Tuesday, December 31, 2013

For 2013, Forget the Columns

On this last day of 2013, I have already seen (on the news) retrospectives that either celebrate or recount with sadness events of 2013.  There are those retrospectives that capture the "funny" or the "historic" or the "oddest" moments.  There are the montages of the famous or significant (or both) people who passed away during the year.   There are the sports highlights and lowlights, and the look at the year's statistics (prices, employment, economics, and so on).

Kathy just raised the question of whether we should think of 2013 as a good year or not.  For us, personally, it has been a year with many more highs than lows and joyful times of travel and reunion. But, as she pointed out, we have had front row seats as many more of our friends/family/church family have been through extremely difficult times over the last 12 months.

So, do we put 2013 in the "good" or "bad" column?  The answer is, "forget the columns."

In 2013 we rejoiced with those who rejoice.  We wept with those who wept.  Every good we experienced was a taste of the future hope of all believers to live in a good world with the Good King, free from the effects of evil.  But those tastes are temporary, passing, and mixed today.  Every evil we experienced was a reminder of the Fall and its effects, our world's and our own brokenness and the pull toward sin that still lurks in us.  It deepens the longing that grows in us for the return of Jesus.

In all ways and in everything, God's sovereign power was at work, even if at times his presence could not be discerned by those seeking to find him, and even if his purposes were not always clear.  He continues to move history toward its appointed end, and we know what that is, even though we can't quite (!) figure the timing of it all.  Judgment is coming, and so is deliverance.  Every year has and will contain reminders of both.

So, I thank God for 2013--for the undeserved good I have experienced, the mercy I have received, the bad things that temper any overzealous optimism about our world, the disappointments and sadnesses that make me long for the "something better" that is coming, and the many ways that being a part of God's family and my family mean that none of us need to go through any of this alone.

I am excited to move toward 2014; but more than that, I'm so blessed to know that, sinner that I am, I am forgiven, freed, and on my way to a much bigger future than just another year.  It was captured in the song we sang last Sunday:

When I wake up in the Land of Glory
And with the saints I will tell my story
There will be one Name that I proclaim
Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, just that Name.

[If you want to listen to whole song, you can go here.]

Monday, December 30, 2013

One Hour of Prayer

A number of you have asked for the assignment I give my Spiritual Formation class on praying for one hour. Here it is.

One Hour of Prayer
(Taken from the book, The Hour That Changes the World, by Dick Eastman, with slight revision)

    “What, could you not watch with Me one hour?  Watch and pray…”
                                                                                                            --Jesus, Matthew 26:40, 41

Get alone where you can pray without distraction.  Taking 5 minutes for each of the following number points below, you can pray extensively for one hour. You may use a timer to keep yourself moving through the hour, unless you hope to spend more time.  Before you begin, have a Bible handy, with a passage you will want to look at in section 4.  Have a notebook handy to record any actions you become aware of that you need to take in response to this time of prayer, especially section 11. A  hymnal or iPod may be helpful for section 9.  Do not be discouraged if some parts of this time are difficult to fill--especially the first time you try this.  Don't be surprised is some parts move very quickly and five minutes have passed well before you are ready to move on.

  1. Praise—Divine Adoration
    1. Select a specific theme of praise
    2. Declare all that God is, related to this theme.
    3. Expand the theme as much as possible, and on into related themes. 
  1. Waiting—Soul Surrender
    1. Bring the mind to complete silence to the world
    2. Think only thoughts of God the Father, Jesus Christ, or the Holy Spirit.
    3. Any voiced words should be toward God concerning his love or the desire for his presence
    4. Concentrate on the love of God for you.
  1. Confession—Declared Admission
    1. Ask God’s Spirit to search your heart for any unconfessed sin.
    2. Mentally examine recent activities to discover possible areas of spiritual warfare.
    3. Confess any specific sins you may be guilty of, either against God or others.
    4. Confess your need for specific guidance and supernatural empowerment.
  1. Scripture Praying—Faith Appropriation
    1. Ask God to bless His Word to your spiritual life, just as food is blessed to the body.
    2. Examine a passage of the Word.  Look carefully for ways to apply each verse to prayer.
    3. Ask what petition this passage prompts you to make, or what promise it offers.
    4. Develop a prayer based on the thoughts and phrases of the passage.
  1. Watching—Mental Awareness
    1. Seek to become spiritually alert.  Watch for ways Satan may try to hinder your walk today.
    2. Claim power to defeat Satan in each of these areas.
    3. Recall various current events that deserve special prayer related to God’s kingdom purposes.
    4. Ask the Spirit to reveal further aspects or needs of these events to pray about.
  1. Intercession—Earnest Appeal
    1. Pray for God’s work around the world
    2. Ask for greater compassion so that you will reach out to the lost with genuine concern.
    3. Ask for more laborers for the harvest, open doors for workers, and finances for their work.
    4. Endeavor to include specific countries and their leaders in your prayers.
  1. Petition
    1. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you claim only those desires that will bring honor to the Lord.
    2. Make a mental list of specific needs for that day and offer each to God
    3. Enlarge each petition carefully; take time to lay out why you desire an answer for the request.
    4. Examine your motives for asking a petition.  Be sure they are pure in God’s sight.
  1. Thanksgiving
    1. Begin by thinking about all God has given you in recent days.
    2. Offer specific thanksgiving for spiritual material, physical, and external blessings.
    3. Thank God in advance for blessings you expect and are asking Him to give you in the future.
    4. Thank God for at least one particular blessing you have not thanked Him for previously.
  1. Singing
    1. Sing a specific song or songs to the Lord
    2. Select a specific theme for your songs, such as praise, thanksgiving, or favorite scriptures.
    3. Choose songs that are addressed to God. 
  1. Meditation
    1. Select a theme for full attention to that specific area of spiritual thought.
    2. Allow your mind to wander within the framework of your chosen theme.  Ponder all aspects of it.
    3. Ask questions about the theme that might lead to deeper mental study of the subject.
    4. Bring Scripture into all phases of meditation, since it is the foundation of all spiritual thought.
  1. Listening
    1. Ask God very specific questions about difficult problems or situations.
    2. Search Scripture for specific answers to these questions.
    3. Mentally evaluate all circumstances that relate to each question or situation.  Ask God to show you His plan through these circumstances.
    4. Be prepared to write down any ideas God may bring to mind concerning the details of solving a problem.

  1. Praise
    1. End with specific praise concerning God’s greatness.  Focus on His omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence.
    2. With the psalmist let us “praise God because He has done it.”  Look back at this hour and praise God for hearing each request.
    3. Let your spirit rejoice for a few moments at the close of prayer.
    4. Let your “amen” be strong—an affirmation that you believe God is trustworthy and can and will do these things in accordance with His will. 
 I also recommend getting the book by Dick Eastman, which takes a chapter to explain each section and offers a wealth of resources on each subject of prayer.  This new edition is available with an Foreward by Joni Eareckson Tada.  Click on the link below to get it at Amazon.com, or to purchase the Kindle version.


Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Resolutions of Jonathan Edwards

Jonathan Edwards was, perhaps, the greatest Christian thinker ever produced in North America.  But equally marvelous is the record of his personal devotion.  As a New Year is upon us, let me share with you the Resolutions of Jonathan Edwards.  These, taken from his writings, are a set of 70 resolutions that he created and re-read every week for over 35 years.  With each resolution, you will a date that it was written or edited.  What a list it is, yet notice how he begins--acknowledging that no good thing can be done without God's help.  Thus, he asks the Lord to help him achieve what he sets out to do for God's glory.

The following Resolutions are quoted in their entirety from volume one of The Works of Jonathan Edwards.
“Being sensible that I am unable to do any thing without God’s help, I do humbly entreat him, by his grace, to enable me to keep these Resolutions, so far as they are agreeable to his will, for Christ’s sake.
Remember to read over these Resolutions once a week.
1. Resolved, That I will do whatsoever I think to be most to the glory of God, and my own good, profit, and pleasure, in the whole of my duration; without any consideration of the time, whether now, or never so many myriads of ages hence. Resolved, to do whatever I think to be my duty, and most for the good and advantage of mankind in general.Resolved, so to do, whatever difficulties I meet with, how many soever, and how great soever.
2. Resolved, To be continually endeavouring to find out some new contrivance and invention to promote the forementioned things.
3. Resolved, If ever I shall fall and grow dull, so as to neglect to keep any part of these Resolutions, to repent of all I can remember, when I come to myself again.
4. Resolved, Never to do any manner of thing, whether in soul or body, less or more, but what tends to the glory of God, nor be, nor suffer it, if I can possibly avoid it.
5. Resolved, Never to lose one moment of time, but to improve it in the most profitable way I possibly can.
6. Resolved, To live with all my might, while I do live.
7. Resolved, Never to do any thing, which I should be afraid to do if it were the last hour of my life.
8. Resolved, To act, in all respects, both speaking and doing, as if nobody had been so vile as I, and as if I had committed the same sins, or had the same infirmities or failings, as others; and that I will let the knowledge of their failings promote nothing but shame in myself, and prove only an occasion of my confessing my own sins and misery to God. Vid. July 30.
9. Resolved, To think much, on all occasions, of my dying, and of the common circumstances which attend death.
10. Resolved, when I feel pain, to think of the pains of martyrdom, and of hell.
11. Resolved, When I think of any theorem in divinity to be solved, immediately to do what I can towards solving it, if circumstances do not hinder.xxi
12. Resolved, If I take delight in it as a gratification of pride, or vanity, or on any such account, immediately to throw it by.
13. Resolved, To be endeavouring to find out fit objects of liberality and charity.
14. Resolved, Never to do any thing out of revenge.
15. Resolved, Never to suffer the least motions of anger towards irrational beings.
16. Resolved, Never to speak evil of any one, so that it shall tend to his dishonour, more or less, upon no account except for some real good.
17. Resolved, That I will live so, as I shall wish I had done when I come to die.
18. Resolved, To live so, at all times, as I think is best in my most devout frames, and when I have the clearest notions of the things of the gospel, and another world.
19. Resolved, Never to do any thing, which I should be afraid to do, if I expected it would not be above an hour before I should hear the last trump.
20. Resolved, To maintain the strictest temperance in eating and drinking.
21. Resolved, Never to do any thing, which if I should see in another, I should count a just occasion to despise him for, or to think any way the more meanly of him.
22. Resolved, To endeavour to obtain for myself as much happiness in the other world as I possibly can, with all the power, might, vigour, and vehemence, yea violence, I am capable of, or can bring myself to exert, in any way that can be thought of.
23. Resolved, Frequently to take some deliberate action, which seems most unlikely to be done, for the glory of God, and trace it back to the original intention, designs, and ends of it; and if I find it not to be for God’s glory, to repute it as a breach of the fourth Resolution.
24. Resolved, Whenever I do any conspicuously evil action, to trace it back, till I come to the original cause; and then, both carefully endeavour to do so no more, and to fight and pray with all my might against the original of it.
25. Resolved, To examine carefully and constantly, what that one thing in me is, which causes me in the least to doubt of the love of God; and so direct all my forces against it.
26. Resolved, To cast away such things as I find do abate my assurance.
27. Resolved, Never wilfully to omit any thing, except the omission be for the glory of God; and frequently to examine my omissions.
28. Resolved, To study the Scriptures so steadily, constantly, and frequently, as that I may find, and plainly perceive, myself to grow in the knowledge of the same.
29. Resolved, Never to count that a prayer, nor to let that pass as a prayer, nor that as a petition of a prayer, which is so made, that I cannot hope that God will answer it; nor that as a confession which I cannot hope God will accept.
30. Resolved, To strive every week to be brought higher in religion, and to a higher exercise of grace, than I was the week before.
31. Resolved, Never to say any thing at all against any body, but when it is perfectly agreeable to the highest degree of christian honour, and of love to mankind, agreeable to the lowest humility, and sense of my own faults and failings, and agreeable to the golden rule; often, when I have said any thing against any one, to bring it to, and try it strictly by, the test of this Resolution.
32. Resolved, To be strictly and firmly faithful to my trust, that that, in Prov. xx. 6. ‘A faithful man, who can find?’ may not be partly fulfilled in me.
33. Resolved, To do always what I can towards making, maintaining, and preserving peace, when it can be done without an overbalancing detriment in other respects. Dec. 26, 1722.
34. Resolved, In narrations, never to speak any thing but the pure and simple verity.
35. Resolved, Whenever I so much question whether I have done my duty, as that my quiet and calm is thereby disturbed, to set it down, and also how the question was resolved. Dec. 18, 1722.
36. Resolved, Never to speak evil of any, except I have some particular good call to it. Dec. 19, 1722.
37. Resolved, To inquire every night, as I am going to bed, wherein I have been negligent,—what sin I have committed,—and wherein I have denied myself;—also, at the end of every week, month, and year. Dec. 22 and 26, 1722.
38. Resolved, Never to utter any thing that is sportive, or matter of laughter, on a Lord’s day. Sabbath evening, Dec. 23, 1722.
39. Resolved, Never to do any thing, of which I so much question the lawfulness, as that I intend, at the same time, to consider and examine afterwards, whether it be lawful or not; unless I as much question the lawfulness of the omission.
40. Resolved, To inquire every night before I go to bed, whether I have acted in the best way I possibly could, with respect to eating and drinking. Jan. 7, 1723.
41. Resolved, to ask myself, at the end of every day, week, month, and year, wherein I could possibly, in any respect, have done better. Jan. 11, 1723.
42. Resolved, Frequently to renew the dedication of myself to God, which was made at my baptism, which I solemnly renewed when I was received into the communion of the church, and which I have solemnly re-made this 12th day of January, 1723.
43. Resolved, Never, henceforward, till I die, to act as if I were any way my own, but entirely and altogether God’s; agreeably to what is to be found in Saturday, Jan. 12th.Jan. 12, 1723.
44. Resolved, That no other end but religion shall have any influence at all on any of my actions; and that no action shall be, in the least circumstance, any otherwise than the religious end will carry it. Jan. 12, 1723.
45. Resolved, Never to allow any pleasure or grief, joy or sorrow, nor any affection at all, nor any degree of affection, nor any circumstance relating to it, but what helps religion. Jan. 12 and 13, 1723.
46. Resolved, Never to allow the least measure of any fretting or uneasiness at my father or mother. Resolved, to suffer no effects of it, so much as in the least alteration of speech, or motion of my eye; and to be especially careful of it with respect to any of our family.
47. Resolved, To endeavour, to my utmost, to deny whatever is not most agreeable to a good and universally sweet and benevolent, quiet, peaceable, contented and easy, compassionate and generous, humble and meek, submissive and obliging, diligent and industrious, charitable and even, patient, moderate, forgiving, and sincere, temper; and to do, at all times, what such a temper would xxiilead me to; and to examine strictly, at the end of every week, whether I have so done. Sabbath morning, May 5, 1723.
48. Resolved, Constantly, with the utmost niceness and diligence, and the strictest scrutiny, to be looking into the state of my soul, that I may know whether I have truly an interest in Christ or not; that when I come to die, I may not have any negligence respecting this to repent of. May 26, 1723.
49. Resolved, That this never shall be, if I can help it.
50. Resolved, That I will act so, as I think I shall judge would have been best, and most prudent, when I come into the future world. July 5, 1723.
51. Resolved, That I will act so, in every respect, as I think I shall wish I had done, if I should at last be damned. July 8, 1723.
52. I frequently hear persons in old age say how they would live, if they were to live their lives over again: Resolved, That I will live just so as I can think I shall wish I had done, supposing I live to old age. July 8, 1723.
53. Resolved, To improve every opportunity, when I am in the best and happiest frame of mind, to cast and venture my soul on the Lord Jesus Christ, to trust and confide in him, and consecrate myself wholly to him; that from this I may have assurance of my safety, knowing that I confide in my Redeemer. July 8, 1723.
54. Resolved, Whenever I hear anything spoken in commendation of any person, if I think it would be praiseworthy in me, that I will endeavour to imitate it. July 8, 1723.
55. Resolved, To endeavour, to my utmost, so to act, as I can think I should do, if I had already seen the happiness of heaven and hell torments. July 8, 1723.
56. Resolved, Never to give over, nor in the least to slacken, my fight with my corruptions, however unsuccessful I may be.
57. Resolved, When I fear misfortunes and adversity, to examine whether I have done my duty, and resolve to do it and let the event be just as Providence orders it. I will, as far as I can, be concerned about nothing but my duty and my sin. June 9, and July 13, 1723.
58. Resolved, Not only to refrain from an air of dislike, fretfulness, and anger in conversation, but to exhibit an air of love, cheerfulness, and benignity. May 27, and July 13, 1723.
59. Resolved, When I am most conscious of provocations to ill nature and anger, that I will strive most to feel and act good-naturedly; yea, at such times, to manifest good nature, though I think that in other respects it would be disadvantageous, and so as would be imprudent at other times. May 12, July 11, and July 13.
60. Resolved, Whenever my feelings begin to appear in the least out of order, when I am conscious of the least uneasiness within, or the least irregularity without, I will then subject myself to the strictest examination. July 4 and 13, 1723.
61. Resolved, That I will not give way to that listlessness which I find unbends and relaxes my mind from being fully and fixedly set on religion, whatever excuse I may have for it—that what my listlessness inclines me to do, is best to be done, &c. May 21, and July 13, 1723.
62. Resolved, Never to do any thing but my duty, and then, according to Eph. vi. 6-8. to do it willingly and cheerfully, as unto the Lord, and not to man: knowing that whatever good thing any man doth, the same shall be receive of the Lord. June 25, and July 13, 1723.
63. On the supposition, that there never was to be but one individual in the world, at any one time, who was properly a complete Christian, in all respects of a right stamp, having Christianity always shining in its true lustre, and appearing excellent and lovely, from whatever part and under whatever character viewed: Resolved, To act just as I would do, if I strove with all my might to be that one, who should live in my time. Jan. 14, and July 13, 1723.
64. Resolved, When I find those ”groanings which cannot be uttered,“ of which the apostle speaks, and those ”breathings of soul for the longing it hath,” of which the psalmist speaks, Psalm cxix. 20. that I will promote them to the utmost of my power; and that I will not be weary of earnestly endeavouring to vent my desires, nor of the repetitions of such earnestness. July 23, and Aug. 10, 1723.
65. Resolved, Very much to exercise myself in this, all my life long, viz. with the greatest openness of which I am capable, to declare my ways to God, and lay open my soul to him, all my sins, temptations, difficulties, sorrows, fears, hopes, desires, and every thing, and every circumstance, according to Dr. Manton’s Sermon on the 119th Psalm,. July 26, and Aug. 10, 1723.
66. Resolved, That I will endeavour always to keep a benign aspect, and air of acting and speaking, in all places, and in all companies, except it should so happen that duty requires otherwise.
67. Resolved, After afflictions, to inquire, what I am the better for them; what good I have got by them; and, what I might have got by them.
68. Resolved, To confess frankly to myself, all that which I find in myself, either infirmity or sin; and, if it be what concerns religion, also to confess the whole case to God, and implore needed help. July 23, and August 10, 1723.
69. Resolved, Always to do that, which I shall wish I had done when I see others do it. Aug. 11, 1723.
70. Let there be something of benevolence in all that I speak. Aug. 17, 1723.”

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Advent and Christmas: Waiting and Welcoming

                Advent is all about the wait—we have considered together various themes; in our own celebration they have been “hope, peace, joy, love.”  We rehearse and remember all the ways in which Jesus’s birth was predicted and prophesied.  We think about all the expectations (some correct, others not) that were associated in people’s minds with the coming of the Messiah.  And we try to remind ourselves of all the importance that is attached to Jesus’s being born as both fully man and fully God—the biblical truths that he embodies.
                All of this has been preparation during our waiting for Christmas.  Tonight marks the end of our waiting.  Advent officially ends this evening, and we mark that end by lighting the center candle in our wreaths, the Christ Candle.  It reminds us that in the coming of Jesus to that manger in Bethlehem, the waiting of generations for the Messiah to come has come to an end.  Tomorrow is no longer Advent, the season of waiting, but Christmas the Day of Welcome.  “Coming” becomes “came.”  Advent yields to arrival.
                Waiting is only worthwhile if we know what we are waiting for, and if what we are waiting for is worth it.  I enjoy celebrating Advent, but it would be pretty pointless if there wasn’t a Christmas to follow, wouldn’t it?
                We celebrate the Advent season because we want to drink deep of all the truth and hope we find in Jesus Christ.  The anticipation is made powerful for us because we know that Jesus came.  Unlike all those characters of the various Bible stories leading up to Christmas but who didn’t see its fulfillment, we know what they and we were waiting for.  Every year, we proceed through Advent, and get to move on to celebrate Christmas.  Advent becomes our time to get our thinking straight on what Christmas should mean.
                But as I was thinking about all the blessings we will celebrate tomorrow because Christmas has come, something in my mind said “not so fast.”  The coming of Jesus, so long anticipated, took place.  Jesus came, lived, died, and rose again.  He accomplished our redemption.  He paid the price for our sin.  He conquered death.
                However, that was not the end of the story.  He said we was going to His Father, but he would come back.  He ascended, and when he did, angels told his followers he would return in the same way he went away.  And in Titus 2:11-13, we are told that, once again, God’s people (us) are waiting.  We are looking for Jesus to come—for his second Advent to draw near.  So, as one Advent now comes and goes, another continues…
                If we really grasp the meaning of Christmas, then we understand that the story of Christmas, of Good Friday, and even of Easter, Ascension Day, and Pentecost is all a part of a larger “Advent season” a greater season of waiting and anticipation.  Our celebrations tomorrow can and should be joyful, but they are only a small taste of what that final “welcoming” will mean when our waiting is all done.  When you are with loved ones tomorrow, or open that especially meaningful gift, or experience some moment of sheer bliss, thank God for it, and realize that it is just a taste, a tiny hint of what will one day be yours in never ending supply when Jesus comes back for his own, as he promised. 
                Welcome Christmas Day! But as you welcome it once again, don’t forget what, or Who, you are really waiting for!


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Midweek Miscellany

The following post isn't very "pastoral"--it is more just some of my thinking about a number of matters that have come my way recently.

First things first--some music for you to enjoy...

Then, on to some other things...

Who knew that ice melting and refreezing on a roof could form "ice dams" that would cause water to build up and then find pathways into your building?  Well, we know that now.  We've had a few form here at the church--even reaching down to our offices from the roof two stories above!  Thanks to all those around here who are trying to deal with wet sills, walls, and floors.  We wanted some touch up on some things anyway, right?

I told a number of new residents to the village this year that we haven't really gotten lots of snow during the winters--a couple of significant storms each winter.  Well, nothing like this year to make me a liar a most inaccurate reporter of weather.  Hey, that means I could work for the TV stations!

Al Mohler's writing and thinking is so good, I almost feel as if I should just tell people to wait for him to comment on something to get a good perspective.  He does not disappoint again as he answers a question I have gotten a number of times about the new pope, Francis.  Now that he has been selected by TIME magazine (a publication with ever dwindling subscription numbers) as "Person of the Year," what should we think?  Is he really changing things.  My answer is no, he is only saying things differently.  Mohler runs with that view and does so incredibly clearly in a post you can find here.

This may be a little too political for some, but can I just say this this ad encouraging people to talk about healthcare while drinking your hot cocoa in your adult onesie is about as depressing as the whole promotional campaign for the effort, and  the rollout of Affordable Healthcare itself.  In three years' of preparation, our government could not put together a website to handle the traffic.  It could not figure out that promises that you could keep your health care if you liked it would never be honored so that the President could let people know beforehand that he had mis-spoken.  It cannot fulfill its own targets and deadlines and so the Executive Branch has simply said laws that were passed and signed are "postponed"--for which there is no constitutional warrant.  But it can craft an ad campaign aimed at young people who have, until now, typically not purchased health insurance, that makes them look vain and silly.  In another ad, a couple is pictured and the girl is hoping the guy will make sexual advances, now that she knows she has contraceptive coverage.  This is what our leaders think of this generation.  While there are more than a few narcissistic examples, if I were a twentysomething I would be offended at the "faux-hipster" target image that seems to have driven the ad campaign.  And don't get me started on the irony of calling something "Affordable Health Care" when most people are seeing costs go up.

While I'm being too political, let me say that I support the efforts of members of both parties to craft a budget, however flawed it may be.  Everyone got a little something, and everyone had to endure pain to their own constituencies.  That is what politics has always been when we have divided government.  If people don't like it, then they should elect all people from one party.  Until they do, you get compromises and very limited progress.  Our representatives have been elected to govern, and this is the first time in years we have had a budget.  So, I congratulate them on the effort and trying to do what they have been elected to do.  Politics, it has been said, is the art of the possible.  In this case, this was what was possible to accomplish; not the perfect.

Finally, I haven't said much about this for a few months, but I am disappointed that immigration reform did not get voted on in the House of Representatives.  I am supportive of the bill passed by the Senate last spring (unlike many who have spoken against it, I have read its provisions and it is not amnesty, not unfairly letting people jump in front of others in line, not giving an easy path to citizenship, etc.).  I believe that finding a solution to deal with the status of 14 million people who are here and will not be going anywhere is important.  I was reminded of this last week, when a member called with a request for assistance in helping a family with a serious "immigration" problem.  It seems that an undocumented worker in Columbus was arrested at his work and is being prepared for deportation.  He is married to a U.S. citizen, and has six children, all U.S. citizens.  He has worked and never been on any assistance.  But because he overstayed his visa, he is being deported.  The family will wind up on assistance as a result.  Dad will be barred from the country for years.  If the rest of the family leaves the U.S. to go with him, they will head to a place where he has no job, and they have never lived.  Shouldn't there be a way for a situation like this to be resolved short of deportation and the forced splitting of a family?  Is it better that he work and support his family while doing what is required to become a citizen than it is for him to have to leave and the family to go on government assistance?  In his country there is no "line" for him to get in to seek a visa since he is not a college graduate in a desired field.  This is more than a political issue, it is a family issue, a moral issue, and an economic issue.

Duck Dynasty Dad in Trouble.  Phil Robertson, patriarch of the clan, spoke out against homosexuality in an interview with GQ Magazine (really?  Duck Dynasty fashion in GQ?).  He said things that none of us would be surprised about--calling those who engage in the practice "homosexual offenders" (as does Paul in 1 Corinthians)--which certainly caught their network by surprise, so they have banned him from the show for an indefinite period.  Seems it's cute to have a family pray on a show, but if they talk about less popular aspects of their faith publicly, that will cost you.  Unless the faith is something other than biblical Christianity.  DISCLAIMER--I have not read the interview, only the report and the action of the network.  I'm  just wondering how you do this "reality" show and edit out the patriarch.

Now, let me end with something completely fun, non-pollitical, and somewhat impressive:  watch as this gentleman sight-reads (as in the first time he's seen the music) the theme from the cartoon series "The Animaniacs."

Friday, December 6, 2013

Nelson Mandela and the Legacy of Forgiveness

The news of Nelson Mandela's passing yesterday is rightly the leading international news story of the hour.  Mr. Mandela was a leader in the fight against apartheid (the forced separation of races in South Africa with political, economic, and military power in the hands of a white minority government), a leader of the African National Congress, a prisoner of the former regime in South Africa for twenty seven years, and the first freely elected President of South Africa.  After serving his time in office, he retired, wrote, spoke, and became a father figure to his nation.

All that he accomplished is truly remarkable, but what is even more remarkable was the way in which he accomplished what he did.  Involved in a violent struggle before his capture, arrest, and imprisonment, when Mr. Mandela emerged from prison and in four years became President, he did not do so through violence and threat, and he did not govern with retribution and vengeance.  Instead, he taught and practiced forgiveness, and established tribunals to invite oppressed and oppressors to tell their stories.  These tribunals were a part of a national peace and reconciliation commission that was charged with promoted truth, justice, but also forgiveness.  Mr. Mandela rightly understood that South Africa's future could either be one where various tribes and ethnicities lived and worked together to change the imbalances and injustices that existed, or one of racial hatred and violence.  He famously said that the pursuit of retaliation was like drinking poison and hoping it would kill your enemies.  

It is a powerful testimony to Mr. Mandela's vision that the nation continues down this path--a bumpy road to be sure, with no guarantees of future success.  People of all ethnicities in South Africa honor his memory and mourn his passing.  So can, and should, all who believe that forgiveness and reconciliation in human affairs can point us toward God's greatest gift.

What humbles me most as I think about this man and his legacy is how few white Americans, even after our own legacy of slavery and civil war, were truly moved by the struggle against apartheid.  Growing up in conservative circles, the white government in South Africa with its strong anti-Communist stance was talked about as an ally that needed to be protected, rather than a state that perpetuated oppression on its own people just like the Communists did.  I'm old enough to remember well the "Free Mandela" movement, but I wasn't wise enough then to see its importance.  I saw it as a hopeless cause--it couldn't happen, I thought, and even if it did, what difference would it make?  I don't think I could have been more wrong in so many ways as I was on this matter.

Mr. Mandela changed his nation through a leadership that manifested the fundamental Christian principles of forgiveness and reconciliation.  Did he have true faith in Christ?  I don't know.  I hope that he did.  I know he was exposed to that truth through others in his nation.  I watched on television as he was sworn in as President, I heard the South African anthem--"God Bless Africa"--and for some reason I was powerfully moved.  I thought, "He has blessed Africa by bringing this change in government and freedom."  Little did I know then how much more God had blessed South Africa through the leadership of Nelson Mandela.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Leadership in Actions and Words

Peggy Noonan is a author and writer for the Wall St. Journal.  She worked for President Reagan as a speechwriter, and in her writings reflects a very thoughtful analysis.  Even if you don't agree with her, you are forced to consider her points well.

She recently wrote a post on her blog that I found stunningly insightful concerning the failures of presidential leadership related to the Affordable Care Act.  The article is not about the politics or wisdom of the policy.  Instead, it is about how President Obama's handling of its debut is a study in the failure of a leader to lead rightly.  The whole article is well worth reading, not just to critique the President, but to consider how this situation exemplifies the contemporary notion that words equal leadership.

Here is a key part of her critique, originating from a supporter of the President:
 A fellow very friendly to the administration, a longtime supporter, cornered me at a holiday party recently to ask, with true perplexity: “How could any president put his entire reputation on the line with a program and not be on the phone every day pushing people and making sure it will work? Do you know of any president who wouldn’t do that?” I couldn’t think of one, and it’s the same question I’d been asking myself. The questioner had been the manager of a great institution, a high stakes 24/7 operation with a lot of moving parts. He knew Murphy’s law—if it can go wrong, it will. Managers—presidents—have to obsess, have to put the fear of God, as Mr. Obama says, into those below them in the line of authority. They don’t have to get down in the weeds every day but they have to know there are weeds, and that things get caught in them.
It’s a leader’s job to be skeptical of grand schemes. Sorry, that’s a conservative leader’s job. It is a liberal leader’s job to be skeptical that grand schemes will work as intended. You have to guide and goad and be careful.
And this president wasn’t. I think part of the reason he wasn’t careful is because he sort of lives in words. That’s been his whole professional life—books, speeches. Say something and it magically exists as something said, and if it’s been said and publicized it must be real. He never had to push a lever, see the machine not respond, puzzle it out and fix it. It’s all been pretty abstract for him, not concrete. He never had to stock a store, run a sale and see lots of people come but the expenses turn out to be larger than you’d expected and the profits smaller, and you have to figure out what went wrong and do better next time.

  As might be expected, she points to the example of President Reagan, who was, by most people's estimates, one of the most successful presidents of the last fifty years (some say much longer).  President Reagan is, in many ways, the most inspiring public leader of my lifetime, so I'm readily agreeable to Ms. Noonan's evaluation of him.  What I found particularly fascinating was her comparisons of Reagan's leadership to that of both President Obama and the first President Bush.

Mr. Obama shows every sign of thinking Reagan led only through words. But Reagan led through actions, as every leader must. The words explained, argued for and advanced those actions; they gave people a sense of who it was who was acting. But Obama’s generation of the left could never see or come to terms with the fact that it was, say, the decision to fire the air traffic controllers, or the decision to take the hit and bleed out inflation, that made Reagan’s presidency successful and meaningful. With an effective presidency, everything is in the doing. The words are part of the doing and at some points can be crucial to it; at some interesting points they even are the doing, such as looking at the Soviets and declaring that we knew what their system was and wouldn’t accept any but an honest interpretation of it, and yes, that constituted a change of attitude and approach. That took words. But it’s never all words, it can’t be. It’s making the right decision and carrying it through—executing it.
Mr. Obama learned only half of Reagan’s lesson.
And here’s something odd. The first President Bush, George H.W., learned half the lesson too, but the other half. Bush managed, executed and decided his way through the peaceful fall of the Soviet Empire and the reunification of Germany. But he couldn’t, for reasons characterological and having to do with his own highly refined sense of the demands of diplomacy, explain to people exactly what he was doing, why he was doing it and how. And so a feat of great historical weight and magnitude, deserving of a Nobel Prize for peace and utterly ignored by that silly committee, is half forgotten. Whereas Mr. Obama won that prize—for words.

Wow.  That's saying so much.  Leadership without action is only rhetoric.  Just because you say something doesn't make it real.  As a Christian and a teacher of truth, this becomes a garden of illustrations, if you will.  How often do we speak of spiritual life, vitality, priorities, but do nothing to pursue them, create them, or realize them?  

But, actions without clear explanation breed confusion and misunderstanding, or at least ignorance.  Those who think people will just "know" why we do things are not only mistaken, but set for disappointment (as the first President Bush surely found out).  Gospel centered actions, likewise, must come with some form of explanation to truly be gospel centered.

May God help those of us who are called to lead to match words and deeds.  And frankly, if one is to be lacking, it probably should be the words, don't you think?  Neither is dispensable, especially in Gospel proclamation.

Christmas Music Videos!

I love Christmas music, and now that Thanksgiving is past, I want to enjoy it fully.  I also want to share some of it with you.  So here are some Christmas music videos for your enjoyment!  (NOTE: I do not endorse any ads that may show up with these videos!)

First, the Piano Guys...

 I have a great love for a capella music, and Pentatonix has done a great Christmas album. Here is a sample.

Peter Hollens does a capella music as well.  By himself.  Here is his multi-track rendition of O Holy Night.

Here's another from Pentatonix, only because I like their style so much!

Finally, here's a fun one for all you Star Trek fans--yes, that is another one of my strange quirks.  And you can stop it at the 1:10 mark if you don't want to hear about the creator's new video game.