Thursday, May 25, 2017

America's Drunkest Cities

A lot of them are in Wisconsin. Green Bay is the drunkest. Read the whole thing.

Athens, Ohio, home of the well-known Halloween drunkfest, didn't make the list.


Today's Hunger for God's Word Isn't Surprising

Thirty years ago, my guess is that if you asked the average churchgoer what one thing attracted them to or kept them attending a particular congregation, the answer would have been music. Music can be important in helping us to worship God, of course. As musician Toby Mac has said, music goes to places that words alone can't.

But, according to this poll from Gallup, sermons or talks that teach more about Scripture is the top reason that people go to worship.

I have seen this in my own ministry. Today, there is wide acceptance among churchgoers of varied worship and musical styles. The worship music wars are over in North American churches, in part I think, because we all are exposed to so many different musical styles that for us to hear such variety in worship isn't jarring.

Today, people care less about packaging--worship form--than they do about what's inside--the message proclaimed. People want to know what God says in His Word, what He calls us to believe and why.

In thirty-two years as a pastor, I've never seen a greater hunger for God's Word than I see today.

This dovetails with my own journey as a preacher. In days past, I looked for great stories to fill my sermons. A good story that helps people to understand the Bible text before them is fine. But too often, I think, I tried to be "cute."

When my former denomination began taking a path away from the authority of Scripture as God's Word and the norm for our life, faith, and practice, I decided that the time for cute was through. If so many people in my former denomination could be hoodwinked into walking away from the authority of God's Word, a central tenet of the Lutheran confessions, I had to quit assuming that everyone knew what the Bible said. I needed to unfold the Scripture again and again.

I know that in my own life, in the craziness of daily living, I can easily lose sight of God's Word, His revealed will for me as a human being, and the center of history, God enfleshed, Jesus, Who died with humanity and rose from death in order to open up eternal life with God to all who believe in HIm. If I as a pastor, won't help people to hear and see what God is saying to them, I let them down.

There are fewer stories in my sermons these days. And the stories are usually shorter. Always, I pray, they're tied to the Biblical text on which I'm preaching on that day.

Christian faith is life and death business. People who come to worship with us who have no faith need to hear God's Word...without me, my stories, or attempts to be entertaining, relevant, or cute getting in the way. People who come to worship and believe, yet need encouragement, help, counsel, strength, reproach, or liberation, aren't helped when sermons are autobiographical and cute.

People need Christ. And they need the Word about Christ, which is found in every word of the Old and New Testament. People don't seem to mind that I don't entertain them. Or wow them.

Hellenistic Jews once approached Philip, another Hellenistic Jew and a follower of Jesus. They told Philip: "Sir, we would like to see Jesus" (John 12:21).

Whether the people who go to Christian worship on Sunday mornings know it or not, they're seeking the same thing. When, in Christian preaching, as well as Christian fellowship, Christian worship, and Christian service, they do see Jesus, they'll be back for more.

The Word of God, when read, pondered, or proclaimed has power! In the New Testament, Paul says, "...faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ" (Romans 10:17). And God assures us in the Old Testament that when His Word is spoken:
...as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:10-11)
The Gallup findings are not surprising to me, then. When people hear God's Word faithfully read and explicated, they know they've heard from the One Who made them, redeemed them on the cross and rose from the dead to give them life, and still lives with them through His Holy Spirit. They've come into contact with the Life-Giver and the Life-Changer. And they want more!

And they begin to feel like the apostle Paul:
...I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:8-11)
[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]



I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For by U2

Where the Streets Have No Name by U2

The first U2 LP I owned...like lots of other people, I'm sure.

Blackbird by Paul McCartney

I Want to Hold Your Hand by the Beatles


Monday, May 22, 2017

Back to the Egg?

This image showing Donald Trump touching a glowing orb in Saudi Arabia...


Reminds me of this old McCartney/Wings LP cover from the 70s. The LP is Back to the Egg.


Of course, there already was a McCartney-Trump connection with the the Saudi Arabia trip: Melania Trump arrived in Riyadh in an outfit created by Paul McCartney's celebrated fashion designer daughter, Stella. Whose name always makes me think of this famous movie scene...


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


God is On the Move by 7eventh Time Down

If you're paying attention, you know it's so.



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


Sunday, May 21, 2017

You don't have to love. You get to love! (AUDIO)

Here.

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


You don't have to love. You get to love!

John 14:15-21
A renowned theologian made a confession to a group of people who were celebrating his career. “For forty years,” he said, “I’ve told people, ‘You’ve got to love.’ Now I realize that I’ve had it wrong. The message of Jesus is, ‘You get to love.’”

It’s so easy for us to get the message of Jesus wrong.

It’s so easy to become Christian Pharisees, turning Jesus into a law-giver, and boiling our faith down to being obedient to His command (and the entire Bible’s command) that we love God and love neighbor.

But how confident are we of our ability to be perfectly obedient to God’s law of love? I hope not very confident.

Otherwise, the confession of sin we offered to God together at the beginning of worship today was a meaningless exercise.

Even more seriously, if you and I are confident in our ability to obey God’s law of love, we’re placing our trust in ourselves and not in God.

“Wait a minute,” you might say, “I’m not such a bad person. I do a fair job of loving God and loving my neighbor...to a point.”

To those who may be inclined to offer such a hedged defense, may I remind you of what’s involved in God’s law of love, as summarized in the Ten Commandments?
  • You shall have no other gods before God. 
  • You shall not take the name of God in vain. 
  • Remember the Sabbath to keep it holy. 
  • Honor your father and your mother. 
  • You shall not murder. 
  • You shall not commit adultery. 
  • You shall not steal. 
  • You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. 
  • You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. 
  • You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, his workers, his livestock, or anything that else that is your neighbor’s.
“I’m good at nine out of ten of them,” some might think. Or, "I obey most of them."

But James reminds us: “...whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it” (James 2:10).

And Jesus tells us that even to think of committing these sins is the same as committing them. “The things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart,” Jesus says in Matthew 15:18-20, “and these defile them. For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what defile a person…”

Considering these facts, the conclusion reached by the apostle Paul is unavoidable: “...all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” (Romans 3:23).

And since “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23), Paul’s question for himself in Romans 7:24 is one that every member of the human race should be asking themselves: “Wretched man [or woman] that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (ESV)

This, of course, is where Jesus comes in.

God looks on the children He created in His image with compassion, even though we are sinners who fail to abide by His law of love. It saddens Him because He doesn’t want us to condemn ourselves by remaining enslaved to sin, putting our trust in our own “pretty good” behavior. Every baby born into the world today is destined for death and condemnation for sin unless God acts to saves them.

That’s why He sent Jesus to bear the condemnation for sin we deserve and to rise to become our trailblazer to eternity. 

And that’s why He sends the Holy Spirit to teach us and to remind us to turn to Christ and be forgiven, turn to Him and live, turn to Him and be given new, eternal lives.

Today’s gospel lesson finds Jesus not laying down laws that will earn us salvation. No such laws exist.

You and I can never be good enough to be saved.

Instead, Jesus describes the life that He, by His death and resurrection, makes possible for those who trust in Him. 

He isn’t telling us, “You have to love,” but, “You get to love.” 

And, He tells us that we get so much more by the power of His grace and deity. 

Let’s take a look at what He says this morning in John 14:15-21.

Verse 15: “If you love me, keep my commands.” Already, Jesus has promised the disciples (including you and me):
for all who believe in Him.

Now, let me ask you something: Knowing that God has loved you so much that He does all of this for you as a gift to the one with faith in Jesus, what is the only appropriate response from you (or me)? 

Love. Trusting, grateful love!

We love God, as the apostle John writes elsewhere, because God loved us first (1 John 4:19). 

Once trust in Christ and gratitude for God’s grace infects a soul, love is the response.

And so, Jesus offers here not so much a command, but an observation. When, by faith, you have come to love God and God resides in you, you will do what God commands.

Not perfectly. Our old sinful selves get in the way.

But as we live in daily repentance and renewal, daily surrender to Jesus, the great arc of our lives will bend increasingly toward Jesus and His loving way of life.

You’ll do that as an almost automatic, involuntary response to the relationship of love with God into which Christ brings you.

After my mother died, I thanked my dad for all the many years he spent caring for her. He said, matter-of-factly, “Well, what else was I going to do?”

What else was I going to do? That’s the question of love.

When, in the words of a great song by B.B. King and U2, “love comes to town,” when it comes to save you and when it comes to take residence in your life, what else are you going to do? Love becomes not a command, but a way of life.

Jesus shows this in His great parable about the last judgment when He says He will say to His sheep: "Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me..." And the sheep will ask Jesus, "When did we do any of that? We don't remember doing any of that!" Jesus says that His sheep are the ones who respond to His love with love for God and love for neighbor, simply living without a thought of getting credit or keeping score! (Matthew 25:31-46)



But how will we love? After all, “love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

These verses from the Bible's "love chapter," of course, are often read at weddings. When I read them at weddings, I will often look up at the couples standing before me as they smile smugly, their expressions saying, "Yes, that's our love. That's how we love each other." Really?

How is it possible for us to perfectly keep Christ’s law by loving in the style of the love chapter?

Jesus tells us. Verse 16: “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live.”

To baptized believers in Jesus, Jesus comes to live. Through His Holy Spirit, Jesus comes to us. He speaks Jesus’ word of truth to us, in us, for us.
  • He does this at the Baptismal font, where we are baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, then “marked by the cross of Christ and sealed by the Holy Spirit forever.” 
  • He does it in His Word, where we read and hear God’s life-giving truth. 
  • He does it in the bread and wine, where He says, “Take and eat; this is My body...Take and drink; this is My blood,” offered to bring us forgiveness and effecting the miracle of re-membering us to Christ--breaking down the walls of separation, the walls of sin and death. By this, I mean that when Jesus gives us His body and blood at Holy Communion and says, "Do this in remembrance of Me," He is not saying, "Bring memories of Me to mind." He isn't saying, "Recollect Me." He's saying, "Be remembered to Me. Be reconnected to Me. Be the branches to My vine and take My life into your very body, soul, spirit, and will."
To the unbelieving world, the notion that by the power of the Holy Spirit, God comes to us in the Word and sacraments is crazy.

When you’ve never dared to open yourself to Christ and His love, talk of the Holy Spirit seems like foolishness.

But we know better.

When Jesus knocks on the doors of our hearts and we let Him in (Revelation 3:20), we know what it is to have life-giving communion with the God revealed in Jesus.

The Holy Spirit lives in believers in Jesus.
  • When we sin, He calls us to repent. 
  • When we love, He tells us, “good and faithful servant.” 
  • When we don’t know what to pray, He forms our longing into groaning prayers too deep for words. 
Despite a bad news world filled with sin and death and selfishness, even within ourselves, the Holy Spirit empowers us to trust that Jesus is the way and the truth and the life and that because Jesus, crucified and risen, lives, we too will live.

The Holy Spirit brings Jesus’ love into the centers of our souls and we know that we’re not orphans and, fortified by His love, He makes it possible for us to love when we can’t.

I’ve told you that one prayer I’ve offered through the years is, “Lord, I find myself incapable of loving so-and-so. Please love them through me.” I find that God not only loves those people through me, over time, He creates within me genuine love for them.

I’m sure that others have offered similar prayers regarding Mark Daniels.

A woman heard me share this years ago and told me months later that she had tried this on her husband. “I’d gotten to where I couldn’t stand him,” she told me, “but after awhile, I began to see him differently and his behavior seemed to change as I loved Him.”

When Christ’s love and the Holy Spirit come to town, when we let Christ and the Spirit lodge within us and we surrender, we will love.

We will keep Christ’s commands without thinking of it. That’s how grace works.

Jesus continues: “On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”

Here’s an incredible thought: The Creator of the universe ushers with faith in Jesus into the same relationship of intimacy, trust, and love He has enjoyed within the Trinity--Father, Son, and Holy Spirit--for all eternity. He wants you beside Him now and in eternity.

When we surrender to the grace that accepts us as we are and works to make us all that we can be, our relationship with God is totally transformed. We are transformed.

“You shall have no other gods before me,” for example, is changed from a command to a promise.

Through Jesus, we know we have no need of other gods.

We don’t look for love, affirmation, success, peace, or hope anywhere else.

We have it all in Jesus!

No other gods will bother us, entice us, or drag us down.

We’ll have the God we meet in Jesus and, through Him, we have life.

The message of Jesus then is that you don’t have to love, you get to love, just like the Lord Who made you, Who died and rose for you, Who speaks His truth to you again this morning.

Through Jesus, you get to be a free, redeemed child of God, now and forever. Hallelujah!

Now live in His love!


[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio. This was the message for today's Sunday worship services.]


Saturday, May 20, 2017

A Deluge of Grace, Grace, GRACE!

Here are reflections from my morning quiet time with God today. To see how I approach quiet time, see here.
Look: “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5, NIV)

“And that’s not all: We throw open our doors to God and discover at the same moment that he has already thrown open his door to us. We find ourselves standing where we always hoped we might stand—out in the wide open spaces of God’s grace and glory, standing tall and shouting our praise.” (Romans 5:3-5, The Message)

“Deep and wide / Deep and wide / There’s a fountain flowing deep and wide.” It’s the words of that old Sunday School and camp song that come to mind as I read these amazing words of Paul, beautifully rendered by Peterson in The Message.

In the first two verses of Romans, chapter 5, Paul comes to one of his important therefore statements: “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.”

When I compare my life and how I conduct it to the Law of God, I fall short (Romans 3:23). As we confess on Sunday mornings, “We have not loved You with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.” But, just like Abraham, the patriarch of Biblical faith, Paul says, we are accounted righteous by God through faith in God, Who has now revealed Himself to all the world--Jews and Gentiles--through Jesus, true God and true man. God graciously offered His Son for us so that all who believe in Jesus--Jew and Gentile--share in His victory over death and enjoy eternal reconciliation with God (Romans 5:10).

Paul says that I not only can now boast in my hope of a life of perfect righteousness beyond my grave because of Jesus and my faith in Him, I can even boast about Jesus in the midst of my sufferings.

Why? Because, God forges my character and fits me for authentic human living in this world and in eternity in the midst of suffering as I keep following Jesus!

This results in hope that doesn’t disappoint or put me to shame.

When I go through the worst that this life dispenses, when I experience God’s grace and forgiveness even when I am my own worst enemy and the creator of my own heartaches, I know that God is real. I experience, intimately and first-hand, that God’s grace is real. I know that Jesus’ death and resurrection were for me too.

This is how I have experienced You, God: As the gracious Father, Son, and Holy Spirit Who still loves me, still hears my prayers, still stands by me when I have failed You and I turn back, when I suffer and I rely on You.

It’s through the dark times, as we cling to Your hand, that deeper peace, deeper hope, deeper certainty, and deeper faith are won.

I have come to realize that You love me in spite of me--”...at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:6). Wow!

Listen: All of which is why, Peterson’s rendering in The Message caused me to stand up and take deeper notice of Your Word in Romans 5:3-5 today.

When my suffering--real, imagined, or attributable to the devil, the world, or my sinful self--leads me to a deeper walk with You and often in my life, hopelessness is dealt a fatal blow.

Grace gets the last word over my sin.

Life gets the final say over death.

I find myself, as Peterson renders Paul’s letter to the Romans “...standing where [I] always hoped [I] might stand—out in the wide open spaces of God’s grace and glory, standing tall and shouting [my] praise.”

When I trust in You, You set me free to be who You made me to be--Your son--and do what I was made for--reflect Your glory and goodness.

You grant a life-giving tidal wave of living water, slaking my troubled soul with grace. Grace. Grace. Grace! GRACE! 

When I connect with You each day, I find that taking in Your grace and love is far more challenging than the proverbial drinking water from a fire hose. It’s like trying to take in an ocean of fresh water in one gulp. You bring a deluge of grace that Paul talks about in Romans 5:5, observing (in Peterson’s rendering): “...we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit!” (A particular challenge for us who are simple jars of clay or paper cups, 2 Corinthians 4:7.)

And, amazingly, that’s in the midst of suffering, as Your grace uses that suffering to forge our characters and deepen our hope. (In the Peterson rendering, “alert expectancy,” is hope, a fantastic way of portraying Christian hope.)

As You daily prove Your faithfulness to me, Lord, I find myself increasingly empowered to live today and am given to standing on tip-toes in alert expectancy of what You are going to do today, tomorrow, and in eternity.

I have often disappointed You, others, and myself. I have sinned. I am a sinner who sins. But when I place my life in Your hands, the hope that You create within me never puts me to shame (Romans 5:5). I, by my actions and thoughts, am the only one who can shame Mark Daniels. But, I thank You, God, that my shame need not define my life nor my eternity. When I trust in You--Peterson renders it as opening the door to You--my shame is erased. My sins are forgiven. You give me new starts. (Romans 5:2, The Message)

Respond: Thank You, God, for undeserved grace. Thank You, Christ, for setting me free from sin and death. Thank You, Holy Spirit, for incessantly pounding through this thick skull of mine that my life is not about what I do, it’s about what You, the three-in-One God have done and are doing for me, doing in me, and my trust in You. I surrender. Now let me bathe in Your deluge of grace. Amen
[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]


Thursday, May 18, 2017

Inspiration at the Ford Museum


"Condo again, condo again, jiggedy jig." I'm back in Miamisburg after a few days of vacation in northwestern Ohio and Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Pictured here are my souvenirs from the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids. It's a good museum and I recommend a visit, although a few displays need some attention.

I'm a great admirer of President Ford. He didn't seek either the vice presidency or the presidency, but when he became president, whatever you think of his particular policies, he helped to significantly restore Americans' faith in the Constitution and our government.

This was sorely needed after his predecessor, Richard Nixon, attempted to subvert democracy and make himself a kind of elected royal, above both the law and the checks and balances created by our Constitution. Ultimately, Nixon's criminality didn't stand because, as Ford said at his White House swearing-in ceremony, "Ours is a government of laws, not of men."

The Ford Museum was a busy place when we visited yesterday. The Michigan Secretary of State had staff on hand to register citizens to vote. That was needed because, as is true twice a month at the Ford Museum, new citizens were sworn in at the auditorium. It was fun congratulating new fellow citizens after the ceremony!

The items I purchased at the museum include two books. One is about Brent Scowcroft, the national security adviser to President George H.W. Bush. I'm a fan of Scowcroft's foreign policy realism. A second biography is of Nelson Rockefeller, written by one of my favorite presidential historians, Richard Norton Smith. That book has been on my Amazon wish list for some time. But the books were both 75% off at the Ford Museum! So, I couldn't pass them up.

Also purchased: A pocket edition of the Constitution, which I intend to keep close at hand, taking fourth place behind pocket editions of the Bible, Concordia (the Lutheran Confessions), and The Small Catechism.

Two other items: Socks that will be at home on my feet, one with an image of George Washington, the other with Abraham Lincoln's picture.

Contrary to popular opinion, my contacts with politicians and my study of political history over the years demonstrate that there really are people in public service who are principled and patriotic. Gerald Ford was one of them.

Being at the museum was an inspiring experience. People like Ford remind us of what America is supposed to be about.

Here's a link to a post I wrote about Gerald Ford on the day he died in 2006.

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


Sunday, May 14, 2017

Never Forget the One Who Never Forgets You!

John 14:1-14
Has this ever happened to you?

You go to the grocery store with a list of eight items in your mind. You’re confident that you’ll remember every item because you rehearsed the list over and over again earlier in the day. You get a cart and start to pick up the items. Bananas; check. Lettuce; check. Asparagus; check. Gluten free bread; check. Lunchmeat and cheese; check. Orange juice; check. You look at your cart: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 items.

But what was the eighth again? You think and think, but can’t remember.

You’re still not worried, though. You’ll just saunter up and down the aisles, hoping that you’ll spy the eighth item on your mental list.

The saunter strategy only makes things worse because, as you see things on sale or items you think you might need, you load up your cart with them. It only buries the forgotten item into the deeper recesses of your brain. You keep on forgetting until, just as your garage door goes up, you remember that you needed to pick up the main course for the night, chicken!

Our memories can be faulty. Unless we take the proper precautions, we are all at risk of forgetting the most important things in life. If we’re not careful, we can forget the important things that we know.

This is even true of our relationship with the God revealed to all of us in Jesus. In the rush of daily living, we can forget Jesus.

I’m not talking about forgetting the facts surrounding Jesus. Nobody who knows the Apostles’ Creed or the Nicene Creed is apt to forget that Jesus was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, was true God and true man, died for our sin, and rose to give life to all who believe in Him.

But, though all of these statements describe life-giving truths about Jesus, knowing them and even memorizing them without knowing Jesus won’t bring us life with God. Only Jesus does that. And only those who maintain a relationship with Jesus, daily turning from sin, daily following Him and trusting in Him, have life with God.

Christian faith isn’t a set of religious propositions. Christian faith is a relationship with God enfleshed, Jesus Christ.

And you know what? Relationships have to be nurtured.

A woman was married to a man who loved her. But he was boring, not flashy, predictable. She had an affair with a man who was none of those things. But after the excitement wore off, she realized that this man didn’t love her the way her husband did. So she committed herself to reconstructing her relationship with her husband. Later, she told a friend, “I took my husband for granted. I’d forgotten who he was and what he did with me and for me. I nearly lost him.”

As our gospel lesson for today begins, the disciples are in danger of losing their relationship with Jesus. Jesus, heading for His crucifixion, speaks to them in what we call His “farewell discourse.” He tells them: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”

The disciples should have known exactly what Jesus was talking about when He claimed to be one with God. They had heard Him say: “Before Abraham was born, I am,” using strange grammar to claim for Himself the same name God revealed to be His to Moses back at the burning bush, Yahweh, I Am (John 8:58). The disciples had heard Jesus say, “I and the Father are one" (John 10:30). They had watched Jesus raise His friend Lazarus from the dead (as well as countless other signs).

They also should have known where Jesus was going. They’d heard Jesus tell Lazarus’ sister, “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25). They had heard Jesus tell 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” (John 3:16).

But now, in the rush of their daily lives, looking down the barrelhead of opposition and death in Jerusalem, they seem to have forgotten everything. They had gotten so accustomed to live with “the Word [made] flesh,” that they forgot that this flesh and blood rabbi they followed was (and is) also God. (John 1:14)

Verse 5: “Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?’ Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.’”

Dr. Jim Nestingen says that Thomas was looking for a roadmap. We don’t need a roadmap. If we know Jesus and follow Him, we know the Way and that’s enough.

Jesus is the way because He’s the foundational truth on which the new creation is built. Any life not built on Jesus is a lie. Other ways promise life, but only Jesus can deliver. Jesus told Pilate: “Everyone on the side of truth listens to Me” (John 18:37).

Jesus is the way because when He ushers us into intimacy with the Father, we are connected to the only One Who can make life or make life new. Thomas should have known all of this already; but he forgot. We too can forget. We too need to be regularly reminded or risk forgetting the Way.

Verse 8: “Philip said, ‘Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.’ Jesus answered: ‘Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves.’”

Philip, one of Jesus’ first followers, the disciple who told his friend Nathanael, “Come and see” (John 1:46), had evidently forgotten the things he had seen and heard: the miracles, the teaching, the changed lives. He demands that Jesus show them the Father. Jesus reminds Philip that Philip had already seen the Father in Jesus. And, Jesus pleads, “If you don’t believe what you’ve seen in Me, then believe in what you’ve seen Me do.”

I sometimes forget Who Jesus is and what He has accomplished for you at the cross and from His empty tomb.

I forget His promises, promises for which His death and resurrection are the downpayment and the guarantee.

I get so caught up in all my doing, that I forget that the God we know in Jesus Christ is the One in Whom “‘we live and move and have our being.' “ (Acts 17:28)

Jesus’ death and resurrection prove that He can deliver on His promises to us, promises like forgiven sin, new life, the presence of God with us along this life’s way. 

And promises like the ones He makes at the ends of our lesson today: “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” 

Jesus promises that the people who remain connected to Him, His Church, will do even greater things than He did during His three decades on earth.

He promises too, that whatever things we ask in His name--in other words, whatever things we ask of God that conform to Jesus' will, that draw others to life through Christ, that reflect His character of love and goodness, Jesus will see that they happen.

Some of you know the amazing thing that happened when my mother was dying a few weeks ago.

At the hospital, my niece contacted a friend of hers who also is a friend of my brother’s and asked her to tell my brother what was going on.

We hadn’t seen my brother in six and a half years. But we had prayed that before either of our parents left this life, there would be a reconciliation. We didn’t want our brother to live with any unnecessary guilt. I dreaded the thought of that.

My brother came to the hospital. We didn’t know that he had only moved back to the Columbus area two weeks earlier! (The God we know in Jesus is the master orchestrator of events!) There was a wonderful reconciliation.

What if we had given up on praying for reconciliation?

What if my niece had given up on trying to reach out for my brother?

What if my brother had turned a deaf ear to the Savior in Whom he believes?

When we remain connected to Jesus, trusting in Him, not everything in this world goes as we want. (After all, this isn't heaven!) But Jesus gives us the strength to endure when all seems hopeless. And He enters the places and the lives into which we invite Him to transform hurt to healing, despair to hope, life to death. In fact, He specializes in doing just those kinds of things.

I have no magic formula on how you can remain connected and intimate with the Savior, Who by His grace, saves all who trust in Him. This is a relationship that requires time, commitment, and work, not as the prices we pay for salvation, but as the sacrifices we willingly to make to remain intimate and alive with the Lord Who sacrificed all for us.

Do you want to always remember Jesus and stay connected to Him? Here’s how:
  • Be in corporate worship every week you can. We are strengthened by God's Word and God's Truth as we gather in Christ's name.
  • Receive Christ’s body and blood, which brings you His life and forgiveness, every time they’re offered. Someone once asked my mentor, Pastor Bruce Schein, how often people should receive Holy Communion. His answer: "Every time you can!" In this supper, Christ comes to us, giving us His very life and imparting His forgiveness to us. Holy Communion is God's Word incarnated. It's a treasure not to be passed by or forgotten!
  • Join hands with your Christian family for prayer, study, mutual encouragement and accountability, and service in Jesus’ name. 
  • And spend time each day personally in God’s Word, asking the Lord what He wants to tell you and how He wants to lead you that day. 
Then, fortified by God’s Word and His presence in your life, go do those works of love and gracious power Jesus promised that each of us who bear His name would do. In these ways, you won’t forget Jesus and He will empower you as His disciple.

Jesus never forgets you; please, never forget Jesus.

Amen



[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio. This was the message for worship on Sunday, May 14, 2017.]


Thursday, May 11, 2017

Cincinnati Woo-ing...Still Not As Annoying As the Vuvuzela

The Cincinnati Reds fan who started the Woo thing at Great American Ball Park (GABP) seems like a great guy and is certainly loyal.

But Cincinnati Enquirer sports columnist Paul Daugherty has a good--if overstated--point about how annoying all the woo-ing has become. Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon talked about it on Pardon the Interruption on ESPN.

Daugherty even thinks that GABP ushers should be instructed to give woo-ers a warning, then eject those who continue to annoy other fans with their impressions of Ric Flair. (Or is it Little Richard?)

Meanwhile, woo-ing fans or no, the Reds enter tonight's game against the San Francisco Giants one game out of first in the National League Central Division.

This is a rebuilding year for the Reds. But the way this young team is playing, featuring a surprisingly potent offense and terrific pitching out of the bullpen, the future is looking bright in Cincinnati. Woo!

PS: It can get annoying when overdone, but the woo-ing still isn't as nerve-grating as the vuvuzela.

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