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A Resource by Mark D. Roberts

Archive for January - March 2006

Note: This archive contains all of my posts for this month that are not included in some other series. I really don't have the time to save things in more than one place. If you're looking for a specific item, use the "Search" button in the upper left hand corner. Thanks.

by Rev. Dr. Mark D. Roberts

Copyright © 2006 by Mark D. Roberts

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Happy New Year's Hope for Fellowship
Posted for January 1, 2006

At 11:59 p.m. last night, the giant New Year's Eve Ball atop the One Times Square building in New York City began its traditional descent of 77 feet. As it touched down, precisely 60 seconds after it started to descend, 2005 ended and 2006 began. Almost a million spectators braved the freezing temperatures in Times Square to view the falling ball in person, while an estimated billion people watched on television.

This ball-dropping tradition began in 1907, and has been continued every year since then, except for 1942 and 1943, when New York City's lights were dimmed because of World War II. The first ball was made of iron and wood, and included 100 light bulbs. Later incarnations of the ball were composed of iron or aluminum. The millennial ball-dropping in 1999-2000 introduced a new ball, made of 504 crystal triangles attached to an aluminum frame. This version of the ball, still in use today, is six feet wide and weighs 1070 pounds. It includes 696 bright lights and 90 rotating mirrors. (For more information on the history of the ball and its current construction, check out these links: history, construction PDF.)
The New Year's Ball from 2004-2005

You may not know that the New Years Ball has a theme. In 2001 it was "Hope for Abundance," in 2004 "Hope for Unity." Last year's theme was "Hope for Wisdom." The crystal for the ball is made by Waterford, the Irish company that makes some of the finest crystal in the world. If you're interested, you can purchase an ornament with the yearly theme. You'd better save your pennies, though, because it will cost you $49.00.

This year's theme is "Hope for Fellowship." According to the Waterford press release (PDF),

Fellowship [is] the essence of brotherhood, fraternity and global friendship . . . . The Hope for Fellowship crystal pattern captures the awareness of the deep significance of togetherness with cuts suggesting the linking of arms individually separate, yet forming a resilient bond of community when joined. The pattern is completed with a series of rayed cuts in a celebration of the unity within.

This sounds fine and good, though I'm not quite sure about the "celebration of the unity within" part. The theme seems to be more of a celebration of the unity among people, not within something.

I once wrote a whole book on fellowship. It ended up being called After "I Believe": Experiencing Authentic Christian Living. It's original title, wisely jettisoned by the publisher, was Intimate Fellowship. My main point was that the Christian life is intimate fellowship with God and God's people. I based this thesis on the meaning and use of the Greek word koinonia, which is usually translated as "fellowship," but really speaks of a more intimate relationship than "fellowship" generally conveys. In this book I showed that true fellowship is to be found in and through Jesus Christ, who opens the door for us to have fellowship with the triune God, and through God to have fellowship with one another.

Hope for Fellowship . . . this could well be my theme for this year, though my meaning differs from that of the New Years Ball. First and foremost I yearn for deeper fellowship with God. And I want the same for you. I have, in fact, created a new website for this very purpose. It's called The Daily Psalm, and I'll have more to say about this in a couple of days.

Second, I hope for more profound fellowship with my sisters and brothers in Christ. Again, I'm not speaking simply of handshakes after a worship service, or friendly chatter over coffee on the church patio. Rather, I'm talking about a deep sharing of life with other believers, in which we weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice. My prayer for you is that you might also grow in genuine fellowship with other believers this year.


But if we simply sit around and hope for fellowship, it isn't going to happen. Rather, we need to take steps to get into more genuine and heartfelt relationships with others, including God. If you're already an active member of a church, I'd encourage you to find a way to go deeper in fellowship. Get into a small group, if possible, or an adult class. Form a prayer partnership with another Christian, with whom you can share the struggles and joys of living. If you're not actively involved in a church, I'd urge you to find a place of genuine fellowship, where Jesus Christ is proclaimed as Lord and Savior, and where people share their lives together. Be a part of the body, not an amputated body part.

Are Men Really That Bad?
Posted for January 2, 2006

Admittedly, we men can be a bit competitive. Well, okay, sometimes more than a bit. Yes, today millions of men (and a few women) will watch other men pound each other half to death in six, count 'em, six, college bowl games, with more coming later in the week. If we weren't competitive sorts, this wouldn't be of much interest.

But there's a common portrayal of men that goes far beyond happy competition. I recently saw two movies that played upon this common stereotype: the hyper-competitive dad whose obsession with winning just about destroys his family. So I'm wondering: Are men really that bad?

The first movie was Kicking & Screaming, staring Will Ferrell as Phil Weston, a mild-mannered father who gets into a vicious competition with his own father, both of whom coach their son's soccer team. Much of this movie was predictable, though there were a few choice moments, such as when Phil finds out that one of his players has lesbian parents, and he tries to be positive even though he's shocked. But perhaps the most fun part of the movie centers on Phil's discovery of coffee, thanks to football legend Mike Ditka, playing himself in the movie. Coffee turns the calm, sweet Phil Weston into a competitive maniac, who ends up bringing a giant espresso machine to his soccer games to enhance his ceaseless yelling at his team. Though Kicking & Screaming focuses on the competitive extremes of Phil, his father matches his son in a compulsive need to win.
A highly-caffeinated Phil Weston (Will Ferrell) pumps up one of his players.

The second movie was Cheaper by the Dozen 2, staring Steve Martin as Tom Baker, a mild-mannered father who gets into a vicious competition with his childhood friend, Jimmy Murtaugh, played by Eugene Levy. Like Kicking & Screaming, the silly struggle between the two fathers alienates other family members. And, as in Kicking & Screaming, by the end of the film the principal father repents, which leads to family restoration as well as victory (or close to it) in the competition. Of course in both of these films, as the several fathers are playing the fool, their wives are looking on sagely and sadly. In the end, only their intervention helps to bring the men back to sanity and restore the families they have just about ruined.
Two fathers in Cheaper by the Dozen 2 (Steve Martin and Eugene Levy) in the throes of a cutthroat competition.

So, again, my question: Are men really that bad? (Secondary question: Are men really that stupid?)

As evidence for "Yes, they are," one could point to the tragic incident in 2000, when a Massachusetts father went crazy after a hockey practice, not a game, a practice, where another man's son had been too rough. Thomas J. Junta actually beat the other father to death. Then, just about a year ago, after another Massachusetts hockey game, Jordan Waldman, age 51, grabbed Cameron Byrne, age 8, around the neck, yelling, "Keep your hands off my kid." (Note to self: avoid kid hockey games when in Massachusetts.)

Yet, I'd counter the evidence for male competitiveness by pointing to my experience as a father watching my children playing soccer. Throughout the last six years, I've watched at least 100 kid soccer games. During this whole time I've seen only one dad whose competitive impulse had conquered his conscience. As a coach of seven-year-old boys, he yelled like drunken drill sergeant. (Later, I saw this same man playing air hockey against his young son at a local pizza parlor. He played with the same aggressiveness. Very sad.) One year my son's team was coached by a man who had played on his country's national soccer team. This man had, I could tell, a strong desire to win. But he managed to squelch it most of the time, except when cussing in Arabic. (Ironically, two of the Anglo parents of a kid on the team had done missionary work in the Middle East. They spoke Arabic, as did their son, so they asked the coach to refrain from swearing!) In sum, my personal experience in Irvine, California, a highly-competitive environment, suggests that men are not usually so competitive as in the movies.

But, a friend of mine is in charge of one of our local soccer leagues. He's seen some pretty outlandish behavior, especially at championship games. Now he makes sure that at every championship game there is at least one off-duty, plainclothes police officer, and one attorney. The cop is there to stop fights. The attorney is there in case a parent decides to sue a coach, an official, or the soccer league. No joke.

So, maybe men, at least some, are that bad after all. Most of us, however, have managed to keep our competitive nature under control (or under wraps, at any rate).

I'll confess to having a pretty nasty competitive streak. Mostly I can master it with perspective and good will. I've never lost my temper at a soccer game. But there are times, I admit, when I'll decide not to play some silly board game at a family gathering because I know my "win-or-else" buttons will get pushed. I won't have fun, and neither will anybody else. It's as if some primitive gene in me thinks I'm competing with some enemy tribe to provide food for my family. Nevertheless, I don't think I'm nearly as obsessive as the kicking and screaming Phil Weston and his father, or the parent of the cheaper dozen, Tom Baker, and his nemesis Jimmy Murtaugh.

All the same, I can always use a good dose of reminding that winning isn't what matters most in life. Both Kicking & Screaming and Cheaper by the Dozen 2, though mediocre movies, reminded me of how much I value my children, not because of their accomplishments, but because of who they are as people.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got to get back to watching the AT&T Cotton Bowl, the Outback Bowl, the Toyota Gator Bowl, the Capital One Bowl, the Tostitos Fiesta Bow, and the Nokia Sugar Bowl. Happy New Year!

I Have a Dream
Posted for Monday, January 16, 2006

Today is a national holiday, as we celebrate the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. For many Americans, this day is a chance to get a break from the usual routine or work and school, and do something fun. It seems to me that in the midst of such a holiday we should remember Martin Luther King Jr. and his mission.

I can think of no better way of doing this than by remembering the speech Dr. King made on August 28, 1963 in Washington D.C. As part of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, he delivered the famous "I Have a Dream" speech. Though lasting for only 16 minutes and consisting of a mere 1620 words, this speech epitomizes Dr. King's vision. It is, in my opinion, one of the great rhetorical moments in American history, on a par with Lincoln's Gettysburg Address and Second Inaugural. I also believe that the vision of Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech needs to be reaffirmed by Americans of all colors today.

I'm going to print the entire speech below. I'll also include an audio sample in the text. It's a wonderful thing to hear the moving cadence of Dr. King's voice. If you want to listen to the entire speech, you can visit the American Rhetoric website.

"I Have a Dream" by Martin Luther King, Jr.

I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.

But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. And so we've come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.

In a sense we've come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the "unalienable Rights" of "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked "insufficient funds."

But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so, we've come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.

We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children.

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro's legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. And those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual.  And there will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.

But there is something that I must say to my people, who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice: In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.

The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. And they have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom.

We cannot walk alone.

And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead.

We cannot turn back.

There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, "When will you be satisfied?" We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until "justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream."

I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. And some of you have come from areas where your quest -- quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive. Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed.

Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends.

And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

(To hear these last three paragraphs, click here [.mov file, 168 K].)

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of  "interposition" and "nullification" -- one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; "and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together."

This is our hope, and this is the faith that I go back to the South with.

With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

And this will be the day -- this will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with new meaning:

My country 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing.
Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrim's pride,
From every mountainside, let freedom ring!

And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.

And so let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire.

Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.

Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.

Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.

But not only that:

Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee.

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi.

From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:

Free at last! Free at last!

Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!

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Last Holiday: A Delightful Film
Posted for Thursday, January 19, 2006

Note: I'm not done with my critique of Bart Ehrman's Misquoting Jesus. But today was one of those days. So my blog post tonight will be rather light and not terribly time-consuming. I'll get back to Ehrman tomorrow, I expect.

Last Holiday is a delightful film. I highly recommend it. It's not especially deep. And it's not especially realistic, but who expects realism from a romantic comedy? But it's well worth the time to see it and the money for the ticket. I thoroughly enjoyed this movie.

Last Holiday stars singer Queen Latifah as Georgia Byrd, a hard-working, choir-singing, department store saleswoman who discovers that she has a terminal illness, with only three weeks to live. So she decides to live it up, spending her savings on the vacation of a lifetime. Yet what she experiences on this vacation is far more than one might expect. And the ending, though somewhat predictable, is not overdone and makes sense within the construct of the story.

I'm no prude when it comes to movies. But I was pleasantly surprised and pleased with the ethics of Last Holiday. Georgia Byrd, as far as we can tell, is both unmarried and, gasp, celibate. Even when she realizes she has only a few days to live she never seeks sexual adventurism. In fact, her chastity is seen as a virtue in this film, and the fornication of other characters is criticized. Yes, there are a few off color moments in Last Holiday which earned a PG-13 rating, but I'd have to say this is one of the most wholesome movies I've seen in ages.

Queen Latifah as Georgia Byrd.

Now comes the real shocker. Even God fares well in Last Holiday. Georgia is a church-going, choir-singing, praying woman. And even when she casts off the shackles of her former life, there's no suggestion that her Christian faith was part of her chains. In one scene there's a wonderful Job-like moment as Georgia questions God about why she's suffering, and the choir joins in. Yet, in spite of her disappointment with God, Georgia doesn't give up her faith or her Christian ethics.

There are many other delightful elements of Last Holiday, like great pictures of fine food and Gérard Depardieu as a convincing and charming European chef. If you see this film, and I urge you to do so, don't expect profundity. But you will get refreshing, light-hearted fare with an unexpected injection of good morals and genuine faith.

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FEMA Scandal: The Untold Story
Posted for Sunday, February 12, 2006

A recent news story alleges that thousands of applicants for federal emergency relief money, made available after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, used fraudulent means to get funds they didn't deserve. According to a report from the Government Accountability Office, FEMA's Expedited Assistance program doled out the dollars to people who used invalid Social Security numbers, fake addresses, false identifies, and made-up disaster stories.

Auditors of the FEMA program found that "nearly half of the 11,000 individuals who received special debit cards . . . got a second $2,000 in emergency aid." Moreover, inspections 200 properties listed as home addresses found 40% to have been vacant or non-existent. Over 50% of another sample group used invalid Social Security numbers. Many individuals milked the system for over $100,000 in payments. And some emergency relief debit cards were used for guns, jewelry, and "adult entertainment."

FEMA spokeswoman Nicol Andrews defended her agency on the grounds that it was rushing to get aid to stricken people, and therefore was unable to verify all the information they'd been given. I expect that this is not just an excuse. Remember, by the time the aid was being delivered, FEMA was on the hot seat for their slow and inadequate reaction to Katrina. Information checks take extra time, which would have increased criticism of FEMA. The agency, was, by this time, between a rock and a hard place. So it decided to expedite payments, even at the risk of giving money to undeserving persons.

Although the government audit is distressing, it's not really surprising. FEMA in particular, and the Federal Government in general, aren't exactly famous for doing things in an exact and expeditious manner. So I wouldn't be surprised if there was massive fraud in the doling out of emergency aid, and if FEMA turns out, once again, to be a dysfunctional agency.


But, frankly, there's something in this story much more distressing to me than FEMA's error-prone ways. It's the fact that thousands of people, perhaps even hundreds of thousands, attempted to defraud the government, to get money that they didn't deserve. Now I expect that some of these folks were simply confused, and that their defrauding effort wasn't intentionally dishonest. But many were fully aware that they were attempting to get money they were not entitled to. They were taking advantage of a national tragedy to line their own pockets.

We're not just talking about a few bad apples here. FEMA itself found that 900,000 of 2,500,000 aid applications were "potential duplicates." If I'm reading the figures correctly, this means that almost a million people attempted to get more money than they were supposed to get (or a half-million, depending on how they got the 900,000 figure).

Why would people do this sort of thing? Taking money from the impersonal federal government can seem like something other than stealing, even though the money for government aid comes from taxpayers. Moreover, with FEMA being blamed for the horrors of post-Katrina New Orleans, I expect many defrauders believed they were getting what was due to them, or even overdue. Maybe they even thought of themselves as righteous punishers of the bad government. Who knows?

But, no matter how you slice it, the greatest scandal in the FEMA handout isn't the dysfunctionality of a government that allowed itself to be defrauded, but the immorality of the people who sought to defraud the government. They took advantage of the generosity of the American people.

This is sad, though not altogether unexpected. Those of us who believe that human nature is fallen, and that sin comes naturally, won't be surprised to learn that hundreds of thousands of people tried to steal from FEMA. Nor will we look down our long noses at the perpetrators, as if we ourselves were perfect. We might not be in a position to take FEMA dollars, but we may be tempted to cheat on our income tax, or pad our expense accounts, or take stationery supplies from work, or . . . .

If the FEMA fraud story has legs, it will be interesting to see if the press and its pundits have anything to say about the rampant immorality of the defrauders, or if they'll be satisfied to pummel FEMA. I'm not suggesting that FEMA doesn't deserve every blow, but I think there's another story here that should give us all pause concerning the moral fiber of our people.

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Pride Goeth Before a Fall
Posted for Sunday, February 19, 2006

I enjoy watching the winter Olympics, even though I'm not much of a winter sports enthusiast. But in the midst of the fanfare and the athletic competitions there are moving human stories.

One of the most inspiring stories to emerge from the Turin games came from the Pairs Free Skating. One of the favorite pairs, Zhang Dan and Zhang Hao of China, began their free skate with apparent tragedy. While attempting an unprecedented throw (a quad Salchow), Zhang Dan spun out of control, crashing onto the ice. When her partner, Zhang Hao, helped her to get up, she was dazed, limping, and obviously in pain. It seemed that the Zhangs Olympic glory had ended in agonizing failure.

But then, after only a few moments for recovery, Zhang Dan insisted that she and Zhang Hao continue. So they picked up their routine where they had left off. For the next few minutes they skated not only courageously, but impeccably. They ended up winning the silver medal.

In my book, however, they get a gold medal for courage and composure. I'll soon forget who actually won gold – in fact, I already have – but I'll never forget the Zhangs. Their pride, one might say, came after their fall.

Zhang Hao helping Zhang Dan after her fall. (Clive Rose/Getty Images)

On the flip side, I've been less than impressed with some of the highly-touted Americans. Bode Miller, whose face seemed to appear on every magazine in my house for the weeks prior to the Olympics, has been a major disappointment. I must confess that I don't feel altogether bad about this, because Miller has seemed to me rather full of himself, especially when he boasts about practicing while hung over.

Bode could use a bit of wisdom that my grandmother passed on to me about a hundred times. Whenever I'd get puffed up about myself, she'd say, "Remember, Mark, pride goeth before a fall." This is the abridged version of Proverbs 16:18, which reads in the King James Version: "Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall."

We were able to see a stunning visual illustration of this verse in the final race of the women's snowboardcross. U.S. snowboarder Lindsey Jacobellis, the favorite, had a commanding lead as she neared the finish line. It seemed like nothing could keep her from winning the gold medal. Unfortunately, this thought dawned on Lindsey, who decided to do a little bit of showboating in the second to last jump of the race. Grabbing her board, she did a little twist called a method. Yet when she landed, she fell on her backside and slid off the side of the course. By the time she recovered, Tanja Frieden of Switzerland, who had been completely out of contention for the gold, passed Lindsey, who ended up with the silver medal.
Lindsey Jacobellis falling. (AFP/Joe Klamar)

After the race, Lindsey tried at first to defend herself. But she wisely gave up, admitting that she "messed up." "It's just a race," she said Saturday. "I know it's the Olympics and everyone's trying to get a reaction out of me. I made a mistake. It happens. I was very happy to still come out with a medal after making such a goof" (from the NY Times article).

I appreciate Lindsey's attitude. And I'm not critical of her. I know how easy it is to mess up, especially when I'm feeling just a little too good about myself. But, thank God, my mistakes are usually fairly private. I can't imagine how it would feel to be watched by millions of people in my moment of shame. (And I certainly did a lot of stupid things when I was 20, Lindsey's age, let me assure you.)

So I don't feel so much critical of Lindsey as cautioned, cautioned about my own pride, warned about my own tendency to think too much of myself. Though it's surely alright to step back and enjoy one's accomplishments as long at the enjoyment is mixed with gratitude to God, too much pride does indeed lead us in the wrong direction. My grandma was right: Pride goeth before a fall.

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A Tale of Two Bodes, Part 1
Posted for Sunday, February 26, 2006

A month ago Bode Miller made the cover of TIME Magzine. "American REBEL," the cover proclaimed, adding, "He speaks his mind – and apologizes later. He loves to party – and doesn't care about winning. Yet BODE MILLER is poised to strike Olympic gold. On the slopes with skiing's bad boy."

Well, TIME was partly right and partly wrong. Right about "rebel, speaks his mind, loves to party, doesn't care about winning, and bad boy." Wrong about "poised to strike Olympic gold." Very wrong. Not only was Miller not poised to strike gold. He wasn't going to strike silver or bronze either. Actually, most of his striking came when he hit gates accidentally, thereby being thrown off course and disqualified. Miller, who was supposed to be a threat in five Olympic skiing events, didn't finish three of them. His best finish was fifth in the downhill. Of course the fact that Miller was ten pounds heavier than his usual racing weight in Turin may begin to explain his lackluster performance. It surely says volumes about his preparation for the Olympics, or lack thereof, and the attitude that he brought to the Games.

If you've paid much attention to Bode Miller, you won't be entirely surprised by his performance in Turin. Though, given the fact that he was recently the finest skier in the world, and that he won two silver medals in the 2002 Olympics, you might still be disappointed in Bode. Just don't let him know it, however, if you know what's good for you. Bodie isn't interested in your expectations for him.

Bode doesn't ski to bring honor to America. He doesn't ski to fulfill anybody's expectations other than his own. And, according to Bode, he fared well in this year's Olympics. No, I'm not kidding. Bode claims to have done just fine, thank you very much.

Here's Bode on Bode:

"I just did it my way. I'm not a martyr, and I'm not a do-gooder. I just want to go out and rock. And man, I rocked here."

"The expectations were other people's. I'm comfortable with what I've accomplished, including at the Olympics. I came in here to race as hard as I could. That was my obligation to myself."

"I've been living my life as if I might have died two weeks before the Olympics started. That left me the opportunity to dig deep, to go down that other route, to make more sacrifices and get back to where I was."

"My quality of life is the priority. I wanted to have fun here, to enjoy the Olympic experience, not be holed up in a closet and not ever leave your room."

". . . it's been an awesome two weeks. I got to party and socialize at an Olympic level."

So, there you have it. Bode "rocked" in these Olympics, largely by partying at an Olympic level. Perhaps the most truthful and ironic statement of all was: "I've been living my life as if I might have died two weeks ago before the Olympics started." Yep, more dead than alive. Sounds to me like Bode's been reading Ephesians 2.

Ironically, Bode himself pretty much predicted his performance at the Turin Olympics. In a conversation with Newsweek's Devin Gordon in late 2005, Bode said:

"For me the ideal Olympics would be to go in with all that pressure, all that attention and have performances that are literally tear-jerking, that make people put their heads down because they're embarrassed at how emotional they’re getting, that make people want to try sports, talk to their kids, call their f---ing ex-wives—and come away with no medals. I think that would be epic. That would be the perfect thing."

Bode, the American Rebel, on the cover of TIME.

A poster from Nike's Join Bodie campaign. I'll bet you can get a good buy on a thousand of those posters today.

Bode partying with a Playboy playmate in Italy during the Olympics. Notice the shirt and the beverage. I'm sure Coke is thrilled about this free advertising.

Well, Bode almost got his perfect performance, though I doubt he was responsible for much tear-jerking, except perhaps from those who bet money on him. And we only put our heads down in embarrassment over how poorly Bode skied and behaved in public. But, thanks to Bode, I actually did talk to my kids more during these Olympics than I might have, because I didn't bother to spend much time watching them. I don't need to stay up late at night to watch the U.S. skiers get whupped by the Austrians.

Okay, okay, maybe I'm being too hard on Bode. After all, he's just 28-year-old kid whose excellence in skiing gave him way more attention than he could handle. Perhaps more of my disgust should be directed at those who were trying to make a buck off of Bode and therefore put him in the spotlight, companies like Nike and Time-Warner. Nike even had dedicated a portion of its website to the Join Bode campaign. It's really quite something as a creative website, with lots of advanced Flash programming. But the content is even more fascinating. Here, for example, is the Join Bode pledge:

Join the bold, the brazen, the unintimidated. Join not having excuses. Join the idea that fun is the source of all joy. Join the unwillingness to give in. Join doing things your own way. Join not joining. Join that purpose is stronger than outcome. Join your gut. Join the constant challenge of seeking greatness. Join play. Join the hunger to find what makes you happy. Join karma and nature and the effect you have on your world. Join your philosophy. Join something bigger than you. Join what you believe. Join Bode.

Wow! The ironies here are mind-boggling. Could Bode Miller become the poster child of post-modernity run wild? I wonder.

In fact, I'm thankful for Bode's performance in Turin. Had he come away with a fistful of medals, he'd have given permission to every kid in America to "Join Bode" and act like an undisciplined jerk. But now, thanks to Turin, I can indeed talk with my kids, as Bode would have me do, and tell them: "If you sow like Bode, you'll reap like Bode."

Yet I still feel sad. Sad that such an incredibly talented young man would so easily squander his gifts. Sad that Bode hasn't found more purpose in life beyond his own quest for temporary pleasures. Sad that, at least up until now, Bode has been a kind of American idol. And I'm sad that there is a part of me that relates to Bode Miller. Yes, it's true. Though I haven't been partying with Playboy playmates or preaching while hung over or flipping off reporters, in some way I can see myself in Bode. I'll explain more next time, when I talk about the second of the two Bodes.

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A Tale of Two Bodes, Part 2
Posted for Monday, February 27, 2006

In yesterday's post I wrote about the first of two Bodes, namely, Bode Miller, the American skier who flopped in the Turin Olympics but lived to brag about his performance as an Olympic level party animal. No lie! If you don't believe me, check yesterday's post. One of Bode's post-Olympic zingers ran this way:

"I've been living my life as if I might have died two weeks before the Olympics started. That left me the opportunity to dig deep, to go down that other route, to make more sacrifices and get back to where I was."

His comment about living as if he had already died got me thinking. It led me to a connection I hadn't made before, a connection between the two Bodes.

This connection will be much more obvious if you remember that Bode the skier pronounces his name "BOD-ee" (rhymes with the name Jody). There's another use of this name of which I am familiar. It belongs to the town of Bodie in central California only a few miles from the Nevada border. Bodie, ironically enough, was named after a man whose name was William (aka Waterman) Body, yet whose last name was pronounced "BOD-ee," just like the skier's name. Mr. Body changed the spelling to Bodey, but the town named after Mr. Body changed it to Bodie for the sake of correct pronunciation. So, there you have it, two "BOD-ees" – Bode the skier and Bodie the town.

"That's all well and good," you might be thinking, "but what's your point?" Allow me to explain why I connect Bode with Bodie.

The town of Bodie is famous, one might say infamous, in California history. In 1859 William Body discovered gold in the region. Once word got out, the town established around Mr. Body's discovery grew like gangbusters. Within 20 years the population had swelled to over 10,000 people. But what set Bodie apart from other gold rush towns was its reputation for the tawdry part of life, for drinking, sex, and general mayhem. The miners, with plenty of gold in their pockets, enjoyed life in the 65 saloons in town, not to mention the numerous brothels. There was also plenty of fighting in Bodie. Rumor has it that the town averaged one man killed a day. A minister who visited Bodie in its heyday described it as "a sea of sin, lashed by the tempest of lust and passion."

Can you begin to see a Bode/Bodie connection? Yet there's more.

By 1882, within a couple of years of its glory days, the gold began to run out, and Bodie started to decline. Before long the vast majority of Bodie's fine citizens left for greener pastures, leaving behind a struggling town in the middle of nowhere. Devastating fires in 1892 and 1932 burned most of Bodie's dilapidated buildings. By the 1940s, Bodie was a ghost town. In 1962 the State of California declared Bode a State Historical Park, preserving it as one of the largest ghost towns in America. If ever you find yourself driving north on Highway 395 in California, a side trip to Bodie is well worth a couple of hours time, though the unpaved portion of the road will shake you up a bit, so be prepared.

The remains of a hotel in Bodie.
I wouldn't recommend using this outhouse anymore.
The Methodist church in Bodie is one of the best preserved buildings in town.

Now you can see the complete Bode/Bodie connection. Both Bode and Bodie had their moment of fame. Both Bode and Bodie relished in their good fortune, enjoying their reputation as party animals. Yet, in their prime, both Bode and Bodie were on their way down, even though they didn't see it at the time. The were dying in their souls. When the gold ran out, Bodie died. Bode Miller still has plenty of gold in his bank account, though no Olympic gold to his name. Bode is already living as if he were dead. Dead man walking. Dead man skiing. Dead man partying.

Yet Bode Miller still has a chance. His life isn't gone yet. He's only 28 years old, after all. He still has unbelievable talent as a skier. And lots of money. And quite a bit of unusual charisma. At any point, by the grace of God, he could decide to invest his life in what really matters. Would somebody please buy that man a copy of The Purpose-Driven Life, for goodness' sake?! Or give him the text of the Prodigal Son. Or maybe I should send him some pictures of Bodie, California. Perhaps they'd serve in his life like the ghost of Christmas future in the empty life of Ebenezer Scrooge.

I said in my last post that I relate to Bode Miller. No, I don't behave in as obviously hedonistic a manner as Bode. On the surface my life looks pretty boring. But here's how Bode helps me take a good long look at myself.

Like Bode, I make choices each day about how I'm going to live. And, like Bode, I have the chance to do wonderful things each day. No gold medals or anything like that. Rather, my wonderful things have to do with loving my family, and my church, and most of all my God. I have the opportunity to invest my life in relationships that really matter, and in the process to make a difference for God's kingdom. In the long run, these things are more important than alpine skiing races.

Yet I can squander my opportunities for joyful, purposeful living just as readily as Bode did. And, like Bode, I can rationalize away my mistakes, thus missing the chance for life-enriching repentance. I don't hang out with Playboy playmates, but I can spend way too many hours relating to the boob tube. I don't my brain with too much alcohol, but I can fill my mind with lots of junk, not the outright sinful stuff I know enough to avoid, but the mindless, soulless junk of pop culture.

I don't want to get to the end of my days and realize that I went to the Olympics and wasted my time on parties. I want to focus on the people and the purposes that really matter.

I don't want to end up like Bodie, California, an empty, burned-out shell, a monument to deathly living. Rather, I want to nurture my inner life, my life of faith, so that even as my body wastes away, my soul will be ever more alive.

The case of Bode Miller, and especially the case of Bodie, California, turn out to have a relevance to our time of history that I didn't at first realize. I'll have more to say about this tomorrow. Stay tuned.

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Walking the Line, but Not by Faith
Posted for Sunday, March 5, 2006

Well, tonight is Oscar night. Yippee! Or not, as the case may be. I must confess that I can't remember a year when I was less interested in who wins what awards. Though, after last night, I now have a couple of personal favorites.

I watched Walk the Line, the film based on the life of Johnny Cash before his marriage to June Carter. There is much that is excellent in this film. Joaquin Phoenix's portrayal of Johnny is compelling and, given the fact that Phoenix did the singing and guitar playing, truly stunning. If you didn't know that Phoenix was really singing, you'd be sure that he was lip-synching to the real Johnny Cash. In fact, film critic Roger Ebert saw the movie before Phoenix's singing was well known, and was sure he was hearing Cash's own singing voice. When he learned otherwise, Ebert was "gob-smacked." (For the meaning of "gob-smacked," click here.) Reese Witherspoon is also compelling as June Carter, and she too pulls off some musical feats. More importantly, the chemistry between Phoenix and Witherspoon is magical, and I found their portrayals utterly engaging. So, I'm rooting for Phoenix and Witherspoon to win Oscars for best actor and actress, even though I realize the odds are against them.

I've never been much of a Johnny Cash fan, though as a boy I loved his rendition of Shel Silverstein's "A Boy Named Sue." Because I didn't know much about Cash when I saw Walk the Line, I wasn't troubled by its portrayal, though I did think the ending, when Johnny proposes to June onstage, was rather too "Hollywoodish." It turns out that I was wrong, however. This actually happened! Who'd a thunk it?


Surfing over to this morning, I was surprised to find a link to a New York Times article on Walk the Line. The headline of this article reads: "Cash Film's Missing Ingredient: Religion." Remember, this is the New York Times, not The 700 Club. The writer, Robert Levine, explains that Walk the Line almost completely overlooks the centrality of Christianity in the life of Johnny Cash: "For a movie that is so scrupulously accurate in so many respects, 'Walk the Line' makes surprisingly little of the abiding faith that Mr. Cash always credited, along with Ms. Carter, for saving his life." Levine refers to a piece in TheChristian Century, that chronicles Johnny Cash's faith in more detail, adding weight to the criticism of Robert Levine.

God does show up occasionally in Walk the Line. He gets mentioned every now and then, and not just in cussin'. In one of the more moving scenes in the film, Johnny is in recovery from his drug addiction, being coached by June, who is not yet his wife. She takes him to her little Baptist church. Though Johnny is at first hesitant, with June's encouragement he walks toward the church as the congregation sings "In the Sweet By and By." This scene hints at the role of God in Johnny's healing, but it downplays the reality by far.

Of course it's nothing new for Hollywood to ignore matters of faith. In one of my all-time favorite films, The Sound of Music, Maria sings that she has "confidence in confidence alone, besides which you can see I have confidence in me." In fact, the historical Maria von Trapp was a faithful Christian, whose confidence in God alone was the center of her life. She would never have sung about having confidence in confidence alone.

I am not one of those who alleges a conspiracy of silence in Hollywood against faith. Rather, I think most filmmakers simply don't consider faith to be relevant, I expect because most filmmakers aren't people for whom faith is personally relevant. Yet, with the popularity of The Passion of the Christ and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, one might hope that movie makers would realize that, if anything, responsible portrayals of faith will draw moviegoers. If the value of faith won't bring them along, maybe sales figures will.

One of the things I like about Walk the Line is that it tells an unusual love story. Sure, there's the falling in love to the point of obsession part. And there's the haunting problem of the divorces that were required for Johnny Cash and June Carter to be free to marry. But the central love in this movie is June's for Johnny. It begins with eros, but soon moves to something more profound. Her love becomes agape, a selfless love that seeks the best for another person. June Carter's love for the addicted and recovering Johnny paints a stirring picture of God's love for us. I only wish God's role in her life, and in Johnny's was made more evident in Walk the Line. (For more on the different kinds of love in movies, see my treatment of love in King Kong and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.)

So, tonight is Oscar night. I expect that many of us will squander a few hours taking in the spectacle. Who knows, there may be another Sally Field or David Niven moment. But if you want to "do the movie thing" and watch something edifying at the same time, skip the Oscars, and check out Walk the Line on DVD instead.

P.S. The film is rated PG-13, largely for its vivid portrayal of drug abuse, plus some bad language and "thematic elements." In this case, I think the "13" is a pretty accurate dividing line. I wouldn't let pre-teens see this film. For the details, check Screen It!

Emperor Commodus and I give Walk the Line a thumbs up.

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A Surprising Crash
Posted for Monday, March 6, 2006

The movie Crash has just won the Academy Award for Best Picture, pulling a bit of an upset over the more highly favored Brokeback Mountain. No doubt this is a surprise to many, though prognosticators were giving Crash an outside chance of winning. Tonight is not the first time I've been surprised by Crash.

My first surprise came many months ago when I saw Crash with my wife. I had heard only a bit about the film, and wasn't especially eager to see it. I expected to be hit over the head with the same old message about racism, one that blames privileged Anglos and turns everybody else into helpless victims. I'm not saying that there aren't plenty of racist privileged Anglos. But, having lived in this world for almost five decades, and having spent a good part of that time in Los Angele (the setting for Crash), I knew that real racism was for more complicated than the common stereotype.

As Crash began, I saw my fears being played out on screen. But then came surprise, after surprise, after surprise. Yes, there were racist Anglos, but also racist ethnics from across the spectrum. And there were scenes in which both Anglos and non-Anglos showed compassion to people of other races. Crash did not perpetuate a superficial stereotype. Rather, it went deeper, probing the often hidden cavities of the human heart. It revealed both hatred and love in a confused, lifelike mix.


Crash made me think, about our society, and about myself. Crash made me look at myself in the uncomfortable mirror of excellent art. In his acceptance speech for the Original Screenplay Oscar, Paul Haggis said that art isn't a mirror in which society sees itself, but rather a hammer by which to mold society. Whether you agree with this idea or not, Crash takes a few whacks, not only at racism, but at the superficial way in which racism is often portrayed. Crash demands that we all look into our own hearts, whether we're privileged Anglos or underprivileged Blacks, whether we're up-and-coming Hispanics or struggling Asians.

When I finished watching Crash, I appreciated the challenge to my worldview, as well as to my conscience. I did not, however, have the slightest notion that I had just seen the best film of the year. This may be a comment on the quality of movies in 2005. It may also be a comment on my cinematic perceptiveness, or lack thereof. Crash was good in many ways, but not great, in my estimation. Nevertheless, I'm glad it won the Best Picture Oscar, because I think it raises important issues in unusual ways, thus advancing the conversation about racism in America, and in our own hearts.

I recommend Crash, though with the warning that its R-rating is well deserved. For details, see the Screen It review.

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Perilous Waters
Posted for Sunday, March 12, 2006

Note: Every now and then I "borrow" from my other website, The Daily Psalm. Today's text and prayer seem especially appropriate for the second Sunday in Lent.

Save me, O God,
for the waters have come up to my neck.
Psalm 69:1

Daily Prayer (based on Psalm 69:1)

Sometimes I feel like I'm drowning, Lord. Not in literal water. And not in the vicious opposition so common in the Psalms. No, I'm drowning in other "waters" – in expectations that I can never meet, in mountains of e-mail, in the unforgiveness of those I have wronged, in more ministry needs than I can begin to meet, in physical exhaustion, in my own discouragement, worries, and fears. Sometimes it feels like these waters have covered me, and I'm without hope.

But You are my hope, Lord, the hope that will not disappointment me. You are the God of steadfast love, and "Your steadfast love is good" (Psalm 69:16). You will rescue me from the rising tide if I will only reach out to You. And so I do, with this prayer. "Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck!"


Further Reflection

It's a scary thing to feel at the mercy of the "waters." A couple of years ago my family and I were vacationing on the island of Kauai in Hawaii. We went snorkeling at a fantastically beautiful beach on the north side of the island. There we saw thousands of brightly colored fish and a school of turtles. My son and I ventured outside of the reef, where the water was deeper but still fairly calm. As we swam to the south, however, we began to feel the push of the incoming waves. Soon the water was moving powerfully, pushing us ever closer to the sharp reef. Struggling against the force of the water, and trying to help my son, I realized we were fighting a losing battle. The water was just too strong.
The waves on the right side of this picture don't look too powerful, but in fact they pound against the undersea reef. If you're ever at Ke'e, which I highly recommend, avoid the south side of the reef.

Knowing that several people each year die in the Hawaiian surf, I felt panic surge into my gut. Silently I prayed, "Lord, help us! Help us!" The surf did through us against the reef, but in a place that wasn't jagged. Somehow, my son and I managed to get across the reef, into the calm water on the other side.

When I read Psalm 69:1, "Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck," I remember the helplessness I felt that day at Ke'e Beach. I've known this feeling at other times of life, when the doctor informed us that my dad had terminal liver cancer, or when things in my ministry felt completely overwhelming, or when my 22-month old daughter got lost at Disneyland near the water, and was gone for twenty minutes. In those times my pretense is stripped away, and I realize just how much I need God.

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Uplifting Mountains
Posted for Sunday, March 12, 2006

Note: Every now and then I "borrow" from my other website, The Daily Psalm.

Glorious are you, more majestic
Than the everlasting mountains.

Psalm 76:5

Daily Prayer (based on Psalm 76:5)

Mighty God, among all the wonders of Your creation, mountains are probably my favorite. The vastness of the Sierra stretches my narrow soul. The sheer height of the Tetons humbles me. The jagged peaks that rip the clouds call me up higher. I long to feel their solidness, to gaze from their unhindered perspective. When I'm in the mountains, where glacial movement is measured in centuries, I feel the hurried blur of my existence getting clearer and slower. The mountains are, indeed, one of Your richest gifts, O God.

Yet they aren't safe. Mountain storms come quickly, often catching intruders unaware. Rockslides tumble without warning. Lightning strikes. Thunder rumbles. Winds roar like ferocious dragons. One must never take the mountains for granted, or treat them like gentle hills. Their roughness and majesty demand respect and awe.

You've given us mountains, Lord, to remind us of Your nature. Their glory points to an ever higher splendor, their power to an even greater strength. The highest peaks are, indeed, pointers to the heaven. They say, "If you think we're majestic, consider the one who made us. If you think we're impressive, bow before the magnificence of the Creator."

Thank You, gracious God, for these magnificent signposts. Your creation leads us before You in grateful, awestruck humility. Praise be to You!

Some of My Favorite Mountains

The High Sierra of California, from Rock Creek

The Rocky Mountains near Estes Park, Colorado

A thunderstorm in the Grand Tetons, Wyoming
Sunset over the Tetons

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A Mighty Warrior
Posted for Sunday, March 26, 2006

Note: During the season of Lent I have been posting exapnded versions of what I've put up on my other website, The Daily Psalm.

Draw the spear and javelin
against my pursuers;
say to my soul,
"I am your salvation."

Psalm 35:3

Daily Prayer (based on Psalm 35:3)

By your grace, Lord, I do not have enemies like those of David. So I don't literally need your spear and javelin. My enemies are subtler than physical enemies. They're not flesh and blood, but spiritual in nature. Perhaps this is why I need your strength and protection even more than if my enemies were material. Only You have the power to defeat the spiritual forces that fight against me.

Bring Your power to bear against that which tempts me to sin. Strip away its gleam. Let me see it for what it truly is, so that I might desire You and not that which takes me away from You.

Defeat the pride that so easily creeps into my heart and takes up residence there. May I be humble before You, dear Lord. And may I humbly serve others in this world in imitation of You.

Protect me, Mighty Warrior, from all that would distract or discourage me. Help me to stay focused upon You and the work of Your kingdom. May I keep things in proper perspective, rather than getting ensnared in trivia. Help me to keep my eyes on the goal that You have set before me, and to seek Your pleasure and glory above all else.
Fight against my enemies, O God, and not just my enemies, but Your enemies. Be my strength, so that I might be effective in Your service. Be my fortress, the One in whom I am truly safe. Be my true desire, that for which I long above all else. For You alone are my salvation.


Special Psalms During Special Seasons

Beginning today and extending through Sunday, April 23, The Daily Psalm will feature texts chosen for the season or day of the Christian year. Usually I go sequentially through the Psalms, but I'm breaking this pattern for a while so that I, and my Daily Psalm readers, might experience more profoundly the truth and power of Christ's ministry, especially His death and resurrection.

There are three more weeks of Lent, the season of preparation for Easter. During the next two weeks, we'll be reminded of our need for God, as our protector, guide, healer, and source of forgiveness. In Holy Week we'll reflect upon different aspects of Christ's death. On Easter, and during the first week of Eastertide, the new life of the resurrection will be our theme.

If you're not familiar with the Christian year, and if you don't know why we should bother with such things, I'd recommend a series I've written. It includes an explanation of the Christian year and why it's important:

How Lent Can Make A Difference in Your Relationship with God

You might also find a series I did on the Seven Last Words of Christ to be helpful. I've received notes from many people across the country who have asked if they might use this series in their small groups, Sunday School classes, or church newsletters. My answer is "Yes, definitely."

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