Monday, May 30, 2011

I Remembered Something

Memorial Day is all about remembering.

I remember being surprised as a teenage Kiwi student, studying in the U.S. One day I received a letter from the U.S. Government, asking me to register with the Selective Service System since they were contemplating re-instituting the draft. 

It was around the time of the botched attempt to rescue American hostages held at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran (April 1980), which many think cost Carter his presidency. Tensions were high, and there was talk about the possibility of war.

After getting over my surprise that foreign students could be conscripted to fight, I sent off my registration, and wondered what would come of it.

That's the closest I've ever come to war: putting a piece of mail in the mailbox and imagining.

When I think of those who actually were conscripted for this or that war, and especially of those who volunteered, and went off to fight, I am incredibly grateful.

War is hell. There are a hundred reasons not to go to war. And there are a handful of reasons to go to war. Sometimes countries get it right, and sometimes they get it wrong.

Whatever the case at the political level, those who actually go are heroes in many ways, starting with the "mere" fact of them going. Even that, I can only imagine.

And then there are those who go, and who engage in hostilities and suffer in ways I have no clue about, along with their families.

This morning's Wisconsin State Journal has a moving article from the Chicago Tribune about a few of those heroes. Here's the electronic version:,0,74747,full.column

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Thinking Theologically About Memorial Day

Kevin DeYoung has a thought-provoking and, I think, helpful post about keeping Memorial Day (Monday) distinct from Sunday.

The points on which he elaborates:
  1. Being a Christian does not remove ethnic or national identities
  2. Patriotism, like other earthly 'prides,' can be a virtue or a vice
  3. Allegiance to God and allegiance to your country are not inherently incompatible
  4. God's people are not tied to any one nation
  5. While patriotism can be good, the church is not a good place for patriotism
Read what he has to say here:

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Thanks to Those Who Serve(d)

I just finished watching Tom Hanks' The Pacific. It's the 10-part HBO series which chronicles the U.S. Marines' experiences in the Pacific during WWII.

It's not as sweeping an epic as Band of Brother and, on many levels, not as interesting. But since my dad served in the Pacific, it felt a whole lot more real.

It is gritty, intense, lusty, vulgar, violent, and utterly compelling viewing. Probably the single best word to describe it is brutal. I have watched Band of Brothers three times. I won't be watching The Pacific again. Once was enough.

What a reminder of all that so many brave (and terrified) men and women went through (and are going through) for us. Words, and perhaps even images, are inadequate to really convey the reality, the hell, they endure(d).

Or the debt we owe them.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Rapture Happened in Madison! Harold Was Right After All!

Madison police are investigating a strange find Sunday in Olin-Turville Park where 30 sets of clothes, some with burn marks, along with wallets, watches and keys, were found in a circle the day after the Rapture was predicted to take place.

Facebook Depression

Aha! I have just discovered the reason I was depressed a few weeks ago:

The American Academy of Pediatrics warns of a new problem called "Facebook Depression." It results from being bombarded with friend tallies, status updates, and photos of people happy, having the time of their lives, when you are not.

Here's the link to the full article:

Actually, I don't think that was the reason. In fact, I know it wasn't. But I am still looking for ways to disengage from technology or, at least, be a whole lot more aware of how it is affecting me.

Tim Challies' book, The Next Story: Life & Faith After the Digital Explosion, is the culprit. Or, should I say, hero. True, I read most of the book on my android phone, and then my Kindle, which I got for my birthday (50% better contrast, 21% smaller, and 17% lighter -- that's the Kindle, not me).

I'm now 22% through Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte. Slight change of style and topic. But I'm find myself still thinking about Challies' book. It's that kind of book.

While there is a range of possible responses--from enthusiastic embrace to strict separation--the response of the thinking Christian should be disciplined discernment. In this approach, a Christian looks carefully at the new realities, weighs and evaluates them, and educates himself, thinking deeply about the potential consequences and effects of using a particular technology. Through it all, even as he is using a particular technology, he disciplines himself to be discerning, to embace what can be embraced and to reject what needs to be rejected. He moves beyond the broad strokes of utter rejection and complete acceptance. Instead he relies on the Holy Spirit, who speaks his wisdom through the Bible, to learn how he can live with virtue in this new digital world.
                                                       - Tim Challies, The Next Story (Zondervan, 2011), 17.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Jesus' Return on May 21 Was Really 'Spiritual'

File photo of Harold Camping

Harold Camping, who said he knew "without any shadow of a doubt" that Judgment Day was coming May 21, and that there was "no Plan B," now has a Plan B.

He admitted that he "felt terrible" that he didn't plot the Rapture events "as accurately as I could have," and so vanished for a few days to a motel to regroup.

At least he had some money left for a motel. Many of his followers have cashed in their life savings to finance (according to one of his employee's estimate) the $100,000,000 doomsday billboard campaign all around the world.

Sadly, his sense of embarrassment has not caused him to reconsider that even attempting to set a date for Christ's return might be wrong. Rather, it's just the specifics that need tweaking. And so, Christ did return on May 21... in a spiritual sense. And the whole world will be physically destroyed October 21. Beyond a shadow of a doubt!

Ironic that the placard in the photo a couple of posts below this one quotes Proverbs 3:7: "Be not wise in thine own eyes." Precisely!

Harold Camping would do well to ponder Solomon's wisdom. Camping has engaged in the ultimate form of idolatry, elevating his distorted and convoluted interpretation of Scripture to the status of new revelation. He, alone, has the wisdom to discern when Jesus will return! He alone has the inside scoop and will announce it, and, in that sense, be the savior of the world! What a task, what a burden and privilege to have such knowledge! Perhaps most impressive of all is that he's one up on Jesus because Jesus himself didn't know when he would return. And, of course, Jesus said no one else would either, until he that shall be called Harold came on the scene.

No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father and Harold Camping.  - Mark 13:32.

Let's go to the Old Testmant to balance our use of Scripture:

You may say to yourselves, 'How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the Lord?' If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken.
That prophet has spoken presumptuously.  - Deuteronomy 18:21-22.

But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded him to say...must be put to death.  - Deuteronomy 18:20.

May God be at work to undo the damage Camping has done to the credibility of His Word, of the Gospel, and of Christ's return. And may we be reminded and repent of how easily our own pride can blind us to truth and cause us to twist Scripture to say what we want it to!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Technology & Idolatry

I love to read. Many books inform my thinking; occasionally one transforms my thinking. Tim Challies' latest book, The Next Story, is in the 2nd category. I'm not done with it yet, and won't be for a while as it deserves a second reading. Here's a sample:

There are always spiritual realities linked to our use of technology. We know that there is often a link between our use of technology and idolatry, that our idols are often good things that want to become ultimate things in our lives. Communication with others is just this sort of thing, a very good thing that can so easily become an ultimate thing--an idol in our hearts.

How can we tell if something has become an idol in our lives? One possible sign of idolatry is when we devote an inordinate amount of time and attention to something, when we feel less than complete without it. It may be something that we look at right before we go to sleep and the first thing we give our attention to when we wake up. It may be the kind of thing that keeps us awake, even in the middle of the night.

A 2010 study by Oxygen Media and Lightspeed Research sampled the habits of 1,605 young adults. The researchers found that one-third of women between the ages of eighteen and thirty-four check Facebook when they first wake up, before they even head to the bathroom; 21% check it in the middle of the night; 39% of them declare that they are addicted to Facebook.

- Tim Challies: The Next Story (2010), 70.

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Friday, May 20, 2011

My Last Post. Or Maybe Not.

Got a phone call today from someone concerned the world is going to end tomorrow. Seriously.

And it really bothers me. Not that they would call. Nor that they would even wonder if it might happen. I mean, I have days when I wish the world would end tomorrow.

But I'm bothered that Harold Camping, the great seer who got it wrong in 1994, is back at it again. But this time he's got it right, he says. And this time there's absolutely no doubt.

And we wonder why people think Christians are idiots. . .

Update Saturday 4pm (AP Report):

As the deadline for the Apocalpyse passed in the Pacific islands, New Zealand and Australia, it seems the end of the world prediction is fizzling. 
Twitter users around the world expressed their mock disappointment to the "non-rapture." 

Daniel Boerman tweeted: "I'm from New Zealand, it is 6:06PM, the world has NOT ended. No earthquakes here, all waiting for the rapture can relax for now. #Rapture"

In Australia, Jon Gall tweeted: "#Rapture time here in Melbourne. A rather quiet sort of rapture if you ask me." Also writing, "Well we have had the #Rapture going for 50 minutes now. So far it hasn't interrupted my fish & chips and glass of stout."

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Back in the Land of the Living

It's amazing what some R&R will do. Some sleep-ins, a good novel or two, or even three. Some good conversations with God. And family.

I am pleased to report that my general malaise is over. For now. Ah, life. What a gift from God. A forty-nine-year-old-gift in my case, as of yesterday, or the day before if you factor in my antipodean birthplace.

One of my staff members, in all sincerity, congratulated me on being half a century. I would have punched him out if he wasn't bigger than me and didn't have Prussian origins.

Another staff member gave me a box of my favorite kind of licorice, 'Good & Plenty,' which takes on an entirely different meaning as one approaches old age and consumes licorice in the kind of addictive quantities I do.

Another staff member gave me a helium balloon with a clip, which I clipped to my ear, and then my shirt pocket when that became too painful.

Ah, the simple pleasures of life.

I've been reflecting on them a fair bit the last week or so, and not just because I helped officiate at the funeral of a 92-year-old saint who left this life for the next.

I've been reading a superb book by Tim Challies titled The Next Story: Life & Faith After the Digital Explosion. Ironically, I'm reading the whole book on my Android phone; it was a lot cheaper than getting it in print.

Challies, a Canadian who lives just close enough to the border to be considered an "honorary American" by those suspicious of anything not home-grown, is himself deeply enmeshed in the digital world. But in this book he steps outside it to examine that world (our world) through the lens of Scripture and theology.

His cautions and caveats have certainly grabbed my attention. Maybe I'll share some quotes along the way.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

I'm Depressed

Hello declining pool of faithful readers: all two of you, and my mom if she were still alive. I haven't written anything for a while, and don't really feel like it now. So much for the regular and inspiring pastoral pep-talk that most blogs like this aspire to be.
"Yes you can! Yes you can!"
But I can't.
I feel like the little engine that could. Until he couldn't.

I know... I wrote something about Rob Bell a few weeks ago and ended it with 'to be continued...' It's sitting there in my 'Draft' box, as insightful a piece of theological reflection you'll ever find anywhere in cyberspace. Ha! But I can't be bothered re-reading it, let alone clicking the 'publish' button. And I only feel moderately guilty about not completing something I said I would.

What is happening here?

It's called "I'm a mess." Ok, that's a bit dramatic. How about, "I'm wrung out"? Ok, that's a bit better. But why don't we settle on "I'm just tired."

I had a morning of prayer with some other Madison pastors this week, and stumbled upon this psalm (86) which became my own:

Hear, O LORD, and answer me,
     for I am poor and needy.
Guard my life, for I am devoted to you.
     You are my God; save your servant
     who trusts in you.
Have mercy on me, O Lord,
     for I call to you all day long.
Bring joy to your servant,
     for to you, O Lord,
     I lift up my soul.

What is going on?

I have so much to be thankful for: a loving wife and kids, a great church, and a lawn-care guy who promises he'll take care of our dandelion problem. But I'm feeling blah about it all. Even a day off today, a can of Vanilla Coke, and a handful of extra-large jelly-beans hasn't done much of anything for me.

So many people have it so much worse: Bin Laden has a bullet in his head. Alabamans have lost everything in that F-5 tornado, the Mississippi is about to cause a once-in-500-years flood, and I have parishoners whose lives are falling apart.

And I'm bummed out because I'm tired? And I'm tired because I'm bummed out?

It's so insignificant and paltry. And embarrassing.
I watch those pastors on TV and they are so full of vim and vigor, something and vinegar. Every hair of theirs is in place. And this pastor doesn't even feel like shaving.

Ok, I lied. I don't watch them on TV. But if I was there on the set I'd mess up their hair and say "Get real! Have a bad day once in a while. The rest of us do."

And maybe that's the point. We all have good and bad days. Often because of circumstances. Sometimes, despite circumstances. It's just the way our physiology or psychology or neurology works. And perhaps our theology should allow for that. Perhaps our theology should give us a break once in a while. Maybe it's ok  if we don't end up singing "O happy day" or "Victory in Jesus" every day.

After all, Elijah didn't. After some rather intense ministry situations we see him in 1 Kings chapter 19 sitting down under a tree where we read that:

...he prayed that he might die. 'I have had enough, LORD,' he said. 'Take my life....' Then he lay down under the tree and fell asleep.
All at once an angel touched him and said, 'Get up and eat....' He ate and drank and then lay down again.
The angel of the LORD came back a second time and touched him and said, 'Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.' So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights...

I love that story for its realness. For its unadorned practicality. Rest, food, drink. God cares about those things, and he knows that we need them.

So where are my jelly beans? That Vanilla Coke? Ah, there's my John Grisham novel. I think I'll grab it, and go lay down.