Saturday, June 26, 2010


The other day it ended. Finally. The longest tennis match in world history concluded in Wimbledon last Friday. American John Isner beat Frenchman Nicolas Mahut after three days of agony and strife! Final score of the fifth set: 70–68!

Neither man could break the other’s serve, and Wimbledon does not permit a tiebreak in the fifth set. So on it went, for 8 hours and eleven minutes of playing time (46 hours and 39 minutes after the first point was played two days prior). At the end of it all, they had bounced the ball 2,976 times before serves, played 2,198 strokes, scored 980 points, and smashed 215 aces. Records tumbled galore.

When it finally concluded, Isner dropped down to the court, rolled on his back and kicked his legs in the air. I would, too. The other guy covered his head with a towel. My sentiments exactly.
183 games total—138 in the fifth set alone.

“I’m tired watching this,” acknowledged three-time Wimbledon champion John McEnroe. Isner’s coach, Craig Boynton, kept yelling throughout, “That's the right stuff, kid!” They say he lost his voice. Isner, at the end of it, was incoherent. McEnroe suggested calling medics.

Tired? They were dying. “These guys are going to be tired the next day, next week, next month,” Roger Federer said. It was an epic!

“I was worried,” confessed Isner's mother, Karen. “My friends had to sort of hold me back, because I was kind of inclined to go on the court and go, ‘OK. That’s it. We’re done here.’” (Trust Moms to do the right thing!)

After the marathon, Isner and Mahut tried to recover as best they could, with ice baths and massages, by drinking and eating plenty. Andy Roddick, the 2003 U.S. Open champion, went out and got an assortment of takeout food for Isner and his coach, including pizzas, chicken and mashed potatoes.

Well, Isner returned the next day. He had to. He had another game scheduled against Dutchman Thiemo de Bakker.
He lost. In—get this—the shortest match in Wimbledon this year: 6–0, 6–3, 6–2, in 1 hour 14 minutes flat. Our man Isner, hit no aces Friday. He was … tired.

“I’ve never been this exhausted before,” Isner admitted. “Mentally and physically, I was obviously a bit drained. I was just low on fuel out there. Didn't really have a chance.”

Weary! Just living is wearying!

I am weary with my sighing;
Every night I make my bed swim,
I dissolve my couch with my tears.
Psalm 6:6

But there’s good news.

Do you not know? Have you not heard?
The Everlasting God, the LORD,
the Creator of the ends of the earth
Does not become weary or tired.
Isaiah 40:28

And this un-wearyable God relieves our weariness.

He gives strength to the weary ….
Though youths grow weary and tired,
And vigorous young men stumble badly,
Yet those who wait for the LORD
Will gain new strength;
They will mount up
with wings like eagles,
They will run and not get tired,
They will walk and not become weary.
Isaiah 40:29–31

This God specializes in tending to His weary children. Jesus explicitly declared that He was the respite for the weary.

“Come to Me, all who are
weary and heavy-laden,
and I will give you rest.
Take My yoke upon you
and learn from Me,
for I am gentle
and humble in heart,
and you will find rest
for your souls.”
Matthew 11:28–29

Not ice-packs, massages, fast food, calorific drinks, or Mom’s TLC.

Only God!

Saturday, June 19, 2010


That’s my brother and sister-in-law “polishing up” my Dad as we arrived for a wedding-rehearsal dinner last weekend.

Happy Father’s Day, y’all!

Someone once asked why we are scornful of deadbeat parents who neglect their young children, but excuse adult children who neglect their aging parents. That writer mused that perhaps it was because the former task was joyful, but the latter filled with sadness.

Life expectancy in America has gone up from about 50 years in 1901 to about 80 years in 2001. People are living longer … and older. But the mandate hasn’t changed. Reiterating one of the Ten Commandments, the Letter to the Ephesians tells us:

Honor your father and mother …,
so that it may be well with you,
and that you may live long on the earth.
Ephesians 6:2–3

Paul had strong words for those who neglected their own.

But if anyone
does not provide for his own,
and especially for those
of his household,
he has denied the faith
and is worse than an unbeliever.
1 Timothy 5:8

And so in their golden years, as bodies grow fragile and minds frail, we take care of our parents, who may be suffering pain, grief, fear, depression, or anxiety. It is our responsibility.

(Thankfully, our father, a widower, has been free of these agonies thus far.)

I realize that for some this may be impractical: the degree of debility of parents may render professional care necessary; the physical distance from parents that children live, in this mobile society, may create imposing demands; the responsibilities of the workplace and the cost of home-healthcare may make it impossible to watch over them at home.

But the mandate doesn’t change. We are responsible.

And we should never forget the sacrifices they made for us, their children.

[Children and grandchildren]
must first learn to practice piety
in regard to their own family and
to make some return to their parents;
for this is acceptable in the sight of God.
1 Timothy 5:4

Some things are more important … and “acceptable in the sight of God.”

And don’t forget the implicit warning in the Ten Commandments—a lessening of life span, if we don’t honor our parents. And …

Cursed is he who
dishonors his father or mother.
And all the people shall say, “Amen.”
Deuteronomy 27:16

If sacrificial service is the mark of a Christian, then surely such sacrificial service begins at home.

In a series of verses all ending with the refrain “I am the LORD”—dealing with loving our neighbor, avoiding sorcery, revering the Sabbath, being hospitable to strangers, etc.—is this one …

You shall rise up
before the grayheaded
and honor the aged,
and you shall revere your God;
I am the LORD.
Leviticus 19:32

Surely that includes our parents?

God takes this very seriously.

Listen to your father
who begot you,
And do not despise
your mother when she is old.
Proverbs 23:22

In their latter years, they are not burdens. They are blessings, for they offer us the opportunity to render humble, sacrificial service. In other words, they give us a chance to be more Christlike.

Have this attitude in yourselves
which was also in Christ Jesus,
who, although He existed
in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
a thing to be grasped,
but emptied Himself,
taking the form of a bond-servant …
He humbled Himself.
Philippians 2:5–8

And we must, too, as we serve our parents and be the heart and hands and feet of Christ to them.

And enjoy a long life!

Sunday, June 13, 2010


La Morte non e' la fine,
Ma l'alba della vita.
Death is not the end
But the dawn of life.

So goes the verse in the Capuchin Crypt at the Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini in Via Veneto area of Rome, commissioned in 1626.

Lovers of the macabre will be thrilled! The crypt (actually a collection of several crypts) bears the skeletal and mummified remains of over 4,000 Capuchin monks (and others), all arranged in intricate patterns and on display. Vertebrae, clavicles, scapulas, foot bones, hand bones, jaw bones (I know this reads like an old spiritual), pelvises, skulls, sternums—they’re all there. A fascinating tableau of elaborate, ornamental design. All with bones. There is a “Crypt of the Skulls,” a “Crypt of the Pelvises,” a “Crypt of the Leg Bones and Thigh Bones,” etc.

Apparently the monks would come to this odd place to pray and reflect on their mortality before retiring for the night.

Who did all this and why, is lost in the murky depths of history. One theory asserts this was the work of an escaped convict who joined the order. Apparently he wanted to atone for his sins, so he spent a lifetime making “art.”

Lovers of cappuccinos, though, will not be thrilled at all. (The name “cappuccino” actually comes from these Capuchin friars, probably from the coffee-color of their habits and their tonsured white scalps rigned by brown hair). Coffee afficionados will forever associate their morning beverage with this grotesque pageant of death.

But it does remind one of one’s mortality. In the final crypt underground, one reads these words:

Quello che voi siete noi eravamo,
quello che noi siamo voi sarete.
What you are we once were,
What we are you will be.

Creepy. But true.

It’s not entirely a bad thing to be reminded of one’s death periodically. However, it is not THE END.

The apostle Paul taunts death …

O Death, where is your victory?
O Death, where is your sting?
1 Corinthians 15:55

Taunt death? How could he, knowing he himself would succumb to it one day?

The sting of death is sin,
and the power of sin is the law;
1 Corinthians 15:56

Death, the Bible says, is the result of sin, a violation of the divine standard (“law”). That is what resulted in death, both physical, as well as eternal death, away forever from the presence of God.

But this was not to be the end.

… but thanks be to God,
who gives us the victory
through our Lord Jesus Christ.
1 Corinthians 15:57

Jesus Christ, God incarnate, paid the price of the sins of mankind, in your place and mine.

He made Him who knew no sin
to be sin on our behalf,
so that we might become
the righteousness of God in Him.
2 Corinthians 5:21

A magnificent exchange was effected: our sins accounted to Christ and his righteousness accounted to us.

And for all who believe this grand transaction, accomplished by work of Jesus Christ, eternal life guaranteed, and death now becomes only a dawn, a doorway, a portal to a better world.

For God so loved the world,
that He gave His only begotten Son,
that whoever believes in Him
shall not perish,
but have eternal life.
John 3:16

And one day, there will be a resurrection—bones and all!

Behold, I tell you a mystery:
… the trumpet will sound,
and the dead will be raised imperishable,
and we will be changed.
1 Corinthians 15:51–52

The monks were right. Enjoy your cappuccino and reflect on the dawn.

Saturday, June 05, 2010


Venice. On vaporetto #1 (the “bus-boat”). Somewhere between the Salute church stop and San Marco (St. Mark’s Square). But I’ve gotten ahead of myself ….

Friday, two weeks ago, my nephew, Jacob, and I went out eat in Florence. At Sostanza. To eat bistecca alla Fiorentina (steak like the Florentines eat—i.e., raw—almost!). Now Sostanza is an unusual enterprise that has only two seatings: 7:30 pm and 9:00 pm. Everyone gets in at either one of those seatings. And sits communally, in the six or so tables that are housed in it. Sharing our 7:30-table was this obviously American couple. Of course, Jacob and I were so engrossed in the steak (and the pasta and the artichoke omelette and the tiramisĂș) that we kept to ourselves (and the recently deceased bovine). We entered, we engorged, we exited.

Imagine our surprise four days later (yes, FOUR!), 170-odd miles northeast of Sostanza: there we were joy-riding our way through Venice in one of the vaporetti, when suddenly Jacob nudges me. There, just a few feet from us in the crowded boat, was the same couple. (I surreptitiously snapped a picture.)


Jesus, himself, utilized that concept in the famous parable of the Good Samaritan, though, of course, that was a storyteller’s prerogative.

And by chance a priest
was going down on that road ….
Luke 10:31

And then there is the story of King Ahab’s death.

A certain man
drew his bow at random
and struck the king of Israel ….
2 Chronicles 18:33

“At random”? Not exactly. One of the prophets in the king’s court, Micaiah, knew this was going to happen.

Micaiah said, “Therefore, hear
the word of the LORD.
I saw the LORD
sitting on His throne,
and all the host of heaven standing
on His right and on His left.
The LORD said, ‘Who will entice
Ahab king of Israel
to go up and fall …?’”
Micaiah said,
“If you indeed return safely,
the LORD has not spoken by me.”
2 Chronicles 18:18–19, 27

Ahad didn’t. Micaiah was right. The Lord had spoken. It wasn’t “random.”

In other words, while from our human perspective things might appear “at random,” or “by chance,” one must add God into this equation of serendipity.

The lot is cast into the lap,
But its every decision
is from the LORD.
Proverbs 16:33

Even the casting of lots. God’s work, there too. Random from our vantage point, but not at all. (Hmmm … maybe I should go to Vegas?)

God is in control!

[God] does according to His will
in the host of heaven
And among the inhabitants of earth;
And no one can ward off His hand
Or say to Him, “What have You done?”
Daniel 4:35

God is absolutely in control. Of things big …

The king's heart is like
channels of water
in the hand of the LORD;
He turns it wherever He wishes.
Proverbs 21:1

… and small.

Are not two sparrows sold for a cent?
And yet not one of them
will fall to the ground
apart from your Father.
But the very hairs of your head
are all numbered.
So do not fear;
you are more valuable
than many sparrows.
Matthew 10:29–31

Absolutely in control!

But our God is in the heavens;
He does whatever He pleases.
Psalm 115:3

Thank God, he is in control.

And we know that God causes
all things to work together for good
to those who love God,
to those who are called
according to His purpose.
Romans 8:28

Relax. Ours isn’t a random God.