Wednesday, May 27, 2015

What's a Duggar?

I never heard of Josh Duggar until a few days ago and now I see his name plastered all over Facebook and Twitter.

While I haven't bothered reading any of the articles, I did Google and see that he's part of a reality TV show. (Or, as I call the whole lot of them, unreality TV.)

Just a general observation: I often wonder why people feel the need to parade their private lives (or versions of them) before the public. The psychological disorder of narcissism is all the rage. The "stars" get their need to be noticed fed. Viewers seem unable to get enough of the stuff, like rubberneckers at the sight of a freeway pile-up.

But narcissism always leads to bad things. It seems to have done so again.

[UPDATE: How do you pronounce that name? Is it like Dugger? Or Dooger? Or something else?]

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Pentecost: Out of the Ditches, Into God's Kingdom

[This was shared during worship this past Sunday, Pentecost Day, with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church in Springboro, Ohio.]

Acts 2:1-21
Pentecost already was an important day on the Jewish calendar when the day we Christians often call the first Pentecost happened. For Jews, Pentecost was the fiftieth day after Passover. While Passover celebrated ancient Israel’s deliverance from slavery in Egypt, Pentecost celebrated the giving of the law, the ten commandments, by God through Moses to Israel (and, through him, to all the world) at Mount Sinai. 

That may seem weird to us. We don’t like laws. They hem us in, keep us from doing what we want to do, control us. 

And some human laws can be unjust and oppressive, obviously.

But ancient Israel saw God’s Law, the ten commandments and the moral laws that stem from them, as good things, as blessings that marked out the boundaries of what they called shalom, a place of peace with God and neighbor and self. 

The Israelites even sang about God’s Law in their hymnal, which we know as the Psalms. “Oh, how I love Your law!” Psalm 119:97 says, for example, “I meditate on it all day long..”

God's people had a problem though: They loved God’s law. They couldn’t keep it. 

If following God’s law was like staying on a paved road marked out for driving, disobeying it was like falling into a ditch of mud. 

And like kids who have just taken a bath, Israel loved heading for the ditches of sin: the ditch of idolatry, the ditch of materialism, the ditch of wanting to fit in with others and ignore the will of God, the ditch of adultery and fornication, the ditch of false witness and character assassination, the ditch of self will, the ditch of thievery and false business and political dealings. 

Through the centuries though, even after God sent prophets to remind His people to obey His laws, as human beings they were incapable of keeping themselves out of the ditches of sin and death.

Life in the ditches leads inevitably to separation from God. And to be separated from God, the Maker of life, is to be separated from life. 

Yet, like the ancient Israelites, we can’t help ourselves. We’re born ditch-seekers. 

Some of us like some ditches better than others. But from the moment we’re born, we’re like lemmings programmed by the sin we inherit from our parents to head for the mud, to do the very sin we hate! 

We can hear and know God’s law and even delight in it. We may even spend some shameful time in condemning others who don't keep God's law in the way we think they should.

But we cannot, through the force of our own characters or wills, keep God's law.

Our only hope is the Gospel, the good news. 

The Gospel isn't some abstract story about love. 

The Gospel springs from a particular true story. 

It’s the true story of how God took on flesh in a particular human life. 

It’s the true story of Jesus, conceived by the Holy Spirit so that He would not inherit the sin that the rest of the human family inherits from our parents. 

Jesus was the perfect once-and-for-all sacrifice for the sins of the world. 

Jesus rose from the dead and offers the benefits of His sacrifice--new life--to all who believe in Him as their God and Savior. 

And Jesus came to replace the evil kingdom of sin and the dying kingdoms of this world with the kingdom of God for all who repent and believe in Him.

The new kingdom that Jesus died and rose to bring into being isn’t opposed to the law God gave through Moses. Some people have the erroneous idea that Jesus abolished God's law and has given us all a free pass to eternity.
In fact, in some ways, Jesus makes God’s Law even more demanding than it is in the Old Testament
In Matthew 5:21-22, for example, Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said...‘‘You shall not murder’...But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister [by which Jesus, Who got angry, clearly means here sustained, vengeful, unforgiving anger] will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ [raca was a term of derision that said a person was empty-headed] is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.”
So, Jesus says to anyone who thinks that His death and resurrection are a free pass, a letter of indulgence, allowing believers to heedlessly and unrepentantly do whatever we want or believe whatever we want, no matter how disobedient or contemptuous of the will of God it may be, they’re wrong. 

“Do not think,” Jesus says in Matthew 5:17, “that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets…” 

Then He says in Matthew 5:20: “...unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Our situation would be hopeless were it not for the fact that Jesus Christ, the One Who delivers this stern message, has done for us what we can’t do for ourselves

He has obeyed the law


Jesus has kept the law and so, by His innocent death for us, has conquered the law and its stern verdict against every one of us! 

So Romans 8:1-2 tells us this: “...there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.” 

Think of that: No condemnation for those who live in the sheltering, saving, forgiving love of Christ!

Those who are saved by God’s grace through their faith in the crucified and risen Jesus Christ are pulled out of the ditch of sin and death and set on the narrow path that Jesus speaks of in Matthew 7:13-14. “Enter through the narrow gate” Jesus says. “For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” 

Jesus is the narrow path and there is life to be found nowhere else. In no legalistic religious system. In no psychobabbling fad. In nothing that this world has to offer. All of those wide and inviting paths lead to condemnation because, as they're all built around the idea that I can be good enough to warrant a pass from God, they leave us naked in our sin, worthy only of condemnation. When we follow Jesus, He clothes us in His righteousness.

All of which brings us back to Pentecost. The first chapter of Acts shows us that the first Christians experienced how Jesus’ grace can change people’s relationships with God and with each other. Jesus forgave them for abandoning Him and denying Him on the night of His betrayal. Through the crucified and risen Jesus and their faith in Him, God pulled them from the ditches of shame and guilt. They were set right with God and learning what it meant to live in the kingdom of heaven. 

But their minds, like ours, were still fogged by sin. So they ask, Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” [Acts 1:6] 

Jesus tells them they need to pray, to quit striving and start surrendering. 

Then, the power of God’s Holy Spirit, the power that created the universe, would come to them. 

That’s exactly what happened on the Pentecost of our second lesson.

Like the first disciples, all who today believe in Jesus and are baptized receive the Holy Spirit. 

But, you may have noticed something: The world is a ditch and it’s so easy to wallow in its sins, to wallow in our own sins

This side of our own resurrections, we will never be completely free of sin. 

And, acting in our own strength, even when we think we're doing good things, we can only make things worse. 

That’s why Jesus has sent the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit gives birth to faith. 

The Holy Spirit convicts us of our sin and drives us to the cross. 

The Holy Spirit assures the repentant of forgiveness through faith in Christ. 

The Holy Spirit enables to be used by God to pull others out of their ditches.

As we submit our lives to the control and grace of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit can empower us to live differently. We begin to exhibit what Galatians 5:22-23 calls “the fruit of the Spirit,” things like “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” 

This is the life of the kingdom of heaven, the life of shalom, of peace with God, peace with others, peace with others.

The Pentecost crowd must have wondered how this kind of peace could come to them. So do we. 

How can we know peace in the midst of chaos? 

How can we have serenity in the midst of this world’s uncertainties? 

Peter knew the answer to those questions, not because he was perfect or arrogant or intelligent. Peter knew the way to peace because like the other first followers of Jesus, he had...

...seen it revealed, 
...heard its voice, 
...received bread and wine from its hand, 
...touched the hem of its garment, 
...saw it crucified and resurrected. 

Peter knew the one way to the peace for which we long. 

Peter knew the way to life with God personally because that way of life had been revealed to him, sometimes painfully, by God

In Acts 2:21, the last verse in our lesson, Peter shares God’s peace with the crowd. Quoting from an Old Testament passage that used the word Yawheh, I AM, God’s Name revealed to Moses the lawgiver and which we translate in our Bibles simply as LORD, Peter commended to the crowd the One he and his fellow disciples had come to call, “Lord." He commended the Lord Jesus to them. 

Peter told the crowd, “...whoever calls on the Name of the Lord shall be saved.”

Today, this week, the Holy Spirit can empower you to live each day in the assurance that, no matter how crazy, conflicted, marked by futility, sad, or even horrible and tragic the world may be, as you submit your sins, your hopes, your decisions, your family, your whole life to Jesus Christ, you are saved, again and again...from the law condemns us for our sin even as it shows us the will of God, from death, and from the devil. 

You are saved from the gossip that tears you down, from the fears that haunt you, from the temptations that allure you, from the sadness that dogs you, from sin, from death. 

To have Jesus is truly to have God’s peace.

Jesus Christ is in heaven at the Father’s right hand. But if you believe in Him and call His Name, you are not and you never will be alone. 

The Holy Spirit has come to let you know that whoever calls on the Name of the Lord Jesus--when you call  on the Name of the Lord Jesus--you are saved, safe forever in the arms of God, empowered forever to leave the ditch behind and walk as freed, redeemed, and forever loved children of God. Amen!

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Saturday This and That

Some things that caught my eye this past week.

David McCullough on the Wright Brothers... an interview with the Stuff You Missed in History Class podcast.

The next time someone's offended because you fail to notice someone's new haircut...
...tell them it's that pesky inattentional blindness. Actually, this article makes me wonder about what a mess my brain must be because I always notice changes in people's haircuts.

What might Michael Jackson have looked like...
...if he hadn't had all those surgeries.

How has nobody thought of this until now?...'s a shoe that grows with a child's foot.

Disgusted with the misogyny and gratuitous sexual violence of Game of Thrones?...
...You're not alone. I've never seen it. This doesn't make me want to.

A way to get kids to listen to the sermon on Sunday...
...amazingly simple.

It's the only technique for learning...
...or so says James Altucher.

Science says that two basic traits...
...are what make all relationships work. Cinchy, right?

The Backwards Brain Bicycle...

Anxious, afraid?...
...Check out the Bible verses linked here.

Notes by Martin Luther found...
...They were jotted down (if you can imagine someone as intense as Luther ever jotting) as he worked on his important essay on Christian freedom.

How Lutherans might cross themselves...
...and why they might want to do so.

The five best running backs... Ohio State history. Joe Dexter has so far named four of them on Buckeye Sports Radio:
#5: Howard "Hopalong" Cassidy #4: Keith Byars #3: Chic Harley #2: Eddie George #5: Archie Griffin
What the Inklings wrought...
...(Hint: They had an enormous impact on the world and still are impacting it.) A sample:
Drawing as much from their scholarship as from their experience of a catastrophic century, they had fashioned a new narrative of hope amid the ruins of war, industrialization, cultural disintegration, skepticism, and anomie. They listened to the last enchantments of the Middle Ages, heard the horns of Elfland, and made designs on the culture that our own age is only beginning fully to appreciate. They were philologists and philomyths: lovers of logos (the ordering power of words) and mythos (the regenerative power of story), with a nostalgia for things medieval and archaic and a distrust of technological innovation that never decayed into the merely antiquarian. Out of the texts they studied and the tales they read, they forged new ways to convey old themes — sin and salvation, despair and hope, friendship and loss, fate and free will — in a time of war, environmental degradation, and social change.
...This mom seems to say, "This is how ridiculous you look when you have a tantrum. Now, let's go before I let you have it." Advert from the UK.

By the way...
...when watching the video linked in the article on inattentional blindness, I lost count of the number of passes between people in white shirts because I noticed the gorilla. Does that mean I can't focus? Maybe I suffer from the as yet undiscovered attention satiety. Squirrel...

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Before We Act

[This was shared with the people and guests of Living Water Lutheran Church in Springboro, Ohio, during worship on May 17.]

Acts 1:12-26
Everyone knows what it’s like to have to say goodbye to people we care about--friends, family members--even when we’re certain that we will be seeing each other again. In the days and times that follow our goodbyes, we wonder things like: 
  • “Will our relationships remain strong?” 
  • “Will God help us to remain true to each other?” 
  • “Will I forget what makes my friend so special?” 
  • “Why can’t we just stay together?”
These questions and ones like them must have been rolling through the minds of the apostles, the twelve disciples Jesus had set aside to lead His Church, as they walked to Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives. 

They had just come from saying goodbye to the risen Jesus. He had ascended to heaven after telling them that they would be His witnesses and that they were to go back to Jerusalem, the city that had seen Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, and wait for the power of the Holy Spirit to come to them to enable them to be His witnesses. 

As the eleven surviving disciples gathered in an upper room, along with Jesus’ mother and other followers, they must have all felt a bit like we do when we pass the empty guest room or the empty house of friends now gone.

But the disciples knew that they couldn’t afford to long indulge such feelings. 

They had a job to do, a mission from Jesus. Just like we do. 

The same mission we have

To be witnesses for Christ. 

To make disciples. 

But before they began pursuing that mission...before they went off like half-cocked guns...before they had the first church potluck, church picnic, guest musicians, or any other first, they had to do what Jesus told them to do. 

They had to wait

As we begin this final message in our Easter season series on How to Be the Church, that, it seems, is the first and most important instruction we should draw from our first lesson for this morning, Acts 1:12-26: 

Before we do anything as a Church, we need to wait

And we need to do what the 120 followers of Jesus did in that Upper Room. Verse 14 says: “They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.”

The disciples seemed to know that if they were going to be effective in their mission, they needed to stop. 

They needed to take the exit ramp off the rat race and intentionally be with God. 

The English Standard Version translation of Isaiah 40:31 renders God’s word on this subject: “...they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.”

There are a lot of busy people in this congregation. 

And this is a busy congregation. 

Maybe sometimes too busy. 

The authors of the book Simple Church, which we retreated around in February, suggest that most churches are too busy. And much of their busy-ness has nothing to do with Jesus’ commands that we be His witnesses, that we make disciples. 

Maybe before we take on the next project or the next new mission, we need to collectively stop and pray and ask God what He wants us to do. 

Is there anything we’re doing right now that God wants us to stop doing? 

Is there anything we need to do to become more faithful in being witnesses and making disciples?

And how about in our personal lives and in our family lives? 

Do our daily activities align with our Sunday morning confessions? 

Are we just too busy? 

Are there things that need to be taken out of our lives? 

Things we need to add? 

Do we need more time to rest, relax, and chill? 

Do we need to be more intentional about serving God and others?

To find the answers to those questions, we need to wait on the Lord

We need to dig into a book of the Bible like John or Romans or Acts and, at a chapter at a time, reformulate what God is saying to us and how what He's saying might apply to our lives, then pray about it

Mark 6:31 tells us about a frenzied time in Jesus’ and the disciples’ time together when, “...because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, [Jesus] said to them, ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.’” 

And Proverbs 3:5 tells us to get over thinking we have to do everything or really, do anything on our own steam: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart [it says] and lean not on your own understanding.”

If we’re ever going to conform to God’s design for our lives and fulfill the mission Christ has given to us, we must learn this lesson

We must learn how to go away with Him and His Word, rest in His grace, and be empowered for what He wants us to do. 

We need sabbath days. God built it into us to need them. That's why He commanded them.

And we need mini-sabbaths every day. 

Otherwise, we will chase after every new thing that pops into our heads, wear ourselves out, and render ourselves less than useful to God and the people He has brought into our lives: our families, our friends, our unchurched acquaintances.

You should know that I am preaching to myself as much as I am to you this morning. This isn’t my standard operating procedure, but in the past two weeks, I haven’t taken an entire day off. 

My time with God has been largely catch-as-catch-can. 

And like many of you here this morning, I am exhausted. 

I have been a poor Christian and a poor example to this congregation, for which I repent. 

I ask God to help me do better today and in the week to come. 

And I think that all of us should hold each other accountable not only for what we do to honor God in our daily lives, but also for the time we spend with Him quietly, reading His Word, waiting on the sense of His direction and empowerment for our days. 

As we develop a disciple-making culture at Living Water with the help of Navigators and as we implement Simple Church, waiting and studying God’s Word and praying and doing only that which is necessary for our mission, will be central to our life as a congregation.

After the disciples spent their time in prayer, Peter felt moved by God to stand up and suggest the next thing they needed to do. They prayed and discerned who God wanted to take Judas’ place as an apostle. Later still, God sent His Holy Spirit and because the Church had prayed, they were ready for action. 

In the Church, every action should be preceded by sustained and submissive prayer

Jesus tells us in John 15:5, ““I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”

When the Church prays before it acts, when individual Christians pray before they act, amazing things happen. 

Last month, you know, we welcomed Pastor Jean Marie from Haiti. After the Q-and-A we had with this amazing man, who, with his wife, pastors a congregation, oversees a number of other churches, and has a hand in the work of an orphanage, I spoke with Jeff Dahl, a board member of SMI Haiti (Sundouloi Mininstries, sundouloi being a Greek compound word that means, servants with). SMI is the stateside agency that works with Pastor Jean Marie and with Living Water and other congregations in Haiti. 

Jeff told me about Jean Marie’s prayer life. “With all due respect, Pastor,” he said, “I doubt that you spend nearly the time in prayer that he does. His daughter has told me about finding him praying for hours at a time, often with tears, seeking God’s direction. And sometimes, when there’s a big issue, he’ll call a prayer meeting and the church will pray all night long.” 

Can you imagine that? 

Often, folks, it takes having nothing in this world for us to realize that the only thing we can have that matters is a solid, uninterrupted relationship with the King of the universe, the God Who can only be approached through Jesus Christ

I can’t help but conclude that what God is accomplishing through Pastor Jean Marie and his becoming what Jeff Dahl calls “the go to guy” in his region of Haiti, directly correlates with the time He spends studying God’s Word and praying for God’s help.

May we who seek to be faithful to Christ be unencumbered by our things and our agendas, and instead, learn to bend to the will of God. 

May we take the time to learn the wisdom of the apostles and the other disciples. 

May we take time to delve into God’s amazing Word and time in prayer. 

May we be like Martin Luther, who once told a friend, “I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours [each day] in prayer.”

Living Water is a great church. 

I’m stunned by this congregation’s commitment to Jesus, to the Bible as God’s Word, to the mission of the Church, to loving one another. 

But we will never be the greater Church that God intends for us to be, no matter how much we may grow numerically, until we learn to consistently separate the urgent from the critical, and then only do the critical. 

We will never be what God intends us to be until we take the time to ask God, “Lord, what do You want us to do?” 

We will never begin to truly fulfill our mission until we take the time to stop and let God power up our living.

We can be so much more and we can do such more if we will just do less out of our own thinking and power and let the God we know in Christ take the lead.

God’s Word tells us that to be the Church, to be a Christian, we must, like the first Christians, strive to put away everything from our lives that might prevent us from completely depending on Christ. 

We need to stop, wait on the Lord, and pray. 

We need to realize that to be the people God has redeemed us to be in Christ, Jesus Christ is all we need

To live with complete dependence on Christ is how we are to live until that day when the risen Lord to Whom the first disciples said, “Goodbye,” greets us in eternity with the "Hello" that never ends. 

This is how we are to be the Church. Amen