Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Big Daddy

I'm reading through Genesis, in particular the story of Abraham as I will be preahing it from January to April.  It's funny because I can't stop reading.  I know I'm only preaching part of the story this week but I keep finding myself racing ahead to see how God shows his faithfulness and how Abraham grows on his physical and spiritual journey.  The picture above captures the key aspect of Abraham's story.  Basically Abraham is this guy without hope.  His father and brother have died.  Their plan to move to Canaan ends for some reason, and even though Abram has a lot of stuff he has no future because his wife is barren.  The Bible says, Now Sarai was barren; she had no children.  Either the Bible is being repettively redundant or it's trying to emphasis the severity of this situation.  She was barren she couldn't have any freaking kids.  Is how I might phrase it.  Anyway the point is Abram (whose name mean father) can't have any kids.  There is no future for his family. All his stuff will go to some punk kid (Lot or later we are told a servant).  It's all over for his family line.
That's where God steps in and gives him a new hope and a new vision. He says, Abram with me their is a future.  With me there is a life that you can't even imagine.  You'll be famous, and wealthy and people thousands of years later will be reading and talking about you, and your kids.  I'm going to change your name from an ironic joke. Abram= daddy when you can't have kids.  To something meaningful  Abraham= father of multitudes and have it be a reality.  I'm gonna change your name from Daddy to Big Daddy. (thanks Leo Schuster)  Just trust me.

Trust. That's the hard part Abraham goes through victories and struggles as he waits on God, as he learns faith and trust in the God who promises more than we could ever dream and then gives it to us, but not necessarily in the timeframe we were hoping for.  That's the God I seek to follow, and as I read this story I'm encouraged to stay on schedule to stay on the path, but also reminded that when I screw up God is willing to step in to straighten me and the situation out.  I'm excited about preaching Abraham's story, but more excited about living my own, because I know that there will be so many unexpected twists and turns and I'll get freaked out and scared and sad and have doubts.  BUT I know through it all God is going to work something amazing through all the times I screw up.  So let's go, let's do this, let's live this life, let's screw things up so that God can straighten me out and so that I can grow into a person of deep faith who eventually gets it.  Who eventually lives a life that is a blessing to all people.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Shame on Me

I wrote earlier about how astonishingly old I am getting and that one of the main reasons I am getting old is I don't really listen to music anymore.  So today I was looking back at some music that came out in 2009 and noticed that I had missed some other really old guys coming out with another album, and I didn't even know about it.  The Band:  U2.  Now I could roll out the excuses, primarily that I was in India when it happened and that they didn't really promote the album before and that I'm uber busy and whatnot.  But instead I have decided to admit I'm old and that I'd given up on continued transformation, and inspiration.  Now that I'm doing this blog I've recommitted to get younger, to listen to music and to allow the sounds of today inform my understanding of God's creation and to continue growing as a person and christian and pastor.  So for your listening pleasure something Magnificent.

As I think about faith and life the above story is played out all too often.  No matter who we are we get satisfied with the thoughts and beliefs and feelings that we have.  We stop listening to other people, we stop learning we become old and stale and make excuses to instead position ourselves as "timeless" or "strong", or "certain" or enlightened.  But the reality is we become closed, Christians and nonchristians, conservatives and liberals, everyone.  We only listen to and read things that confirm our beliefs or hopes or perspectives and dismiss out of hand things we don't agree with.  That's dangerous.  That's what happened with the Phairisees, and can happen with all of us.  So we need to understand that while God's word is true it should always be asking us to change, always be making us look for ways that we fall short of God's perfection and in reading his word openly we'll be transformed into something magnificent.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Christmas Music: The Key to a Joyful Christmas

 Christmas is supposed to be a season of Joy, not stress. Just in case you forgot.

Anyway for me the key to Christmas is the music.  I love singing out at church and at home to the classics and newer renditions of songs as people put their own spin on the songs.   Christmas still inspires new music to be written by popular and Christian artists, by punk bands, country singers, and rappers.  Christmas inspires us to sing out to sing songs new and old as the Christmas story reminds us of the greatest gift ever given and helps us to focus on what God wants us to be, by reminding us of his humility, peace and joy.  I hope you enjoy the Christmas Playlist as you read.

The song I'm going to focus on is Away in the Manger.  It's a song by Martin Luther who wrote a lot about the manger as a symbol of Christmas. What impacted me most was that he talked about how today we are the manger, because we hold Jesus.  The question for us is are we carrying Christ to the world, are we holding him up so that they can come and worship like the Shepherds and wise men?
Or are we just full of other stuff.  Manger comes from the french word meaning to eat.  I think of the Italian, Mangia! Mangia! Eat! Eat! for some reason.  I guess the alternative to holding the Christ child is for us to be full of common things.  For a manger it is food for the animals, but today it might be that Christmas is just about big family meals and get togethers.  Maybe it's more about the "consuming" part, and it's just about gorging on all the stuff and sales.  But it's meant to be different to really have a Christmas story we need to provide a place for the sweet child's head, the prince of peace.  Amen.

Also Enjoy this new Manger song by Chris Tomlin.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The gift of life

Cynthia Nixon says she can't keep quiet about the abortion debate as it relates to the proposed health care reform.   She says that both sides want to lessen the number of abortions and yet she wants the Stupak amendment out of the bill, which basically upholds the current federal position of not using tax dollars to fund abortion.  In the interview she mentions rape, incest and situations where the mother's life is threatened and says we shouldn't punish people who have those difficult circumstances thrust upon them...however the Stupak amendment doesn't limit federal dollars for abortion in those situations. 

I think one thing we can be sure of in the US the best way to make people care about something is to make there be a financial incentive or cost tied to the matter.  See dieting, smoking, and dead beat dads.  If we are serious about limiting abortion doesn't it make sense that an additional cost be tied to it? 

There are 3,500-3,700 Abortions a DAY in the USA 1.1-1.3 million a year.  That's a huge problem and if we underwrite the cost, we incentivize poor family planning.   That number will rise and we'll all be worse off for  it. Why not put our money where our mouths are and really truly attempt to lower the number of abortions, regardless of what side of the debate we are on and while the USA is allowing abortion, not mandating that we all foot the outrageous medical bills for the "choice" of some.

Psalm 139:13-18

 13 For you created my inmost being;
       you knit me together in my mother's womb.
 14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
       your works are wonderful,
       I know that full well.
 15 My frame was not hidden from you
       when I was made in the secret place.
       When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,
 16 your eyes saw my unformed body.
       All the days ordained for me
       were written in your book
       before one of them came to be.
 17 How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!
       How vast is the sum of them!
 18 Were I to count them,
       they would outnumber the grains of sand.
       When I awake,
       I am still with you.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Choosing the Sex of your Child?

On CNN there was this article and video about new technology being developed that would allow people to choose the sex of their child.  It was designed with the thinking that there are some fatal and debilitating genetic traits that are gender specific.  There aren't a whole lot of these but for those with the trait the thinking was to spare parents fear, heartbreak and the children difficulties at some point in life. 

Of course, if there is a technology and a desire we are going to look for ways to profit from it.  So now the questions of is it moral for people to choose the sex of their kids?  Can we allow families to get the boy or girl to "complete"  their family?  Is it alright for people who want only boys to ensure that's what they get?  Are reproductive desires our right, and can we determine, when how many, and which kind we prefer. Or should there be some restraint in these matters?  Who decides?  What do we think?

I was actually surprised by some of the representatives from certain countries that said they felt it was wrong.  I was surprised by others that come from more "conservative" nations saying it was ok, and I was really impressed by the Chinese guys response.  Praise God for the Church in China and the influence he may soon wield in a very important country in the future.

The thing that is scariest, all these science fiction works like Gattaca predicted genetic favoritism and priority, there are works about body part harvesting, which may be happening in China.  Be afraid of China, with the power it is gaining and the power Satan currently has in that system.  These are all very important ethical questions.

So let me pose the question.  Would you choose the sex of your child if you could?  What if there was a genetic predisposition to a gender of the child? 

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Sick of Health Care, Literally.

 Ok so here is this article from Chief Executive Magazine, which my wife read to me. (I didn't even know there was such a magazine, let alone read it.)  The gist of the article is the entire health care debate is making people sick.  That said I think we do need major reform concerning health care and that because of the very wealthy being entrenched in the status quo nothing approaching the needs of the country will get done.  I also think that once the gov't gets involved future changes are even less likely.  So basically I think this whole thing is a mess, it's not going to get fixed well, just a band-aid on the gash that will become infected later.  I wish at some level Americans could remember that we shouldn't be asking what can my country do for you, but what you can do for your country.  If we had that attitude rather than a hand-out entitlement attitude, we'd actually see some progress on this and other necessary areas of reform.  As it is, no dice.

Friday, December 11, 2009

SU-rprise, SU-rprise

Last night I watched Syracuse beat down a game Florida team again and again.  The 12 point victory is the smallest margin of victory for the Orange(men) this season.  Watching the game, especially the first half, that and the second half, got me really excited about another possible National Championship.  This team really has it all.  They have big bodies down low that can score and rebound.  They have a great pro prospect in Wesley Johnson who I thought played poorly, and still ended up with 17 pts and 10 rbs.  They have an improving Freshman PG, a sharpshooter who is now driving and distributing in Rautins, and 2 high performers coming off the bench. Most of what I like is they play with intensity, which can often be lacking in a 2-3 zone, but not these Orange...(men).  It's fun watching them some of the best teams the SEC, ACC, and Pac-10 have to offer.  I'm giddy, even.

The best thing about this season is that Syracuse lost 3 starters last year.  All of whom left early, and had the pundits and myself not expecting very much.  Then they lost to Lemoyne a D-II school across town in Syracuse.  That lost to the Dolphins made many who had hope in this team to lose it.

So the stage was set for a terrible, dissappointing season...and that makes this ascent by my Syracuse Orange so surprising, so exciting so perfectly timed for Christmas.  Christmas is the story of God providing an unforeseen gift to a people who without him would be without hope.  That's been my preaching theme this year as I look through the Christmas story.  To us it's the same old same old.  (Like being a UCLA fan in the 60's-70's and to a lesser extent Duke fan in the 90's)

But if you read it with open eyes, with a fresh perspective you realize that the Christmas story is surprise after surprise after surprise.  Zacharias your ancient wife Elizabeth is are going to have a son. Mary I know you are a virgin, but you will be impregnated with the Son of God, Joseph your wife to be is pregnant, but she was completely faithful.  Hey Shepherds, the Savior of the world is in town, why not visit him.  Wise men, I know you have dedicated your lives to searching the skies and now you have seen the greatest most amazing star to ever appear, and by the way don't go back to Herod.  Each of these situations is amazing in it's own right, so I won't even mention the fact that a freaking angel came to these people to surprise them and turn their world upside down.

That's who God is, in the darkness.  In times of hopelessness he brings the most amazing surprises into our lives.  He's the God who says in Habakkuk 1:5
"Look at the nations and watch—
       and be utterly amazed.
       For I am going to do something in your days
       that you would not believe,
       even if you were told.

and in Ephsians 3:20

 20Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

He does stuff that we wouldn't believe, that we can't even imagine. That's our God, the God of surprises.  Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Tiger, Moby, and the Rest of Us

I'm gonna ask you to look away
I love my hands but it hurts to pray
The life I have isn't what I'd seen
The sky is not blue and the field is not green

Wait for me (8x)


I'm gonna ask you to look away
My broken life will never stay
Try too hard and I always lack
Days are grey and the nights are black

Wait for me (7x)

Moby's latest album with the same title as the song.  Is a haunting soulful song of sorrow and dissappointment.  It is from the perspective of someone who is ashamed of what their life has become.  They are broken and hurting.  They just want some time to put things back together to show you that they can be more than they are, they can be better.  It's just gonna take some time. 

I think Tiger definitely feels this way.  He's worked hard to put on the perfect show, to have us think that he's the model golfer, a paragon of class, and not a John Daly.  Now things are spinning out of control, he delayed any statement, any explanation.  He's still not speaking as everyone jumps on the trainwreck bandwagon.  He just wants us all to give him some space, some time. 

 The reality is we all feel like this at times. Our lives aren't as glorious and perfect as we dreamed when as when we 1) Graduated 2) Got Married 3) Started our Careers, whatever.  Our lives our broken, but we want to fix them.  We feel like we can, we must, but as we look around all our efforts haven't got us where we want to be.  We've had some success, but often at the expense of other areas we'd really like to excel at.

It's from this reality that the Gospel makes sense.  Where the message of Jesus really is good news.  The Gospel says that we are all sinners.  That we are often our own worse enemies, that our lives are broken and hurting because of the choices we make, and to an extent the choices that others around us make. But the Gospel is that in Christ we can be new people.  That he will bring about the change in us that we haven't been able to bring about on our own.  My prayer for Tiger is that he won't just feel bad, but that he'll understand his need to give up some control in order to have true healing in his life.  That's my prayer for us all, my stubborn self included. 

Monday, December 7, 2009

Mainline Morality

So the Mainstream church in America is dying quickly.  In large part due to their desire to reflect and confirm the values of the culture. In particular, the mainstream church has put cultural values over Biblical ones. The Evangelical Lutheran Church became the latest mainline denomination to further embrace the homosexual agenda.  In August they voted to call homosexual pastors in committed monogamous relationships.  This week their bishop actually spoke to the reason they have adopted this position and why so many conservative denominations condemn this move (Hint: It's not because we think homosexuality is a particularly evil sin).  Basically Bishop Hanson said the Bible doesn't understand this issue as well as we do so I'm gonna go with my beliefs rather than God's word.  Oh yeah, plus if we do this we might be able to see some growth and stem the flood of people from our Church.  People probably aren't leaving because we don't really care what the Bible says, it's prolly cause we aren't gay friendly.

The Anglican Church which started this whole movement hasn't found that to be the case at all. Many churches have left, other denominations have formed in response, still others are under the leadership of the Nigerian Bishop rather than the American one.  The Episcopal church is rife with division and anger. Yet despite the Archbishop of Canterbury (the "Pope" of the Anglican church) saying that those who want to push this agenda ahead must show restraint in light of the deep divide, the American Anglican's are once again appointing a gay bishop to the consternation of the rest of the global "communion."  This is arrogance, plain and simple.  I guess that's what makes us American. Or something.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

"Hollywood" meets some "Real Christians"

Yesterday I read this article about Sanda Bullock and the movie The Blind Side. Basically this Christian couple "adopts" this young man and help him realize his God given potential in many ways (spiritually, academically, athletically). Michael Oher is now an offensive lineman for the Baltimore Ravens. More important than that Michael now knows who Jesus is and the selfless love his people are called to live out.  We see the impact one person can have on the life of another if we will invest, and if people are open to us. 

I mention the article because of the flawed view of the church that Sandra Bullock had, and how impressed people are when the run into people who "walk the walk."  Miss Bullock basically felt that the entire church was hypocritical.  Saying one thing, doing another and then telling other people not to do those same bad things.  Then she ran into Leigh Anne Tuohy and her preconceptions were put in check.  She realized there are people who live their faith. The question for us is.  Why do people have such a bad image of us, and why aren't more of us impacting the world and showing them that we LOVE them.  This is the failure of the church today.  Christians are supposed to be known by their love.  When we tell people Christians they should get all excited because they know we are going to be amazing to them, instead they want to avoid us or argue about abortion and homosexuality.  That shouldn't be the first response.  We need to be more involved in the lives of people around us to change that. Only then will people want to know Jesus like we know him.

For more on this thought read this.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Rekindling the musical flame

I am old.  32 years to be exact, but it's not the years that make me old.  It's not that I'm a father of 3, that I don't party on the weekends, that my basketball game becomes increasingly limited.  The other day the reality that I am now officially old dawned on me when my dad was talking about how he doesn't know any of the new songs, by any of the popular artists.  Neither do I.  We both listen to talk radio, lots of sports talk. I listen to more sermons than he does but other than that we are in the same boat.
 The other element to this puzzle came when  I was reading through Time's top blog's and came across one dedicated to really good songs.  I like really good music, but don't really go looking for it very often. When I was in PA I listened to XPN radio and loved it because people who really loved music would host the shows and do all the research finding new upcoming and deep artists.  They did the work for me and made finding good music easy.  When I moved to Illinois 7 years ago I couldn't find a radio station that played anything new I liked ever, let alone all the time.
So now I listen to talk radio.  Sad.  Old.

I will be sad and old no longer.  Today I give you Son Volt!

Son Volt's front man Jay Farrar was part of Uncle Tupelo with Wilco's Jeff Tweedy.  Their music has gone different directions, both fabulous. Anyway, the newest album American Central Dust includes the song Down to the Wire.  

Wake up to the Biddle Street blues
Can't shake the news
All the way to the big dome
They're trying

The intrigues of the new royalty
And the believers
In the afterlife
Share the same gamblers pages

Cobblestone streets saw 3 sovereign flags
As they raised their glasses to conquest and nation
Still pawns playing out the legacy
Of long dead industry titans and haters of men
Feeling down to the wire
Feeling down to the wire

Plastic grocery bags fly from trees
Proud symbols of a cavalier progress
Memories and landscapes in triage
Disappearing averages, permanent changes

No jury will have a final say
Everyone knows the jury is guilty
Faced with no plan at all
Just to trick a smile out of the moment

Feeling down to the wire
Feeling down to the wire

Feeling down to the wire
Feeling down to the wire

It talks about the a hopelessness born from humankind's sin,  from our willingness to turn a blind eye to the injustice and inequity (like during the Katrina debacle). He throws the church under the bus, as is common these days, but points to a deeper reality, the sinfulness of all those in positions of power.  It talks about our destruction of God's world in the name of progress.  But the real hopelessness in Farrar's lyrics is that there will never be any justice, that there will be no end of people abusing the system to get ahead, no end to people selling out the future in order to enjoy this moment.  It's that kind of attitude in today's world that has Jay worried.  Worried that with all the progress, this world might end pretty quickly.

The funny thing about this song is it points out the hope of the Gospel, the hope of the church and those of us who "believe in the afterlife."   That is one of the messages that gets lost when we avoid talking about sin and God's judgment. The message is that God brings judgment. He will punish those who abuse the poor.  God's justice is no joke.  If you mess with the most vulnerable people, you have to deal with God, when he's angry.  You won't like God when he's angry.  So let's not dare to forget the most vulnerable during this season of giving, and caring.  Let's be like God and have a heart for those that most people don't even give a second glance.