Thursday, March 17, 2011

Please pray and please help

At 4:31 in the morning of Martin Luther King Day, January 17, 1994 my world shook. That's when the Northridge Earthquake hit Southern California. My wife and I were teaching at Los Angeles Lutheran Jr/Sr High School. Her parents were visiting us that weekend and staying with us in our tiny apartment in Sylmar, CA.

Our apartment was shaken off it's foundation. By the next day we'd realize we were temporarily homeless. I'd never been through even a mild quake before. I held on to the bed for dear life. Seconds seemed like an eternity. I was frantically reciting the Lord's Prayer. We assumed this was "the BIG one." I wondered if it was the end of the world or a nuclear war.

As we struggled to find each other and leave the apartment building we heard the constant crunch of broken glass from windows, mirrors, picture frames and dishes. When we returned to salvage our belongings later, we saw that what kept our bare feet from being bloodied were the layers of books that had fallen from shelves and covered the shards of glass.

The four of us sat in our underwear under blankets on the curb. Frightened neighbors smoked cigarettes to settle their nerves, but this frightened us because we could smell the gas leaking from severed pipes and watched as a fire blazed on the hill across the highway from us.
I remember that one of the things that made me realize the magnitude of the destruction was the fact that we could hear and see sirens of emergency and police vehicles and helicopters but that none of them ever stopped at our apartment complex. The pool had been emptied by the jolt. There were frequent after shocks where you could literally see the asphalt roll and the buildings sway.
God got us through and as stressful as the next year, including the post traumatic stress was, we now look at it as a time when He was forging our faith.

Our quake was said to be a 6.8, though many accounts vary from 6.4 to 8.0. I can not imagine what it was like for the people of Japan to go through a 9.0!
This morning, my mother forwarded a prayer request from the K-12 school I attended growing up. Because of my own experience with an earthquake, you can imagine that I had to post it here. What follows is the forwarded email and the notes which I included when I posted it on our church's website.

From: Julia Perry-Clark, Christ Lutheran School, Phoenix, AZ Sent:Friday, March 11, 2011 10:07 AM 
Dear Friends of our Japanese family of Urawa Lutheran School;
May the God of protection surround them now as they are remaining at the ULS campus following the powerful earthquake that struck  Friday at 2:46 PM.  Mr. Hodgson and I reached the school about an hour ago, 12:30 AM their time and we spoke directly with Miss Ishii and she shared that all of the students and faculty are still at school and not allowed to leave. Please keep them all in your prayers today.  We will call them again later to check in.Please pass this prayer request on  to your circle of family and friends.May God use this time in a powerful way as the Christian community at ULS reaches out to all of the students and faculty in the name of Jesus.
In Christ,Julia Perry-Clark
Dear Members of St. John, Charter Oak- 

I attended CLS growing up in Phoenix. Bill Hodgson was one of my junior high school teachers and one of the reasons I became a teacher. Please pray for Bill and Julia, for ULS and for all of the thousands of families that have been effected by this tragic disaster in Japan.

Christ's servant,
Ted Mallory

Here is a downloadable bulletin insert to help churches wishing to support LCMS relief efforts in Japan:

If you would like to support the people of Japan through Lutheran World Relief, please send your donation to:
Lutheran World Relief - Japan Earthquake/Tsunami
P.O. Box 17061
Baltimore, MD 21298-9832

Or, click here to make a secure gift online. Be sure to designate it "Japan Earthquake/Tsunami"

Religious leader loved enemies, prayed, taught, stood for grace

Originally published in the Charter Oak-Ute NEWSpaper & Schleswig Leader, Thursday, March 15, 2007 

Once upon a time, in the ‘Dark Ages’ there was a Christian family living near the coast of Britain in an outpost of the dying Roman empire. This family included a young boy by the name of Patrick. Perhaps you’ve heard of him.

Legend has it that he was kidnapped by a band of barbarians, Celtic barbarians. Did you happen to see “Barbarians Week” on the History Channel? Great stuff. The Celts made some great swords, they beat iron into steel... but I digress.

The Celts, known for their pagan worship of tree spirits, took Patrick for a slave. Among his other duties, he was taught fishing and shepherding. During his long hours watching sheep, he spent a lot of time talking to God. Some people call that prayer.

It was an odd thing because he wasn’t mistreated too badly as a slave, as a matter of fact, he became very fond of the people he served and had compassion for them. How about that? Sounds crazy. Actually, it sounds a little bit like something Jesus once said, what was that? Oh yeah, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44)
But the shepherd slave boy did miss his family. Legend has it that he promised God that he would become a priest if He let him somehow escaped.

Sure enough, (you knew where this was going, didn’t you?) sure enough, Patrick escaped and became a priest. Eventually he volunteered to return to the people who had kidnapped him and became the first serious Christian missionary to Ireland.

Now the legends say that Ireland was being plagued with snakes. In a story that was part Moses and part Pied Piper, Patrick was supposed to have led all the snakes into the sea.

Truth is never as exciting, but sometimes just as important as fiction. Geologists and biologists suspect that there never were snakes in Ireland to begin with, yet archaeologists have found lots of images of snakes there. Well, scholars have two thoughts on the snake thing.

One is that snakes and serpent-like dragons were used in much of pagan Celtic designs. The Celts had at one time dominated most of Europe and eventually settled in the British Isles, so they surely would’ve seen plenty of snakes beyond Ireland. At any rate, some historians think that Patrick’s evangelism was so successful and spreading the Word of Jesus, that he symbolically drove out the snakes by overcoming the ancient spirit and nature worship.
The other theory is that he drove the snakes out symbolically by teaching the truth and overcoming a popular heresy of his time, Pelagianism.

Pelagius was a monk, supposedly from Ireland, who taught that the human will, along with good deeds and self-denial, was enough to be considered righteous. He told his people that being good was all you needed for salvation. To him, the grace of God was just a booster; a help, but not necessarily essential. Pelagius didn’t believe in “original sin,” but thought that Adam had just set bad example, rather than condemning us all to perpetual state of selfishness and short-sightedness. He also thought that Christ’s good example showed us the path to salvation, not by His sacrifice on the cross, but through self control.

Because of the whole Adam and Eve being tempted by the serpent in the garden imagery, this false doctrine of Pelagianism was often represented by snakes.

Whether God miraculously used him to save Ireland from literal snakes or just from “snakes in the grass,” you can understand why Patrick became a national hero.

Perhaps his most important contribution was his helping people overcome their confusion about the Trinity. He used the shamrock, the three leafed clover, to explain how God is three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and yet only one being, only one God.

Patrick’s success at converting the Irish people to Christianity upset the Celtic Druid priests and chieftains. They had him arrested several times, but he escaped every time. He established monasteries and set up schools and churches all over the emerald isle.

After thirty years in ministry he retired to County Down, where died on March 17, 461 A.D. That day has been commemorated as St. Patrick’s Day ever since.

No historians have been able to find any evidence that Patrick himself ever tried green beer.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Door Matts #3- How do you find peace? Stop fighting it- duh!

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” ~Matthew 11:28-30

I've already figured out that it will be pretty unrealistic for me to think I could write full-blown essays on different parts of the book of Matthew for the next 40 days- too much life interfering, to many worries, to many responsibilities, deadlines, schedules, pressures etc. etc.

Maybe you can relate. But in the middle of all this torrent, God reminded me of something He's told me over and over again. To stop, to “Be still, and know that I am God; " Psalm 46:10

He was trying to tell me yesterday too, I'm reading Chinese church leader Watchman Nee's 'Sit, Walk, Stand.' As the title suggests, the whole first chapter is about bing still and not doing but just being. This isn't just a reflection of Eastern philosophy, this means resting in Christ's accomplishments and His victory. "And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus" ~Ephesians 2:6

Today I was especially anxious about a variety of different stresses. On the drive in to work I was nervously spinning from one radio station to another, not able to listen to the daily news about high oil prices, the struggling economy, political unrest in the Middle East and political polarization here at home. Eventually I landed on Charles Swindoll's show, Insight for Living. Whatever I might say about his mega-church and media empire- whenever I've heard him teaching, he has taught God's Word.

This morning he was talking about one of my favorite parts of Matthew, the Sermon on the Mount, but for whatever reason, he deviated a bit from Matthew 5 to Jesus promise in Matthew 11.

He explained that the Greek word for "gentle" that Jesus uses here is the same used on horses that have been domesticated (broke). Surely an analogy that a Texan like Swindoll can appreciate. His point was that like a trained horse, Jesus retains all of the power and strength, but unlike a wild mustang, He also has self-control.

If we can't handle our load, it may just be because we're working too hard, we want to do things OUR way and we want to be in control. We aren't humble or gentle, we're proud and maybe just flailing about recklessly. When things go bad, we feel like we're spiraling out of control. But He has already gone through the worst stress and survived. He has already defeated every possible enemy and won.

If we will just calm down and trust Him to help us carry our worries and our woes, guess what? He will teach us His ways and He will get us through whatever we're going through. Our problems are temporary but He is eternal.

And, if instead of undertaking a behemoth hermetical study of a two or three chapters worth of of teaching, we decide just to share how He used a few short verses to work in a real and practical way in your life... He can turn that into a whole long essay and not merely a pithy quote. It's crazy, it's like multiplying bread and fish. It's not what we can do alone with difficulty- it's what He can do with us easily, if we'll just be humble and calm and trust in Him.

Me ka pule,
Pirate Ted

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Ash Wednesday

For I eat ashes as my food and mingle my drink with tears ~Psalm 102:9

Every Ash Wednesday I want to write something very profound and reflective. I like to read T.S. Elliot's poem, 'Ash Wednesday,' and I miss attending morning chapel services either at Concordia University, Nebraska or at Los Angeles Lutheran Jr/Sr High.

At Concordia, you almost felt Catholic. You were part of the eons old ritual of this first day of the season of reflection, repentance and sacrifice that is Lent, preparing your mind and heart to receive Christ again on Easter. 

Of course (as I sit here listening to Gregorian chants from the Netherlands on it occurs to me that being so self-indulgently melodramatic about basking in tradition and identification may actually be a little antithetical to what Lent is really all about.

What I loved about our "contemporary" youth-oriented rituals at Lutheran High is how deeply meaningful and practical they were. Ash Wednesday was a powerful object lesson. Many churches will save the palm fronds from the previous year's Palm Sunday services and use them to make the ashes that their pastors use to mark parishioners' heads with the sign of the cross. 

What we did at Lutheran High was more interactive. John Imme, our Spanish teacher and pastor of an interracial church in nearby Lake View Terrace spoke to the students about how sin is anything that impedes or interferes with our relationship with God. Sin can also damage or destroy our relationships with others and that ultimately, whether through guilt, or self-destructive choices, sin erodes our sense of self and as the Bible says, leads to death. 

Then he encouraged everyone to write down those sins which we asked God to help us be freed from. Everyone was to fold these strips of paper tightly, share them with no one else, and put them in an offering plate. Then Stan Dobler and Al Ludtke, the Religion teachers would take the papers outside behind the school and burn them all.

John explained that on Good Friday, Jesus Himself was the ultimate sacrificial burnt offering that paid the price for our sins. That with the resurrection on Easter Sunday our freedom from sin, death, and the Devil was won and that now our sins are as far from us as the East is from the West.

The ashes were then brought back into the chapel. John explained that Jesus gave up His very life for us, in response to that love, many Christians chose to sacrifice something during Lent, as a show of appreciation and as a way to remind themselves of how much He sacrificed for us. Then, they used those ashes, the burnt sins, for marking student's foreheads with the cross.

May the God of Easter, bless you this Ash Wednesday, renew you, and help you grow deeper in your relationship with Him and your service to others. 

Me ka pule,
Pirate Ted

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Door Matts #2- A Jew in the IRS and a swashbuckling Italian

THIS TIME I actually wrote something, instead of just starting a draft and accidentally letting Blogger post it with nothing but the picture and the Bible verse. Hope it was worth the wait. Happy Fat Tuesday fellow pirates! Once Mardi Gras is over, I hope you'll visit here for some spiritual feeding throughout Lent.

This Lent I'm trying to write a series of essays on the Gospel of Matthew, I call them "Door Matts," because it's the first book in the New Testament, it's sort of the welcome mat, the gateway-drug, if you will, into Christianity. These may not go in any particular order. Hopefully, we'll dig up plenty of pirate's treasure as we weigh anchor and delve into the headwaters of God's living waters!

Matthew 9:9-13
9 As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him. 10 While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
12 On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 13 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Ya gotta love this. Michelangelo Caravaggio was the most famous painter in Italy in the early 1600's. He had a reputation as a passionate, short tempered playboy who got in lots of fights and plenty of trouble with the cops. Lots of mystery surrounds his death, a fugitive on the lamb for accident;y killing someone, he is said to have succumb to wounds received in a sword fight while hiking a long way seeking pardon and protection from some religious leader of some kind.

Fascinating as his personal life is, I'm more fascinated with Caravaggio's paintings (of course as a high school Art teacher I would be). He used powerful dark backgrounds like his Dutch contemporary Rembrant. This is called "tenebreaism," from the Latin "Tenebre," for dark (like Good Friday Tenebre service). This way, his subjects were lit in a focused, almost theatrical way. This contrast made for extremely dramatic scenes.

He was also known for his gritty realism. Other painters gingerly flattered their subjects, especially in religious paintings; David as big as Goliath, Mary young and attractive at Jesus' death, Apostles dignified and blemish-free. Caravaggio painted age, poverty, sweat, blood and dusty feet.

I love this painting of the calling of Levi (Matthew). Caravaggio made the tax collectors and officials in contemporary dress. Imagine Jesus in an IRS office, pointing over the cubicles to Matthew in his button down shirt and tie, talking with colleagues over by the Xerox machine. As I understand it, this made this painting somewhat controversial at the time. Today we just think it's corny because first century Palestinian Jews are dressed like 17th Century European dandies, at the time it was really edgy.

Instead of angels and cherubs coming down from Heaven onto Matthew, Caravaggio simply uses the daylight from a window behind Jesus to follow his gaze and arm to an incredulous Levi. The tax collector has a strange look on his face like "Me? You want ME to be Your disciple? Are you NUTS? What could you possibly want with somebody like me?"

But exactly Matt, Jesus didn't come for those goody-goody Pharisees who are so pious and perfect that they don't think they need God. He came for the rest of us, as Grace the secretary in 'Ferris Bueller's Day Off' might say, He came for "the sportos, the motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, waistoids, dweebies, dickheads - they all adore him. They think he's a righteous dude."

Was Matthew a sell-out to the Romans? Was he greedy or corrupt? Was he a nerdy, bean-counting accountant? Of the four Gospels, his is the one most aimed at Jewish readers. As someone who collected taxes for Herod the regional tetrarch he was probably resented by his own people.

Yet Jesus chose him. Jesus chose him to follow him and to tell His story, first to those very people who resented him, then to all of us. His is the first name Sunday School kids memorize when they have to learn the books of the New Testament.

You have to love Matthew's response to being called, he throws Jesus a party at his house- and he invites his friends so that they can meet Jesus too! Shouldn't we all be like that? That's when the religious leaders threw a huff. "Well, Jesus can't be trusted or respected as a spiritual teacher, look who he hangs out with!"

After Jesus ascension, tradition holds that Matthew stayed in and around Jerusalem for several years preaching to the Jews. Jewish Christians were sometimes called Nazarenes at that time. Later, he is believed to go down to Ethiopia like Phillip, Macedonia (Greece) and eventually up on to what is today Iran and possibly to where Pakistan and Turkmenistan are now. That makes some sense to me because he's often paired with Thomas, who was supposed to have gone all the way to India.

Sunday, March 06, 2011


Here are just few church-words that I feel are woefully misinterpreted. It seems to me that if we used and understood these terms correctly, we would be less likely to be misled by mis-perceptions and/or false teachings.

  • An "Apostle" is one who is sent out on a mission, not just 11 of the 12 guys in Jesus inner circle. If you believe and accept the Great Commission (Matt 28:16-20), then you too are, like the Blues Brothers, "on a mission from God."
  • A "Prophet" is NOT somebody who foresees or predicts the future, that's something that sorcerers and soothsayers do (or pretend to do) and that's a form of divination, which God prohibits (Leviticus 19:26). REAL prophecy, simply put, is speaking God's Word or what He has revealed to you. Often, prophetic speaking is unpopular because God is having the prophets say something that people would rather not hear. When you look at the Old Testament prophets from Jonah to Jeremiah, Elijah to Zechariah,  many of them faced opposition but all of them spoke truth to power.

    You might've noticed that this one is part of the name of this website. I don't post malarkey about "the end-times" here, and many's the time when I've tried to challenge the popular assumptions in our culture and things I feel aren't authentically based on Scripture but are often presented as presumably "Christian." Mind you, I'm not great prophet and I don't pretend that every one of my opinions are God-breathed, but I am of the opinion that just as Jesus is out Prophet, Priest, and King- we too, His followers (disciples) have been given the mission (apostolic) to share His Word and His truths (prophets), intercede on behalf of others (priest), and set a positive example and/or step-up as servant-leaders (kings).
  • Most people don't realize that "apocalypse" is a Greek word ( ἀποκάλυψις apokálypsis) that means "lifting of the veil" or "revelation." That meant that it is a disclosure or revelation of something hidden from us by falsehood and misconception. So a prophet brings an apocalypse. Sure, eventually the ultimate apocalypse will be at Jesus' second coming, but I think it's a word that gets thrown around carelessly by people who either don't know what it means ("snow-pocalypse") or who want to scare people into accepting their version of Christianity (the apocalypse, armageddon, the rapture, the tribulation, etc.) Usually this comes from a tradition of special-dispensationalism which is a late 19th/early 20th century misinterpretation of Scripture that developed here in America but more often than not, it's a desperate tactic used by zealous believers who don't seem to have enough faith themselves to rely on grace and love, so they turn to fear and guilt for the leverage they think they need to convince people to become Christian.
I hope that this brief vocabulary lesson in religious jargon was apocalyptic for you!

Prayer for Transfiguration Sunday

transform our perceptions
with the purest light that shines,
and recast out life's intentions
to the shame of your designs
till we seek no other glory
that what lies past Calvary's hill
and our living
and our dying
and our rising
by Your will."

-Thomas H. Troger, 1994
'Swiftly Pass the Coulds of Glory'
Lutheran Service Book (LSB) #416

"Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is- his good, pleasing and perfect will." ~Romans 12:1-2