Thursday, August 27, 2015

Another word for photoshopping: defamation

This is not a political rant. You can like President and Mrs. Obama or not like them. You can like Obama's policies and philosophy or not. I express no opinions on politics...except to family members and sometimes, friends, and in the voting booth. This post is not about any of that.

What it is about is the manipulation of imagery to misinform, stoke fires, generally get in the way of civil discourse, and defame people.

Yesterday, a friend who undoubtedly did not suspect manipulation on the part of the person who created the image he shared, posted this:

Frankly, to paraphrase Patrick Henry, "I smelt a rat."* For one thing, I couldn't imagine Michelle Obama being so stupid as to play into the hands of those who think she's a radical whacko who hates the United States of America.

Her outfit was unique, one that she likely would have worn on only one patriotic occasion.

So, I googled "michelle obama Veterans Day." I found this image, a still from the news story of a local ABC affiliate from Veterans Day, 2011. It was captured during the playing of the national anthem prior to the first NCAA Carrier Classic basketball game that day. As you can see from the jacket he's wearing below, even President Obama was photoshopped from a different event in the picture above.

This is the full report from which the above still was taken:

The great thing about the Internet is that everyone has access to it and can share all sorts of things. The bad thing about the Internet is that everyone has access to it and can share all sorts of things. even false and defaming things.

The Obamas aren't the only victims of such nonsense, of course. It happens to all kinds of people: Republicans, Democrats, Christians, atheists, Muslims, white people, black people, brown people, yellow people.

But this kind of defamation is always wrong.

And it makes me think: If you have to resort to character assassination to make your point, maybe you don't have a point.

As a Christian, of course, I've been taught that God takes a dim view of defamation. It's a sin. The Eighth Commandment says: "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor."

And as a Lutheran Christian, I'm privileged to be familiar with Martin Luther's explanation of that command from God: "We should fear and love God so that we do not betray, slander, lie, or gossip about our neighbors, but defend them, speak well of them, and put the most charitable construction on all that they do." Even when we disagree with our neighbor.

To the person who created this photoshopped image: You may doubt both Obamas' patriotism, but that doesn't warrant making up "facts" to buttress your doubts.

One last comment: When I think about what the families of public officials and would-be public officials are put through, it's a wonder that anybody runs for political office. Ever.

[By the way, I looked up the investigation of this meme on after I wrote the above. It's here.]

*Henry was talking about the Constitution, and he was wrong in his gloomy assessment of the document, which completed America's Revolution, coupling the cause of liberty with the sustaining principle of mutual accountability.

Message in a bottle, yeah

A German woman, Marianne Winkler, on holiday at the German North Sea island of Amrum, has found a message in a bottle.

It came from a marine biologist in Plymouth, England who set that bottle and over a thousand more of them into the North Sea sometime between 1904 and 1906. The researcher, George Parker Bidder, was trying to learn more about "deep sea currents."

Bidder's reward for those who broke the bottles, retrieved the messages they contained, and notified him at the Marine Biological Association of the retrievals, was a shilling. The shilling basically went away in the UK in 1968, then definitively in 1971. But the association was true to Bidder's promise. According to the, "the association found an old one for sale online" and forwarded it to Winkler.

Read the whole thing.

What seems wrong with cable news

Today's events in Virginia were horrible. Their coverage by most cable news outlets--I looked in on CNN, MSNBC, HLN, Fox, and OAN today--brought into view what, to my mind, is one of the cable news industry's biggest faults: Its incessant, exploitative coverage of tragedy.*

Because the channels broadcast twenty-four hours a day, having long ended what used to be called "news cycles," even before the coming of the Internet, the beast of unfilled, advertising revenue-rich time must be fed. The more sensational and horrific the tragedy, the better, as far as the news channels are concerned.

And, it doesn't matter how little new information is surfaced or how trivial it may be, as the hours grind on, it goes on the air. If it bleeds, it not only leads, it stays there.

Even when the cable channels stick to the facts and resist the temptation to report rumors from fear of being beaten to the punch by the competition, the long and obsessive continuation of "coverage" of tragedies, amplifies them, giving them more prominence than the millions of other events--good and bad--that happen every day, more prominence than seems healthy or to the benefit of news-consumers.

Constant repetition of even "straight reporting" of a tragic event amounts to yellow journalism.

And I can't help suspecting that, in ways nobody at the cable channels intend, people with psychological issues, are encouraged to take out their resentments in violent ways when they see how a whole nation can appear to be paralyzed by one sick person's rampage.

I don't want horrible events to be swept under the rug, denied, or ignored. And I certainly want the victims of violence to be honored for the good people that their family and friends experienced them to be.

But I also don't want those who bring us news to ignore what happens in the lives of the 7-billion other human inhabitants of Planet Earth in order to boost their ratings. Or, exploit the victims of violence. Or effectively, for some people in bad places psychologically, make heroes of killers.

*OAN is a straight news operation by day, which I sometimes look in on at breakfast and lunch. The network was not sensationalizing today's events. I've never watched the network's evening programming.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Beautiful Night by Paul McCartney

A Verse to Remember

For my 5 by 5 by 5 devotion time (and yes, I am way behind schedule) this morning, I read Colossians, chapter 2. I was so struck my Colossians 2:6-7 that I decided to commit to memorizing it. Now, I pray God will help me to live it.
As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in Him, rooted and built up in Him, established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.
Now I need to check if I got it right. This is from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) translation. 

I mentioned this passage today on Facebook and explained my motivation for memorizing Scripture: "...I've decided that if my memory ever goes, I want some of God's Word to be lodged in [what's left]..."

Monday, August 24, 2015

Confession and Absolution Song

I began composing this song about twenty years ago and finished it as I drove to church for worship on August 16. This completion of songs has never been my forte. That's a confession from me before you read this Confession and Absolution Song. (I have finished some songs over the years. But right now, I have about 180 song fragments recorded on my phone.)

There is a melody for this and all the songs, but since I neither read music nor play it, just the lyrics here for now.

A few years ago, a friend heard a few of my song fragments and encouraged me to finish them. Here's one.

Father, forgive us for all of our sins
Come, Holy Spirit, make us clean within
Through Jesus Christ, we know You're our Friend

A Friend indeed, but also our King
The One to Whom all creation sings
Our needy selves are all we can bring

Now all who call on the name of the Lord
The One Who saints and angels adore
You have new life and life evermore
© 2015, Mark Daniels

God's Word...Nothing More, Nothing Less

[This was shared yesterday during worship with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church, Springboro, Ohio.]

Mark 7:1-13
Sometimes, I’ve thought of compiling a book of common sayings that people attribute to God, Jesus, or the Bible, called Stuff God and the Bible Never Said

There are lots of untrue things people claim come from God. 

Like, “The Lord helps those who help themselves.” In fact, the Bible teaches the exact opposite of that. Psalm 54:4 says: “Surely God is my help; the Lord is the one who sustains me.” 

Another fake Biblical saying goes: “The good die young.” According to Genesis, Methuselah lived to be 969 years old. But it makes no mention of him being an especially bad man. 

Years later, when life expectancies were shortened by the working of sin in the human race, Moses lived to the ripe age of 120 years old. And, Deuteronomy 34:7 says “[Moses] died, yet his eyes were not weak nor his strength gone.” According to the Bible, people die when they die and it has nothing to do with how good they are in the eyes of the world. All human beings are sinners who deserve death. That's the bad news. But as Paul says in Romans 6:23: “...the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” That's the good news. Whether we’re young or old, repentance and faith in Christ give us life, here and, in perfect unmediated fellowship with God, in eternity.

A common falsehood attributed to God these days tells us: “Jesus taught tolerance.” Not true. Jesus taught love. And He lived love. Love and tolerance are not the same thing

This isn’t to say that Christians are supposed to act as moral vigilantes, enforcing God’s moral law. We’re not Muslims. 

But loving a spouse or a friend or a child or a fellow disciple doesn’t mean that you let bad behavior go unchallenged. 

A Christian congregation shouldn’t tolerate false teaching from a preacher, for example. And the reason is very simple: You love the people who will be guided the wrong way by false teaching and you love the one who gives the false teaching. 

We shouldn’t even be tolerant of sin within ourselves. Love of God should compel us each day to come to Christ, seeking awareness of our sins, forgiveness for those sins, and the Holy Spirit’s power to overcome the temptation to repeat them. [See here.]

What all these sayings falsely attributed to God have in common is that they reflect a desire to put human thoughts and human ideas into the mind and mouth of God. They’re a human effort to cut God down to manageable, controllable, understandable human scale. We attempt to evade God’s Lordship over our lives by claiming that these human thoughts come from God, that God is our co-conspirator in believing in and doing the exact opposite of what God, the Creator and King of the universe, has revealed to be His will.

This was the core problem with the Pharisees. We run into them at the very beginning of today’s gospel lesson, Mark 7:1-13. We’re told: “The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus…” The Pharisees were in first century Judea, at the time Jesus walked on the earth, and for several centuries after His resurrection, a sect of Judaism. Pharisaism was the biggest movement in Judaism at that time.

Despite claiming great devotion to God and to God’s Word, the Pharisees’ teachings really did forget God and God’s Word. They spun off pious-sounding falsehoods like the ones I would include in my imaginary book, assuring themselves that by keeping these laws, they would be too good for God to keep out of His kingdom. And in the meantime, they would crush others less knowledgeable of their arcane rules under layers of humanly-created laws, allowing the Pharisees to feel superior and in control.

We see all this in what comes next in our gospel lesson. Verses 2 to 5: “[The Pharisees and teachers of the law] saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.) So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, ‘Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?’”

Let’s be clear. This is not about hygiene. The Pharisees had created a series of laws that existed as an oral tradition in Jesus’ day and which, 200 years later, were gathered in a book called The Mishnah. Among the laws they made up was one based on ritual laws for the cleansing of hands by priests serving in the temple found in Deuteronomy and Leviticus. But the Pharisees taught, and many Jews unfamiliar with the Bible thought, that every Jew had to engage in ritual washing before every meal. 

The Pharisees put human tradition on the same level as the revealed Word of God. In fact, they really don’t claim to do anything other than that when they ask Jesus: “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders…?”

No matter how well-intentioned, whenever we equate human traditions, human thoughts, or human wisdom to God’s revealed will and Word, we stray from God, we lie about God

And this is true whether it’s done by the legalistic Christian who says you can’t dance, play cards, or drink beer (which would kill Lutherans), or it’s done by what we call antinomians, the loosey goosey Christians who say that God’s moral law is outmoded, so people don’t have to repent for shacking up, telling white lies, or approving of same sex marriage in the Church. 

All of this adding to and taking away from the Word of God is something people do in order to take control of their lives, others' lives, and this world. But it’s a foolish effort

As God reminds us in Isaiah 45:5: “I am the Lord, and there is no other; apart from me there is no God.” 

And just in case we’re inclined to replace our wisdom for that of God, God tells us: “There is a way that seems right to a man,  but its end is the way to death.” [Proverbs 16:25] 

As I’ve often told my Catechism students through the years, “If God and I disagree, guess who needs to change his mind?” 

Look at the first part of Jesus’ reply to the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law. He quotes Isaiah 29:13 in verses 6 to 8: ““Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’ You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.’” 

For all their scrupulous adherence to religious traditions, Jesus was saying, the Pharisees were really far away from God. 

That must have been a jarring thing for people who were in the temple all the time and thought of themselves as super-believers. 

They have their contemporary counterparts. In his book, Evangelism That Works, George Barna, a Christian who is a sociologist and student of church and societal trends, claims that half of those who attend worship at Protestant churches on Sunday mornings have never intentionally accepted Christ as their God and King. 

I’m not talking altar calls here; I’m talking intentional surrender to Christ. Beyond the ritual. Beyond the recitation of the Creed or the Lord’s Prayer or verses from Scripture, as wonderful and foundational as that all is. 

Surrender entails following the God we know in Jesus Christ, in tough times and easy, through life and through death. Barna says that half of all churchgoing Christians are committed to that, meaning that the glass is half full. But shockingly, it's also half empty. 

Someone has said that the gospel ”is not just a gift to be received, but a new leader to follow.” The Pharisees weren’t following the God you and I are privileged to know through Jesus. They were following human rules which they were attributing to God. That left them far from God.

There is good news in all of this for us today, though! 

We don’t need to be in ignorance about the will of God for our lives. And we don’t, as much of the lies attributed to God would have us believe, have to follow a weak God Who surrenders to us or our adherence to rules or our traditions or wisdom

We can know God through His Word, the sacraments, and the fellowship of believers. 

We can know that we follow the living God Who made the universe Who has entered our world and told us in John 6:29: ““The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” (If you had your Bibles with you today, I would urge you to underline that passage.) 

You don’t have to follow a human rule book. You have to follow the Jesus testified to on the pages of the Bible.

This past week, I had a conversation with a man who isn’t a member of our congregation, who lives in this community. He asked about our building situation. He seemed baffled that I wasn’t worried. After a while, he said, “I guess you’re trusting in God.” 

I am. I’m certain that God will take care of us, first of all, because God sent His Son Jesus to die and rise in order to save those who dare to believe in Him. And I’m certain too, because of my experiences and your experiences with God’s faithfulness. We know, as God taught Abraham centuries ago, that God will provide for His people. 

No matter how many ways people try to distort the Word and the will of God, irrespective of how many things people claim that God and the Bible say, we know and we follow the God revealed for all as the way, the truth, and the life in Jesus Christ. He alone is true. We can say, with Psalm 62:6, “Truly [God] is my rock and salvation [not my performance, not my reasoning, not my supposed goodness, not my adherence to humanly-created religious rules or expectations, but God]; He is my fortress; I shall not be shaken.” Amen

Thursday, August 20, 2015


For President Carter.

Philippians 4:13 (a 5 by 5 by 5 Reflection)

Today’s 5 by 5 by 5 reading was Philippians 4. Philippians 4:13 is an obvious focus: “I can do all things through Him [the Lord] Who strengthens me.”

I have often used this verse and heard this verse used to encourage Christians, including myself, that Christ can take us through adversity. I still think that’s an appropriate reading and one that’s true to the context in which it falls.

But it’s interesting to consider that context. Paul is writing to the Christian church at Philippi. This church seems to have its spiritual/faith life act together and Paul thanks them and rejoices in the Lord for what he sees as a revived concern and material support for him by the Philippian Christians.

But then, he says: “Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have.” Then he presents these couplets:

“I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty.

“...I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need.”

That’s when he says: “I can do all things through Him [the Lord] Who strengthens me.”

Paul says that there’s a secret not only in knowing how to get through circumstances like having little and being hungry, but also a secret to knowing how to get through having plenty and being well-fed.

And, it seems to be the same secret: trusting in the Lord to help us endure “in all things.”

It seems to me that Paul is saying that there are peculiar spiritual dangers both in plenty and in  poverty. Each circumstance and every other in between have the potential to lure us away from dependence on the God Who “is the giver of every good and perfect gift,” tempting us to go our own way (James 1:17; Judges 17:6; 21:25).

In poverty, we may be tempted to give up on God’s will to provide and be prone to pursuing other gods.

In wealth, we may be tempted to give up on God because our plenty deludes us into thinking that it’s all ours by birthright or because we’ve worked so hard for it. We or our achievements or our money can become our gods.

This can probably also apply to the other ways in life in which we can experience plenty or need: happiness or its lack in our relationships; fulfillment or its lack in our careers; good or poor health; anger or acceptance toward our physical health; and so on.

At times, I seem to fluctuate between resentment and smugness toward God, life, and other people. And, in it all, God can be forgotten, blamed, or consigned to spectator status.

But Paul says that he has “learned to be content with whatever I have.” This isn’t resignation or fatalism. In verse 8, he tells the Philippian Christians: “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

I love the way that entire verse is phrased! Being content wherever you are at a particular moment does not mean resignation to the circumstance always remaining the same. Instead, Paul says not to worry about it. Don’t stew. Don’t obsess over what you perceive yourself to lack. (In fact, we’re to occupy our minds with other thoughts and occupy our lives with the activities of disciples, he says in verses 8-9.) Instead, take all your requests to God, take your vision of how your life or the lives of those for whom you pray could be better…”let your requests be made known to God.” Do this with “thanksgiving,” with thankfulness for how God has already blessed believers, especially in the forgiveness of our sins and in the promise of our resurrection through our faith in Christ. Paul says that when we do this, even as we still lack the the things for which we pray, God’s peace, a state of being that is insusceptible to scientific analysis, will fill us and keep us close to Christ, through Whom we have life and peace and hope.

There are many things for which I pray. I find that as I pray for them with an attitude of thankfulness and praise, I can live with their lack. Maybe God will one day teach me that some of the things I pray for are things that I don’t need; He’s done that with me in the past. But maybe, as I learn to be content with the incredible blessings God has already given to me, I will be spiritually ready to handle the things for which I pray. I can receive them with thankfulness, knowing Who has given them and that these blessings aren’t mine because I deserve them, or because I’ve earned them, or because I’ve acquired them by the force of my effort or my personality. They are gifts from God alone.

In the meantime, I can be content and thankful for being a child of God, happy to be set free from sin and death through Christ, thankful that in all circumstances, God empowers me to do all things, including loving God, loving and serving my neighbor, and sharing Christ with those who need Him as much as I do.

God, even as I make my requests known to You, help me to be content in the circumstance in which I find myself and to be about the mission You have given all who trust in Christ: loving God, loving others, serving in Christ’s Name, making disciples. In Christ I pray. Amen

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Bad by U2

"If I could, through myself, set your spirit free
"I'd lead your heart away, see you break, break away
"Into the light and to the day."

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

So, what is a disciple?

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

Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18
There’s a word we use a lot in the Church. Like many words used in the Church, this one doesn’t get used much in the rest of the world. The word is disciple

It must be an important word, because according to Jesus, it describes the only end product that is to be created by the Church, His body in the world. In Matthew 28:19-20, you know, the crucified and risen Jesus gives what we call the Great Commission. He tells the Church: “...go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” 

Make disciples. The Church is God’s only enterprise on earth, the only enterprise on earth that will survive the end of the world and live in eternity, and its only task is to move out into the world to produce disciples.

That seems simple enough. The Church has one task. Yet, there seems to be a lot of confusion in Christ’s Church about just what it’s supposed to be doing, about its mission. 

Many people who belong to churches today see the Church as a social organization or a do-gooder society or a make-me-feel-good club. 

And while the Church is composed of people who relate to one another, a social organization, and while it does seek to empower believers to do the good will of God, and the Gospel it proclaims will make us feel good, none of that is central to what the Church is about. The Church’s single aim is to make disciples. 

But what exactly is a disciple? 

The New Testament Greek word we translate as disciple is mathetes. It means student, follower. A student or follower of the God we know in Jesus Christ seeks to live like Jesusa life of total surrender to God, a life that accepts death--in our case the death of our sinful selves, our sinful desires, our sinful actions--so that from our dependence on Christ, our faith in Christ, Who Himself was sinless, we can rise to live with God, as Martin Luther expresses it in The Small Catechism, “in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, even as [Christ] is risen from the dead and lives and reigns for all eternity.” 

Disciples understand that no price is too steep when paying it, God empowers them to empty themselves of themselves and of their egos and of their desire for the world to dance to their tunes, so that they can take up the free gift of never-ending life with God

Christ calls us to follow Him and die to our old, earthbound ways so that we can live, now and in eternity, with Him. A disciple lives with a commitment to a death to self that clings to Christ for new life, not just once, at some spine-tingling spiritual moment of conversion, but keeps clinging to Christ through every single, often humdrum and unspectacular, day. Even in the tough days, the tragic days, the disciple clings to Christ. 

But, if what I’ve just said serves as a definition of a disciple, today’s first lesson puts flesh and bones on the definition. It tells us a bit of what disciples do, the disciplines or ways of life they adopt, in response to God’s love and goodness, given to you and me in Jesus Christ. 

Our lesson is a portion of the Bible’s recounting of the last days of Joshua, the military commander who succeeded Moses as the earthly leader of God’s people, Israel. Shortly before his death, Joshua gives the people of Israel a word from God. 

In doing so, Joshua exemplifies the first thing a disciple is. A disciple is a person steeped in the Word of God

Disciples live and breathe the Bible’s holy air. 

Disciples see the Bible not just as a religious book, but as God’s Word, the preeminent expression of God’s will, grace, and authority over their lives. “The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever,” we’re told in Isaiah 40:8. 

Disciples know that when they receive God’s Word with faith, it creates and grows faith in God within them and goes to work, transforming us from people of this dead and dying world into people of Christ’s eternal kingdom. In 1 Thessalonians 2:13, the apostle Paul reminds a group of first-century Christians, “...when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe.” 

Disciples know that God’s Word comes from God and is designed to enter and change us from the inside out, as we stand under its authority. 2 Timothy 3:16-17: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

By imbibing deeply of God's Word, disciples are powered by God to live their faith in Christ. As Pastor Michael Foss writes in his book, Power Surge: Six Marks of a Discipleship Church for a Changing World: "As a [disciple's] experience of God begins to permeate all life, faith becomes a way of being in the world-a way of life-not merely a way of thinking or believing."

As many of you know, over the past year, Living Water has been involved in the first phase of the North American Lutheran Church’s partnership with the Navigators program for creating cultures of discipleship in our congregations. 

The next phase, Year 2, the recruitment and spiritual growth of a Life and Learning Team will come. It's something about which I’m praying right now. In Year 3, this team will recruit and foster the spiritual growth of more Living Water people and others we invite to be part of two- and three-person groups. 

As our bishop, John Bradosky, reminded us all last week at the NALC Convocation in Dallas, the only way for churches to grow is for the disciples who are part of it to grow in their faith in Christ. 

And the primary means God uses on a daily basis to help His disciples grow in faith and in the joy of their relationship with Christ is the Word of God. 

Five days a week, I strive to begin my day by reading a single chapter of the Bible. Then I spend some time considering, sometimes memorizing, often restating the implications for my life, of a single verse or passage of that chapter. I write my reflections down, as my Navigators coach, Bill Mowry, has taught me. This helps me to remember what God is teaching me. 

By spending time in God’s Word, I open the door of my soul to God, so that He can kill the old Mark and let the new Mark rise. 

I’m not where I want to be as a follower of Jesus Christ, but I know that disciples daily seek to steep themselves in God’s Word and I strive to learn from and follow their example.

The second thing our lesson shows us about disciples is that they fear the Lord

In a world that, when it gives God a thought, seeks to make God into a buddy, this may seem outrageous. But Joshua tells the people in Joshua 24:14: “Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness.” 

The Hebrew Old Testament word, yir’ah, which we translate as fear, is much richer than our English language can convey. It does mean, in part, fear, as in quaking in our boots. And I would suggest that if the thought of coming into the presence of a holy, perfect, immortal God doesn’t fill we unholy, imperfect, mortal human beings with a little quaking, we may be comatose. 

But the Hebrew word for fear here also means “standing in awe or reverence before” God. The disciple who has “the fear of the Lord” has a clear understanding of reality. They know that God is God and they are not. But they also know that the one true God of the universe, filled with a love so great for us that He sent His only Son to die for and rise to set all who repent and believe in Him free from sin and death, is the only King worthy of our praise, honor, allegiance,...and fear. The English Standard Version translation of the Bible rightly renders Psalm 130:4: “with you [God] there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.” Experiencing God’s forgiveness incites holy fear within disciples.

Third: Disciples depend only on the God we know in Jesus Christ for life. It’s the same God that Joshua and ancient Israel knew. In Joshua 24:14, he challenged the people: “Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord.” Disciples agree with Peter, who, when God-in-the-flesh, Jesus, asked Peter and the other apostles if they wanted to abandon Him as others had, said to Jesus: "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that You are the Holy One of God." 

Martin Luther said that whatever is most important to us in life is our god. What is most important in our lives? Disciples get rid of their idols. 

“My family is the most important thing in my life,” some Christians piously intone. But parents who say this--and more importantly, believe this--do their children no favors. Children who think they’re the center or the universe are not only likely to have difficulties in their relationships with others as they grow older, but the selfishness cultivated in them leaves them less susceptible to hearing, or sensing their need for the God we know in Jesus. Not only do disciples divest themselves of idols, they also help those they love do the same.

Fourth: Disciples are willing, if it comes to that, to stand alone with God. They are secure in their relationship with God. 1 Peter 2:11 reminds Christians, they are “foreigners and exiles.” So, they are able to stand firmly in their reliance on God as their only source of wisdom, hope, and life. Joshua says in Joshua 24:15: “as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” Disciples seek to live out the faith they confess, whatever the rest of the world believes or doesn’t believe.

Fifth: Disciples remember God’s past faithfulness and so are inspired to face each day. Throughout chapter 24, Joshua reminds Israel of God’s past faithfulness to inspire them to face their own lives. When we remember not only what God did for His people in the Bible, but what God has done for us in Christ, the ways in which He supports and encourages us even in the midst of personal tragedy, and how He has answered many of our prayers in His way and in His time, in accordance with His will, our discipleship is deepened and we can declare with ancient Israel after Joshua had reminded of God’s past faithfulness: “We too will serve the Lord, because he is our God.”

Our call at Living Water is not to be members of a club, but a company of disciples of Jesus Christ who make other disciples, just as Joshua sought to help Israel follow the same God you and I follow through Christ. 

There’s more to being a disciple than we’ve talked about today, of course. But in our encounter with Joshua this morning, we’re reminded that disciples adopt certain disciplines by which God grows our faith in Him and our joy in belonging to Him. 

  • Disciples are steeped in the Word of God. 
  • They fear the Lord. 
  • They depend only on the God we know in Jesus Christ for life. 
  • They’re willing to stand alone with God. 
  • And they remember God’s past faithfulness and so, are inspired and empowered to face today and the uncertainties of tomorrow. 

May God help us to to adopt these disciplines of discipleship so that God’s grace given in Christ may grow deeply in our lives, so that we may be who God calls us to be, and so that we can make other disciples as Jesus has commissioned us to do. Amen

Did Jesus refer to all of Psalm 22 when He was near death on the cross?

Today, I made a passing comment during the noon 'Journey Through the Bible Class' regarding Jesus' recitation of Psalm 22:1 from the cross. (Jesus said, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?")

A question was asked, "Did Jesus have in mind the entire psalm when He recited its grim beginning?" I believe that He did.

This notion is buttressed by the fact that there are scholars who believe that Psalm 22--the entire psalm--was part of the Scripture recitation appointed for the time of day--3:00pm--when Jesus cited verse 1.

So much for my comments during class.

But I could have also added that it's also likely, I think, that Jesus had the entire psalm in mind because of the content of the psalm. It can be outlined, more or less, in the following way:

1. Despair (vv. 1-2)

2. Remembrance of God's past faithfulness (vv. 3-5)

Acknowledgment of others' mockery of the psalmist's faith (vv. 6-8) 

(Of course, Jesus endured similar mockery both before and during His crucifixion. As was true for the psalmist, Jesus endured the jeers of those who said, if Jesus was so great and so dependent on God the Father, "let Him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in Him. He trusts in God; let God deliver Him now, if He wants to..." [Matthew 27:42-43])

3. Affirmation that only God can help and the psalmist's need of help (vv. 9-18)

4. A confident plea for help (vv. 19-24)

5. Words of praise to God the deliverer (vv. 25-28)

6. Celebration of new, I would say, resurrected life (vv. 29-31)

In these last verses, the psalmist affirms that He will live beyond suffering and death:

"To him [God], indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, and I shall live for him." 

People who place their hope in the God we meet in the crucified and risen Jesus, will live to praise God, even after they have gone to the dust and we will bow down to worship God. They also know that as they go through suffering and death, they have by their sides a God Who has been there and conquered both sin and death for them, so that they can look forward to eternity with God.

Job, the tragedy-plagued believer in the Old Testament, makes an affirmation similar to that made by the psalmist: 

"For I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth; and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see on my side, and my eyes shall behold, and not another..." (Job 19:25-27)

Sunday, August 09, 2015

When Crises Come

[This was shared during worship with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church, Springboro, Ohio, this morning.]

1 Kings 19:1-8
Into every human life, times of crises come. 

Pastor H. Beecher Hicks, Jr. calls our life’s crises, storms

It seems an apt metaphor. Like storms, crises can toss us around, make us lose our bearings, challenge our stability, make us wonder whether we’re going to go under or stand upright. Hicks says that in this life, we are either about to go into a storm, are in a storm, or have just emerged from a storm. I think he’s right.

Some of our storms--or crises--are self-created by our sin or carelessness. Others, the Bible teaches, come from the devil. Still other crises are ones that God allows to come into our lives in order to help us grow in our faith, integrity, courage. And there are times when other people can be the sources of our crises. 

But whatever their sources, crises are an inevitable part of life in this fallen and imperfect world. Now, given their inevitability and the fact that God can even use our crises for good, the real question that should occupy us when we’re in the midst of a crisis is not, “How can I avoid having crises in my life?” The question should be, “How will I handle the next crisis to come my way?” 

Or to put it another way: “Where will I turn when my next crisis arrives?”

Elijah was the greatest prophet in the history of God’s people. When, centuries later, Jesus went to the mount of Transfiguration, He was greeted by the two figures who represented the two great strands of Old Testament history: the Law, embodied by Moses, and the Prophets, embodied by Elijah. 

A prophet is one who speaks God’s Word fearlessly. 

When people have wandered from God--by doing things like failing to trust in Him, deciding which of God’s commands they’ll obey and which they’ll disobey, putting other things or people in place of God, or by perpetrating injustices against the weak or the despised, the prophet’s job is to confront people with God’s commands. 

When people suffer or are tempted by sin or feel convicted for the sins they’ve already committed, or when they feel discouraged or overwhelmed or empty, the prophet is to speak God’s seemingly impossible Word of hope and grace and forgiveness to them. 

As we discussed in Journey Through the Bible recently, the prophet’s message is often viewed with skepticism or hostility, meaning that prophets have to be confident in God. Prophets aren't usually A-listers for parties and they don't make red-carpet appearances. 

Because of this, prophets have to be people of strong faith and strong spine. They must be unafraid of human opposition, willing to stand with God no matter what. 

Elijah fit this understanding of the prophet par excellence. He spoke God’s Word with boldness, conviction, and faith.

Yet today’s first lesson, 1 Kings 19:1-8, finds Elijah in a crisis under which he nearly crumbles. 

Just a short time earlier, at God’s direction, Elijah had engaged in a contest on Mount Carmel with the prophets of the false Canaanite deity, Baal. Through Elijah, God showed His people once again that there is only one God and King of all creation, the God Who, today, through faith in His Son saves us from sin and death. 

The contest at Mount Carmel was the great triumph of Elijah’s career as a prophet, God’s proof that the words proclaimed by Elijah had, all along, been God’s Word. Elijah was vindicated and victorious.

But then, incredibly, a textbook case of crisis began for Elijah. Through Elijah and his experience in today’s first lesson, God can teach us how to cope with the crises in our lives. 

Look at verse 1: “Now Ahab [Ahab was the seventh king of Israel, the breakaway northern kingdom that came into being after the reign of King Solomon] told Jezebel [Ahab’s wife] everything Elijah had done and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. So Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah to say, ‘May the gods [notice she doesn’t acknowledge the one God of the world, as God’s people had been taught by God Himself] deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them.” 

Jezebel vowed that within twenty-four hours, she would be sure that Elijah was dead

So, how did the great prophet Elijah react? 

“Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there,  while he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness. He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. ‘I have had enough, Lord,’ he said.” 

Do you know the first thing that often happens to Christians when we confront a crisis? Our memory goes. 

Faced by temptation, we sometimes forget how destructive sin is, how it can destroy our relationship with God and harm others. 

Faced by unwelcome news or a challenging problem, we forget how God has helped us face past unwelcome news and challenging problems; we think we’re on our own. 

Faced with the reality of a sin we’ve committed--some shady business about money, a cutting comment we’ve made about someone else--we either forget how God’s Law teaches us the seriousness of our sin or we forget that the God we know in Jesus Christ died and rose so that sinners like us can experience God’s forgiveness and live new lives. 

In his moment of crisis, Elijah forgot the power of God Who had just given him victory at Mount Carmel. Crises may be inevitable in this life, but we always make them worse when we focus on the crisis instead of focusing on God

Frightened out of his mind, Elijah focused on Jezebel when he should have focused on God. 

Eventually, Elijah does turn to God. But his prayer doesn’t, at this moment anyway, mark him as a profile in courage. He prays to God: “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” 

Elijah prayed for the easy way out. Rather than confront his crisis, Elijah wants to be dead. 

I know that feeling. Six years ago, when the denomination of which many of us were part fully affirmed a trend that had been ongoing since at least 1991, of utterly rejecting the authority of God's Word and the truth of the Lutheran confessions, I remember wishing that I had died before this great betrayal had come to fruition. I could easily have been persuaded to pray a prayer like Elijah's.

And I have often prayed for the easy way out in my life as a Christian. 

Even Jesus, God in human flesh, did this as He confronted the prospect of the cross. In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed that it it were possible, God the Father would remove the cup of suffering and death from Him that He had come into the world to bear. But then Jesus prayed in Luke 22:42 “yet not my will, but yours be done.” 

The only way to the resurrection is through the cross. 

The only way to make it through crisis is to go through crisis with the God we know in Christ and trust Him to get us to ther other side. And Jesus' resurrection is the certain proof that He always will.

The next thing that Elijah did after running miles and miles away from Jezebel, was sleep. He slept a lot. 

Sleep can be a way of avoiding crisis, you know, especially those crises associated with sustained depression. 

But sleep can also be part of the rest and restoration we need to face our crises. This is especially true when, like Elijah, we pray for God’s help. 

It’s true that God didn’t give the help that Elijah asked for; God didn’t bring death to Elijah. But when we pray for God’s help with our crises, even when we have suggestions on the type of help God may offer us, we’re really inviting God into do what He thinks best

To reach up in helplessness and need to the God we know in Jesus Christ is to give him total access to our lives. It was good that Elijah did just that, because God had more for the prophet to do on this earth.

Twice in the midst of Elijah’s long nap, God sent an angel to feed Elijah bread and water. The reason was simple. Verse 7: [The angel touched Elijah and said;] “‘Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.’ So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God.” 

God was sending Elijah to Mount Horeb, which is another name for Mount Sinai, the place where God gave His Law to Moses. It was 200 miles from where Elijah was at that moment. He needed strength from God!

When you’re going through a crisis, know that God has not forgotten you, even though we may sometimes forget God. Psalm 121:8 promises all who trust in God: “the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.” Even when we confront crisis. 

Through Jesus, Who promises everlasting life to all who turn from sin and trust in Him, we have the same promise that God gave Israel through the prophet Jeremiah long ago: “I know the plans I have for you...plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” That promise belongs to us in times of crisis and times of calm, as we live, as we die, and as, in eternity, we face the God Who made us and sent His Son to die for our sins and give us eternity with Him. As was true of Elijah, God has plans for individuals, as a congregation. Never forget that!

We all either have just come through a crisis, are going through a crisis, or are headed for a crisis. But we can weather them faithfully if we learn the lessons today’s incident from Elijah’s life teach us: 
focus on God, instead of the fear induced by the crisis; 
  • commit to going through the crisis with God, rather than sidestepping it or running from it; 
  • trust that God will respond to our prayers, usually in ways we couldn’t have imagined; 
  • trust that God will give us what we need for the next step in our journeys--just as God strengthened Elijah with bread and water; and 
  • finally, trust that God has plans for us, plans that no crisis can derail. 
Crises come in this world. But for the Christian, they are opportunities to remember and observe Jesus’ promise, “With God all things are possible." Amen