Wednesday, August 23, 2017

When you break a promise

"Due to circumstances beyond our control." That's the phrase that popped into my mind this morning during my quiet time when I read words of the apostle Paul addressed to the first-century Christian churches in Corinth and Achaia.

There, Paul is explaining why he'd been forced to break his promise to come visit them, not because he wasn't good for his word but because circumstances had changed. But, ever the preacher of Christ, even in the midst of this explanation, Paul couldn't keep from pointing out how reliable the God we know through Christ always is:
Confident of your welcome, I had originally planned two great visits with you—coming by on my way to Macedonia province, and then again on my return trip. Then we could have had a bon-voyage party as you sent me off to Judea. That was the plan.

Are you now going to accuse me of being flip with my promises because it didn’t work out? Do you think I talk out of both sides of my mouth—a glib yes one moment, a glib no the next? Well, you’re wrong. I try to be as true to my word as God is to his. Our word to you wasn’t a careless yes canceled by an indifferent no. How could it be? When Silas and Timothy and I proclaimed the Son of God among you, did you pick up on any yes-and-no, on-again, off-again waffling? Wasn’t it a clean, strong Yes? 
Whatever God has promised gets stamped with the Yes of Jesus. In him, this is what we preach and pray, the great Amen, God’s Yes and our Yes together, gloriously evident. God affirms us, making us a sure thing in Christ, putting his Yes within us. By his Spirit he has stamped us with his eternal pledge—a sure beginning of what he is destined to complete. (2 Corinthians 1:15-22, The Message)
Though my team and I were incapable of making good on our yes, Paul seems to say, remember two things:
(1)We always proclaimed God's "yes" to repentant believers in Christ;
(2) Even when humans fail to keep their promises, when God says "yes" to a promise, you can bank your life on it.
God calls imperfect human beings--which includes every believer in Christ--to share the message of new and everlasting life for all who turn from sin and trustingly follow Jesus. But our faith is not in the imperfect disciples who strive and sometimes fail in their promise-keeping. Our faith is in the God Who, as seen in Christ, always keeps His promises.

I think that this has several implications for the way we live our lives if we confess Christ to be our God and Savior.

First, it means that we need to be judicious in our promise-making. We should only make those promises that we think we are going to be able to keep. When we're associated with Christ, identified by others as Christians, we must remember that we are "ambassadors for Christ" (2 Corinthians 5:20) and strive, as Jesus tells us to "Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil" (Matthew 5:37).

Second, we need to be charitable and understanding when circumstances beyond the control of those from whom we feel we have promises are unable to keep them. This is especially the case when they may be unable to keep their promise to us because of another promise they have made to God. This appears to be the explanation that Paul offers in these verses from 2 Corinthians 1. His extenuating circumstances aren't things like, "Oops! We overslept." Or, "We were having such a great time here, it seemed such a shame to go tearing off to Corinth."

No, Paul says, "I try to be as true to my word as God is to his." Especially when a person has a good track record for keeping promises, we should be understanding when they don't fulfill a promise. Especially when a promise to God may supersede their promise to us. As with Paul and his crew who faced persecution and the call of God to remain where they were rather than heading to see the Corinthians, we should be understanding of those who try to be as true to their word as God is to His Word.

That leads to a third implication in Paul's word to the Corinthians: God is the only One Who ever has kept or ever will keep all His promises. God's Word alone is completely reliable. Even the most well-meaning people flub up. God never flubs up! Isaiah 40:8, says: "The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever." One of my favorite passages of Scripture is Psalm 118:8, which says: "It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in humans."

And here's a fourth implication: Not only should we be judicious, careful, about making promises, we should repent both for careless promise-making and for godly promises broken. We should apologize both to God--because, as C.S. Lewis writes in Mere Christianity, whenever we sin (and carelessly breaking a promise is a sin, a violation of the Eighth Commandment, "You shall not bear false witness"), we sin chiefly against God--and to the person to whom we've made our unfulfilled promise.

Of course, repentance means more than saying we're sorry for committing sin; it also means turning to God in the name of Jesus, receiving God's forgiveness, and allowing the Holy Spirit to this aspect of our lives to help us live more faithfully. In our Lutheran tradition, when we install people into positions of responsibility in our congregations, these people are asked to make a series of promises to God and the congregation. And with each promise, they pledge to seek to fulfill those promises by saying, "Yes, with the help of God."

And what do we do if we truly repent before God and truly apologize to people for our broken promises and people refuse to forgive us?

  • For one thing, don't allow yourself to remain angry about it. Understand that your broken promise may have caused real hurt to the other person. This is especially so when you've had a track record of promise-keeping with them. When a person routinely breaks promises to us, we think, "That's them." But when someone has usually been reliable breaks a promise, the disappointment is great. Be understanding of how the person to whom we've made a broken promise feels. 
  • Also, pray for reconciliation. Ask God to work in both of your lives to make it possible for your relationship to be restored. Ask also that God will banish bitterness from your thinking. Ask God also if there are any further steps you should take. Usually, there are no further steps to be taken; you must simply pray and wait.
  • Finally, ask God to help you to be a more reliable promise-maker in the future.

As someone who has been known to make promises that I've gone on to break and sometimes, unlike Paul in these verse from 2 Corinthians, out of carelessness, I'm glad that there is One Whose promises can always be counted on.

When Jesus came into this world to die and to rise for the benefit of sinful human beings, He fulfilled the promises of God. And His death and resurrection are the guarantors of all the other promises He makes, from the promise to always be with those who follow Him in this world to the promise to prepare a place for His disciples in eternity.

So, I will ask God's help in being judicious and faithful in my promise-making and promise-keeping.

I will seek, with the help of God, to forgive others as God forgives me, when they seem to fail in keeping the promises they have made to me.

But, I will trust the God revealed in Jesus and in the promises He makes in His Word, the Bible, above all else.

[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

Monday, August 21, 2017

Help me to walk through the doors You open, God

This is the journal entry on what God shared with me today during my quiet time. See here for information on how I keep my daily quiet time with God.
Look: “I will stay on at Ephesus until Pentecost, because a great door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many who oppose me.” (1 Corinthians 16:8-9)

This interests me because, as Paul gives the Corinthian Christians a rundown of his plans, he mentions going to Ephesus. In one breath, he seems to give two almost contradictory reasons for being in Ephesus through Pentecost: (1) A door for effective work there has opened to him; (2) There are many there who oppose him.

On the second point, The Lutheran Study Bible says that Paul’s fellow Jews in Ephesus were offended that he “welcomed uncircumcised Gentiles into the churches.”

It seems almost silly to use the offense he will cause people as a reason to go among them.

Silly? Not when I consider what he wrote to the Gentile-Christian church in Rome about his fellow Jews. Paul agonized over the fact that God’s chosen people, who had the patriarchs and the ordinances, whose Messiah had come to be Lord and Savior of all the world, could miss out on the promises given to them through the patriarchs and Moses and the prophets by refusing to accept or trust in the God ultimately disclosed to them and the whole world in Jesus. At one point in the extended section of Romans in which he addresses his concerns, chapters 9 to 11, Paul says that he’d be willing to give up his own eternal salvation if only his fellow Jews would receive and believe in Jesus. “For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race,” he writes in Romans 9:3.

So, Paul doesn’t look forward to being in Ephesus merely to be provocative. He has an opportunity to share the gospel with many people. But he also has an opportunity to get his fellow Jews’ attention placed on Christ and His gospel. Paul's hope is that he will incite them to listen to the message and come to believe in Jesus, too, as God and Savior.

But first they must be provoked.

Paul talks about this very strategy--of provoking his fellow Jews in order to incite them to faith in Jesus--in Romans 11:
“I am talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I take pride in my ministry in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them.” (Romans 11:13-14)
Paul sees the opportunity to share the gospel--the good news of new life for all who repent and surrender their lives to the crucified and risen Jesus--as good not only for the Gentiles who are receptive to Christ and the gospel. He also sees the opportunity, the door opened, by his ministry to the Gentiles, to provoke his fellow Jews to jealousy of the Gentile believers for the forgiveness, peace, joy, and new life they have through their faith in this Son of David, Jesus.

Listen: By now, Paul is familiar with the opposition and even violence his proclamation of Jesus can bring upon his head. Jews and Gentiles have an inborn predisposition--rooted in our sinful natures--to reject any message that calls us to admit our wrongs and to surrender to anybody else, even to God. In Ephesus itself, Paul would be denounced by Gentiles tied to the production and sales of statues of the greek goddess Artemis or Diana.

But Paul can also see the “open door," the door that God has swung open, allowing him to win some people to Jesus. So, even when he sees opposition beyond that open door, he walks through it. He follows where Jesus seems to be leading him. He doesn’t do so with the naive notion that all will be well. He fully understands the danger and simple unpleasantness that awaits him if he passes through the open door. His eyes are wide open. But he plunges forward anyway.

In one of the books I’m reading right now, Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury, speaks of discipleship being made up, in part, of being with Jesus. Whether Jesus leads us to places of difficulty or ease, each of which have their own peculiar temptations to unfaithfulness, the disciple follows. And, it seems to me, they must do so with eyes wide open and constant prayer. Paul understands this, I think.

Respond: In looking at these two verses, I have to ask, Lord, if I haven’t too often opted for the comfortable ways, if I haven’t dodged controversy, if I haven’t failed to provoke when I should have been provoking--for the sake of those with whom I needed to share Christ’s gospel?

Have I opted for ease?

Have I passed open doors knowing that beyond them lay great promise, both for those who are immediately receptive to the gospel and for those who will be initially offended, but might later receive Christ?

The answer to those questions is yes, often.

And in passing on those open doors, I’ve also taken a pass on sharing the gospel with people You had called me to share it.

Which leads to another question, a haunting one: Once a Christian has passed on so many open doors, will You ever entrust them with the call to enter through others?

Jesus says that He only entrusts bigger things when they’ve been faithful in addressing smaller things (Matthew 25:23). Later, Jesus says: “For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.” (Matthew 25:29)

So, God, I simply ask that, no matter the size or implications, You will open doors for me to share the gospel, following Jesus in order to share Him with others. Help me not to worry about the troubles it might bring my way. Jesus tells us that in this world we will have trouble, but that He has overcome the world. So, troubles shouldn't keep me from being faithful. Forgive my unfaithful past. Grant that Your Holy Spirit will empower me to be faithful today.

Open the doors that You call me to notice and let me walk through, whether my doing so will provoke some or not. So long as my end goal is not to provoke (because who wants to be someone who provokes just for the sake of provoking?), but to bring the gospel message of new life for all people, I need to go where You lead. Help me to do just that!

In Jesus’ name I pray.
[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Red and yellow, black and white, we all need Jesus (AUDIO)


[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio. This is the text for the worship message this morning.]


From a song I wrote about a special person who passed from this world at a young age.
Fourteen years old and you know exactly what you're gonna do,
Listening and watching I'm sure you're bound to follow through,
It's a miracle to me that one so young could be so wise,
When most of us go through our years and barely ever come to life

You must be some kind of phenomenon
You must be some kind of phenomenon

[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

"Red and yellow, black and white...we all need Jesus"

Matthew 15:21-28
God has interesting timing.

Just as the attention of our country and much of the world is on the recent activities of white supremacist and Nazi groups in our midst, the lectionary--the plan for Bible lessons based on ancient Christian practice--appoints today’s gospel lesson for tens of thousands of churches throughout the world.

That’s no’s a God-incidence!

It is exactly the word that you and I and all the world need to hear today.

The lesson tells us about Jesus’ encounter with a woman who is a member of a race of people hated by God’s people since Old Testament times, the Canaanites.

At the end of the lesson, Jesus confirms two important insights into Christian faith known by this Canaanite woman, insights that Saint Paul later summarized: “...all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:27-28)

Jesus came into this world to die and to rise and to call all who believe in Him to become part of one race, the fully restored human race who populate the Kingdom of God.

The Church of Jesus, whatever the denomination, color, or nationality of its people, is a preview of John’s vision in Revelation: “I looked, [John says] and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language...And they cried out in a loud voice: ‘Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.’" (Revelation 7:9)

One of my favorite Sunday School songs growing up, said: “Red and yellow, black and white, all are precious in His sight / Jesus loves the little children of the world.” Today, in a world rocked by hatred, we need the gospel message. We need Jesus!

When I say that, I’m not just using words. I’m proclaiming the absolute, bottom-line truth: WE NEED JESUS!

Only Jesus can fill our deepest need.

Only Jesus can bring forgiveness of sins.

Only Jesus can put God’s love into our hearts.

Only Jesus can give us sanity for living and thinking.

Only Jesus can give us eternal life with God.


As the Church, we need to be challenged to proclaim, with no embarrassment, that Jesus is the way, and the truth, and the life, that no one comes to the Father except through Him; that God loves us and that Christ came to die and rise to offer new life with God to all people: Jews, Canaanites, blacks, whites, browns, yellows, Republicans, Democrats, Americans, Arabs...everyone.





In today’s lesson, Jesus meets a woman who knows just how much she needs Jesus.

Jesus, she knows, is the only hope for her demon-possessed daughter.

By faith, she knows the truth of what the Bible repeatedly teaches: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." (Romans 10:13; Acts 2:21; Joel 2:32)

Let’s take a look at our gospel lesson, Matthew 15:21-28. It begins: “And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon.”

Jus before our lesson's narrative begins, Jesus has been teaching His fellow Jews that it’s not the outward rituals that people perform that make them right with God, it’s a faith that turns to God in humility, repentance, and faith that God uses to build righteousness within us.

Most of His fellow Jews didn’t care for this message. They thought of their religion in transactional terms: They offered sacrifices, did good things, or pointed to their pure Jewish ancestry as their part of the bargain and they thought that in return, God had to give them favor.

Jesus said that unless they (and we) turn to God in surrender and faith, we will still be dead and separated from God. No matter how many good things we do. No matter how religious we are.

Not a popular message. Even today. People don’t like to think that their relationship with God or their salvation aren’t under their control, but God’s control.

So, Jesus left His homeland for a bit. It wasn't that Jesus was afraid of unpopularity or of dying. He had come to be rejected by the people and go to the cross. He had His face set for Jerusalem for precisely this reason. He would go to a cross, but it wasn’t the right time yet (John 7:6, 30). He and the disciples go to Tyre and Sidon, a pagan area filled with Gentile unbelievers.

Verse 22: “And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, ‘Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.’”

Back in Old Testament days, God decided that because of the Canaanites’ idol-worship and injustice, He was going to take their land from them and give it to Israel, the Jews, His people. That’s what God did. Canaanites were still, at the point when Jesus meets this woman centuries later, idol-worshipers. They were also hated and mistrusted by the Jews. And yet, here’s this Canaanite woman, approaching Jesus, calling Him by the title that Jews associated with the Messiah, “Son of David.”

See what happens next, verse 23: “But [Jesus] did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, ‘Send her away, for she is crying out after us.’ [Jesus] answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’”

Some people look at this passage and think that Jesus is being heartless.

I’ve even heard some preachers suggest that the Canaanite woman came along and taught Jesus a lesson. According to these people, Jesus was a bigot who had to be set straight by this petitioner.

Please! Jesus is both God and man. He knows exactly what's going to happen before it happens. Jesus was not surprised that this Canaanite showed up.

And there is no bigotry in Jesus! God does not hate what God creates. The God Who is love, Who commands loves, and Who is sinless, doesn’t need to be taught how to love. (1 John 4:8)

So, how do we explain Jesus’ words then?

For one thing, they’re the truth. Although in the Great Commission, Jesus would later command His disciples to go to all peoples, Old Testament promises from God said that, during His time on earth, the Messiah would go to Israel. Jesus knows, as Paul writes in our second lesson, “God did not reject his people...” (Romans 11:2) And so, while Jesus would encounter Gentiles (non-Jews) in His ministry and even make a Gentile, the good Samaritan, the hero of one of His most famous parables, the Messiah had to be proclaimed among God’s people before Jesus died and rose.

I think Jesus also said this--"I was sent only the lost sheep of Israel"--because Jesus had things to teach His disciples, including you and me. Jesus always knew the teachable moment!

Verse 25: “But she came and knelt before him [Jesus], saying, ‘Lord, help me.’”

Most English translations of the Bible do an inadequate job of rendering this passage. The verb knelt translates the Greek word proskuneo, which is the word that Matthew used when writing this verse in the Greek. Proskuneo means worship.

It’s the same word Matthew used of the eleven disciples who meet the risen Jesus, about to ascend to heaven in Matthew 28:17, literally, “Having seen Him, they worshiped Him...”

This foreign woman of the wrong race and ethnicity, from the wrong side of the tracks who is hated by Jesus' fellow good Jews, worships Jesus!

She sees Him not only as a human descendant of King David, she sees Him as God.

And she offers no evidence that she’s a good person deserving of what she begs Jesus to do for her daughter. She just believes and is completely helpless.

And belief and helplessness, as our mentor Ole Hallesby has taught many of us here at Living Water, is what we need to be every time we approach God in Jesus’ name. As Hallesby points out, without belief and helplessness, it's doubtful that any of our prayers are really prayers. The Canaanite woman truly prays!

“Lord,” she says, “help me.”

Jesus accepts her worship because He is God. You may remember that in the book of Acts, the Christian missionaries Paul and Barnabas were being hailed as gods by Gentiles. They were horrified and told the crowds to stop, that there was only one God, the one revealed in Jesus (Acts 4:12-15).  Jesus accepts the woman's worship. How could He not? He IS God!

It's hard to imagine what the disciples who were with Jesus must have thought of all this. But Jesus lets things go on a bit still: He has a lesson to teach we disciples.

Verse 26: “And he answered, ‘It is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.’”

Many Jews used the term dog for Gentiles the way that white racists use the N-word to describe African-Americans today.

Most Jews regarded non-Jews as subhuman trash.

Now, we must always let Scripture interpret Scripture. And what we know from the rest of Scripture about Jesus totally precludes the notion that He shared His people's prejudice against Gentiles.

I believe that, as one Bible scholar has said, Jesus used this term with a twinkle in His eye, a bit like a comic tweaking prejudice. Humor is always a good tool for demolishing prejudice

Make no mistake about it though, Jesus saw this woman’s desperate, audacious faith. He was about to perform a sign showing that He is the Messiah and God of all who have a desperate, audacious faith in Him.

And the Canaanite woman is in on Jesus’ joke. Verse 27: “She said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table.’” 

“Yes, Lord,” she’s saying, “I know that the Jews are God’s people and that salvation will come into the world through the Jews. That’s the first thing I know. But I also know a second thing: that You are the Lord of heaven and earth and that through You, salvation will come to all who believe in You. Even those with the wrong color of skin and those with the wrong ethnic background. Just as the dogs get the crumbs, You have grace enough to spare for everyone!”

In verse 28, Jesus explodes with the same kind of joyous exclamation that must come from God every time we turn to Him with desperate, audacious faith. “‘O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.’ And her daughter was healed instantly.”

God receives all who turn from their sin and trust in Jesus as their only hope, the only way to life, the only way to God.

God receives all who turn to Him with desperate, audacious faith.

God hears all who trust Jesus with desperation and helplessness, who know that Jesus is our only hope for this world and the next!

God will, through Jesus, even receive you and me and all the other Canaanites who trust in Jesus.

The only in-crowd in the Kingdom of God is the crowd who confess that Jesus is Lord and then follow Him wherever He leads!


[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio. This is the text for the worship message this morning.]

Saturday, August 19, 2017

"We're not just the Rotary with a pointy roof"

I'm reading a book by Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury, called Being Disciples: Essentials of the Christian Life. I really love it and will probably write more about it later.

Some introductory remarks to the book were written by Williams' successor, Justin Welby. I didn't know anything about him and ran across this profile of him, written four years ago for The Telegraph. I appreciated most of what he said and was especially struck by this:
The Church, I say, is good at talking, but not at actually doing things to improve the social order [says the author of the piece
“RUBBISH!” shouts the Archbishop, genially. “It is one of the most powerful forces of social cohesion. Did you know that each month all the Churches [in the United Kingdom] – roughly half of the numbers being Anglican – contribute 23 million hours of voluntary work, outside what they do in church? And it’s growing. There are now between 1,200 and 2,000 food banks in which the Church is involved. Ten years ago, there were none. There are vicars living in every impoverished area in the country. This springs out of genuine spirituality. We’re not just Rotary with a pointy roof.”
We who make up the Church aren't just the Rotary with a pointy roof.

That's often forgotten, even by church members, ostensibly disciples of Jesus Christ on a life and death mission from the Lord to be and make disciples.

That fact will cause us to do what Welby calls "voluntary work," like the folks from the congregation I serve here who go each year to do real service in Haiti, Appalachia, India, and elsewhere.

Or the others who will feed 150 men at a Dayton homeless shelter next weekend.

Or those Living Water disciples who tutor impoverished kids or run the local Upward sports program.

But we do those things not because we're just a bunch of community do-gooders.

The Rotary is nice. But the Church plays for bigger stakes: The eternal good of everyone we encounter. Whatever good we do comes from and is all about Jesus alone.

There's nothing wrong we Rotarians, but we Christians commit acts of service because Jesus died and rose for us, liberated us to love God and love neighbor, and has sent us into the world filled with Christ's love not only to do loving things but to share the Good News of Jesus' death and resurrection that can change people's lives now and in eternity, when they turn from sin and entrust their lives to Him.

In fact, at Living Water, we don't even have a conventional "pointy roof," by which I imagine Welby means a steeple. It's people who rightly confess Christ and rightly share in the Sacraments of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion that make up the Church.

And having been made into the Church by the Three-in-One God, we serve others prolifically for much higher stakes than just relieving their discomfort, poverty, or pain. We serve to be windows onto the loving soul of God. Our serving gives a simple message: If God can turn someone like me into a confident, loving ambassador for Christ, He can change anyone's life for the better forever.

[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

The safest and most dangerous states

From Business Insider

[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Why it's hard (for me and maybe you) to obey God

Doing the prep work for our next discipleship small group gathering, the workbook poses this question: "What are some similarities between the way children obey their parents and the ways Christians obey God?"

As someone who finds obedience to God a challenge, I thought that this was a good question and came up with at least four answers. (If you don't find obeying God difficult, you're either already in eternity with God, in denial, or the most exceptional human being I know.)
1. Both (sometimes) trust that that God or our parents have our best interests in mind.

2. We sometimes obey in spite of what it is we really want to do.

3. We sometimes obey begrudgingly.

4. When we trust God or parents, we trust that obedience is the best thing.
Famed psychologist and psychotherapist Erik Erikson said that human development happens as we successfully negotiate a series of certain internal conflicts over the course of our lives. The first one to be negotiated, he said, is trust v. mistrust. This conflict is played out initially in our homes, with our parents.

Despite the sentimentalization of childhood that sometimes beclouds our judgments, trust doesn't come naturally to us at birth, the result of the inborn condition of sin, the human inclination to trust only oneself. (To put it as the serpent expresses it in Genesis, we want to "be like God.")

Throughout our lives, we must deal with the question of whether we trust ourselves most of all. The gospel about Jesus Christ, God in the flesh Who bears our sins on the cross, accepting our punishment for our failure to trust God and all the selfish, loveless acts and ways of thinking that result, then rises to open up an eternity built on a trusting relationship with God and His grace, is the only thing that can overcome our original sin, our failure to trust.

As Erikson suggests, the remnants of our trust v. mistrust conflict remains with us our whole lives. But the Christian knows that we are changed, in the words of 'Amazing Grace, "the hour [we] first believed..."

When, by the Holy Spirit's power, we're able to confess our sin, our need of a Savior and Lord, and acknowledge that Christ is that Savior and Lord, God goes to work to help us become to trust Him and be set free to love God and love neighbor (Mark 1:14-15; 1 Corinthians 12:3).

But, this side of the grave, the work is never completed. At present, we see through a glass darkly, to use Saint Paul's image, and we know only in part (1 Corinthians 13:12).

The result is that:
(1) there are times when I disobey God's will for my life, even though, because of my gratitude for His grace, I want to obey Him. When this happens and I wake up to see the truth, I need to turn back to Him for forgiveness and the power to live differently. 
(2) there are (many) times when I do or refrain from doing what God wants me to do, even though I would rather go in another direction.
There are some people who claim that Christians project their experience as children with parents onto an imagined God, that God's Word is a figment of the human imagination.

In fact, they have things backwards: God is Abba, our Father and Creator. And when He created flesh and blood human beings, He gave them parents, whose functions in their children's lives is to mirror God's approach to the whole human race. God gives life, loves, nurtures, guides, and disciplines. He does this all through the agency of His Church. Parents are to do the same things with their children.

Parents like these, despite their imperfections, will elicit the trust of their children.

God, always perfect, can elicit the same trust from us for Him when we open ourselves to His grace given only in Jesus Christ.

But that doesn't mean that obeying the God Who loves us with infinite passion is easy. It isn't. And apart from His grace and love given in Christ, we wouldn't even think to try.

[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

Monday, August 14, 2017

Today's 11:11, August 14, 2017

This is isolated on George Harrison's lead vocal, with Paul McCartney's harmony, on I Need You. Harrison composed the song and it was included in the Beatles' second feature film, Help.

[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

Jesus Knows What the Meaning of Is Is

As readers of the blog may know, I try to spend some time five days a week in quiet time with God: reading His Word and asking Him to show me the truth He wants me to see and respond to for that day.

The practice has truly changed my life and I'm grateful to the North American Lutheran Church, the Navigators, and Living Water Lutheran Church, the congregation I serve, for opening up this wonderful road to intimacy with God to me and the members of our church. (If you'd like to know how I spend my quiet time with God, it's explained here.)

Below is today's journal entry for my quiet time. If it can, as my Navigators coach Bill Mowry says, "prime the pump" for your own relationship with God, that's great. But there is no substitute for spending time in God's Word each day yourself. To soak up His Word is to get to know our awesome, amazing God better. And knowing God better is the deepest yearning of every human being, whether they know it or not: Everyone longs to know the One in Whose image they were created!
Look: “For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.” (1 Corinthians 11:29, ESV)

The discussion in 1 Corinthians 11, of headwear by women and men is so obviously time-bound and tied to Jewish worship customs and Paul’s contextual plea for Gentile-Christians to have consideration of Jewish-Christian sensibilities, that I pass over it.

The discussion of Holy Communion in the chapter, though, clearly has application for Christians beyond the first century, even though it addresses it within the context of the agape meal, which isn't how Christians ordinarily celebrate Holy Communion these days.

I’m especially struck by this verse, which I’ve never taken the time to consider before. Paul seems to be saying that if a person doesn’t perceive the real presence of Christ in the Sacrament, they bring judgment on themselves. In fact, I believe that it is what he is saying.

The pivotal word is the verb, discerning. The word in Greek, the language in which Paul and all of the New Testament writers composed their work, is διακρίνων (diakrinōn). That’s the passive, plural, nominative form of διακρίνω (diakrinó). It’s a compound word and a literal rendering might read to judge through. In other words, to see something in an object, person, or situation beyond its surface presentation, to see it for what it is in its entirety.

As it relates to Holy Communion then, Paul appears to be saying that when we receive the bread and wine of Holy Communion, the eyes of faith see that it is more than just bread and wine. In the sacrament, Christ gives His very self--body, blood, His all--to us.

This echoes Jesus’ words when He institutes the Sacrament. In Matthew 26:26-28, it says:

“Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat; this is my body.’ And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

“This is my body,” Jesus says. And, “This is my blood.”

Failing to trust the promise that Christ gives here to be in, with, and under the bread and the wine is, Paul says, to bring judgment on ourselves.

Listen: Why does God’s Word insist on the importance of discerning Jesus’ actual body in the sacrament?

One reason may be is that He wants us to accept what it is that Jesus says. Jesus expects us to believe that He knows what the meaning of is is. 
When He said, “This is my body, this is my blood,” He didn’t mean, “This represents my body, this represents my blood.” 
He calls (He commands) us to accept the reality that, through the blessing of His Word, bread and wine become simultaneously His body and blood
In the Sacrament, He re-enacts the miracle of God’s incarnation in Christ. Christ incarnates Himself in, with, and under the bread and the wine and fills us with Himself. Just as Christ was and is both truly God and truly human, in the Sacrament, believers are presented with what is both truly earthly food and truly Jesus Himself.

Failing to discern this by faith, in turn, means that we fail to receive what Christ offers in the Sacrament. Christ gives us His blood in Holy Communion to bring about, as He says, “the forgiveness of sins.” 
If this promise isn’t met by faith, both in the Giver and in the gift He gives, there is no forgiveness. 
To view the Sacrament as a symbolic religious act is to not receive what Jesus seeks to give. 
To receive it as an act of Jesus, God-in-the-flesh, with trust--or, what is most possible for us merely from a human point of view, the willingness to trust, since we are incapable of believing in Christ or His promises apart from the faith-creating work of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:3)--is to receive exactly what Christ intends to give through it. To trust in Christ's presence in, with, and under the bread and the wine is nothing more and nothing less than believing in, or trusting in, Jesus (John 3:16-18).

I think that receiving it with trust doesn’t mean we have to understand it. Who has the mind to understand it fully? This isn’t a philosophical proposition to be understood, but a mysterious act of love to be accepted...or spurned.

Martin Luther puts it well in The Small Catechism: “It is not the eating and drinking [of Holy Communion] alone [that brings forgiveness of sin, life, and salvation], but also the words that accompany it, ‘Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.’

“These words, together with the eating and drinking, are the chief thing in the Sacrament, and those who believe them have what they say and declare, namely, the forgiveness of sins.”

Response: Help me always, Lord, to reverence the gift of Yourself You give in the Sacrament of Holy Communion. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen
[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Reflections on Charlottesville and Racism

These are remarks I shared at the beginning of both worship services today at Living Water Lutheran Church. (It lasts a bit more than four minutes.)

I didn't preach today, but our worship director, Mark Brennan, presented an excellent sermon, which you can find here.

[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]