Saturday, July 25, 2009

One Small Step – One Giant Leap

I don’t remember reading books until I was in the sixth grade. The first book I remember reading was The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner. I remember always loving to read – having gone through my school’s complete SRA reading laboratory by that time.

It must have been about this time that my dad bought me my first science fiction book – Robert A. Heinlein’s Space Cadet, and I was hooked! I progressed through Heinlein’s juvenile novels, then moved on to Isaac Asimov and Ray Bradbury. Science Fiction was my first love but I’ve since moved on to all other styles of writing.

I read Space Cadet in 1976 and while my nose was buried in a book, it got me looking up to the stars. At this point in the United State’s history, there wasn’t much to look at up there. The Apollo Program had ended in 1975 and NASA was working on a reusable “shuttle” but that was in the future – pretty much science fiction until January 1977.

But fiction was fast becoming fact and in 1981 the first Space Shuttle mission was launched.

In the early morning hours of Thursday, April 9, my brother and I woke up after not really sleeping and traveled with my dad and a friend and his dad to the airport for our flight to Florida. We were going to witness the first shuttle launch!

We arrived at Titusville, Florida early on April 10 and waited for the countdown to zero. But it was not to be. Because of a timing problem in one of the shuttle’s computers (we found out later), the mission was “scrubbed” for two days. Disappointment was tempered by a visit to Disney World that Saturday. Saturday night we didn’t sleep at all as we made our way back from Orlando to Titusville.

We gathered with tens of thousands of others on the beaches of Titusville looking east toward Pad 39A at Kennedy Space center and at 7:00 a.m. Shuttle Columbia lifted off into a clear blue sky. First we saw white smoke, then orange flame, and then the shock wave of sound hit us. It was so incredible all I could do was stare through the view finder of my camera as tears dripped down my cheeks.

I had witnessed history in the making! In just twenty years, we had moved from placing a human in orbit, to landing humans on the moon (and returning them) to being able to fly a craft into space and then return it safely to earth to be used again. We truly live in historic times!

Last Monday, July 20, 2009, marked the 40th Anniversary of another historical event. The first time a human walked on the surface of the moon. I don’t have any direct memory of seeing that (I was four years old at the time), but the images are iconic.

As are the words uttered from the lunar surface: “That’s one small step for man; one giant leap for mankind.”

As I stood on the beach in Florida watching Young and Crippen blast off into space, I was joined by my brother and friends and hundreds of thousands of other people from around the world. We weren’t Americans, we were “citizens of the world.” We were humans, brought together by a historical event.

As we marked the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing, I was thinking about this idea of being human.

Jesus didn’t come to this earth to save a specific group of people (such as Jews in 1st Century Israel, or Americans or Lutherans, etc.). Jesus came to this world, born of Mary in Bethlehem, to save all humans.

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His one and only Son….” (John 3:16, emphasis added).

Historic events like the first lunar landing or the first shuttle launch can remind us that while there are such things as Americans and Russians and Brazilians, etc., we are all, first and foremost, humans. We are people, we are brothers and sisters.

And we are loved by God and saved by Jesus Christ through His shed (human) blood on the cross. The Son of God became fully human – one of us – to save us from our sins. He remained fully God in order to defeat death through His resurrection on Easter Sunday – the most significant event in the history of the world.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Book Review: Small Footprint, Big Handprint: How to Live Simply and Love Extravagantly by Tri Robinson

41FGWvrHU7L._SX160_ Simplify your life so you are ready to answer God’s call when it comes. That’s the gist of this book and it is a good idea. I oftentimes wonder what my family could do for God if we weren’t saddled with debt and could “up and leave” at a moment’s notice.

Tri Robinson makes the case that this is a good way to live. He also says that it is “eco friendly” and that caused me to pause for a moment. I wondered if I had started reading a “green, Christian” book.

But I was determined to give Tri the benefit of the doubt and I’m glad I did. The only thing I might disagree with him about is his stand on global warming, but he doesn’t really mention it till the very end. My personal belief is that not all the data is available to make a determination one way or another.

But that doesn’t make Tri’s message less important. Especially in these economic times we find ourselves in, it is very important to live simply. Not easily done, as he points out, but full of tremendous potential blessings and opportunities to share the Good News of Jesus Christ.

There is an 8-week companion DVD Bible study that I will be using as a follow-up study for two groups at my church that are currently going through Patrick Morley’s “How to Survive the Economic Meltdown.”

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Made One For Peace

14For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. – Ephesians 2:14-16

First, a little background: “Made us both one” in Ephesians 2 means Gentiles and Hebrews.

God had, at first, intended for Hebrews to not intermingle with Gentiles. This was so in order to preserve, not their blood line, but their faith in Him. As it turns out, nearly every time the Hebrews intermarried with Gentiles they gave up their faith in God and turn to idols.

What separated Hebrews from the rest of the world was their faith in God. God made a covenant with the Hebrews and reestablished that covenant with the Hebrews throughout the Old Testament.

The division between Hebrew and Gentile was rescinded when Jesus Christ lived, died, and rose again. He was the One who is “the light to lighten the Gentiles” and He is the “glory of thy people Israel.”

So now the separation is taken away – because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

It is Jesus’ love that broke down all barriers in the first century.

It is Jesus‘ love that calls us today to break down barriers in this twenty-first century world.

This separation is not ethnic but goes much deeper, to a much more basic level.

“Make one” implies that there was a separation. The separation is between God and the crown of His creation.

The separation is caused by sin.

Jesus Christ is the Messiah, the Prince of Peace. Angels declared on the night of his birth that because Jesus was here there would be “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” (Luke 2:14 KJV).

Not peace “among men” but peace “toward men.” There’s a big difference.

For there is very little peace among men on the earth. Read about that in every paper, on every news site on the web, listen to that on every news cast on the radio and TV.

Jesus came to bring peace, not among men, but between God and men.

We have all been made one for this peace and by this peace.

Jesus Christ removed what separated us from God – our sin.

He reconciled God with you and me. No matter what sin you’ve done – it is forgiven by the blood of Jesus Christ shed on the cross. Jesus paid the penalty for that sin and all sin. You are now a child of God who will live forever!

This has the effect of making possible peace with others.

There is a true story related about a church in the Pacific Northwest, who much like us, has a time during the service for passing the peace of Christ. This is a time when they greet one another, and their guests, with handshakes and hugs, and kind words of welcome. Nobody thought much about the weekly ritual until the pastor received a letter from a man who had recently joined the congregation. The new member was a promising young lawyer from a prestigious downtown law firm. He drafted a brief but pointed letter on his firm's letterhead. "I am writing to complain about the congregational ritual known as 'passing the peace,' " he wrote. "I disagree with it, both personally and professionally, and I am prepared to take legal action to cause this practice to cease." When the pastor phoned to talk with the lawyer about the letter, he asked why he was so disturbed about sharing the peace of Christ. The lawyer said, "The passing of the peace is an invasion of my privacy."

And, in the Pastor's response to this man, we find the truth of the Christian life. He said, "Like it or not, when you joined the church you gave up some of your privacy, for we believe in a risen Lord who will never leave us alone." And, he said, "You never know when Jesus Christ will intrude on us with a word of peace." [illustration taken from, accessed July 18, 2009]

Most personal of all is we can have peace with ourselves.

When Jesus removes our sin and reconciles us to God, we can then start to actually live with ourselves. We can stand ourselves again. We can love ourselves. After all, if God can love us enough to send Jesus to die for us, certainly we can love ourselves and others, right?

Book Review: Call of Duty

Call of Duty

My Life Before, During, and After the Band of Brothers by Lt. Lynn “Buck” Compton (with Marcus Brotherton)

This is the “best of the best!” I’ve ready all the memoirs of Easy Co. soldiers that have been published (as a result of Stephen Ambrose bringing the unit’s story to life in Band of Brothers). And this is, by far, the best of all of them.

Buck Compton is probably the most “famous” of all the Easy Co. soldiers. He was a two-sport star at UCLA (playing baseball with Jackie Robinson as well as playing in the 1943 Rose Bowl game).

After the war he went on to be a successful LAPD detective, then prosecuting attorney (being the lead prosecutor of Sirhan Sirhan who assassinated Robert Kennedy).

He then had a successful career as an Appellate Court Judge in California.

Upon retirement he hosted a weekly radio commentary at a station in Washington state.

Any one one of those parts of Compton’s story would be fascinating to read or hear about – but that this man did ALL of them is truly astounding!

Marcus Brotherton guides the story along and the two of them have shaped a very readable book that would make an excellent mini-series in its own right (as a follow-up to HBO’s Band of Brothers).

If you’ve read Band of Brothers or seen the series, you will greatly enjoy this and the other books from the men who lived the life.

21st Century America owes a debt of gratitude to these men and I am very glad they have shared their story with us.

May we never forget!

Book Review: We Who Are Alive and Remain

Untold Stories from the Band of Brothers by Marcus Brotherton

We Who Are Alive and Remain Marcus Brotherton gets to the heart of the men who served in Easy Co., 506th PIR, 101st Airborne, United States Army during World War II.

Untold Stories from the Band of Brothers simply had to be written. No disrespect to Stephen Ambrose, but there were simply too many stories to include in one book. Without Ambrose, none of the other books would have seen the light of day and a debt of gratitude goes to him.

But since then - and the subsequent HBO series - the men of Easy Co. have published their memoirs (or in the case of David Kenyon Webster, published posthumously).

These books are essential to 21st Century America. These men have a story to tell that will shape our country and our lives for years to come.

Marcus Brotherton has meticulously interviewed 20+ men that were not included in Ambrose's book and does a great job of expanding the story. He brings the story to life - it is, after all a true story - and in bringing these men's story to light, sheds new light and life on the stories we already know.

This book led me to Buck Compton's book, which I will read and review next.


Saturday, July 11, 2009

Ephesians – One in Christ, Many in the World

I’m reading the Epistle to the Ephesians over the next couple of weeks as I put together a sermon series at my church. “One” jumps out as a common thread through the readings.

This week I’m looking at Ephesians 1, specifically focusing on verse 10: “to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.”

Jesus Christ died on the cross to forgive our sins. His shed blood washes us clean from the stain of original and actual sin. One of the reasons God has done this for us in Jesus Christ is to unite us with heaven – to bring together and make one heaven and earth.

Not “heaven on earth,” as wonderful as this earth can be.

Yosemite, Yellowstone, Hawaii, Greece, Kenya, the Himalayas – this earth is incredibly beautiful.

But it is only half of what God has made for us. Genesis 1:1 says that “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”

Still, many have bought into the lie that this earth is all there is. Beautiful yes, but singular. Others have bought into something that is just as much a lie – that God is pleased when all they do is spend time in His creation. They tell us, “I can worship God there. I don’t need church.”

But God has sent Jesus Christ to die for our sins, to forgive us and reveal the mystery of God’s will to us in order to unite both heaven and earth.

Heaven on earth doesn’t happen out there (the world), it happens in here (the worship service). Remember the words of the Communion liturgy? “Therefore with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven we laud and magnify your glorious name saying, ‘Holy Holy Holy…’”

Arthur Just tells the story of a family in his parish. There was a young man, 12 years-old, who had died of cancer shortly after being confirmed. Pastor Just wasn’t quite sure what to tell the family at the funeral that would bring them comfort. Of course, he shared the comforting words of Jesus Christ – the Gospel of sins forgiven and the sure and certain hope of eternal life for all who have faith in Jesus. After the service the father talked to him and told him he knew all that but that he still – understandably – missed his son terribly. Pastor Just thought about it for a couple of days and then came Sunday. When Pastor Just came to the Communion Liturgy, those words resonated in a new way, “Therefore with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven we laud and magnify your glorious name saying, ‘Holy Holy Holy.…’” After the worship service he told the father that even though his son was not with them physically, each time they came to the Lord’s Supper they came together again. For their son was in heaven. And in the Lord’s Supper all who partake come together with heaven here on earth for a brief moment. We are united with the body and blood of Jesus Christ and those in heaven are also united with Christ (Romans 6:5).

Jesus Christ unites us as a family today and He unites us with all those who have gone before us and will come after us. Jesus Christ unites heaven and earth with His death and resurrection.

This series of blogs will continue to focus on why Jesus Christ does this and what it means for us. Next week we’ll look at the result of this – peace.


Saturday, July 4, 2009

How Does Your Lawn Grow?

The 4th of July is the unofficial “middle of Summer.” And in the middle of summer, I think about my lawn.

Here in Southern California, if you don’t take care of your lawn, your yard will revert back to its original state – desert.

You have to cultivate it, water it, mow it, and fertilize it.

I’m sure this is much the same way in other parts of the world as well (except for the desert part, most likely).

Gardens are very similar. To get vegetables and flowers to grow, you have to water, feed, and cultivate to maybe get them to grow (there’s no guarantees here).

I’ve noticed that weeds, on the other hand, need no such care. Do nothing and they grow best! Neglect them and they grow strong. Ignore them and they take over the garden and the lawn!

Freedom in our country is like a vegetable or flower. You have to work hard to get it to flourish – and there’s no guarantee that it  will. But take it for granted or ignore it and it will die, that’s pretty much guaranteed.

The Christian faith is similar. Ignore it, don’t feed it with God’s Word and sacraments on a regular basis and it will – at best – not grow. Worse-case scenario? It could die.

But it is different than a garden or lawn. Because your growth in faith is totally dependent on God. You cannot do anything to create it or make it grow stronger, other than receive God’s grace through His Word and Sacraments.

Thankfully, God is totally committed to creating and strengthening your faith in Jesus Christ. Look no further than the cross to see how committed God is to you being free from your sins and brought into a saving relationship with Him.

There will be no droughts of God’s grace, even though our lawns and gardens may have to suffer through droughts (here in California, we face droughts and water shortages every year).

On this Independence Day weekend, I’ve heard it said many times that freedom is never free. I believe that to be true. God has abundantly blessed us in the United States with men and women who sacrifice and sacrificed to make sure we are free.

This is also what Jesus Christ did for you and me. Our freedom from sin, death, and the power of the devil is a free gift to you and me but it did come with a tremendously high price – the life of the Son of God.

I pray you will not neglect this gift as you remember your freedom this weekend!