Monday, September 18, 2017

Saved for a Life Lived On Purpose

I begin most days in quiet time with God. To see how I approach this time, see here. Below is my journal for today's quiet time.
Look: “He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. (2 Timothy 1:9)

If Paul were a televangelist, I suppose you’d expect him to write here that we have been saved and called to live with God for eternity, focusing more on the sweet-by-and-by beyond death.

But that’s not what Paul writes. He says that God in Christ “has saved and called us to a holy life.” It’s an accomplished fact. Right now in this messy world.

The follower of Jesus is saved for and called to a different way of living in this life. Believers in Jesus aren’t waiting for their own resurrections to start living like people who have been called and saved by the God of the universe. They can do it right now.

Listen: That the implications for everyday life in this world is what Paul has in mind here is underscored by what he writes in verse 7: “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.”

God doesn’t give the Holy Spirit to believers just so that they can have goose-bumpy experiences with the wild and uncontrollable Holy Spirit. God’s not a junkie whose aim is to sell us a dose of Holy Spirit-religion, our fix until the next time we need to feel something.

The God we meet in Jesus Christ is uncontrollable by human beings, even wild as perceived on this side of the resurrection. He is the Lion and the Lamb (Revelation 5:5-6). Lewis has it right when several characters in The Chronicles of Narnia say of Aslan, the Christ-figure in his books, “He’s not a tame lion. But he’s good.” But God does not set us free to be Jesus addicts.

To all with faith in Jesus and through our Baptism, He gives us the Holy Spirit, Who bears down on the chaos of our lives (Genesis 1:1) of jumbled motives and self-serving actions to make us new (2 Corinthians 5:17), set free from the tyranny of sin and our selfish motives. As we attend to Christ faithfully, we can no longer be tossed to and fro by the latest craze, impulse, religious fad, or need to feel “relevant” (Ephesians 4:14).

Instead, we hold steady, filled with the strength of God for living.

The Holy Spirit empowers us with the boldness to live out our trust in Jesus by giving us “power, love, and self-discipline.”

He saves us to live holy lives, lives set apart for God’s purposes for our lives, according to the blueprint He set for us when He formed us in the womb.

I find that when I’m seeking to live in tune with the Holy Spirit, in submission to Christ and the will of God, I become more myself, not less. Jesus died and rose to save me for just this: to be myself, not the person my sin-darkened heart and mind sometimes imagine that I should be. I become more straightforward, less ambiguous, less complicated. Not simplistic, simple. Self-disciplined, more dependent on my Creator and therefore more the bold, powerful, loving, and self-disciplined child of God I am meant to be. Liberated to be my true self.

This isn’t passivity. I don’t stop dreaming or having ambitions. But my dreams and ambitions are set on being the me God sets me free to be.

Respond: Lord, You know how I wander from You and want to be my own god and become disappointed by dreams that come from my ego, from Satan, and from the world, rather than following the path of freedom to be all that I am made to be in Christ. Help me to live like a new creation and not an old Adam, mired in sin.Today, help me to live like a disciple of Jesus. Amen
[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Forgiven and Forgiving: Life in Jesus' Kingdom

[This is the message that was shared during both worship services with the people of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio, earlier today.]

Matthew 18:21-35
At the end of last Sunday’s gospel lesson, Jesus describes how people living in His Kingdom, the people of His Church, are to resolve things when we believe we have been sinned against.

As today’s gospel lesson begins, we can almost read Peter’s mind as he asks Jesus, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” (Matthew 18:21)

“I’m willing to forgive someone who’s doing me wrong,” Peter seems to be saying. “But. Lord, if they keep sinning against me, when do I get to stop forgiving?”

Jesus tells Peter how many times he is to forgive a fellow believer: “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:22).

Some translations render Jesus’ words as “seven times seven.” Others put it, “seventy times seven.” Various ancient copies of Matthew’s gospel can support any of those translations. But we can’t get hung up here and miss Jesus’ point.

In Jewish thought, seven is the perfect number. It was, according to Genesis, the number of days in the first week of God’s creation and it was on the seventh day that God rested from His labor. Seven is the number of completion and eternity.

So, how often are we to forgive our fellow believers, our sisters and brothers who by their confession of the crucified and risen Jesus, live in the Kingdom of heaven? Jesus says always.

Completely.

Totally.

Eternally.

Repeatedly.

Continuously.

While Peter stands there, undoubtedly slack-jawed and wondering why he would forgive anyone continuously and how he he could possibly do it, Jesus tells what has become one of his most famous parables. He begins: “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like…” Whenever Jesus uses phrasing like this, it’s a signal that the entire fictional illustration He’s about to share tells you what life in His kingdom is like. This is how things work among God’s people, the Church, Jesus is telling us.

Jesus says: “...the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand [The word here in the Greek in which Matthew wrote his gospel is murion, from which we get the English word, myriad...ten thousand] bags of gold was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled [In fact, the word in the Greek is a form of the verb, aphiemi, literally, released, the word most commonly used in the New Testament for forgave. The king forgave, released the servant from the man who owed the king so much…] the debt and let him go.” [Matthew 18:23-27]

The first thing we learn from the parable about the kingdom of heaven is that it’s where Jesus’ disciples are set free, released! 

By the power of Jesus’ death on the cross, when He offered up His innocent body and blood in payment for the massive debt we owe to God for our sin, our debt is canceled. All who trust in Jesus and what He did for us on the cross, are set free of all we owe God for the ways our lives have violated His holiness:

  • all the gossip and misuse of God’s name, 
  • all the dishonesty and covetousness, 
  • all the adultery and failure to worship God instead of ourselves or our kids or the world, 
  • all the financial sleight of hand. 

We are set free to be the people God made us to be! As we sing in the traditional liturgy: “Worthy is Christ, the Lamb who was slain, whose blood set us free to be people of God.”

And when we come together on Sunday mornings, confessing our sins, because of what Jesus did for us and your faith in Jesus, you can believe that when I say, “As a called and ordained minister of the Church of Christ, and by His authority, I therefore declare to you the entire forgiveness of all your sins,” or words like these, it's all true!

“As far as the east is from the west, so far has [God] removed our transgressions from us!” (Psalm 103:12)

Christians needn't say, "I hope that  I’m forgiven.” You are forgiven because Jesus died and rose to bring His forgiveness to all who trust in Him. That’s the first thing the kingdom of heaven is like for those who believe!

Jesus goes on with His parable in verse 28: ““But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded. His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’ But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened. Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

The second thing we learn from Jesus' parable about the kingdom of heaven, the Church, is: It’s the dominion of God in which disciples of Jesus forgive others as we’ve been forgiven.

After teaching us to pray, elsewhere in Matthew’s Gospel, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,” Jesus says: “...if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:14-15)

If, after being assured of God’s absolution--His forgiveness of our sins--during worship on Sunday morning, we harbor grudges or hold things against others, refusing to release them from the debts they owe us, God will clap the chains and manacles back on our lives. Our lives will come back under an eternal death sentence. We will lose our forgiveness. We’ll lose our freedom.

The servant forgiven so much by the king in Jesus’ parable should have been so grateful for his freedom that he readily forgave the man who owed him so little. Instead, he used his freedom as a license to play God over his fellow servant. No matter how often we go to worship, or how many Bible verses we memorize, hurricane victims we help, or mission trips we go on, unless we forgive others as Christ desires to forgive us, we will not be forgiven. We’ll still be imprisoned in our sin.

It’s possible that after Jesus told this parable, Peter was as slack-jawed as he he’d been before Jesus told it. And maybe we find this teaching intimidating. I know that I do!

But the call and command of Jesus in this parable are simple and, if we take them seriously, liberating and life-giving.

Think of what Jesus accomplished for us on the cross and what the Father accomplished for us when He raised Jesus from the dead, think of all of that, as a massive, eternal blank check imparting never-depleted riches of forgiveness and new life to all who turn from sin and trust in, believe in, surrender their lives to, Jesus.

God never tires of forgiving those who genuinely repent and believe in Him. He forgives in perfect seventy-seven times fashion.

In turn, Jesus frees us from the burden of keeping score. He frees us from having to figure out who owes us for hurting us.

Jesus frees us to treat others with the same grace, mercy, and forgiveness He has given to us.

He frees us to get on with the true living of life: loving God, loving neighbor, making disciples.

By the grace of God given in Christ, we are forgiven.

By that same grace, we can forgive others.

Seventy times seven, in utter eternal perfection.

That’s what life in the kingdom of heaven is like, here on earth and in eternity.

Amen

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


Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Even through the storms, God speaks to us

A man walked into the church building during staff meeting this morning. I asked, "May I help you?" "Are you taking donations for disaster relief?" he wondered. I said that, in fact, we were forwarding offerings to our denomination's disaster relief efforts. He asked how to make out the check and did so on the spot.

Later on, a Living Water member currently shut in by recent surgery called and asked if I would drop by in the afternoon. She and her husband wanted to give me a check for disaster relief.

This warmed my heart.

One of the deepest and least acknowledged needs of human beings is the need we all have to give. We were made for community and to care for others. That's how God made us, though that, of course, is often obscured by our sin. But when situations like the recent damaging hurricanes arise, all of us--believers and unbelievers alike--find God whispering His call for us to fulfill our humanity and give for the good of others. God is still speaking to us, if we will only listen.

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


A funny prayer request

I was out and about on Tuesday, wearing my clerical collar, when a guy spied me from across the parking lot. "Hey!" he hollered. "Pray for the Buckeyes!" I told him it might be better just to tell the receivers to get open for J.T. Barrett's passes.

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


Monday, September 11, 2017

Who's the Greatest?

[This message was shared yesterday during worship with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

Matthew 18:1-20
One of the stories we often tell in our family revolves around an incident that happened when our kids were about ten and seven. We’d visited family in Columbus and stopped at Lane Avenue Shopping Center there before heading back to Cincinnati, where we lived at the time. We climbed into the car and were pulling out, when we heard a kind of whimpering yell. It was Philip, the oldest, who wasn’t yet in the car. We stopped and Phil jumped in.

Now, why exactly did we stop to get him?

I mean, we’d successfully collected 50% of our kids and, with Phil being ten years old, he was costing us a lot of money.

He wasn’t generating any income; so, he was a net drag on the family finances.

And besides, it was a hassle taking him to this event and that activity.

Phil hadn’t attained any great achievements, led any governments or armies, hadn’t made his first billion-dollars. He was nobody, really.

So, why did we bother bringing him back into the car?

We stopped because every member of a family, from the child awaiting birth in its mother’s womb to the infirm parent no longer able to take care of themselves, matters.

No matter how seemingly unimportant a family member may be in the eyes of the world, every one of them is important.

Many New Testament scholars believe that the gospel of Matthew is built around five major collections of sayings by Jesus. Some see these five sections corresponding to the first five books of the Old Testament, called the Pentateuch, also called the torah, a word roughly meaning, instruction on the way of life, the way of life with God.

That characterization, the way of life with God, certainly applies to the fourth section of Matthew’s gospel, which begins with the verses that make up today’s gospel lesson, Matthew 18:1-20.

In this section, Jesus talks about how the people in His family, His kingdom, His Church, are to behave toward one another.

The key to understanding this entire passage is to be found in the first five verses. Understand these five verses and the subsequent fifteen fall into place. So, today, we’re only going to address those five verses.

It all begins with the disciples asking Jesus a question: “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” (Matthew 18:1)

These kinds of questions are important to us in the world, mostly because we’d prefer being the ones calling the shots, preferably without any accountability, thank you very much. We like the idea of being the top dog.

At the first church I served as pastor, we had a five-week long summer school for kids in the third through eighth grades focusing on the Bible and Catechism. We had 85 students. For recess during the last week one year, I set up a kickball tournament. When I announced that we would play the tournament March Madness-style, only with the losing teams advancing, one boy, who would later play college football, asked, “How will we know which is the best team?” When I told him that we wouldn’t know, he offered a quietly disappointed, “Oh.”

So, these questions of who’s most important, who’s the best, who has the most, who’s on top, seem to be important to us from a young age.

When Jesus was asked who was most important in His kingdom, He could have said God or the patriarchs or Moses.

But Jesus wants His disciples, including you and me, to see where true greatness resides in His eternal kingdom. So, Jesus offers a tangible illustration. Verse 2: “He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.’”


We mustn’t miss Jesus’ point here. Jesus is not saying that children are innocent, sweet, or trusting and that we should imitate them. As one scholar says, Jesus is not talking about children’s character traits. Like King David, writing in Psalm 51, we know that every child conceived by human parents is born in sin.

What Jesus is pointing to in this child is their status.

In that society, male children were held to be worthy only when they had matured to manhood, but not before; female children were never regarded as worthy.

Children occupied the lowest rung of society. In many ways, it can be argued, they still do.

Jesus is saying that if we who claim to be His disciples want to be the greatest in His kingdom, we must be willing to accept the lowest place, to sit at the kids’ table, to be the servant of all His other servants.

And Jesus also says that true greatness in His kingdom is further exhibited by those who welcome the people nobody else will welcome, to offer them the love of God that others shy away from sharing with them.

Jesus’ kingdom isn’t like the kingdoms of the world.

In Jesus’ kingdom, the greatest are those who lift others up, not themselves.

In Jesus’ kingdom, the greatest are those who see that when they serve those regarded as lowly and unimportant by the world, they really serve Him.

And, this includes the lowly people sitting next to you in worship this morning!

In commending this way of life to us, Jesus isn’t asking us to live any differently than He Himself lived (and died and rose) when He was on the earth. A touchstone passage of Scripture for disciples is Philippians 2:5-11, where Paul echoes the words of Jesus we consider today. This passage, like Jesus’ words in today’s lesson, are meant for disciples of Jesus and take up the question of how you and I are supposed to treat each other as disciples. The passage is worthy of reading in its entirety together. So, read it aloud with me, please:
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Listen: As Jesus’ disciples, we can risk being one another’s servants, humbling ourselves before one another in order to build each other up, because we know that all who turn from sin and believe in the crucified and risen Jesus, are citizens of the kingdom of heaven for all eternity.

Every person who believes in Jesus already has an exalted place in the kingdom of heaven, so we don’t need to push ourselves forward.

This is why Jesus tells us elsewhere: “...those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (Matthew 23:12).

If we persevere in following Jesus, even when it may be damaging to our reputations or livelihoods in this world, we live and die in the certainty that we are going to reign with Jesus over His new creation for all eternity.

2 Timothy 2:11-12 tells Christian disciples: “If we died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him. If we disown him, he will also disown us…”

We need to keep following Jesus in humility. And that means being humble not just toward Jesus, but also in our dealings with our fellow disciples!

Maybe the next time we run into each other before or after worship, or during our small groups or while helping at Upward, Tuesday tutoring, on a mission trip, or at Saint Vincent’s Gateway Men's Shelter, our first words to each other shouldn’t be, “How are you doing?” And it surely shouldn’t be, “Why do you keep messing up?” (Not the question of a disciple.) Maybe we should be asking each other, “What can I do for you today?”

The greatest in God’s kingdom are those who take the path of servanthood, walking right behind God in the flesh, Jesus, Who took the path of the cross and, for His faithful service to God and to the human race, was lifted up by His Father.

All who, as Jesus told us in last week’s gospel lesson, take up our crosses, owning our sins, and follow Him, trusting Him as our God and Savior, will also be lifted up to live with Him now and forever.

When you know you’re God’s child, you don’t have to play at being a big shot. In the eyes of God, you already are a big shot, especially when you humble yourself to serve others in Jesus’ name. Amen

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


Saturday, September 09, 2017

Robert Jenson, eminent Lutheran theologian, has died

Robert Jenson, one of the eminent Lutheran theologians of the past forty years, died on September 5. Jenson was a practitioner of systematic theology, a branch of the theological enterprise which, as the name implies, attempts to systematically understand God's self-disclosure to Israel and, definitively, to the world in Jesus Christ. Jenson was, simultaneously, audacious and orthodox (the latter, a Greek compound word, ortho=right, doxy=glory, a generic term used of Christians who espouse the God of the Bible, rather than the preferred version of God of any given moment) Christian theologians of the past fifty years.


Rein Zeilstra, the author of an appreciation of Jenson writes:
Initially an activist, Jenson and his wife Blanche—to whom he was married for more than 60 years, and whom he credited as co-author of all his books, indeed, "genetrici theologiae meae omniae"—marched and protested and spoke in the 1960s against the Vietnam War and for civil rights for African-Americans. His politics was forever altered, however, in 1973 with Roe v. Wade. As he wrote later, he assumed that those who had marched alongside him and his fellow Christians would draw a logical connection from protection of the vulnerable in Vietnam and the oppressed in America to the defenseless in the womb; but that was not to be. Ever after, his politics was divided, and without representation in American governance: as he said in a recent interview, he found he could vote for neither Republicans nor Democrats, for one worshiped an idol called "the free market" and the other worshiped an idol called "autonomous choice," and both idols were inimical to a Christian vision of the common good.

In 1997 and 1999, ostensibly as the crown and conclusion to 70 years' work in the theological academy, Jenson published his two-volume Systematic Theology, arguably the most read, renowned, and perhaps even controversial systematic proposal in the last three decades. There his lifelong interests came together in concise, readable, propulsive form: the triune God, the incarnate Jesus, the theological tradition, the nihilism of modernity, the hope of the gospel, and the work of the Spirit in the unitary church of the creeds. Even if you find yourself disagreeing with every word of it, it is worth your time. As my brother once told me, he wasn't sure what he thought about the book when he finished the last page, but more important, he felt compelled to get on his knees and worship the Trinity. Surely that is the final goal of every theological system; surely nothing could make Jenson more pleased.
Amen

Read the entire post by Zeilstra.

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


Friday, September 08, 2017

The mysteries of God

My quiet time with God today answered some questions and raised even more to which I can't yet see any answers. Life with God is like that. If you ever get to the point when you think you've got God all figured out, you're probably playing God rather than following God.

Sometimes God is, as the late Rich Mullins said, "hard to get." There are mysteries about Him and life with Him that will endure as long as we live in this earth. Among the greatest of these mysteries is how He loves me and sticks with me and, most amazingly, understands me at precisely those moments when I feel most alone, isolated, and afraid. Even when I don't get God, He gets me. And that's tremendously comforting and empowering.

[Below is Mullins' demo of the song, Hard to Get. He was unable to go to the studio with the tune before he died. But I love the simplicity of this version.]



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


Tuesday, September 05, 2017

A walk to the Bronx with Andy Mineo and Lecrae

Andy Mineo and Lecrae are two of my favorite contemporary musical artists. They both rap. They are both Christians.

Here, while recommending a new book, Mineo tells about an incident that he and Lecrae were recently both involved in and then, witnesses to, while walking through a New York City neighborhood.

Please listen to the whole thing. You will be blessed.

And please choose to listen to it at all, even if it gets uncomfortable. He says some very important things.

My views on engaging in sexual intimacy outside of heterosexual marriage are well-known by those who know me. I've made them clear here.

I hope that my belief that Christians are called to love and try to understand all people is equally well known.

Jesus says that we are to love our neighbors, no exceptions.

Jesus says that we're also to speak God's truth. And, in Ephesians, we're told to speak the truth of God in love.

We can do both of those things--love our neighbor and speak the truth, as long as we own our own imperfections and our own need of Jesus forgiveness for our sins.

Anyone who is truly grateful that they have been saved by grace through faith in Christ alone will be powerfully motivated to never look down their nose is on anyone.

Like Luther, we Christians can own the fact that we are all beggars, that we are all in need of grace because we cannot save ourselves.

I love what Andy Mineo has to say here. I love the sensitivity he shows to all kinds of people here, including police officers thrust into difficult situations without knowing the context.

Please listen to what this extraordinary young man has to say. I thank God for him and for Lecrae and the ways in which they are showing the implications of the good news of Jesus Christ to all kinds of people.


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