Saturday, August 30, 2008

My take on the Democratic National Convention.

This entire last week was devoted (news-wise) to the Democratic National Convention (DNC) and the anointing of their candidate, Senator Barack Obama of Illinois. As a whole, I thought the convention went quite nicely for the Dems, despite a pretty boring first day. I doubt that the enthusiasm and intensity of the last night will be duplicated by the GOP next week, but that remains to be seen. I've undergone some interesting changes in the last several years. I've always followed politics somewhat and I've been watching the Conventions (both sides) since I was a teen. However, this is the first time that I've watched the Democratic Convention without getting ticked about everything they said! There are two reasons for this, I think:

First of all, I've come to realize that these are not "bad people" - at least no worse than anybody else. As a matter of fact, I've come to appreciate the passion they have for their country. Granted, I think they are missing the mark on several key issues, but these are people we are truly love their country and want it to be the best it can be. Secondly, the Democrats (at least this go around) are bringing up some extremely valid points. I find myself aligned more closely with the Democrats on some issues than I am with the GOP. This is not enough to get me to cast a vote their way, but I do cheer as they make their case on some issues. Bringing these things to the debate floor is certainly healthy and will (hopefully) bring some much needed reform to several parts of our government regardless of who wins this year.

I watched as much of the DNC this last week as I could. I caught a lot of speeches from people I'd never heard of - some good, some lousy, some outstanding. The only "headliner" I didn't get to hear was Al Gore, but I read the entire text of his speech later. What follows are my thoughts from each day.


There was only one "non-headlining" speech that got my attention. But before I get to that one, I'll mention one of the more disappointing "under card" speeches. I had never really heard her speak before, but when the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi of California, came to the lectern....I guess I was expecting something exciting. I was sorely disappointed. Her speech was mind-numbing, both in content and delivery. How she continues to win her seat back each election cycle is a mystery to me.....

The one under card speech that got my attention was Representative Jesse Jackson, Jr. of Illinois. I liked his enthusiasm and delivery and, while he only spoke for a few minutes, he delivered a very encouraging and upbeat speech. Towards the end he said, "I know that while America may not be perfect, our union can always be perfected. I know what we can achieve when good people with strong convictions come together around a common purpose. And I know what a great leader can do to help us find common ground." Good stuff.

The mains speech of the night was supposed to be Michelle Obama (wife of the candidate) but she ended up getting "upstaged" by the surprise appearance of Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts. The tribute to Senator Kennedy was moving and his subsequent appearance on stage gave the night a much needed emotional boost. I have a lot of respect for Senator Kennedy. He's a reminder of a different era in America. He had that ringside seat as his brothers guided us through the Cuban missile crisis. He's seen tragedy after tragedy after tragedy in his family. One brother killed in a war, two others slain by the assassins bullet, and a nephew tragically killed in a plane crash. Yet through it all, Senator Kennedy has continued to serve his country. Off hand I don't know if I can think of a single social issue upon which the Senator and I could find common ground, but that doesn't detract from the respect I have for this individual who has given his entire life to public service. His speech was powerful and surprisingly energetic. You could almost seem the life rushing into him more fully as the audience cheered him on. This was likely the last DNC that the Senator will be alive to take part in, but it may well have been his most memorable performance. His strongest line was, "Yes, we are Americans. This is what we do. We reach the moon. We scale the heights. I know it. I've seen it. I've lived it. And we can do it again. There is a new wave of change all around us- and if we set our compass true, we will reach our destination-not merely victory for our party, but renewal for our nation." Poetic and motivating.

The headliner on Monday was Michelle Obama. Frankly, I found nothing remarkable about her speech. She speaks extremely well - terrific delivery and expression, although she seemed uncomfortable with the teleprompter. We learned a bit about her and how she met her husband, but not much else. Although all the networks seemed to be gushing over her and her delivery, I think it quite forgettable. But I also know that she's not the politician in the family! The scene that played out afterwords with her little daughters on stage with microphones talking to their father (via satellite) was precious and quite cute. That moment may well have saved her speech!


I'll only mention a couple of speeches from Tuesday.

First of all, Tuesday was the day that my Governor, Kathleen Sebelius, spoke. I thought she did a horrible job. She's given better performances and better speeches.

One speech that I enjoyed, not so much for delivery or content, was that of Robert Casey, Jr. A decidedly pro-life Democrat who touched briefly on that position. He spoke close to the prime-time speeches, so it was certainly a calculated move by the Dem's to show that the pro-choice stance isn't necessarily something that all Dem's need to follow in lock-step.

Now obviously, Tuesday night was dubbed "Hillary's night". But right before she got up to speak a little-known Governor from Montana spoke. His name was Brian Schweitzer. He is a rancher who came to the lectern with cowboy boots and loose bolo tie. He had too many good lines to pick just one to put on here, but his energy and enthusiasm was great! I found myself laughing out loud as he started to get the crowd energized. The C-Span camera kept going to former-President Clinton during Schweitzer's speech and you could see his interest changing the longer the speech went. When Governor Schwietzer first began to speak very few people were paying attention (this is pretty common at these conventions....most folks carry on their own conversations until the headliners take the stage). But the longer Schweitzer spoke, the more people listened. Pretty soon they were all cheering and chanting along with him, "4 more years? How about 4 more weeks.....4 more weeks....4 more weeks.....". By the time he left the lectern, people were cheering, laughing, yelling, and whistling. And nearly everybody who saw the speech thought, "Wow! I'd like to make friends with that guy!" He breathed life into a convention that was, up until that point, fairly flat.

The headliner of the night was Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York. This was a much anticipated speech, given the nature of the tight run she had against Obama throughout the primaries. This was maybe the best speech she's ever given. Her delivery was phenomenal and she seemed to connect with the entire assembly there. Her speech seemed almost Presidential and, indeed, some even said afterward that she was "hedging her bets" so to speak....ensuring that she had a clear path for 2012 should Obama lose this year. She didn't have a whole lot to say about Obama, but instead focused on her achievements. She said just enough about Obama to make it appear that the speech was about supporting him. I'm guessing that, by the time she was done, the majority of Democrats around the country collectively said, "Oops"!


Wednesday was "officially" the night that the Democratic candidate for Vice-President was to speak and accept the VP nomination. However, it was perhaps the most memorable night of the convention highlighted by 3 of the best speeches.

First of all there was Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts. Senator Kerry was the Democratic nominee for President who lost to President Bush 4 years ago. I never heard him give a speech during that election that was as good as the one he gave on Wednesday night. His comparison of "Senator McCain" to "Candidate McCain" was absolutely brilliant! The best line of the speech was, "Candidate McCain now supports the wartime tax cuts that Senator McCain once denounced as immoral. Candidate McCain criticizes Senator McCain’s own climate change bill. Candidate McCain says he would now vote against the immigration bill that Senator McCain wrote. Are you kidding? Talk about being for it before you’re against it. Let me tell you, before he ever debates Barack Obama, John McCain should finish the debate with himself." This was brilliant! He even managed to turn one of his most colossal mis-statements of the '04 election around on McCain.

My nest favorite speech was actually two speeches. Both Beau Biden and his father Senator Joe Biden of Delaware - the Democratic VP nominee. Beau Biden's speech, when coupled with the tribute video to his father, was powerful. It would be impossible not to watch those scenes without respecting Senator Biden's dedication to his family - even above politics, it would seem. When Senator Biden got up to speak, I found myself wanting him to do well.....and he did. As the speech kept going and you saw the depth of the man, you began to think that maybe Democrats should be running a ticket that has Biden on top rather than Obama. He ended his speech with these words, "Millions of Americans have been knocked down. And this is the time as Americans, together, we get back up. Our people are too good, our debt to our parents and grandparents too great, our obligation to our children is too sacred. These are extraordinary times. This is an extraordinary election. The American people are ready. I’m ready. Barack Obama is ready. This is his time. This is our time. This is America’s time." Biden did a great job of showing the stark differences between the two parties. It was an impressive speech.

Perhaps the greatest speech of the entire Convention took place earlier in the evening. It was a short speech, but a good one. The last Democratic President and the only two-term Democratic President still living, Bill Clinton. There was a lot of intrigue leading up to his speech because of the various news leaks detailing the fact that Obama and him just do not like one another. Reportedly, both the Clinton and Obama camps were afraid that there was a chance that the former President might actually get booed when he took the platform.....such fears were quickly put to rest by a three-and-a-half minute standing ovation. He delivered several powerful lines and towards the end of the speech had his most memorable, "They actually want us to reward them for the last eight years by giving them four more. Let’s send them a message that will echo from the Rockies all across America: Thanks, but no thanks. In this case, the third time is not the charm. My fellow Democrats, sixteen years ago, you gave me the profound honor to lead our party to victory and to lead our nation to a new era of peace and broadly shared prosperity. Together, we prevailed in a campaign in which the Republicans said I was too young and too inexperienced to be Commander-in-Chief. Sound familiar? It didn’t work in 1992, because we were on the right side of history. And it won’t work in 2008, because Barack Obama is on the right side of history." Like him or not, Bill Clinton can certainly deliver a speech.


This was Obama's night. It was to be an historic occasion marked with much pomp. I missed most of the speeches, but have heard soundtracks and read transcripts. Al Gore seemed more animated than he did during the 2000 election...his many plays on words seemed to border on the ludicrous (at least in the transcript of the speech). I was a bit disappointed to see and Susan Eisenhower - a woman with blood ties to both Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon - giving a speech in support of Obama. It would be like Caroline Kennedy showing up at the RNC next's just not right.

Barack Obama was the star on Thursday (obviously). The moved the Convention out to the open air Invesco Field on this night. One of the unspoken reasons, in my opinion, was to move the Convention from being a "Clinton Convention" to being an "Obama Convention". The immaculate set was a bit over the top and there was certainly a "rock star" quality to the entire spectacle. I listened to many of the analysts at the more liberal networks fawning over Obama after the speech saying that he'd finally answered his Republican critics who said that he never tells us how he is going to get anything done. His supporters in the media said that he listed nearly 30 specific policy items in detail. In actuality, Obama listed a lot of things he would do, but there was little detail to it. The speech was unremarkable, but the display was quite remarkable. A lavish set complete with fireworks and Stevie Wonder - it was certainly made for television. Some of Obama's soundbites were quite good. For instance, when he said, "Enough!", I said, "Ooohhhh, that was good." Later, in speaking about McCain voting with Bush 90% of the time he said, "Senator McCain likes to talk about judgment, but really, what does it say about your judgment when you think George Bush has been right more than ninety percent of the time? I don't know about you, but I'm not ready to take a ten percent chance on change." Well that was quite clever.

While Obama didn't get into too much detail about any of his stances, he certainly did a decent job of drawing a clear line between what McCain stands for versus what he stands for (at least on selected issues). I was honestly expecting a more enthusiastic speech than he delivered. There was one point where it appeared he was about to beginning "channelling" Dr. King, but he quickly backed off. I suspect that McCain is going to cream Obama in the debates....Obama is the better speaker, but McCain won't let him get away with his "cotton candy" approach to an answer (all fluff with no real content).

I am eagerly anticipating the RNC this upcoming week. The McCain/Palin ticket is an interesting one, to be sure. I'm a bit nervous about Sarah Palin.....we'll see how she does this week with her first real "big stage" speech. And in case some of my remarks here have made you curious......McCain / Palin 2008!!!!!

Friday, August 29, 2008

"We've got spirit, yes we do....."

Back in the early - mid 90's I spent several years working at Christian camps. One of the things I enjoyed most was the cheering.....we would always try to get our team to drown out the sound that the other team was making by utilizing high-octane, loud, annoying screaming.....we had words and rhythm to go along with the screaming and that was enough to allow us to call it cheering!

Now I was a natural for this. As a matter of fact, most of the pictures of me during those three years managed to capture me with my mouth wide-open as I was doing my part to keep the intensity surging through our team. It was great fun and it was very important to me that my team was louder than the other team. If the other team was creaming us, we didn't take it for long! We would find some creative way to take the wind out of their sails.

For instance, during my first summer as a camp counselor at a camp in southern Wisconsin, our team was getting "out cheered" during the first two days of the week. So I came up with a brilliant idea to get us in front of the other team. I put my plan in motion on that Wednesday at lunch. Every day at lunch there would be announcements made and videos shown of the cleanest and dirtiest cabins for both boys and girls. There would also be some points awarded for various other things. After the scoring was announced both teams would simultaneously jump up and launch into loud team cheering. I told my team to just keep sitting down and listen to the other team for a while....The other team came out loud and strong.....and then they started to quiet down a bit. I let it go on for 3 or 4 minutes and then I stood up and motioned upwards like a choir director. The entire team stood in unison and then, on my queue, we launched into the loudest version of "Go Bananas" that you've ever heard! We went on to blow the other team out of the water as far as volume was concerned for the rest of the week!

I haven't thought of that story and my various "gimmickry" for a number of years. But for some reason the news coming out of the GOP today regarding the VP selection brought back a flood of those memories. I hope this is more than a gimmick.....

By the way, sometime this weekend I'm going to get an article posted about the Democratic National Convention as well as a few thoughts about the upcoming Republican National Convention. As a teaser, I will say that I thought the DNC was a pretty decent Convention that had an incredible level of "showmanship" to it. Some of the speeches were absolutely terrific and I thought that some of the points made were very good.

Now, for those of you who think I've finally gone to the other side....check back later this weekend!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Stupid little monkey.....

Christ once said that any who would follow Him must hate their sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers. Of course we know that this is really speaking of comparisons. That is to say, our love for Him ought to be such that our love for all others pales in comparison. The last couple of weeks I’ve been confronted with this. It’s an easy thing to say the words, it’s quite another to do the action.

I recently heard a song by Todd Agnew in which he says that “your creation is a temptation to me”. In the song he is lamenting the fact that Christ has commanded us to love Him, and follow Him, and have faith in Him, and cling to Him with all that we have, yet we allow these other things to get in the way: our comfort, our pride, our lust, our love of life. It would be funny if it weren’t so tragic, I think. If you consider the things that keep you from a fuller, more complete relationship with Christ…… well, it’s a bit ridiculous. We give up the beauty of an intimate relationship with the Creator in favor of something temporal on this earth. I’m only going to be around here for another 50 or 60 years at best and I’ve spent my first 35 years clinging to things and people – preferring them above Christ. It just doesn’t make sense.

It’s like that monkey we’ve all heard about in the illustration. He’ll give up his freedom and everything in his happy little monkey life in order to get that little treat in the empty coconut shell. He clings to that treat even as the hunter approaches him with the club. Pretty soon, the monkey is either on a dinner plate or in a zoo all because he abandoned common sense in order to cling to the here and now. In my own life I’ve given up the rewards, benefits, and freedom found in a full, right relationship with Christ all in order to cling onto something temporal. At times that thing has been money, lust, pleasure, family… doesn’t matter what it is. When I’ve held onto it and preferred it above Christ, it has been sin. In truth, those things that seem to bring happiness don’t even come close to bringing the true joy that is only found in Christ. The Apostle Paul got hold of that truth from the moment of his conversion and never let it go. That’s the reason he could pen words like, “everything that was gain to me, I now count as loss”, or “for me to live is Christ and to die is gain”.

I’ve sang songs hundreds – maybe thousands – of times that contained words like, “I surrender all”, and “my life, Lord, is Yours to control”, yet those words have been empty and hollow words as I’ve never let go of everything. In my head I’ve always understood that He is Lord of all, yet in practice I’ve never wanted Him to be Lord of all in my life. What foolishness! What arrogance!

What has frightened me all this time? Am I so arrogant as to think that my plans, my ambitions, my dreams are better than His? Am I afraid that He might take from me what belongs to Him in the first place? Am I worried that the manifold blessings He has allowed me to enjoy in this life will somehow just vanish if I give my all to Him? I wonder….have I thought all this time that following Him fully might bring pain and suffering rather than the true joy and blessings that are found only by abiding in Him?

I look back on wasted years and only one word comes to mind……..”fool”.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Is His Grace Really Sufficient?

2Corinthians 12:7-10 (ESV): “So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Philippians 1:21 (ESV): “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”

This past Sunday I attempted to preach a sermon on God’s grace and his power being made perfect through weakness…..unfortunately, I was unable to do much talking due to spending much of the message attempting to reel in my emotions. By nature I’m a passionate individual, but I do not display much emotion outside of excitement and happiness. On Sunday however, I couldn’t get the tears to stop flowing. I spent two days preparing a message that, as the Lord impressed the truths upon my heart, caused me to weep. Granted, I also had thoughts of the recent passing of an old friend as well as the passing of a lifelong friend a year or so ago, but those thoughts were not the cause of my emotional reaction to the words of the passage of Scripture listed above. Rather, as I studied this passage I was confronted with the truth that, for one to truly experience God’s grace in full measure, there may have to come a time of deep despair, anguish, hardship, tragedy.

To see the change that the Apostle Paul underwent between verses 7 and 9 above is astonishing. He goes from earnest, fervent, "kneeled-prayer" pleading for Christ to remove this excruciating thing from his life to gladly embracing it because it allowed him to rely more and more on the grace of God. This caused me to face some things in my life in a more tangible way than I ever have.

Often I’ve said that I want to experience God’s working in my life and molding me into what He needs me to be, but I’ve never really comprehended the fact that part of the molding and shaping process might just mean some serious breaking. This last week I faced things in my life that caused me to pause for a second and ask myself if I was really willing to pay the price that absolute surrender might carry with it. I’ve seen the tragedy of parents losing children and husbands losing wives unexpectedly – I’ve seen God’s grace manifest itself in a marvelous way in those situations. I’ve marveled at how He worked through both the dead and the living in those seemingly tragic situations and yet somehow I’ve never caught that those situations might just be a part of absolute surrender to God.

As these truths were being printed more firmly on my heart I began to bend under the weight of it all and I began to understand that I’d never fully surrendered to God and I found myself terrified to do so now. I just wanted to hold on tightly to everything God had given me – my wife, my children, my health – I found myself clinging to these things as if to say, “No, God! You can have everything, but you can’t take the things that might cause me pain. I trust you and I love you, but I need these things”. That’s when I broke.

“When I am weak, then I am strong”.

“My grace is sufficient”.

“For me to live is Christ and to die is gain”.

These three truths – these three promises – are more real to me than they’ve ever been. While I may not have been able to adequately convey this in the sermon yesterday, the Holy Spirit certainly worked me over with this one. I’ve got a peace in my soul and a satisfaction in my spirit today that I’m not certain I’ve ever had before!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

On the passing of an old friend....

Yesterday I found out that an old friend had passed on to Glory. While his passing on has been something that's been expected for 14 years, it still took the wind out of me when I first heard. Tuesday afternoon and evening (and on into Wednesday morning) I've been reflecting on the brief period of my life when I counted myself as a friend of Jeremy. It's brought a lot of smiles as well as tears to my face. Most of my readers here never knew Jeremy although some of you know his brother (or at least know who his brother is). I wish that everybody had had the opportunity to meet was something you never forgot! What follows are some of my memories of Jeremy Janz, as well as my recollection of the night of his accident 14 years ago last month.

I met Jeremy for the first time my very first night on the campus of Northland Baptist Bible College. His younger brother (Jason) is the same age as I am and we had met during our Senior year of High School. Jason was one of the first people I ran into when I got to Northland and I was thrilled to find a familiar face. Jay quickly introduced me to a number of people including his brother. Pretty soon I found myself in Jeremy's dorm room talking to him like I'd known him forever. As I've read tributes to Jeremy in various places on the internet this evening, I've come to discover that my experience wasn't unique....this was just the way Jer was!

Before our conversation was over that first night, Jeremy invited me to spend Friday night at a cabin down by one of the lakes at Northland with him and about a dozen other guys. I agreed and he helped me get the pass to go. As we were headed down there - on foot, in January, in Northern Wisconsin - Jeremy hung back and talked to me rather than all these other guys who were friends of his. He got my entire life story from me during that 15 minute walk! That night we all stood on the middle of a frozen lake and sang gospel songs, we roasted marshmallows in the fire place, and we had a testimony / prayer meeting that Jeremy lead. I began to realize that God had made sure that I fell in with the "good crowd" at school!

Fast forward 30 months. I was spending my 2nd summer on staff at the WILDS of the Rockies Christian camp in Kremling, Colorado. The previous summer we saw Jeremy quite a bit. He would come up every now and again to see us (his brother was also working at TWR) and we would go down to Denver and stay at the Janz' home on some weekends. Jeremy would keep us busy with things like water basketball and bungee jumping! However, during our 2nd summer at the WILDS, Jeremy was doing a pastoral internship at a small church in Hebron (I think), Utah. One Sunday night in July one of the full-time staffers from camp came into Jason's cabin and woke Jay and I up. Campers were already gone and I was staying the night at Jay's place that evening. The man who woke us up said, "Jason, you need to call home. Your brother's been in an accident. It's bad."

Jay and I hurriedly got dressed without speaking. We began to walk towards the lodge quickly, the only words that had passed between us was Jay saying, "Oh, Murph". Pretty soon we were on a dead sprint for the lodge. You see, Jason and Jeremy were not just brothers....they were closer to one another than any best friends that I've ever seen.

When we got to the lodge, the eldest of the three Janz daughters was already in there (she was working with us that summer as well). Jay went around to the phone and called home while Jocelyn and I stood there waiting. I heard Jason say, "Dad?". Pretty soon all I heard was crying and Jocelyn began to wail. We hugged as we waited for Jason to get off the phone and tell us the news. Jeremy had been riding his bicycle into town and had been struck by a pickup truck going 50 mph or so. He had been taken to a hospital in Salt Lake City, but he wasn't expected to make it through the night.

Well, he made through that night and 14 more years of nights after that, although he never regained consciousness. He has spent the last 14 years in a vegetative state almost identical to that of Terry Schiavo (if you remember all the controversy that stirred several years ago concerning her).

I struggled for a long time with the whole thing, to tell you the truth. At the end of the summer of '94 Jeremy's parents had him moved to Denver where he was put into a nursing home of sorts. I moved to Denver that fall and I went to visit Jeremy nearly every day just trying to understand. This guy was so full of life - more so than just about anybody I'd met before or since. He lived to serve others and to bring honor to the name of Christ. He could preach, teach, sing, and he studied the Word faithfully. He was so driven to serve the Lord , yet mere weeks before his wedding and the beginning of his first full-time ministry as a youth pastor in his home church in Denver, he was cut down. It didn't make any sense to me then.....and I guess it doesn't make logical sense to me even now. However, in a strange way God has used Jeremy in a tremendous way during the last 14 years. Maybe even more so than He did during those first 22 years!

I realize that this post is somewhat rambling and that all the thoughts aren't connected very well, but I'm sorting through a lot of memories and, at 2am, I may not be doing a great job of turning those memories into congruous thoughts!

I'll always remember Jeremy and I'll continue to miss him. When I've thought of him over the years, the pictures that came to mind were rarely the broken, scrawny, out-of control shell that lay helpless in the hospital bed, but rather the loud, happy, smiling, Zubu pant wearing, white high-top and pink suit coat sporting friend of everybody! I remember the guy who always had a great story to tell, and who was always ready to talk about the goodness of God. I only knew him for two-an-a-half years before the accident, but you didn't need to know Jeremy for more than a few minutes before you could call him "friend"!

I look forward to seeing him again someday. He's in a body that works again and he's in the presence of the God Whom he so loved and lived for!