Monday, June 29, 2015

Paul's counsel for Christians living in these days

These words from Paul's letter to the first century church at Rome are ones that challenged me during my devotions this morning. They also strike me as an important admonition for we Christians, generally, in these days:
Each of us must please our neighbor for the good purpose of building up the neighbor. For Christ did not please himself; but, as it is written, “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.” (Romans 15:2-3)
This is "inside baseball" talk. In other words, Paul is addressing it to Christians regarding their behavior toward those who are not Christians (along with fellow believers). Others.

Paul doesn't mean that we are to please our neighbors through a kind of spineless acquiescence to wrong.

He means, I think, adopting the same attitude as the One Who saved us from sin and death, the attitude of Christ Himself.

Christ confidently walked with God the Father, compassionately helped those in need, listened patiently to those who were without God in their lives, upbraided those who claimed faith but behaved hypocritically, and always, whatever His behavior toward others, sought to "build them up."

Building up others is not some self-esteem thing.

It means serving our neighbor, going out of our ways to be helpful.

It means building them up by allowing them to see God's truth revealed in Jesus Christ working in our lives.

It means being prepared at all times to give them an account of the hope that Christ has planted in us.

It means taking the time to pray for and with them.

It means taking the time too, with the neighbor who is willing, to read and study and explain God's Word so that they too, can trust in and live with the God of the universe.

As we do so, we can count on receiving the same kinds of insults that greeted true God, true man, Jesus. Along with the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives and the promise of a resurrected life with God, earthly insults are part of the deal. Bank on it.

But just as Jesus only achieved His mission through a cross, we who follow Him must endure the cross...
...the cross of honest repentance before the Lord,
...the cross of accepting God's will and not our own over our lives,
...the cross of others' misunderstanding of our faith
...the cross, maybe, even death for our faith.

Resurrections--whether the little resurrections we experience along life's way, or the grand resurrections we will experience one day--are always preceded by crosses.

But we can be assured that all who endure their crosses with trust in Christ always will know resurrection.

These times call for Christians to build up our neighbors through our service and our love.

We are to speak the truth in love and be servants, just as our Lord Jesus has served us.

These are not times for hurling insults or political plotting or self-indulgent sulking.

These times also call for Christians to "cheat." 

Don't rely on the political or judicial systems to vindicate you. 

Don't rely on presidential candidates or media campaigns to uphold or "legitimize" you. 

Instead, Christians, cheat, by which I mean, employ the power that God gives to all who bear Christ's name--who have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever

  • Steep yourselves in God's Word, so that God's supernatural power resides within your human frame, and pray to God in the name of Jesus. 
  • Pray that God will help we who make up His Church to love and serve others. 
  • Pray that God will give us the wisdom we need to speak truth to the misinformed and needy majority in our land. 
  • Pray that God will use our service and our words to plant seeds of repentance and new life that comes through faith in Jesus Christ alone to our neighbors. 
  • Pray for strength, for peace, for hope, for revival. 
  • Pray that God will help you to be ready for anything.
  • Access the wisdom, guidance, and power of God that every Christian has the privilege to claim through their relationship with Jesus Christ. 

Love. Serve. Pray. Study God's Word. Do it for your neighbor even more than for yourself. Be ready for the insults. God's Word...and do it for your neighbor even more than for yourself.

Friday, June 26, 2015

President Obama's Eulogy for Rev. Clementa Pinckney

What a wonderful, powerful eulogy that President Obama gave today at the funeral of Reverend Clementa Pinckney. And his observation that we are all sinners to whom God extends grace and we are left to decide how we will receive it was right on. I also loved his sometimes off-key rendition of 'Amazing Grace.' His use of Hebrews 11:13 at the beginning of the speech was wonderful.

Presidents must, in times of national tragedy, function--in a phrase I once heard Reverend Billy Graham use of Bill Clinton--as kind of national pastor. President Obama did that today, reaching out to all Americans, seeking mutual understanding and respect under the grace of God. 

You don't have to like the President's politics to appreciate the words of healing and hope he shared today.

Do you like chills and coneys?

Don't usually do this. But about a month ago, we were visiting an antique shop in Grandview, a Columbus suburb, when I noticed a new business had opened in the corner of the same strip mall. The place sold carry-out coney sauce and chills. One of the owners noticed me looking her storefront over and popped out and with a friendly manner, handed me a brochure. I kept it in my car for a return visit.

I went back to JC's Just Chili yesterday and sampled practically all the menu. Then I bought some of their coney sauce and their gazpacho, an item they're offering for the summer months. (I love gazpacho!) It all tastes wonderful!

Most of the menu is gluten-free, important for me. And JC's has some reasonably healthy choices. No additives are used. And, did I mention that it all tastes wonderful?
J.C. and Charlane Lasmanis, the proprietors, who I met yesterday, have a great story. (Charlane is the friendly woman who handed me the brochure.) They've spent their lives following God's leading in the establishment of schools and helping other people. They were even led to Columbus from Indianapolis--where they were for a time after spending thirty-three years in Washington, D.C.--and to starting this business. They're living out a truth that God revealed to them several times as they contemplated the next venture in their lives: It's never too late.

But their amazing story aside, if you're in or visiting the Columbus area, try their great food. And if you're planning a party or a business gathering, consider treating yourself and others to chowing down on JC's Just Chili. Did I mention that it tastes wonderful?

1 Christian pastor's thoughts on the Supreme Court's gay marriage ruling

A few moments ago, I received an email from a parishioner asking me for my opinion on the announcement of the US Supreme Court ruling in favor of gay marriage. This is how I responded:
Didn't know that the Court had announced a ruling until I saw your email. Been busy this morning.  
My basic take on the question of state-sanctioned "marriage" has always been the same. The state's interests in the domestic partnerships people establish--be they heterosexual or homosexual--boil down to three, I think: (1) The control of disease (hence, blood tests being required for marriage licenses); (2) The acquisition and disposition of jointly held property; (3) The custodianship of children.  
While there is some overlap in the Church's and the state's interests in marriage, the Church is primarily interested in marriage as something instituted by God for male and female to live in union and to raise children to prepare them for adulthood and more importantly, to know the God revealed in Jesus Christ. 
Try as I have to see it differently--and I have tried, because it would certainly make my life easier if I could go along with the current trend and not buck society, I cannot call a homosexual union a "marriage."  
This is why I could never in good conscience, deliberately violate the will of God by performing a "marriage" between persons of the same sex. In God's eyes, from all the evidence I have considered through the years, such unions are not marriages.  
But having said that, I can't get too worked up over the Supreme Court's ruling. Homosexual unions are a matter of fact. "Legalizing" them will afford the state the opportunity to take care of the three interests I listed above.  
Now, if for example, the State of Ohio, were to tell clergy that we must honor marriage licenses issued to gay and lesbian couples who want us to preside over the marriages or risk losing our "authority to solemnize marriages," I would voluntarily give up that authority.  
To my mind, pastors only seek authorization from the state to solemnize marriages as an additional service to the couples over whose weddings they preside. The Church's interest (and the pastor's) is in the covenant a man and a woman make with God in the formation of their marriage and in God's blessing of that union. It is far more important that couples be married in the eyes of God than in the eyes of the State.  
If the State gave pastors such an ultimatum then, I would simply advise couples that I would preside over weddings in which they would pronounce their vows in the presence of God and of witnesses and so have a marriage recognized and acknowledged by God. I would further advise them that if they wanted their marriage to be legally recognized, they could go to the court house and take care of the State's requirements there.

Legally and constitutionally, I know of no way that one could block--or want to block--gays and lesbians from entering into State-sanctioned "marriages." This is why I'm surprised that the Court hasn't rendered a ruling similar to the one issued today earlier. Jesus' commission to we Christians is to "make disciples," which does not happen by using the coercion of the State, but through the wooing of the Holy Spirit using our witness for new life through Jesus. For Christians to want to use the coercive power of the State to force society to accept and conform to Biblical sexual morality is inconsistent with our call to win people to Christ not with the Law, but with the Gospel.  
Of course, I lament that society has gotten to the point that this day has come, that everyone in America isn't voluntarily acceding to the will and the authority of the God Who loves us all, and accepting that marriage is between a man and a woman.
But rather than fight or complain about the ruling, I prefer to keep sharing Jesus, so that His Spirit and our witness can show [the world] "a still more excellent way."  
That's what I think anyway.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Jesus or a Comfortable Life?

[This was shared during both of today's worship services with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church in Springboro, Ohio.]

Job 38:1-11
2 Corinthians 6:1-13
Mark 4:35-41
In today’s Gospel lesson (and really in all our Bible lessons for today as well), Jesus confronts us with a simple question: Do we want Him or do we want to be comfortable? 

Do we want the God we meet in Jesus Christ or do we want easy, trouble-free lives? 

Some of the hucksters on TV sell a brand of Christianity that tells us if we believe in Jesus and stay positive, we’ll be flush with cash, healthy, and successful. 

The problem, of course, is that Jesus never promises any of this to those who follow Him.

Jesus does promise wonderful things. 

He promises that when we repent and believe, we will be part of the Kingdom of God

He promises that when we trust in Him as the only Son of God and the only way to reconciliation to God, we will have everlasting life with God

Believers in Jesus know that we have the presence and guidance of God with us in this life

He will give weary souls rest

He will be with His people always, even to the close of the age

Christ’s people have the hope of the life for which we are made--a life which at present we can only see as through a mirror dimly, a resurrected life in which tears are dried, bodies restored, work is meaningful,* and joy is complete.

But not once does the God we know in Jesus Christ promise that following Him will make us comfortable in this world. 

Not once does He say that decisions will be easy. 

Not once does He say problems will go away. 

Not once does He say that the life of discipleship--of following Him, of sacrificing ourselves and our own comfort out of love and worship for God and out of love for neighbors--those we can see and those we can’t see--will be easy. 

In fact, Jesus says, "In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

Our first lesson for today comes to us from the Old Testament book of Job. It’s thought to be the oldest book in the Bible, recounting events that took place long before Abraham. In it, a man who strives to follow God, who repents not only for his own sins, but also those of his children, is struck down by many of the horrors that the world and the devil can bring to human beings. 

All his property and livestock are destroyed. 

All his children are killed. 

He is stricken with a horrible disease, his body covered with open sores. 

Job had worshiped God and played by the rules. But in one fell swoop, his whole world was decimated. 

Following God had not brought Job a comfortable life. 

Through much of the book that bears his name, Job's friends try to tell their suffering friend that had he been more faithful, these bad things wouldn’t have come to him. He insists he doesn’t deserve his suffering and angrily challenges God to explain Himself. 

At the end of the book, God chastises Job’s so-called friends. Faith in God isn’t a pass to easy street and Job’s distress wasn’t caused by Job being sinful. 

But, as we can see from our first lesson, neither does God explain Job’s suffering. 

Job suffered in spite of being a follower of God because we live in a fallen world in which bad things happen even to faithful people.

In our second lesson, written in about 55 AD, the apostle Paul recounts some of the suffering he underwent not in spite of following and proclaiming the God revealed in the crucified and risen Jesus, but because he followed and proclaimed the crucified and risen Jesus. Paul said that he and his ministry team commended themselves to people in the church at Corinth precisely because they had endured calamities for the sake of their faith in the God we know through Jesus.

He writes:  “ servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.” 

Believers in Jesus are called to keep following Jesus even when it’s inconvenient, painful, challenging, uncomfortable. 

When it commands sacrifice. 

When it threatens our reputations, our financial security, our lives. 

Jesus calls us to choose between life with Him and being comfortable.

He does this emphatically in our Gospel lesson, Matthew 4:35-41. 

The incident narrated here comes right after Jesus gives a series of parables describing what the Kingdom of God, the kingdom He is going to die and rise to bring into being. It all begins with a command, which Jesus disciples obey. “That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, ‘Let us go over to the other side.’ Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him.” 

Of course, when Jesus issued His command to the disciples, they probably wouldn’t have given it a second thought. Most of them were experiences fishermen accustomed to plying the Galilean waters at night, as He was now commanding them to do at sundown. 

Following Jesus may often seem a simple thing, comfortable. We don’t know what storms may lay ahead

You know what happens next. Verse 37: “A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, ‘Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?’” 

We Christians ask a version of that question every time adversity strikes, every time Jesus calls us to do hard things we’d rather not do, uncomfortable things: forgive someone who has hurt us; confront a fellow believer with a hard truth; give sacrificially. “Lord,” we wonder, “don’t you care if we drown? Don’t you care if we lose our comfort? Don't you care if what you're calling me to do could result in killing my reputation, killing my investment portfolio, kill my health, kill me?”

Jesus' answer, quite frankly, is, “No.” The God Who tells us that "whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it," the God Who went to a cross to bear our sins cares more about our character than our comfort

He cares more about our learning to follow Him faithfully than He does about our ease. Our ease can come in eternity. 

For now, our call is to follow even in the darkest, most difficult times.

Verse 39: “He [Jesus] got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be still!’ Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to his disciples, ‘Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?’” 

When storms come, we wonder how we can survive. We forget that nothing can separate those who trust in Him from the love God gives through Jesus Christ. Nothing.

A young woman, a member of our church in Cincinnati, was dying. She and her husband had two young children. She gave her testimony of faith during worship one Sunday. This was in 1999. She talked about all the things she hoped to be able to see in this world: her children grown, the new millennium. She knew that she might not see any of these earthly hopes come into being. And it saddened her. She tried to understand. Yet she also told us that she was confident that the Lord Who was leading her through her darkest valley would not only lead her to Himself, but also lead her children. She said that she knew that Christ's Church in which her children were baptized would faithfully share Christ with them, forge their characters by the power of the Holy Spirit, and help them to know the eternity of hope we have in Jesus Christ.

After Jesus had sternly spoken to the disciples, they contemplated in awe-filled fear, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey Him?” The answer can be found all through Scripture. But I mention just two places. 

In Psalm 104:7, the psalmist confesses of God, “ your rebuke the waters fled, at the sound of your thunder they took to flight…” 

Genesis 1:1 tells us that God the Holy Spirit moved over the waters of primordial chaos and brought into being peace, order, and life.

The One Who calmed the storm that so frightened the experienced fishermen sailing with Jesus that night was and is God Himself.

Storms, challenges come and go in this life. 

Jesus will sometimes ask us to do things, to endure things, to sacrifice things, which in our own power, we are incapable of doing. 

But, listen: Whenever we can’t, God can

And after the storm, the God we know in Jesus Christ still stands

And so do all who put their faith in Him

They’re the ones who were more concerned with following Jesus than with being comfortable. I pray each day that God will forge me to be one of their number.

What storms are you going through today? 

What is Jesus asking you to do that you don’t believe can be done? 

Is there a comfortable sin for which you need to repent? 

Follow Jesus and let the One Who can still our storms see you through. Amen

*Work is not a punishment for human sin, as some suppose. Human beings, created in the image of God, are meant to share in His work. But after the fall into sin and the world's subjection to futility, work was marred, along with all human enterprises, by futility. In eternity then, God's resurrected people will be restored to our full function in the new creation and once again fulfill our calling to manifest God's image in work marked by purpose, joy, and fulfillment.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Please Pray for Cepres Church in Haiti

Earlier today, I shared this on the Living Water Lutheran Church (Dayton, OH) Facebook page.

Could you please pray for Cepres Church in Haiti?

Living Water has a team who goes every year to work with Cepres, a school, an orphanage, and a community in Haiti. The team and the congregation also have an ongoing relationship with these ministries in Haiti, through an organization called SMI Haiti.

Haiti is the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, the twentieth poorest in the world. (By way of comparison, according to the World Bank, Kenya is the 30th. poorest nation; Bangladesh is 34th.; Laos is 48th.; Vietnam is 53rd; India is 55th.; and Iraq is 81st.

According to the CIA:
[Haiti is] the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere with 80% of the population living under the poverty line and 54% in abject poverty, the earthquake further inflicted $7.8 billion in damage and caused the country's GDP to contract. In 2011, the Haitian economy began recovering from the earthquake. However, two hurricanes adversely affected agricultural output and the low public capital spending slowed the recovery in 2012. Two-fifths of all Haitians depend on the agricultural sector, mainly small-scale subsistence farming, and remain vulnerable to damage from frequent natural disasters, exacerbated by the country's widespread deforestation.
Government-to-government aid is often susceptible to Haitian government corruption.

But when church groups like Living Water and parachurch groups like SMI Haiti are able to take money and volunteers directly to places in the country, real progress is made, spiritually, economically, in education, and in food for kids who are fortunate to get one meal a day.

Of course, the real key to long-term change in Haiti is on the spiritual front. The country is afflicted and often held back by voodoo. When Christ comes to people, assuring them of their eternal value--God made them and has made a way for reconciliation and new life with Him through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, people gain the power for living.

Cepres Church has gained a strong foothold in Haiti. Its pastor is a convert from voodooism. After being given up for dead by voodoo priests, members of a church helped him and prayed for him. By the power of God in Christ, he survived and came to surrender to Christ as God and Lord.

He has been a leading hand in the establishment of an orphanage and a school and providing relief to the people of the area. Brought to life by Jesus Christ, Pastor Jean-Marie and his congregation, are bringing life to others. Please pray for Cepres Church and for Pastor Jean-Marie and his family. And if you feel moved to help the church with a place to worship and meet, check out the embedded post below.

Please share this post on your Facebook, Twitter, Google-Plus, Pinterest, and other accounts. Share the link in emails, if you feel so moved.

Some may read this and think: But it's just one church and one spot in Haiti.

True. But it is one spot.

And by your prayers, your sharing of the link to this post, and by the financial gifts of those so disposed, God can and will make a difference in that one spot. (He already is making a difference in that one spot.)

When God came into the world in the Person of Jesus Christ, He didn't refuse to heal or help one person because His humanity prevented Him from being in the presence of everyone in the world needing help. He helped those before Him.

In this post, I'm putting Cepres Church and the people of Haiti who live in its community before you. You can be the hands and feet of Jesus for these people who stand before you now (Matthew 25:31-46).

Thank you.

Below are pictures that show a bit of the life of Cepres Church in Haiti. It's the congregation with which our church's...
Posted by Living Water Lutheran Church (Dayton, OH) on Friday, June 19, 2015

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

My Brave Face by Paul McCartney

This 1987 collaboration with Elvis Costello first appeared on Paul McCartney's Flowers in the Dirt LP.

The entire album reflected a strong effort on Macca's part, after a succession of rather bland projects during the decade preceding. It was released to coincided with a world tour and McCartney said that an explanation for its high quality was that he didn't want to be stuck in America promoting a bad LP.

It's one of my favorite McCartney projects, a consistently strong album from track to track. There's only one song on the entire album I don't care for.

This one, with an arrangement (and video) clearly meant to evoke memories of the Beatles, has particularly strong lyrics. McCartney and Costello worked together on several songs, some of which appeared on projects by each. Listening to them makes you wish that they would work together more. They seem to bring out the best in each other.

This song is all about the facades we create to protect ourselves from others, so as not to unveil our deepest selves to everybody. The song calls them "brave" faces. Others might call them "game" faces. Here, the narrator is lamenting the loss of his woman and talking about the fakery he engages in each day to avoid talking about how much he hurts.

Included here is the music video of the version McCartney and his band recorded for Flowers in the Dirt (the video being really stupid) and the interesting demo done by McCartney and Costello.

By the way, as alluded to in the first video, Paul McCartney really did, as of a few years ago anyway, still have the set list from the Beatles' 1966 tour taped to his Hofner.

In 1987, Macca hadn't used the bass for several years when Costello remarked on how much he loved the instrument's sound and asked McCartney to use it on the material they composed together. The album marked the return of the famous "Beatles Hofner," which has remained a staple of McCartney's recorded and live performances ever since.

[UPDATE: Actually, McCartney has had at least two Hofner basses, I've learned from this and several other articles.]

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Keep Scattering the Seed

[This was shared during worship with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church, Springboro, Ohio. There are two worship choices every Sunday. At 9:00 AM, there's a traditional service and at 10:30 AM, there's a contemporary worship. Feel free to join us any time.]

Mark 4:26-34
In today’s gospel lesson, Jesus tells two parables or stories about “the kingdom of God.” We’re going to focus today just on the first of the two parables of the kingdom. 

Now, the kingdom of God exists wherever the Holy Spirit empowers a person to believe in Jesus Christ as the only way to life with God and so, repents of sin and surrenders their whole life to Christ. The kingdom exists wherever a person trusts in Jesus as their God and Lord. 

But we live in a fallen, sinful world. Sin exists within and around us, which is why it’s so important for Christians to confess our sins, ask God’s help to resist the temptation to sin, and put our lives in the hands of Jesus every day. 

Yet, given the simple fact that sin so clearly has our world and often we ourselves by the throat, we may sometimes question whether the kingdom of God is present or if it hasn't been completely overrun by evil.

In both parables today, Jesus encourages us not to give in to despair! The citizen of God’s kingdom has an eternity of hope. 

Yes, evil is rampant in our world. Disrespect for God’s Name, thievery and murder of all kinds, injustice to the poor, violations of God’s will that human beings have sexual intimacy only with persons of the opposite sex to whom they are married for life, reputation-damaging gossip, materialism, and all sorts of other sins fill our world. 

They often fill we Christians because, like the apostle Paul in Romans 7, we can honestly confess, that though we want to do good, evil is right there within us. 

Yet, the kingdom of God is still among us, still growing, and still able to usher into eternity with God anyone who dares to break with the world, repent of sin, and surrender to Jesus Christ.

Look please at Mark 4:26-29. Jesus says: “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how.” 

Here, Jesus introduces us to a reckless farmer. He scatters seed. He doesn’t bother with things like watering, hoeing to remove weeds, or laying on manure. He just scatters and goes through his daily routine, sleeping at night, waking in the morning. This man’s job--his only job, apparently--is to scatter the seed and wait and presumably, pray. (Like every farmer I have ever known has done and does.)

Folks, that’s our job as Christians, too

The seed of God’s kingdom in this parable is our word--our witness--about the gospel. At least in the Church, we use that word gospel, the modern rendering of an old English compound word, “God’s spell” or “God’s news,” all the time. 

But we ought to regularly remind ourselves of what the gospel is. We all know John 3:16, on which we focused a few weeks ago: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” That’s the Gospel! 

Every person born to life on this planet is ticketed for separation from God and for hell. 

But because God loves us so much and wants us so much, He gave Jesus up to death on the cross. 

Everyone who believes in Him--everyone who trustingly gives their sins over to Jesus and entrusts every piece of their life to Him--has what every human being was made for, eternal life with God

This happens through Jesus and only through Jesus. That is the good news of God’s kingdom.

Today--and this is a little scary when you think about it, Jesus scatters this good news by one means only: through you and me, the people of His Church. 

We Christians are the farmers whose job it is to tell others the good news about Jesus

We’re to scatter the seed of God’s kingdom, then leave the growth and cultivation of that seed to God. 

Yet it seems that as we Christians interact with our spiritually-disconnected friends, we find it easier to scatter anything and everything but the gospel. 

And as we Christians fail to tell others the good news about Jesus and many churches rush to accommodate the world by telling people things like, “It’s OK if you shack up, cause boys will be boys and girls will be girls; it’s OK if you don’t believe that Jesus was born of a virgin and physically rose from the dead because we’ve never known anyone but Him like that either,” while the 21st. century Church is talking about everything and doing everything but the gospel, the world is embracing all sorts of new evil, walking farther away from God.

In Acts 1:11, the crucified and risen Jesus, just before He ascended into heaven, told the eleven apostles and, through them, told us: “You shall be witnesses of Me.” If you’re a baptized believer in Jesus Christ, you are one of His witnesses, called to scatter the seed of the Gospel

But what if we fail to ever tell others about the Gospel? 

Imagine for a second that you’re an interested spectator at a murder trial, anxious to hear testimony and form your own opinion based on the testimony of witnesses. 

What would happen if all the witnesses called on simply sat on the stand and provided no information on the case? 

Imagine that the witnesses who could be enlightening or helpful, instead talked about Kanye West and the Cavaliers, Caitlyn Jenner and national politics, but never said a word about the case at hand. 

This is what would happen: The jury (and you, as an interested spectator) would be unable to make an informed decision. 

If we Christians, who have been called to be witnesses for Christ, fail to tell others about Christ, they are unable to make a judgment about whether to receive the new life in God’s kingdom that Jesus offers

Today, folks, the jury is out for many people when it comes to Jesus Christ because Christ’s witnesses have gone AWOL

People are left with no witness about the most important question of their lives--whether they will receive life with God through Jesus Christ. And that happens because no Christian has dared to give witness for Christ's Gospel. 

The stakes are high! Heaven or hell for all the people we may interact with in our lives depends on whether we Christians will be faithful witnesses for Christ or not

Look at what Jesus says in Mark 4:29, at the end of the first parable: “As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.” 

The “He” here is not the farmer who scatters the seed in the first few verses of the parable. Look, please, at Joel 3:13. The words from this Old Testament prophet’s book lay behind Jesus’ words to us today. It says: “Swing the sickle, for the harvest is ripe. Come, trample the grapes, for the winepress is full and the vats overflow—so great is their wickedness!”

Both this passage from Joel and the words of Jesus in Mark 4:29, are about the ultimate judgment that will come to this world. The world will hurtle along from one evil day to the next. Evil will overflow through the life of the world. Those who refuse to repent and believe in Jesus will keep on sinning unrepentantly and never blink an eye. 

Then God will wield His sickle. This world will come to an end. Only the seeds that have borne grain--only those who believe in Jesus Christ--will rise again.

This is why you and I must get over our fears and ask the Holy Spirit each day to present us with opportunities to scatter the seed of the gospel. 

We need to ask God to give us time in our conversations with our neighbors, friends, and family members to tell them that surrender to Jesus Christ is the only way to life with God. 

We need to ask God to help us scatter the seeds of His kingdom! 

But how do we quiet Lutheran Christians find a way to scatter the seed of the gospel so that others can come to eternal life with God? Here are a few steps you can take toward being an active witness for Christ. 

First: Maintain intimacy with Christ. Use what we Lutherans call "the means of grace," the routes God takes to fill us with faith, to give you a closer walk with Jesus Christ. These include God's Word, which we need to study, and Holy Communion. They also include prayer, conversation with the Lord. Through each, Christ draws us closer to Himself and cultivates an intimacy with us that God craves. 

Second: Live in daily repentance and renewal. Repentance is changing our minds about our sins and turning to God for the forgiveness He offers through Christ. Two major things will happen when we live in daily repentance and renewal. One, God helps us to avoid sins that might harm us, harm others, or harm our relationship with God. Two, God helps others see the authenticity of our faith. When others see that we are admittedly imperfect people who seek each day to orient our lives to the will of God, it will enhance the credibility of our witness for Christ. 

Third: Be intentional about forming friendships with spiritually-disconnected people. Jesus was always reaching out to unbelieving people. God's Holy Spirit can empower us to reach out to the same kinds of people and, as we share our witness for Jesus with them, some will follow Jesus. Be sure as you form such friendships, you maintain strong friendships with fellow believers with whom you study Scripture, pray, and maintain accountability in a small group of Christians with whom you regularly meet. Without this anchor of faith and love, you could be lured away from Christ yourself. You’ll be hearing more about this as we deepen the discipleship culture of Living Water and implement Simple Church

Fourth: Remember your own story. It’s the true story of how Christ daily impacts your life that will give you the “street cred” to scatter the seeds of the gospel among the people you know and meet. 

Fifth: Be kind. Romans 2:4 says that the kindness of God is given in order to lead us (and others) to repentance. God has been kind to us. Although we deserve death and condemnation, He has patiently given us time to become acquainted with His Son, repent for our sins, and believe in Jesus. Being kind also means being patient toward your disbelieving friends. Give them the time and space to experience God's love so that God can give growth and maturity to the seeds you scatter, so that they can believe in Jesus and grow as His children too. 

When the kingdom of God that Jesus came into the world to bring, takes hold in a person’s life, it brings comfort, hope, and, what the Bible calls, a "peace with God that transcends all understanding," peace in the midst of even the most difficult and hard moments in this life and unfettered peace in eternity after we, like our Lord Jesus, have risen from the dead and are in the presence of our Father. 

May God use us to share His kingdom with everyone we know. Amen

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Hazel by Bob Dylan

I've acknowledged many times that Bob Dylan doesn't have a great voice.

It doesn't matter to me, because he happens to be a great musician who composes great songs.

Part of the power of Dylan's music is how he plumbs the depths of human experience and expresses it in often memorable ways, lyrically and musically.

This song is on Planet Waves, the same LP that features Forever Young (both versions). Hazel is really simple. But even here, Dylan expresses what may be universal yearnings, in this case the yearnings of every man contemplating the one he thinks may be the woman of his life or of every woman considering the one she suspects is the man of her life.

Dylan doesn't idealize the physical here, but the woman herself. He starts:
Hazel, dirty blonde hair
I wouldn't be ashamed to be seen with you anywhere
I think it's true that when we look for mates, we look for people who won't shame us in public or among the other's friends or ours, among our families or theirs.

We look for someone we know that we would never shame because of, not just our love for them, but also our respect for them.

The other lines that particularly strike me, though I love the lyrics of the entire song, come in the bridge:
Oh no, I don’t need any reminders 
To know how much I really care 
But it’s just making me blinder and blinder 
Because I’m up on a hill and still you’re not there
To me, these are the words of someone who may have achieved success, who is applauded by others for a job well-done. He or she is "up on a hill." But it means nothing because, as Dylan says to the one he loves, "still you're not there." 

God made us for relationship. Not all are called to be married. But for those who are, the simple aspirations of a potential husband looking for in a wife or a potential wife looking for a husband. 

Not perfection. 

Not a blind admirer. 

But someone whose love and respect honors and humbles and inspires and comforts us. 

Someone we want to honor, inspire, comfort and respect. 

Someone willing to go in the same direction in which we're going. 

Someone we care about so much that when they call, we'll show up.

Someone to whom we're committed and who will be committed to us.

Someone who changes us with just a little touch of their love.

This is a great love song.

'The Onion' NASA conspiracy guy no different from the 'Jesus never existed' people...Goofy

The next time a friend hits you with a conspiracy theory, tell them that they sound as silly as this guy.

Slow-Witted Conspiracy Theorist Convinced Government Behind NASA
Posted by The Onion on Friday, June 12, 2015

Most conspiracy theorists are as goofy as this one presented by the satirists at The Onion. Whether they're the Truthers claiming that 9/11 was an act of the US government, the assassination conspiracists who say that Lee Harvey Oswald didn't act alone in killing John F. Kennedy, or that small band of ill-informed New Atheists who claim that Jesus Christ never existed, this is how conspiracy theorists sound: Heedless of facts, intellectually challenged, lacking in common sense.

Don't misunderstand. Conspiracies are hatched all the time. But eventually, conspiracies that do exist, are found out, especially big ones involving lots of people. Someone talks. Motives change.

And big conspiracies have an especially short shelf life in our hyper-mediated age. You can get away with being a white woman who claims to be black for a little while, for example, but eventually the digital trail leads to your door.

Conspiracies usually fall apart under the weight of counter-incentives. In other words, a group of people may hatch a conspiracy. But when potential pay-offs or the threat of prison or death come along, the conspiracy falls apart. Someone cracks.

This is why the present assertions from some that Jesus never existed are absurd. It posits a gigantic conspiracy surrounding the Christian message: that God was born into the world in the person of Jesus Christ, that He led a perfect life, that He died on a cross, that He rose from the dead, and that He ascended into heaven, where He lives now. (And that all who repent and believe in Jesus have life with God.)

The New Testament reports that thousands saw Jesus. It also reports that more than 500 people encountered Him after He rose from the dead.

If all of it--Jesus' life, His resurrection, and everything else--is a big conspiracy, it would be one of the world's strangest.


Because none of its "perpetrators" had anything to gain, from spouting such a message if it weren't true.

And they had everything to lose: their lives, whatever property they possessed, their chances for success.

Agnostic New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman does not accept the Lordship of Jesus, nor His divinity.

But he recently wrote an interesting piece making mincemeat of the assertions of some of today's New Atheists that Jesus didn't exist.

Here's a portion of what he wrote in response to these conspiracy theorists on The Huffinton Post:
With respect to Jesus, we have numerous, independent accounts of his life in the sources lying behind the Gospels (and the writings of Paul) -- sources that originated in Jesus' native tongue Aramaic and that can be dated to within just a year or two of his life (before the religion moved to convert pagans in droves). Historical sources like that are pretty astounding for an ancient figure of any kind. Moreover, we have relatively extensive writings from one first-century author, Paul, who acquired his information within a couple of years of Jesus' life and who actually knew, first hand, Jesus' closest disciple Peter and his own brother James. If Jesus did not exist, you would think his brother would know it.  
Moreover, the claim that Jesus was simply made up falters on every ground. The alleged parallels between Jesus and the "pagan" savior-gods in most instances reside in the modern imagination: We do not have accounts of others who were born to virgin mothers and who died as an atonement for sin and then were raised from the dead (despite what the sensationalists claim ad nauseum in their propagandized versions).  
Moreover, aspects of the Jesus story simply would not have been invented by anyone wanting to make up a new Savior. The earliest followers of Jesus declared that he was a crucified messiah. But prior to Christianity, there were no Jews at all, of any kind whatsoever, who thought that there would be a future crucified messiah. The messiah was to be a figure of grandeur and power who overthrew the enemy. Anyone who wanted to make up a messiah would make him like that. Why did the Christians not do so? 
Because they believed specifically that Jesus was the Messiah. And they knew full well that he was crucified. The Christians did not invent Jesus. They invented the idea that the messiah had to be crucified. [Here, I disagree with Ehrman. While Jewish popular culture didn't accept the idea of a crucified Messiah, I believe that such a Messiah is anticipated in the Old Testament.]
One may well choose to resonate with the concerns of our modern and post-modern cultural despisers of established religion (or not). But surely the best way to promote any such agenda is not to deny what virtually every sane historian on the planet -- Christian, Jewish, Muslim, pagan, agnostic, atheist, what have you -- has come to conclude based on a range of compelling historical evidence.  
Whether we like it or not, Jesus certainly existed.
The theory that the assertion of Jesus' existence is all the result of some elaborate conspiracy, is no different from all the other silly conspiracy theories that people use to deny reality. And like many such conspiracy theories, deeply destructive and ignorant.

Saturday This and That

Things that caught my eye this week.

Secretariat versus American Pharoah...
...In a race, which horse would win? By the way, the name of the latest Triple Crown winner throws me off. The title of the Egyptian false deity/king was Pharaoh. But hey, if misspelling was good enough for the Beatles, it's good enough for a winning racehorse.

5 really bad reasons to leave a church...
...from Relevant magazine.

How to know you're from the Midwest... case you forget, I guess.

It absolutely rings true! (Thanks to my daughter for sharing this with me. By the way, I was just told that I have four cans of opened pop in the refrigerator.)

Want to get obese?...
...Spend one year ordering one signature item from one of these places just once time a week.

How can liberal arts education be saved?...
...By proving its utility.

Happy she didn't go to law school...

Is Lindsey Graham the candidate for president people are looking for...
...while no one is really really looking at him? Chris Cilizza has an interesting take on the South Carolina Republican. (No endorsement implied. I don't do politics here, although I sometimes observe it.)

The Bible's 'love chapter'...
...isn't just for weddings. In fact, it was originally written by Saint Paul to a first-century church riven by division caused by loveless spiritual pride. That's not where the author of takes this wonderful piece, though and it's worth the few minutes will take your time to read.