Wednesday, August 26, 2009

When ex-Army Rangers play small town Minnesota baseball or let them wear skirts

Riley is an ex-Army Ranger. He pulled three tours of duty in the war zones. As I heard it, it was late in the first play off game for the State tournament when Riley was inserted as a pinch runner at second base. The game was tied as the batter hooked a soft liner over the shortstop. Riley took off from second base with one thing in mind—he wanted to score. Rounding third base, he kicked it into over drive. He hurtled towards home plate with all the gusto he could muster. His purpose was to score.

Standing in his way was the opposing team’s catcher. His purpose is to protect home plate, not allowing anyone to score. A mighty collision was inevitable. The ex-Army Ranger on a mission to score and the small town Minnesota factory worker bent on protecting home plate. When the dust settled, the ex-Army Ranger was thrown out of the game for hitting the catcher too hard. Yes, he was playing with too much enthusiasm.

My suggestion for the small town Minnesota baseball tournament officials is this—let’s give skirts to all the ex-Army Rangers who play the game. Yes, that way we will at least know who they are; then they can run past the catcher and with one fell swoop the catcher can tag out the ex-army ranger and pat him on his tush at the same time, while he pirouettes toward the dugout.

Judges 11:1-7 says: 1 Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty warrior. His father was Gilead; his mother was a prostitute. 2 Gilead's wife also bore him sons, and when they were grown up, they drove Jephthah away. "You are not going to get any inheritance in our family," they said, "because you are the son of another woman." 3 So Jephthah fled from his brothers and settled in the land of Tob, where a group of adventurers gathered around him and followed him. 4 Some time later, when the Ammonites made war on Israel, 5 the elders of Gilead went to get Jephthah from the land of Tob. 6 "Come," they said, "be our commander, so we can fight the Ammonites." 7 Jephthah said to them, "Didn't you hate me and drive me from my father's house? Why do you come to me now, when you're in trouble?"

Jephthah’s dad Gilead had a skirt problem. He chased one too many. He had an affair with a prostitute. Jephthah was the result.

His half brothers, probably pampered snots, drove Jephthah away from the family. It was over money. In Judges 11:2 says in part “you are not going to get any inheritance in our family because you are the son of another woman” they said. (Remember, his mom was a prostitute.) Jephthah got the message and he hit the road. On his own he learned how to fight. In verse three it said, “He fled to the land of Tob” (which I think is Oklahoma because that’s where Toby Keith has his ranch!) “where a group of adventurers gathered around him and followed him.” He became a leader of men. He learned how to fight.

When the Israelites got in trouble with Ammonites, they didn’t know how to fight so they needed some real men who knew how to fight. Jephthah’s legend must have spread far and wide. The leader of Israel “went a callin’” on Jephthah; “Come help us.” Yes, the rejected one was asked to come back and fight.

In America, we want our men to be nice—not necessarily manly. I am grateful we still have men who play baseball with gusto. I am thankful we have men who fight fires, chase bandits, and fight wars in the presence of great personal risk. I like the idea that we have men who would march into hell for heavenly causes. Riley is such a man. Is he an anomaly? Are men like him not needed any more?
It’s ok Riley, if you put yourself on the front line and fight for us in war but don’t come home and play baseball to win. No, be cool, be a domesticated wimp. That way we can live with you. Fit nicely into our nice guys and gals mold. I guess I’m old fashioned but I want a hero. Riley, however imperfect, is my hero. We don’t want him to play baseball too hard but we’ll gladly let him fight our wars. America and small town Minnesota baseball, you can’t have it both ways. Do you want nice guys or do you want men who play and fight to win? We need a generation of men who want to be heroes. We want men who are willing to live and yes even die for a cause greater than themselves. Thank God for men who are still warriors, imperfect as they may be.

Monday, August 24, 2009

John Piper's Blog

On August 20, 2009 the Rev. John Piper of Bethlehem Baptist in Minneapolis wrote the following blog regarding the ELCA's decision to ordain homosexual pastors.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Life and Wrong Times of Dubious K. Trinket

Revelations 1:4b: “Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come…”

When Dubious was four years old, his older sister went off to kindergarten. He wanted to be in kindergarten. In kindergarten, he realized that 1st graders made fun of the kindergarten kids; he then wanted to be in 1st grade.

Once in 1st grade, he realized 6th grade was the place to be—the highest grade in elementary school. When he was in the 6th grade, 7th graders looked smugly at the sixth graders and said, “You’re still in elementary school.”

When he got to 7th grade, reality hit; he was the lowest on the totem pole. He wanted to be a senior. In his senior year, he grew tired of the one horse town he grew up in. He just wanted to be out of there.

He joined the military; after about the second month, he couldn’t wait to get out. After four years, he got out and went to college. Once in college, he was impatient as he wanted to get out and experience “the real world”.

Before he knew it, he was in the real world and he couldn’t wait for the day he could be out of the rat race. In the process, he got married and had a family. Days ran into nights; bills had to be paid, appointments made to be kept. He ran here and there to dance lessons, karate lessons, piano lessons, athletic games, plays and more. The house was full of his children and their friends. There was no time to sit down and rest.

Then one day he realized he was alone; the house was empty. He looked back with nostalgia wishing the house was busy again. His loneliness ate away at his heart.

The grandchildren came. His daughter called, “Can you baby-sit for Rusty and Becky tonight?” He said “yes” in anticipation. Later in the night a call came. “It’s late; can you keep the kids overnight?” They kept the grandkids overnight.

During the night, a thunderstorm ensued; Rusty and Becky dove into Grandma and Grandpa’s bed but you know the rules, “You can’t sleep in Grandma & Grandpa’s bed.” He sat up holding Rusty in his arms as the lightening flashed and the thunder rolled. Rusty barely moved; he was safe and secure in Grandpa’s arms. Grandpa was somewhat irritated; he had an early morning business appointment and wished he was in bed getting a good night of sleep.

Before he knew it, Dubious found he was alone in his nursing home room sliding in and out of reality. He couldn’t remember if his wife was dead or alive. He wished he was young again but that wouldn’t happen so he wished he would go home and be with Jesus. He could only remember one prayer; “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep; If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.” During the night, he died in his sleep.

Dubious went through his whole life wishing he lived at another time, another circumstance. He could not enjoy the moment. He could not enjoy TODAY. He could not enjoy the “God who is”; the God of today, this very moment.

We spend much of our life looking back with nostalgia or endlessly planning for the future. We criticize people who live for today; they are viewed as short sighted and not respected. They are viewed as frivolous. Yes, let it be known they even experience moments of pure joy and pure exuberance.

Dubious had all the trinkets the world had to offer but I doubt he ever enjoyed any of them. He squandered most of his days wishing he was somewhere else, living in another time, the past or the future, whatever satisfied him for a fleeting moment. Isn’t that what trinkets are supposed to do? I know they do not satisfy. What satisfies and is important is the day to day joy of the simple things in our life. God’s sovereign hand brings them into our life. The God who IS, sustains, provides and holds them all in the palm of His hand. We are to enjoy the God who IS each and every moment.

Dubious lived his whole life and never enjoyed the moment/today. How sad. Let’s live today in the presence of the God who is. God be with us. Amen

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Our too deep dandelion roots

Dandelions are beautiful—for about two days. Left to themselves, dandelions will take over a lawn. Dandelions have a single tap root; it goes deep into sub-soil making dandelions almost impossible to pull without breaking off the root. Guess what—from this partial root left in the ground will spring another beautiful dandelion to be admired, however short lived.

Dandelions are not all bad. People make wine out of them. Dandelions can also be used in making a salad; the greens contain trace minerals which are lacking in our diet. The reason the dandelions have trace minerals is because their roots sink deep into the subsoil and bring the minerals to our plate.

As Christians we make good dandelions. Most of us are bright and cheery. Life with its ups and downs may make our cheeriness fade. Hopefully, we “go to seed” as it were, spreading the message of Christ to the world. But the roots concern me.

In 1 Peter 2:11 it says: “Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul.” NIV. (The English Standard version uses “pilgrim and sojourners” for aliens and strangers.)

We are to travel light. Sojourners and pilgrims are going some other place; they do not put down roots. Our citizenship is not of or in this world; we’re just passing through.

Philippians 3:20 says “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ,"

John 17:14-16: “I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it.”

If we are not of this world, then we’re just sojourners and pilgrims on a mission greater than our own earthly desires and earthly purposes. Sometimes I feel like a late August dandelion, roots deep and healthy; and if God were to pull me up by my roots, would I go easily?

In Revelations, John writes about the three themes of Revelation—suffering, the kingdom of God, and “patient endurance which are ours in Jesus.” (“I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.” Rev. 1:9)

We are called to travel light and we are called to travel on a mission greater than our selfish agendas. In this kingdom life we may be called to suffer with patient endurance. We are to “go and make disciples”. We need to be careful not to set down our roots too deep. Being too well anchored in the things of the world can be a spiritual problem for us.

Brothers and sisters travel light, be willing to be used of God. To be used of God may require some “uprooting” as it were of our own agenda. So, when the Lord calls us to a new work or mission or if He calls us home. Let’s let go from this world easily; let’s move on with joy.

Pilgrim on brothers and sisters, sojourn into eternity, to God’s glory. Amen.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Asleep at the Wheel

“Whenever and wherever the Gospel has gone out, the faithful have emphasized the priority of good works, especially works of compassion toward the needy. Every great revival in the history of the church, from Paul’s missionary journeys to the Reformation, from the Alexandrian outreach of Athanasius to the Great Awakening in America, has been accompanied by an explosion of priestly service. Hospitals were established. Orphanages were founded. Rescue missions were started. Almshouses were built. Soup kitchens were begun. Charitable societies were incorporated. The hungry were fed, the naked clothed, and the unwanted rescued. Word was wed to deeds.”
(from The Micah Mandate by George Grant; p.118)

I’m hearing a lot of concern these days about government’s increasing role in our lives. “What do you think about our government these days” is a common question I hear wherever I go. I sense a rising resentment and bitterness about government’s increasing control and influence. I sense a concern about “Our American Transformation”.

Government has increased its spread and influence while we, the church, have slept. The government grew to fill the vacuum left by the absence of the church. One example, part of the church’s responsibility is to do good works, acts of kindness, help the poor, the sick, and the needy. Government came in with welfare programs and we, the church, gladly laid down and “gave up” that turf to the government but we reserved the right to continually complain about how they do it. It is not the government’s job; it’s the church’s job. It’s easier to sit, point our finger and complain rather than get our hands dirty and wipe snot off a child’s face. Yes, we might develop a relationship with “those people” but then they’ll be hanging around all the time ruining the carpet in our churches.

The idea of hospitals with centralized health care originated in the church; remember the names of the early hospitals—St. Luke’s, St. John’s, Lutheran Deaconess, and Our Lady of Perpetual Care; Christian organizations all. Christian visionaries forged ahead with passion. It required risk and sacrifice. Suggest the same ideas today that the church should offer medical services and we will be met with a lot of blank stares, like “Why would we ever do that?” Health care went from being a ministry to being a business. The reality of business decisions, not ministry, drive health care today.

The increasing role of government came at the expense of the family and the church. For example, we as fathers are responsible to teach our children our values and spiritual truths. We’ve passed off much of our responsibility to our wives, the school teacher, youth pastor and the confirmation class. To make ourselves feel better yet, we’ve passed off our responsibility to the “Christian school” teacher. That way we can feel somewhat better about shirking our God given responsibility.

Forgive me for my cynical attitude today but we only raise these questions when we sense, as Calvin put it, “our comfortable nest is about to be disturbed”.

Praise God we still live in a country with personal freedoms guaranteed in the constitution. May we exercise our rights, realizing that God instituted government to protect the people from foreign invaders and to bring restraint upon ourselves.

Romans 13:1-7: “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God's servants, who give their full time to governing. Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.”

When government’s role expands beyond these general boundaries, we have trouble. Our system is not perfect or close to it but it is one of the best in the world, imperfect as it is. It is not all the government’s fault, some of it is our fault. We the church laid down on the job allowing government to do the jobs we were intended to do. Yes, when our comfortable nest gets ruffled up, we stir.

Oh we’re not at the point of claiming any responsibility. No, we will continue to hide behind our stained glass windows and walls, hoping God will rescue us from our current trials. Wake up people, Christ rescued us at the cross, working out the Father’s perfect plan of redemption so we could minister to a hurting world, sharing the truth of Christ as the only hope. The world is afraid; afraid of death and afraid of the future. Jesus holds both in His hand. Don’t be afraid. Remember God is and will always be on the throne. No plan of His is ever thwarted. (Isaiah 55)

Lord, continue to do your work in spite of our malcontent. Wake us up.