Wednesday, June 01, 2016

My Love by Paul McCartney and Wings

What an amazing voice he had. It got better with age, I think, peaking in about 1989, when he turned 47. This performance occurred in 1973.

The James Paul McCartney TV special from which this comes was aired in support not only of Macca's James Bond theme song, Live and Let Die, but also of his LP, Red Rose Speedway.

The LP, which included My Love, was sort of meh, although McCartney's capacity for conjuring up infectious melodies was apparent. The album sold well, but was panned by critics.

The next year, 1974, he would release an album for the ages, Band on the Run.

My Love is a stunningly beautiful ballad, one of the first to feature a power rock guitar solo, one that is more subdued here than on the LP version of the song.

This Never Happened Before by Paul McCartney

Only Our Hearts by Paul McCartney

Ignore the somewhat misquoted lyrics and just listen.

Only One by James Taylor

Monday, May 30, 2016

Eternal Life is a Relationship with Christ Now

"...the life associated with the kingdom of God [that Jesus died and rose to establish] is not just a benefit when you die. It exists now. The only definition of eternal life that Christ gave is relational, as described in John 17:3: 'Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.' Eternal life involves discipleship here on Earth--knowing Christ and following Him." (Ron Barnett, Intentional Disciplemaking)

"Thy will be done" isn't an easy way of life.

But...'s part of growing up as a Christian. (I accept this...some of the time.)

Presser Questions of Cincy Zoo Director Seem All Wrong

Thane Maynard, the director of the Cincinnati Zoo, has been subjected to a grilling during a press conference dealing with the events at the zoo yesterday.

One cable network trailed a headline beneath Maynard, as they carried the event live: "Zoo Director Takes Questions on Decision to Take Life of Gorilla."

It feels like some in the media are in persecution mode with this story.

Maynard, who has hosted a radio spot called 'The 90 Second Naturalist' on public radio for years, has an obvious love for the animal world and has served as director of the Cincinnati Zoo, one of the best such institutions in the world, for a long time. The zoo has an impeccable record for keeping safe all those who come to see and learn about the animal world, as well as for giving proper care and respect to its animals.

But Maynard was peppered with endless questions that seemed to impugn the integrity and the record of both the zoo and himself. He endured it patiently, which, of course, he needed to do. Otherwise, he would be susceptible to charges of cover-up and obfuscation. It still seems like over-the-top treatment of a man and a zoo with well-earned reputations.

Some questions are needed, of course.

But the whole approach of the media to this story, as evidenced by the treatment given to Maynard, seems wrong to me. The necessity of taking the gorilla's life is obvious. The fact that this is an accident for which the zoo bears no blame is clear too. Maynard and the handlers at the zoo should be applauded for the decision they made to end the gorilla's life, not treated as suspects in a murder investigation.

Shouldn't that headline have been something more like: "Zoo Director Takes Questions on Decision to Save Child's Life"?

I think so.

[By the way, the web site of Cincinnati's channel 12, placed the story of Maynard's press conference under the headline: "WATCH: Full press conference on child falling into zoo's gorilla enclosure." That seems more like it.]

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

[UPDATE: A commenter on my thoughts over on Facebook opined that 90% of the world's problems could be attributable to the media. This was my response:

"I don't blame the media for 90% of the world's problems...I know many responsible journalists and I enjoy the good work of many journalists. In fact, by and large, I admire the media: They're how I get informed about what's going on in the world.

"But I do think that the media often reflects the values of our society. Many people blame the zoo for what happened yesterday and the herd mentality takes hold among people at press conferences competing to ask the most provocative question."]

Memorial Day Prayer

This is the prayer offered as an Invocation at the Memorial Day Services held at Stubbs Park in Centerville, Ohio, earlier today.
Father in heaven, on this day of remembrance, we offer thanks for those who have given their lives in military service to our country. You know how easily we forget the good done to us in our lives and how readily we trivialize days like Memorial Day. We get caught up with things like ball games, picnics, and holiday sales, and soon the true reason this day has been set aside is forgotten. Help us, God, to never forget, to always remember, that the promise of America has been secured by the sacrifices of people like those we memorialize today. Grant that, in remembrance of fallen heroes, we will live lives that bring You, that bring them, and that bring our country, honor. In Jesus’ name. Amen
[Blogger Mark Daniels is the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church, Centerville, Ohio.]

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Is the United States "a hellhole"?

"A hellhole" is how Donald Trump describes the United States.

I have lots of criticisms of my country, but according to Trump, the country is sliding into Third World status and is militarily and economically impotent.

Is that true? No, says Washington Post columnist and CNN host Fareed Zakaria. Even though we live in a more complicated world and the United States will have to continue to work with international partners, the country is still the world's preeminent military, economic, and innovation power. A sampling:
In fact, it is increasingly clear that the United States has in recent years reinforced its position as the world’s leading economic, technological, military and political power. The country dominates virtually all leading industries — from social networks to mobile telephony to nano- and biotechnology — like never before. It has transformed itself into an energy superpower — the world’s biggest producer of oil and gas — while also moving to the cutting edge of the green-technology revolution. And it is demographically vibrant, while all its major economic peers (Japan, Europe and even China) face certain demographic decline... 
...there are nine global tech platforms (Google Chrome, Microsoft Office, Facebook, etc.) that are used by more than 1 billion people. All dominate their respective markets — and all are American. The dollar is more widely used for international financial transactions today than it was 20 years ago... 
...China is the closest the United States has to a rising rival but only on one measure, gross domestic product... 
...The United States’ inclusive wealth totaled almost $144 trillion in 2010 — 4½ times China’s $32 trillion. China is far behind the United States in its ability to add value to goods and create new products... 
In 2013, China took in less than $1 billion, while the United States received $128 billion. In 2012, America registered seven times as many “triadic” patents — those granted in the United States, Europe and Japan. 
In the military and political realm, the dominance is even more lopsided. There are many ways to measure this, but take just one: the most potent form of force projection, aircraft carriers. The United States operates 10. China has one, a secondhand Ukrainian ship that it had to retrofit. In the realm of high-tech warfare — drones, stealth — Washington’s lead is even greater. And perhaps most important, the United States has a web of allies around the world and is actually developing new important ones, such as India and Vietnam. Meanwhile, China has one military ally, North Korea.
Military and economic power aren't end games for the human race, of course. You can, as Jesus tells us, gain the world and lose your soul.

And we do have major problems in this country that need to be resolved. Our Information Age economy and agricultural and industrial infrastructures need to create more opportunities for more people. We have income disparities that threaten the social fabric of the country. Racism continues to be a blight on our national life. Our food supply appears to be threatened by our incessant pursuit of greater yields. A lack of opportunities for women equal to their male counterparts is an ongoing scandal of American life. So too is our contempt for the lives of the young and unemployed and of babies in the womb.

There is also a general pessimism and cynicism that afflicts America that I find troubling.

On a flight from Chicago to Denver this past week, our flight attendant, a sassy person with lots of funny patter, talked about what we were to do should we need to make a water landing. (Presumably in Lake Michigan.)

A thirty-something passenger said, "If we land in the water, none of us is going to survive anyway." The steward replied with good humor, "Haven't you ever heard about what happened on the Hudson?"

She was referring, of course, to US Airways Flight #1549, which, in 2009, made an emergency landing in the Hudson River. All 155 passengers and crew were saved.

But the passenger was unconvinced. "Yeah, but when was that, twenty years ago?"

Set aside his poor sense of history for a moment and just consider the implications of his remark. "That happened in the good old days, when Americans were competent and technology could be relied upon," he was saying.

I wanted to tell that young man, some rows ahead of me, "We aren't living in the Dark Ages, no matter how crappy movies or reality TV shows may have convinced you that we are!"

I'm more concerned about America's spiritual health, the refusal of many to believe in much beyond themselves, than I am about its economic or military standing, of course. I believe that we desperately need a spiritual renewal in which people take up the new life that comes from Jesus Christ.

Historically, waves of deepened or new faith in Christ have brought innovation to the world in medicine, in law, in economics. (Check out The Victory of Reason by Rodney Stark to see what I mean.)

The reason for this is fairly simple. When you believe, as Christianity teaches, that God cares so passionately about every human individual that He took on human flesh, died for us, rose for us, and gives forgiveness and new life to all who trust in Christ, it imbues every believer with a sense of possibility, of belief that we are not bound to live by the same constraints of previous generations, and that we can be creative and innovative.

No other faith has unleashed the individual to achieve the way Christianity has, particularly after the Reformation reclaimed the Biblical concept of "the priesthood of all believers."

Besides, when you know that you have life beyond death, it makes you bolder about making this a better world, giving the life to Marx's notion that religion--by which he meant Christianity--is an enervating opiate. In fact, it's an energizing motive force!

Christianity can save us from the resigned cynicism that young man on the plane expressed and from notions, however well intended, that America is altogether "a hellhole." It is some measure of where we are spiritually, that we even listen to such ill-informed critiques, whether from Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, or a passenger on a flight from Chicago to Denver.

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

Puerto Rico's Resurgent Food Industry


Don't be misled by The Guardian's headline. The term "born again" references agricultural resurgence in Puerto Rico.

When I was in San Juan last November, I had an amazing gluten-free (and organic) lunch at an open air market. The proprietor grew vegetables organically.

Are You Free?

Galatians 1:1-12

These are words that get thrown around a lot on national holiday weekends like Memorial Day, when we honor those who have died in defense of our country. They get thrown around a lot during political campaigns too.

Ask the average American about the meaning of freedom or liberty and they might say something, “Freedom means doing or being whatever I want to do or be.”

But the Christian understanding is very different from the idea that freedom is doing whatever I want to do.

And the reason it's so different is this: If I am born in slavery to sin, then every action that comes from “doing whatever I want to do,” will be born not of any freedom I have, but from my slavery to sin.

Even my most altruistic actions can be tinged by thoughts like “I’m really a good person,” or “What’s in it for me?,” or “I scratch your back, you scratch mine.”

In other words, people who do whatever they want to do may not be free at all.

Don't believe me?

Ask the drug addict, or the alcoholic, or the person addicted to gambling, food, or pornography, when they're being honest, if they’re really free.

At a moment of weakeness and truth-telling, ask the person who steals, gossips, or commits adultery of their actions were born of a free will or if, instead, they're not born of a will that “is in bondage to sin” and cannot free itself.

I feel blessed and thankful to live in the United States of America. But even if I’m able to exercise every single freedom guaranteed by our system of government, I still won’t be free in the eyes of God or from the perspective of Christ. Even if I’m free to do anything I want to do, my actions will be dictated by sin.

And, as we all know, “the wages of sin is death” [Romans 6:23].

So, freedom doesn’t mean doing what we want. To we human beings, Proverbs 16:25 says, “there is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death.”

And freedom doesn’t mean doing what we feel like doing. The worst advice we can give someone is to follow their heart. “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” Jeremiah 17:9 reminds us.

Defining freedom as doing what we want to do is a dead end that leads us away from God, away from life, away from eternity, away from true kinship with other people. It leads to destruction, the devil, and to hell.

But there’s another definition of freedom.

It’s real freedom.

It’s not the freedom to do what the sin that shackles us tells us to do.

It’s the freedom that belongs to those who are moving toward becoming the people that our Creator made us to be.

In the Old Testament, King David confesses to God: “ created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb...My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place...Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” [Psalm 139:13-17]

The God Who made us can set us free to be all we were made to be because, as our Maker, He knows exactly all that we can be.

This is freedom.

I once heard the true story of a man who used the freedom that many American citizens enjoy. He leveraged his intelligence, training, contacts, and mental, emotional, and physical stamina to become hugely successful. He had a large business in Michigan. On the way to his success, he lost his wife, his kids, and his soul. He was throwing a business-related party at the building from which he ruled his empire. “When you look at all of this,” a guest said to him, “you must feel proud.” “Actually,” the man replied in a rare moment of honesty, “when I look at all of this, it makes me sick.”

Some people might say that that man had lived in complete freedom--no bosses, no accountability, nothing to tie him down. It’s pretty clear when you read God’s Word that that wouldn’t be God’s assessment. Nor, apparently was it the ultimate assessment of that successful man.

The New Testament book of Galatians, which we’ll be delving into over the next few weeks is all about the freedom God can give to us, the freedom to be all that we were made to be. Galatians calls this “freedom in Christ.”

And it’s as relevant today as it was when Saint Paul first wrote the book to Christians in Galatia in about 49 AD. Most experts think that Galatia was a region in part of what we today call Turkey. Paul had founded churches in this region on an earlier mission trip.

But the letter, meant to be circulated among the Christians who worshiped and studied God’s Word together in small house churches, was prompted by a problem in those churches. The issue was freedom.

Please turn to our second lesson for today, Galatians 1:1-12. Take a look at verse 1: “Paul, an apostle—sent not from men nor by a man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead—and all the brothers and sisters with me, To the churches in Galatia: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”

Paul begins the letter in a way common to those times. When you and I write an email to someone today, we might say, “Dear Joe” or “Joe.” But in Paul’s day, you’d start out a letter to Joe by telling Joe who was sending the letter first. The opening greetings of letters those days were more like the tags we attach to Christmas gifts today: “From: Paul; To: Joe.”

In this opening though, Paul also moves quickly to establish that he isn’t just another guy writing to them. Paul points that he’s an “apostle,” a word that literally means “sent one.” Paul asserts that he was sent not by just anyone. I was “sent not from men nor by a man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father,” the latter of whom raised Jesus from the dead. By everything Paul writes in the simple opening words of this letter in five verses, he’s saying, “Look, Galatians, what you’re about to read isn’t from me, it’s from God! So, pay attention!”

Are you confident enough in your relationship with Jesus Christ to be able to talk to fellow Christians you love in that way?

Sometimes I am and sometimes I’m not.

But part of being free in Christ is being free to speak with others honestly and lovingly about the truth of God.

And, as followers of Jesus who accept the Bible as God's Word's, we possess the most important truth in the universe!

You’ve heard me quote Jesus’ words from John 14:6 before, but here they are again. Jesus says: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

If you had your Bibles with you and you were turned to John 14:6, I’d ask you to underline the word the in Jesus’ words: He is the way, the truth, and the life. And Jesus is the only way to a relationship with God the Father. “You can’t know God except through Me,” Jesus is telling us. “You can’t have the freedom for which you were made unless you follow Me.”

People need to know this truth!

People you know need to know this truth!

So, we should be as bold and loving in sharing it as Paul was. We shouldn't keep it to ourselves!

If people don’t know that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life--not just as head knowledge, but as the announcement of the only way to life, they will be enslaved to sin and separated from God forever. 

Think of it: If by some happenstance, you came upon the cure for pancreatic cancer or AIDs, but thought, “I’d better not say anything. I don’t want to force a chance for new life on people,” you would be rightly regarded as monstrous.

If you have life and freedom from slavery through Christ to share with others, you have to share it. It would be monstrous to keep it to yourself, wouldn’t it?

We have begun the process of building a discipleship culture at Living Water. This is part of what Bishop John and our North American Lutheran Church are calling us to do, of course.

But, more importantly, Jesus calls us to be a congregation that makes disciples, not through programs, not through events, but through each us of sharing Christ’s truth boldly, lovingly, unapologetically, and relationally with the people in our lives, then inviting them to let us as individuals help them to know Jesus personally.

We need to ensure that every single disciple in Living Water who is willing to be used by God will be empowered by God’s Word to make other disciples, to speak the truth in love, to be accountable to other Christian sisters or brothers in our congregation, to live in the freedom that Jesus Christ died and rose to give us.

We need to stop worrying about what others say and just live in the freedom we have in Jesus Christ!

It was from this perspective of freedom that Paul wrote to the churches at Galatia.

Verse 6: “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!”

Just as there is only one truth, God’s truth, and just as there’s only one way to life with God, Jesus, there’s also, Paul is saying, one Gospel.

Our word Gospel translates a word Paul and the other writers used in the New Testament Greek in which they wrote, euangelion. It means good news.

You all know the good news. It’s in John 3:16-18. Jesus gave the good news to a man named Nicodemus: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”

We can turn down the offer of new and everlasting life--the freedom that comes with being a child of God--by refusing to surrender to or believe in Jesus. People enslaved to sin are intrinsically inclined to make that choice of refusing to believe in Jesus.

But the good news is that we can be set free from sin, death, and the self-focus that leads to hell when we take the offer of grace and freedom given to us by the crucified and risen Jesus. Jesus sets us free to live different lives, free lives, with Him for eternity, starting now, today.

In 49 AD, the churches in Galatia were turning their backs on Jesus and freedom from Him. A group of Jewish Christians had come to them and basically said, “What Jesus did on the cross and from the tomb is cool, but if you want life with God, you need to do all the ritual and sacrificial law. You have to get circumcised and be observant Jews if you want Jesus to save you.”

Ever since Adam and Eve bit into the forbidden fruit, human beings have tried to turn their relationship with God into a business transaction: If they were good enough...if they showed up for worship enough...if they plunked enough money in the offerings, they could bargain with God. God would have to hold up His end of the bargain and these outwardly religious people felt, like Americans, free to do whatever they wanted to do.

Jesus scorned the thinking of people like these. He scorns it still. People who buy into this kind of religious thinking were, He once said, like “whitewashed tombs,” righteous looking on the outside who felt free to shaft their parents, neighbors, the poor, and others [Matthew 23:27].

“Deal-making righteousness” (which is no righteousness at all) appeals to our human ego. It makes us feel like we're in control. It makes us feel free. But it really makes us slaves to the things of this world, things that are bound to die.

Paul was concerned that the Galatians were turning away from their freedom in Christ, back to the false freedom of religious bravado and pride, a false freedom that leads to death.

Paul tells them--and us, whenever the world’s idea of freedom tempts us to do things our way rather than Christ’s way--to settle in. He’s about to remind them (and us) of the true Gospel message, the message of true freedom that no human being invented, but comes to us only “through a revelation of Jesus Christ” [verse 12].

And it’s to Paul that we’ll be listening over the next several weeks so that we too, can know the freedom Jesus died and rose to give to those who follow Him. Amen

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Happy Birthday, Mr. Zimmerman

Bobby Zimmerman (aka, Bob Dylan), one of my all time favorites, is celebrating his seventy-fifth birthday today.

No, not the greatest voice in the world.

But yes, one of the greatest songwriters ever, in a pantheon that includes the likes of George and Ira Gershwin, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Carole King, Lennon and McCartney, Marvin Gaye, Bono and U2, Stevie Wonder, Steve Taylor, Bruce Cockburn, Holland, Dozier, and Holland, and Paul Simon, to name a few great popular music composers.

But there is only one Dylan. No one speaks to my heart or challenges my mind like Dylan. And no one so often speaks my heart or mind like Dylan.

The song immediately below originally appeared on Planet Waves, a constantly underestimated Dylan collection put out on David Geffen's label when Dylan was in a contract dispute with his label, Columbia. Love the song--Forever Young--posted earlier today by Howard Wilkinson over on Facebook. (But then I can say that about a lot of Dylan's music.)

I also love--and sing over and over to myself--this Dylan tune from Blood on the Tracks, If You See Her, Say Hello. I prefer the album version, but this one is better than the one Dylan's people let Youtube post as "official." I also prefer the words "If you get close to her..." to Dylan's replacement here of, "If you make love to her..."

But these varied versions just demonstrate how pliantly Dylan views his songs, as he constantly changes lyrics, tunes, tempos, and arrangements. To me, the willingness to change, even to the point of what would some call desecrating one's own work, is a hallmark of a great artist. I tell people all the time, "You're either growing or you're dying." That's why at age 75, Dylan is still younger than contemporary artists who churn out formulaic sounds. Because of this element of his artistry, Dylan can rightly say as he puts it elsewhere, "I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now."

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

Today's Word of the Day: Ethology

A form of this word came up while re-reading Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference in preparation for two-plus days of upcoming meetings.

When I think about it, the word makes sense. The prefix, as I'm familiar with it, comes from the koine (common) Greek New Testament word ethos, which means customs and usage, in addition to, sometimes, morals or character. Ethos is about how people do things.

The suffix-logy, from the Greek logos, literally means word. As it's been transliterated into English, the word means, literally the word about or, less literally, the study of the subject of the word's prefix. So psychology is the study of the psyche (life) of a person; geology is the study of earth (ge in the Greek); anthropology is the study of human beings; sociology is the study of people in society, and so on.

But I hadn't remembered ethology from my first time through Gladwell. Apparently, there are people who are ethologists. Wonder if that's printed on their business cards? ("Joe Smith, Professional Ethologist.")

And once people realize what an ethologist does, do they become self-conscious about everything they do and why they do it when they're with an ethologist?

When they're on airplanes, do ethologists try to keep their profession secret from seatmates until after they've established a rapport, the way we pastors do?

Back to my reading.

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

Sunday, May 22, 2016

God: Three in One and One in Three

John 8:48-59
Two-thousand years before the birth of Jesus, three mysterious strangers appeared beneath the oak trees at a place called Mamre, where a husband and wife and their party were staying. They had come from a spot in what we know today as Iraq, Ur.

Practicing the hospitality that was part of their faith in the God they had come to know and worship, the couple--Abraham and Sarah--welcomed the threesome to their dwelling and fed them a feast. Over the course of their visit, the three made a promise that in one year, Sarah, an old woman, would give birth to the son promised to them by God. They come to realize that they are in the presence of God.

Later, the three strangers engage in a private conversation. “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do? [they ask] Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him. For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just, so that the Lord will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.” [Genesis 18:17-19]

Was God talking to Himself?

Yes, said Saint Augustine, a 4th century Christian scholar and founder of the Augustinian order of monks of which Martin Luther would be a member four millennia after Abraham and Sarah welcomed the Lord--Yahweh, I AM. In that conversation among the three leaving Abraham, God was talking to Himself, Augustine believed.

If so, it’s not the first time the Bible records God doing that.

In Genesis 1:26, we’re told that God spoke to Himself: “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness...”

These Bible passages give us early hints at what Jesus later made explicit in the Great Commission, that there is one God in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

It’s part of the mystery of God’s identity and being, but the Trinity--a term never used in the Bible, but which we use to describe what God has revealed about Himself--is more than just an odd theological concept. God’s triune nature is essential to Who He is and appreciating it, whether we’re ever able to fully understand it, can deepen our relationship with God.

From the oaks at Mamre, fast forward two thousand years to our Gospel lesson. Jesus is in the temple in Jerusalem. He’s teaching. He’s met a lot of opposition. Among those opposing Him, we’re told, are those who had believed in Him, but are now getting turned off by the implications of what it means to be His disciples. They’re so upset with Jesus that they ask Him if they aren’t right in saying that Jesus has a demon [John 8:48].

Jesus then ushers them (and us) into the mysterious realm of the Holy Trinity. “I am not possessed by a demon,” said Jesus, “but I honor my Father and you dishonor me. I am not seeking glory for myself; but there is one who seeks it, and he is the judge. Very truly I tell you, whoever obeys my word will never see death.”

Jesus is pointing to the Father Who judges sin, as He judged the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah shortly after the incident at Mamre. Jesus seeks to bring the Father glory, not Himself, just as the Father seeks glory for Jesus, not Himself.

This is the nature of the love that exists within the Trinity, self-giving love that doesn’t seek for itself, the self-sufficient love that didn’t need to create the universe or the human race in God’s image, but chose to do so out of pure, giving love.

It was this same love, Jesus said, that brought Him to the world. "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son..."

If you really honored God, Jesus is telling His fellow Jews, you would see the love of God embodied in Me and you would honor Me too.

But the crowd is scandalized. “Now we know that you are demon-possessed! Abraham died and so did the prophets, yet you say that whoever obeys your word will never taste death. Are you greater than our father Abraham? He died, and so did the prophets. Who do you think you are?” Jesus replied, “If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing. My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the one who glorifies me. Though you do not know him, I know him. If I said I did not, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and obey his word. Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.”

You can almost picture the pious crowd paralyzed with anger at Jesus. Who did He think that He was?

But if the crowd had known their Father God as well as they claimed to know Him, had they known His Word, they would have known exactly Who Jesus was (and is).

And they would have remembered what the three strangers--identified in our English translations of our Bibles as L-O-R-D, all four letters capitalized, translating Yahweh--I AM, the name God would reveal to be His own to Moses--had said that day by the oaks of Mamre.

Yahweh had said: “Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him.” [Genesis 18:18]

It was through Jesus that God’s promise to Abraham that Abraham and all people who trust in Yahweh would be made righteous and would become a great eternal nation, the kingdom of God.

Through God the Son made flesh, all who turn from sin and believe, are members of God’s new creation.

Abraham, Jesus says, had heard this promise and if Abraham had been standing in the temple that day, he would have been filled with joy. Abraham would have said exactly the same thing of Jesus that another old man of faith, Simeon, said of Jesus on the day the infant Jesus was brought to be circumcised in this same temple: “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.” [Luke 2:29-32] Abraham, Jesus says, would rejoice in seeing Him!

But the crowd of skeptics in John 8 aren't thinking as Jesus says Abraham would think at all. Verse 57: “You are not yet fifty years old,” they said to him, “and you have seen Abraham!” “Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!

Jesus’ response isn’t grammatical. But it is definitive.

Yes, Jesus is saying, I know exactly what Abraham thought. Not only am I older than Abraham, I made Abraham. I gave life to everything that breathes and moves. “Before Abraham was born, Yahweh, I AM!

Now, this is such a stunning claim that if it isn’t true--if Jesus isn’t, as we sing at Christmas, God in flesh appearing, if He isn’t the second person of the triune God--then He is, in C.S. Lewis’ famous formulation either a liar, guilty of one of the most horrible hoaxes in history; a madman--on the order, Lewis says, of a man who claims to be a poached egg; or precisely who He claims to be.

As Lewis writes: “You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God; or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

Jesus didn’t intend for the crowd in the temple to see Him as a great teacher or a magnetic leader who might give them what they wanted. (The kind of patronizing nonsense non-Christians and people who claim to be Christians say about Jesus a lot.) All Jesus wanted them (and us) to see is the love of God poured out through Him.

It’s to help them see that He provokes a confrontation with them. It’s why He provokes a confrontation with us in every burning word of Scripture.

Is Jesus God in the flesh? Is He the incarnation of the God that Abraham saw back at the oaks of Mamre?

If He is, then why would any of us mess around with living lives that are displeasing to Him, that break faith with our Creator and our Redeemer, that dehumanize us, that fail to love God or neighbor? Why would we take His name in vain? Why would we commit adultery? Why would we murder, physically or through the poison of gossip? Why would we take ourselves and our own thinking so seriously and fail to honor God as God or fail to honor the thinking of the One Who made us and redeemed us? Why do we worry instead of trusting in Him? (I'm learning to ask myself questions like these every time I sin or contemplate sinning more.)

On hearing Jesus’ claim to be God, verse 59 says: “At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds.”

As I reflect on this passage, I wonder, did the crowd want to stone Jesus because they thought He was dishonoring-- blaspheming-- God? Or did they want to stone Him because, in light of His credibility, they knew that He was God enfleshed and saw their chance to take advantage of His weakness, His voluntary acceptance of the limits of humanity?

“This is the heir,” the tenants in Jesus’ parable in Matthew’s gospel say of the son who stands for Jesus in the story. “Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance.”

Going all the way back to the garden, humanity has been looking for a way to declare our independence of our Maker, to “be like God.

It was for this reason that the world would later crucify Jesus. Get rid of God and the lunatics can run the asylum!

“But,” as Peter says in the Pentecost sermon, a part of which makes up our second lesson today, “God raised [Jesus] from the dead.” And it’s here that we see the practical implications of this strange doctrine of the Trinity.

It was out of love that God the Father sent God the Son.

It was this same love that caused the Father to bring Jesus back to life. Not love for Himself, but from love for the Son and love for all who believe in Him--you and me--that the Father raised the Son to new life and through Him, raises us to new life.

Without God’s triune nature, we could not be saved.

Nor could we know or believe in this God, because it’s God the Holy Spirit, the comforter sent to call us to faith, who makes it possible for us to believe and to have life in Jesus’ name.

If you remember nothing else about the Trinity, remember this:
It’s from the love that God has known within Himself for all eternity that He loves you and makes you His own.

The Trinity is how God loves. It's also how He loves us. Three times over, He loves us, and we are eternally the richer for it!

[This was shared during worship with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church on Sunday, May 22, 2016.]

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

Set free to be who God makes us to be

John 11:21-27
A few years back, a large group of us from Living Water went out to eat together, then went to Poelking Lanes to bowl. Paul and I were on the same team. Although I used to bowl regularly in a league, it had been a few years and I was rusty. During the second game nonetheless, I thought that I was doing pretty well. One frame though, I failed to pick up a spare. I turned around to see Paul grinning. He asked me: “Do you try to bowl badly?”

That little incident, which I’ve shared with others many times, seems to crystalize much of what I came to know about Paul for myself and from the witness of family, friends, and fellow church members. Paul, who had several really good games that night, loved to be with people. Loved to bowl (and golf). Loved to have fun with others. And, even in a casual evening of bowling, he loved to do his best.

Lynn, Paul, David, David, and Lauren, all of us who knew Paul have some sense of the magnitude of your loss. Yours too, Mary Lou. Paul was a special man, in many ways.

Anyone who spent any time with him knew how bright he was. And his was an applied brilliance. He was an engineer for thirty years with Cincinnati Milacron, holding a Masters in electrical engineering and a Masters in business administration. He later worked for AMF, leading a team that improved that company’s products. After that, he taught engineering at Sinclair College.

But Paul was also a dedicated husband and family man. Lynn has reported on what a good listener Paul was, mentioning specifically the help he provided to her as she considered what her major would be by what, in my field, we call active listening: Hearing her out, asking evocative questions, helping her to reach her own choice. When his family was younger, there was croquet on the lawn and camping trips for getaways. The Ackermann house was filled with laughter, parties, and music: Paul was a tenor who was part of a barbershop quartet and could also play the ukulele and the piano. It should also be mentioned that Paul was a wonderful grandfather to David and Lauren.

And Paul had friends. It isn’t often true that men make and retain friends, you know. But Paul was the kind of man for whom friendships were always important.

Paul also was a follower of Jesus Christ. His faith showed in his decisionmaking and in his priorities.

In the two-and-a-half years since I began serving at Living Water, Paul was always among the first to arrive for worship each Sunday.

And Paul wasn’t just a Sunday morning guy. I once went to see him as he was recuperating from surgery. During the course of our conversation, he told me that there was some input he wanted to give. It was early in my time at Living Water; so, I braced myself for some hidebound advice from an unhappy traditionalist. Instead, Paul said, “One thing I hope is that as we grow as a church, we’ll be sure not to give up on serving the poor in places like Chevy Chase.” Paul gave living expression to that sentiment by being part of a crew of Living Water folks who go to that government subsidized housing community to tutor young people with their studies.

Paul's outward focus was a byproduct of his faith in Christ. When you belong to the King and Creator of the universe Who laid aside His glory in order to die and to rise and to set you free from sin and death, you’re also set free from worrying about yourself or what will happen to you.

You can focus instead on the family that you love, the friends you care about, the work for which you were made, and the poor who need the kinds of love and opportunities you want everyone to have.

That was the freedom--what another Paul, the saint and evangelist of the New Testament called our “freedom in Christ”--in which Paul lived.

I think that knowing about Paul’s faith goes a long way in explaining how he lived, how he cared, how he laughed, and how he enriched the lives of those he came to know. The freedom Jesus Christ gives to those who dare to turn from their sins and follow Him was the freedom in which Paul daily moved.

I hope that knowing the freedom in which Paul lived each day will lighten the burden of grief you feel today and will feel in the days ahead. Jesus’ words to Martha, the sister of his friend, Lazarus, are meant to comfort you as much as they were meant to comfort Martha: “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in Me will never die.”

Those, of course, would only be pretty words were it not for the fact that, a few moments later, Jesus called Lazarus back to life from the tomb.

Even then, they would be little more than words if it weren’t for Jesus Himself rising from death a short time after that.

Jesus has authority over life and death.

And He gives new and everlasting life to all who dare to follow Him.

He gives His followers the power to face life, death, adversity, success, failure, joy, and challenge with equal faith and power.

Today those who knew and loved Paul grieve. And it’s right that you should. He was a wonderful man who loved you and was a powerful presence in your lives.

But you can take comfort from a truth that other Paul talks about in Romans 8: Nothing can separate followers of Jesus from His love. Not even death.

Today, Paul is in the nail-scarred hands of the Savior Who died and rose to set him and all who believe in him free to be the loving, caring people we were made to be.

And all who turn to Christ for life know that one day, we will be united in eternity with Christ and all his saints, including the saint we remember and to whom we say goodbye today, a sinner made saint by the grace of God given in Christ, Paul. Amen

[This was shared on Saturday during a memorial service for a member of Living Water Lutheran Church.]

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

Saturday, May 21, 2016

A Prince Biopic?

BET claims to give ten good reasons that it's not a good idea. (HT to Ann Althouse for putting me onto the BET slide show where they make their case.)

The two biggest reasons they give for not doing a Prince biopic is that biopics are generally not good and that Prince wasn't involved in the anti-hunger supergrouping of the 90's top US musical superstars, We Are the World. Althouse objected to the latter point as a good excuse for not portraying Prince's non-participation in that project, suggesting that exploring Prince's motives for saying no could be interesting.

I reacted over on Althouse's blog:
Movie biopics ARE generally, horrible though, as the BET slideshow points out.

Tonight, I watched the last half-hour of Jersey Boys. Horrible! (Of course, it might have helped if the Four Seasons' music, which I hated while growing up during the sixties, was good.)

But, in any case, the film industry has a way of butchering and pasteurizing their subjects, melding them into [indistinguishable] "musicaleverybodies." Didn't the Johnny Cash and Ray Charles biopics look like they were about the same person, that they led the exact same lives? Biopics have a way of disintegrating into kind of reality TV versions of 'Behind the Music,' every story the same.

When Hollywood went to work on telling George Gershwin's story (1945), almost none of it bore any resemblance to George Gershwin's story.

The same is true of 'Yankee Doodle Dandy' (1942), the biopic about George M. Cohan, which at least has the redeeming quality of being entertaining, spiced as it is by James Cagney's extraordinary, all-in dance stylings.

But there have been two more recent movie biopics that seem to have fairly hewn to the actual stories of their subjects' lives and careers.

The most creative of these is Kevin Spacey's 'Beyond the Sea' (2004). It's Spacey's telling of Bobby Darin's life story. There's little fiddling with the facts, though there are interesting flashbacks and flash forwards. You get a clear understanding of Darrin the man. Spacey, a terrific mimic, does a good job channeling his inner Darrin on the latter's catalog. A thoroughly enjoyable film.

Another successful recent music biopic is the 2014 release 'Ragamuffin,' focused on the life of Rich Mullins, an early practitioner of Christian contemporary music. Mullins' music was honest and so is this film. It shows the musician's quest to live a life of authentic Christian faith despite his rising fame. The music is great too. A film both enjoyable and deeply moving.

BET, I think, is wrong for suggesting that Prince's staying away from mass social activity renders him unfit for film treatment. His reasoning [as Althouse suggests] may warrant exploration. What were his reasons for doing big charitable events, while keeping his significant personal philanthropy quiet?

In fact, a similar shying away from association with big causes--in spite of appearances and reputation to the contrary and a few exceptions--will face any prospective producer of a Bob Dylan biopic. Dylan's 'Blowin' in the Wind' was an anthem for many in the 60's civil rights movement. But his connection to the movement or to the protests of the war in Vietnam were limited to non-existent. Dylan wasn't really a cause guy; he was more of a Dylan guy.
In the end, I think it's the music that matters most.

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