Monday, October 20, 2014

Building on Christ Isn't Easy

Christ tells us that wise people build their lives on Him.

That makes sense. Christ is, after all, God in the flesh. God alone can give life. And God designed us in His image, meaning that He clearly has a better idea about how to live optimally than we do.

He also went to a cross and rose from the dead to eliminate the power of sin over our lives. When we trust in Christ, building our lives on Him, He gives us life with God that lasts for eternity. We can also enjoy His presence with us in the midst of the pain of this imperfect world.

But as deeply as I believe these truths, they aren't easy to live out. Not. At. All.

The world says, "Follow your heart," "Trust your instincts," or "Think it through." Sometimes, I believe those messages myself. And there are places for our hearts, instincts, and brains, of course. The God we know in Christ gave these gifts to us too.

Yet, we need to be wary of our hearts, instincts, and thoughts. The reason is simple: The Bible insists that our whole beings are born captive to sin and death. Left to our own devices, sin darkens and distorts everything we think and feel and sense. "There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death," Proverbs 14:2 says.

This is why Jesus tells us to build our lives on Him, to follow Him, to trust in Him. Our Creator and Savior needs to be our true north, the One Who can lead us into life with God, away from death and separation from God.

Life is hard.

And often it seems that we could make our lives a little easier by using other foundations--our own impulses, the standards of the world, the stuff of the world. Maybe our lives would be easier if we built our lives on those things. In fact, it almost certainly would. "To get along," my cynical grandfather used to advise me, "you have to go along." "Eat, drink, and be merry," the unimaginative lot who think the world must end with a ride in the hearse tell us.

But, given the witness that Jesus rose from the dead, how much good will our getting along and going along do us when we face the Lord Who called us to lives of significance when He said, "Follow Me"?

One of the reasons we crave easier lives in this world is that we know, deep in our psyches, that life lived under the shadows of sin, death, alienation, and darkness isn't what we were made for. We know that we're meant for more than simply slogging along in a world that can be "nasty, brutish, and short." We're meant for full, abundant, joyous life with God that never ends.

To get that kind of life in eternity and to gain those wonderful foretastes of it that God offers to those who believe in Christ through things like His Word, the sacraments, and the fellowship of the Church, means saying no to the things God says are harmful to our souls (you can find those in the ten commandments, among other places in the Bible) and say yes to His freeing love.

True confession: Sometimes I suspect that I know better than God. Many times. Lots of times. I struggle with God a lot. (In the Old Testament, Jacob wrestled with God. Compared to me though, Jacob is a nobody in the wrestling with God biz. I'm a WWF superstar.) The path God seems to have marked out for me isn't always my first choice. But God has called me to trust that He actually knows more than I do and that though His ways aren't my ways, His ways lead to real life. My ways, by contrast, lead to death.

In my heart of hearts, it's life with God that I want.

God, uncloud my heart. Clear away the garbage of self-will and of death and help me to build my life on You.

"Create in me a pure heart, O God,
    and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence
    or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation
    and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me." (Psalm 51:10-12)

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Two Additions to the Amazon Wish List

This past week, I added Fred C. Kelly's biography of the Wright Brothers to my Amazon wish list. I saw and looked through it in the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Fairborn this past week. It appears readable and accessible, two real assets for someone like me. That's because in other bios I've read of the brothers, I've gotten lost in confusion over the mathematics and science of flight, which, for example, the brothers figured out, revising previous calculations of optimal wing shapes hypothesized by Otto Lilienthal.

I just added Richard Norton Smith's new biography of Nelson Rockefeller. Smith is talking about the book right now on CSPAN. I love Smith as an historian and a writer. (His biography of George Washington is one of my favorite treatments of the first president.) And Rockefeller loomed large on the American political scene when I was growing up.

Reasons for Thanks

This morning was humbling.

The congregation I serve, Living Water Lutheran Church in Springboro, Ohio, decided to mark the thirtieth anniversary of my ordination.

I was talking with someone the other day and mentioned that the chief significance of this anniversary is that it shows how God has put up with me for thirty years. "No," this church member said, "He's put up with you a lot longer than that."

 True. Thanks, praise, honor, and glory belong alone to the God made known in Jesus Christ for His grace, love, and patience with a sinner like me. In light of this, it seemed appropriate to keep the entire day low-key.

During worship, Dan Mershon, with whom I work here, gave a thought-provoking sermon on the Gospel lesson, Matthew 22:15-22.

Folks from previous parishes were in attendance and it was so nice visiting with them during the luncheon.

Thanks to the people of Bethlehem Lutheran Church (Okolona, Ohio), Friendship Lutheran Church (Amelia, Ohio), and Saint Matthew Lutheran Church (Logan, Ohio) for sharing this journey with my family and me, for the inspiration you have given to me, for forgiving my faults, and for living your faith in Jesus.

And thanks to the people of Living Water, who made this a special day of honoring God and thanking Him for His goodness.

Ah, Kansas City!

Here. My son linked to this article on my Facebook timeline.

The year 1993, cited in the article as the point at which things went south for the Royals, due to the death of Mr. Kauffman and the ensuing "fire sale" of young talent, was when I saw my only game in Kansas City.

A colleague of mine and I were attendi
ng a church convention and a friend of his gave him two box seat tickets on the first base side. George Brett was in his last season and, as often happens for great players at the ends of the MLB careers, he was playing first base. 

I'm really happy for the Royals and for Kansas City, a town I've enjoyed whenever I've visited.

God Made Us for Community with Others...So, No Surprises Here

From the Harvard Business Review Daily Stat:

THE DAILY STAT: Harvard Business Review

October 17, 2014

Why Does Food Taste Better if Someone Else Is Having the Same Thing?

People who ate chocolate in the presence of another person thought it tasted better if the other person had eaten the same thing, rating it 6.83 on an 11-point flavor scale versus 5.57 if the other person had been merely reading a booklet. This is even though there was no conversation about the experience, says a team at Yale led by Erica J. Boothby. Imagining another person’s feelings during a shared event may increase the cognitive resources you devote to it, thus intensifying your experience, the researchers say.
SOURCE: Shared Experiences Are Amplified

Eating with others can be one of the most intimate of all human experiences.

This is why eating with someone for whom you have lunch or strong bonds of friendship is so gratifying joyous.

It also explains part of what happens in the Holy Communion for Christians.

First, Christ gives His body and blood to us and we all get to experience this amazing gift.

In Communion, Christ gives His life to us in act of supreme love and grace that imparts forgiveness of sins.

This meal also draws us to together with an amazing fellowship of Christ's Church.

In Communion, eternity invades our time-bound world, allowing repentant believers a joyous meal with believers of every time and every place, including the saints who have gone before us who now live in eternity.

At the moment Christians receive the body and blood, the eternal now of God comes to us and, at that moment, we joyously fellowship and humbly receive the blessings of God's grace in Christ as we experience an earthly foretaste of the heavenly banquet.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Power of Weakness...and the Delusion of Strength

When everything is going well and there's no trial, this is the most dangerous trial of all; for then we are tempted to forget God." Martin Luther

I pray always that God will keep me conscious of my weakness. I do this because it's only when I'm honest about my limitations that I'm open to God pouring His strength into me and making of my willingness to show up wherever He sends me something that's good and useful. As the apostle Paul writes, "When I am weak, then I am strong" and "God's power is perfected in (our) weakness."

Be True to Your School

Devin and Jason McCourty, twins who play in the NFL and played at Rutgers, are predicting that their alma mater's Scarlet Knights will upset thirteenth ranked Ohio State in their game today. My Buckeyes have definite issues and play a weak schedule, but, as good as I think the Knights are, I don't see a Buckeye loss. But I loved reading about their enthusiasm for their school.

Sometimes though, team loyalty can fog our vision.

Just this past week, one-time Ohio State QB Stanley Jackson, who does a great job as a Big Ten Network football analyst, put the Buckeyes at #4 nationally. That spot, if it came to be, would put Ohio State in the national championship playoffs at the end of the season. I suppose the Buckeyes could get to number four. But I definitely find it hard to rank them that high right now.

The big challenge for the Buckeyes right now is to continue to take care of business every week and not be lulled into complacency from looking ahead to their November 8 game with Michigan State. Michigan State is still the best team in the Big Ten, however disturbing the Spartans' penchant for making games they should be winning handily interesting in the fourth quarter.

But I'm true to my school.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Outsiders by Lecrae

Absolutely love this, the opening track on Lecrae's latest CD, Anomaly.

"Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles [in this world], to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us." (1 Peter 2:11-12)

Could This Be Part of the Cure for Obesity?

The Washington Post reports on a study done at Johns Hopkins University in which researchers posted signs at grocery stores about the effects of sugary drinks on their bodies. The most effective of the signs asked, “Did you know that working off a bottle of soda or fruit juice takes about 5 miles of walking?"

The article says:
Results published online Oct. 16 in the American Journal of Public Health showed teens chose healthier options, bought lower calorie drinks or opted for a smaller size of the sugary beverage after seeing the signs.

The impact was lasting. The teens continued to make healthy choices during the six weeks purchases were monitored after the signs were removed.
Read the whole thing. And get a drink of water!

T-Cell Therapy Apparently Successful in Bringing Remission to Some Leukemia Patients

Praying that this new therapy proves successful.

Reluctant Witnesses

Today's installment of Our Daily Bread is based on Jonah 1:1-2:2. It's good and I recommend reading and thinking and praying it over.

Jonah, whose story is told in the Old Testament, is the means by which God conveys lots of truths. Jonah didn't want to go to Nineveh (situated in what is these days, Iraq) to be God's witness.

He hated the people in that city and, as he tells God later in the short book that bears his name, he was afraid that if he told the Ninevites that God was angry with them, they would repent, God would forgive them, and they would walk with God.

Jonah didn't want that. He was, to say the least, a reluctant witness.

Jonah was a bigoted believer. That shouldn't shock us. All believers are recovering sinners, helpless beggars wanting to be free of their sin, who find it difficult to daily subject their sins to the crucifixions God uses to build our characters and prepare us for eternity. One of Jonah's prominent sins, clearly, was bigotry.

But it isn't just bigoted believers who show reluctance to be witnesses for the God ultimately revealed to all the world in Jesus Christ. Other sins can cause this reluctance.

One may be a fear of others and their reactions to our witness that's greater than our fear--our holy awe and respect--of God. This can leave believers cowering in the shadows, unwilling to share words of life, love, and counsel from God that may help the people they're with to have a close relationship with God. Fear has the been the greatest source of reluctance on my part and I have to pray all the time that God will help me to "be prepared at all times to give an account for the hope that is in" me and that I'll do so with boldness and humility.

When we fear others more than we fear God, we violate the first commandment: "You shall have no other gods before Me." We allow others to have more power over our lives than we give to God. They become our gods.

Another source for reluctance may be personal insecurity. We may think that we're not good enough or knowledgeable enough. But Jesus once made a blanket statement about all believers, no matter their age, their knowledge, or how long they've been believers: "You will be My witnesses" (Acts 1:8). (This is said of believers who receive the power of God's Spirit in their lives, which is exactly what happens in Holy Baptism. See John 3:5-8.)

God will never make witnesses accountable for how little they know, only for whether they trust Him enough to share what they do know of Him and His grace and love in their lives.

In John 4, we're told about a woman, a notorious sinner, who is so moved by her encounter with Jesus and His grace for her despite her sins that she runs into the village that had long ostracized her to tell them about Jesus. She told people just what she knew about Jesus: “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did," she told everyone she could find. "Could this be the Messiah?” (John 4:1-42)

That's it. On the strength of the witness of this seemingly disqualified, questionable person, the entire village came to learn about Jesus for themselves. And they came to faith in Him.

You may deem your faith in Christ and your knowledge about God negligible. But no matter how small your faith and your knowledge base, God can use you and your understanding of Him to help others experience repentance and forgiveness and new and everlasting life in Jesus' Name.

Another name for reluctance born of personal insecurity is sin. That's because it evidences a secret belief that God isn't bigger than your ignorance or that you are the only person in the world that God can't use. (I know what I'm talking about. Personal insecurity has been a source of my failure to be a witness sometimes. And I repent for it almost daily.)

Having said all of that, there's one more point to be made on this subject: Reluctant witnesses may be the most authentic and effective witnesses that God has.

Another person like Jonah, for example, who hated the Ninevites, might have relished doing what God wanted Jonah to do in Nineveh. He was to announce that God was about to destroy the city and the people for their sinfulness. A hater might really want to speak a word like that to some people, lording things over people, acting arrogantly, enjoying the prospect of God condemning people. 

A person with no fear of God might also want to be a "witness" in a bid to steal the authority and respect owed to God alone for themselves. Many cult leaders and pastors and laypeople have done just that.

And a person with big insecurities might want to be a "witness" for God to make themselves feel more important.

There may be lots of reasons for believers being reluctant to give witness for the God they know in Christ. But often it's the reluctant witnesses who tell the truest stories and touch the most hearts.

If you're a reluctant witness, ask God to help you give your witness for Christ in your own way, at the places and times He creates for you. You don't have to be someone you're not, just the child of God you are when you trust in Christ.

"When I went to the game, I got to play catch with Scott Downs"

"Sure you did. And Santa Claus was probably there too."


Very, very cool! Kudos to Downs!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

"All the diseases you should worry about at least as much as Ebola"

Here. Compared to other public health threats, Ebola is relatively minor, though admittedly a stubborn virus.

Love this advice:
If you are worried about contracting Ebola, there are two things you need to do:

1) Stay away from people with Ebola.

2) Keep doing No. 1.

Pretty simple, really.

Be sure to check out the charts here.



By the way, as one who has been trying to follow the God made known in Jesus Christ for nearly forty years, let me say it can be hard. That's because God asks us to do things we don't want to do.

Even centuries before Jesus was born on earth, Abraham was asked to crucify his old comfortable life, going to a land he didn't know, to fulfill the purposes of God.

Today, Jesus calls us to follow Him in lives of daily trust, repentance, and renewal, submitting to the crucifixion of the old self, including our own preferences, so that our new selves--our God selves, the selves God designed us to be--can rise and live, today and in eternity.

The risen Jesus, in a sense, warned us all about how He might lead us into circumstances and to places over which we have no control, surrounded by people who, on this earth, may control or even harm us, when He told Peter (foretelling Peter's later imprisonment and death for his faith in Christ): "Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go." (John 21:18)

Praying, meaning, and accepting it when we pray, "Thy will be done" is the hardest part of the Christian life. At least it has been for me.

And it's harder today than it's ever been since the Holy Spirit transformed this atheist into a believer.

Trust--what's also called faith--is foreign to my nature, foreign to human nature, and anyone who enrolls in the school of trust in Christ will, if they take their studies seriously, endure difficulties they wouldn't otherwise experience in life. But they will also experience great joys and the knowledge that, even when we don't feel it, the risen Christ is with us always.

I identify with Peter from an earlier point in John's gospel, well before Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection. There, Jesus has just been rejected with cutting, violent words, by people who had believed in Him. (They had followed Jesus for utilitarian motives, not for new lives with God, but to get a few goodies on this earth. Jesus had made clear that He is no perfectly coiffed televangelist, promising smooth and happy lives to people who follow the rules of cheerfulness and positive thinking. Jesus came into the world not to give us what we want, but what we need, life with God. And that only comes to those willing to share in Christ's cross, the crucifixion of the old self with all its sin and sinful desires, and His resurrection, confessing their sin and turning away from dependence on anything other than Jesus Christ, true God and true man, alone.) Jesus turned to the twelve who had followed Him from the beginning and asked them if they too didn't want to abandon Him. Peter responded: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life." (John 6:6)

Jesus is still God in the flesh. No matter the detours, imagined or real. No matter what He calls on us to pick up or leave behind. But as an old praise song, its lyrics firmly rooted in the Bible's witness about Jesus, puts it:
There's no other way
No price that I could pay
Simply to the cross I cling
This is all I need
This is all I plead That His blood was shed for me Lead me to the cross of Jesus
The Jesus of cross and empty tomb is the One I seek to and often fitfully, sometimes half-heartedly trust, sometimes with a heart shattered from disappointment that God's ways are not my ways, sometimes with a heart uplifted because His grace receives me and keeps loving me even when I'm most conscious of my unworthiness, often with resounding and sin-filled failure on my part.

Despite the detours, the Holy Spirit helps me to trust the God Who is faithful even when I'm not.

Help me to trust more, Lord. Help me to follow even when I don't understand. There is nowhere else to go. Amen and amen.


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

[Love the slightly out of tune upright piano, the percussive effect that punctuates the song, and the quick, screechy guitar riff. Memories of growing up in a troubled land from some Irish kids, now fifty-somethings.]

Who Are Big Impact People?

Philip Yancey nails it again!

The problem with most Christian "evangelism" is that it tends to look for people who we think can help us in the mission of the Church. We look for the "qualified" or the "able."

Those aren't the people to whom Jesus reached. He reached those about whom no one would observe, "She/he has so much to offer."

Instead, Jesus offered these outcasts, marginals, and notorious sinners new lives through repentance and belief in Him.

He made of them the only kind of people who ever give God or humanity anything of lasting value: People of humble spirit who know that they're nothing without Christ, but who also know that--in good times and bad, surfeit and surplus, they can do all things through Christ Who strengthens them.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

"To what will you look for help if you will not look to that which is stronger than yourself?"

From today's installment of the C.S. Lewis Daily:

C.S. Lewis Daily

Today's Reading
I have heard some people complain that if Jesus was God as well as man, then His sufferings and death lose all value in their eyes, ‘because it must have been so easy for Him’. Others may (very rightly) rebuke the ingratitude and ungraciousness of this objection; what staggers me is the misunderstanding it betrays. In one sense, of course, those who make it are right. They have even understated their own case. The perfect submission, the perfect suffering, the perfect death were not only easier to Jesus because He was God, but were possible only because He was God. But surely that is a very odd reason for not accepting them? The teacher is able to form the letters for the child because the teacher is grown-up and knows how to write. That, of course, makes it easier for the teacher; and only because it is easier for him can he help the child. If it rejected him because ‘it’s easy for grown-ups’ and waited to learn writing from another child who could not write itself (and so had no ‘unfair’ advantage), it would not get on very quickly. If I am drowning in a rapid river, a man who still has one foot on the bank may give me a hand which saves my life. Ought I to shout back (between my gasps) ‘No, it’s not fair! You have an advantage! You’re keeping one foot on the bank’? That advantage—call it ‘unfair’ if you like—is the only reason why he can be of any use to me. To what will you look for help if you will not look to that which is stronger than yourself?

From Mere Christianity
Compiled in A Year with C.S. Lewis

Mere Christianity. Copyright © 1952, C. S. Lewis Pte. Ltd. Copyright renewed © 1980, C. S. Lewis Pte. Ltd. All rights reserved. Used with permission of HarperCollins Publishers. A Year With C.S. Lewis: Daily Readings from His Classic Works. Copyright © 2003 by C. S. Lewis Pte. Ltd. All rights reserved. Used with permission of HarperCollins Publishers.

Of course, it's also true that suffering and death were made more difficult for Jesus than it is for us because, from the evidence of the Gospels, He knew far in advance of the events just how horrible His death was going to be and exactly when it would happen. It was by His deity that Jesus knew these things and it was this fate He prayed to be spared and then accepted in His prayer in Gethsemane.

He forged ahead to the cross (Luke 9:51), despite. As God, He was, as Lewis says, armed with the foreknowledge that if He fulfilled His mission, dying and rising, He could offer new life to all who repent and believe in Him. Only God could save us from sin and death. We should be glad to accept this help from the one who is stronger than us.