Thursday, June 23, 2022

Love Song

 

Love Song is not only the name of one of the very first Christian rock bands, but it is also the title of their first album AND the first song on that album. With this month being the 50th anniversary of its release, it is high time this album gets the Truth Is track-by-track treatment.

Love Song Album Cover

The group broke the trail for all the Jesus musicians and Contemporary Christian Music artists that would follow. The song set the standard for artistry and evangelism that the group always kept at the center of their focus.

Lend an ear to a love song
Oooh a love song
Let it take you, let it start

What can you hear in a love song?
If you can feel it
Then you’re feelin’ from the heart

All the emotions, true feelings of life
is what music of love is about
If you are listening with peace in your heart
and no doubt

So listen now to a love song
If you can hear it
We will never be apart
(Chuck Girard - Jesse Johnston)

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Truth is...Take this song on its own, and you could be excused for thinking this is just another romantic attempt at getting a song on Top 40 radio. (In fact, my Beloved and I sang it to each other as part of our wedding vows!) But in the context of the whole album and the band's whole career, it's easy to see that Jesus is the love song they want everyone to hear.



Thursday, June 16, 2022

Joy or Cynicism. You Choose.

 

Whether you're basically happy or generally discontented may very well be a matter of choice.


Allow me, please, a pair of paragraphs from The Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri J. M. Nouwen:

I don't have to wait until all is well, but I can celebrate every little hint of the Kingdom that is at hand. This is a real discipline. It requires choosing for the light even when there is much darkness to frighten me, choosing for life even when the forces of death are so visible, and choosing for the truth even when I am surrounded with lies. I am tempted to be so impressed by the obvious sadness of the human condition that I no longer claim the joy manifesting itself in many small but very real ways. The reward of choosing joy is joy itself. Living among people with mental disabilities has convinced me of that. There is so much rejection, pain, and woundedness among us, but once you choose to claim the joy hidden in the midst of all suffering, life becomes celebration. Joy never denies the sadness, but transforms it to a fertile soil for more joy.

For me it is amazing to experience daily the radical difference between cynicism and joy. Cynics seek darkness wherever they go. They point always to approaching dangers, impure motives, and hidden schemes. They call trust naive, care romantic, and forgiveness sentimental. They sneer at enthusiasm, ridicule spiritual fervor, and despise charismatic behavior. They consider themselves realists who see reality for what it truly is and who are not deceived by "escapist emotions." But in belittling God's joy, their darkness only calls forth more darkness.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Truth is...I hope you consider this a call to "choose you this day" what lens to view the world through. As for me and my house, I'm on Jesus' side when he said "I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow!"  - John 15:11 (NLT)


Thursday, June 9, 2022

Jesus as the Prodigal Son

 

I'm almost finished reading Henri J. M. Nouwen's book The Return of the Prodigal Son, which is an extended meditation on Rembrandt's painting by that name and the parable that it's based on.


For the following quote to make more sense, it might be good to remind yourself that the original meaning of prodigal wasn't "wandering wastrel," but more along the lines of "extravagantly generous."

I am touching here the mystery that Jesus himself became the prodigal son for our sake. He left the house of his heavenly Father, came to a foreign country, gave away all that he had, and returned through his cross to his Father's home. All of this he did, not as a rebellious son, but as the obedient son, sent out to bring home all the lost children of God. Jesus, who told the story to those who criticized him for associating with sinners, himself lived the long and painful journey that he describes.

When I began to reflect on the parable and Rembrandt's portrayal of it, I never thought of the exhausted young man with the face of a newborn baby as Jesus. But now, after so many hours of intimate contemplation, I feel blessed by this vision. Isn't the broken young man kneeling before his father the "lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world"? Isn't he the innocent one who became sin for us? Isn't he the one who didn't "cling to his equality with God," but "became as human beings are"? Isn't he the sinless Son of God who cried out on the cross: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Jesus is the prodigal son of the prodigal Father who gave away everything the Father had entrusted to him so that I could become like him and return with him to his Father's home.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Truth is..."See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!" (1 John 3:1)


Thursday, June 2, 2022

I Get It...We Don't Like Change

 

No matter how reasonable, some changes will apparently never take place.


From Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, by Jared M. Diamond:

This book, like probably every other typed document you have ever read, was typed with a QWERTY keyboard, named for the left-most six letters in its upper row. Unbelievable as it may now sound, that keyboard layout was designed in 1873 as a feat of anti-engineering. It employs a whole series of perverse tricks designed to force typists to type as slowly as possible, such as scatter­ing the commonest letters over all keyboard rows and concentrating them on the left side (where right-handed people have to use their weaker hand). The reason behind all of those seemingly counterproductive features is that the typewriters of 1873 jammed if adjacent keys were struck in quick suc­cession, so that manufacturers had to slow down typists. When improve­ments in typewriters eliminated the problem of jamming, trials in 1932 with an efficiently laid-out keyboard showed that it would let us double our typing speed and reduce our typing effort by 95 percent. But QWERTY keyboards were solidly entrenched by then. The vested interests of hundreds of millions of QWERTY typists, typing teachers, typewriter and computer salespeople, and manufacturers have crushed all moves toward keyboard efficiency for over [140] years.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Truth is...I admit that this probably relates to part of the reason it is highly unlikely I will ever change my stance on the veracity of Jesus, but I hope that any non-believers who may read these words will recognize the same in themselves.


Thursday, May 26, 2022

Scabulous

 

John Koenig's The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows has given the world a word that deserves acceptance and celebration.

scabulous  -  adj. proud of a certain scar on your body, which is like an autograph signed to you by a world grateful for your continued willingness to play with her, even if it hurts. (From scab + fabulous)

Paul must have been feeling a little bit scabulous when he wrote in Second Corinthians 12:9, "He said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me."


It makes me think of Steven Curtis Chapman's song, "Remember Your Chains":

Remember your chains
Remember the prison that once held you
Before the love of God broke through
Remember the place you were without grace
When you see where you are now
Remember your chains
And remember your chains are gone



Truth is...Like Jacob's limp from having wrestled with God, what some people would call a weakness or a flaw, others can appreciate as a reminder of a life lived with bravery and strength.


Thursday, May 19, 2022

So Much Life!

 

2022.05.14  -  Saturday, 8:42 AM  -  Pacem in Terris Hermitage & Retreat Center, Isanti, MN

Sitting on the screened-in deck, I hear a woodpecker tapping away. There he is! Directly in front of me, about 30 yards to the east, intermittently hammering its beak into a  -  what?  - a birch tree?

A squirrel bounces from a pile of leaves to a fallen limb. A cardinal flies off on a mission. A smaller bird flits from tree to tree. A dragonfly finds its way back to the shore of the lake.

And the sounds!

In addition to the tapping of the woodpecker, there is a symphony of chirps, tweets, whistles, honks, and quacks. The leaves are rustling, both on the ground and in the trees.

A strong breeze wakes up and swoops through the woods as if to say, "Here you go, gang! Something fresh for your morning!"

So much life!

And this is just in the two or three acres I can physically see. There's a whole world of this going on "out there."

It's like birds. I'm aware of a fairly limited list of bird species. Let's see...eagles, hawks, condors, vultures, woodpeckers, robins, sparrows, cardinals, bluejays, hummingbirds, crows, and owls. Twelve kinds of birds. That's pretty varied. But wait. What about ducks, geese, pelicans, penguins, peacocks, ostriches, emus, falcons, finches, and pheasants?

What about the fact that there are over 11,000 different kinds of birds?

So much life!

And don't get me started on insects or bacteria. That's a whole other miniature universe.

So much life!

And humans account for such an invisibly small slice of the pie.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Truth is...Psalm 8:4: What is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?


Thursday, May 12, 2022

On Indecision

 

From Ulysses S. Grant by Brooks D. Simpson.


"That winter James Rusling, a colonel in the quartermaster's department, caught his first look at the hero of Chattanooga [Grant] and was disappointed. Here was no shiny general with brass buttons, sash and sword, but a rather common-looking man, just like 'a country storekeeper or a western farmer.' The general was 'evidently intent on everything but show.' But when it came to giving orders, Grant came alive, his 'clear and penetrating eye' and set jaw suggesting that he could 'dare great things, and hold on mightily, and toil terribly' in pursuit of his objective. He might be a man of few words, but 'he knew exactly what he wanted, and why and when he wanted it.' Nearly every night the general could be found using the telegraph to keep tabs on his command (and the enemy), as he pondered the next move.

"Once, the colonel approached Grant with a requisition order authorizing large expenditures. Briefly reviewing the report, the general gave his approval, catching the colonel by surprise. Might the general want to ponder the matter a little longer? Was he sure he was right? Grant looked up. 'No, I am not,' he responded; 'but in war, anything is better than indecision. We must decide. If I am wrong, we shall soon find it out and can do the other thing. But not to decide wastes both time and money, and may ruin everything.'"

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Truth is...There really are only three options: Lead, Follow, or Get Out of the Way.


Thursday, May 5, 2022

What Are You Leaning On?

 

When we moved to our current house in May of 1995, we had to tidy up the back yard a little bit. There was a stray railroad tie that we weren't sure what to do with, so we leaned it up against a maple tree "for now".

Now, these many years later, we couldn't put that railroad tie anywhere else, even if we wanted to. The tree trunk has grown around the end that was resting on it and has even lifted the railroad tie off the ground as the tree stretches toward the sky.


Truth is...A person could draw more than one lesson from this little parable, and you are invited to do so. For me, it shows the importance of what I choose to lean on in life for stability and balance...because eventually, I will not only be leaning on it, I will be part of it. Praise God that when I lean on Jesus, he accepts me as his own and brings me closer to the Father.


Thursday, April 28, 2022

Ever Wonder Why You Were Born?

 

Right off the bat, let's get a clear understanding of what I'm talking about. I don't mean how were you conceived or the reasoning behind your parents' desire for a family. I do mean, what significance does your life have, lived with your choices and motivations and passions. What is the grand-scale purpose of your existence on Planet Earth?

Consider the following chart.


If you really love something and the world really needs it, that constitutes a personal mission for you.

If the world needs something and you get paid for doing it or supplying it, that is a vocation.

If you are great at something and are getting paid for it, that is your profession.

If you really love something and you are great at it, that can be considered your passion.

But when all of that comes together into one thing; when your vocation, profession, passion, and mission find a single point of focus...that can be considered your purpose.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Truth is...a purpose-driven life is so much more than a book title. To live in harmony with how God has wired you up will bring satisfaction to you and practically everyone you come in contact with. It is a union greatly to be desired.


Thursday, April 21, 2022

Everybody Stars in Their Own Story

 

The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, by John Koenig, is a "dictionary of made-up words for emotions that we all feel but don't have the words to express." I'm currently borrowing it from my youngest daughter, but I may need to buy a copy for myself.

It's the kind of book that you can't just sit down and read through. Each page...or even just a part of a page...needs to be sat with for a bit and allowed to simmer.

My interest in this book was solidified because of one word that appears in the introductory section.

sonder: the realization that each random passerby is the main character of their own story, in which you are just an extra in the background.

When I read that, my jaw dropped and my eyes grew wide.

It really shouldn't have been such a revelatory moment. I mean, for a long time I have certainly felt like I was starring in a movie about me. Why shouldn't everyone else feel the same way about themselves?

Then my daughter directed me to the following video created by Koenig, and I knew I needed to read this book.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Even though the word didn't exist at the time, I first experienced sonder during my first mission trip to Panama.

Our small group had parked our van on one end of a slab of asphalt that served as the neighborhood basketball court. We hung a sheet on the broad side of the van to use as a movie screen to show The Jesus Film. In preparation for the movie, and to help gather a crowd, our Panamanian hosts led a time of worship.

Then it hit me. Even though I had grown up in a church that emphasized mission work and I knew in my head that God's love applied to every people and every language group, I still had a feeling that God was paying particular attention to wherever I was and whatever I was doing. But standing there listening to worship songs that I couldn't understand a single word of, I realized that Yahweh was right there, enjoying every note.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Truth is...He's got the whole world in his hands.


Thursday, April 14, 2022

The New Testament in 50 Minutes

 

Previously on Truth Is... we traveled through thousands of years of Middle Eastern history, thanks to Jeff Walling, getting an overview of the main point of the collection of writings that has come to be known as the Bible; specifically, the Old Testament.

This week, let's do the same with Walling's quick flyover of the New Testament.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Truth is... It's not too hard to understand. It's not a bunch of made-up googily moogily. It is the grand scheme of time unfolding so the world will know that God loves forever.



Thursday, April 7, 2022

The Old Testament in 50 Minutes

 

It's one thing to pick a couple Bible verses and use them to support your opinion or argue against someone else's or decorate your home, but it's something else to have a comprehensive understanding of what God's main point is throughout the whole Bible.

I found a little something that might help.

I have been grateful for and benefitted from the abilities of Jeff Walling since way back in the days when I was a youth pastor. I

If you take the time to watch the video below, I think you'll understand why.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Truth is...even this is only part of the story. Come back next week for the exciting conclusion! (Or perhaps, an exciting beginning?)


Thursday, March 31, 2022

Life Means So Much

 

As a follow-up to last week's post about how brief life is, let's allow Chris Rice to encourage us with his song, "Life Means So Much."


Every day is a journal page
Every man holds a quill and ink
And there's plenty of room for writing in
All we do and believe and think
So will you compose a curse
Or will today bring the blessings
Fill the page with rhyming verse
Or some random sketchings

Teach us to count the days
Teach us to make the days count
Lead us in better ways
Somehow our souls forgot
Life means so much
Life means so much
Life means so much

Every day is a bank account
And time is our currency
So no one's rich, nobody's poor
We get 24 hours each
So how are you gonna spend
Will you invest or squander
Try to get ahead
Or help someone who's under

Has anybody lived who knew the value of a life
And don't you think giving His all would prove
The worth of yours and mine

Teach us to count the days
Teach us to make the days count
Lead us in better ways
That somehow our souls forgot
Life means so much

Every day is a gift you've been given
Make the most of the time every minute you're living
©2000 Clumsy Fly Music


*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Truth is...what we do with the admittedly-small amount of time we are given matters. How we treat people makes a difference...for them and for us and for all eternity. "Teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom." (Psalm 90:12)


Thursday, March 24, 2022

Calvin & Hobbes & Whoosh

 

We join Calvin and his tiger friend, Hobbes, as Calvin sets up a premise.


Having established his concept, he now asks a series of probing questions.



Leading to a visual depiction of an existential crisis.


Not surprisingly, Rich Mullins has a meaningful song to sing about how quickly life passes by and how we should respond to that. Here's a sample of the lyric and a link to the song.

So much life is slipping past you
You better sink in and take a hold
So many things you say you think you'd like to do
About the things you think you know
Well, that road that's paved with good intentions
May never reach the streets of gold
No, no, no

So much love is on the inside
Better give in and let it out
Any fool could tell you why
But let the Spirit show you how
Speak your heart and maybe you could shed light
On the shadow of someone's doubt
Yeah, yeah, yeah

So don't hold out, don't let these chances pass you by
Here's your life, you're gonna get it right
Live like you'll die tomorrow
Die knowing you'll live forever, live right
Love like you'll leave tomorrow
Believing love lasts forever, live right


*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Truth is...In light of eternity, one person's lifespan doesn't even amount to a slab of concrete in a sidewalk. And yet, that tiny, blink-and-you'll-miss-it bit of time has a profound effect on eternity. (Less on the fleetness of life and more on the importance of life...next week.)


Thursday, March 17, 2022

Indiana Jones and the Misplaced Trust

 

You've heard it said that it doesn't matter what you believe as long as you're sincere. Welllll...I'm not so sure about that. Consider, if you will, the example of Dr. Henry Jones, Jr. He believed he could accurately guess the weight of a golden idol to within a handful of sand's tolerance. We all know how that turned out.

How much does this weigh?

He believed he could trust his assistant to throw him the whip after having received the idol.

No time to argue!

And yet..."Adios, amigo."

See ya, sucker

He believed he could jump across a gaping pit...

Missed it by THAT much

...to no avail. In the worst bit of acting you'll ever see from Harrison Ford, he telegraphs his delight at being able to grasp a vine that he believes will save him.

"And now, I must look happy"

But alas...

Oops

He manages to climb onto the ledge and believes he's home free until he gets chased by a huge, perfectly spherical boulder.

Could've just ducked and let it roll past him

He jumps clear of the danger and believes he can pick himself up, dust himself off, and take the relic to its rightful place in a museum.

Belloq procures

"Doctor Jones, again we see there is nothing you can possess which I cannot take away."

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Truth is...The truth of a matter truly matters.


Thursday, March 10, 2022

One Hundred Crashing Jetliners

 

I'm in the middle of reading Richard Stearns' 2009 book, The Hole in Our Gospel, and I've been knocked back on my heels by the opening of Chapter Nine:


Whenever a major jetliner crashes anywhere in the world, it inevitably sets off a worldwide media frenzy covering every aspect of the tragedy. I want you to imagine for a moment that you woke up this morning to the following headline: "One Hundred Jetliners Crash, Killing 26,500." Think of the pandemonium this would create across the world as heads of state, parliaments, and congresses convened to grapple with the nature and causes of this tragedy. Think about the avalanche of media coverage that it would ignite around the globe as reporters shared the shocking news and tried to communicate its implications for the world. Air travel would no doubt grind to a halt as governments shut down airlines and panicked air travelers canceled their trips. The National Transportation Safety Board and perhaps the FBI, CIA, and local law enforcement agencies and their international equivalents would mobilize investigations and dedicate whatever manpower was required to understand what happened and to prevent it from happening again.

Now imagine that the very next day, one hundred more planes crashed  -  and one hundred more the next, and the next, and the next. It is unimaginable that something this terrible could ever happen.

But it did  -  and it does.

It happened today, and it happened yesterday. It will happen again tomorrow. But there was no media coverage. No heads of state, parliaments, or congresses stopped what they were doing to address the crisis, and no investigations were launched. Yet more than 26,500 children died yesterday of preventable causes related to their poverty, and it will happen again today and tomorrow and the day after that. Almost 10 million children will be dead in the course of a year.

So why does the crash of a single plane dominate the front pages of newspapers across the world while the equivalent of one hundred planes filled with children crashing daily never reaches our ears? And even though we now have the awareness, the access, and the ability to stop it, why have we chosen not to? Perhaps one reason is that these kids who are dying are not our kids; they're somebody else's.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Truth is...Stearns takes his whole book to deal with how to deal with such a tremendous tragedy, and I'm not done reading it yet, but I hope that if this is the voice of God calling me to care, I will get beyond being shocked and get active instead.


Thursday, March 3, 2022

Remembering Selma

 

57 years ago, people who only wanted their basic rights as citizens of the United States of America to be acknowledged were viciously attacked on a bridge in Selma, Alabama. They were attacked by the very people who had sworn to uphold the law.


The following summary is from Landslide by Jonathan Darman.

"Selma's voter registration practices were grotesquely unjust. Time magazine observed the activists' efforts in the city in January of 1965:

Negroes stood in line for up to five hours a day waiting to enter Room 122 in the courthouse. During the two weeks only 93 got in, since only one applicant was admitted at a time. Each had to answer a series of biographical questions, then provide written answers in a 20-page test on the Constitution, federal, state and local governments. (Sample questions: Where do presidential electors cast ballots for President? Name two rights a person has after he has been indicted by a grand jury.) To prove literacy, each applicant had to write down passages from the Constitution read to him by the registrar. The registrar was the sole judge of whether the applicant's writing was passable, and whether his test answers were correct.

"Selma was, in other words, the kind of place that could make the country care about the fact that millions of its black citizens had been denied the right to participate in their democracy, the kind of place that could take a country that had turned a blind eye toward the violation of its Constitution for a century and finally force that country to see. As January turned to February, the press became transfixed by the barbarism of [Dallas County Sheriff James] Clark's forces: their eagerness to assault black citizens who were simply waiting in line, their tendency not to calm white mobs but to whip them up. The Johnson administration had made noises about a push for a voting rights law as part of its hundred days agenda. But conventional wisdom was that Johnson would not risk further full-scale combat with the Southern bloc in the Senate so soon after his 1964 civil rights success. The movement activists wanted to make it impossible for Washington to wait. From the pulpit in Selma's Brown Chapel, King used a familiar phrase to make the case for moral urgency: 'We've gone too far now to turn back. And in a real sense, we are moving. And we cannot afford to stop because Alabama, and because our nation, has a date with destiny.'

"Destiny came on March 7 on Selma's Edmund Pettus Bridge. The movement activists had set out on a march to Montgomery, the Alabama capital, where they would demand that the state's governor provide protection against white mobs, protection that Clark's forces certainly would not provide. In response, Clark effectively declared a race war, announcing that all of Dallas County's white male citizenry would be deputized under his command. The two sides met at the bridge. At the front line, the marchers were quiet as they stood erect. At first, when the police force charged them, the nonviolent protesters simply toppled over and let their persecutors tread upon them. Then everything was swallowed up by a high, unified shriek -- the sound of a mass of demonstrators suddenly engulfed in chaos. It was the sound of ordinary men and women on a public thoroughfare coming under attack.

"For history, that day in Selma would be Bloody Sunday. The mangled faces on the television broadcasts that night showed why. Subsequent generations of American schoolchildren would be shown the footage from the Edmund Pettus Bridge in order to learn what courage looks like, and what evil looks like, too."

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Truth is...I'm not sure schoolchildren are being shown this anymore, and that grieves me. I'm also pretty sure that some of those nightstick-wielding police officers had sat in church that morning and sung hymns and prayed prayers and agreed with Jesus when he said "whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me," (Matthew 25:40) and that grieves me.

And I know that the color of our skin still affects how some people interact with us.

And that grieves me.


Thursday, February 24, 2022

If It's Not One Thing, It's Another (Actually, It's BOTH Things)

 

For those of us who, like the old camp song says, "have decided to follow Jesus," it's not unusual to think about how Jesus' death made it possible for our sins to be forgiven. But forgiveness is not the only reason Christ died.


It's right here in Titus 2:14. Jesus gave himself for us to:
       1) Redeem us from all wickedness, and
       2) Purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.


It's right here in the hymn, "Nothing But the Blood of Jesus":
       1) What can wash away my sin?
       2) What can make me whole again?


It's right here in "Search Me, O God":
       1) Cleanse me from every sin and
       2) Set me free


It directly relates to why we call Jesus our Savior AND Lord.


Truth is...It's one thing to be forgiven. It's something else entirely to learn to "say 'No' to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ." (Titus 2:12-13, NIV)


Thursday, February 17, 2022

For Those Who Think I've Got It All Together

 

I'm just a little over a month shy of having been doing this blog for ten years.

Before that, I became an elder at my church.

Before that, I spent 14 years of my life ministering to and with teenagers; attempting to make disciples out of the clay God put in my reach.

With all of that, you might be tempted to think I've become a mature, in-the-zone kind of Jesus follower: full of wisdom and truth and the confidence that comes from being acclimated to hearing God's voice and walking in step with the Spirit.

"Here's a guy that's been around the track a few times and has a firm grip on God's specific will for his life."



Truth is...since leaving vocational ministry in 1998, my life has been a series of walking through doors that have been opened. There has been no overwhelming sense of any step being exactly what God wanted or any activity being what everything up to that point in my life had prepared me for. Sure, there have been flickers of light and echoes of harmonious collaborations with the Spirit, but nothing that has made my eyes open wide and caused me to say, "Oh, NOW I understand!"

But still, even if I can't see God's hand in every little detail, I am still convinced he loves me in incomprehensible ways. I trust his heart is inclined toward me...as it is toward each person reading these words.


Thursday, February 10, 2022

Romans 7 Per Calvin & Hobbes

 

We find our hero, Calvin, at the top of a snowy hill.


He comes to a shocking realization.


The apostle Paul put it like this in Romans 7:18-20 (NLT):

I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Truth is...We all suffer from this dilemma, but we also all can enjoy the same solution Paul expressed in verses 24 and 25: "Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord."


Thursday, February 3, 2022

Clowning Around With the Gospel

 

Godspell holds a unique place in the history of musical theater. I mean, there aren't a whole lot of Broadway musicals birthed as someone's master's thesis that feature a group of childlike clowns acting out Biblical parables to a pop music score...while being led by Jesus in a Superman shirt.

Movie cast of Godspell

At the time Godspell was gaining popularity, it also collected a few distractors who thought the play was belittling the teachings of Jesus. Ironically, the intent was the exact opposite.

Consider the following account of how John-Michael Tebelak came to write the show, taken from Carol de Giere's book The Godspell Experience: Inside a Transformative Musical.

While searching for material for his thesis project, Tebelak read through several miracle plays and passion plays, but felt them to be "very heavy." Then, one afternoon, he read the four Gospels of the New Testament in one sitting. "Afterward, I became pretty excited because I found what I wanted to portray on stage...Joy!"
       Tebelak resolved to attend a church service, and it was there that a spiritual experience, or rather lack thereof, completed the inspiration for the new musical. On a snowy Easter morning in 1970, Tebelak arrived at the Anglican Cathedral in Pittsburgh wearing his standard overalls and scraggly Afro haircut. The people sitting near him were complaining about the snowfall upsetting their plans.
       He explained later to Dramatics Magazine, "An old priest came out and mumbled into a microphone, and people mumbled things back, and then everyone got up and left. Instead of 'healing' the burden, or resurrecting the Christ, it seems those people had pushed Him back into the tomb. They had refused to let Him come out that day."
       As Tebelak left the service, a policeman who had been sitting a few pews in front of him wanted to frisk him for drugs. "Apparently he had thought I was ducking into the church to escape the snowstorm. At that moment  -  I think because of the absurd situation  -  it angered me so much that I went home and realized what I wanted to do with the Gospels: I wanted to make it the simple, joyful message that I felt the first time I read them and re-create the sense of community, which I did not share when I went to that service."
       For Tebelak, associating Biblical material with clowns didn't mean he was making fun of religion. Rather
, he wanted his project to be an antidote to lifeless and boring spiritual experiences; clownlike performances were a means to an end.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Truth is...Father God, while I am glad that Godspell exists, I pray that the way I live my life, express my faith, and worship with my church family will never come close to mimicking the joyless experience that motivated its creation.


Thursday, January 27, 2022

A Parenting Tip from Mayberry

 

Opie Taylor had befriended a hobo that was temporarily visiting the environs of Mayberry. The hobo was harmless enough. He had no evil agenda other than to live off the land, even if that land included pies that someone else had baked or bubble gum that wasn't paid for.


It seems that Opie's association with the transient was having a negative effect on the young lad's moral character, so Opie's father, Sherrif Andy Taylor, decided to have a little chat with the hobo.

The hobo, of course, defended his lifestyle choices and even suggested that Andy ought to let the boy make decisions for himself.

Andy's answer to that suggestion isn't Scripture, but it sure contains a lot of wisdom:

"No, I'm afraid it don't work that way. You can't let a young’n decide for himself. He'll grab at the first flashy thing with shiny ribbons on it. Then, when he finds out there's a hook in it, it's too late. Wrong ideas come packaged with so much glitter that it's hard to convince them that other things might be better in the long run. All a parent can do is say 'Wait' and 'Trust me' and try to keep temptation away."

Truth is..."The heart is deceitful above all things" (Jeremiah 17:9), but "[God] will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you." (Ezekiel 36:26)


Thursday, January 20, 2022

Cussing With Jesus

 

Today we turn to our friends at Radio Free Babylon for Coffee With Jesus' take on the third commandment. It opens with a recurring character, Carl, expressing something about modern culture that he doesn't like.


Jesus has a somewhat surprising take on the subject...of course.


Carl clarifies.


Then Jesus brings it home with the personal application he intended.


*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Truth is...we can add the ubiquitous "OMG" to Jesus' list, can't we?


Thursday, January 13, 2022

Michael J. Fox On Gratitude

 

If you're aware of Michael J. Fox at all, you probably remember him as the star of the successful sitcom Family Ties and the three Back to the Future films. You may also identify him as the amazingly optimistic actor who has been fighting Parkinson's for three decades.


You may not have heard that in 2018, he had surgery to partially remove a benign tumor that was coiled around his spinal cord and that four months later he fell at home, resulting in a shattered left arm that had to be stabilized with a metal plate and 19 screws.

At this point, let me quote from an article by Andrew Corsello published in AARP The Magazine:

"As he dropped into what he says was a prolonged 'dark patch,' Fox began questioning everything  -  even his own optimism. Is it still possible for me to be optimistic and realistic at the same time? he asked himself. In other words, had the price of keeping up a good face, of striving to remain the playful, glass-half-full guy audiences had always loved, of being 'Michael J. Fox,' become too steep?"

Perhaps not surprisingly, he did indeed find a way to become optimistic again, and shared his secret in answer to the question, How did you pull out of that dark place your surgery and fall had plunged you into?

"For one thing, I am genuinely a happy guy. I don't have a morbid thought in my head  -  I don't fear death. At all. But as I came through that darkness, I also had an insight about my father-in-law, who had passed away and always espoused gratitude and acceptance and confidence. And I started to notice things I was grateful for and the way other people would respond to difficulty with gratitude. I concluded that gratitude makes optimism sustainable. And if you don't think you have anything to be grateful for, keep looking. Because you don't just receive optimism. You can't wait for things to be great and then be grateful for that. You've got to behave in a way that promotes that."


Truth is...If you're worried and you can't sleep, just count your blessings instead of sheep, and you'll fall asleep counting your blessings. (Irving Berlin)


Thursday, January 6, 2022

Are We Spinning Our Wheels?

 

You've heard the phrase "spinning our wheels," right? It refers to having a vehicle sitting in mud or snow or on a patch of ice and being able to supply power to the drivetrain and turn the wheels, but with no traction, not being able to move the vehicle forward.


According to the following quote from The Body by Bill Bryson, something similar can happen in the practice of medicine:

We have reached the decidedly bizarre point in health care in which pharmaceutical companies are producing drugs that do exactly what they are designed to do but without necessarily doing any good. A case in point is the drug atenolol, a beta-blocker designed to lower blood pressure, which has been widely prescribed since 1976. A study in 2004, involving a total of twenty-four thousand patients, found that atenolol did indeed reduce blood pressure but did not reduce heart attacks or fatalities compared with giving no treatment at all. People on atenolol expired at the same rate as everyone else, but as one observer put it "they just had better blood-pressure numbers when they died."

It makes me wonder if sometimes the church might be guilty of the same thing. A group of people who all believe basically the same things about Jesus meet together and pray and study the Bible and sing. They have a sign out front and parking out back and pay their bills consistently. They "do church" just fine, but seem to have no effect on the neighborhood they're in other than making the restaurants busy for Sunday lunch.

Truth is...I sometimes wonder if the same can be said about me.