Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Jesus' Way of Gathering

"...some Pharisees came and said to Jesus, 'Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.'

"He said to them, 'Go and tell that fox,
"Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course. Nevertheless I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the day following; for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem."

"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! Behold, your house is forsaken. And I tell you, you will not see me until you say, 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!'"
- Luke 13:31-35 (RSV)

"Gathering" is a beautiful theme of Jesus in the Gospels. Part of Jesus' mission was to gather the faithful children of God into one covenant community; he was to be a unifying force among God's people, teaching a new way to love...a new way to gather.

Roman Catholic lay philosopher Gil Bailie connects this passage with a seemingly unrelated passage in John's Gospel...

"...Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, ' is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed.' He did not say this on his own, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus was about to die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but to gather into one the dispersed children of God." (John 11:49-52, NRSV)
Caiaphas and the other leaders had one way of looking at "gathering", Jesus had another.

In the old order, unity was forged by forcing out those who disagreed with the status the case of Jesus, forcing him out by execution. The Church, sadly, can be very "Caiaphas" at times. Rome excommunicating Constantinople...Constantinople excommunicating Rome...Roman Catholics excommunicating Protestants...Fundamentalists essentially doing the same to Roman Catholics and mainline Protestants...dominant whites forcing out minorities...on and on and on, it continues today with liberals marginalizing conservatives and vice versa.

Jesus suggests a new way of doing things. Instead of expulsion of persons to create unity, Jesus lives a life of forgiveness, embracing those who seem "unembraceable" or who may even oppose his mission. Yes, the people of Jerusalem had killed prophets and ignored God's commands, but Jesus' impulse is still to gather them up " a hen gathers her brood under her wings...", even as they rebuffed his attempts.

Jesus' way is the way of forgiveness, not rejection. I suppose that "excommunication" has its place and purpose, but even when employing this painful act, the Church should be looking for ways to reach out, love, and serve (I am reminded of a time several years ago when our Conference discontinued a probationary member, and did not immediately offer him any kind of help or severance pay; it took a real battle on the part of a few other pastors for us to do the loving thing). After all, "...God...through Christ...has given us the ministry of reconciliation." (2 Corinthians 5:18, NRSV)

Doctrine is important, but if it's used primarily to exclude, delineating "who's in" and 'who's out", then we've got a problem. Liturgy (whether "traditional" or "contemporary", two terms I'm learning to despise) is important, but if it's used to exclude, we've got a problem. The Bible is important, but if it's used to exclude, we've got a problem. Each of these has been misused in and by the Church.

Jesus is essential, but if he's used to exclude, we're no longer his people; he's about gathering folks in, not pushing them out. This doesn't mean we do anything to gather nor that we gather without discernment; we aren't about ignoring our historic doctrine, liturgy, or Scriptures, aspects of the faith which Jesus strongly affirmed. But our focus should be on embracing and including rather than on determining "who's in" and "who's out" and what one must do to "be a member" (a truly outdated idea).

Reclaiming Jesus' way of gathering is crucial for the twenty-first century Church, where Caiaphas' exclusionary ways no longer have any meaning.
"There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3:28, NRSV)

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Emergent Pgh event

Leadership in the 21st Century
with Tim Keel

On March 10, Emergent Pittsburgh will host Tim Keel, lead pastor of Jacob’s Well Church.

This seminar will explore issues facing women and men providing leadership in the local church (and beyond) in the midst of a changing culture. The experience is designed to encourage, connect, catalyze, facilitate, empower, and resource the Church in the greater Pittsburgh region.

When: Sat., March 10, 9 AM - 3 PM

Where: Spinning Plate Artist Lofts in Pittsburgh’s East End (map)

Cost: $25 (includes lunch provided by the Urban Fusion Cafe)

How?: Register Here

Monday, February 26, 2007

Hollywood Fundamentalism

Fundamentalism is annoying and obnoxious.

I was reminded of this last evening while watching the Academy Awards. To no one's surprise, Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth won two Oscars (Best Documentary and Best Song). The film is a documentary which basically elaborates on a Gore presentation regarding the theory of human-caused climate change.

Understand...I'm not denying that "global warming" (an imprecise term, to be sure) may be real. It may be absolutely true, which would surely make it one of the most important issues of our time.

But the truth is that there are problems with the way it has been presented to society. There are many scientists who believe that climate change research has been dangerously politicized and has failed to properly utilize the scientific method. In short, while most climate experts believe there is some truth to the theory, there exists no unanimity regarding the issue, or even the broad acceptance enjoyed by evolutionary theory.

What bothers me about the issue is that we have seen the development of what could be called "environmental fundamentalism". That is, as I said, annoying and obnoxious. It's also a mite scary.

Fundamentalism is a way of thinking in which a person believes something so strongly that he or she is willing to scare others in order to convince them of the correctness of the belief. Additionally, fundamentalism is vehemently opposed to any other perspectives...sometimes violently so. It refuses to acknowledge that any other point of view may contain truth or that there is room for discussion. The stereotypical image of the Christian fundamentalist is that of a street preacher screaming that folks will go to hell unless they Muslim fundamentalism in its most extreme form has taken root in the world through terrorist acts such as the 9/11/01 tragedy.

I don't believe that scaring people is an appropriate way to change a person's opinion. Jesus seemed to prefer the methodology of radical love; St. Paul seemed to prefer reasonable dialogue and discussion. I believe that Christian fundamentalists veer from the true path in terms of methodology (also theologically, but that's another post for another day). I also don't believe that discussion ever fails to be an option; I may be utterly convinced of certain truths, but I'm always willing to talk about them.

Environmental fundamentalism permeates the Radical Left (and thus Hollywood), just as Christian fundamentalism permeates the Radical Right. We saw powerful evidence of this during the Oscars telecast.

Not only was Al Gore seemingly canonized by the attendees for his work in the global warming debate (I almost expected Leonardo DiCaprio - a fine actor - to weep in religious ecstasy while he was talking with Gore onstage), but the prevailing attitude was, "Agree with us or you're worthless."

Writer/physician Michael Crichton, best known for books such as Jurassic Park, Sphere, State of Fear, Prey, and for creating the television series "ER", has actually argued that the modern environmental movement is very much a religion, with its own beliefs about a fall from grace, salvation, and judgment day, and that believers will defend their faith just as any other fundamentalist would. I think there's truth in this idea. Try denying global warming theory, even if you may tend to agree with it - just for the heck of it - with someone who wholeheartedly, vehemently believes it. You may be surprised and saddened at the result.

The reality is that fundamentalism often contains a bit of truth: Jesus did come into the world to save humanity, penitence for salvation is important, and hell is a distinct possibility for many people. But scaring people into belief, and marginalizing those who fail to convert, is morally and ethically wrong, no matter how important the issue may be. Global warming theory may indeed be accurate, but scaring people into belief with doomsday presentations, and marginalizing those who are not convinced, is still morally and ethically wrong.

I am not someone who condemns Hollywood for its immorality and irresponsibility, though at times the Hollywood community has been both immoral and irresponsible. I genuinely believe that most folks in Hollywood mean well and sincerely want to help, and that Hollywood is filled with many extremely talented people who do extraordinary work.

But my fear is that last evening we caught a glimpse of something more than simply annoying or obnoxious. Fundamentalism can easily devolve into far worse things, and my prayer is that the environmental fundamentalists of Hollywood don't go too far in supporting and spreading their faith.

Oscars review

I think that...

...the truly great Martin Scorsese should probably have won a dozen Oscars by now; his failure to win before last night diminishes the Oscars, not his amazing body of work...

...there were no big surprises except for Alan Arkin's upset of Eddie Murphy, which was too bad for Murphy but not a shock or a real heartbreak...

...both Gwyneth Paltrow and Kate Winslet seemed to me to be pompous beyond belief, which is really saying something in Hollywood...

...I kinda thought Little Miss Sunshine would pull it off in the's a really warm little movie, though I also liked The Departed...

...I can't believe they cut off Jennifer Hudson...why do they think people watch these shows, if not to see beloved stars cry?...

...forgotten in the montage of those who passed away last year was Chris Penn, Sean Penn's brother who had important supporting roles in Footloose and Pale Rider...

...Pan's Labyrinth looks way cool...

...Cars was robbed...

...Clint Eastwood is a legendary actor and one of the greatest directors of all-time...a true pop culture icon...but he sure doesn't do very well "off the cuff"...

...Ellen's best line of the night: "Peter O'Toole's been nominated eight times. Is that right? You know what they say: third time's the charm"...

...Ellen's second best line of the night: "Jennifer Hudson was on 'American Idol', America didn't vote for her, and she's here with an Oscar nomination. That's amazing. And then, Al Gore is here, America did vote for him, and then...very complicated"...

...Best non-Ellen line of the night, by George Clooney: "I was just backstage drinking with Jack Nicholson and Al Gore; I don't think he's running for president"...

...actually, judging by the way Hollywood worships him, Al Gore should probably start running for president today, although, as we saw in 2004, Hollywood's passionate support doesn't amount to much on Election Day...

...the Humanitarian Award is a nice one, but isn't Jerry Lewis long overdue to win one of those?

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Friday, February 23, 2007

Lent/Easter Letter to JUMC

Believe it or not, Lent is one of my favorite times of the year. That may sound a bit morbid, but the truth is that I look forward to Lent because I am without question the most self-centered sinner I have ever known.

During the course of the year, we are called by the Spirit of God to care for our souls, certainly, but to do so by reaching out, touching others with the love and grace of God in Jesus Christ. We care for our souls not only through prayer, Bible study, and worship (both private and public), but by caring for the poor, feeding the hungry, and sharing with others the story of Jesus.

But during Lent, we are called to look inward, through the lens of the Cross. It is a time for me to assess the state of my own spirit…where I’ve been, where I’m heading, where God wants me to be. It is a time when the Church has given me permission to think about me, and, being the self-centered sinner mentioned previously, that has a great appeal!

Unfortunately, each year as I look inward – again, through the lens of the Cross – I rediscover how much I truly fall short of God’s vision for me. I read and re-read the account of Jesus’ journey to Golgotha (powerfully told in Mark 15, which I urge you to read at least once during the Lenten season), and am reminded of the faithfulness and humility of our Lord. He was willing to do anything in order to show God’s love; he was even willing to suffer miserably, dying an excruciatingly painful death. Upon reflecting each Lent, I am faced with own sinful nature and the many ways in which I have failed Almighty God.

But, thankfully, God doesn’t leave me there! At the end of Lent, there is a “HALLELUJAH!” of the most powerful kind!

Just as the story of Jesus doesn’t end at Golgotha, but continues through the glories of Easter Sunday, my own story doesn’t end with failure! Through the Risen Jesus, God gives me new life, another chance, new empowerment, and a reminder of the blessed presence of the Holy Spirit! In spite of falling short, I can sing along with the popular Gaither song…

"Because he lives, I can face tomorrow!
Because he lives, all fear is gone!
Because I know he holds the future, life is worth the living -
just because he lives!"
Because Jesus lives, we all have another chance to more faithfully be the children of God! That is reason enough each year to sing “HALLELUJAH!” on Easter Sunday! May your Lent and Easter be blessed with peace, inspiration, and new possibilities!

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Ash Wednesday Revisited

I am always profoundly moved during worship on Ash Wednesday. Confronted with my own sin and its ultimate consequence (the horror of death...eternal death), is a very painful thing.

God has gifted the Church with an extremely potent liturgical act in the imposition of ashes, which calls to the forefront these important issues of life in a tactile way that is relatable and meaningful. Ash Wednesday is a great teaching occasion, and each year I am really surprised at the number of pastors and congregations who fail to take advantage of this kairos moment. I'm not sure why that is.

One of the aspects of Ash Wednesday which moves me so greatly is the hymnody associated with the day. There are so many wonderful hymns which effectively remind us of the wretched disease of sin that it can be difficult to order worship effectively.

Here are some of Charles Wesley's words which we sang last night...
"Depth of mercy! Can there be mercy still reserved for me?
Can my God his wrath forbear, me, the chief of sinners, spare?

"I have long withstood his grace, long provoked him to his face,
would not hearken to his calls, grieved him by a thousand falls.

"I my Master have denied, I afresh have crucified,
oft profaned his hallowed name, put him to an open shame.

"There for me the Savior stands, shows his wounds and spreads his hands.
God is love! I know, I feel; Jesus weeps and loves me still.

"Now incline me to repent, let me now my sins lament,
now my foul revolt deplore, weep, believe, and sin no more."

That hymn nearly brings me to tears each time I sing it.

Here are some excerpts from another great one, by Adelaide Pollard...

"Have thine own way, Lord! Have thine own way!
Search me and try me, Savior today!
Wash me just now, Lord, wash me just now,
as in thy presence humbly I bow...

"Have thine own way, Lord! Have thine own way!
Hold o'er my being absolute sway.
Fill with thy Spirit till all shall see
Christ only, always, living in me!"

Finally, these wonderful words by Charlotte Elliott...

"Just as I am, without one plea, but that thy blood was shed for me,
and that thou bidst me come to thee, O Lamb of God, I come, I come...

"Just as I am, though tossed about with many a conflict, many a doubt,
fightings and fears within, without, O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

"Just as I am, poor, wretched, blind; sight, riches, healing of the mind,
yea, all I need in thee to find, O Lamb of God, I come, I come...

"Just as I am, thy love unknown hath broken every barrier down;
now, to be thine, yea thine alone, O Lamb of God, I come, I come."
I thank God today for the rich hymnody of the Church, which can mightily express the emotional range of a great opportunity such as Ash Wednesday.

I pray that I will use Lent faithfully, and that I will emerge on Easter recommitted and freshly inspired to continue the work to which the Spirit has called.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Ash Wednesday

"Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming, it is near...a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness! Like blackness spread upon the mountains a great and powerful army comes; their like has never been from of old, nor will be again after them in ages to come...

"Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing.

"Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him, a grain offering and a drink offering for the Lord, your God?

"Blow the trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly; gather the people. Sanctify the congregation; assemble the aged; gather the children, even infants at the breast. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her canopy. Between the vestibule and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep.

"Let them say, 'Spare your people, O Lord, and do not make your heritage a mockery, a byword among the nations.' Why should it be said among the peoples, 'Where is their God?'"
- from Joel 2(NRSV)

Monday, February 19, 2007

U.S. Presidents

Today is Presidents Day in the USA, a day on which we remember and honor those who have served in this nation's highest civil office.

I've compiled two lists in recognition of the day. Both are based on my own personal opinions. While my undergraduate degree is in history, I don't profess to be an expert on presidential history, but I am a person with strong opinions.

The Ten Best U.S. Presidents
  1. Abraham Lincoln
  2. George Washington
  3. Theodore Roosevelt
  4. Franklin Delano Roosevelt
  5. Ronald Reagan
  6. Andrew Jackson
  7. James Polk
  8. Thomas Jefferson
  9. John Adams
  10. Grover Cleveland

The Ten Worst U.S. Presidents

  1. James Buchanan
  2. Franklin Pierce
  3. Richard Nixon
  4. Warren Harding
  5. Andrew Johnson
  6. Bill Clinton
  7. Millard Fillmore
  8. Ulysses Grant
  9. Herbert Hoover
  10. John Tyler

Failing the Least of These

In nearby Greene County, in the southwestern corner of Pennsylvania, a weekend house fire resulted in the deaths of six children and an adult. All of the victims died of fire-related causes, and there doesn't seem to be any sign of "foul play".

Or does there?

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is reporting that the home's natural gas had been shut off and that the family had been using a wood stove and space heaters while trying to get help with a weatherization program. It may be that there was indeed "foul play" in that this poor family didn't have proper heat in the dead of winter.

This horrific tragedy occurred in the poorest county in Pennsylvania, a county that is most assuredly a part of the "Appalachian poverty belt". Undoubtedly, there are many other families in the area who are suffering from this same lack of a basic necessity...heat in the midst of a cold Keystone winter.

Failures abound. The gas company should have seen to it that there was natural with any financial issues later. Somebody should have seen to it that the furnace was in good working order. The Church seems to be doing an excellent job surrounding friends and neighbors with love as they mourn, but where were we prior to the fire? It may well be that area Christians were working overtime to get proper heat for this family; I really don't know, and do not want to assume anything.

This is an indictment of us as well, we comfortable Christians in the relatively wealthy suburbs, who take for granted the blessing of proper heat, and likely never considered last week that others in our Conference or in our region were going without.

So, today, six children and a mother are dead because there is poverty. What should we as the Church have done? What should we do?

Thank God that Ash Wednesday is in two days, and Lent is upon us; we as the Church need a time of penitence (certainly, I need it).

"Truly, I say to you, as you did it for one of the least of these my brethren, you did it for you did it not for one of the least of these, you did it not for me."
- Matthew 25: 40, 45

To make a donation to the surviving family,
you can go here.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Demon fighters

"...when they came down from the mountain, a large crowd met him. A man in the crowd called out, 'Teacher, I beg you to look at my son, for he is my only child. A spirit seizes him and he suddenly screams; it throws him into convulsions so that he foams at the mouth. It scarcely ever leaves him and is destroying him. I begged your disciples to drive it out, but they could not.'

"'O unbelieving and perverse generation,' Jesus replied, 'how long shall I stay with you and put up with you? Bring your son here.'

"Even while the boy was coming, the demon threw him to the ground in a convulsion. But Jesus rebuked the evil spirit, healed the boy and gave him back to his father. And they were all amazed at the greatness of God."
- Luke 9:37-43 (NRSV)

Demons seem to have been in abundance in Jesus' day. Many scholars believe that what the Biblical writers referred to as possession by "foul spirits" may actually be conditions and diseases in our era which are well known and treatable (such as epilepsy). Some theologians believe that demonic activity may have been so prevalent because of Jesus' presence in the world, which inspired the forces of evil to go on a full assault in an attempt to thwart the divine plan.

Both may be true in part. But both explanations hinge on one claim: that demons aren't really that active in our world today. Both thus fall short of the most plausible explanation for the demon stories in the Bible: demonic activity is a part of our reality.

Cultural critic Hal Lindsey made a career out of exploiting fears of demonic actions. The recent works of Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins continue Lindsey's distortions of Scriptural truth, and they've made millions from their fear-mongering. Author Frank Peretti wrote two novels in the late 1980s which portrayed demonic activity in a Pentecostal-inspired adventure style. While Peretti's novels remain problematic theologically, they are nonetheless exciting attempts at demonstrating the spiritual forces at work in our world in an accessible way (and, in my view, they make excellent Halloween-time reading, if not taken too literally). I even wrote a Peretti-inspired short story during my college years (demons active in American higher education...what a concept!).

Demons, however, are very much still with us. They may well be the ugly little miscreants described in Peretti's novels, whispering "sweet nothings" in people's ears, inspiring and misleading them, causing all kinds of problems. They may well be twisted armies, distortions of the hosts of heaven, awaiting Ragnarok, believing they still might actually win in the end.

But, whether this Pentecostal persepective bears any validity, we can know for sure that just as in Jesus' day, demons abound. Two thousand years ago, they caused severe mental illness, emotional distress, and alienation from family, society, and the covenant community. This is stil true today.

Demonic activity may take the form of addiction, abuse, violence, war, terror, dehumanization, or murder, but it is still demonic activity. It may look like poverty, disease, alienation, neglect, hate, racism, sexism, or bigotry, but let's name it: evil...demonic...Satanic...radical sin.

These forces are powerful and real but, as the text from Luke's Gospel makes clear, they are subordinate to the power of Christ. What do we have in our arsenal to fight these evil forces? We have the power of radical healing...baptism...confession of sin...forgiveness...mercy...the Our Lord and his Spirit-empowered Church are infinitely more powerful than the dark forces which patrol this world, seeking whom they may devour; we must remember this when facing the demons, and we must faithfully act to rebuke evil and bring healing deliverance to this broken world, for fighting demons is still our mission.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

I See Dead People

"...Jesus took with him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray.
And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white.

"And behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of the fate that awaited him in Jerusalem.

"Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep, but when they became fully awake they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him.

"And as the men were parting from him, Peter said to Jesus, 'Master, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah' — not realizing what he said.

"As he was saying these things, a cloud came and overshadowed them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud.

"And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, 'This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!'"
- Luke 9:28-35 (ESV, adapt.)

Why is it that preachers often preach this story from the perspective of the wonders of a "mountaintop high"? Too often, we fall into the mindset that the Transfiguration story is one that points to the idea that while these "highs" can be wonderful, we need to return to the valleys, where the people live and where there is ministry to be done.

We tend to obscure this simple fact: this story is scary! Jesus glows and then is joined by two dead prophets! What we have here is a ghost story!

In this light, we are reminded that Transfiguration Sunday happens each year just before Lent, and that the real theme of this story is not the wonderful high of a mountaintop experience, but the cold, frightening anticipation of death. After this event, Jesus began to turn his face toward Jerusalem and "the fate that awaited him" there.

We have here an excellent "pre-Lent" narrative, a fine opportunity to begin the preparations for the dark pain of Good Friday as well as the unspeakable joy of Easter. Let's not just "get through" Transfiguration Sunday without giving this remarkably opportunity its due, and without giving this creepy text the morbid attention it deserves.

Monday, February 12, 2007

My "Theological worldview" 2007

(Thanks to Bruce Alderman, who took this quiz two years in a row and inspired me to do the same...interesting exercise.)

I took this quiz last February. My results can be viewed here. A year ago, I still scored highest as "Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan"...and, actually, at the same percentage as this year upon taking the quiz again.

A difference is that I scored higher percentages this year as "Roman Catholic" and (especially) "Emergent/Postmodern"; not sure why unless it's the books I've read since last year. The five at the bottom remained there, although my "Classical Liberal" score is significantly higher than last year.

So what does this all prove? Very little, but it's fun. It does confirm to me that I am very, very Wesleyan (a fact of which I am well aware), very ancient / traditionally minded (Roman Catholic), very much influenced by my age and my culture (Emergent/Postmodern), very wary of Calvinism (Reformed), and that far left liberals and far right fundamentalists frighten me.

You scored as Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan.
You are an evangelical in the Wesleyan tradition. You believe that God's grace enables you to choose to believe in him, even though you yourself are totally depraved. The gift of the Holy Spirit gives you assurance of your salvation, and he also enables you to live the life of obedience to which God has called us. You are influenced heavily by John Wesley and the Methodists.

Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan


Roman Catholic




Neo orthodox


Classical Liberal


Reformed Evangelical






Modern Liberal


What's your theological worldview?
created with

Sunday, February 11, 2007

1 Year

Today marks the first anniversary of this blog. Getting ready for worship now after spending Friday night/Saturday with Robyn...a nice weekend. What an amazing wife I have; God is good!

Friday, February 09, 2007

Happy Beatles Day!

On Feb. 9, 1964, the Beatles performed on the Ed Sullivan Show, which became one of the most watched performances in American history. After Ed Sullivan, the group was by far the biggest act in the United States, which remains true to this day. Today is a great day for Beatles fans and all who love music!

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

43 years ago today...

The Beatles landed in New York City, their first trip to North America. Greeted by gleefully screaming teenage fans and an extremely curious press, they already had the #1 single in the country ("I Want to Hold Your Hand"). Their arrival in the United States began a conquest and really set them on their journey to become the most important musicians of the twentieth century. Today is quite an important day in American music history.

Thank God for the Beatles!

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Sunday's Gospel: The Sermon on the Plain

"Jesus came down and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.

Then he looked up at his disciples and said:

'Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who are hungry now,
for you will be filled.
Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you,
and when they exclude you,
revile you, and defame you
on account of the Son of Man.

Rejoice in that day and leap for joy,
for surely your reward is great in heaven;
for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.

But woe to you who are rich,
for you have received your consolation.
Woe to you who are full now,
for you will be hungry.
Woe to you who are laughing now,
for you will mourn and weep.
Woe to you when all speak well of you,
for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.'"
- Luke 6:17-26 (NRSV, adapt.)

Monday, February 05, 2007

Super Bowl XLI review

I think that... may have been the ugliest Super Bowl I've ever watched...

...the highlight of the evening was Prince, who gave a great show, probably surpassed in Super Bowl halftime history only by U2 in 2002...

...I got the distinct impression that these weren't necessarily the best two teams in the NFL; they were simply the teams that survived, which doesn't take anything away from their accomplishments (I felt the same way last year), but it doesn't make for the most exciting, meaningful game...

...while he's not getting rave reviews today, I really liked Billy Joel's simple rendition of "The Star Spangled Banner"...he's always been more of a songwriter than a vocalist anyway, and I thought his sparse performance, which was a bit "pitchy" in spots, was honest and heartfelt...

...Peyton Manning finally got the monkey off his back and can now stand undisputed among the greatest QBs of all-time, including Aikman, Bradshaw, Brady, Elway, Favre, Montana, Staubach, Unitas, and Young; Manning is among the ten best ever to play the game, and may be among the top five, and his Hall of Fame election is a lock...

...the Chicago Bears looked like a mess, unable to get anything going offensively or defensively; take away the special teams touchdown which started the night, and the game looks even more one-sided...

...Tony Dungy may be the classiest guy in professional sports, and the fact that his commitment to the Lord surpasses his commitment to football is a powerful witness to the world...

...Prince, a great vocalist, writer, and performer, is also one of the top five guitarists who ever lived...

...Rex Grossman should not automatically be the Bears' starting QB next season; while there is enough blame to go around in Chicago, Grossman was a disaster, and coach Lovie Smith, another real class act, should bring in someone to challenge Grossman for the job (perhaps the underrated Charlie Batch)...

...the commercials weren't great, for the most part...

...the weekend announcement that Michael Irvin and Thurman Thomas were heading into the Hall of Fame was a long overdue announcement for both great players, but was a little marred for me since L.C. Greenwood and Russ Grimm both failed to make the cut...and what about Art Monk and Richard Dent? I figured they were locks...and why make Paul Tagliabue wait?...

...four-time Super Bowl champion Adam Vinatieri should be given serious consideration someday for induction in Canton, as the best clutch kicker in NFL history... that Peyton Manning has earned his ring, who is left among the good or great QBs currently playing who need this great achievement to secure their legacy? The already intense pressure on Eli Manning will likely increase, but Steve McNair and (especially) Donovan McNabb are going to feel a lot of urgency in the next few years...

...I'm really looking forward to Coach Mike Tomlin leading the Steelers to their sixth Super Bowl victory next season.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Super Bowl XLI

Two choices in the game tonight: root for Chicago OR believe in God. It's that simple.

Doesn't everyone want to see Peyton Manning win a Super Bowl, and Tony Dungy win one as a coach?

The game won't be as exciting as last year's Super Bowl, when the Steelers won it all, but at least with Manning and Dungy in the game, there's something good upon which to focus.


Saturday, February 03, 2007

1964: The Tribute

Robyn and I had a wonderful time on Friday night. A great couple from JUMC, the Kudravys, had given us a very thoughtful Christmas gift: a night with them enjoying 1964: The Tribute, the best Beatles tribute band in the world. Great fun!

We started the night at a new (for us) downtown restaurant called the "Sonoma Grille" (excellent steak), then off to the Benedum Center for the show. As many of my friends know, I consider the Beatles to be by far the greatest and most important musicians of our era, comparable to Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven in their respective periods. To see this great music recreated onstage with 2000 other loyal fans was great. We had seats in the sixth row, so I really felt a part of the event. We got to spend time with friends of the Kudravys as well, which was a lot of fun.

The show was fantastic, the music was faithful and timeless, but the best part of the night was spending time with my beautiful wife and two wonderful friends in Christ. Enjoying the simple pleasures of great music and fine food is a real treasure, and one I hope I never take for granted.

If "1964: The Tribute" returns next year (which is the hope), I encourage all people who love good music to try and catch them; it's worth the effort!

Thursday, February 01, 2007

It's a hockey night in Pgh...

...and I'm going downtown for the game at the Mellon Arena! The puck drops at 7:30 PM as the Pens take on the Montreal Candiens!

This is just great! I've been to Penguins games in the past, but tonight is sort of a "hat trick" for me in the 2006-2007 appointment year...I'll have attended a Pirates game, a Steelers game (actually, two), and now a Penguins game.

God is so, so good!

Isaiah 6: Here am I; send me!

"And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, 'Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?' Then I said, 'Here am I! Send me.'"
- Isaiah 6:8 (RSV)

Isaiah of Jerusalem experienced a vision of God. He was transported, in some way we cannot yet fully understand, to the very throne room of heaven. There, he witnessed angelic worship of the LORD God, and was himself cleansed of the guilt of sin (the Hebrew words used, "cuwr" and "kaphar", actually refer to atonement). What a frightening and glorious experience!

The response of Isaiah to this experience is a response God can rightly expect of us all. The prophet responded to God's presence, holiness, glory, and merciful atonement by answering the call to ministry and service: "Here am I! Send me!"

Priests are called to stand between God and the people, representing each on behalf of the other. They are called to do the work of ministry on behalf of the people. Pastors are called to lead the people in mission and equip the saints for ministry.

Isaiah was neither priest or pastor, not a part of the "professional clergy"; he was a faithful layperson who responded faithfully to the Lord's call. Each of us is called to respond to God's call to minister and to serve. We are all ministers!

The prophet responded not out of fear, but out of love and gratitude. We as the people of God are not merely saved from something (Hell); we are saved for something - holiness, ministry, and service. We are SAVED TO SERVE!

Those who say, "I am not worthy" or "I don't have the right gifts to serve" are absolutely wrong; it isn't about our ability, but our availability.

On the eve to the year's greatest sporting event, the Super Bowl, we can look at two football players as examples. Randy Moss is a wide receiver currently with the Oakland Raiders. He may be the most talented wide receiver in the history of the game. Despite his enormous talent, he hasn't won too many games and has never appeared in a Super Bowl. Part of the reason for this is that Randy Moss is not a team player. He gives up on his team and on the games in which he plays, displaying an incredibly bad attitude and an unwillingness to utilize his great talent to its fullest potential.

On the other hand, Hines Ward of our own Pittsburgh Steelers doesn't have Randy Moss' size or raw talent, but makes up for it with determination, teamwork, and great heart. As a result, Hines Ward is one of the best two or three receivers in the game, a Super Bowl MVP and a likely future Hall of Famer. His willingness and his heart make the difference.

God can use us in wonderfully miraculous ways if we simply make ourselves available to him, if we answer his call as Isaiah did centuries ago, "Here am I! Send me!"

I am reminded of a beautiful old song by the Christian rock and roll band Petra...
"I Am Available"
(Words & Music by Bob Hartman)

I don't have much to offer you,
I don't have much to give
There's so much I may never be
as long as I may live
I may never be all I want to be
although I'll always try
But if you choose me, to use me,
there's just one reason why

I am available, I am available
I will go when you say, "Go"
I am available, I am available
I will stop when you say, "No"
My whole life was incomplete
till I laid it at Your feet
So use me as You will,
I am available

I'm not the most dependable,
sometimes you can't rely
There's no excuse,
there's no defense,
there's only one reply

I am available, I am available
I will go when you say, "Go"
I am available, I am available
I will stop when you say, "No"
My whole life was incomplete till I laid it at Your feet
So use me as You will, I am available

I know that my ability is not Your main concern
my availability and willingness to learn

I am available, I am available

I will go when you say, "Go"
I am available, I am available
I will stop when you say, "No"
My whole life was incomplete till I laid it at Your feet
So use me as You will, I am available