Saturday, October 28, 2006


Julie and I saw "Catch a Fire" last night. Here is a brief statement of one reviewer of the movie:

"This is a true story about South African family man, Patric Chamusso (Derek Luke) who is an oil refinery foreman and he teaches soccer as well during the hectic days of the 1980's. All he wants is a happy life with his family and he's happy with what he has. He has found happiness and peace. But when he along with his wife are jailed without much explanation, Patrick could not take it. After being beaten and harassed for unexplained reasons, he decides to fight back. He chooses to fight back for what the CIA has taken away from him, his happiness. He joins an organization [the so-called terrorist group called the ANC--African National Congress--] and fights back until he realizes that the system itself is corrupt. He is being sought by CIA agent Nic Vos (Tim Robbins) who interrogated him during his arrest. Then begins a furious action thriller with striking results."

Because the story is true in the context of apartheid, suspicion, moral dilemma, brutality, bravery and love, the conclusion is astounding. I will say no more than this. "Catch a Fire" is a hard, yet redemptive story.

See my friend's, Bill Kinnon's, review of "Catch A Fire" and read his comments to my review (click "comments" below).

Thursday, October 26, 2006

"Leaf Drops Keep Fallin' on My Head..."

Behind our house we have some gorgeous trees and then there is a stretch of woods behind many of the houses on our side of the street.

The trees look like the one (in the picture) that's in front of a house down the street.

Julie and I went out on our deck this morning at about 7:30 and because we've had frost several mornings, the leaves are falling from the trees.

So far, so good, right?

I don't know where I've been all my life, but I discovered that the leaves fall, literally, like rain. It was chilly and quiet on our deck and in the quietness we could hear the leaves "raining" down through the branches to the ground. Everywhere we looked, at the small trees and tall trees, a cascade of color soflty crackled to the earth. My ears and brain sought to find a category for the sound because it was a new sound for me. "Rain" reported a couple of synapses and so "It sounds like 'rain'," synapsed into my consciousness.

I love newness. I hope I keep discovering sights and sounds and beauty in the ordinary wonder of a day.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Can Compassion Be Angry, Too?

Can compassion be angry, or can anger be compassionate?

Mark 1:41 is part of the account of Jesus healing the leper who, against levitical law and social custom, dashed into the presence of Jesus and others in a desperate plea for help. In verse 41 we encounter an intriguing textual variant in the manuscripts. A textual variant means that early Greek manuscripts record different words.

The NIV reads "Filled with compassion..." using the Greek word splagchnistheis ("with compassion") yet there is other manuscript evidence for the verse to read orgistheis ("with anger"). William L. Lane discusses this textual variant in his commentary on Mark.

The basic reason for believing that "anger" should be read is called "the harder of the two readings." The harder of the two readings to explain is likely the original reading. Scribes would not change the word "compassion" to "anger" because that would be offensive. But it is possible to imagine a scribe changing "anger" to "compassion" out of sensitivity to Jesus.

We know that strong emotion was riffling through Jesus because in verse 43, Jesus with a note of harshness and exasperation ("snorting with anger") strongly warns the now healed leper to be silent about his healing and go to the priest for the ritual certification of health. Later, in Mark 3:5 Jesus looks with anger at the hardened Pharisees.

Some Christians wrongly believe all anger is sin. We certainly want also a sweet, gentle Jesus, not a "snorting-with-anger" Jesus. We want so badly for Jesus to be a "nice guy" because aren't all Christian men supposed to be "nice guys"? Isn't Christianity about being nice? Alas, Jesus breaks the mold. He does make a practice of getting angry. Anger is a trait of God as a matter of fact. God isn't a "nice" God.

So, can compassion be angry? Or, can anger be compassionate? Regardless of reading Mark 1:41 as "anger," I cannot imagine Jesus' heart being untouched by compassion as well. The leper was an isolated, lonely creature. His body became alien and dangerous to him; his family viewed him as untouchable; his community exiled him outside the city; God, as popular belief held, "struck with leprosy" those who flagrantly sinned. Sadly the leper was cut off from himself, his family, his community, and his God. Mother Teresa said the worst condition of the human being is "loneliness."

I can imagine, then, this deplorable condition of the man made Jesus really angry. His anger was at the fallenness of the human race that created the extreme, painful situation of this human being. Since Genesis 3 things are "not the way they are supposed to be."

What if anger is an indicator of what we really care about? What if anger is a major energy behind serious engagement with all that thwarts the will of God for people? What if the decision not to be angry is the trait of someone who doesn't know or care about God's deep and amazing grace?

What if anger is the expression of love against all that is unloving?

"Be angry, but do not sin." Jesus did.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Philip Yancey's Book about Prayer

I heard Philip Yancey at Ada Bible Church, Ada, MI on Saturday night. He spoke on the topic of prayer, the theme of his latest book Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference?

Philip opened his talk with some humorous prayers he'd collected and then showed a brief clip from the movie Bruce Almighty where "Bruce" gets a temporary go at being God. Hearing and answering prayers almost did Bruce Almighty (Jim Carrey) in.

In true Yancey form, he told masterful stories that he came across in his research or through interviews for his book. He reported that most of the books of substance on prayer were written in the last century and he read most of them. (I'd lightly quibble with him about that point because I think Richard Foster's book Prayer: Finding the Heart's True Home is excellent as well as Eugene H. Peterson's Answering God: The Psalms as Tools for Prayer.)

What delighted me about Yancey was his admission that on a topic as rich and varied and complex as prayer, he goes to Jesus. What do we learn about prayer from Jesus? Jesus prayed. Yancey summarized like this: The reason I pray is because Jesus did.

Yancey wrestles with questions like "Why pray if God already knows everything?" and "Does Prayer Make Any Difference?" and "Does God care (about me)?"

Philip's closing story about "the presence of God" at work in the South African prison where Nelson Mandella spent his years paints a compelling vision of prayer.

I bought a discounted edition of Yancey's book and had him sign it "to Julie." She's reading it and I'm eager to dive into it when she is finished. It was "Sweetest Day" after all.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Trees of Life...that can be us! Psalm 1

I like the earthy, common sense of Eugene Peterson.

Commenting on Psalm 1, Eugene points out that when God is preparing us to pray, God directs us to the present ordinary world, not to the sublime heavenly realm. "Go, sit down and ponder a tree" (Psalm 1: 3) prepares us more for prayer than scraping the Milky Way for ethereal, divine experience. Prayer is not designed to make us God-like; it's designed to make us truly and fully human.

One result of delightful, growling over Torah is being a "tree that yields its fruit in season" (Psalm 1:3). I like Spurgeon's link of Psalm 1:3 and Galatians 5:11-12. Charles Spurgeon pointed out that when we are immersed in God and Torah-delight, we will, for example, bear the fruit of love when love is "in season," that is, when love is needed. We won't yield "gentleness" when "self-control" is in season or "kindness" when "joy" is needed. The Spirit will empower us to express the just-right, Christ-like presence needed for the moment. We don't have to grunt and push to "bear fruit." We simply live God-centered, Torah-delighting lives. The water of life courses through us and we yield up what is appropriate and shalom-bringing.

"Like a tree" or "like chaff." One rooted and fruitful, the other weightless and useless.

Self-absorbed people and anti-God's king nations and rulers (see Psalm 2:1-2) who appear to carry the weight of influence in the world are revealed in the end to be "chaff." It will be something to see presidents and premiers, kings and generals collapsing to their knees before little wrinkled women and wheel-chair bound old men who, even in their loneliness, loved God and prayed faithfully. The righteous will stand tall and without fear in the judgment. The "shakers and movers" will be paralyzed in awe that "God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him."

You want to pray well. Consider the tree planted by the canals of water. Eugene Peterson pointed out that the word "tree" and the word "true" are both from the Old English "Treow" which means "a deeply rooted idea."

Jesus is the Truth; Jesus is the Tree and we are the branches.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Jesus Plays Yahweh's Part in Psalm 23

In the last post we explored David's startling 3 act play in which Yahweh is presented as 1. the Good Shepherd (vv 1-4), 2. the Daring Host (v 5) and 3. the Good Father (v 6).

We noted, too, the progression of our (human) value in relation to Yahweh as we are 1. sheep (vv 1-4), 2. honored guests (v 5) and 3. family members who "dwell" in the house of the LORD (v 6). The scenes are: 1. green pastures, quiet waters, right paths, dark valleys (vv 1-4), 2. the tent of the host as we recline at table, are anointed with oil and served overflowing cups (v 5), 3. "the house of the LORD" (v 6).

Jesus came and played the lead roles.

Act One: The Good Shepherd
By his own confession in John 10, he is "the good shepherd." He often told stories about shepherds (Luke 15). With deep compassion, he saw people "like sheep without a shepherd."

Act Two: The Daring Host
"This man welcomes 'sinners' and eats with them" was a cutting, yet redemptively perceptive remark about Jesus. He gathered the social rabble at his Father's banqueting table. He lavished acceptance and love, bounty and protection on those scorned by "the good people" of his day. He fed 5000 and 4000 without fussing over purity/cleansing rites. He, by his ridiculously open table, demolished the self-righteous pretentiousness that controlled the meal-time habits of his people. He was a courageous host. What a friend we have in Jesus.

Act Three: The Good Son Revealing the Good Father
At the age of 12, Jesus bluntly told Mary and Joseph that he had to be engaged in his "Father's house (business/affairs)." He cleansed "his Father's house" with a whip out of zeal declaring that it was to be "a house of prayer for all nations," not reduced to "caves for terrorists." Jesus even said, "The one who has seen me has seen the Father." Jesus now is preparing rooms for us "in his Father's house" where we can "dwell" in goodness and love forever (see Psalm 23:6).

Psalm 23 and the life of Jesus.

David the poet-playwright and Jesus Yahweh incarnate.

Monday, October 16, 2006

David: Brilliant Poet-Playwright of Psalm 23

With scant apologies to W. Phillip Keller's A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, I will offer a vision of Psalm 23 that does not try to shoehorn every phrase into a shepherd-sheep metaphor. David does something far more brilliant.

In Psalm 23, David presents a 3 act play of Yahweh's relationship to his people. Each of the 3 scenes in the play are very clear:


verses 1-4 The Pastoral Imagery: The Lord is Shepherd, We are sheep.

Terms: "green pastures" "quiet waters," "paths," dark valley," "rod and staff." Yahweh guides, provides, protects us. As a royal metaphor--Ancient Near Eastern kings called themselves "shepherds"--Yahweh takes responsibility to care for and protect all in his realm.


verse 5 The Tent: Yahweh is Host, We are guests.

Terms: "table," anointing oil,"overflowing cup." Why make these terms mean something foreign to David's meaning? Yahweh welcomes us into his tent and sets a lavish banquet before us. We are honored by our Host as our enemies are humiliated before our eyes. In his tent we experience joy and security.


verse 6 The Tabernacle- "house of the LORD": Yahweh is Father, We are children.

Terms: "goodness and love," "follow me" (literally "chase me down"), "dwell (as a family member) forever," "in the house of the LORD." The dark valleys of death are history, the enemies lurking in the dark outside the tent are gone, and we now are breathing God's "goodness and love" forever.

Note the progression: Yahweh is shepherd, then host, then Father. There is progressing depth and value in the relationship. There is a progressing value in us as well---we are first sheep, then guests, and then family members! Rather than fleeing from bears and lions (as sheep) or fleeing enemies, we are chased down into God's house by Yahweh's "goodness and love."

With stunning Hebrew poetic brevity and precision, David has written a breath-taking play. He has given a riveting drama of God's hesed or loyal love.

I think Keller's "nice" devotional book pales in comparison.

Next, let's consider how Jesus of Nazareth played Yahweh's part in each scene of the play.

Friday, October 13, 2006

The Pigeon Show in L'viv

The sky showered bright sunshine out of pure blue as I stood before the world's third most beautiful opera house in L'viv, Ukraine. People lined the broad parkway, talking, laughing, and enjoying the day. Groups of old men clumped around chess players.

Pigeons were unnaturally friendly and gathered to peck and bother pedestrians. It looked like a pigeon convention on the square. I think they were practicing their synchronized moves because they would rise slightly from the pavement and fall, move left and right, and turn in military-style precision. Birds, hamming it up for the humans. I almost tossed a few kopeks their way the show was so good.

But what can pigeons do with kopeks? A bent-over babushka pulled her wire cart right into the middle of the pigeons. The pigeons fluttered around her like swarming bees. Pigeons were on her bent back, trying to perch on her arms, hopping around her legs like happy lap dogs. It reminded me of Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds.

Babushka started flinging grain from one of her plastic bags. Pigeons nose-dived into the meal. She kept it up until the bag was empty. I swear the pigeons were building cheerleader pyramids, they were so happy. Then babushka started throwing out meat parts; ugly, gooey parts of chicken I think. In the fluttering confusion, I think the pigeons thought it was fillet mignon. Wings were flapping so swiftly passers-by had to lean into the wind to stay upright.

I admired babushka. She came, she fed, she left. Amidst younger and better-dressed people, she came and gave pigeons a gourmet meal. L'viv's aviary Mother Teresa.

"Your Father in heaven cares... . Are you not much more valuable than they are?"

As she walked away, I took her picture.

She waved her hand at me and shouted in a most unlady-like, anti-Mother Teresa voice, "@!##*&!! $%#,\.!!" Mercifully for me it was in Ukrainian. I was embarrassed. I heard young people snickering. I think she called me some awfully ugly, gooey things in her native tongue.

I smiled and put my camera in my pocket and wandered off humming, "His eye is on the pigeons, and I know he watches me."

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Jesus Behind the Scenes

So after a long evening of serving others, Jesus says to his disciples, "I'm setting the alarm for later in the morning. A little more shut eye. It's been a tough evening. I'm hitting the sack. Sleep in, guys."


"Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed" (Mark 1:35).

I can't read this verse without Isaiah the prophet whispering in my ear, "See. See, I told you."

"The Sovereign LORD has given me an instructed tongue,
to know the word that sustains the weary.
He wakens me morning by morning,
wakens my ear to listen like one being taught.

"The Sovereign LORD has opened my ears,
and I have not been rebellious;
I have not drawn back" (Isaiah 50:4-5).

Jesus is up, out of the house, away from people. He is in a lonely, wilderness place. He's been wakened by his Father. He's being taught in the embrace of solitude, silence and prayer.

Jesus would later confess, "For I did not speak of my own accord, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it. I know that his command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say" (John 12:49-50).

Jesus, in his humiliation, that is, the Son of God in his incarnation, was fully, totally, 100% human. He was on a leveled playing field with us. He drew upon the same resources available to every child of God. He had a Bible which he quoted when Satan tempted him. He had the Spirit empowering him (see, for example, Luke 4:17-19 and Acts 10:38) just as each child of God does. And he had solitude and prayer (Mark 1:35; see Luke 5:16). "Lord, teach us to pray."

Jesus: dramatic in the synagogue and Temple; fascinating as a teacher; courageously compassionate among thousands of suffering people. Yet, behind the scenes Jesus is a praying person--alone, silent, worshiping, surrendered.

After the morning hunt, when the disciples finally found Jesus, they shouted, "Everyone is looking for you."

Jesus replied, "Good. Let's get out of this town. I came to preach the gospel of the kingdom, not to be a sought-after healer. Pack your bags. Let's go! That's why I came."

Where does that kind of strong mission come from? How did he so easily dispel the mesmerizing pull of popularity? Simple, "...he prayed."

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Jesus: "He Cares for You"

So with an adrenaline rush--with short breaths and pounding hearts--the four disciples follow Jesus out of the synagogue where the 'church fight' occurred and into the home of Peter. Peter, Andrew, James and John are Jesus' fishing buddies, now.

Peter's mother-in-law is blasted out of commission by a fever. Fevers in Jesus' day were diagnosed as illnesses in themselves, not viewed as symptomatic of infection(s). And you know the saying, "When mother-in-law isn't happy, ain't nobody happy." Peter was greeted at the door by his wife, "Where you been?"

"I, ah, I was with..."

"Your Mom is down for the count. I need you to go down to Walsteingreens and get a poltice."

"Well, ah, this demon, ah, and Jesus..."

"Quit your blabbering and get Mom a poltice."

"Yes, dear."

Nothing to bring down a rush like a sick mother-in-law.

But by the time this exchange between Peter and his wife is over, Mom, perky as a young ewe, comes prancing into the room asking, "Anybody hungry? ...Don't look at me like that?" She reports, with a dreamy tone in her voice, "This young man came in, saw me in my outrageous feverish squaller, oui vey no make up , and he takes me by...the.....hand....and, Selah!, here I am. All better. Who wants shishkabobs?"

"Pete, forget the poltice."

"Yes, dear."

What is intriguing about this incident is that Mark doesn't even mention Jesus by name. (The NIV wants "to help us out" and inserts Jesus' name where Mark just used pronouns.) The point is Jesus isn't into making a name for himself as a fancy-shmancy healer. From the uproar in the synagogue to the obscurity of a room in Peter's house, Jesus is about serving--dramatic if he has to be and quiet and unassuming as well.

Peter and the family are relieved. Jesus had called Peter to be his follower. Now Jesus assures Peter that his commitment to Jesus is matched by Jesus' commitment to Peter and Peter's family. Years later Peter would write, "Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you [and your child, your father, your mother-in-law"...].

The sun sets...Sabbath is over. What's this? What's that sound? Peter looks out the doorway. Hundreds of people are coming, bringing diseased and demon-possessed relatives and friends.

"Put the teapot on, Honey. It's going to be a late night," Peter says to his wife.

"Yes, dear."

Monday, October 09, 2006

Jesus and the (Dis)Order of Service

I really like prteaching. You read it right p-r-t-e-a-c-h-i-n-g. It's preaching and teaching morphed into one communication style.

The reason I like it is that it gives me an excuse to bore down into the life and times of Jesus of Nazareth. I'm prteaching through the explosive, energetic Gospel of Mark these days at Fellowship Evangelical Covenant Church where I am interim pastor.

Jesus is absolutely fascinating. For example, in Mark, Jesus' first "miracle" is an exorcism... in church (see Mark 1: 21-28)! It was in the Jews' sacred space (the synagogue) on the sacred day (Sabbath) and Jesus is doing his own prteaching and, whamo!, Mr. I'm-Possessed-With-the Uglies challenges Jesus to a church fight. Apparently, Mr. I-P-W-U felt comfortable in church until Jesus showed up. There was the typical name-calling and guantlet-tossing, "What to me and you? We know who you are, Jesus of Nazareth. You're the Holy One of God." Jesus said, "Oh, shut up and get out." And there you have it.

Panic, palpable as the smell of Texas barbeque, spread through the prteachees. One guy interviewed after the service reported, "Me, my name's Zeke, and Hulda just came for church. We wasn't expectin' nuthin,' y'know. Jesus, the new guy, was talking about his Father's kingdom as I recall. It was all sort of same old, same old 'til that big mouth guy started jousting with the preacher. You just don't do that up yhere in Galilee. There was a ruckus and next thing you know the man is kicking and screaming and then...peaceful as moonlit vineyard at midnight. 'Scared the purple pomegranates outta me and Hulda. We just wanted a few psalms and some preachin' and then we'd go on home for lamb chops 'n such. But noooooo, we had to witness a mess. I ain't even hungry now."

The take-home question of the day was: What kind of teaching is this? We've got categories for all kinds of teaching, but not for this Jesus' teaching? He says "Jump!" and the demons say, "How high?!" Jesus speaks with authority.

Jesus did say he was "fishing for men [people]." And the demoniac in the Capernaum synagogue on the Sabbath was as good a catch as any. In effect, Jesus was saying to Peter, Andrew, James and John, "Pay attention, boys. This is how it's done...this fishing for people thing." I can hear Peter whispering all bug-eyed to the other three, can't you? "What in the deep Galilee blue sea have we got ourselves into here?"

Isn't it intriguing that the demonic world feels deeply threatened by the presence of Jesus: "Have you come to destroy us?" Yet, human beings blandly invoke his presence and then yawn their way through church. "Kingdom, shmingdom, I've got a golf game this afternoon."

Lord, there is no category for you. You are One of a kind.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

God's Dream People: Citizens without Borders

Since Len Sweet coined the phrase terra aqua to describe the ever changing world we're in, I have been thinking about our borderless world.

With the Internet, I go to Ukraine, to Australia, to London, to St. Petersburg, to Mozambique. Borders are becoming a thing of the past at many levels of global interaction.

The sweep of biblical history and promise reveals God's dream people: citizens of a kingdom without borders. From Genesis 12:1-3 to Revelation 7:9-10 we catch the passion of God to have a people marked more by the power of the Spirit (Joel 2/Acts 2) than by the perimeters of a nation-state.

Do we feel the incredible, explosive impact of words like these from Paul the Apostle: "Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all" (Colossians 3:11)? Where is the "Here" in that verse?

I'm troubled by many conservative American Christians, and I have to admit the drift in my own thinking, who paint Jesus and the kingdom of God "red, white, and blue." You've seen it: JesUSAves. In the turbulent '60's in the U.S., Francis Schaeffer was warning the church not to align with the state. To do so causes the church to forfeit her prophetic role in society.

Of course, as citizens we are to be responsible and exercise our political freedom to shape political realities. I'm not saying that is wrong. However, seeing everything through red, white and blue glasses is a dangerous vision for followers of Jesus. It is idolatrous.

In Jesus' day there was no "separation of church and state." His assault on the Temple was equivalent to an assault on the White House. The Temple was White House, Congress and Supreme Court all rolled into one. He wasn't crucified for being "a nice guy." He was no friend of Caesar's or Pilate's or Herod's and Caiaphas'. He was and is King of the in-breaking kingdom of God.

We can be active as God's dream people or his nightmare. By the way, the kingdom of God has ridiculously porous borders..."whoever wants to, may come in." Basically all you have to say is, "I want to see Jesus."

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Mother Russia, About Face!


A startling huge, silver statue of Mother Russia looms over the Dnieper River in the city of Kiev, Ukraine. She faces Russia. With sword and shield, she was the provider and protector for Ukraine. She was powerful. Oh, so powerful.

For my friends in Ukraine, Mother Russia is now a pathetic joke. They would like to turn her on her pedestal and have her butt face Russia. Russian control of Ukraine, representing all the totalitarian oppression and ravaging of this beautiful country, is now history. Only nightmarish memories remain.


In the second picture, you see symbols of change--beneath Mother Russia are colorful billboards advertising free market merchandise. From starvation to plenty, from "Hush, hush, 'Big Brother' is watching you" to "Do you have your cell phone, yet?" From iron thumb control to independent choice. From communism to democracy. An old man, a survivor under communism, once told me, "Communism promised everyone a bicycle. You get the handle bars, you get the pedals, she gets the chain, he gets the fenders, she gets the wheels. We all had a "bicycle," but we couldn't ride it." Now you can buy your own VW or BMW or Lada or Chevrolet...or, my favorite, the Zaporhozyette.


But my concern is that "the good news" that changes the whole of Ukraine not be merely her independence in 1991. That "the good news" not be McDonald's, Fords, jeans, Hollywood movies, cell phones, CDs and Shell gas.

Why swamp a young, free country with things? Things galore.

The young evangelical church of Ukraine's independence is the hope of free Ukraine. With a bold passion and stunning creativity unknown in previous decades, the young church carries the true liberating message, the authentic "good news"--the good news of the in-breaking kingdom of God through Jesus Christ.

It is a privilege for me to serve a cadre of young leaders (Sasha, Pasha, Maksim, Andre, Dima, Tim, Alexsei, Vova, Sergei, Ola, Alona, Veronica, Lena, Natasha, Zhenna, Oxanna, and many others) whose message is "Now, when you pray, say, 'Our Father in heaven...' "

Mother Russia has had her day.