Sunday, September 17, 2017

The Folly of Perfection

The Cleveland Indians won 22 games in a row before the streak finally ended Friday night, a game I happened to attend. This streak set a major league record previously dating back to 1935 (I am not counting the Elias record from 1916 that included a tie). The Indians did it with surprising ease outscoring opponents by huge margins with few games being close. However, the 22nd game was an extra inning thriller where the Indians came from behind. The players apparently started wishing that the streak was over and they could get back to just playing ball. The streak of perfection was getting harder and harder to maintain. To keep it going was a day to day grind.

Likewise the Old Testament law contains laws that are impossible to keep. I haven't even rolled out of bed and gotten into the morning routine before I have violated at least one law. At the time of Christ's earthly ministry, the Pharisees had even further gummed up the works by adding numerous trivial laws that weighted the people down.

If the perfection of God's law is impossible, why does it exist? Thankfully, the answer is supplied succinctly by Paul in Galatians 3:24. It is our tutor to lead us to Christ. We recognize our own inability and sinful pattern and it reveals our need for a Savior. Tutor is an interesting word. The Greek word denotes a slave whose duty was to take care of a child until adulthood. the tutor escorted the child to and from school and watched over their behavior at home. Tutors were disciplinarians and caused those under their care to yearn for the day when they would be free from under the tutor's custody. Likewise the law is our tutor and shows us our sins leading us or escorting us to Christ.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

What Storms Teach Us

Just about all of us have friends and/or family going through a once in a generational storm in Florida as I write this. As I sit here in Northeast Ohio, the sun is shining and it is a beautiful day, but in Florida it is nasty. It is so easy to feel helpless about what is going on. If I could pull a Star Trek, I would beam people up here. But time and space prevents me from doing that. 

The seasoned fisherman were terrified. Storms, like hurricanes were common on the Sea of Galilee. But this one seemed completely out of the ordinary. The boat was being swamped. They feared for their very lives. And there was Jesus asleep like a baby on a cushion, an intentional act of rest, not one like dozing. These fisherman did not suspect that Jesus was unaware, but that He didn't care that their lives were in danger. Jesus calms the storm and says to them "Where is your faith?". (Mark 4:25-41).

What is it to be learned about storms?
  1. Storms remind us of our human frailty. 
  2. Storms remind us of the brevity of "stuff".
  3. Storms offer an opportunity for human generosity and caring.
  4. Storms remind us of who is the one who is in control.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

The Gift of Pain

I was trying to leg out an infield hit. I stretched to the bag and felt a little pop and realized I had popped my quad muscle. I limped back to the dugout and realized I was done. Two days later, feeling I was recovered enough from my quad, I tried to hit. As a power hitter, when I swing it is all parts of the body working in forward motion. On a 3-1 count, I let her rip and went down. Done for the evening again. Two days later, I am back at it again trying to catch and while stretching right to catch a ball out of the strike zone I did it again.

After three re-occurrences of the same image, it finally sunk into my thick skull that maybe I ought to lay low for a while and let my injury actually heal. So I did or so I thought. I was putting spaghetti away and I dropped a container of spaghetti on the floor. As I was going to pick it up, I felt the most intense pain in the leg to date and I dropped to the floor in agony. This pain caught me by surprise.

Author Philip Yancey has written extensively about the subject of pain. He co-wrote a book called The Gift of Pain and has referred to it in multiple of his books. Leprosy patients are at great risk of doing harm to themselves because they can feel no pain. Someone with leprosy can stick their hand in a fire and not know it. The book makes the fascinating conclusion that pain is actually good for us. Pain is much broader than physical. It reaches to the very core of our being. Some of the worst pain is emotional and spiritual.

Intentional Pain Stops Us from Unintended Consequences
If there were no consequences to our behavior, we would do all sorts of bad things. But the bad things we do leave a mark. My continued insistence on playing through pain only made my situation worse. We can see this with our dabbling with sin. There are always consequences and the mark of pain helps us to recognize it.

Unintentional Pain Reveals Our Need for God
Some of the worst pain comes from outside. It is the consequences of living in a fallen world. My worst pain on my example came from the accidental spill of the spaghetti. Likewise, the unforeseen such as an accident or a trial occurs. This type of trial leads us to recognize our frailty and our need for a personal God.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

When God Interrupts Our Routine

Tomorrow millions of people will witness the rare phenomena of the moon blocking the light's rays. In some places, there will be a total eclipse. Here in Northeast Ohio, 80.5% of the sun will be blocked. During the solar eclipse, the lunar shadow will darken the sky and temperatures will drop will bright stars and planets will appear at a time that is normally broad daylight.

Retired NASA astrophysicist and photographer Fred Espenak said the experience lasts for just a couple minutes, but it's truly out of this world. "It is unlike any other experience you've ever had, "Espenak, known as Mr. Eclipse, told ABC news. "It's a visceral experience. The hair on your arms, on the back of your neck, stand up. You get goosebumps."

There are two ways to react to this event. One is to be awed by the event itself and the second is to be awed by the creator of the heavens and the earth. I love it when God gives us glimpses of His handiwork in a way that interrupts our mundane. It is easy to get wrapped up in the day to day routine. We are hurtling through space every day. Our body intakes oxygen. Gravity keeps our feet on the ground. We don't thank God enough for His handiwork. How good it is for us to take a step back and just reflect on the wonder of it all.

David writes "When I consider the heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars which you have set in place, what is man that you take thought of him, the son of man that you care for him." It is awesome that the creator of the heavens and the earth desires a personal relationship with me and you. Reflect on that tomorrow as you see His handiwork.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Nostalgia and the Art of Remembering

My baseball team played a game Saturday at League Park in Cleveland. For those who don't know League Park, it is a restored baseball park on the near east side. I have been told that it is the only original structure from its era other than Fenway Park and Wrigley Field. All other stadiums of that era were razed to the ground and stuff built on top of it. League Park was the host to professional baseball from the turn of the century all the way until 1946.

The field itself was remade (see picture below by my creative photo savvy spouse) to exactly the dimensions of the original ballpark including the short 295 foot fence in right field, which has a high 40 foot fence (even higher than the famed 37 foot Green Monster fence of Fenway). The other parts of the field were 380 feet to the outfield. Quick side note - I hit a blast to the fence on Saturday but because I popped a quad muscle during the week I only ended up with a single. My manager called it the longest single in League Park history. We envisioned that Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig played on this field. Bob Feller pitched here and all the greats of one of the most famous eras of baseball.

The word remember or recall occur 167 times in the Bible. As I look through the list, these are some of the themes:

  • Remember events such as Passover
  • Remember people who preceded you
  • Remember the goodness of God
  • Remember the sacrifice of God
  • Remember the commandments of God
  • Remember what you were like before
  • Remember the days of your life or the days of old 
  • Remember God's holy word
  • Remember the brevity of life
  • Remember if your brother has something against you 
Apparently God wants us to remember stuff. It seems like our culture today is stuck in the now. Remembering is healthy in context. 

Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Truth Fortune Cookie

We eat a lot of Chinese food. For whatever reason, our sleepy little town of Brecksville has two takeout Chinese restaurants. When the owners of our preferred one went on vacation leaving us in a potential lurch, we simply turned to option B which is almost as good. Anyway, I actually read the fortune cookies and I am fascinated (sometimes) by what I read.

At first blush, this seems to be a fantastic combination of words. We all identify with adversity and we understand that adversity leads us to something, but truth?  I could see how adversity could lead us to strength. I could see how adversity could lead us to God? Does the fortune cookie author mean that adversity could lead us to recognize truth? If so, that is a lame one. Kind of like getting pulled over for going over the speed limit and saying I did not know the speed limit. The officer would say that my ignorance does not excuse me.

Truth is one of those words that more and more get relegated to a point of reference in our culture today. But truth is one of those words that stands alone and needs no context. Further, we are responsible for knowing truth. Adversity is irrelevant. Jesus says "If you continue in My word, the you are truly disciples of mine and you will know the truth and the truth will set you free" (John 8:30-31). The truth is the gospel. The trigger is knowing it and believing it.

In fact, the more I think about it, if Jesus were writing a fortune cookie, he would write "Truth is the first path to adversity". Think of those who have placed their lives on the line for the truth of the gospel.  They were convinced the truth was the truth and some people don't like truth. About 100,000 of them die every year for the truth.

Sunday, July 16, 2017


I have an awful combination. First of all, I sweat a lot. Second, I am a baseball catcher. When you wear the equipment of the catcher (the tools of the trade) on a hot, humid July day, you produce sweat - lots of it. On a typical game, under these conditions, I will lose five or six pounds. Which is why my car always smells like a locker room.

I can spray a whole can of aerosol Fabreeze in there and it still smells. I bought one of those scent things that hangs from your rear view mirror and it was used up about five minutes into its journey. Deb's car on the other hand still smells new even though it is several years older. You see, she is not a sweater and she is not a catcher.

Seems like a strange introduction to my blog, but half the battle to the journey of the sinner is the realization that they are odorous in the sight of an Almighty God. We are currently studying in the Sermon on the Mount at church (Matthew 5-7). The first part of the sermon is the Beatitudes. Beatitudes literally mean "happy". But they sure don't sound happy.

  • Blessed are the poor in spirit
  • Blessed are those who mourn
  • Blessed are the gentle
  • Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness
  • Blessed are the merciful
  • Blessed are the pure in heart
  • Blessed are the peacemakers
  • Blessed are those who have been persecuted
The first four are self-assessment. They in essence say, I am a stinker. It is the one who completes the self-assessment and says that I need a holy and righteous God to remove the contamination of my stinkiness. That is the meaning of what the prophet Isaiah writes "though our sins are as scarlet, they will be as white as snow"(1:18). I need to come clean before God. To God, my stinkiness problem, when acknowledged in faith plus trust in Christ, is not only neutral but even sweet smelling. I still have the new car smell so to speak. 

I bring this up because our culture wants to constantly say we are all right and we can make our own way. Saying I am ok enough times does not make me ok.  This is not a healthy self-image. I am bound to disappoint myself no matter how many self-help books I might read. Don't get me wrong - we all have fascinating potential and I am an avid reader of authors like the late Stephen Covey. But my self-image must start with the flaws that I have. The amazing things can happen with a flawed sweaty guy.