Sunday, August 28, 2016

When Upside Down is Rightside Up

Luke 14:1-14
It would be easy to think that the two stories Jesus tells in today’s Gospel lesson are just about good manners. But if we think that, we will be missing important lessons Jesus wants to teach us.

Take a look, please, at our Gospel lesson, Luke 14:1-14, starting at verse 7: “When [Jesus] noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable.”

A parable, of course, is a special sort of story. A parable is a story woven from people's everyday experiences, with another story of deep significance rolled alongside of it. The term parable has been transliterated into English from the Greek word, parabolos, a compound word composed of para, a prefix meaning alongside (as in parallel) and bolos, related to the terms throw or ball. A parable is a story with another story, a deeper story told alongside it. Jesus’ parables always tell us something about the kingdom of God that Jesus brought into the world and still brings to those who believe in Him.

Jesus told the two parables in today’s Gospel lesson while He sat a banquet at the home of a Pharisee. We know something about the Pharisees, of course. Although they wouldn’t have expressed themselves in quite this way, the Pharisees didn’t believe that rightness with God—what the Bible calls righteousness—is a gift from God given to those who repent for sin and believe in the God we now know in Jesus. Instead, they believed that, by their actions, they would earn a place in heaven.

Despite their seeming faithfulness, the Pharisees really tried to whittle God down to human size, to turn God into a deity they could force to make concessions to them because they were such good people.

Today, people don’t worry so much about God’s favor. We moderns seem to have whittled God completely out of our lives. Or we’ve twisted the Bible’s teaching that God is love and turned the mighty God of the universe into an indulgent sugar daddy.

Many people, even those identifying themselves as Christians, seem to think that all roads lead to heaven. Polling, in fact, repeatedly shows that Christians in the United States accept Jesus’ teaching that there is a heaven. But much smaller numbers of Christians accept the word of Jesus that there is a hell. How it's possible to accept some of Jesus' teaching, while not accepting other of His teachings, while claiming Him as Lord is something these folks can't explain very well.

Let’s face it: The Bible is filled with inconvenient truths we would rather not hear about. I know that this is true for me. We’re like the rebel people of God the prophet Isaiah addressed some seven hundred years before Jesus. “Give us no more visions of what is right!” they tell the prophet in Isaiah 30:10. “Tell us pleasant things…”

By contrast, for all their many faults, most of the Pharisees would never have knowingly taught things contrary to the will of God. In fact, like the dumb sheep that populated many of Jesus’ other parables, they unknowingly and thoughtlessly drifted into their false beliefs.

Christ’s Church always struggles to resist such unintentional drifting from God. That’s why the Reformation begun by Martin Luther and others back in the sixteenth century must be a continuing part of our lives today. We need to constantly return to God, to God’s Word, to God’s will, to Jesus Christ.

But many Christians seem to have settled into a new kind of Pharisaism in which we are expected to passively go along with what I call Christianity Lite, the religion of anything goes so long as it conforms to the shifting standards of society. Someone has said that if Jesus were to come to a typical Christian congregation in North America and teach, as He did to the Pharisees in first-century Judea, “Stop trying to earn righteousness and salvation,” the response would be, “Who’s trying to be righteous?”

Many churches and many Christians--even we ourselves, we must confess--have wandered from surrendering trust in Christ and from reverence for God’s Word and will.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Lutheran pastor who was executed by the Nazis at the end of World War II, warned Christians against what he called “cheap grace,” which he described as “the grace we bestow on ourselves…the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, communion without confession.”

Still and all, in this time with so little consciousness of God or concern about the will of God, people are, as in first-century Judea, still in a frenzy to push themselves to the top, to be noticed, to win, to die with the most toys. These impulses are bred in our sinful bones. And Jesus’ two parables are aimed as much at us as they were at His original hearers.

The first one was told specifically to the guests who were jockeying for places of honor at the banquet. Take a look at it, please, starting at verse 8. “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

From the very beginning of Luke’s Gospel, we’re told that Jesus came into our world to flip humanity’s standard operating procedures on their head. His mother, Mary had it right, when she said, in what we call the Magnifcat, “[God] has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.” [Luke 1:51-53]

Mary knew the truth that Jesus affirms in today’s first parable, that those who humble themselves before God, even if despised by the world, are exalted in God’s kingdom.

Jesus calls us to live in confidence not in ourselves or our achievements or our shrewd exploitation of people and circumstances, but in the God Who loves us just as we are and Who is committed to helping those humble enough to confess their sins and their need of Him to enter the process of becoming more Christ-like in this life.

Those who trust in Christ are God’s children forever. There’s nothing you can do or need to do to earn that exalted status. When you have Jesus living within you, you most certainly will try to be and do your best every day. You’ll want to do everything to the glory of the God Who made you and sets you free from sin and death. But you also will know that the God Who sent His Son to die and rise for you will honor your repentance and shower you with a sense of your infinite value in the eyes of heaven, whatever your job, irrespective of how many degrees you have acquired, however large your income, no matter how good your health, however popular you may be, or even if you get the best spot at the banquet or the football game.

In Christ, I hope and pray that you know that no matter what you’ve done, or how guilty you may really be for some past wrong none of us could guess, or how inadequate you may feel, you could not possibly be more loved by God than you are at this very moment.

And if we are willing to let God tear down all the walls we have that can block out His grace and love, if we are willing to repent for our sins and receive forgiveness, we become God’s personal reclamation projects. Not only can God erase the power of sin and death over you, He can, for those who surrender each day, decrease your taste for the sins that may keep you from knowing peace with God and peace with yourself.

The Lord wants you to take a place of honor at His table even if you think that you’re too lowly or too unworthy to take it. God loves you and all people are welcome to, in the words of Scripture, “taste and see that the Lord is good.” [Psalm 34:8]

Jesus next tells a kind parable to His host, a scenario in which He asks the man (and us) to imagine himself (and we ourselves) as the lead character. You can read it, starting at verse 12. ““When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Jesus isn’t making deals here. He’s saying that we who have been welcomed by God our host into the kingdom of God are called to also welcome others. All others.

Jesus is here expressing again what He says in the Great Commission: “...go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” [Matthew 28:19-20]

Filled with God’s Spirit, you and I are to be the instruments God uses to invite others to hear God’s Word, Law and Gospel, to hear God’s call and command to repentance, to hear God’s call and command to believe in Jesus and know life everlasting.

We have no control over whether those we invite to follow Christ with us will let go of their sins to grasp hold of the grace offered in Jesus. But we must never stop telling them, by our words and our lives, either the inconvenient truth about human sin and our need of God or the incredible, life-changing, good news of the God Who, in Christ, can turn our lives upside down and in doing so, turn our souls right-side up, facing God for life, following Christ for hope, being filled with the Holy Spirit to give us a joy that will never end. Amen!

Saturday, August 27, 2016

How can we love?

[This was shared during the marriage ceremony of Rebecca and Mike earlier today.]

1 Corinthians 13
Another translation puts the last two verses of that passage like this: “...for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.”

These words written back in the first century by the apostle Paul weren’t originally addressed to two people getting married. They were written to a local congregation in the Greek city of Corinth, a congregation torn to pieces by some people thinking they were all that because they had money and power and certain spiritual gifts. They looked down their noses at everyone else. The congregation was falling apart for lack of love.

There are many marriages that fall apart for lack of love, too.

The funny thing about that though, is that every couple who stands before God and a congregation of people like you are right now, Mike and Rebecca, love each other.

The problem is that they often don’t understand what love is.

They don’t reckon with how hard it is to love, to keep love going.

Did you hear the description of love that Paul gave in those verses from 1 Corinthians 13?
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 
Love, it turns out, isn’t just about or even mainly about how we feel. Love is composed of the decisions we make day in and day out for the good of the people we’re committed to: husband, wife, friend, sibling, parent, child, grandparent, church member, coworker.

It's as true of love as C.S. Lewis said it was of humility: The person who loves doesn’t think less of themselves, they think of themselves less.

That way of thinking and living doesn’t come to us naturally.

And yet, I think that we all would agree, without love--self-giving, self-sacrificing love--no relationship--marriage, family, friendship, what have you, will not work.

The question for you then, Rebecca and Mike, is how can you do the impossible? How can you love in ways that, in your own power, you are incapable of loving?

The answer is to be found in those two other things that Paul says will “remain” no matter what happens to any of us: faith and hope.

They will remain long after the crucified and risen Jesus has made things “complete” by bringing down the curtain on this old universe created by and through Him, fully establishing His eternal kingdom in which all who have daily turned from sin and surrendered to Him will live eternally.

Hang with me here just a few more moments, now.

That other translation I mentioned earlier describes faith as “trust[ing] steadily in God.” That means this: Every time you mess up, every time good stuff happens, every time you sin, every time you hit a brick wall, every time you enjoy success, every time you have an argument, every time you make up, every time you have a good time together, every time you cry together, keep trusting in the God we see in Jesus Christ.

Jesus promises those who trust in Him, “I am surely with you always.” He also promises that those who stand firm with Him won’t only be saved from sin and death, but also from futile living.

That other translation also says to “hope unswervingly.” This isn’t about hoping in things or people or events. Things like: “I hope we don’t run out of food at the reception.” “I hope it doesn’t rain just as everyone is getting there for the wedding.” “I hope that everyone gets along at their tables.”

Statements like those probably have more in common with wishing and worrying than they do with hoping. No, to hope, to really hope, is to bet everything, your whole life, your marriage on the God we meet in Jesus Christ.

To hope in Christ is to know that this world really doesn’t offer much to hope for. Money is nice, for example, but it can’t give you life. A house is great, but it won’t give your life meaning. Even being married to a person you care for is great, but it won’t make you whole.

Only Jesus Christ, the One Who made you and died on the cross for you and claimed life again at Easter for you, can fill your life with hope. He’s the only One worth hoping in.

The follower of Jesus can say things like, “Today was sort of sucky. But I belong to Christ forever.” “The sunset on the beach is beautiful, but it’s only a faint hint of the beauty Christ has for me in eternity and the beauty of His love for me right this moment.”

How can you find the love you need to make your marriage all that you want it to be and that God wants it to be, Mike and Rebecca?

Trust in God steadily.

Hope in Christ unswervingly.

And let Christ fill you with the love you need to have a good marriage, a solid marriage...a marriage filled with love.

And then, to help you love each other, forgive each other, strengthen each other, enjoy each other as God intends, connect with a church home that will help you to live with faith, hope, and love your whole life through. Amen

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

One More Day (No Word) by Todd Rundgren

A song about waiting from what is widely considered to be Rundgren's best LP. This appeared on the third side of a 2-record LP. On the first three sides, Rundgren played all the tracks. On the fourth side, he plays with a studio band live, no overdubs except for recordings of stuff played by a band Rundgren had been in long before.

Praying for Italy

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Encouraging others through forgiveness and love

Today for my quiet time with God, I read 2 Corinthians 2. God particularly spoke to me through Paul's words to the first-century church at Corinth in verse 7: should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow.
Evidently, someone in the Corinthian church had incurred condemnation for sin. (That would be no mean achievement in that notoriously sinful group!)

Paul counsels that after the church's appropriate condemnations and the man's authentic repentance had happened, it was time for the congregation offended by the sin to forgive.

Jesus, of course, says that unless we forgive others, we will block God's forgiveness for sin from our own lives.

We can be sure that Paul agrees with Jesus on that count, of course.

But Paul gives the Corinthians a different reason to forgive their sinful fellow disciple: Absent forgiveness and their reaffirmed love for the man (v.8), he might despair of being forgiven by God.

How is that? Well, Paul and the other New Testament writers insist that the Church is Christ's body. We who make up the Church are Christ's presence on the earth. And we are Christ's presence to one another.

It's right that we in the Church should be accountable to each other for the sins we've committed against each other and against Christ's body. That's part of being a loving body of Christ.

But so is assuring one another of Christ's forgiveness and our forgiveness. So is affirming our Christian love for each other.

The last thing we want anyone to feel is that God can't or won't forgive them.

Anyone who turns to Christ with authentic regret for sin and trust in what Christ has done for them on His cross can be forgiven and is forgiven. We distort this truth from God when act "holier than God."

We need to be prepared to actively convey, without condescension, the forgiveness God bears for all who repent and trust in Christ.

Prayer: Lord, in the next twenty-four hours, help me to make some gesture of love or forgiveness to someone in Your Church who needs it. You show me who it should be. In Jesus' name.


Sunday, August 21, 2016

Following the Narrow Way (audio and text)

Audio version, here.

Luke 13:22-30
Today’s Gospel lesson, Luke 13:22-30, begins with two seemingly simple verses. They tell us:
Then Jesus went through the towns and villages, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. Someone asked him, "Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?”
Simple though they may seem, these two verses reflect the tension and apprehension that many people, both the disciples and the curious crowds following Jesus, are feeling.

For the disciples who have been paying attention to Jesus’ words and actions, there was a dread about what was coming in Jerusalem. For a long time before this point, Jesus has made it clear that in going to Jerusalem, He’s also heading to His death.

From the beginning of Jesus’ life on earth, in fact, it was clear that He had come with a singular mission, to live a sinless life, then offer that life as the perfect sacrifice for our sin.

There are some megachurches that have chosen not to have crosses in their sanctuaries. "The cross is such a downer," they reason.

Listen: The cross is the place where Jesus would fulfill His mission and destroy the power of sin and death over all who take up their crosses--owning the reality of their own sin and their need of a Savior--and follow Jesus.

The cross is the place where all who believe in Jesus are saved.

The cross is the place of Jesus’ victory for us. That’s why I love the story about the Lutheran being asked by another Christian, “When were you saved?” The Lutheran answered, “On a hill outside Jerusalem three thousand years ago.”

Jesus’ resurrection serves as confirmation of Jesus’ Good Friday victory. But it's at the cross that His victory for us came about.

The apostle Paul, a learned man, deemed the cross so transformative, so powerful, that he told the Corinthian Christians among whom he'd worked that he decided when he was them not to use any of his vast knowledge to convince them to follow Jesus. "For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you," he writes in 1 Corinthians 2:2, "except Jesus Christ and him crucified." Jesus' cross is that powerful!

Even Satan understood that the cross is the whole ballgame; it’s why He was constantly trying to keep Jesus from going to Jerusalem and the cross, tempting Him with worldly kingdoms.

After Jesus asked the disciples Who they believed Him to be and Peter rightly answered that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of the living God, Jesus told the disciples bluntly: “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” [Luke 9:22]

After setting His face to go to Jerusalem [Luke 9:51], Jesus told the disciples, referring to His crucifixion as His “baptism”: “I have a baptism to undergo, and what constraint I am under until it is completed!”

So, by the time we get to our lesson from Luke’s gospel narrative, the disciples are feeling extremely apprehensive.

But the curious, if unbelieving, crowds are feeling tension at this point.

You see, most first century Judeans assumed that because they were Jews, they would be saved from sin and death and be resurrected. It was all a matter of DNA. All Jews were righteous, they thought. All non-Jews, Gentiles, were not righteous. All Jews would therefore be saved, they reasoned.

But Jesus had been saying things in chapters 12 and 13 of Luke that said their confidence about salvation because they belonged to the club was misplaced. Salvation comes only through faith in the God now revealed definitively to the world in Jesus Himself.

The crowds of Jesus' fellow Jews needed to follow Jesus, to repent for sin and trust in Jesus, and submit to Jesus’ Lordship so that His grace could transform them. They needed to become disciples of Jesus.

This upset a lot of the crowds' preconceived notions. So, it was with apprehension that the man asked Jesus, “Lord, are only a few going to be saved?”

Jesus responds in Luke 13:24: “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.”

We live in an age when people, if they ever think of God, say that God is such a nice guy that He won’t send anyone to hell.

Let’s be clear: Jesus, God in the flesh, did die for everyone. But He doesn’t force salvation on anyone.

He doesn’t force anyone to repent or believe in Him.

He gives us the freedom to say no, to eat, drink, and be merry in this world, presuming to be gods unto ourselves until this life ends.

The doorway to a self-centered, self-indulgent, whatever-seems-right-to-us kind of life is wide open to everyone of us here on earth. But Jesus says that there’s only one way--a narrow way--to life with God.

And that narrow way is through Jesus.

“I am the way and the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father except through Me,” Jesus says in John 14:6.

If we don’t enter God’s kingdom through Jesus, we can’t get it in, we won’t get in.

Jesus expands on this theme in the next verses: “Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘Sir, open the door for us.’ But he will answer, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from.’ Then you will say, ‘We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’ But he will reply, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!’”

There will come a time when another door, the door allowing us to escape a life of apart from God, will be closed to us.

Death will come and then it will be too late to enter eternity with God.

No matter how much they pound at heaven’s door, those who haven’t entrusted their lives to the God we know in Christ will pound in vain.

And it won’t do any good for them to say, “We made big offerings to the Church. We sang hymns and praise songs...even the ones we didn’t like and almost never complained about them. We volunteered for outreaches.” To people like this, the owner of the house--God Himself--will say at the Judgment, “I don’t know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!”

You see, Jesus doesn’t claim to truly know those who have no relationship of faith with Him. No matter how many good things we may do, even when we do them through and with the Church, Christ only knows those who have opened the doors of their own lives and let Him into the very center of their beings.

Without such humble surrender and a daily discipleship relationship with Christ, we’re just playing at religion.

To a church filled with lukewarm faith mentioned in the book of Revelation, the crucified and risen Jesus is recorded as saying: “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” [Revelation 3:20] Jesus offers a relationship of intimacy and trust with Him, not just because it feels good, but because we need this relationship today and in eternity! Without a relationship with Jesus, we are dead now and we are dead for eternity.

With a relationship with Jesus, we are alive, even in life’s darkest and most difficult times. Five years ago yesterday, the young woman in whose remembrance I wear these two blue wristbands, Sarah, passed from this life at the age of twenty. She was a remarkable person, who fought leukemia through two bone marrow transplants, five remissions, and amazing faith! She lived her life with purpose and humor. She loved receiving Holy Communion. She loved helping young people. Even while she was fighting to live, she volunteered for the local Big Brothers/Big Sisters organization near the campus of Denison University. I wrote a song in memory of her a few months back called Phenomenon, motivated by the fact that from an early age, she knew that her life was going to be about helping kids. (And it was.) The first verse goes like this:
Fourteen years old and you know exactly what you're going to do
Listening and watching, I know you're bound to follow through
It's a mystery how one can be so young and yet so wise
When most of us go through our years and barely ever come to life 
Sarah was alive through circumstances of life in which other people who don't know Jesus would give up, more alive than most people I know who live each day in perfect health. With Jesus as our Lord, we are alive even when life is at its darkest and most difficult.

And one day, all who trust in Christ will be alive in a kingdom of perfection with God for all eternity.

To His fellow Jews, suffering from the delusion that being Jewish was all they needed to be saved--the way some people today think that all you need is to be Lutheran, Baptist, or on the church rolls somewhere--Jesus says: “There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out.”

Do you know what it means to gnash one’s teeth? It means to grit our teeth and say, “I blew it! I blew it!”

Those who turn from Jesus or who take Him for granted in this life, will have that kind of regret. They’ll be left out the way Tim and I were when our morning flight out of Dallas was canceled last Sunday.

But Jesus doesn’t end His answer to the apprehensive crowd member at that. He says in verses 29-30: “People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God. [Even Lutheran Christians! Even people from Dayton, Centerville, Springboro, Miamisburg, and West Carrollton, who have trusted in Jesus as their God and King!] Indeed [Jesus goes on] there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last.”

I take great comfort from these final words from Jesus. They echo what Ephesians 2:8-9 teaches us: “ is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.”

I belong to God not because I’m good, because, in fact, I’m not. I belong to God because God is good and He covers me with the goodness of Jesus and the power of His sacrifice over death, accomplished on the cross.

And, just as I didn’t care last Sunday if I was boarding the plane from Dallas with group 2 or group 4, I don’t care if I get into the kingdom of God first or last. All I want to do is be a part of be with Jesus! Like the psalmist, I say: “I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked.” [Psalm 84:10]

When I consider that one day I will see the Lord Jesus face to face and that, because of His grace, I won’t have to hang my head in shame, I'm overwhelmed.

The world may consider me (and you) to be part of its gallery of losers, the least, the last, the pointless, the powerless, the unknown. But Jesus views no one in that way.

Every single human being is a child of God for Whom Jesus died and rose. 

Every single person can be part of that vast throng that gets a table at the feast that never ends, if they will only trust in Jesus enough to follow Him today and everyday.

Today, as we receive Christ’s body and blood in the sacrament, we will be given a foretaste of that feast. It’s the inheritance, the prized possession, of all who trust in Christ and let Him reign over their lives, who let Him into be their God and Savior and King and Redeemer.

It’s funny: Jesus never gets around to answering the question of how many will be saved. You see, He’s not into the mathematics of salvation; He wants everyone to be saved. And He refuses to give up on the possibility that every human being for whom He gave His life will give their lives to Him in return!

Today and everyday, trust Jesus and live confidently, joyfully in the knowledge that for all eternity, there’s a place reserved just for You in the kingdom of God. Live in that certainty...then go share Jesus with everyone you know so that they too can know and believe in Jesus and so, come to the banquet that never ends. Will you do that, please? Amen

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

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Painting Pictures of Egypt by Sara Groves

Since I mentioned Sara Groves in an earlier post about Francesca Battistelli's If We're Honest, I thought that I'd put this video for one of my favorite Groves tune.

Using the metaphor of ancient Israel's nostalgia for its days of slavery in Egypt, as recorded in the Old Testament book of Exodus, Groves talks about our reluctance for diving outside of our comfort zones with God as our only certainty. She talks too, about the often painful process we need to go through to get to where God is leading us.

Great tune!

I Can't Hold Out by Eric Clapton

The 1974 LP, 461 Ocean Boulevard, was a comeback project for Eric Clapton, having successfully entered recovery from his cocaine addiction. The first track, Motherless Children, comes screaming at you with an insane and loud guitar riff. Though Clapton goes through many musical moods on 461, from the slowly soulful Christian-themed confessional Give Me Strength to the poppy I Shot the Sheriff, the quality never lets up. To this day, it remains one of my favorites.

This is an old, and a bit racy, Elmore James tune, Clapton once again giving homage to his beloved blues. I say it's "a bit racy." But even by 1974 standards, the tune was tame, slightly suggestive but still G-rated. Like an old Looney Tunes cartoon, you could play this song in front of your kids without clamping your hands on their ears. (Contemporary artists seem to have lost this knack. James displays it in I Can't Hold Out.)

Clapton, who has always disdained his own voice, delivers on this entire LP and, as always, his guitar work is second to none.

If We're Honest by Francesca Battistelli

This song from 2014 is amazing.

Battistelli has a beautiful voice, reminding me of Sara Groves. The lyrics are so incredible. They're given in full below (from Google Play). I'm going to buy this song!
Truth is harder than a lieThe dark seems safer than the lightAnd everyone has a heart that loves to hideI'm a mess and so are youWe've built walls nobody can get throughYeah, it may be hard, but the best thing we could ever do, ever do 
Bring your brokenness, and I'll bring mine'Cause love can heal what hurt dividesAnd mercy's waiting on the other sideIf we're honestIf we're honest 
Don't pretend to be something that you're notLiving life afraid of getting caughtThere is freedom found when we layour secrets down at the cross, at the cross 
Bring your brokenness, and I'll bring mine'Cause love can heal what hurt dividesAnd mercy's waiting on the other sideIf we're honestIf we're honest 
It would change our livesIt would set us freeIt's what we need to be 
Bring your brokenness, and I'll bring mine'Cause love can heal what hurt dividesAnd mercy's waiting on the other sideIf we're honestIf we're honestWritten by Francesca Battistelli, Jeff Pardo, Molly E. Reed • Copyright © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc

La Vie en Rose by the Mantovani Orchestra

TCM featured one of my favorite movies tonight, Billy Wilder's Sabrina. It was released in 1954 and starring Humphrey Bogart (my absolute favorite actor), Audrey Hepburn, and William Holden and featured this beautiful melody, once a hit for singer Edith Piaf.

Sabrina tells the story of a young woman who, for years, thought she was in love with a man closer to her in age, only to find herself falling helplessly in love with her flame's much older brother. Wilder, certainly the rangiest of all directors, co-wrote the script and, as usual, is beautifully written.

I love this rendition of La Vie en Rose. The pairing of it with clips from Sabrina is perfect.

4 ways to help a hurting friend


Avoiding the Faithlessness of Being a Political Church

Four days ago, Pastor Dennis Di Mauro, on Facebook, posted a link to an article detailing the recent votes of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) calling for an end to US aid to Israel and mandating that the retirement fund of the denomination to refrain from making investments that might benefit Israel.

As a person who left the ELCA to join the North American Lutheran Church (NALC) over the issue of the authority of the Bible, the Word of God, over the life, faith, and practice of the Church, I took particular interest in DiMauro's linked article. Lots of other people did and it's engendered many comments.

Many of those comments lamented the ELCA having become a "liberal" denomination. But I had a slightly different take on things, which I shared in the comments section in the wee hours this morning. Here, in slightly edited form, is what I wrote:
Without commenting specifically on the resolution in question, I want to comment on how the ELCA is characterized by many of its opponents and critics. (Of which I'm one.)
I see the ELCA not so much as a "liberal" church, though I understand what people mean when they use this characterization.

Rather, I see it as an unbiblical and unconfessional church body.

I see the body of which I am now a part, the North American Lutheran Church (NALC), seeking to be biblical, approaching the Word of God with reverence, and confessional, seeking to faithfully live out the Lutheran Cobfessions' understanding of Christian faith. I also don't see the NALC as "conservative."

While the ELCA often seems to be in sync with political movements that are politically liberal, I pray that the NALC will steadfastly avoid associations with any political ideology or agenda.

Jesus isn't conservative or liberal, Republican or Democrat. He is God in the flesh who died and rose to set sinners free from sin and all of its consequences, to give life with God ever new to all who trust in Christ and the Gospel Word about Him.

Making disciples through the proclamation of this Word is work enough for the Church, the only work Jesus assigned to it, work that will eternally transform the lives of those who receive it with faith. It will even transform the way they view their world, how they live each day, and how they vote.

The problem with church political activism is that it's work of the flesh, reflective of human reasoning and understanding, rather than being the work of the Holy Spirit within us. Church political activism, liberal and conservative, isn't an expression of faith in Jesus. It's actually faithless, born of Christian impatience with how God operates to redeem and transform people.

We need to trust in God, love our neighbor, speak God's revealed truth, make disciples.
What do you think?