the day.

Read All of Psalm 25 (American Standard Translation)

"Ad te, Domine, levavi" is the first line (in Latin) of Psalm 25, traditionally used by Western churches as the gradual in the liturgy for the first Sunday in Advent.

What an image, to lift (levavi) up our soul to God. This time of year we can face a lot of stress, tighter schedules, bills, shopping, deadlines, bad weather, and looking back at the year or at people we've lost. Lots of people struggle with depression. This is the perfect time to look up, to look toward God, what He's done for us and what He promises to do. 

It's the perfect time to look up, to lift our spirits, to lift up our tired, achy souls to God, so that He can refresh and renew us.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

THANKS | 27- Time Off

Well, back to school on Monday. I didn't get the lights on the house and we didn't bring the tree up from the basement yet, we sure don't have our Christmas cards all made out yet. But, we got to sleep in for a few days. I got to spend some time with my girls and my wife and I even managed to squeeze a date night in.

So I not only want to thank God for amazing daughters and an insanely wonderful wife, but I really want to thank the Lord for the last few days off of work to spend with them.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Thanks | 26- Yum

Thank God for leftovers.
You can have revenge, I think that turkey and stuffing is a dish best served cold.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

THANKS | 25- An American Communion

One of the wonders of the American Thanksgiving Holiday, is that it's sort of a last bastion of cultural commonality, of what Confucius called "deliberate tradition."

Think about it, of the some 300 million people in the United States, I would venture that MOST of us are doing, seeing, eating, and perhaps even thinking the same things for this one day every year.

The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade was broadcast on all 3 major broadcast TV networks.

How many people DON'T have at least turkey? Stuffing? Green been casserole? Pumpkin pie? That cranberry goop that goes "shloop" when you slide it out of the can?

Families play games, share memories. People think about pilgrims and Indians. Kids make paper turkeys in school. Perhaps a few people even about Lincoln's Thanksgiving proclamation.

Aside from the Super Bowl and the Rose Bowl, the Detroit and Dallas Thanksgiving "Classics" have to be the most viewed football games all year.

So I thank God that this one day, most of us are sharing something in common. And I thank Him that this is a day when most of us take a break from being greedy, selfish, impatient and unsatisfied and instead take on an attitude of gratitude.

But just imagine, if like Lincoln encouraged us, this was the one day when we all prayed and weren't just grateful or thankful, but were grateful and thankful TO somebody, to God? Someday we will, but until then, I'll be grateful for what we've got.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

THANKS | 20- The Underdogs

Thank God for the underdogs, for the guys who didn't win, who believed that their Quixotic mission to effect reform, progress, and change was worth the risks, even in the face of derision, and enormous pressures, and persecution.

A lot of people might disagree with me on this, but I thank God for the likes of William Jennings Bryan, Eugene Debs, Henry A. Wallace, Adlai Stevensen, Jim Garrison, Ralph Nader, and Howard Dean.

Friday, November 19, 2010


Yeah, this may sound pretty selfish, worldly, or even glib- but some weeks one of the greatest things you're thankful for is Friday. So as a matter of fact, today, I for one say, Thank God it's Friday!

It's not the least bit sacrilegious if you mean it, and this week I really mean it!

In the spirit of this blog, I could probably go off on how if you appreciate having a 40 hour or 5 day work week you should thank a Liberal/Union/Progressive/Etc. But I'm tired and want to head home. Bottom line is, I could spread this out and talk about how grateful we should be to live in such a modern country with such a high standard of living, yadda yadda yadda, there's not weekends of in Somalia or Haiti or the Solomon Islands, etc. etc.

But the fact is I am blessed enough to live here and have a decent job and when I've had a hard week, I'm very blessed to have a couple of days of rest, recreation, relief, and recovery. This is a huge blessing and a lavish luxury that, goes without saying, most of us take for granted.

So it is entirely fitting and appropriate that we should thank God for it.

Thank God, it's Friday!

A Paradoxical Way of Thinking and Living

Jesus Did It Anyway: The Paradoxical Commandments for ChristiansJesus Did It Anyway: The Paradoxical Commandments for Christians by Kent M. Keith

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What an amazing story, he writes this poem as part of a student leadership booklet back in college in the 60's, and somehow it spreads world-wide. People use it in business and church groups and schools, in the U.S. and Asia and Europe. Eventually the poem winds up on the wall of Mother Theresa's mission in Calcutta.

Keith goes on about his life as a teacher, a lawyer, a state official and a college administrator. And people keep asking him to expound on the ideas in his little booklet and famous poem. So book is the result.

This is a positive message of how God can use you if you just do your best to do the right thing- not for any reward, but just because it's the right thing- even (maybe especially) when it's hard to do the right thing.

View all my reviews

Thursday, November 18, 2010

THANKS | 18- Concordia Founder's Day

"A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops." 
~Henry Brooks Adams

"The object of education is to prepare the young to educate themselves throughout their lives."
~Robert Maynard Hutchins

"Education is not filling a pail but the lighting of a fire."
~William Butler Yeats

On this day in 1894 Concordia University, Seward Nebraska was founded. It was about this time in 1989 that I knew I had fallen in love with my wife there. It was about this time in 1990 when we got engaged. If Seward was just the place where I found the love of my life that would certainly be enough reason to give thanks for it. But an Alma Mater is a "nursing mother," the community or institution which takes you from your parents' arms and sets you on your course in life.

I have cohorts who have plenty of reason not to love our college and I understand and respect that. Like our own parents, colleges aren't perfect. They  make mistakes, you won't always agree with them, they may even hurt you. I have a friend who feels that Concordia provided an inadequate education, others who were wounded by administrative politics. But while I recognize that it is not perfect and is made up of a variety of people who are imperfect- my experience was generally positive.

I believe it is the people God placed there while I was there who He used to teach and guide me. So I would like to take today to thank God for those people who were at "Concordia Teacher's College" while I was.

Albert Einstein once said that "Education is what remains after one has forgotten everything one learned in school."

Here is just SOME of what has remained with me:

  • Prof. Moulds- Don't take my word for it, look it up (especially in the Bible)
  • Prof. Schmidt- True leadership is SERVANT leadership
  • Doc Meyer- It's all about sifting through the BS to find the nuggets of truth
  • Doctor Glaess- Life is all about choices, take responsibility for yours
  • Doctor Vasco- If you're going to err, err on the side of grace
  • Prof. Wolfram- God provides the wind, but we have to set sail and man the rudder
  • Prof. Marxhausen- Always take a Sabbath and never take the same route home twice
  • Prof. Dennison- Life (and democracy) is all about dynamic tension working to create balance
  • Chaplin Mech- The Bible is full of imperfect people relating to God and beautiful poetry
  • Doctor Krutz- Taught me to love writing
  • Prof. Grothaus- One finds time to read
  • Prof. Pfabe- God loves the poor and wants us to seek justice
And much, much more, from many more professors, support staff, classmates, and a variety of interlopers.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

THANKS 17 | Legal mood altering drugs

While the official family feast is still about 2 weeks away, I think it is very important to thank God for tryptophan. That's that wonderful enzyme found in turkey that makes you want to take a nap.

This might seem sarcastic or silly or glib, but I mean come on, if any middle class, middle aged, middle-of-the-road American male were honest with themselves, they'd say that one of the best parts of Thanksgiving is falling asleep during the Lions' game after that wonderful turkey dinner.

This sentiment may be self indulgent and uncharacteristically shallow and un-liberal and un-profoundly idealistic for this blog, but let's face it, isn't this the very embodiment of blessings and contentment? So let's thank God for affording us the ability to indulge in it...

Come to think of it, thank God for the hippuric acid that give cranberries so much zing, not to mention the protein, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, polyunsaturated fat and beta-carotene that make pumpkin pie so unique and unlike any other lame cobbler cake, pudding or bars.

Mmmmm. I can hardly weight- uh, I mean wait.

THANKS 16 | Great Artists

I would like to thank God personally for the collective works of cartoonist Charles M. Schultz, animators and producers Lee Mendelson and Jose Cuautemoc "Bill" Melendez and Jazz virtuoso Vince Giralldi and his Trio.

Any encounter I have had with any of their work, but especially with their various collaborations leaves me with a smile and a sense of peace and security like... well, like a security blanket, or maybe like a warm puppy.

Monday, November 15, 2010

THANKS | 15- for lazy weekends

I actually wrote this yesterday (I'm trying to get a day or two ahead since you never know when you'll have time to write). Last night (Friday) was the first real snow storm of the year. We had a good 3 inches at least. It may have been as much as 6 but it was damp and heavy and the ground is still warm, so much of it probably melted.

It left our town looking bright and clean and quiet. For once we didn't have any obligations or anywhere to go or to be, so we actually enjoyed being home. Sure, the kids were up at the crack of dawn, but they wanted to play outside- which left my love an me to sit and read and occasionally snooze. There was toast and coffee in the morning and warmed up home made potato soup from the night before for lunch. The power went in and out a few times because of heavy snow on the lines but, thankfully, it came back on and the heater kept our hundred year old prairie salt-box house on Fourth street cozy and safe.

There's something about morning light, diffused and reflected by new fallen snow, filtered through white cotton curtains that is about as beautiful as anything can be.

I read one of my favorite authors and now I'm enjoying one of my favorite things, writing- all the time in the company of my favorite person, my wife.

The girls have come in to warm up and have quieted down. They've found a Harry Potter movie on TV and are chatting about snow and sledding and snowmen and the upcoming holidays and what Santa may bring. After a while I'll  pick up in the kitchen and start something for supper, but what a blessing to have a day where we've been able to take everything at our own pace. No deadlines, no work. Pax Familia.

It may be rare and when the weekend ends (today, Monday, Nov. 15) will have us back at the grind stone with pressures and schedules and students with demands and administrators with assignments, but for now (two days ago) I want to thank God for this sweet, dreamy Saturday.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

THANKS | 14- Thank God for the Blues

This may be a simple, not so profound one- and certainly one that is a matter of personal taste, but here goes-

Thank God for the Blues. Without the Blues we wouldn't have Jazz or Soul or R&B. But we also wouldn't have Rock or Pop or Hip-Hop, and in fact it is very unlikely that we would have Country (it would either be more like Bluegrass than it already is or maybe even Celtic).

I certainly don't thank God for the conditions that precipitated the development of Blues, slavery, racism, segregation etc. But legend has it that there were studies of slaves and slave owners in the 19th century and supposedly the suicide rates of slave owners were much higher than that of slaves. Go figure. I credit the Blues.

Much of the book of Psalms could be turned into Blues songs. If you can vent your anguish, whether in song or poem or painting, then it has less power over you.

But mostly I just like the Blues. Robert Johnson, Big Joe Turner, Rev. Gary Davis, Muddy Waters, Howlin Wolf, John Lee Hooker, BB King, Stevie Ray Vaughn, and of course ZZ Top and the Blues Brothers.

Thank you Lord, for the Blues.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

THANKS | 16- for the rookies... and vets too

For those of you who don't know it about me, I coach junior high and high school cheerleading at a small public school in Iowa. Over the years plenty of people have told me that I'm either some kind of saint, or certifiably crazy. There is certainly no shortage of egos, drama, tension, silliness, and annoyances. But most of the time it can be very rewarding. I believe God has taught me a lot through it (certainly patience) and I hope and sometimes think that He has used me to help teach and mentor the girls on my squads.

It can be stressful and I have a handful of friends, colleagues and former cheerleaders (including my wife) whom I can vent to when it gets hard- but I usually feel guilty about it because I'm constantly trying to impress on my cheerleaders the importance of being positive and because I don't want the people I'm venting to to conclude that it's a terrible hardship or that I dislike it and would rather get out of it.

So I would be remiss if I didn't take the time to thank God for the kids I have on this year's basketball cheer squads. Three of the four junior high girls are new as are three of the seven high school girls. A lot of coaches of ANY sport might tell you that it's hard to lose a lot of veterans because you have to go back and reteach the fundamentals. They'll often call it a rebuilding year or a growing year.

The thing about rookie cheerleaders is that they tend to be more coachable, more open to teaching and instruction. Girls who have been cheer for a few years start to get fiercely independent. It's good to be able to trust them to know what they're doing, but they can be less open to correction and and more likely to challenge your coaching. Which is okay, that's natural and all part of the process. But it's nice to be doing more actual coaching, and not merely advising or being just a sponsor again. Sure, it can be more work, but that just means more direct and deliberate interaction with kids. This is when teaching happens and when the relationships are established which will offer opportunities for mentoring later on.

So, I want to thank God for Lexis, Jarlin, Cathrine, and Jamie on my MS Squad and for Brittney, Shannon, and Jasmine on my HS Squad.

Although, I still want to thank Him for those hard working veterans who know what they're doing too. I have no rhythm and can't remember most of our cheers. I'm not a dancer. I coach best when I'm coaching the fundamentals. Cheers and chants are passed down through oral tradition. This year, so far, I've been very blessed with girls that seem to work well together and get along- much less drama than some past years. So, I should also thank God for Renea and Tiffany, Brenda and Kayla- and for Cammey who comes inn to help me teach even though she's not cheering this season.

THANKS | 13- Thank you Lord, for librarians

I have shared here my appreciation for books/reading/and literacy. And I have been grateful here for teachers. But someone all of us really ought to thank God for are truly unsung heroes. People we often think of as quiet, meek, maybe eve superfluous. Some of whom we might judge as petty tyrants for shhushing us to be quiet or stereotype as unassuming spinsters. But these are people who are the bulwarks of democracy. No one has been too worried about the demise of their profession as we have for print newspapers- but between the advent of the digital age and the resurgence of the anti-intellectual, anti-government, rugged-individualism movement, their time is surely limited.

I am talking of course of librarians.

"I want to congratulate librarians, not famous for their strength, their powerful political connections or great wealth, who, all over this country, have staunchly resisted anti-democratic bullies who have tried to remove certain books from their shelves, and destroyed records rather than have to reveal to thought police the names of persons who have checked out those titles.
So the America I loved still exists, if not in the White House, the Supreme Court, the Senate, the House of Representatives, or the media. The America I loved still exists at the front desks of our public libraries."
~Kurt Vonnegut

Thank you God for public libraries and for librarians, long may they shush us.

The problem with Christians

3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, 
   for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 
4 Blessed are those who mourn, 
   for they will be comforted. 
5 Blessed are the meek, 
   for they will inherit the earth. 
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, 
   for they will be filled. 
7 Blessed are the merciful, 
   for they will be shown mercy. 
8 Blessed are the pure in heart, 
   for they will see God. 
9 Blessed are the peacemakers, 
   for they will be called children of God. 
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, 
   for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Not exactly planks in a Republican platform.
Not exactly George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, or Donald Rumsfeld stuff. (Or Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reiley, Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, John Boehner, or Mitch McConnell stuff either.)
For some reason, the most vocal Christians among us never mention the Beatitudes (Matthew 5). But, often with tears in their eyes, the demand that the Ten Commandments be posted in public buildings. And of course, that's Moses, not Jesus. I haven't heard one of them demand that the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes, be posted anywhere.
"Blessed are the merciful" in a courtroom? "Blessed are the peacemakers" in the Pentagon? Give me a break!
~Kurt Vonnegut, A Man Without A Country, 2005

Friday, November 12, 2010

THANX | 12- Thank God for Ignaz

Ignaz Philipp Semmelweiss (1818 – 1865) was the Hungarian obstetrician who had the audacity to suggest that hospital personnel, in particular, surgeons, should wash their hands before treating new patients. Sure, we had thinkers and tinkers around like Louis Pasteur, but basically, before Ignaz- we were not much different in our thinking than 500+ years ago when people were afraid of swamp gas or assumed that either evil spirits or bad luck were responsible for all illness.

So this year when you cough or sneeze into your elbow to help stop the spread of flu or when you wash your hands before sitting down to your big turkey feast- thank God for Ignaz Semmelweiss (even if you can't pronounce his name right when you do it).

Thursday, November 11, 2010

THANX | 11- Remember

Because things like unity, justice, domestic tranquility, our common defense, and our general welfare are so important to us. And because the blessings of liberty are so important to us; like freedom of religion, freedom of speech and the press, freedom to assemble and protest, freedom of association, privacy and trial by jury- and the freedom to vote. Because these things are all so precious- we should thank God for our veterans, especially those who gave their last full measure of devotion to our liberties.

Thank You, Lord for those who sacrificed for our freedom, and security.

Paul told us in Philippians 4:6b "...but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God." And so we praise Him for His ultimate sovereignty over the nations and thank Him for our veterans- but in the next breath, we bring our requests and petitions to Him.

Please pray for our enemies, just as President Lincoln called us to do, so that God's Spirit would work in their hearts to end hostility and even to become our friends.

Please pray for our current service men and women, that God would protect and defend them, and keep them safe and whole and bring them home soon.

Please pray for their families, to keep them well and whole and to provide for them, and to comfort them and ease their fears while their loved ones are overseas or in harm's way.

Please don't just thank God for our veterans, but pray for them and their families- that they may be provided for, that we would not forget them or take them for granted. Pray that they may be restored to families, communities, to society, to jobs, to healed if not whole body and especially to whole and sound minds and to grant them personal peace and rest from the trauma's they've been through.

And lest we forget that this "Veteran's Day" was first called "Armistice Day" by those veterans themselves- Please pray for peace.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

THANX 10 | The basics

“Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” ~Matthew 8:20

You can call this "Liberal Guilt" if you want to, but the last few days when I've listened to the news on the radio and there have been stories about Haiti still not recovered from January's devastating earth quake, now flooded after a hurricane (which thank God wasn't worse). Families living in refugee camps with no emergency shelters from the rain. Whole communities gathered under a sheet or a tarp. 

This has made me tremendously grateful for how fortunate I am to have a solid house, with a heater that works, and a soft, warm bed to crawl into at the end of the day (and some mornings wish I could stay in).

Yeah, as a matter of fact I do think that knowing how desperate the needs are of much of the world should give us pause. Hopefully it should affect us enough to want to do something about the inequity and injustice in the world, or to do with less, or to give if our time and treasure to charitable organizations. 

If nothing else, it should make us feel all the more grateful for even the smallest, most mundane blessings that we usually take for granted, or worse, selfishly feel entitled to.

Thank You, Lord, for a house to go home to, for food, clothing, and shelter, and a place to lay my head. Amen.

PS- Happy 527th Birthday, Martin Luther! Nov. 10, 1483. Thank You, God for Dr. Luther and his courage to take a stand for the truth of Your Grace! Ephesians 2:8-9, Romans 1:17

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Monday, November 08, 2010

THANX | 08- Thanks God for words

Parent: "Eat your supper"
Child: "But I HATE this, it's so YUCKY!"
Parent: "Eat. There are children starving in Africa (India, China, name the country or continent)

That's an age-old scene, isn't it? But rather than use it to talk about hunger, poverty, or nutrition I want to use it as a metaphor for literacy.

At our school, we set aside 15-20 minutes a day to Drop Everything And Read (DEAR). What a LUXURY! What a treat! A gift! A joy. Read ANYTHING. Have a chunk of day where you don't have to work on homework or take notes or run laps- just read.

Yet every day kids moan and complain. Do we HAVE to? It's so BOOOOORING! I HATE to read.

Think about the rest of the world for a minute. How few kids have access to school, let alone books? How few people on this planet even know how to read? And then consider how many people on this globe aren't ALLOWED to read, or have what they are permitted to read severely limited?

During medieval times almost no one in Europe could read, monks who worked as scribes, a few super rich royals, some of the earliest bankers and lawyers. Even many priests and monks couldn't read. Books were either so valuable as material possessions or thought of as so dangerous for their potential to inspire people to think for themselves- they were literally locked up.

Martin Luther advocated universal public education because you have to be able to read in order to be able to read the Bible and have a personal relationship with God. Yet how many of us who call ourselves Christian crack our Bibles open, blow off the dust, and bother to read them very often?

So thank God if you can read.

Frankly, I could've (and I suppose should've) made this a really short post because I was just thinking about how thankful I am for books. Mysteries, satires, and poetry. I love reading- and it goes without saying (from how long this post has become) I love writing.  Book stores, libraries, online book sharing clubs, Amazon, audio books, and now ebooks and blogs, magazines and websites. Letters! Emails! Texts & Twitters!

Thank you God for words, and as long as I'm at it, thank you for Your Word.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

THANX | 07- If you can read this...

Although the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, your teachers will be hidden no more; with your own eyes you will see them. 21 Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” ~Isaiah 30:20-21

If you can read this, thank a teacher.

This past weekend in Charter Oak, where I live, we celebrated the retirement of a friend who has taught English and Speech/Drama for 30 years. 

She talked about how insignificant she felt her career is in the grand scheme of things. She compared it to dipping your hand in a bowl of water. While it's there, it displaces the water, but once you pull it out, no one knows it was there- the water returns to it's original level, as if it had never been displaced.

We felt differently. We feel like her example was more like a rock dropped in a pond. Waves ripple out and effect the whole pond. Many of her students went on to become teachers themselves, most became parents. She may have been just one teacher at a small school in a small town in the middle of the Midwest, but the way she taught and the values she exemplified both effect and affect generations.

Which teachers and coaches have made a difference in your life? Who do you find yourself emulating? Who's voice most often ends up being that voice in your head?

Thank God for them, for the planning and preparing and sweat and toil. Thank God for their example, their caring, their efforts.

Thank You, Lord for teachers.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

THANX | 06- What are you listening to?

"I watch a lot of baseball on the radio." ~Gerald R. Ford

Yesterday I thanked God for blogging and the Web. One of the simple conveniences of the 20th & 20th Century that I absolutely love and believe it or not, thank God for all the time is radio. I can have music, sports, news, and conversation all day long pretty much for free.

I'm reminded of this the most during NPR fund drives. They do make me feel guilty and I suppose that one of these years I should really not just thank God, but also support my local NPR station financially.

But seriously. Every car comes with a radio. Most of us have radios in our kitchens and bathrooms. Here in the Midwest, they're indispensable for knowing about the weather- storm warnings, road conditions, school closings and game cancellations may now be available by text and email- but most of us still turn to local radio first.

So take a second and thank God for radio.

Friday, November 05, 2010

THANX | 05- This tangled Web

How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!” ~Isaiah 52:7

When I started this experiment, I intended to be brief, concise, and basically list things that I was thankful for- simple things- to show how much we have to be thankful for. But instead, I keep writing these long, in-depth devotions. Guess I should thank God for words, writing, my imagination... and for that matter, for Blogger (and by extension, their parent company Google). Thank God for blogs, the World Wide Web, for Tim Berners-Lee the engineer who helped make it possible, for the internet and visionaries like J.C.R. Licklider and Vinton Cerf who made it possible.

If I in anyway am able to bring you good news here, please don't look at my feet- I'm very self conscious about them. Consider the technology that affords me the opportunity to post it here like my shoes. I'm pretty fortunate to have such awesome shoes.

Thank You, Lord for all these tools and toys we have these days that allow us to all to be writers and publishers while saving paper.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Lighten Up; a Satori

This morning in my email, someone had sent me an e-card for a Happy Diwali. It was sent anonymously so I don't know who to thank, let alone whether they were sending it sincerely (knowing that I appreciate and am open to a lot of Eastern culture and philosophy) or if they were trying to be play with me (just another holiday) or trying to bait me somehow (cause I'm this big liberal). 

However it was intended, I decided to take it in the spirit of Diwali- a celebration of lights and the ultimate triumph of good over evil and compassion over selfishness. 

We're just about to get into a lot of festivals of lights here in the next 2 months, what with Jewish Hanukkah, African-American Kwanza, and of course Christianity's Advent season leading up to Christmas and then Epiphany (when we celebrate Jesus, our light coming into the world).

Diwali, also known as Deepavali is a five day festival in Fall when many Hindus, Sikhs, and some Buddhists light oil lamps, wear new clothes and enjoy sweets with their families for five days.

The spiritual aspect of Diwali is that participants attain and awareness of their "inner light," the eternal, unchanging true self, your "Atman" or soul, if you like. These Eastern traditions teach that true enlightenment leads to compassion, love and the awareness that we are all interdependent.

These three principles are pretty worthy aspirations. In fact, lets face it, Jesus taught, demonstrated and offers love (John 13:34-35), compassion (Luke 2), and communion (John 17, Acts 4:32)  too.

If there's a difference it's that in Christianity, we know that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." Romans 2:23. Let's face it, call me a pessimist, but every human being is by nature fallible, imperfect, selfish and short-sighted. As the psalmist put it, "Everyone has turned away, all have become corrupt; there is no one who doesgood, not even one."~Psalm 53:3
There's a lot about the East that is admirable and that we Westerners need to learn from. But the biggest difference theologically is that they're looking for an "inner" light withing one's self, whereas Jesus tells us that He is our light.

“I am the light of theworld. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” ~John 8:12

The Apostle John  had to compete with Gnosticists and other competing teachings that claimed that humans are capable of transcending society and becoming godlike by looking inside (see my series on John's Epistles, "Johnny Poppin"). Our light comes from outside, not inside.

"The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp."~Revelations 21:23

By pointing this out, it does NOT give Christians an excuse to judge, discriminate or hate Hindus or Buddhists. "Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness."~1 John 2:9

The thing is, we ourselves don't have our own light inside us, but we should have a light inside. We should REFLECT God's light. It's like God is the sun and we are all moons. If Jesus lives inside us, if He put His Holy Spirit into our hearts, than we can shine like stars (Philippians 2:15).

"For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ." ~2 Corinthians 4-5

If I understand correctly, many Eastern religions suggest that if we fail to reach enlightenment, we will have many more attempts through reincarnation- eventually maybe attaining loss of self by being absorbed into the universe's goodness. Whereas we are offered reunion and fellowship with each other and with our Father as God's children. And we will never have to fear the darkness again.

"There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the lightof the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever."~Revelations 22:5

So, blessed Diwali all my friends, Namaste!
May compassion, love, unity, and enlightenment be yours in Christ.

THANX | 04- Fresh starts

"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!" ~2 Corinthians 5:17

I for one am really grateful that no messy life gets, I can always start over. I think this is a freedom that God gives us that we too often take for granted.

The recovery movement has some great sayings like, "one day at a time," and "today is the first day of the rest of your life." The point of these platitudes is that, whatever mistakes you've made, you can always star over from right here right now and start over.

We often use New Year's for resolutions, hoping we'll get "get back on track," or "turn over a new leaf." And, imperfect human beings that we are, many's a year that we've broken our resolutions before January is over.

Many Christians try to use the Easter season the same way. We don't see Lent so much as an opportunity to try to empathize with Jesus' suffering or to recognize that it was our sin that sent Him to the cross- instead we try to use it as a motivator for our own self-improvement, to lose weight or to try to kick some habit.

God does want us to turn from our sin and follow Him. And there's sure nothing wrong with self improvement (so long as we keep in mind that no amount of improvement will add or take away any of His unconditional love for us or get us closer to Heaven- He took care of that on the cross). 

Still, when things obviously aren't going the way they should, we wish we could start over. Well, thank God, we can. Every moment of every day. But if it's still too hard to wrap our minds around starting over from right here, right now- there are always tons of mile markers or touch stones that we can use as launching pads and starting points.

Elections provide new starting points. New quarters and new semesters in school do too. So can new sports seasons. Completing a project. New months, new check books. Going from Summer to Fall or Fall to Winter. Daylight Saving's Time. 

Anytime is the perfect time to start again, start over, or start something completely new. Every morning is a new start. 

Feel like you've messed up with a relationship? Said or done something you wish you hadn't? Been dropping-the-ball on something that you think needs more attention? Want to make a fresh start of it? There's no time like the present.

I can't tell you how often I thank God for the fact that He doesn't hold my past against me, but lets me start from right here at trying to be who He intended me to be, to be a new creation. 

The future starts now- thank God!

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

THANX | 03- Good Morning

"Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days."~Psalm 90:14

Seems like every morning these last few weeks I've been privileged to some of the most beautiful sunrises. It's like living in a painting. This isn't huge or profound, it may just be a trifle, but I enjoyed it and told God so.

Thank you Lord for my eyesight and for the glory of Your creation and for quiet moments when I can use my senses to take in nature's beauty. 

If you're like most people, and need to get to work by 8 or 9, there's probably sometime between 7 and when you enter through the door at your job when you can just take a few seconds to look around. Take a deep breath, smell the air, feel the morning on your skin. 

Sure, it would be great to have 20 minutes of exercise, or a half an hour to an hour of prayer and meditation, or just 15 minutes alone to clear your mind. All those are wonderful ideas, but let's face it- not many of us manage to squeeze these in. But all of us can take a moment, somewhere between 15 and 90 seconds to experience morning outdoors. 

I'm probably more blessed than many since I live in rural Iowa. I may see deer, pheasants, wild turkeys, migrating geese and constantly changing colors in the farm fields and trees on my morning commute. Yet I still get wrapped up in planning for the day ahead or reviewing the night before or listening to the car radio. Sometimes the only time I take to appreciate the morning is the moment between the parking lot and my classroom door. But what a moment.

In Summer, I feel the warmth and smell cut grass. In Fall there's a crisp, dry air and that smell of leaves or harvest. Obviously in winter it's the chill and the clean, snow-filtered air and bright light that bounces off of all things white. Spring may be the best, there's a moisture and either mud or new growth on trees and emerging flowers.

But of course, even if you're driving and just get a glimpse out your windshield, the best part of morning is the sunrise. Whether it's the orange on the horizon, gradually giving way to dusty blue of late October, or a narrow strip of violet or indigo leading in to a gradation of blues from deep to cyan in January, or the radiant pinks and magentas or golds that seem to saturate a ceiling of stratus clouds any time of year. There's just nothing like a sunrise.

Enjoy one soon and thank God for the morning, nature, and eyes and senses to experience it with. 

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

THANX | 02- Family & Affection

"Children are a heritage from the LORD, offspring a reward from him." ~Psalm 127:3

I'm on a break from coaching cheerleading between football and basketball seasons, that means that (at least until games start up again, I have a little more time for my own family during the week. Last night, that meant giving my wife a break from driving our oldest girl to Occupational Therapy in Sioux City. 

This meant that I got to spend from 4:30-8:30 with my daughter, driving up, shopping, waiting for her during OT, and supper. What a great chance to visit about school and friends and life in general.

Thank you, Lord for Grace. I enjoy spending time with her and I'm so proud of her. Thank you for the chance to be with her so much last night.

This morning, once I got all the lunches packed and breakfast served and medicine doled out, I actually had a few minutes before I needed to get on the road to work, so I sat down in an over-stuffed chair. Before long, the middle daughter crawled onto my lap and was telling me about her school day Monday. 

Competitive as they are, our youngest snuggled up too, so that suddenly I was blanked in daughters like a warm quilt. Granted, they both told me that I should dye my goatee- but what a blessing!

Thank you, Lord for my kids.

Monday, November 01, 2010

THANX | 01- Beginning an experiment, get back in touch

Some years I've tried to write devotions during Advent or Lent. This year, I'd like to try something different. I feel like I really want to nurture an attitude of gratitude. I also want to practice making my writing more brief and concise. So everyday of November, up until Thanksgiving- I will simply thank God for something I am grateful for. My challenge to you readers is to try to do the same.

"I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, Always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy" ~Philippians 1:3

Thank You Lord, for friends. I recently got back in touch with a former student whom I hadn't heard from in at least 2 years. It was good to find out that she's doing well.

Thank You Lord, for mentors and mentees. A couple of weeks ago a speaker at a conference encouraged us to make contact with someone who made a difference in our lives and let them know how much they meant to us. I wasn't sure how to reach a former pastor and some former professors, so I started with former students who had changed some of how I thought and taught. Eventually I managed to reach the people who had mentored me. It may have just been small notes, but it certainly reminded me of how much God has blessed me through other people.

Challenge- who has God put in your life who has mentored you, or whom you've had the opportunity to mentor. Thank God for using those people in your life and as long as you're thinking about it, make an effort to thank them too- maybe with a phone call or a letter, maybe just an email or a note on facebook. You'll make their day and help to foster an attitude of gratitude in others too.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Weird reminders

Since no high school students ever come to Bible Study anymore, and our Pastor invited them to his anyway- I've just started to let my wife and girls get in the shower first and enjoy a leisurely cup of coffee while they're at Sunday School . 

This morning I remembered that I had to usher and that the choir was singing. Usually my wife comes home for some coffee after she's done leading the opening music for Sunday School. Today she didn't, finally she called me as asked if I needed a ride or if I was planning on coming to choir practice on my own.

Ordinarily I try to be pretty rational, non-superstitious and assume that if/when God is going to speak to me it will be either through His Word or preaching on His Word. But as theologically conservative and as much of a level-headed Lutheran ad I like to be- I certainly think He's capable of having a sense of humor.

Anyway, when I got in, there was a fortune cookie from the Chinese restaurant I took my girls to for lunch the day before. As I stuck the key in the ignition I absent-mindedly cracked it open. 

"You have a deep appreciation of the arts and music"  it read. Including contemporary praise music, I thought with guilt about being late. It's only a few blocks, but I switched on the radio to hear David Bowie chanting the chorus of his song, "Modern love gets me to the church on time..."

Maybe coincidence, maybe light-hearted encouragement to someone who wanted to go back to bed.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

We're all swine before God's pearls

God Bless You, Mr. RosewaterGod Bless You, Mr. Rosewater by Kurt Vonnegut

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow. This obviously isn't Vonnegut's most famous novel. I'm not qualifies as a literary critic to say whether it's one of his best. And I've only just started reading it, so I'm not ready to say whether it's my favorite of his yet. But I will say this, it has to be the least subtle. What I mean by that is that is is a scathing satire of class and political and moral hypocrisy in America, and he doesn't hold any punches. Because of that, I am loving it!

Witness this exchange between Senator Lister Rosewater with his daughter-in-law Sylvia, discussing the mental health of his son, Eliot:

"I loved Eliot on sight."
"Isn't there some other word you could use?"
"Than what?"
"Than love."
"What better word is there?"
"It was a perfectly good word- until Eliot got hold of it. It's spoiled for me now. Eliot did to the word love what the Russians did to the word democracy. If Eliot is going to love everybody, no matter what they are, no matter what they do, then those of us who love particular people for particular reasons had better find ourselves a new word." He looked at an oil painting of his deceased wife. "For instance- I loved her more than I love our garbage collector, which makes me guilty of the most unspeakable of modern crimes: Dis-crim-i-nay-tion."
Yeah, if you read and believe anything Jesus said in the New Testament, we are all called to love our neighbor indiscriminately and unconditionally- and as Vonnegut shows through his vagabond billionaire protagonist, Eliot Rosewater, if you genuinely follow Christ's example, people with think you're certifiably insane.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Praying for people who drive you crazy

"How many of us have conflicts with someone else- and how many of us pray for that person? We have individuals with whom we are competitive, or whom we dislike or have a quarrel with; but very few of us have true enemies in the martial sense. And yet if Lincoln could pray fervently- and contemporary reports indicate he did- for the people who were opposing him, how much more can we do for someone we just find a little irritating?" 
 John Wooden (A Game Plan for Life: The Power of Mentoring)

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Fwd: Is it November 3 yet?

I know I should take this pledge too, it's just so hard for me to remain civil in the face of blatant propaganda, lies and/or ridiculous levels of stupidity. I am asking God to help me to just delete and not reply to such emails from now on though. And I sure's hell will only hit "reply" and never, ever "reply all" if and when I do fall off the wagon and give in to the urge to "straighten out" somebody's mistaken thinking or flawed logic.

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Sojourners <>
Date: Wed, Oct 6, 2010 at 12:00 PM
Subject: Is it November 3 yet?

Dear Ted,

Because name calling is so 2009 ...

Truth and Civility Marshal Badge

Are you ready? Like it or not, election season is upon us with its requisite yard signs, campaign promises, attack ads, and more people lobbying you in public places and knocking on your door than when it's Girl Scout cookie time (btw, we love those cookies).

Did you know that Sojourners doesn't support any candidates during election season? Our motto is "no permanent friends, no permanent enemies, only permanent issues" -- and, trust us, there will be plenty of issues waiting for us on the other side of Election Day.

Frankly, we'd like to take a vacation until November 3, but since that isn't an option, we came up with a game plan to survive the season of mud-slinging: our first-ever Truth and Civility Election Watch!

Want to join us? Sign our TCEW Pledge, print off our fun deputy badge, and get started.

Truth and Civility Election Watch Pledge

For the duration of the election season, I hereby pledge to uphold the highest standards of truth and civility in word, thought, and deed.

On my honor, I will:

•    Just say no to crazy email forwards, and to any other noxious electronic communication that comes my way. Everyone in your address book will thank us. We promise.

•    Communicate in a spirit of truth, humility, love, and patience with all people I come in contact with, despite our political disagreements or family relationship. That goes for Uncle Frank. Especially Uncle Frank.

•    Question any and all statements that sound mean, vindictive, or absurd; that provide no source or context; or that are politically motivated. So, pretty much everything you hear on cable TV news.

•    Share and enjoy stories of folks who are living out an attitude of truth and civility. Make sure each story meets both requirements: Nice people telling lies don't count.

•    As a witness for God, encourage and spread a message of hope and reconciliation to a world that is deeply divided by political and cultural differences. Like Jesus taught.

In the coming weeks we'll highlight civil discourse and actions on our blog, compile our very own Truth and Civility Honor Roll with submissions from people like you, and call the news media to account when they give airtime or ink to uncivil or untruthful dialogue.

Tired of the hateful rants, lying, and deceptive rhetoric? Don't suffer in silence -- join the Truth and Civility Election Watch today!

Here's to a rousing invigoration of truth and civility. Oh, and don't forget to vote -- it is still important.


Tim, Jim, Elizabeth, and the rest of the team at Sojourners

P.S. Want to take your commitment to Truth and Civility more seriously? Check out our full-length Civility Covenant, which outlines scriptural teachings on the topic -- perfect for teaching at your next Sunday School or small group.

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Saturday, September 11, 2010

Where were you when the Earth stopped turning?

I can't imagine a better way to observe September 11 than with this song.
Let us pray that all Americans would someday believe and live by the sentiments in Allan Jackson's lyrics.

I remember being dumbfounded that day. The sky was the most beautiful blue I'd ever seen. America would never be the same and we were all in shock for weeks.

This song was amazing what Jackson premiered it live on the Country Music Awards. It made me cry, as I'm sure it did millions.

Remember the families of the thousands who lost their lives that day. And remember 1 Corinthians 13:13

"Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning)"

Where were you when the world stopped turning that September day
Out in the yard with your wife and children
Working on some stage in LA
Did you stand there in shock at the site of
That black smoke rising against that blue sky
Did you shout out in anger
In fear for your neighbor
Or did you just sit down and cry

Did you weep for the children
Who lost their dear loved ones
And pray for the ones who don't know
Did you rejoice for the people who walked from the rubble
And sob for the ones left below

Did you burst out in pride
For the red white and blue
The heroes who died just doing what they do
Did you look up to heaven for some kind of answer
And look at yourself to what really matters

I'm just a singer of simple songs
I'm not a real political man
I watch CNN but I'm not sure I can tell you
The difference in Iraq and Iran
But I know Jesus and I talk to God
And I remember this from when I was young
Faith hope and love are some good things he gave us
And the greatest is love

Where were you when the world stopped turning that September day
Teaching a class full of innocent children
Driving down some cold interstate
Did you feel guilty cause you're a survivor
In a crowded room did you feel alone
Did you call up your mother and tell her you love her
Did you dust off that bible at home
Did you open your eyes and hope it never happened
Close your eyes and not go to sleep
Did you notice the sunset the first time in ages
Speak with some stranger on the street
Did you lay down at night and think of tomorrow
Go out and buy you a gun
Did you turn off that violent old movie you're watching
And turn on "I Love Lucy" reruns
Did you go to a church and hold hands with some stranger
Stand in line and give your own blood
Did you just stay home and cling tight to your family
Thank God you had somebody to love

I'm just a singer of simple songs
I'm not a real political man
I watch CNN but I'm not sure I can tell you
The difference in Iraq and Iran
But I know Jesus and I talk to God
And I remember this from when I was young
Faith hope and love are some good things he gave us
And the greatest is love

I'm just a singer of simple songs
I'm not a real political man
I watch CNN but I'm not sure I can tell you
The difference in Iraq and Iran
But I know Jesus and I talk to God
And I remember this from when I was young
Faith hope and love are some good things he gave us
And the greatest is love

The greatest is love
The greatest is love

Where were you when the world stopped turning that September day

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Johnny Poppin 14; we are in him who is true

13I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. 14This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 15And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.
 16If anyone sees his brother commit a sin that does not lead to death, he should pray and God will give him life. I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that he should pray about that. 17All wrongdoing is sin, and there is sin that does not lead to death.
 18We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the one who was born of God keeps him safe, and the evil one cannot harm him. 19We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one. 20We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true—even in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.
 21Dear children, keep yourselves from idols. ~I John 5:13-21
I'm not sure why it's taken me months to get back to writing about the books of 1 and 2 John. Could've just been busy-ness, summer classes and work, family, and church obligations. I think that I may have been unsure of what exactly to write about this part of Chapter 5. I think I may need to break this passage up a little.
13I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. 
If you go back and read through my other commentaries on 1 John, you'll see that I've tried to make a point of explaining that John was writing to encourage believers and to warn them about false teachings that were cropping up.
14This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 15And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.
What an incredible thing! This is THE creator and ruler of the entire universe that we're talking about here- and we not only have permission, but are invited and encouraged to talk to Him! We can do this with "confidence." Prayer is not something that we should ever be afraid of.

Mind you, prayer is as much about God transforming us than it is about getting what we want from Him. He's not going to spoil us like Santa Claus or give us all we dream of like some kind of magic genie. He is a wise and loving parent who knows what's best for us and has plans for us. Thus if we ask anything "according to His will," we know that we as good as already have what we ask of Him.
"If anyone sees his brother commit a sin that does not lead to death, he should pray and God will give him life."
I'll be open here, verses 16-17 may have been the stumbling block that kept me from writing on chapter 5 for so long. Does John mean that we shouldn't pray for murderers? Should we not pray for those who struggle with suicidal thoughts? What about addictions or abuse that could eventually lead to death?

Although, I wondered- was John even talking about physical death? Or could he be talking about spiritual death? If that's the case, does he mean sin that makes us callused about sin itself and gradually separates us from God? Could he mean "debauchery," that is influencing or leading others into sin or away from God? Or does he mean absolute and final denying and denouncing of God, blasphemy to the point of completely rejecting God once and for all- no turning back?

Surely God wants us to intercede for everyone in prayer, even our worst enemies.

Well, I'm still not sure I completely get it, but I THINK that John is warning again about the heresies, the false teachings that were going around that claimed that Jesus was just another human and not God's only begotten Son, and some of them taught that anyone could become "godlike" if they just got in touch with their inner light.

A professor at the Dallas Theological Seminary (Baptist) puts it this way,
"Here, having implied that sins committed by believers (sins “not resulting in death”) may be prayed for and forgiven, the author does not want to leave the impression that such sin is insignificant, because this could be viewed as a concession to the views of the opponents (who as moral indifferentists have downplayed the significance of sin in the Christian’s life). Therefore he reminds his readers that all unrighteousness is sin." 
~Exegetical Commentary on 1 John 5:13-21 By: W. Hall Harris III
If I understand Professor Harris correctly, John is telling readers to pray for fellow believers whom they know of that are sinning, that they would repent and be forgiven. However, John considers the false teachers to not just be unbelievers, but to be beyond help.

Verses 16-17 were hard enough, but I managed to put that on a shelf in my "over-my-head, not necessary to get too hung-up on, ask God about it when I get to Heaven someday" department. But boy that verse 18, that really makes me feel ashamed.

Someone once said that the definition of "death" is "to stop sinning suddenly."

This again, is one of those times when we laymen with we could read Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic. It's also one of those times when context rears it's ugly head. Those of us who believe that the Bible is God's inspired Word like to think that all of it is written to all of us, regardless of what time we live in- yet we can't ignore the fact that the specific author had a specific intention of what he was trying to communicate to a specific audience in a specific place and time, facing specific dilemmas.

In this particular case, remember that John has been warning Christians about false teachers. He is saying that if you're really a believer and follower of Jesus, you aren't going to spread the kinds of lies or mislead people the way that these false prophets were.

When in doubt, "test the spirits" like John told us in 1 John 4:1. There are people who want us to think of them as "Christian," but ask them who they say that He is (Mark 8:29). Do they believe that He is true God? Do they believe that He genuinely died? Why did He die? Do they believe that He actually rose from the dead? Do they know why that matters?

Do they deny the doctrine of the Trinity like some Jehovah's Witnesses and 7th Day Adventists? Do they think that Jesus and Lucifer were brothers? Or that is we're good enough, we can all be gods of our own planets, like some Mormons? Do they think He was a great prophet and teacher, like Muslims and Buddhists? Do they think that He achieved some level of enlightenment or figured out how to tap into His inner-light or more effectively use obscure regions of His brain or become one with the energy force of the universe- things that if we're careful or lucky, we could accomplish too?

Verses 16-21 are basically telling us that if you are in Christ, you won't continue propagating the misinformation about Jesus that those who do not truly know Him keep spreading. If you "get" that, then 16-19 won't make you nervous and verses 20-21 will be incredibly encouraging. They might just make you want to shout "AMEN!"