The sign read, “We’re grouned [sic] 4 stealing & sneaking out—HONK if you agree with grounding.”June 24th, 2010
The sign read, “We’re grounded [sic] 4 stealing & sneaking out—HONK if you agree with grounding.” And there they stood, in the front page picture of the South Bend Tribune this week, with a truly forlorn expression on both their young faces—April, 12, and Patrick Kraniak, 13, grounded by their mother for the above-mentioned offenses for the rest of the summer. Grounded, in this case, meaning sitting at a picnic table in their front yard in Mishawaka, Indiana—with a neon poster board inscribed with their “HONK if you agree with our sentencing” sign. (Both children admitted to the reporter that they had indeed committed the infractions.) No running off to play, no television breaks—just a day-after-day sentence at that front yard table, with maternal permission to go inside the house for bathroom breaks or when it rains. Whazzup with all of this? Child abuse by an angry parent?
Their mother, Rita Strang, explains her punishment (which, by the way, her husband is firmly supporting): “‘I have nine kids, my oldest (two) are in prison, and I don’t want to see any of the others go in. Having them in prison has torn up the family and it breaks everybody’s heart.” And so Mother Strang “is determined to keep her other children out of trouble, even if she has to get a little creative” (SBT 6-23-10). Will it work? Stay tuned for an end-of-summer report.
Nothing like a little remorse and public shaming to get you to amend your ways, right? For my morning worships I’ve been reading the new paperback edition of that classic on the life of Christ, Desire of Ages, now updated with the NKJV—and I’ve been immensely blessed. But just this week I came to the heart-breaking story of Peter’s vehement three-fold denial that he never knew the abused Prisoner inside. And your heart always tears up, doesn’t it, when you come to that sentence in Luke’s account, “And the Lord turned and looked at Peter” (Luke 22:61 NKJV). “While the degrading oaths were fresh upon Peter’s lips, and the shrill crowing of the cock was still ringing in his ears, the Saviour turned from the frowning judges, and looked full upon His poor disciple. At the same time Peter’s eyes were drawn to his Master. In that gentle countenance he read deep pity and sorrow, but there was no anger there. The sight of that pale, suffering face, those quivering lips, that look of compassion and forgiveness, pierced his heart like an arrow” (DA 712, 713). No justly-deserved shaming, no public condemnation, nothing but the forgiving grace of the Savior’s unrelenting love and mercy that broke the big fisherman’s heart. “So Peter went out and wept bitterly [“and cried and cried and cried”—The Message]” (v 62). The tears are ours, too, are they not?
Today—both here at Pioneer Memorial Church and in Atlanta for the 59th General Conference session of the Seventh-day Adventist Church—grace will be front and center. Here as we celebrate the sacred, joyous communion with the Lord of Calvary. And there as we celebrate the nine-day theme, “Proclaiming God’s Grace.” Because whether here, there or anywhere, the truth the world is dying to hear is the truth of the God who was grounded in our place at Calvary—suffering for our shame, dying for our sins, rising again for our salvation. If only the world could know our Savior—think of the billions who would be freed from their honking guilt and shame. No wonder we must still pray for the outpouring of “the Spirit of grace and supplication” (Zech 12:10) upon both church and world for such a time as this!
A few weeks ago the famed English astro-physicist, Stephen Hawking, certainly grabbed the headlines!June 17th, 2010
A few weeks ago the famed English astro-physicist, Stephen Hawking, certainly grabbed the headlines! On his new TV show, “Into the Universe with Stephen Hawking,” this brilliant scientist issued a warning that earth inhabitants ought to avoid making contact with intelligent aliens in the universe. You may recall that there have been numerous scientific efforts—such as the SETI project (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence)—that have attempted to communicate with intelligent life forms elsewhere in our universe. While thus far these attempts have not succeeded, Hawkings warned that such efforts could initiate an unwelcomed visit to Earth by extraterrestrials. “Hawkings speculated that such aliens would likely be nomads, living in ships after sucking their own planet dry of resources, and hopping from one interstellar refueling station to the next,” (according to www.physorg.com, a popular science website). “‘If aliens ever visit us, I think the outcome would be much as when Christopher Columbus first landed in America, which didn’t turn out very well for the Native Americans,’” he speculated on his show. And with that the scientific community was abuzz, leading the Journal of Cosmology to compile dozens of responses from Hawking’s peers.
But what does it matter? Consider these reflections. First of all, I find it amazing that a bright 21st century mind believes that there are intelligent aliens out there somewhere who one day might visit us. While I’ve happened to believe that to be true all my life (after all, angels are classic extra-terrestrial intelligences, are they not?), to hear such a confession from one who works outside the faith community is refreshing, to say the least. Secondly, one could certainly suppose that sufficient “scientific” support for extra-terrestrial aliens would effectively condition humanity for the appearance one day of intelligent beings, purporting to have received our communiqués and now visiting our home planet in order to “assist” us in our own survival efforts (the BP oil spill could use some help!). Adding credence to the heretofore sci-fi craziness of backwoods UFO proponents could play into an intelligent mind’s strategy to one day dupe the human race. That notion is hardly any crazier than Hawking’s suggestion, is it?
So maybe all of this isn’t about craziness, but timeliness. Maybe it’s one more link in an anaconda-like chain that is tightening its squeeze on the human race. And maybe the intelligent aliens that the Bible calls angels—both good and evil angels—really are streaming unseen to Earth, hurriedly preparing this race for a final cosmic showdown between the forces of the fallen rebel angel and the forces of Christ, the Eternal—a blitzkrieg played out in the lives of all of us earth inhabitants.
Were that true, then the gathering in just a few hours in Atlanta of representatives and leaders of this global community of faith would be much more than just another quinquennial business session of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. About such a business session back in 1901 this observation was made: “Who do you suppose has been among us since this Conference began? . . . Who has walked up and down the aisles of this Tabernacle?—The God of heaven and his angels. . . . They have been among us to work the works of God, to keep back the powers of darkness, that the work God designed should be done and should not be hindered. The angels of God have been working among us” (GCB 4-25-01). Intelligent extra-terrestrial visitors—unseen, unobserved—given the dramatically high stakes of this hour in history, will they not also be present in Atlanta? Then shall we not pray and pray and pray for God’s intervening guidance? For isn’t it now more than clear that intelligent minds far brighter than ours are laying plans for an endgame that may not be far away? Then O God, may “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
Perhaps the game was perfect after all.June 10th, 2010
Perhaps the game was perfect after all. How can I let the hottest story in sports a week ago get by without at least a comment? If you’re not a baseball aficionado, let me set the story up first. The great American (and now international—I grew up in Japan playing it with Nipponese fervor) pastime of baseball is a game played over 9 innings, in which each team comes to bat once each inning and can remain at bat (swinging, hitting, missing the 90+ mph balls thrown at or near each batter by the pitcher) until the team accumulates three outs (a strikeout [three swings that missed], a hit that is caught or thrown to first base before the batter can race to the bag, or being forced out as a runner by a teammate’s hit ). Whew—this explanation business is more difficult than I thought—we should’ve gone into cricket instead (just kidding—really)! Anyway, the team that scores the most runs (one point per runner who circles the three bases and returns to home plate before the inning is over) wins. Still want to play?
Last week a young Detroit Tigers (that’s a team name) Venezuelan pitcher, Armando Galarraga, was on his way to the unthinkable. Pitching against the Cleveland Indians, Galarraga was pitching an absolutely perfect game—meaning, every Cleveland batter that stepped beside home plate to swing at his pitches struck out or hit into an out (on the ground or in the air). For nine innings Galarraga ruled the game! Not a single opposing batter was able to hit against him. Period. If he continued on that phenomenal streak, he would end up pitching a “perfect game”—27 batters up, 27 batters down (out) with no hits, no walks, no errors. A perfect game in baseball is so rare that it has only happened 20 times in baseball history, or on the average of once every 19,595 games! I.e., 28-year-old pitcher Galarraga was on his way to making history, very major baseball history. In fact, it all came down to the 27th batter—get him out—and Galarraga has his perfect game. And sure enough, the batter hits a fast groundball between first and second base, the first baseman runs to snag the hit, Galarraga instinctively races to first base to catch the first baseman’s throw—for an easy out—and a perfect game—and history forever! When suddenly first base umpire Jim Joyce threw his arms sideways, indicating that the runner was safe. The stunned Detroit stadium erupted in boos, Detroit manager Jim Leyland raced across the field to protest the call, all the while TV screens across the nation replayed the throw, showing clearly that the runner was out and the perfect game was in fact perfect. But all to no avail. Umpire Joyce wouldn’t budge.
Until after the game when the umpire was shown a television replay of his botched call. The runner truly had been out—Joyce had made the wrong call, costing the young pitcher a place in immortalized baseball lore. And then it was that this story took a most unfamiliar turn. While the cameras are running, with tears and quivering lip the umpire sought out Galarraga and—can you believe it?—apologized to the pitcher for having made the wrong call. And wonder of wonders—with the cameras and microphones still running—instead of recrimination and blame, Galarraga graciously forgives the umpire and waves it off as an honest mistake. AP writer Ben Walker later opined: “Bad calls are part of the mix in sports . . . . But something about this one—the chance to right a wrong, the heartfelt emotions of everyone involved—reached way past the lines. ‘I’ve got to say we’ll never see it again in our lifetime,’ New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi said.” Maybe not.
Look—I’m not a softy, but I’ll confess to eyes welled up as I listened to the heartbroken confession and the compassionate forgiveness of these two grown men. In a world so devoid of such transparency, what a gift. Maybe it really was a perfect game after all. For what could be a grander reflection of a grace divine than this display near the pitcher’s mound in baseball? When the God of heaven—who probably isn’t a baseball fan at all—moves upon the hearts of his earth children and for a fleeting moment we see grace divine lived out in lives utterly human, there is something akin to perfection for while, isn’t there? May the poet W. H. Auden was right: “I know nothing, except what everyone knows—if there when Grace dances, I should dance.”
The USA Today headlines hanging on my hotel doorknob would catch anybody’s eye.June 4th, 2010
The USA Today headlines hanging on my hotel doorknob would catch anybody’s eye. In Fort Worth, Texas, Tuesday to conduct the funeral of our dear neighbor and friend, June Bascom, I read the banner: “World of troubles for US: Obama returns to the White House facing crises on three fronts.” Beneath it in three parallel columns, each of these crises was further headlined and reported: the ongoing calamity of BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico; the mounting tensions in the Korean peninsula; and the Israel-Palestine showdown over the thwarted Gaza aid flotilla this week. Three start-of-summer hot spots—beyond the usual fare of Afghanistan, Iraq, a struggling economy and another seismic temblor somewhere on earth—that are reminders of the nanosecond speed with which life keeps retrograding these days.
And for the church on earth? I wouldn’t classify it as “blinding speed,” but truth is our own community of faith is facing a sea change, as well. Theologically? Probably not, though I’m sure I could fill this blog with quotations from significant thinkers, who are concerned that the church faces unprecedented challenges to her core understanding of biblical truth. A sea change ecclesiastically? Probably not, though there are just as many voices calling for social and policy change in the church—from homosexuality, to racial and gender equality, to ordination polity, to financial distribution and apportionment (the list can be lengthy). It’s very possible, as well, that we will have to face a sea change in our missions and evangelistic strategies. The burgeoning culture of secularism that dominates both the West and the East calls for radical new evangelistic strategies that can engage a culture that still wants to belong long before it seeks to believe. And shall we not build new bridges to the Islamic world as well? Surely, the Spirit of God can unleash a fresh wind of new outside-the-box thinking and evangelizing, can’t he?
The point? In a world of such uncertain but dramatic flux, with a church that faces her own sea changes, it is more than the right time to call the community of faith to gather before God in earnest collective prayer. Here at the Pioneer Memorial Church on the campus of Andrews University, we are doing just that. Sabbath, June 5, is designated as a special Day of Fasting and Prayer in this congregation and campus and community. A world to pray for, a church to pray for, each other to pray for—for this critical moment in history, shall we not claim the very promise of God? “‘Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me’” (Psalm 50:15 NKJV). Won’t you please join us in this Day of corporate calling upon Him?