Category Archives: Media

perspective (Acts 1:6-14)


For Sunday, June 1, 2014
Year A, Seventh Sunday of Easter

How easy to get caught up in the vagaries of the weekly news cycle.  We read the daily news and think, “God, are you asleep at the switch?”  Jesus’ disciples didn’t have the Drudge Report but were nevertheless very much like us.  Just before Jesus’ ascension they asked him, “So Lord, now that you’ve been resurrected, is this (finally?…) the time you are going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6).  Jesus response is telling: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.”  What?!  But we’ve been working so hard to chart this out.  We want to know the plan, Jesus.  What’s the plan?!  (Exasperated sighs).

“Here is the plan,” Jesus responds.  “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  Perplexed disciples’ faces …. So … how does that answer our question about restoring the kingdom to Israel?  Answer: you are thinking far too narrowly.  God’s plan involves far more than wresting political control of 1st Century Palestine from the Romans.  God’s larger plan is actually to restore all of creation to himself and everything that has happened from then until know is in the unfolding.

So put away the charts, stop assuming you have it all figured out, and in the power the Holy Spirit, tell everyone you can what you are witnessing in our midst.  Hallelujah.

Points to ponder:

  • How is the Spirit moving in your life to live out the gospel story of Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration?
  • Who would you most like to share this with?
  • How could you make this happen this week?

preserve this our city

"Nativity with the Prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel", Duccio, di Buoninsegna, -1319?, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

“Nativity with the Prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel”,
Duccio, di Buoninsegna, -1319?, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Matthew 1:18-25 (Isaiah 7)
For Sunday, December 22, 2013
Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year A

I was fascinated to learn this week about Duccio’s “Nativity with the Prophets Isaiah and Ezekial” (pictured above).  It’s a story that spans from the National Gallery of Art in present day Washington, D.C. all the way back to 14th century Tuscany, Italy, and the city state of Siena.

Duccio di Buoninsegna (say that three times fast) was a prominent Sienese artist with a reputation that extended as far as Paris.  His Siena studio received a commission from the government of Siena to create a magnificent altarpiece called the Maesta, that would serve as a crown jewel of the already famous and beautiful Cathedral of Siena.  The idea was to raise the profile of Siena, and it’s allegiance with the Roman Emperor, as against that of it’s archival Florence, which was allied with the Pope (1).

The Maesta (“The Majesty”) was intended to celebrate the majesty of God as revealed in the coming of Immanuel (Messiah as “God with Us”).   It was a stunningly beautiful free-standing sculpture 7′ high by 13′ wide consisting of many images.  The theme on the front was Mary’s role in Jesus’ birth while the theme on the back was the life of Christ.  The work en toto was the 13th Century equivalent of a modern cinematic blockbuster.  If you had the good fortune of walking into the glorious Cathedral of Siena, and then walking up to the alter to take communion in front of this even more glorious Maesta, it would be an experience of a lifetime.

Across the front of the base of the Maesta was a predalla, a horizontal band of narrative scenes.  Front and center on the predella was “The Nativity’.  It’s only 18″ tall and 34” wide, but it was the invitation to enter into the majesty of the larger work.  When you approached the Maesta this is where your eyes would go first.  Then you would be drawn into the majesty of the entire narrative until finally eyes moved above Mary’s own ascension into heaven and you were forced to contemplate your own mortality in light of eternity.  Mind altering, to be sure.

Duccio flanks the nativity scene itself with the Prophet Isaiah on the left and the Prophet Ezekiel on the right.  Each is holding a scroll.  On Isaiah’s scroll is written ‘ECCE VIRGO CONCIPIET & PARIET FILIU & VOCABITUR NOMEN EIUS EMANUEL’, Latin for “Behold a Virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Immanuel” (from Isaiah 7:14).   Right… , that certainly makes good sense.

On Ezekiel’s scroll, however, is inscribed  ‘VIDI PORTA I DOMO DOM CLAUSA VIR NO TRSIBIT P[ER] EA DOMIN SOLUS ITRAT ET IT P[ER] EA[M]’, for “I saw a door in the house of the Lord which was closed and no man went through it. The Lord only enters and goes through it” (Ezekial 44:2).   Wow, not the Ezekiel verse I expected.   Yet this was always the citation from Ezekiel that resonated with the Sienese, because for them, “the door” was Mary, and if it wasn’t for her, Immanuel could never have come into the world (2).

The Maesta was installed in the cathedral of Siena on June 9, 1311.  Here is how one participant described the event:

And on that day when it was brought into the cathedral, all workshops remained closed, and the bishop commanded a great host of devoted priests and monks to file past in solemn procession. This was accompanied by all the high officers of the Commune and by all the people; all honorable citizens of Siena surrounded said panel with candles held in their hands, and women and children followed humbly behind. They accompanied the panel amidst the glorious pealing of bells after a solemn procession on the Piazza del Campo into the very cathedral; and all this out of reverence for the costly panel… The poor received many alms, and we prayed to the Holy Mother of God, our patron saint, that she might in her infinite mercy preserve this our city of Siena from every misfortune, traitor or enemy.

Wow!  After reading that I need to see “The Nativity” in the National Gallery of Art in D.C.  And I need to see the parts of the Maesta that remain in Siena as well as the Cathedral itself.  What an incredible story God weaves over time and through nations.  Wouldn’t it be amazing to organize some Christian Worldview culture vulture trips for amazed people  such as us?

I love the last part of the description above.  “The poor received many alms, and we prayed to our patron Saint that she might in her infinite mercy preserve this our city of Siena from every misfortune, traitor, or enemy.”  My prayer today for the poor among us, for you and me, for our families, for our churches, for our cities, for our countries, and for our world is that God might do likewise for us.

Merry Christmas.

the real deal

Aivazovsky, “The 9th Wave”

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; 
they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
“The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”

Lamentations 3:22, 23
For Sunday, July 1st, 2012
Proper 8 

These are some of my favorite words in the whole Bible and express beautifully why I am a Christian.  God really is here.

His steadfast love (Hebrew ‘hesed’) never ceases and his mercies never come to an end despite all of the sin I’ve committed against him.  His love and mercy are new every morning.  Hurray!  Today is a new day.

“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul.  Are there challenges in my life?  Sure.  For example, I battle against low-grade depression.  Yet knowing that my soul is safe, loved, and secure in the love of God makes this a battle that can be won.  This is why I continue to hope in him.

Christianity doesn’t get a fair hearing in popular media.  Just last night as a family we were watching a SciFi movie called “Mist” featuring a crazed woman with a Bible who is thankfully put out of her misery with a bullet to her head.  Yet this is not the real deal: Lamentations 3:22, 23 is.

Modernity has resulted souls adrift with neither anchor nor sustenance.  Christianity, anchored in the historical reality of the resurrection of Christ from the dead for the forgiveness of our sins, invites us to a better way.  May our souls find their portion.

Jeffrey Dahmer and Milwaukee

Heard an ad on local radio for a Jeffrey Dahmer tour here in Milwaukee. He is the infamous cannibalistic serial killer of Milwaukee. The tour operators have been accused of profiting from misery. Yet for me, the deeper question is this: better to suppress and forget, or to confront and reconcile? If the latter, how can such depravity be explained outside of human brokenness? Thoughts?

Brief: Walter Isaacson on Steve Jobs on 60 Minutes

I saw the 60 Minutes interview in which Walter Isaacson shared some of his last conversations with Steve Jobs.  Mr. Isaacson mentions that in some of those questions the subject of God came up.   He said that Steve said, “Sometimes I believe and sometimes I don’t.”  I find this fascinating.  Just maybe God found Steve before he died.

living an alternative lifestyle

Ilya Repin. A Fisher-Girl. 1874. Oil on canvas. The Irkutsk Art Museum, Irkutsk, Russia.

Romans 12:9-21
For Sunday, August 28, 2011

Romans 12:9-21 is not the way the world lives. The world lives by the world’s rules which might be summarized like this:
  • Look out for #1
  • Enhance your own standing
  • Leverage personal power
This passage, which lays out imperatives in view of the indicatives of the gospel of grace, suggests an alternative lifestyle:
  • Cultivate love
  • Extend love
  • Watch the world be redeemed

Firstly, in this alternative lifestyle we cultivate love. Verses 9-13 speak about cultivating love in our own thinking. Rather than looking out for #1 we’re supposed to look out for #’s 2 thru 12 and beyond. Cultivating love means a sincere commitment to hating evil, devoting ourselves to one another, and practicing hospitality. When we first moved to Russia, the fact that people could show up at our door unannounced at any time of day or night and expect hospitality was . . .  difficult. Yet once we let go of control, and let love flow, it was actually great fun. As the Doobie Brothers put it, “Love the ones you’re with.”

Secondly, in this alternative lifestyle we also extend love to others (vv. 14-16). We extend love by blessing those who persecute us, empathizing with both the happy and sad around us, and by looking down the pecking order rather than up. It’s liberating and empowering, as I can attest from my albeit woefully inadequate experience.

Lastly, in this alternative lifestyle we watch love redeem the world (vv. 17-21). Suddenly, there are fewer eye for an eye kerfuffles; self awareness break out all over place; and enemies are killed with kindness.

That the world will be redeemed is made certain by the gospel of which this passage is a part. The only question is this: will we be counted among those who have been overcome, or among those who overcome? Let us not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

What If It’s True?

a recent billboard over a New Jersey expressway
For Sunday, December 19, 2010
Isaiah 7:10-17
Fourth Sunday of Advent

Recently the American Atheists have put up this billboard along a New Jersey expressway. At first glance, it looks like a warm acknowledgement of Christmas, but as your eyes move from the manger to the message, the dissonance strikes: “You Know It’s a Myth. This Season, Celebrate REASON.” 

The ‘it’ of course is the story of Immanuel, “God with us”, the baby born to a virgin Mary laying in a manger. It’s the story told in this week’s first reading, Isaiah 7:10-16. The context is interesting. The Kings of Aram and Israel get together and decided it would be mutually advantageous to approach Judah with a hostile takeover bid. The Lord then gives the prophet Isaiah a message for Judah, which is in so many words, “Not gonna happen.” 

To underscore the point, the Lord then speaks directly to King Ahaz of Judah, saying, “Ask me for a sign . . . anything you like . . . so that I can prove to you that I am with you.” Ahaz’s response: “I will not ask; I will not put the Lord to the test.” (v. 12). The Lord is unhappy. Why? Wasn’t Ahaz just being appropriately non-presumptuous before God? Well… outwardly, yes. But inwardly, what Ahaz was really saying was, “I don’t want real faith in my life. I’ll handle this on my own, thank you very much.”

The Lord then responds to Ahaz: “I’m going to give you a sign anyway. A young woman will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel” (v. 14). This of course is the very prophecy that the gospel writer Matthew sites in this week’s fourth reading, Matthew 1:18-25. 

Yet, what’s really the connection? Was this sign intended for Ahaz around 730 B.C., or was it intended for the coming of Messiah 730 years later? The short answer is – yes. The immediate point was that a child would soon be born to someone close to Ahaz, and before this child would reach maturity, disastrous judgment would come upon the Kingdom of Judah. The ultimate point, however, which Isaiah brings out in his chapter 9, is that a child would come who would himself be Messiah, Christ the Lord.

The immediate sign was in fact fulfilled. The Kingdom of Judah fell to the Kingdom of Assyria in 723 B.C. What, then of the ultimate sign? Is the coming of Immanuel indeed just a myth? 

Christians reject the idea that to believe in Christ is to suspend reason. The Apostle Paul himself staked everything on the historical fact of the incarnation and resurrection: “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith” (1 Cor. 15:14).

So, how then might we Christians respond to the supposition that “You Know It’s a Myth”? One effective response might be a simple question: “What If It’s True?”.

Love is the Mark of the Christian

Francis Schaeffer

1 Corinthians 13
For Sunday, January 31, 2010
Fourth Sunday After the Epiphany

I’ve always admired Francis Schaeffer as an apologist and minister of the gospel for two reasons. First, he was able to see cultural patterns and make sense of them. But secondly, and more importantly, he understood a crucial point. As he put in in a fantastic booklet by the same title, “Love is the mark of the Christian.”

This is the message of 1 Corinthians 13. “If I speak in the languages of men and of angels, but don’t have love, I am merely a blanging gong or a clanging symbol.”
As a drummer, I’m am well-acquainted with clanging cymbals, particularly when struck at just the wrong time (like just before the quiet piano solo). The Corinthian church was a clanging cymba. It was all about status. It’s like contemporary churches that are more concerned about the expansiveness of their budgets than the expansiveness of their redemptive presence in their communitity.
The Apostle Paul, the author of this book, goes on in vv. 4-7 to get wonderfully specific about the characteristics of authentic love . As he summarizes in v. 7: “It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
In our ministry, are we protecting the interests of our colleagues and those entrusted to our care? Are we trusting God’s ability to bring a positive result? Are we hoping for the best even when present circumstances might seen to indicate otherwise? Are we persevering despite opposition, hurt, or misunderstanding?
I know from personal experience how hard it can be to do this especially when conflict arises between people you thought were your friends. Yet I also know that as I protect, trust, hope, and persevere, that God’s healing touch not only redeems me but moves to redeem everyone else around me.
And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.
Take a moment today to love your spouse and your kids. Take a moment to love your pastor and your church. Take a moment to love your colleagues. What greater thing today could you do for someone else much less than for your own soul?

the desolate wilderness and the fair land

The Desolate Wilderness” and “The Fair Land” have appeared annually on the Wall Street Journal Editorial Page since 1961. I love Thanksgiving and it is a deep joy to again meet with these articles as well as the great country they represent. How interesting that they were penned by a man named Vermont Connecticut Royster, whose family tradition was to use the names of states for its children. Now there’s a pen that can write.
Those of us Americans who have lived in foreign lands know just how special our country is. We do indeed have great cause for thanksgiving at the bounty our Heavenly Father has bestowed upon us.
Read these two articles together with your families, reflect, and give thanks. America is unique and it is incumbent on us to preserve it, defend it, and bequeath it to our posterity.
Just yesterday I came across an old truism that seems especially appropriate for Thanksgiving Day: “Today is not a problem to be solved but a blessing to be enjoyed.”
Happy Thanksgiving.

The Manhattan Declaration

Today I signed The Manhattan Declaration and urge you to do the same. This declaration is a call for the church to be salt and light in society with regard to the sanctity of human life, the dignity and spiritual reality of marriage, and freedom of conscience.

The link above provides an Executive Summary of the full declaration, which can be read here.