Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Speaking of which...

...here's the version of Here, There, and Everywhere that Paul McCartney performed on his 1993 world tour. Saw him in Cincinnati then.

Wanderlust by Paul McCartney

This is from the 1982 release, Tug of War, which I would count as one of McCartney's four best LPs. I love the counter-melody.

Here's a version of the song that Macca recorded (with Ringo Starr on drums) for the forgettable movie, Give My Regards to Broad Street. I love this rendition, which appears as part of a medley with the Beatles' classic, Here, There, and Everywhere.

Electric Blue by Icehouse

Someone reminded me of this group the other day. The video is about as thoroughly 80s as you'll find: synthesizer, big hair, poppy. Icehouse, from Australia, featured lead singer Iva Davies, who had a great voice.

I Do by Paul McCartney

This 2001 song by Paul McCartney isn't his best work and his voice shows the decline that we've continued to see in the intervening decade-and-a-half. But this is still a wonderful ballad, displaying Macca's unparalleled sense of melody.

But there's a note of sadness and resignation in this song, a sense of futility associated with a doomed love:
Please remember this
After a time it`s through
And nevermore
Will there be days
For me and you

This is all I want
This is all I need
Darling please remember, I do
Love you

If you only knew
It's a peculiar sentiment for McCartney to have expressed as he prepared at that point in his life, to wed his second wife, Heather Mills, as though he was having second thoughts. The impression is reinforced by the title, a phrase we usually associate with weddings, not the ends of relationships.

While that may be reading way too much into things, the sadness of the lyrics are clear enough. "We'll never be together," the lyrics seem to say to a love, "but remember that I love you. If you only knew how much."

Pull out the tissues.

Food, losing weight, my body, and prayer

On June 13, I had my annual physical with the cardiologist. Six years ago, in what the doctor regards as a fluke, I had a heart attack that wiped out 40% of my heart. (Presently, there is no treatment that will restore damaged heart tissue, although there is some promising research indicating that, through the introduction of stem cells, this can happen. The research is still in the early stages.)

Since the attack, I've not only had a stent inserted in the left anterior descending artery of my heart, where there had been a 100% blockage, but also, as a precautionary measure, I've received a pacemaker/defibrillator.

The cardiologist is very pleased with my progress. Though I have an ejection fraction of only about 35%, my heart sounds good to him. My EKGs look good. And the pacemaker only engages periodically at night to regulate my heart rate.

My doc was complimentary, though he did notice that I'd developed more of a spare tire. He mentioned in passing that I could "lose a few pounds."

Personally, I was far more alarmed by my weight than the doctor seemed to be because, when one of the assistants weighed me, I learned that I was heavier than at any time in my life. The scales showed that I had ballooned to 189.7 pounds.

I was appalled! I knew that I'd had to go from a 34"-waist to 36". And I knew that I'd been growing heavier. But when I saw the actual number, I thought to myself, "This has to stop now!"

For the greater part of my adult life, I sported a 32"-waist. When I graduated from high school, I was a scrawny 118-pounds, on my 5'-9" frame. As I "filled out," my weight increased to 134-pounds, where it remained for about ten years. (Until his retirement, my dad was the same weight for almost his entire adult life. But even with his post-retirement weight increase, I now outweigh him.)

When I hit my late-40s, the waistline expanded and I hit 159-pounds. Even that was too much, according to my GP.

My weight did come down after my heart attack, as I scrupulously avoided the foods against which the heart people warned me. But I never got serious about weight loss as a goal in itself.

When I saw 189.7 though, I was shocked into taking action to reduce my weight.

On June 14, I put myself on a diet. At present, I'm limiting myself to 1700 calories a day, a number to which I've reduced gradually. (I started out allowing myself 2100 calories a day.)

We don't keep scales in our house and I'm glad that we don't. I don't want to check my progress--or lack of it--every day. I'm trying to establish a different relationship with food and to be healthier, not to impress other people.

This past Thursday though, we were in Columbus, where we shopped at one of our favorite grocery stores, Marc's. Next to the exit door are huge old-fashioned scales. I decided to step on and see if I'd made any progress. My weight registered at 181.5-pounds, a reduction of 7.2-pounds. I have to say that I was pleased. It isn't dramatic loss, but it feels that things are definitely moving in the right direction.

But a few observations on the journey so far:

The first two weeks were tough.
I know that there will be more tough days. But when you've trained your body to overindulge, the adjustment to more appropriate calorie levels is difficult. I rarely overeat at meals. And I've never cared for desserts that much. But I do tend to be a grazer, especially of Skinny Pop. (Which is wonderful stuff, but because I have been prone to eating way too much of it, it has been, for me, Fatty Pop.)

After this period of adjustment, eating less is becoming easier for me.
In fact, I ate too much at a meal last week. The size of meal was normal for me just a few weeks before. But I found that I felt miserable...after just those few weeks. I took that as an encouraging sign.

I use the Lose It app on my smartphone to record my calories.
I find it helpful and, from what I can tell, accurate.

This past weekend, because I knew that I would be having more meals out than usual and because of my progress, I suspended the diet for two days, Saturday and Sunday.
But I was back at the appropriate calorie levels today. I think a periodic vacation, especially after demonstrated progress is OK.

I try to start out in the right way each morning.
This is tough for me because breakfast is my favorite meal. But this morning, for example, I fixed myself two egg whites with less than a teaspoon of shredded cheddar cheese, a small stick of turkey sausage, and one ounce of orange juice. That came to 186 calories. (I was accustomed to fixing four egg whites with more cheese and having more orange juice for my daily breakfasts.) I find that reducing at breakfast sets the tone for my whole day.

As time goes on, I find it easier to resist the temptation to take in unnecessary or harmful calories.
I spent much of my day on Monday in meetings--interviews with prospective administrative assistants, a budget meeting, the meeting of a team charged with visioning our church's future building possibilities. I ate lunch, but had no dinner, as I dove into the afternoon and evening. In between meetings, a person, knowing that I'd not eaten dinner and had looked for something healthy in the church refrigerator, gave me a snack bag of corn chips. It was a kind gesture. But I told him, "Can't. That's got 140-calories." Just a few weeks ago, I would have found it easy to talk myself into eating a snack, "just to tide me over." In fact, I wouldn't have even questioned doing so.

The tips and observations of a friend on eating and cooking echo in my mind these days.
My friend probably doesn't even know how much I remember of or what an impact their words are continuing to have on me. But it helps to have a "food mentor," someone who has the right relationship with food and fitness and can point us in the right direction. If you have someone like this in your life, it can be a huge help!

But the number one key to the progress I've made so far? Praying.
Overindulgence in food is a desecration of our bodies. It gives an immediate gratification, a sensation that, like the wrongful use of drugs or alcohol, brings a fleeting good feeling that, unless we've become completely desensitized, later gives way to self-recrimination and guilt.

There's good reason for feeling guilty about any abuse of our bodies, which are gifts from God. This is especially true for Christians. The Bible teaches Christians that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, places where God dwells.

It's one thing to know this, of course, and another to live it. Self-control is foreign to we human beings born in sin, deeply oriented to doing whatever gives us pleasure, God's will or our own well-being be hanged.

But Galatians 5:22-25, tells us that those who willingly crucify both their selfish and self-destructive impulses, the subtle ways we're lured into behaving as though we were gods to ourselves, unaccountable to anyone, are given "the fruit of the Holy Spirit," including "self-control." God can give to those who seek His help through Christ, a strength that they can't muster on their own.

So, when I'm tempted to over-indulge, to get that snack that would tip me past my allotted calories for the day, I pray.

I pray just as I do when facing any other temptation in life. "God," I may say, "in Jesus' name, give me the power to resist this temptation. Help me to avoid unnecessary food. Give me strength to honor You by not abusing this body You've given to me. Make this the temple of Your Holy Spirit."

Absent prayers like that, offered repeatedly, I have no chance of reaching my goal of 155-pounds.

I'm not trying to get there in one fell-swoop. If I can lop off an average of 2-pounds a week, I'll be happy. In the meantime, I will be establishing a good habit and, at least in this one aspect of living, honoring the God Who has, through Jesus Christ, given me everything.

Hopefully, this post will inspire you to do something about some aspect of your life that may horrify you as much I was horrified on June 13.

But, remember to rely on the God we know in Jesus to help you reconstruct your life. Remember these words from Psalm 27:1: "Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain."

Monday, July 25, 2016

3 reasons you don't need to be afraid

A friend posted this quote on Facebook: "What is needed, now more than ever, is leadership that steers us away from fear and fosters greater confidence in the inherent goodness and ingenuity of humanity."

The speaker is former president, Jimmy Carter, someone I admire.

And I agree with him that we need leaders who refuse to be afraid or nurture fear among those they are called to lead.

But I disagree with the notion that we can have confidence in the "inherent goodness" of the human race.

The Bible teaches that human beings, while certainly capable of great ingenuity (something I talked about yesterday), the human race does not possess an "inherent goodness." The Bible teaches that we are all born in sin. In other words, we come equipped with an orientation for not loving God or loving neighbor, unless it suits us. Sin--looking out for number one--is our default mode.

You don't have to look far to confirm this truth. We have, as C.S. Lewis wrote, "inside information" on the reality of our sin condition. We need only do an honest self-assessment to see that if we rely on our own "inherent goodness," let alone the "inherent goodness" of the whole human race, we would be in trouble.

But in what I described yesterday as "this fearful and apprehensive" age, we need not fear.

I think that there are three reasons to flush fear from our lives.

First, despite all the insanity and evil in our world, the God we know in Jesus Christ is still in control

"In this world you will have trouble," Jesus says. "But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) The world will do its worst, but sin and death will not have the last say. Jesus has come into the world so that all who will turn from sin (repent) and trust in Him as their only hope, will belong to God through all the turmoil of this world and, in total perfection, in eternity. Jesus has conquered every trouble and every fear that this world can throw at us.

Second, the God we know in Jesus promises to be with those who follow Him, always

"I am with you until the close of the age," Jesus says to those who follow Him in Matthew 28:20. "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you,” we're promised by God in both Deuteronomy 31:6 and Hebrews 13:5. And in Psalm 27:1, King David asks rhetorically: "The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid?"

Third, the thing that our sinful natures fear the most is our own deaths; for those who repent and believe in Christ, that fear has been taken off the table

Jesus says: “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" (John 11:25-26). And these words are backed up not only by the miraculous signs of Jesus capacity to make on good on this promise when he brought the dead back to life, but by his own resurrection, an event confirmed by more than 500 people. 

It is, maybe, this last point that gives us the greatest courage in facing our fears. Belonging to the God we know in Christ, Who has conquered my sin and the sins of the world, Who has conquered death for all who believe, sets me free to live without fear. We can pray without fear. Worship without fear. Love without fear. Change the world without fear. Stand up to injustice and bullies without fear.

We can do all of that because, even if we get killed by the things that others fear, we know that we belong to Jesus for all eternity. 

"It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes," Psalm 118:9 says. Don't rely on leaders to take away your fears. Civil leaders have an important role in securing safety and justice for a country's citizens, but none can erase all fears. No one can be relied on to take our fears away.

And we can't rely on human goodness or ingenuity either. Jeremiah 17:9 reminds us: "
The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?" Our inborn sin is too quick to offer us reasons for being afraid and faulty solutions for overcoming our fears. Proverbs 3:5 warns us: "Trust in the Lord with all your heart; and lean not on your own understanding."

We don't have to be afraid for three big reasons: 1. The God we know in Christ is in control. 2. The God we know in Christ promises to always be with us. 3. The God we know in Christ has taken our number one reason for fear, death, off the table.

Lean on Christ.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Back to the Basics

Colossians 1:6-19
One of the best hitters in the history of Major League Baseball was Tony Gwynn, Sr. of the San Diego Padres. In a twenty year career, he got 3141 hits and compiled a .338 batting average, meaning that he hit the ball without making an out almost 34% of the time he was at bat. (By comparison, the average major leaguer hits the ball 25% of the time.) As baseball people would say, “Tony Gwynn could flat-out hit.”

Of course, every major league batter tries to hit the ball and all would like to be able to do it as often as Tony Gwynn did during his career. So, why don’t they? Gwynn may have been naturally gifted as a hitter, of course.

But I think I learned the real reason for Gwynn’s success as a hitter during game a few years back, when a commentator was recalling Gwynn's career. The commentator said that every single day, on top of team batting practice, Tony Gwynn watched video of his at bats from the day before. With bat in hand, he analyzed his swings, correcting what he had done wrong, and reminding himself of the right way to swing a baseball bat.

Tony Gwynn was one of the best ever because he always went back to the basics. He realized that if he didn’t get the basics right and build on them, his whole game would go nowhere.

In a way, the New Testament letter to the first century Christian church in the Asia Minor town of Colossae was a call to get back to the basics of Christian faith. It was written because the apostle Paul had gotten disturbing reports that the Christians there were starting to pursue a fake Christianity. We don’t know everything about this counterfeit religion. But it seems to have said that, besides faith in Jesus, believers needed to keep the right diet, pay attention to what their horoscope said, be circumcised if they were male, observe certain festivals, and maybe, worship angels, and have visions. It was a mashup of mysticism, superstition, and Jesus thrown in for good measure.

Of course, Paul was horrified.

God has revealed that there is but one way to reconciliation with God, one way to freedom from sin and death, and one way to personal wholeness. That one way is through Jesus Christ and our faith in Christ alone.

Acts 4:12 puts it simply: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”

The most basic fact of Christian faith is that life, true life, abundant life, life with God, comes from Jesus Christ alone. You may remember that there was a whole Reformation based precisely on that truth.

If we fail to root and build our lives on that reality, our lesson from Colossians tells us today, not only can we not grow as disciples, we risk veering away from God and from eternity with Christ altogether, as surely as a major leaguer risks veering off into mediocrity by failing to attend to the basics.

“So then,” Paul says at the beginning of our second lesson, Colossians 2:6-15, “just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.”

Earlier in their letter, Paul had taken great pains to remind the Colossian Christians of Who Jesus is and how all their hope for life, purpose, hope, and eternity reside in Him. In today’s lesson, those ideas are carried forward. Paul says in verse 10, that “in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form.” Christ is truly God, truly human, carrying God's redemption for a fallen humanity that turns to Him in repentance and faith.

And Paul says that Jesus “is the head over every power and authority.”

Then Paul makes a basic statement of Christian belief that, even though basic, is, at the same time, amazing. Verses 11 and 12 :
In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.
Circumcision, of course, was the Jewish rite of initiation for male babies. In Jewish tradition, at eight days old, boys were circumcised, a piece of skin lopped from their bodies. This is important: Christians undergo a kind of circumcision; at baptism, the old self is drowned so that the new self can live forever with Jesus Christ.*

Paul talks about this very issue in the New Testament book of Romans when he says, “we have been buried with [Christ] by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.”

Martin Luther talks about this same subject when in The Small Catechism, he talks about the significance of Holy Baptism for daily life:
[Baptism] means that our sinful self, with all its evil deeds and desires, should be drowned through daily repentance; and that day after day a new self should arise to live with God in righteousness and purity forever.
So, as Paul pushes the Colossian Christians to go back to the basics, he reminds them of two important things.

First, he focuses on the amazing fact that in Baptism, Christ shares His cross and resurrection with us. In Holy Baptism, our old selves die and our new selves rise to live with Jesus forever. That fact ought to have an impact on us! We ought to be in awe of it!

What gets lost in the shuffle of a fearful, apprehensive age is that we live in an age of miracles and wonders. Our daughter Sarah was recently talking with some friends about the heart attack I had six years ago. I had a 100% blockage of the left anterior descending artery.

I'll never forget the day I underwent a catheterization after the heart attack. It was cool because they kept me awake the whole time. I remember talking about baseball and music with the doctor, nurses, and attendants during the procedure.

At one point, the doctor said, "I've found the blockage. I don't know if I can get through." "Please, God, grant that he's able to get through," I prayed aloud. "I got through, buddy," the cardiologist told me. "Thank God and thank you," I said to the doctor. "No," he responded, "just thank God." He knew that it's God Who provides to dedicated minds and hearts the treatments that make a difference in so many people's lives these days.

Years before, this particular attack--called “the widowmaker”--would have meant certain death for me. Technology and medications lifted that death sentence from me. That’s awesome!

But how much more awesome is it that the King of the universe, the Maker of all creation, has come into our world to be one of us, has died to erase sin’s power over us and risen to give new life to fallen humanity?

Folks, that's the epitome, the very definition, of awesome!

There's nothing awesomer!**

Not just the cross and the empty tomb, but the baptismal font where we actually share in Christ’s victory over sin and death, ought to cause us in the words of the old spiritual, to “tremble, tremble, tremble.”

Don’t get sidetracked, Paul is saying. Remain focused on this basic truth: Christ has shared the victory of His cross with us at Baptism.

And He will keep sharing that victory with us as we return to Him daily. That’s the first thing that Paul wanted the Colossian Christians to remember.

Here’s the second thing Paul wanted the Colossians to remember: The gift of life with God through Christ is free. But we keep it only by maintaining, as Paul puts it in Colossians 2:19, their “connection with the head [that is, with Christ], from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.”

Just as a baseball player can’t grow unless he or she goes back to the basics; just as a tree won't grow unless it has the basics of water, sun, and nutrients met, we cannot grow as people or as disciples unless we remain rooted in Jesus, the only One Who can give us life!

Maintaining our connection to Christ means consciously, each day, lopping off any trust we might put in the world and its supposed wisdom and instead trust in Christ alone.

I thank God that my parents had me baptized as an infant; there at the font, God made His commitment to me. In Baptism, God claimed me as His own.

But I can tell you that had I died when I was nineteen years old, a time when I denied God’s existence and turned my back on Christ, I would have gone to hell.

Christ never tires of extending His hand to us, offering forgiveness and life to the repentant. But we, in turn, in the strength of the Holy Spirit must grasp that hand, be willing to trust in Him, and remain connected to the One Who shares His resurrection victory with us.

In Mark 16:16, Jesus says: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” In Baptism, the amazing love and grace of God in Christ comes to us in an earthy way, in the most common of earthly elements, water.

This echoes the earthy entrance of God into the world as a baby, as a human being who bore our greatest burdens and death itself in order to set free from sin, death, and darkness all who trust in Him.

But the question each day puts before us—at work, at home, in our daily decisions—is whether we’re remaining connected to Christ.

Are we believing in Him?

Are we trusting in Him?

Or are we trusting in ourselves?

Or the latest psychological theory or political celebrity?

It’s not only our salvation, but our growth as human beings and as disciples that rests on our choice from moment to moment each day: Do I trust in Christ or do I trust in the world? It’s as basic as that.

Choose Christ!

*Because baptism is an analog of circumcision, this is one more argument for the validity of infant baptism, by the way.

**To coin a new word.

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

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Ulysses Grant and what we need in presidents

Historian Michael Beschloss posted this on Twitter.

That set me to thinking...and tweeting:
[Grant] was, in many ways, a remarkable man, but ill-suited for the presidency.
Of course, that begs question, what suits someone for president?
I feel previous elective office is less a predictor than are temperament, character, leadership record, [and] a willingness to compromise.
Washington, with little elective political experience; Lincoln, with much; FDR, with much; and Eisenhower, with none, stand out among our presidents to me.

Only FDR had been a "successful" pol before taking office. All had successful, significant presidencies.

The one trait they all shared is temperament. Washington & Eisenhower overcame/channeled volcanic tempers to be nearly perfect leaders, Lincoln overcame much and chose his way to a leaders' temperament; FDR had, as Oliver Wendell Holmes said, "a second class intellect, but a first class temperament."

I'm not sure having an even temperament or self-control matters to voters in these zero-sum days.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Bleecker Street (Bleaker Street)

I was looking for pictures of street signs for Bleecker Street in New York City. It's such a great name that it begs to be included in songs.

Of course, it has been.

Bruce Springsteen mentions Bleecker Street in his song, Kitty's Back, from The Wild, the Innocent, and the E-Street Shuffle.

I can't tell you how fresh and new Springsteen sounded to me back then. On hearing "The Boss," I agreed with music critic (and later Springsteen producer) Jon Landau that I'd heard "the future of rock and roll." Like Bono, who gave the speech inducting Springsteen into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, I loved Springsteen's passion. I also loved his lyrical genius, voice, melodies, and incredible backing band.

Even this song fairly pops with creativity and power, Springsteen's guitar, Clarence Clemons' saxophone, and the brilliant interplay band and leader, who were already at the top of their game.

Though Springsteen has had a long career, I think that he failed to be the future of rock and roll, playing out for me in a matter of a few years. (Of course, it's arguable that, with few exceptions, rock and roll is a thing of the past generally.) The last Springsteen LP that I cared for was Nebraska (1982).

Simon and Garfunkel earlier sang about Bleecker Street in a song of the same name on their Wednesday, 3 A.M. LP.

It's sort of a typical Simon and Garfunkel song from that period: faux-profound lyrics, a nice melody, acoustic guitar, pretty harmonies. Not bad for playing in the background when you're talking with friends over a glass of wine, but ultimately sleep-inducing. The duo gave us some terrific songs, of course: Sounds of Silence, Bridge Over Troubled Water, 59th. Street Bridge Song, and Mrs. Robinson.  But they never did much for me and I enjoyed several of Simon's solo projects--Paul Simon, There Goes Rhymin' Simon, and Gracetown come to mind more than I enjoyed Simon and Garfunkel. From what I've read, I guess that Paul Simon did too.

Bleecker Street is a prominent east-west thoroughfare in Greenwich Village. Clubs there played an important role in the rise of folk music in the late 50's and early 60s. This post on Wikipedia talks about other songs that mention the street.

There ought to be a song that plays off the name, call it Bleaker Street.

Something by Paul McCartney, Jeff Lynne, Eric Clapton, & a Cast of Thousands

At the Concert for George, George Harrison's friends and collaborators sing one of his contributions to the Beatles' catalog.

Magnificent by U2

"I was born
"I was born to be with you
"In this space and time"

Desire by U2

Ordinary Love by U2

This was released on November 22, 2013. A friend sent the link for it to me.

Don't ask for bigger faith, just a willingness to obey

In a recent quiet time with God, I looked at Luke 17. Verse 6 got my attention:
“You don’t need more faith. There is no ‘more’ or ‘less’ in faith. If you have a bare kernel of faith, say the size of a poppy seed, you could say to this sycamore tree, ‘Go jump in the lake,’ and it would do it."
These words of Jesus are preceded by daunting commands to: (1) not be the cause of others falling into sin; (2) be ever ready to forgive a repentant friend even if the friend's weakness drives them back to sinning against you and repenting for their sin repeatedly.

The disciples understood how hard both commands are. They thought they would need more faith to be able to fulfill them.

"You don't need more faith," Jesus tells the disciples. He then goes on to talk about the servant of a rich man. The servant goes to extraordinary lengths to serve in the ways his master commands. At the end of this mini-parable, Jesus says, "When you’ve done everything expected of you, be matter-of-fact and say, ‘The work is done. What we were told to do, we did.’” (v. 10) (The last two lines remind me of Jesus' words from the cross in John's gospel, "It is finished.")

In this passage, I believe that Jesus is telling us (telling me), Don't wait for a monster faith that will make it easy to do the things I command you to do. Nothing I command you to do--love God, love neighbor, make disciples, give to the poor, don't push yourself ahead of others, forgive your enemies--is easy to do.

The question isn't how big our faith, it's how ready our obedience.

It's been my observation that for we recovering sinners--we intrinsically selfish, if recovering, control freaks--the more we obey the God revealed in Christ, obedience doesn't become easier. It doesn't.* But the more we obey Christ, the more we want to obey Him.

To have faith in Christ is to trust in Him alone. But faith is an abstraction until we commit ourselves--day-in and day-out--to seeking to obey Him, however imperfectly.

We are only saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, as the Scriptures teach. And there's nothing we can do to be saved. Salvation for a life of peace with God, forgiven sin, and eternity with God is a gift we can do nothing to earn. But until we seek to obey Christ, our faith will remain an abstraction.

Don't look for more faith, Jesus seems to be saying here. Looking for more faith is a delaying tactic. Instead, Jesus tells me to do what He commands of me with whatever faith we have. He will fill in the blanks in my courage, my deficient faith, my authenticity.

Later in the chapter, verse 33, Jesus says: "If you grasp and cling to life on your terms, you’ll lose it, but if you let that life go, you’ll get life on God’s terms."

Wanting more faith, as pious a request as it seems to be, is still grasping for life on my terms. "Fine things to do, Jesus, your commands," we effectively say. "But You're going to have to give me more faith before I can do them." The disciples, in making their request, and I myself whenever I think it or say it to God, are in essence, laying down conditions for obedience. "I couldn't possibly do any of that, Jesus," I say, "without bigger faith. You'll need to get back with me on that."

This excuse is perennial. I've been guilty of it many times myself, I confess.

But it's simple, really. If I trust Jesus even a little bit, I'm called to obey. No matter the size of my faith, it's sill a fact that He died and rose, so the power to do what He's called me to do exists, no matter the size of my faith.

Besides, the One commanding me is the King to Whom my whole life (and the life of the whole human race) is accountable.

So, the call is clear: I need to do what the King Who saves me by grace tells me to do. I am to do what He commands with little faith and quaking hands, with low competence, little stomach for it, and giant fears. I am to obey because it's not about the quantity or quality of my faith; it's about the greatness of my King and what my King does through obedient people.

Today, Lord, help me to obey You, no matter the size of my faith. In Jesus' Name.

*In fact, obedience might grow harder as we grow in our faith, because as we obediently accept the smallest charges of Jesus, He gives us more difficult charges. Jesus says in Luke 16:10: "Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much." I believe that Jesus amps the difficulty of following Him as we grow and to promote our further growth as His disciples. God is more interested in our characters than in our comfort. With each new "impossible" challenge to which we seek to respond obediently, we learn the truth of two other things that Jesus said:

  • "...with God, all things are possible." (Matthew 19:26)
  • "...apart from Me, you can do nothing." (John 15:5)
When we seek obedience in doing the impossible things Jesus commands of us, we learn to rely even more on Him. That's faith.

[All Bible quotes in this post are from The Message translation.]

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

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

This never gets old

College football season begins in about forty days.

As an Ohio State fan, I have to say that one of my favorite moments from last season didn't even involve the Buckeyes, but Michigan State versus the team up north. The game gets periodically re-aired on the Big Ten Network, from which the video above and the still photograph below are captured. I could watch the video again and again. It just never grows old!

For we in Ohio, the moment brings guiltless schadenfreude for ttun.

Immediately following that game, some enterprising shirt makers introduced the design below for Ohio State fans.

By the way, when bowl season comes along, I root for every single Big Ten team to win. In non-conference games, I also root for all Big Ten teams to win. And when my favorite college season rolls around, basketball, I root for all Big Ten teams to do well against non-conference teams. What's good for the conference is good for every team in the conference.

Go, Buckeyes!

[This is all posted in good fun. My niece's husband and I always show up for family occasions sporting our respective favorites' colors, he in his maize and blue and me in scarlet and gray. His son, my great nephew, also is a Buckeyes' fan. We have a lot of fun with it...and we always root for each other's teams in non-conference games.]

Louie Giglio: Hope When Life Hurts Most

We watched this presentation from Louie Giglio this evening in Living Water Lutheran Church's sanctuary. It's worth the time and the time will go by quickly.

[I hope that posting this violates no copyright laws. If it does, I apologize and am willing to take the video down. I also urge you to buy the video series from which this presentation is taken.]

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Don't Dream It's Over by Crowded House

This Never Happened Before by Paul McCartney

I never get enough of this song. Love the bass on it. Except for the strings, McCartney played all the instruments. He also did all the vocals.

This is the song to which Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock dance in The Lake House, a beautiful scene in a beautiful movie.

Released in 2005, Chaos and Creation in the Backyard, from which this track is taken is, to my mind, one of McCartney's very best solo projects.

Undoubtedly, its quality was enhanced by the willingness of young producer Nigel Godrich, best known for his work with Radiohead, to challenge McCartney.

Macca didn't like being challenged, but, perhaps in deference to Beatles producer George Martin, who had recommended Godrich, he stuck it out. In interviews I've heard, McCartney still seems reluctant to credit Godrich's insights into Macca's material for this extraordinary LP. It's also telling that the two have never worked together since.

McCartney is a master of melody, of course, and one of my favorite musicians. But for Chaos and Creation in the Backyard, I think that he should be thankful for how Godrich challenged him to shy away from many of his old tricks, helping him, by dint of his own remarkable talent, to produce yet another classic among McCartney's other memorable releases.

Lean on Me by Bill Withers

This is one of my favorite songs to sing with. I loved Withers' songs and when he soared into the upper reaches of his voice, it was stronger and affecting.

Once, a group of us, including my son, stood outside a venue near the campus of the University of Cincinnati waiting to see, I think, Delirious? (The question mark was part of their name and, for a time, they were an astoundingly good band.) We hadn't purchased tickets in advance, intending to buy them at the window. Someone from a radio station approached me and said, "If you'll sing for us, we'll give you free tickets." My son and I broke into Lean on Me and we got our tickets. I think that we even sang in tune.

The sentiment of this song which I wish I more faithfully conveyed to my friends: lean on me.

In the 90s, several bands did covers of this tune, including dcTalk.

And I Love Her by The Beatles

Taken from A Hard Day's Night. It's such a simple, beautiful song.

When McCartney brought And I Love Her to the rest of the group, he simply played the chords with no thought of doing anything else to it. It was Harrison who came up with the deep little riff that introduces and moves through the song. It makes it memorable.

There We Are by James Taylor

"Here we are, like children forever, taking care of one another
"While the world goes on without us, all around us."

Grace by U2

Hero by Steve Taylor

Drive, He Said by Steve Taylor

Sun and Shield by Peter Furler Band

For the LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD bestows favor and honor; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless. (Psalm 84:11)

Right Wrong Girl by Peter Furler Band