Thursday, July 31, 2014

Charleston by the Harbor

Our farewell look at Charleston, South Carolina, just before leaving. The Citadel there was the site for the 2014 North American Lutheran Church convocation. If you were standing where this pic was taken, Fort Sumter would be off to your right.

The college proved to be very good hosts.

And the people of Saint Timothy Lutheran Church of Goose Creek, South Carolina, provided participants in all the Lutheran events happening on campus last week with shuttle service from the parking lots to the meeting venues.

Thanks to all!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Ever Wonder Why People Are Prone to Buying Old Junk?

And why some firms market nostalgia?

This may be part of the explanation:

THE DAILY STAT: Harvard Business Review

July 29, 2014

Science Shows Why Marketers Are Right to Use Nostalgia

Nostalgia, by heightening feelings of connectedness, reduces people’s desire for money, says a team led by Jannine D. Lasaleta of the Grenoble School of Management in France. In one experiment, nostalgic feelings increased people’s willingness to pay for desired objects. In another, participants who were asked to draw pictures of coins drew them 10% smaller after writing about a nostalgic event. Inducing warm feelings about a cherished past could bring big benefits for those seeking to part consumers from their money, the researchers say.
SOURCE: Nostalgia Weakens the Desire for Money

Hell's Disruption of Marriage and Relationship

It's an alternative universe from the kingdom of God. That alternative universe appears very much to be the world in which we live today. From the informed imagination of C.S. Lewis, contained in the classic, The Screwtape Letters:
Screwtape reveals Hell’s intentions for human marriage: The Enemy’s demand on humans takes the form of a dilemma; either complete abstinence or unmitigated monogamy. Ever since our Father’s first great victory, we have rendered the former very difficult to them. The latter, for the last few centuries, we have been closing up as a way of escape. We have done this through the poets and novelists by persuading the humans that a curious, and usually shortlived, experience which they call ‘being in love’ is the only respectable ground for marriage; that marriage can, and ought to, render this excitement permanent; and that a marriage which does not do so is no longer binding.

This idea is our parody of an idea that came from the Enemy. The whole philosophy of Hell rests on recognition of the axiom that one thing is not another thing, and, specially, that one self is not another self. My good is my good and your good is yours. What one gains another loses. Even an inanimate object is what it is by excluding all other objects from the space it occupies; if it expands, it does so by thrusting other objects aside or by absorbing them. A self does the same. With beasts the absorption takes the form of eating; for us, it means the sucking of will and freedom out of a weaker self into a stronger. ‘To be’ means ‘to be in competition’.
From The Screwtape Letters
Compiled in A Year with C.S. Lewis
The Screwtape Letters. Copyright © 1942, C. S. Lewis Pte. Ltd. Copyright restored © 1996 C. S. Lewis Pte. Ltd. All rights reserved. Used with permission of HarperCollins Publishers. A Year With C.S. Lewis: Daily Readings from His Classic Works. Copyright © 2003 by C. S. Lewis Pte. Ltd. All rights reserved. Used with permission of HarperCollins Publishers.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014


I-O! Do Ohioans have the most pride in their state? By one measurement, the answer is a decided, "Yes!"

Are Night Owls Smarter?

File this under "things that make you go, 'Hmmm'":
An analysis of a large representative sample of young Americans confirms this prediction.  Net of a large number of social and demographic factors, more intelligent children grow up to be more nocturnal as adults than less intelligent children.  Compared to their less intelligent counterparts, more intelligent individuals go to bed later on weeknights (when they have to get up at a certain time the next day) and on weekends (when they don’t), and they wake up later on weekdays (but not on weekends, for which the positive effect of childhood intelligence on adult nocturnality is not statistically significant).  For example, those with a childhood IQ of less than 75 ("very dull") go to bed around 23:41 on weeknights in early adulthood, whereas those with a childhood IQ of over 125 ("very bright") go to bed around 00:29.
As the insomniac son of an insomniac father and the father of two night owl children, I have to say that the implications of this research appeal to my ego. Given the lost sleep I've experienced in sixty years, I must be a genius. (I'm definitely not!)

Two things keep me from saying that late-night people are more intelligent than younger people:

First, there's the fact that this research studied only younger people. What's the cumulative effect of all those sleep-deprived nights on one's intelligence? Not good, I would think.

Second, just anecdotally, taken as a whole, early risers I've known have seemed to be at least as intelligent as night owls. 

Whatever...I'm hitting the sack soon.

"I'm spiritual, not religious"; not so much

On airplanes, Lillian Daniel, a pastor, says she dreads it when the passenger in the next seat learns what work she does. "I'm spiritual, not religious," the other passenger often says, in a line I myself have heard dozens of times from people explaining their spiritual disconnectedness.

It doesn't impress Daniel:
Being privately spiritual but not religious just doesn't interest me. There is nothing challenging about having deep thoughts all by oneself. What is interesting is doing this work in community, where other people might call you on stuff, or heaven forbid, disagree with you. Where life with God gets rich and provocative is when you dig deeply into a tradition that you did not invent all for yourself. 
Amen! As a Christian, I believe that Jesus Christ founded His Church as a community for those who follow Him not only to be comforted and reassured, but also challenged and set straight.

If you're not connected to a church community, there's little chance that you're spiritual. You're just someone with a few hobby horse ideas and nobody to tell you that you're full of it.

Read Daniel's short article.

[Thanks to Pastor Eric Swensson (@KinderEric) for turning me onto this article.]

Monday, July 28, 2014

Williams Extols "The Jesus Prayer"

Rowan Williams, one-time Archbishop of Canterbury, is extolling the virtues of The Jesus Prayer, a simple prayer that has its roots in the Orthodox Christian tradition.

I had been ignorant of the Jesus Prayer until fairly recently.

It will do nicely, I think, when we become aware of our need of God's help, but "do not know how to pray as we ought" (Romans 8:26).

A Prayer

God, make me courageous and consistent. You know how I have failed You. Help me turn to You and be the person You want me to be, moment to moment. In Jesus' Name.

Kite by U2

Sunday, July 20, 2014

What About the Mouse in the Cookie Jar? Or the Weeds Amid the Wheat?

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

Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
A few years ago, a woman approached me with a concern. She told me that her father, by then in his seventies, was suing a woman whose car had brushed his in a mall parking lot, where he had been waiting for his wife. Even though both he and his car were fine, he claimed to have suffered physically.

The daughter said to me, “This is the last straw for me! My dad has always gone to church, been on the church council, gone to Sunday School. But he’s also always tried to shaft other people in order to get some advantage. He even pushes people out of the way in order to be first in the grocery check-out line. But I hadn’t realized how horrible he was until he sued this poor young woman who nicked his car. How can he call himself a Christian?”

When she asked me that, I remembered an old saying: Just because the mouse lives in the cookie jar doesn’t mean it’s a cookie.

But I held my tongue. You see, it can be a very dangerous thing to judge where other people are spiritually, where they may be headed, and, in the end, it’s God’s job, not ours! And God is supremely patient with us all, only casting judgment on a life when it's complete and "in the books."

In a way, this is one of Jesus’ points in today’s Gospel lesson.

He’s had another run-in with the Pharisees, those holier-than-thou religionists who may have secretly doubted that God was good enough for them. As you know, the Pharisees didn’t like it that Jesus hung out with well-known sinners or that He said that prostitutes, thieves, extortionists, and even Gentiles, non-Jews, could have places in His kingdom when they turned from their sins and followed Him. The Pharisees would have preferred for Jesus to renounce sinners and left it at that.

Instead, Jesus tells a parable to explain His actions and to guide all those who follow Him who might, like the Pharisees or that woman who approached me after worship one day, feel tempted to look down their noses at others.

The weeds planted by the farmer’s enemy in Jesus’ story, called darnel, are poisonous plants that look like wheat. The Romans had outlawed planting this weed because it had become the practice of some to do so as an act of revenge or hatred toward neighbors.

In His explanation of the parable, Jesus designates what each character or element represents. He is the farmer, the Son of Man. The good seeds are those who follow Him. The enemy is the devil. The bad seeds are those who follow evil. The harvest is the end of this world when Jesus will pronounce final judgment on us all and the place where the bundles are burned is, we can surmise, hell.

In today’s post-modern world, we may feel squeamish in asserting that God will one day condemn some people. Jesus feels no such hesitation.

According to Jesus, the Savior Who died and rose to set sinners like you and me free to live with God eternally, those who repent and believe in Him will be with Him in His kingdom.

Those who spurn Him will live with the separation from God which they daily chose in this world when they chose to be their own gods.

But Jesus today reminds us that only He will judge people’s fitness for His kingdom, not you or me. There may be mice in the cookie jar of Christ’s Church. Those imprisoned by things like selfishness, sexual addictions, egotism, materialism, the idolatry of self, greed, failing to worship God or honor parents, or other sins that diverge from the clear will of God, revealed in the Ten Commandments, may look no different from those set free by the grace, goodness, and love of Jesus Christ. There may be many people given over to evil in our world.

But until the day of judgment, the God we know in Christ is intent on letting His enemies and His friends live side-by-side, affording each equal opportunities to know and follow the Savior Who died and rose for us.

A man once asked me if the real point of Jesus’ words for us today isn’t, “Live and let live.” But that isn't the way of life to which we're called as Christians!

For example, Jesus has given His followers the great commission. We're called to not just let our neighbors die in their sins, ignorant of the possibility of forgiveness and new, everlasting life that can belong to all who repent and believe in Christ.

And we in the Church are directed by Jesus in many ways not to live by the "ethic" of "live and let live." In Matthew 18, for example, Jesus gives explicit instructions on what you and I are to do if we feel that a fellow church member has sinned against us. Ultimately, if the whole church affirms that we have been sinned against and the one who has harmed us refuses to repent, the Church is obligated to bar such a person from the fellowship of the Church until they do repent.

Live and let live isn’t what Jesus commends or commands. As every Lutheran Catechism student knows, Jesus has given to the Church “the keys of the kingdom.” That means that the Church has the responsibility to declare Christ’s forgiveness to the repentant and Christ’s condemnation to the unrepentant. But we are to exercise care in our judgments about others, especially toward those who aren't part of the fellowship of the Church.

In this, it’s instructive to note that Jesus was hardest not on the people everyone else thought were bad, but on those who thought themselves to be good but sinned unrepentantly, people like the Pharisees. Christ didn’t call the Church into being to act as God’s vigilantes, pointing out everyone’s else’ faults. He called us to make disciples.

Pastor Leith Anderson tells of calling ChemLawn to take care of his suburban lawn, infested with weeds. The yard was so bad that ChemLawn refused to work for him. One member of his church said that, if Anderson wanted him to, he would completely remove his old sod and start a new lawn. It was an offer Anderson was ready to accept when a one-time farmer offered some advice: Don't worry so much about getting rid of the weeds. Just grow the grass, and the grass will take care of the weeds. He took the farmer’s advice. After a couple of years, the lawn looked just as good as anyone else's in the neighborhood.

As the Church, we Christians are called by Christ to grow in our own faith and help others to experience Christ’s forgiveness and love through our words, actions, and lives. We grow in our faith when we seek each day to intentionally express thanks to Jesus Christ for dying and rising for us by seeking to do God’s will for our lives and not our own and by loving and serving in His Name. We motivate others to want to follow Christ and to follow Christ at deeper levels when they see us doing our best to love and serve in His Name, all the while admitting our faults and our need for Christ.

A friend of mine once invited some neighbors to attend worship with him. He was excited when, after several invitations, these neighbors, who had never been part of a church, showed up one Sunday morning. He was even more excited when they kept attending.

He thought that his heart would pound out of his chest the day the neighbors made public affirmation of their faith, the kids were baptized, and they joined the congregation. Two of the children were members of my friend’s Sunday School class and he was amazed to see how they took hold of the faith.

The family were members of that church for several years and then, for no apparent reason, they left. They weren’t in worship or Sunday School. They stopped being involved in service projects. My friend never felt that he could discuss things with this family. He would see them in the neighborhood and they would pleasantly say, “Hello” and talk about what their kids were doing at school or in athletics. That was it.

But then, a few years later, a pastor ran into my friend and said, “The Smith kids have started coming to our church. They both mention what an impact you had on them.” My friend was glad to hear it. A few years after that, my friend received an email from the youngest Smith child. He affirmed what that pastor had told him and went on to say, “By the way, I’m starting seminary in the fall. Thank you for introducing my family to Jesus. He is everything to me!”

For years, whenever my friend considered his neighbors, he may have been tempted to see them as weeds. lost to God forever. He was impatient to see them connected to God. God though, was patient. Blessedly, my friend didn’t have to wait until the judgment day to have Jesus’ message for us today boldly underscored: All those people you’re inclined to see as weeds may turn out to be wheat that will be gathered into God’s kingdom for all eternity.

God doesn't give up on anybody. As long as any human being has breath, there is hope that they will turn to Jesus Christ and live. I know that many of you have relatives and friends you want desperately to see come to Christ or return to Christ. Trust God. Be patient. Pray for those people. Ask for and look for opportunities to be light in their darkened lives.

And judge not: Christ can still turn weeds into wheat and mice into cookies. Don't lose sight of that truth!

After all, if the God Who sent His Son to die and rise for sinners like you and me--especially, I know because I know me so well, a sinner like me--God can do it with anybody! Amen

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Freedom to Live!

This is the kind of life we can enjoy by God's grace given to all with faith in Jesus Christ!

A Different Kind of Recycling

From Facebook. Don't know how sustainable it is. But this is fun.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Encouragement for Seed-Scatterers

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

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus gives His family, the Church, encouragement.

We need encouragement. We live in a world that is often indifferent or even hostile to the good news which you and I have been sent by Jesus to share with the world through our actions and our words.

The news--the gospel--that God the Son, Jesus, has died and risen so that all who turn from sin and surrender to Him--trust in Him, believe in Him--have life with God in this world and will have an eternally perfect life with God beyond the grave is really good news, of course.

But this message, isn’t something the world always wants to hear. That can be discouraging for Christ’s Church.

But we of Christ’s Church can also become discouraged by our own self-righteousness. We know that we are saved from sin, death, and futility not by our works or our virtues, but solely by God’s grace operating through our faith in Christ. But we get confused. Self-righteousness creeps into our hearts. We start to think we are good, the rest of the world is bad, and that we’d better just stay separated from the world, the frozen chosen hermetically sealed from this bad old planet. Living in isolation from God's will that we reach out to the world behind us, thinking of the world as irredeemable, disdaining others only brings us isolation from God Himself and that brings discouragement. 

Wallowing in discouragement though, will never help us to pursue the mission Christ has given to you and me.

Jesus shares a parable in the first portion of this morning’s Gospel lesson, Matthew 13:1-9. Later, He explains it in verses 18-23.

Take a look at Matthew 13:1, please: “That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake.” In Matthew’s gospel, the word house often stands symbolically for the Church. The Church is the group of people who have been called into relationship with God through the good news about Jesus.

The Church, of course, is called together to hear God’s Word, to enjoy Christian fellowship, to be baptized and welcome the newly baptized (as we did this morning), and to receive Christ’s body and blood.

But as was true for Jesus Himself, we as His people, after we’ve gathered to do these things, are called to leave the safe confines of our house, our home in Christ, and go into the world.

In fact, the entire purpose for Christians to gather in worship and Bible study and prayer is to be empowered to scatter, taking the word about Jesus into our homes, places of work, schools, the places we hang out each day, the world.

If the only place we live our our faith in Christ or talk about Christ is the church or with fellow Christians, we just aren’t fulfilling God’s purpose for our lives.

Hebrews 10:24-25 says: “...let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds,  not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another...”

In other words, the Holy Spirit gathers us in Christ's Church in order to empower us to be scattered through the world with the Good News of Christ.

In our Gospel lesson, Jesus left the cozy confines of the Church and went out into the world to teach a crowd that had been following Him. Because Jesus had been reaching out in love to the world around Him, He had earned an audience for His message. We do the same today as Christians when, in Jesus’ Name, we love our neighbors as we love ourselves.

Beginning at Matthew 13:3, Jesus tells a parable, a story that conveys lessons about the kingdom of God Jesus has come to bring to all who believe in Him. “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”

Jesus’ parable is a picture of the Church moving out into the world. Like the farmer with his seeds in Jesus’ parable, you and I are meant to indiscriminately and lavishly spread the word about Jesus wherever we go, however we can.

Eleven days ago, our Conspiracy of Kindness class went to the corner of Main and Central, just a few yards from the church, and gave away 120 cans of Coke in about forty minutes. Attached to each can was a card that told recipients that this was a practical way of telling them that God loves them. As in other such outreaches, we shared with teens and twenties and little kids, with working class folks and professionals, with people who had white faces, black faces, yellow faces, old faces, young faces.

We didn’t target a particular group.

We didn’t consider how we could do our work more efficiently.

And we didn’t stop giving when some people refused the gift.

We just gave the Coke away to help people understand that the God we know in Jesus is a lavishly giving, gracious God!

As members of the Church, you and I are called to do crazy stuff like that, to keep scattering the seed, spreading the word about the gracious God we know through Jesus, who forgives our sins and opens eternity with God to all who believe. And we do that no matter what reactions we get from some people.

The apostle Paul told the young pastor Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:2: “Preach [that literally means proclaim or, we might say, scatter] the word; be prepared in season and out of season...” Not everyone, when we encounter them, will be receptive to receiving the word of the gospel. It may not be the right season of their lives for surrendering to Christ.

And many of God’s people will have to scatter the seed in some people’s lives for many years before the people with whom they share it begin to understand their need of the Savior and the depths of His love for them.

This is what Jesus demonstrates in the latter part of our Gospel lesson, when He explains the parable.

He says that the seed of His Word flung along the path gobbled up by birds represents those who hear about Jesus but don’t understand its importance. The evil one, the devil, removes the seed from such people.

Others, Jesus says, will initially welcome the word about Him but their faith will be shallow and they will soon forget the gospel sort of like a fashionista flushes last year’s hemlines.

Still others, Jesus tells us, will start to grow in their faith, but then get caught up in the cares of this world and lose touch with Christ.

Jesus says that some though, will receive His Word, believe in Him, grow in their faith, and have a life of faithfulness, becoming useful servants under the direction of the Holy Spirit.

There are four things I find encouraging in Jesus’ parable.

First, the power of the Church doesn’t reside in our programs. It doesn’t reside in our people. It doesn’t reside in buildings or liturgies, wonderful as those can be. The power of the Church resides in God’s Word, the Word about Jesus, alone. That takes all the pressure off of us in sharing the word about Christ with others. The seeds God gives us to scatter are the best seeds in the universe, God’s seeds of love! But as we scatter them, we’re not even required to have a good aim. We just scatter God’s love and leave the rest to God!

Second, as Christians all we have to do is spread the Word. We don’t have to be innovative. We don’t have to make up a new message. We don’t have to be marketing geniuses. God's Word about Jesus Christ doesn't mean additions or subtractions. It doesn't need to be made more palatable or politically correct. It doesn't need to be made cute. God is the only true innovator anyway: He makes new, eternal beings out of sinners otherwise destined for eternal death simply by calling them to trust in the crucified and risen Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Third, Jesus’ parable tells us that we shouldn’t be discouraged when the seeds we scatter don’t all grow.

The farmer in Jesus’ parable found that only 25% of his seeds survived, grew, and thrived. But that 25% grew like crazy and had an impact on the world in which they grew.

Whenever we invite people to events like Our Own Backyard, or serve others on our mission trips, or house the homeless, we may only plant the seed of faith in 25% of the people we touch. But what’s wrong with that?

If only 25% of the people we touched in that Kindness Outreach a week and a half ago are nudged closer to Christ, that's 31 people!

If just 25% of the men we served at Saint Vincent a few weeks ago grew closer to Christ because we served in Christ’s Name, that’s still 38 men!

And if a quarter of the 168 people served through yesterday’s kindness outreach have their wills cracked open a bit to Christ, that's 42 souls drawn closer to Christ’s orbit.

And just imagine how many people may be having the seed of faith in Christ planted in their lives through Upward, Interfaith Hospitality Network (IHN), our mission trips, and the work Dan Mershon does with our community’s young people--our "parking lot kids"--day-in and day-out!

Christ depends on us. If we Christians never scatter the seed of Christ’s gospel in the world, we are guaranteed to fail. Nobody will ever know about Christ if we in the Church don’t tell others about Him, His cross, and His empty tomb.

If we do scatter the seed, we’re guaranteed that often we will fail from the world's point of view. But we are also guaranteed that we will reach some people with the news about Jesus that can change their lives for eternity.

Jesus says in Luke 15:7: “...there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.” I totally dig the idea that by sharing Christ with others, I can be part of getting a party started in heaven!

The fourth encouraging thing I take from Jesus’ parable is that when we scatter the Word of God, we are fulfilling the highest calling of our lives! You and I were formed in our mothers’ wombs to give glory to God in this way!

1 Peter 2:9 says: “ are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”

As Christians, we’ve been born and reborn to be seed-scatterers!

Today, I think, Jesus wants us to learn one thing and to do one thing.

We’re to learn this: As His followers, you and I have been saved for all eternity by Jesus so that we can be indiscriminate seed-scatterers, sharing Him all the time.

And the one thing He wants us to do is to live that lifestyle, spreading the seed of God's Word about Christ everywhere.

Sign up for serving with Saint Vincent or IHN.

Show up for the next Kindness Outreach or do one yourself with some friends from the congregation.

Look for opportunities to develop relationships with spiritually disconnected people and ask God to help you share the Good News.

Share the Savior Jesus, Who loves you completely, with others He loves completely in all your words and all your actions.

That’s it.

That’s the message.

As Jesus says in our lesson, “Whoever has ears, let them hear.”