Sunday, February 07, 2016

God's Encouragement

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

Luke 9:28-36
We were talking with a young person this past week and the subject of this year’s presidential election came up. She was equally glum about all the presidential candidates in both parties. “It doesn’t matter who we vote for,” she told us. “Nothing will ever get better again.”


I have to say that I share that young person’s assessment of whether the election of any person would significantly change our world for the better. 

Only a spiritual renewal will cause us to act differently toward one another. 

Only massive numbers of people coming to be disciples and to live as disciples of the crucified and risen Jesus Christ, massive numbers of people daily repenting and daily believing in Christ, can move us out of what some are calling degenerative discouragement syndrome

It was discouragement to which that young person gave voice. 

And she isn’t alone, though some try, on their own, to make the best of it. Like people who say, “The world is going to hell. But I’m going to get what I can for me and my family.” 

Not, “The world is going to hell and I’m going to share Christ with whoever I can.” 

Not, “The world is bad, so I’m going to love my family and forgive those who sin against me.” 

Not, “I’m going to pray that God’s kingdom will come.” 

No, these people think, “Things are bad and I’m going to get as much good as I can, other people be hanged. Then I'll die."


The followers of Jesus Christ had observed many epiphanies--many manifestations of His power and Lordship--over the course of His ministry. 

Because of them, they were pinning their hopes for a better world on Jesus. 

For five hundred years, God’s people--the Jews--had suffered from a kind of degenerative discouragement syndrome. It had been that long since God had spoken through the prophets, through whom God had promised a Messiah, a Christ, an anointed King. 

Through those centuries, they endured injustice, foreign domination, and the enslavement of a grace-less religion. 

Many had given up hope that God would ever act. 

But now, as Jesus preached, taught, healed, raised the dead, and cast out demons, the veil of despair began to lift. Was God’s kingdom close at hand, after all? Was Jesus the Messiah, the Christ, God’s anointed king, come to make things right?

Eight days before the events recounted in this morning’s Gospel lesson, one disciple, the apostle Peter, was moved by the Holy Spirit to claim Jesus as “God’s Messiah.” [Luke 9:20] 

According to Luke, Jesus silently acceded to Peter’s confession, charged the disciples to say nothing to anyone because first, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” [Luke 9:22]

At that, the disciples must have felt that the small embers of hope just being brought to flame by Jesus were being doused by His cold wet blanket

Popular thought said that the Messiah--the Christ--would conquer foreign foes and ensure an era of financial prosperity. (The very things we expect of presidents, by the way.) The Christ, they thought, would govern justly and everyone would live happily ever after.


But Jesus understood that the people of His homeland--the people of the world, including you and me--are oppressed by much more than foreign threats or economic challenges, more than poverty or terrorism. All of those ills and many more come from a deeper human problem, the problem that Jesus came to conquer. The problem is sin, humanity’s inborn alienation from God, and death, the common enemy of every human being, that springs from death.


Jesus was telling Peter: “You’re right. I am the Messiah. And this is what the Messiah does. He bears the weight of Your sin and death on the cross, taking the punishment you deserve, so that if you repent and believe in Me, you will have eternal life in the kingdom of God.” 

The kingdom of God exists for all eternity, starting here in the hearts and wills of people who follow Jesus. Being a member of this kingdom today won’t erase the sins or tragedies of this fallen world. It’s still poisoned by sin and death. 

But being a member of this kingdom today will give us the faith and courage to live the Christian life: to love God, to love neighbor, to serve others with no expectation of return payment, to call others to follow Jesus with no expectation that they will say yes, to pray in Jesus’ name for those we love and for those who hate us

When the risen Jesus lives in us by faith, we can take a world going to hell in our arms and love it with the love of Christ

When you know that the story ends beyond the gates of death with eternal life with God, it changes how you do today!


But when you’ve lived for five centuries with degenerative discouragement and you’re told that your favorite myth about the Messiah is false, that the Messiah is going to suffer rejection and execution, that He will conquer your enemies by death and not warfare before He rises from the dead, you need encouragement. 

And so, our lesson tells us that God the Father supplied it! 

Verse 28: “About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. [God always shows up when we pray! Even if we’re discouraged, even if we can't sense Him coming close to us when we call Him. God will show up for us when we pray!] As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. [Already, this should be reminding us of the time in Exodus 24, when, centuries before, Moses took Joshua up to a mountaintop with him as he received God’s Law. When people looked at Moses, they saw the bright light of God on his face. Now back on this mountain with Jesus,] Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem. [The word translated as departure here is literally exodus. Jesus is leading people who repent and believe in Him out of the wilderness of sin and death into the promised land of forgiven sin and new and eternal life.] Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him.”

What a sight it must have been for the discouraged eyes of Peter, John, and James! The holiness, grandeur, and light of God emanating from every pore of Jesus’ earthly body. The lawgiver Moses, centuries dead, and Elijah, Israel’s greatest prophet, carried away by a chariot of fire centuries earlier, there to affirm that Jesus was the Messiah to Whom the Law and the Prophets and the Writings of the Old Testament all pointed. 

God was assuring the three disciples (and us) that despite the cross that awaited Jesus--that awaits who follow Him, He was still God and that the Messiah, after claiming His throne, would reign eternally over all who endure in believing in Him.


Verse 33: “As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, ‘Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters (The word in the Greek in which Luke wrote his Gospel is skene, literally meaning tabernacle or tent, also resonating of the Old Testament's account of God's people during their exodus from Egypt through the wilderness to the Promised Land.)—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ (He did not know what he was saying.) While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and covered them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. A voice came from the cloud, saying, ‘This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.’ When the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone.”


Peter wanted to capture the moment, as though you could possibly capture the majesty and mystery of God in a tent, a booth, a tabernacle, a church, a cathedral, or a universe. God, who Peter was looking at in Jesus, is bigger than all the boxes we try to put Him in

Besides that, Peter seems to think that Moses and Elijah were on an equal footing with Jesus. Just so Peter doesn’t misunderstand, God the Father envelops the whole group in a cloud, like the pillar of a cloud through which He led ancient Israel through the wilderness, and then says unequivocally: “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to Him.” At that, the three disciples found themselves with Jesus alone. 

What was God telling Peter and the other two (and us)? Simply this: “This is all you have been looking for. This is the one to whom Moses and Elijah were pointing. This is your king, God in the flesh. This is your wandering hearts' true desire!” 

Jesus was and is the Messiah toward whom all of human history had been moving

As the book of Hebrews puts it in a passage I mentioned a few Sundays ago: “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.” [Hebrews 1:1-2]

For people discouraged by life, the events of the first Transfiguration Sunday give hope

They must have helped Peter, John, and James and the disciples they led through the pain of Good Friday and Holy Saturday. “Yes,” they could have said, “Jesus has died, but we saw Him on the mountaintop. We know that He is God. But hold on. Hold on!” 

And when they saw the risen Jesus, the Holy Spirit would help them to put the pieces of the mystery together. They would understand that the sinless Messiah had to die so that when He rose, He could claim us not for a kingdom that lasts for a few fleeting years, not a kingdom that may give us material prosperity and personal security before we die in our sins, but an everlasting kingdom filled with the righteousness and peace and presence and love of God

Take courage in the midst of this world’s darkness, hold on tightly to Jesus, because “the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.” [Matthew 24:13] That’s the promise of Jesus’ transfiguration!  







Friday, February 05, 2016

Bob Howsam's Connection to the Broncos

I never knew this about the architect of the Big Red Machine, arguably the best team in National League history.

I'm thinking Pharma doesn't want this guy as their public face


Contempt for sick people.

Contempt for less than wealthy people.

Obvious contempt for those he thinks beneath him.

Contempt for the Congress.

Contempt for justice.

Contempt for the human race.

It's disturbing. Praying for Martin Shkreli and praying that, until he can develop something like respect for his fellow human beings, he doesn't have access to power of any kind.

There's evidently more betting on Super Bowl teams...

...than there is praying for them.

Thursday, February 04, 2016

'23 People Who Became Successful After Age 40'

Fun.


'Confessions of a recovering lesbian'

I invite you to read this with an open mind.

'About that mom [or dad] who's not bragging about her [his] kid'

Nancy Wolf explains why some parents, while proud of their kids, remain silent while other parents tout their children's latest accomplishments. She gives great advice at the end of the piece.

What 1915 Armenian Genocide by Turkey Teaches Us Today

Here. Very interesting.

'Why I Gave in to Barbie, Even Before Her Size Change'

We knew a man who worked for a major toy manufacturer. He hated Barbie. No matter how much research or work they put into their own versions of the 57-year old staple of the world toy market, Barbie always won.

Barbie hasn't been winning lately. Her whiteness and impossible measurements are blamed for aiding and abetting a culture that objectifies and idealizes white women, while discouraging them from using their minds or athleticism.

Many parents have been avoiding buying Barbies for years, meaning that lately, she hasn't been the market queen who bedeviled our friend.

That's why Mattel has recently unveiled, modestly more physically realistic versions of Barbie.

But Laura Goetsch writes that after she and her husband refused to give Barbies to their daughters, their opinion about the doll changed. It started with a gift given to one of their girls at a birthday party.
We threw her a butterfly-themed party, and one guest brought a present to match: a Barbie with extendable orange, pink, and black wings, like a monarch butterfly. This thoughtful neighbor, having recently arrived in the US, was likely unaware of our American angst over Barbie, and she clearly did not share it. She simply chose a toy that a little girl who was into butterflies would love. There was no question that we would embrace this thoughtful gift with gratitude and gladness.
The Barbie was embraced. But within a context of other messages, conversations, and examples for the the daughters.
I could have tried to quash my kids’ love of this svelte fashionista, but I chose not to. To express disdain for Barbie risks communicating to my daughters that their interests are frivolous, their delights are wrong. I won’t do this. At heart, is love of fashion and design not love of beauty? I believe that God himself planted this love of beauty, color, and texture in us.  
Playing house with dolls is a way to explore our own world. This is no less true when the doll’s proportions are unrealistic and her clothes a bit tight. If there had been another line of toys that I could have easily found secondhand with as many interesting accessories, I would have bought those. Instead, we have allowed our girls to relish the endless creative opportunities Barbie offers despite her downfalls.  
Like most American moms, I worry about my girls’ body images. I want them to view women as strong, wise, and gifted by God. In a society flooded with airbrushed pictures, no woman is immune from self-doubt and confusion. I wish that for the next 20 years I could hide all the commercials, billboards, and celebrity photos. I would love to create a world in which my kids only saw real women with realistic bodies.  
I’m grateful that the newly shaped Barbies help us take a step toward that world, but it’s only a tiny step and will likely make little impact on girls who learn early our cultural preference for skinny bodies. When I was wrestling a few years ago with whether to let my kids play with Barbie, I realized that to eliminate her would simply be to remove one trickle from a fire hose….at the cost of my kids’ favorite way to play and create. I decided that it was more important to foster their gifts and interests than to assuage my uneasy conscience (a conscience that on this issue was perhaps more informed by society's expectations of me as an educated Christian woman than by the Holy Spirit).
This is not to say that I am off the hook. My husband and I must still ask, how will we build up our daughters in truth and strength? How will we give them God’s vision for women? We’ll start off by ensuring that Barbie is not the only female figure they know and admire.  
We surround them with godly, brave, gifted women. We read biographies of Corrie Ten Boom and Harriet Tubman. We play soccer, practice math, and make art. We call them to love God with their hearts, souls, minds, and strength. We push them to love their neighbors as themselves. And yes, we discuss their Barbies’ absurd proportions. 
We talk of building sharp minds and strong bodies, soft hearts and deep souls. We cheer their ingenuity. We root them in a rich faith community. We play with Legos and with light sabers. We laugh and delight in what delights them. We tell the stories of Scripture. We trust that God is using their creative play with Barbie to develop their unique gifts.
In my years as a pastor and a parent, I've found that it's possible for parents to discuss anything with their kids, so long as you love and support them. Girls will even accept your criticisms of Barbie's impossible body, her obsession with beauty, and her dependence on a man for validation, if they know that you love them and when you teach them that God has gifted them to use their minds and that adhering to a false image of womanhood is both destructive and unnecessary. Read the whole thing, please.


Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Is 'Moderate versus Progressive' a False Choice?

Senator Bernie Sanders has tweeted that a person can't be a progressive and a moderate. He said it as a criticism of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who, Sanders claims, tells some people she's progressive and others that she's a moderate.

I understand that Sanders is basically saying that Clinton has no strong philosophical core, but, out of blind ambition, says whatever she thinks will appeal to the demographic crowd she's addressing at any given time.

That's a political judgment about which people have their opinions. With rare exceptions, I don't express political preferences here.

But I do object to the notion that a person can't be a moderate progressive. Or a moderate conservative or a moderate liberal.

To me, being a moderate defines how one approaches political issues, not a specific set of political propositions. As I wrote in a piece for The Moderate Voice nine years ago:
...being a moderate is less a matter of ideology than it is of the prism through which one views life, including politics.
When teetotling Christians have criticized we Lutherans over our fondness for beer, we’ve typically said, “All things in moderation,” meaning of course that as long as one doesn’t get soused, harm someone else, or abuse one’s body, there’s nothing wrong with having a beer. I became a Lutheran as an adult after several years as an atheist. Moderation, like beer, is an acquired taste for me. But I find that moderation appeals to me. That’s not because I’m wishy washy as some, usually those who want you to agree with their ideological program, insist.
Instead, I believe that a moderate…
…may be conservative or liberal, but refuses to close his or her mind to what others say. 
…has core convictions, but not so many as to prevent her or him from agreeing with a conservative on one issue and a liberal on the next.
…asks three basic questions when considering national political issues: Is it right? Is it constitutional? Will it work?
…is an advocate of civility in the political process.
…has an equal loathing of all special interests getting special attention from those in power. A moderate believes in fairness.
Frankly, I'd like to see a lot more moderation in our politics, whatever the politicians' party or philosophy. I said back then:
For our politics to work in this deeply Red-and-Blue-divided nation, we need a strong dose of the moderation our Founders enshrined in our Constitution. Around the world today, we’re seeing that it isn’t enough to grant people the vote. Immoderate voters elect immoderate leaders, people who are duly-elected despots, tyrants, and hare-brains.
Moderate voters and moderate candidates, whatever their political philosophy, form better governments.


Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Sign Her Up!

This is fun! Good on Billy Hamilton.

"Discrimination against people should be unlawful, but not against ideas."

Here.

It's true to say, as the writer claims, that Jesus never specifically condemned the practice of homosexuality.

It's also true that Jesus claimed to have come to not to abrogate God's moral law, as revealed in the Ten Commandments, but to fulfill it.

It's also true to say that every statement Jesus made about marriage was predicated on the premise that marriage is a covenant under God between a man and a woman.

(HT: Ann Althouse)

"Thrilling is fine. Mattering is more important."

He mostly writes about business, but this short post by Seth Godin is about life.

Jordan River Baptism Creates International "Incident"

Love this.

Monday, February 01, 2016

Are first-borns smarter?

I always told my siblings I was smarter than them. The study mentioned here claims it's possibly true, that there's a 1.5-point decline in IQ with succeeding each child in a family. In honesty though, I told my daughter, who sent the link for this article to me earlier today, that I'm skeptical of the findings. (By the way, she sent the link to me because she found the article "funny." She's the second child.)


NY to London in 15 Minutes

Wish I could book my flight now! (HT to my son, who linked to this piece over on Facebook.)


The Authority to Change Eternity

[This was shared with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church, Centerville, Ohio, yesterday, January 31.]

[You can listen to the message by clicking here.]


Luke 4:31-44
At first, today’s Gospel lesson, Luke 4:31-44, may seem like a hodgepodge narrative of two days in Jesus’ earthly ministry. But the incidents recounted here are really linked by two strong themes.They’re important for us to remember.


The first theme is authority.

The lesson takes place in the Galilean town of Capernaum. Jesus is preaching in the synagogue and Luke tells us that, as Jesus does so, the people “
were amazed at his teaching, because his words had authority.”


Many people try to speak with authority. In this presidential election year, we see that a lot. But when Jesus taught and preached, it was unlike anything the people had heard.

In Jesus, whether people knew it or not, they heard the voice of the One Who had once said, “‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” That’s authority! 


Later in the passage, a man disrupted Jesus’ teaching in the synagogue. The man was filled with a demon.

We need to stop here for a second because as post-moderns, we may be skeptical about the existence of demons. I don’t share this skepticism about the existence of demonic forces in our world, though.

A few years ago, our son Philip went with his now-wife on a mission trip to Haiti. One day, Philip’s young translator took Phil on a tour of the town close to the school where they were working and later, the translator took Phil to his own home. Near the end of their visit, the translator introduced Philip to his sister. Phil shook her hand and felt that the sister was there, but not quite. Her eyes had a strange look. After they left her, the translator turned to Phil and said, “She has a demon.” Philip knew it was true.


In a culture like ours that has come to doubt the existence of Satan (which suits Satan just fine; he doesn’t want you to think he exists), the forces of hell and the demonic operate more subtly. Satan, the serpent of the garden who was described by Genesis as the most subtle or crafty of creatures, is a master marketer. He understands exactly what is most likely to drive people away from God in any given culture.

In first-century Judea, as in twenty-first century Haiti, one marketing ploy that Satan commonly used to frighten them into thinking that the devil was more powerful than God and that God couldn’t help them was (and is) demonic possession.


But even in the face of demonic possession of a human being, Jesus is authoritative. Verse 35: “‘Be quiet!’ Jesus said sternly [to the demon]. ‘Come out of him!’ Then the demon threw the man down before them all and came out without injuring him. All the people were amazed and said to each other, ‘What words these are! With authority [there’s that word again] and power he gives orders to impure spirits and they come out!’”

Whatever evil afflicts you, whatever temptation dogs you today, whatever sin has overtaken you, Jesus can have conquering authority over it, if you will let Him.

Not long ago, I was talking with a man who told me that over the course of several years, there had been a steady, almost imperceptible decline in his faith life and his character. He was still in worship. But he didn’t pray very often. And he found himself toying with temptations and sins he never would have previously considered. In the process, he became more cynical, more critical of others, less patient, more selfish.

The horrifying thing is that he was enjoying it. His increasing slavery to sin
felt like freedom to him. This is how sin and the devil can mess up our thinking!

Fortunately, the man still
did occasionally feel prompted to pray. (Remember that our prayers are always responses to the prompting of the Holy Spirit. We wouldn't know or feel drawn to pray otherwise!)

One day he was praying. In the middle of giving God a laundry list of things he wanted in his life, he stopped cold.

“I was walking into my living room,” he told me, “when suddenly, there were tears in my eyes. I felt totally convicted by God for how I was living. I called out to God, ‘I don’t want to be far from You, Lord. Help me to be a man of God again!’”

That man gave me permission to tell his story so that you will know that there are more subtle ways of becoming demon-possessed than the way recounted in today’s Gospel lesson.

The God we know in Jesus Christ will never force Himself on you; God only goes where He’s invited.

And when almost imperceptibly, we walk away from God--neglecting worship, the study of God’s Word, prayer, receiving the sacraments, or caring for or serving our neighbor--we create vacancies in our souls that become footholds for sin, darkness, and the devil.

When that man came to God in Jesus’ name, even though he prayed selfishly, he was actually inviting Jesus back into his life. For the first time in a while, this man felt truly free of the sins that were destroying his character, his relationships, his self-esteem.
Jesus has the authority to do this in all of our lives.

Jesus speaks the Word of God with authority. Jesus also speaks with authority to defeat Satan. But that’s not the end of the authority theme in our lesson.

Starting at verse 38, Jesus enters the home of Simon, the apostle Jesus would rename Peter. There, he found that Simon’s mother-in-law was ill with a fever.

This was no demonic invasion. This was physical illness. Illness
is another manifestation of evil in our fallen world, but most physical illnesses don’t come to us because, like the man I just mentioned, we’ve sinned. People get the mumps or chickenpox or cancer usually simply because illness happens in a fallen world. Physical illness is a consequence of living in an imperfect world. One day, those who entrust their lives to Jesus Christ will live in an eternity beyond the reach of illness. But this isn’t heaven.

Yet in Jesus, heaven comes to this world, as it did that day in Simon’s house. Verse 38: “...Now Simon’s mother-in-law was suffering from a high fever, and they asked Jesus to help her. So he bent over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her. She got up at once and began to wait on them.”

In His own
authority, Jesus signified the power He ultimately will wield over our common human enemies--sin, death, darkness--by restoring the health of Simon’s mother-in-law.

Jesus still conquers illness today.

Great doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals know this.

In hospitals here in Dayton, I have experienced more than in any other place I’ve served, doctors, nurses, and anesthesiologists who join patients, families, and me in praying before surgical procedures.

When competent, trained medical professionals also pray in Christ’s name for their patients, those patients can great confidence that they are in God’s hands as He guides human hands.


After healing Simon’s mother-in-law, Luke says that Jesus brought healing and deliverance to many more in Capernaum.

Early the next day, He went off to a quiet place. Crowds found him and tried to convince Him to stay. But in verse 43, Jesus says: “
I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.”

And this is the second important theme of today’s Gospel lesson. The preaching of Jesus, the exorcisms He performed, the healing He brought, and everything Jesus did that day in Capernaum and everything He did while on earth, were really about one thing:
To bring the good news of new and everlasting life to all who dare to turn from sin and believe in Him. Every miraculous thing Jesus ever did was meant to be a sign pointing us to Him as the way, the truth, and the life, to Jesus as God the Son and Savior.Every person Jesus healed, brought back from the dead, or from whom he exorcised demons, had one thing in common. They all eventually died to life on this earth. Jesus exercised His authority in these ways not because life could ever be made perfect in this imperfect world, but to point to the good news that can change the person who believes for all eternity!

No doubt many in Capernaum wanted Jesus to stay because they saw Him as the cure for their earthly afflictions. We human beings are always more impressed by flashy, easy to observe, earthly things. You’ll remember that Jesus once sent His disciples out to replicate His ministry--to heal, to cast out demons, to preach and teach. They came back to Jesus excited about the authoritative signs that they’d performed in Jesus’ name. But Jesus told them, “...do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” [Luke 10:20] These are good words for us to remember!


In this life, nothing will ever be perfect.

Our prayers will often seem to go unanswered.

Evil will often seem to win.

We may be tempted in the face of these realities to wonder whether God is there or if He is there, whether He cares.


But every time, in the name of Jesus, sin is forgiven, relationships are mended, healing is granted, God uses us to feed hungry people or helps us tell a friend about Jesus, whenever God empowers us to fight for justice for our neighbors, and whenever lives are made eternally new through faith in Christ, we are given signs that, beyond this life, those made righteous by faith in Christ will live a resurrected life with God and in the company of the saints and that all that hurts us--that hurts God Who stands with us--will be gone for eternity
.

In the meantime, may we live under the authority of Christ Who saves us from sin and death and may we share the good news that all who turn from sin and surrender to Christ can have this same everlasting life with God! Amen


Friday, January 29, 2016

This is Not a Test by TobyMac

It's the title track from TobyMac's latest release, from last year. He returns to his rap roots on this and several other tunes on the album.