27 September 2013

Sometimes It's Just that GOOD

Baseball is a kid's sport wherein grown men chase a small white ball and, oddly, are paid absurd amounts of money to do so. But in the end, it's only a game.
       Recently Major League Baseball has been filled with drug scandals as well. It has been a sad chapter.
       But last night was a reminder that America's pastime has a dignity and pride that transcends the payrolls and scandals.
       The reason that Mariano Rivera's curtain call at Yankee Stadium last night was so GOOD is because of TEAM and HUMILITY. When long-time teammates Derek Jeter and Andy Pettite came to the mound to take Mo out in the 9th inning all at once we remembered that these guys have been through thick and thin together for almost two decades! This was not only the end of a great career; this was long-time friends and teammates having a huge MOMENT together to laugh and cry, to be in the emotions of that great scene.
       This was also about Mariano's humility. He has worked hard to use his gifts and talents for many years. But in the end he has sought to be generous and focused on others, namely his teammates and the fans. While this ending HAS TO BE about Mariano, he wants to honor the people around him. THAT is CLASS.
       Today I am proud to be a New York Yankees fan. They are not even making the playoffs this year. They are not one of the best teams in baseball at the moment. But I will take a season like this over a World Series any day!
       In the words of Manager Joe Girardi last night at the press conference, "Mo made my job fun, he made my job easy. But more important than that, he made all our lives better. And we will miss him." Amen.

26 September 2013

Billy Graham's Request to Iran

I so appreciate and respect Billy Graham's request to the Iranian government. If the Iranian government is truly changing (which I hope it is), this would be an incredible gesture of sincerity.

23 September 2013

In a World Gone Awry ... We Must Love

The past couple of months has seen some of the worst violence against Christians in Muslim countries in many centuries. While some of us express outrage at these incidents, the Church in the West is largely indifferent to it.
       Yesterday a suicide bomber killed 81 people at a church in Peshawar, Pakistan.
       Dozens of churches have been destroyed in Egypt over the past two months. There has been more destruction directed at Christians in Egypt in the past month than in generations before.
       I have learned a valuable lesson from my own personal history as a Jew. Much of my father's family was murdered in the Holocaust when they were deported from eastern Hungary to Auschwitz. We Jews have told the world that we (all) must never forget what happened to us, and we must never allow it to happen again.
       This is not only the case for Jews. It is the case for every people group and culture and religious community that is threatened by another.
       What does this mean? It means we must be equally outraged by these things:
* Christians being persecuted by Muslims in Pakistan and Egypt;
* Bosnian Muslims being persecuted by Orthodox Serbs in the former Yugoslavia;
* Shi'ite Muslims persecuting Sunni Muslims in a country, and vice versa in another country;
* Jews persecuting Palestinians in Israel and the Palestinian territories;
* Palestinians persecuting Jews in that same land.
        The cry and call for justice to whoever is oppressed is a core part of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We must never be selective in who advocate for, and whose lives are most important. God sees PEOPLE - Christians, Jews, Muslims, and others. And for those who are the oppressed He pleads their cause. So should we.

17 September 2013

Why's Mariano's Tribute Matters So Much

The Boston Red Sox, those dastardly foes of we New York Yankee fans, gave Mariano Rivera a farewell tribute that was greater than watching Thurman Munson hit a grand slam!
       Mo is on his "farewell tour" around baseball stadiums as he nears retirement at the end of this month.
       There is no more hallowed ground for the Yankees (besides Yankee Stadium of course) than old Fenway Park in Boston.
       And so it seemed fitting that the Red Sox would pay the greatest, most dignified tribute to Mo on his final night in their park.
       This tribute means so, so much to baseball, which has been maligned this year due to the scandal over players' use of banned substances.
       The Red Sox tribute of Rivera meant so much to me as a Yankee fan for a number of reasons:
   1. In the end, these are grown men playing a boys sport of chasing a little white ball! In other words, IT'S ONLY A GAME!
   2. Mo always made the Red Sox better due to his competitive edge. And the Red Sox always called the best out of Mariano;
   3. Mo is just a wonderfully generous and gracious soul, and the Red Sox were able to return that grace to him in front of 35,000 of their fans;
   4. Rivera transcends the huge payroll, mega egos (i.e. Billy Martin) and scandals (i.e. A-Rod) that plague the New York Yankees. Sure, New York thrives on these things in a weird sort of way. But Mariano Rivera challenges we New Yorkers to get out of the scandals and to play at a higher level. And that's a very good thing.
       So I tip my hat to Mariano Rivera as well. Arguably the greatest closer that Major League Baseball has ever seen, but somehow that does not matter nearly as much as the quality of man who throws those pitches.

12 September 2013

The Day AFTER Sept. 11th

The sun rose early this morning, the day after Sept. 11th. God is still God.
       Tomorrow is the most holy day of the year for Jews - Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement). Two days after Sept. 11th.
       I find it poignant that Yom Kippur falls just two days after September 11th this year. Atonement for sins in the shadow of the Day of Great Sin when planes flew into towers killing thousands.
       The Day of Atonement is inaugurated in the book of Leviticus, chapter 16, as part of the law (code) for Israel. Read the details of the Day of Atonement and you will realize that it is a tremendously bloody ordeal.
       Aaron was to take a young bull and slaughter it as a sin offering for himself and his household.
        Then he was to bing two goats and slaughter one and the other one became the scapegoat.
       The Day of Atonement was a BLOODY MESS for the people of God, wherein the blood of these animals symbolized a needed sacrifice to "pay" for the sins of a people.
       This year's Yom Kippur reminds me of the other bloody ordeal, 12 years ago on September 11th. It was not the blood of animals, but rather the blood of thousands of victims of senseless terrorism. Those people's blood did not atone for anyone's sin - it reminded us that atonement for human sin is so desperately needed in our world.
       And that reminds me of yet another bloodshed - the ultimate bloodshed on a lonely hill in Palestine. One person's blood shed for the future bloodsheds perpetrated by the very people loved so dearly. This is the story of Jesus, the Messiah.

10 September 2013

"I'm Just a Mess..." and Other Excuses

It is cool and trendy to be a mess these days - even in Christian circles where I spend a lot of my time.
       Somehow "I'm a mess" is a badge of honor, something to be admired and patted on the back for in some bizarre way.
       I find this ... disconcerting, to say the least, and very often harmful.
       The "I'm a mess" philosophy is usually a reaction to conservative religious legalism which says, "you can NEVER be a mess" and "we all have to have our act together in every way." And so we react to that and have a false understanding of God's transformative power in our lives.
       Certainly many people's lives are genuinely a mess - self-imposed sin, victimization, bad circumstances, tragedies happen in life. And God meets us and relates to us in the midst of the mess. This is the story of the incarnation, that Jesus took on flesh and became human in the midst of the muck and mire of humanity.
       But there is no glory and honor in simply living in the muck and mire. It is not God's grace that calls us to be stuck in sinful patterns or as victims of an alcoholic parent or an abusive spouse.
       God is all about redemption and making something beautiful out of chaos. He did it with creation, He does it today as He transforms people's lives. Certainly there are places of our lives which may remain messy and difficult, but even in the midst of that God wants to transform our minds and hearts to live well through it.
        And this is why the Apostle Paul could write to the Romans 12, "Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will."

07 September 2013

Just Imagine the Lone Security Guard

Right now on the outskirts of Damascus a lone security guard is beginning his shift outside a military base or ammunition site.
       Call him Achmed. He left home about 45 minutes ago to start his shift. He has worked there for more than 10 years. For a country as poor as Syria, Achmed has been paid adequately thanks to the military regime of President Assad.
       Achmed is very anxious nowadays - each evening for the past 3 weeks he has said good-bye to his wife and 5 children as he heads to work, not knowing if an air strike on the military base might end his life.
       How many "Achmeds" are living in Syria, trying to eke out an existence under a repressive regime, in the midst of a two-year sectarian civil war, and now under the probable bombing by a superpower?
       How many women and children have been or will be "collateral damage" from the war or intervention from the west?
       How many refugees will flood across borders in an attempt to save their lives?
       Military planners will tell you that war should not be personal. It does no good for the cause that we know the name of the lone security guard, or that we know personal information such as whether he is a dad and how many kids are at home. For the purposes of war, it does no good to imagine that this lone security guard is just doing his job at the ammo site and will not know what hit him when the explosion takes his life.
       Politicians want to sensitize people to the deaths of women and children due to chemical weapons. It is nothing less than genocide what the Syrian regime has done to its people. Let's be honest about that.
       But if we are to be sensitized to that reality, we must grieve deeply at the human catastrophe of Syria being bombed and the men, women, children, families who will be killed by such actions. Let us be fully engaged in both realities and make decisions from there.

06 September 2013

To My U.S. Senators and Representative...

Dear Senator Udall, Senator Bennet, and Rep. Perlmutter,

I am writing to you as one of your constituents to ask that you not authorize military intervention in Syria.
       My rationale for this is the following:
   1. It appears there is little, if any, military goal of this action;
   2. It is likely the President Assad is more likely rather than less likely to use chemical weapons on his people if the U.S. intervenes;
   3. The nature of sectarian violence in the Middle East (wherein Sunnis and Shi'ites war against one another) is more tribal in orientation and not "western" at all. What this means is that the United States has a very limited understanding of the cultural dynamics at work in Syria. We would do best to stay out of that which we do not understand;
   4. Who or what comes after Mr. Assad? If you think he is a despot and a criminal (which he is), just wait until jihadists control the country. While Americans may find Assad despicable (as we did Saddam Hussein and Khaddafi in Libya), regime change in the Middle East usually results in more confusion and suffering rather than less;
   5. There is no international coalition to intervene in Syria. America is going it alone and we should not. It is not the place of the U.S. to police the world. I realize you may disagree with this assessment, but without the explicit support of allies such as the UK, France, Germany and Japan it does not seem appropriate for the U.S. to move forward.
       Lastly, I do not want to minimize the genocide by the Syrian government in gassing more than 1,000 of its own people. The international community must act to limit Assad and for him to leave power. I just do not believe that military action moves the world closer to that goal.

05 September 2013

Days of Awe

Today begins the 10 "Days of Awe" from Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) to Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement). These are the most holy days of the year for the Jewish people.
       In the modern Jewish worldview these days have far less import than they did two or three generations ago when more religious Jews emigrated to America.
       In those earlier days the High Holidays represented a mixture of deep introspection about our personal and corporate sin along with being in awe of God's mercy to His people. There is something healthy about this perspective that I miss these days.
       Growing up in a Jewish family, these Days of Awe translated into an understanding that God has "books" that He opens at Rosh Hashanah and writes everyone's name in. During these 10 days He decides who will live this year and who will die, or who will have a "good" life and who will have a "bad" life this coming year.
       This process was a mysterious and confusing thing for me. But what was even more strange was that my actions could somehow change God's mind. I needed to repent (I did not know what that meant), I needed to pray, and I needed especially to do good deeds during the Days of Awe. I never knew what kinds of good deeds or how many of them, but I knew they needed to be really GOOD and A LOT of them. Then on Yom Kippur the book was closed for the year. In essence, my fate was sealed.
       To this day I do not know what to do with the Days of Awe. As someone who earnest seeks to follow Jesus (who, after all, was a Jewish rabbi no less!), he seems to challenge the assumptions about the Book of Life and the Book of Death. Perhaps it is because HE IS THE BOOK OF LIFE HIMSELF!
       So, to my Jewish brothers and sisters on this Rosh Hashnah, Shanah Tovah. May it be a "good year," and may you find it most fully in Y'shua the Messiah.

02 September 2013

The Monday Shout-Out: Leadership ConneXtions

My good friend Brian Rice and i co-founded Leadership ConneXtions a decade ago and he has developed it in amazing ways.
They have a brand new website which has a wealth of information and resources.