Friday, October 02, 2015


Using the 5 by 5 by 5 list of Bible readings, I changed up the format for my Quiet Time today. I spent my time with God using something that a Navigators coach recently taught several of us: STOP, LOOK, LISTEN, RESPOND.

First, you stop to focus on the God we know in Christ. I spend time remembering God's majesty, power, rectitude, goodness, and grace and I praise Him for Who He is. I also confess the ways in which I violate His majesty and His will, seeking forgiveness through Christ.

Then you look into a passage of Scripture. It could be a chapter, a verse, or a phrase.

Then you listen to what God is telling you, a message that seems especially geared to to you. You ask God to show you what particular thing He wants to tell or show you in His Word that day.

Then, you respond. Your response might simply be to thank God. Or confess a sin. Or offering a word of praise. Or lifting up a prayer for somebody. Or it might be an action step.

Today, a few words of Jesus smacked me hard.

Here's what I wrote in my journal:
LOOK: In the Sermon on the Plain, Jesus, You say: “Give to everyone who begs from you…” (Luke 6:30)

LISTEN: Everyone. There’s no escape hatch in that word. Last Friday evening, I walked passed three men who asked me for money. My usual defenses went up. Yesterday, we drove on North High in the campus area. Sitting at a red light, there was a hopeless looking man holding a cardboard sign that said, “Homeless” on it. A can for donations was in front of him. His head was on his chest, his eyes closed, except for a few moments, when he looked up and around. The light changed. We drove on.
Give to everyone who begs from you. Nothing there about doing a background check or acting skeptical. No worrying about them spending what’s given on alcohol. Everyone. Forgive me, Lord.
RESPOND: I need to get restaurant gift cards, for places that don’t sell alcohol, to hand to people like these. This is one way I can respond to what You command in Luke 6:30. I want Your words to be more than just words.
I've read Jesus' command in Luke 6:30, probably hundreds of times. But somehow, after I'd asked God to show me what I needed to hear today, it was Jesus' insistence that I "give to everyone who begs from you" that I finally noticed.

Now that I have noticed, I pray that God will help me to always be ready to respond.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Francis Fallout

Tonight, on the way back to the church to teach a session of Catechism class, I stopped by a Speedway station to pick up a bottle of water. A clerk not waiting on me spotted me, dressed in my clerical collar, paying up. She made a point of telling me, "You have a very nice evening." Francis fallout.

Later, after class, I stood at the Kroger deli counter, where a man approached me. "I'm not Catholic," he said. "Neither am I," I replied, smiling and touching him on the shoulder, "I'm Lutheran." "Oh," he said, "but I have been delighted to watch everything surrounding the pope this weekend." "I have too. He is a humble man of faith," I said. "Yes, he is," he replied enthusiastically. More Francis fallout.

Francis has negated a lot of the bad press we Christians often get, press usually created by the stupid things that supposedly Christian people say and do in the public square in the name of Jesus.

The pope has managed to do this without compromising the Christian message, sharing it with compassion and love, even the parts of the message that we self-willed human beings are inclined to resist.

There are differences between the theologies of the various Christian traditions. But during this week in Cuba and the United States, Pope Francis has done the whole Christian Church proud. And that is wonderful fallout.

Burdens and the Power of God

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

Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29
On Friday night, we went to a concert performed by the Emerald City Swing Band and a special guest trumpet soloist, Ed Morrison, who has played with some of the biggest pop acts of the past four decades. The concert was attended by many of our classmates from West High in Columbus. One reason for that is that Ed Morrison is a graduate of our high school alma mater. As is the swing band's director, one of my oldest friends. As is my brother-in-law. As are three other West High grads. So, it wasn't just a concert; it was a reunion.

Rare is the day when I don’t have interaction with at least one of my high school classmates. They remain an important part of my life. But it’s always special when we’re able to see each other and spend some time talking. It was an exuberantly joyful event! 

But in the joy, I learned about the burdens some of my classmates are carrying right now. The father of my best man has suddenly taken seriously ill and his family is scrambling to find care for him. The daughter of two other classmates is battling cancer. And as we walked on High Street in the Short North near the concert venue, we encountered more than a few poor souls asking for money. 

It struck me again, as it does often, how burdened our lives can become. Life can be hard and our burdens can be overwhelming.

Jesus once said that in this world, adversities, like rain, would fall on the righteous and unrighteous alike. A friend once reminded me when I was complaining about my imperfect life: “Mark, you know that this isn’t heaven, right?” My friend’s words put me in mind of something else that Jesus said: “In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

And Jesus has overcome this world, with its sinfulness and the death sentence that hangs over every human being from the moment they are conceived. 

All who turn from their sins and believe in the God we see in Jesus Christ will receive forgiveness and life everlasting with God. 

But until the days when we who believe in Jesus die and we are raised to life again, we live in this world and must, among other issues, face two important questions. 

First, how do we deal with our own burdens? 

Second, how do we help ease the burdens that others bear? 

And the fact is, that if we don't follow Jesus, we may be obsessed with the first question, but we will never even be interested in answering the second. Martin Luther said that one way of understanding sin is that it's a turning in on self, away from God, away from others. The most pathetic and unhappy people I know are people who are turned inward in this way. Relying only on themselves, they're incapable of bearing their own burdens in life and don't even think about helping other people with theirs.

To instruct us and inspire us in dealing with those two questions--how do we deal with our burdens and how do we help others with theirs?--we’ll turn this morning to our first lesson, which hops and skips through Numbers 11, the Bible’s fourth book. 

The incident it recounts takes place just three days into the wilderness journey of God’s Old Testament people, Israel or the Hebrews. God has just freed them from more than four hundred years of slavery in Egypt. Yet already, on the day before the incidents in today’s lesson, the people complained about their hard lives. 

Not their hard lives back in Egypt, but their hard lives since God set them free from Egypt, a place where they had spent their lifetimes doing backbreaking labor and where, their captors had routinely murdered their sons

The Israelites apparently suffer from short memories. 

And how often do we, when faced with adverse circumstances, take a what-have-You-done-for-me-lately attitude toward God? How often do we allow the newest crisis to kill our joy in being saved from sin and death by Christ or to rest in the certainty of Jesus’ promise to be with us always?  

Numbers 11:1-2 says that God’s anger burned so hot against the ungrateful Israelites that they became frightened and ran to Moses for protection. Moses prayed for them and God’s anger abated.

But take a look at what happens next, Numbers 11:4: “The rabble [this was a group of Egyptians who had escaped Egypt with God’s people] with them began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, ‘If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost—also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. [They’re nostalgic for their slave days!] But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!’ [They want filet mignon instead of the food God miraculously gives to them every that’s saving them from starvation.]” 

Why were God’s people whining? Because they were allowing their attitudes and behaviors to be influenced by a rabble from an unbelieving world, rather than being influenced by God Himself

In today’s Church, we find too many Christians doing the same thing. They’re influenced more by the world and their own sinful natures than they are by the Word of God. (If they spent time each day in the Word of God, maybe that would change. As it is, Christians spend way more time watching TV, playing on the Internet, and entertaining themselves than they do studying God’s Word or in praying. If you want to know so much of the world is going to hell in a handbasket, these facts will serve to answer the question more than anything else!)

This past week, I have been deeply moved by the visit of Pope Francis to the United States. I know Francis is just a man and much of the media coverage of him has been fawning. Nonetheless, I am deeply moved and inspired by this humble believer in Christ. 

But during this week, I have also found it dismaying to hear people picking and choosing what parts of the pope’s messages they wanted to hear and what they wanted to ignore. 

Some loved what he said about exercising good stewardship of the planet on which God has placed us, but wanted to ignore him when he said that the murder of babies in the womb as a form of birth control is wrong. 

Some wanted to applaud him when he upheld the teachings of the Bible and of Jesus that marriage is a covenant between God, a woman, and a man, but chose to turn a deaf ear when he said that we who have more of this world’s goods should share with those who, like Jesus and His family, are poor or homeless or refugees. 

But the God Who hates murder and loves marriage is also the God Who made us managers and stewards of this planet and has told us that we serve Him when we heed the needs of the poor, the marginalized, the homeless, the refugees. God will not be divided! 

There are too many Christians today who want to take just enough of Jesus and of the Word of God to make them feel good, but not enough of Jesus to let Him be the Lord of their lives. They whine at the notion of being faithful, self-sacrificing disciples submissive to the Lordship of Jesus, all the while touting that they are members in good standing of the Church. I can be as guilty as anyone else, I confess! 

And don't be confused, I have no interest in these matters as political issues. I'm only talking about them as they relate to you and me in the Church and how we live our everyday lives. They force us to ask ourselves about the level of our obedience to the One we confess to be our God and Lord. They force us to ask whether we're committed to following Jesus only as long as it suits us.

The simple fact of the matter, is that we will never be able to deal with the burdens of everyday living if we take our cues from the values of this world or if we allow Jesus’ message or Lordship to be divided. We will only be able to deal with them as we let the God we know in Jesus Christ be the absolute King of our lives. Period.

When we let Jesus be our Lord, God will give us the power not only to endure our own burdens, but also to lighten the burdens of others and so, to more fully experience what it means to be God’s children

In Numbers 11:10-15, Israel’s earthly leader Moses does a little bellyaching of his own. 

He asks God what God has done to him. He asks how he’s supposed to find food for all these ingrates. He asks God to just kill him if He insists on subjecting him to such ill treatment by forcing him to lead these people. 

For now, God ignores the fact that Moses has fallen into the trap of thinking that he, Moses, and not God, is really leading these people. 

Instead, God moves to ease Moses’ burden. In verse 16, he tells Moses to gather the seventy elders

Then, in a section of Numbers 11 that isn’t part of our lesson, God tells the elders that he’s going to fill them with the same Holy Spirit He has given to Moses so that they will be empowered to speak God’s words to the people and to provide servant leadership to them. 

God also says that He’s going to give meat to these whiny people every day for the next month, so much meat that in the end, the people will be sick of it, vomiting it out through their noses. I guess the lesson there is to be careful what you whine for (Numbers 11:20)! 

But the big takeaway is that Moses had gone to God with his burden and God had lightened it by empowering seventy others to bear it with Moses

In Numbers 11:24-29, Moses tells the people what God has said and the Holy Spirit descended to the elders. As would happen more than a millennium later with the followers of Jesus on the first Christian Pentecost fifty days after Jesus rose from the dead, the elders began speaking the Word of God. Today, God gives His Holy Spirit to every baptized believer in Jesus Christ. 

The Spirit empowers us to rest in the comfort of knowing that God helps us with our burdens and makes us part of the Church, where we lighten each other’s burdens and seek to lighten the burdens of others by sharing the Good News of Jesus, praying for others, and undertaking acts of service for those outside the fellowship of the Church in Jesus’ name.

Near the end of today’s lesson, we’re told that two of the elders, Eldad and Medad, somehow didn’t make the meeting. (Maybe they were Lutherans and just running late.) 

Yet the Holy Spirit finds them and in the power of the Spirit, they begin to prophesy. They spoke the Word of God. 

Joshua, Moses’ assistant, is upset by this. The other elders had stopped prophesying, but these guys just kept going. Was that authorized? Had that been cleared by Moses. 

Moses asks Joshua: “Are you jealous for my sake?” 

We in the Church shouldn’t be jealous when God empowers others to do things to God’s glory that we aren’t doing or can’t do. 

The Holy Spirit can empower each of us to do that work in God’s Kingdom each of us is called to do

When each of us lives in the power of the Spirit at home, on the job, at school, and even with the Church, the work of God gets done, lives are changed, the homeless and the refugees are housed, the babies are born, the women are uplifted, marriage is honored, God’s earth is cared for, eternal life comes to those who previously didn’t know Christ, and God--Father, Son, and Holy Spirit--is glorified. 

We also then lighten each other’s burdens and God sends someone alongside of us to lighten ours. 

Moses says to Joshua at the end of our lesson, “I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!” 

The tragedy of the contemporary Church is that while every baptized person has the Holy Spirit, Who can lighten their loads and use them to lighten the loads of others, has, in many ways, lost touch with God

This should not be so, my dear sisters and brothers. I urge you to take time each day to study God’s Word, to pray, and to ask God, “Lord, today how can I lighten the burdens of the world?” 

Then, go and do what the Lord tells you to do. Amen

Thursday, September 24, 2015

The pope's message is for us all

To those Democrats and Republicans who want to use the Pope to prop up their political agendas, a few thoughts.

Both parties should feel appropriately chastised by the Pope's announcements.

Both parties are heedless of the dignity of human life.

Both parties owe their existence and their election victories to appealing to the baseness and the egotism of their respective bases.

Pope Francis is neither a liberal nor a conservative.

He is a follower of Jesus Christ.

And just as Jesus offended all who based their lives and measured their well being on human philosophies, Pope Francis will necessarily offend politicians and partisans of both parties.

But if they will heed the gospel message they will find life with God and be challenged to find ways in which they can give that life to others.

I'm not a Roman Catholic Christian. I'm a Lutheran Christian and a pastor. I take great joy in the Pope's ministry and words and I pray that we will also listen closely to His message. We all have a lot of sins to give up and, in Christ, a lot of life-empowering grace to claim by faith in the crucified and risen Savior.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Four books

I mentioned David McCullough's book, The Wright Brothers, in a post last night. I finished reading it a few days ago. It's a great and surprisingly quick read and the first of all the biographies of the Wrights that I have read that have helped this caveman mind appreciate the peculiar insights the brothers had that allowed them to break through to powered, heavier-than-air flight. As I said last evening, like all of McCullough's books, this one is a treat!

Yesterday, I began reading Joseph Ellis' The Quartet: Orchestrating the Second American Revolution: 1783-1789. Ellis looks at the development of the United States Constitution in the period following the end of the Revolution and narrates the key roles played by the "quartet" of George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison in bringing the governing document into being. Absent their work, the new republic would have been doomed to chaos and susceptible to foreign conquerors as it labored to get out of debt and establish itself under the ineffectual Articles of Confederation. The Constitution was the second American Revolution. Ellis, as always, writes well, clearly, and insightfully. (This fits with a contention I've often made here that the American Revolution was not completed until the Constitution was ratified.)

I'm also now reading Bill Mowry's The Ways of the Alongsider, a helpful guidebook on how Christians can share their faith with others, life to life. Over the past year, Bill has been my coach in deepening my walk with Christ. He's as helpful in print as he is one-on-one.

And, in the wake of the decision to resume calling Mount Denali the mountain we once referred to as Mount McKinley, I'm re-reading Kevin Phillips' short biography President William McKinley. Of all the US presidents to come from Ohio, McKinley was by far the best. Phillips argues that the Canton native was a consequential president in two ways.

First, he upended the partisan logjam that had for several decades produced Republican presidents interspersed with Democratic presidents, back and forth, leaving the country with no clear policy direction for more than twenty years. McKinley created what remained a sustained Republican occupation of the White House, with the exception of a narrow victory for Woodrow Wilson--brought about by Theodore Roosevelt's 1912 run for president on the Progressive Party ticket, thus dividing Republicans--from 1896 to 1932, when Democrat Franklin Roosevelt brought basic dominion for his party through 1968.

Second, McKinley, Phillips argues, is not Mount Rushmore-worthy, but safely near the top of the second-tier of effective presidents. He was, it can be argued, the first modern US president in both domestic and foreign policy.

Phillips' discussion of the unique role Ohio played in nineteenth century America alone makes the book worth reading. The state was the country's greatest center of innovation, business risk, and scientific inquiry, playing a part in world history that California's Silicon Valley later played about one-hundred years later.

I recommend all these books. (By the way, I'm indifferent to the change in name for Mount Denali. A more appropriate memorial for William McKinley can certainly be found.)

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Huffman Prairie and the Wright Brothers

After their success at Kitty Hawk, Dayton, Ohio's Wright Brothers still needed to perfect their powered airplane technology. Instead of trekking back to Kill Devil Hills in North Carolina, chosen for its twenty-mile per hour average winds and its remote location on the Outer Banks, the Wrights decided to stay in Ohio, relying on the engine forged by their employee, Charlie Taylor, and a catapult to set and keep them aloft.

During the "flying seasons" of 1904 and 1905, Wilbur and Orville Wright experimented at Huffman Prairie, an 84-acre parcel of flat land that became the world's first airport. The brothers took hundreds of test flights there.

Huffman Prairie was about ten miles from the Wrights' home on Hawthorn Street and from their bicycle shop on Third in Dayton. They reached Huffman Prairie via the Interurban trolley that ran between Dayton and Springfield. The picture below shows the spot where the trolley stop was. As you approach the prairie, you travel along a narrow, tree-lined road that must be on the old trolley right-of-way.

Huffman Prairie is now part of the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base complex in Fairborn, Ohio. Below is an Ohio historical marker telling a bit about Huffman Prairie. You can walk all around the site where the history of the world was significantly changed.

Below are two views of Huffman Prairie. The second one shows replicas of the Wrights' hangar and catapult on the site where they placed them in 1904 and 1905.

If you haven't read David McCullough's wonderful biography of the Wright Brothers, I highly recommend it. It's a real treat! (By the way, Tom Hanks has bought the movie rights to McCullough's book.)

"If I were giving a young man advice as to how he might succeed in life, I would tell him, pick out a good father and mother, and begin life in Ohio." (Wilbur Wright)

Evening at the park

Lake 3 at the Darby Bends Lakes section of Prairie Oaks Metropark near Columbus. Saw lots of Monarch butterflies there today during a late afternoon walk.


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

James 3:13-4:10
When Muhammad Ali was heavyweight boxing champion of the world, he was supposedly a passenger on a commercial flight that developed some problems. As you know, Ali never appeared to lack confidence. He called himself, "the greatest." The airline attendant announced that because of some turbulence, all passengers needed to fasten their seat belts. “Superman don’t need no seat belt,” Ali is supposed to have told the flight attendant. “That’s true,” she replied, “But Superman don’t need no airplane either. Fasten your seat belt.”

It’s good to have confidence. I believe that God wants us to feel confident in ourselves, children made in the very image of God, redeemed by Christ so that we can claim our inheritance as God's children. But arrogance is an altogether different thing.

The wisdom of the world says that pushing your way to the top is just the way things are supposed to be. But, in our second lesson for today, James 3:13-4:10, James reminds us that such an attitude isn’t the wisdom that comes from the God we know in Jesus Christ.

He reminds us too, that this me-first, pseudo-wisdom of the world has horrible consequences. James says, starting in verse 13: “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such ‘wisdom’ does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.“

Followers of Jesus Christ know that arrogance is inconsistent with our faith. 

We know, too, that Christ gives to all who turn from sin and follow Him, all who grasp God’s grace, the unshakable approval of God. 

We know that we have God in our corners forever, helping us to become our best selves. 

And when you’re confident of your identity as a child of God, you don’t need to resort to the pathetic crutch of arrogance. Like Martin Luther, when dogged by temptations or doubts about our value, we can say, “But I am baptized!” We belong to the crucified and risen Jesus Christ!

Yet the war in the gut that James writes about in our lesson today seems to happen inside those of us who believe in Jesus Christ as much as it does in non-Christians. 

Why is that? 

Why do we Christians refuse to allow the wisdom that God willingly gives to all followers of Christ, just for the asking, to guide our lives? 

Some psychologists tell us that we tend to live out of certain stories that we tell ourselves about ourselves. 

Sometimes, we live out of stories of arrogance. 

Often, our self-told stories cause us to sell ourselves short, believing that we’re not enough. 

Both are equally destructive. 

James and the rest of the Bible would say that all these stories come from the devil. 

But because we often believe those stories, we can make shambles of our lives, often compensating for our perceived inadequacies by adopting attitudes of arrogance. 

Whether the stories we tell ourselves lead us to feelings of arrogance or inadequacy though, the result is always that we fail to tap into the power, love, and goodness of God to feel confident about who we are as children of God.

“What causes fights and quarrels among you?” James asks. “Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight.” 

The consequences of believing false stories about ourselves can be seen not only in the lives of individual Christians, but also in the lives of many Christian congregations.

Gerald Mann tells the true story of a pastor and his family who had something horrible happen as they were arriving in a new community, where a local church had called them. Just as they entered the town, their baby, the couple's only child had a seizure. They rushed him to the local hospital where all attempts to revive him failed. There, in the waiting room where she’d gotten the horrible news, the mother was understandably distraught and screamed out to God, occasionally uttering profanities.

One of the nurses on duty was a member of the congregation. She told the congregational leaders how the grieving mother had initially reacted to the death of her child. Those leaders, in turn, went to their denomination’s area superintendent to say that because of how “unspiritual” the pastor’s wife was, they wanted a different pastor. 

The superintendent told the leaders that the members of that church needed to learn what it is to be the church, a fellowship where imperfect people can share the strength and the power to live which the resurrected Jesus gives to all who believe in Him. 

The congregational leaders didn’t like that answer. And so, the president of the congregation pulled the new pastor aside and said, “Well, I guess we’re stuck with you. But don’t you ever mention the death of your son or any pain you may be going through. We hired you to make us feel good, not to join you in your family’s difficulties.”

Here you had a congregation whose members believed a false story. They believed that if their pastor had an imperfect life, it would make their lives less perfect. 

He violated the false story they were telling about themselves and they didn’t want him messing the story up by telling the truth that this world isn’t always perfect even for Christians and that while followers of Christ aren’t always strong, we have a God to Whom we can go to be strengthened together. 

The Church is called to be the practical, real-life laboratory where Jesus Christ gives us new eternal identities born not of looking out for number one, but of letting Number One look out for us, where God’s children look out for each other and our neighbors.

James says that we have those kinds of congregational fellowships when we ask God to help us own the humble confidence and self-assurance that belong to His children. It comes, he says, when we surrender to Christ. 

That’s when we quit having to prove ourselves, can bask in God’s approval, and can look beyond ourselves

Sometimes, it should be said, we do ask God for His help, after a fashion. James writes, starting in the middle of 4:2: “...You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”

Instead, James says, starting in verse 7: “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” 

It’s only when we utterly submit to God, taking responsibility for our sins and seeking His forgiveness for the sake of Jesus Who died for imperfect people like you and me that we have true wisdom, as well experience God’s forgiveness and new life.

In an old folk tale, a woman loses her only child. She goes to the local holy man and asks him to bring the child back to life. He tells her, “Search for the home that has never known sorrow, and, in that home, find the magic mustard seed and bring it to me. Then we will have the power to bring your child back.”

The woman’s first stop was a palace. Sure that everything would be joyful there, she knocked on the door, explaining that she was looking for a home without sorrow. “You’ve come to the wrong place,” she was told. And then the owner of that palace recounted all the sorrows that he and his family had experienced in spite of their wealth. The woman thought to herself, “Who is better able to help these people than I, who have had such misfortune of my own?” So, she stayed to comfort them.

Later, she continued her search. She went from hovels to palaces and in each place, she got so involved in helping other people through their griefs that she was able to deal with her own. In forgetting about herself, she found healing and peace.

Arrogance destroys faith, fellowship, and hope. Buying into false stories, whether they’re ones that tell us how great we are or how insignificant we are, or how aggrieved we are, creates conflicts within us and creates our conflicts with others.

Humble surrender to Jesus Christ, allowing Him to enlist us in His army of love for God and love for neighbor (1) builds faith, (2) enhances Christian fellowship, and (3) fills us with the hope of the Good News that all who turn from sin and believe in Jesus Christ have life with God for eternity.

The wisdom of this world--which is really the wisdom of hell--tells us to look out for ourselves. The wisdom of heaven says to reach up to Christ, reach in to be mutually strengthened in faith through the fellowship of Christ’s Church, and reach out to others with the good news of Jesus. 

Worldly wisdom leads to turmoil within and turmoil without. 

The wisdom of God, the wisdom that comes when we follow Jesus Christ, leads to peace in our souls and peace with others. 

Which wisdom will you choose? Which story will you believe, your own story about you or the story Jesus Christ has created just for you? On whose wisdom will you build your life, your own or that of God? 

Friday, September 18, 2015

Post-debate thoughts

I saw ten minutes of the presidential debate on Wednesday night, then switched to a baseball game.

Then today, I read this:
"Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, 'He yearns jealously over the spirit cthat he has made to dwell in us'? But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, 'God opposes the proud, but dgives grace to the humble.'” (James 4:4-6)
This passage, part of the second lesson for many of our churches this coming Sunday, makes me think: I wish there was a way to elect people to the presidency and other public offices who don't want or seek those offices, who don't need to pander to us or get our votes in order to feel worthy, and who don't feel they have to put a knock on others to get what they want.

And in the case of Christians being considered for the presidency or other offices, I would love to see candidates whose sense of confidence and worthiness comes simply from knowing that they are loved by God and redeemed through Christ and from no other source.

If these things were to happen, my vote would always go to the woman or the man willing to serve, not to the who craves honor, applause, or power.

A leader should be, above all else, a servant.

What do you think?

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Taming our tongues

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

James 3:1-12
The book of James, from which our second lesson for today comes, is a practical handbook for Christian living. Some might wonder why we need such a thing. We know that all who repent and believe in Jesus Christ are saved from sin and death and have life with God that begins now and will be lived in perfection in eternity. Saved by grace, people might wonder, who needs a handbook?

Thank God, salvation, life with God, and the comfort and power of the Holy Spirit’s presence are all free gifts given to all with surrendering trust in Jesus Christ

But, according to the Bible, even after we’ve been baptized, affirmed our belief in Christ, and become part of God’s kingdom, we still live in this world until either Christ returns or we die and rise into eternity with God. 

And as long as we live here, the old Adam or the old Eve in us must, as Martin Luther writes in The Small Catechism, “be drowned by daily sorrow for sin and repentance and be put to death.” 

It’s only then, Luther says, “that the new person [can] come forth every day and rise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.” 

Unless we stay open to God’s grace and guidance and remain submitted to the God we know in Jesus Christ as the final authority over our lives, the temptations to take God’s grace for granted and to take up any sin that pleases us can overrun us and steer us, bit by bit, away from an eternity with God to an eternity in hell.

James’ guidebook for Christians isn’t a “how to get salvation” book. It’s more like a mirror that we can hold up to our lives and, first, see our need of Christ’s forgiveness and, second, see our need of the Holy Spirit’s help us to live our lives in response to God's grace. 

The issue addressed by James in today’s second lesson, the issue of controlling our tongues, the words that we speak, may not seem like a big deal to us. But it is to God. 

Take a look our lesson, James 3:1-12, please. In verses 2 and 3, James says that little things--like small bits in the mouths of horses or tiny rudders on the backs of giant ships--can exercise great control over and have a huge impact on big things. Even the words we speak. 

Then, he says, starting in verse 5: “...the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell....” 

James goes on to say that we know how to tame wild animals, but no human being can tame the tongue or the damage it can do. 

In verses 9 and 10, he hands out his most severe indictment of the damage done by our mouths: “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.

Our words are powerful; even the ones we toss off casually. 

I think the reason for this is simple. We are the only ones of God’s creatures “made in the image” of the God Who spoke and brought the whole universe into being. 

It’s no coincidence then, that one of the first ways in which the Old Testament book of Genesis says that Adam, the first human being, expressed human dominion over creation was to give names--to speak descriptive words--over every other creature. 

This power--the power to give names or labels to people or things--reflects the image of God within every human being. 

But after the fall into sin, we sinners naturally began misusing this gift of speech. In fact, James says, because sin has filled us, our tongues have taken control of us to the point that sometimes we speak without thinking or speak on the basis of malicious thinking, bringing harm to others and to ourselves.

This is serious business! In Matthew 24:36-37, Jesus says:
“I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” 
I don’t know about you, but those words of Jesus make me more than a wee bit uncomfortable.

The failure to control our mouths, then, is a sin issue. Careless words, whether spoken in judgment of others, to criticize others without loving them, or to pass along the latest gossip, are not harmless. Unrepented, careless words put our eternal relationship with God at risk. 

God has not rescinded the Eighth Commandment: “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” 

We “bear false witness” not just when we tell outright lies about others. 

Martin Luther writes of this commandment: “We are to fear and love God so that we do not betray, slander, lie, or gossip about our neighbors, but speak well of them, and put the most charitable construction on all that they do.”

But, there is good news

Our intemperate tongues (and all our other sins) don’t need to control us or our eternal destinies. 

We can live differently. 

We can move closer to God and stop driving a wedge between God and ourselves through our careless words.

In Mark 8:34, Jesus tells those who would follow Him into eternity: ““If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” 

The indispensable step in getting free of the sins of our mouths, along with all our other sins, is to own them, to own God’s rightful condemnation of them, then bring those sins to Jesus, confess them to God, admit that we have used our words to curse others, gossip about others and tear them down. 

Drawing on the covenant God has made with us in our baptism, we need to drown our old sinful selves and allow, through the grace God bears for all who believe in the crucified and risen Jesus, our new selves to “rise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.” 

Like God’s Old Testament people in Psalm 130:4, we can sing to our God: “...with you there is forgiveness, so that we can, with reverence, fear you.” 

If, as you’ve listened to James’ word to us today, God has brought to mind ways in which you have misused the gift of speech, you can pray, “God, for the sake of Jesus, forgive me for using my words to bring pain to others or dishonor to You.” 

Whenever we confess our sins to God in the Name of Jesus, there is forgiveness in God! We can count on that. 

But what then? What do we do next? How do we let God’s Holy Spirit guide us so that we don’t engage in careless or harmful talk? 

Here are few suggestions.

First: We surrender our brains and our mouths to God, along with the rest of our lives. A good prayer to offer each day might be the one in Psalm 19:14: “May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.”

Second: Before we open our mouths to share something critical of another human being, we should ask ourselves, “Does this help anything?” Ephesians 4:29 says: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Note: Some critical words are helpful and are loving. If they are offered in that way, God has our backs! Elsewhere in Ephesians, we're told to "speak the truth in love" and "in your anger do not sin."

Third: We ask ourselves another question, "Would we say these words if we were in the physical presence of Jesus Christ?" The fact is that everything we say is said in the presence of Christ, whether we realize it or not. Jesus says in Luke 12:2: “There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known.” Do we really think that Jesus wants to hear every word we decide to say?

Fourth: If our words have harmed another person, it can be appropriate to apologize to them. They may not forgive you. But at least, you will have the satisfaction of making an effort.

Finally: Whether in conversation with others or in conversation with God, try silence. Proverbs 17:28 says: “Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent, and discerning if they hold their tongues.”

But it isn’t just to impress others that we should keep silence, of course. James 1:19 says that we Christians should be “should be quick to listen, slow to speak...” God, as someone has said, gave us two ears and one mouth and our communication probably ought to be in that proportion. When we remain silent and truly listen to others, we come to understand them more and judge them less.

As some of you know, one of my most frequent prayer requests to God is: “Give me the right words and the right silences.” That's a prayer I offer particularly urgently any time I'm called to an emergency situation. I want to honor the God Who gave His only Son so that all who believe in Him may have life forever. I don’t want my mouth to get in the way of God’s grace. 

When, in challenging situations, I remember to pray that prayer, it’s been amazing to me to see how God has answered it. 

There are times, of course, when we must raise our voices in witness to what Christ has done for us and can do for others. There are times to use our mouths to praise God. There are times when we must use words to work out our difference with others or express our love for them. 

But sometimes our greatest witness for Christ comes when we curb our tongues, refrain from the judgment or gossip or the unnecessary gibberish we’re tempted to impart, and just keep silence. 

May we all seek God’s help in guiding and guarding the things we say and so, be able to honor Him with our whole lives. Amen