Saturday, September 05, 2009

I'm happy because...

...the Ohio State Buckeyes won their season opener today against the Naval Academy, 31-27. Granted, it was a somewhat lackluster performance on OSU's part. But I'm less concerned after this year's first game than over last season's opener. Then, the Buckeyes were nearly upset by the Akron Zips. The Midshipmen this year are clearly a better team than the Zips were last season. Also, the Middies feature an offense scheme which the Buckeyes won't face for the balance of the system.

There are legitimate concerns about the OSU offensive line, partuclarly as we look ahead to next week's faceoff against USC. But I feel more confident about Ohio State's 2009 encounter with the Trojans in Columbus than I did leading up to the Buckeye-Trojan matchup in LA last year.

Go, Buckeyes!

...also the Reds, who have been decimated by injuries throughout this season are doing some winning lately. I have to believe that had the Reds suffered fewer personnel losses over extended periods of time in 2009, they would be more in the thick of things for a post-season run. Hope does spiring eternal in the spring...and in old fans grasping at straws in the fall.

Go, Reds!

Life IS Good

A few nights ago, my wife and I found some Life is Good T-shirts on a clearance rack at a local store. Like lots of people, it seems, we love these simply illustrated, comfortable shirts with their messages of realistic optimism.

The popularity of the Life is Good product lines can, I think, be rightly read as something of a backlash against the cynicism, negativism, pessimism, and even hatred, that seems to fill so much of contemporary culture. You can see these latter qualities in TV commercials that celebrate selfishness, in reality shows that elevate narcissism and nastiness, in movies that don't blink at showcasing dehumanizing coarseness, and even in the refusal of schools to show their students a "stay in school" message from the President of the United States.

But life is good. Not because T-shirts say it is. Not because there aren't bad, sad, even tragic things that happen. And not because there aren't cynical people trying to shaft others.

Life is good because the God Who made us hasn't given up on us and, so long as we never give up on Christ, never will. Please read this passage from the New Testament (which I've told my wife must be read at my funeral or else I'm popping out of the box to read it myself), then go read this outstanding reflection by Julie Ackerman Link:
What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Life is good. Amen!

Friday, September 04, 2009

"Welcome back, pastor. Watch out for the demons."

So, you're a mainline pastor, part of that group of Christians often dismissed as "God's frozen chosen." You could be Methodist, Lutheran, UCC, or Presbyterian...whatever. You've just come back from sabbatical when a woman you've never met approaches you on the church parking lot to say that she's come from far away to strengthen you against demons.

Now, demons aren't really something you talk about much in mainline circles. But this woman doesn't care about that. She holds your head in her hands and begins to shout prayers. Then, after a few words with you, she gets into her rented car and drives off.

You might think to yourself, "That was weird." And you'd be right, I guess. But if you were this particular mainline pastor, you might remember a previous encounter you'd had with someone striving to fortify you against demons just as you'd ended a previous sabbatical.

Presbyterian pastor Jan Edmiston writes about this experience on her blog and concludes:
I believe in demons. I hesitate to say this because people tend to ridicule or peg those who talk this way. Mainliners tend not to talk about Dark Forces unless we are talking about old Star Wars movies.

But I believe that when God is working in amazing ways, dark forces are going to come out and mess with us. I'm not saying that people who disagree with me in ministry are evil. Not at all. But I do know that when personal power gets in the way and people become confused . . .

So, I'm girding up against the demons confident that God always wins.
When you see God doing great things in your church or in the lives of those for whom you've long prayed, bank on it: Satan and the demons of hell will attack.

That's why Paul tells us to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17).

Reflections on Kennedy Memoir's Frankness

Here.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

One of the Most Interesting, Effective Members of the US Senate

Olympia Snowe.

Were "Moses & Co." Right to Go After the Canaanites: Inquiring Minds Want to Know

In response to my link to an article about a newly discovered ancient fortification in Israel, one built by the Canaanites, Specer Troxell wrote this in the comments:
Do you think that Moses & co.'s actions against the canaanites in the old testament was justifiable?

I suppose the bottom line of the question is, if you heard a voice telling you it was God, and it wanted you kill someone to honor it, would you do it?
In fact, I do think that the ancient Israelites' actions were "justifiable." Some months ago, I wrote a piece here in which I talked about how my thinking had changed regarding the link between ancient and modern Israel. There, I mentioned that while God's gift of the land to Israel was, if you will, perpetual, it was also conditional. God's people were to have the land only so long as they were just, not only to their own people, but also to the strangers and foreigners among them.

According to the Old Testament, Israel was to live side-by-side in peace with other peoples, so long as they acted justly. It was only when those nations routinely practiced injustice that God instructed the Israelites to make war and take lands forcibly.

What's interesting to note is that Israel was never exempted from God's command to be just. The prophets risked rejection and martyrdom for constantly reminding the people of God of this fact.
  • Micah famously wrote, for example, "He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?" (Micah 6:8).
  • A reluctant prophet, Jonah, was sent to announce God's impending wrath on the capital city of an empire Jonah hated, Nineveh. He didn't want to give the Ninevites warning that their unjust, materialistic, self-centered life style was about to bring their destruction because he feared that exactly did happen would happen, that the people would repent and God would forgive them.
  • Condemning both Israel and its neighbors for their injustices, the prophet Amos cried out, "Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream" (Amos 5:24).
Israel's accrued injustices were, according to the Old Testament, the reason that foreign armies were able to take the land God had given to His people away from Israel, taking many as slaves, and dispersing God's people.

I don't think it's quite accurate to say that Moses et al "heard a voice" a la "son of Sam," which seems, whether intended or not, to inhere in Spencer's second quoted sentence above. God's communication with us isn't a purely psychological phenomenon.

Nor is it disconnected from previous or later self-disclosure. In other words, the God of Genesis is demonstrably the same God in character, will, justice, power, and love that we find in the Gospels. And, by Moses' time, those who paid attention had enough of a track record of communication from God to know that an order to go after the Canaanites wasn't just a voice inside their heads or attributable to what they'd eaten; they were being given impulse for certain actions by the God Who wants the human race to live justly.

One other thing. Strictly speaking, in the original Hebrew, the fifth commandment is, "You shall not murder." Taking a life is a horrible thing. In The Small Catechism, Martin Luther says of this command, "We are to fear and love God so that we do not hurt our neighbor in any way, but help him in all his physical needs." Jesus says that we violate this commandment not only when a person's physical life is taken from them violently, but when they are hated. So, God has a rather expansive view of this commandment.

But what's to be done when the neighbor is oppressing and murdering the neighbor?

Today, the great powers of the world stand by idly while a violent regime in Sudan exterminates thousands in Darfur, just as seventy years ago, they stood by while the Nazis murdered Jews. A similar tragedy unfolded little more than a decade ago in Rwanda.

Is it a violation of the fifth commandment to stop murderous oppressors from doing their worst? The answer to that question may not always be clear. But at the very least, one might be tempted to say, "No."

Yes!

"For the Christian, what looks like a detour may actually be a new road to blessing."

For some of my short takes...

Go to my Twitter site. You'll find a link to a great video on the motivations of the Pelotonia bicyclists from the Ohio State James Center, among other things.

Tressel Defends School Up North

Make note of it on your calendars. It may not happen in the rest of the Ohio State football coach's career.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

A Look at This Coming Sunday's Bible Lessons

[Each week, my aim, not always hit, is to present some comments on the Bible lessons assigned for the subsequent Sundays. My hope is to help members of the congregation I serve as pastor, Saint Matthew Lutheran Church in Logan, Ohio, to prepare for Sunday worship. Because we basically follow the Revised Common Lectionary used by many other churches, I hope that others will find the comments helpful, too.]

Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 6, 2009

The Bible Lessons:
Isaiah 35:4-7
Psalm 146
James 2:1-10, 14-17
Mark 7:24-37

The Prayer of the Day
Gracious God, throughout the ages you transform sickness into health and death into life. Open us to the power of your presence, and make us a people ready to proclaim your promises to the whole world, through Jesus Christ, our healer and Lord.

General Comments
1. Isaiah 35:4-7: If modern scholars are correct, this section of Isaiah was originally addressed to God's people during their exile in Babylon.

Here, God promises that His people will return to the land He gave to them and those who have harmed them will be punished.

The promise that the blind will receive sight, the deaf will hear, the lame will leap, and the dumb will sing is alluded to in the Gospel lesson from Mark.

The mention of waters in the wilderness reminds me of the water from a rock provided to the ancient Israelites as they moved from slavery in Egypt to the promised land. (It also echoes of the second creation account, found in Genesis 2 and 3.)

2. Psalm 146: The psalmist talks to himself, or his "soul." The word for soul in Biblical Hebrew is nephesh, literally throat. As used here, nephesh has in mind the entire human being.

The use of nephesh bears a connection to the passage from Isaiah. Without the living water God provides (see John 4), we're left parched and dead. God refreshes those who turn to Him and are given life.

The psalmist resolves to never stop praising God.

One reason for elevating God above anything else is that mortals--not even the most powerful of people or armies--can provide us with the help--or the life--our thirsty souls crave and need. Only God can do that.

3. James 2:1-10, 14-17: James, ever committed to living out the faith we confess, chides the first-century Christians for giving preferential treatment to the wealthy with which it comes in contact. Meanwhile, James says, they ignore the poor among them. And they do this, he points out, when the poor--living life closer to reality--have always been likelier to embrace faith in God than have the wealthy. The wealthy, he says, delusionally think themselves self-sufficient and, on top of that, oppress the poor.

James commends the Golden Rule--what he calls "the royal law": "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

Preferential treatment, James says, is a sin, a violation of God's law, and when we violate one of God's laws, we are liable for violating them all.

What good, James asks us, is unlived faith? Can inauthentic faith save us? If, by our behavior or preferential treatment, we honor Jesus with our lips and deny Him with our lives, what sort of faith do we really have?

James' condemnation of giving preference to some people over others sets the table interestingly for our Gospel lesson.

Gospel Lesson: Mark 7:24-37
First of all, it's important to put the two incidents recounted in our Gospel lesson into context.

Context #1: Jesus seeking respite. As early as Mark 6:31, after the apostles have come back from the mission of preaching repentance and casting out demons, Jesus is reported as wanting to go away to a quiet place with the twelve. But in the time between then and our lesson, Jesus has been compelled by compassion to feed the 5000, heal the sick in Gennesaret, and set the Pharisees and others right on what is clean and unclean.

Now, it appears that Jesus is so desperate for some down time that He takes the apostles with Him into Gentile territory. Even there, we're told, His fame as a wonder-worker precedes Him and when, in response to a Gentile woman's faith, He casts out a demon, He feels compelled to travel some distance away, to The Decapolis (the Ten Cities), a Greek-speaking, Gentile enclave.

Jesus needed rest. We need rest. But even our time of rest is not "me time," it's "God time." Jesus sought rest in order to be alone with the Father (Mark 6:46). God can give us rest. Only God can slake our thirsty souls, fill our empty hearts. This is why Jesus was always "interruptible": open to doing God's will, even when He was "off the clock." I am, I confess, a hard-headed student when it comes to living life Jesus' way!

Context #2: Clean/Unclean. As mentioned above, just before our lesson, Jesus has been challenged by the Pharisees for allowing His disciples to eat dinner without going through the process of ritual cleansing that their traditions held to be religiously essential. Jesus said that it's what comes out of us--things like sexual intimacy outside of marriage, theft, murder, and so on--that defile us, not the things that enter us from the outside.

Now comes our Gospel lesson in which Jesus goes to a Gentile country which would, by definition, have been seen as "unclean" by the Pharisees. He enters a presumably Gentile house, also "unclean." A woman approaches Jesus, an "unclean" thing for her to do. Jesus speaks with her, an "unclean" thing for Him to do in a society which forbade males to publicly speak to anyone other than wives, mothers, or sisters. The woman petitions Jesus on behalf of her daughter, demon-possessed, unclean.

Obviously, Jesus is bent on turning traditional ideas about what is clean and unclean on their head. While Jesus' earthly mission is to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, the two incidents in our Gospel lesson foreshadow what will become the mission of the Church: Calling the entire world to repent for sin and believe in Jesus Christ.

24From there he set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice,
(1) Tyre sat on the Mediterranean coast in what was then part of Syria, like Judea, under the dominion of the Roman Empire. It is Gentile.

(2) There's no explanation of whose house Jesus entered, if its occupants were known to Jesus, or if He and the disciples paid to stay there.

(3) Jesus was so celebrated as a wonder-worker, He could go nowhere undetected. The question always was, of course, were these people following Jesus just to get what they wanted or because they saw in His wonders, the signs of His Lordship. I have watched the faith of many people crumble when they realized that Jesus wouldn't say yes to their every prayer. It was largely because Jesus wouldn't be the sort of Messiah they expected that eventually, the crowds who had once flocked to Jesus cried for His execution.

25but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet.
(1) As indicated above, this was considered damnably forward behavior. In Matthew's account of this incident, the disciples ask that Jesus send the woman away.

26Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter.
(1) Mark underscores the woman's uncleanness by pointing out that she was a Gentile, a non-Jew, one who could have no claim on the mercy of God. All of us who are non-Jewish Christians must realize that we have no right to the grace and mercy of God--in fact, nobody does. But like this woman, we can, if we pay attention, see the gracious loving intentions of God for all who dare to turn to Him.

(2) Matthew drives the reality of this woman's "uncleanness," her distance from God, by referring to her by the more ancient name of her people, Canaanite. The Canaanites had been enemies of God's people, workers of injustice unwilling to share the land with the ancient Israelites.

(3) The daughter of the woman is demon-possessed. What to make of this in our post-modern world?

When I was a younger Christian, passages like this embarrassed me. Demon-possession? Mightn't this just be the way pre-modern peoples described things like mental illness? Today though, after several personal experiences and reading several books, including psychiatrist M. Scott Peck's People of the Lie, I've become convinced that demon-possession is a real phenomenon, one that even exists today. (I may write or preach more about this later.) I no longer blush when I read passages like our Gospel lesson.

27He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”
(1) This passage has occasioned much debate among Bible scholars.

Some say that Jesus satirizes His people's usual racist dismissal of non-Jews as "dogs," by using the term which would come to mean "house pet." The problem with this contention is that in Jesus' day, people didn't keep house pets.

Others claim that Jesus undergoes a kind of "conversion" experience as it relates to His people's chauvinism in the face of this woman's faith. The problems with this idea are that (a) Jesus had, according to the other Gospel-writers, already had a number of positive encounters with foreign people; (b) this interpretation would mean that Jesus was guilty of the sin of preferential treatment, thereby rendering His cross and resurrection meaningless. Only a sinless Savior can save us. Besides, it's obvious that Jesus didn't accept traditional notions regarding the uncleanness of non-Jews, else He wouldn't even be where we find Him in Mark's narrative!

No, I believe that Jesus is underscoring the teaching about the absurdity of thinking that uncleanness is an outside, rather than an inside phenomenon (Mark 7:20-23). The woman wasn't unclean because she was Syrophoenician.

Jesus wanted this to be clear before He proceeded to violate a traditional taboo by responding to the pleading mother's request.

28But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”
(1) The woman doesn't argue about her status. She realizes that she is, in the eyes of the Judeans, a dog, an outsider to God's promises, not a member of God's people. But she apparently knows enough about this God to also know that He delights in showing mercy to those who come to Him. The Old Testament tells the stories of many foreigners who benefited from the mercy of God: the people of Nineveh in Jonah's time; Ruth, who would become a descendant of King David; and Naaman, the Syrian commander, to name a few.

Pious Jews knew that there was nothing special about the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God simply chose the Israelites because God chose them, as an act of grace. And He did it so that Israel would cast God's light on the nations, becoming, we know, the birthing place of the Savior of the world, Jesus.

(2) The woman exhibits persistent, submissive faith, an example to all of us.

29Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.”
(1) Clearly, Jesus regards her statement as a confession of faith. "I'm not entitled," she says, "But I believe." This is the sort of faith I pray that God will build in me!

30So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

31Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. 32They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. 33He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue.
(1) We're presented with an odd picture of Jesus. Clearly, from the miracle that precedes this one, Jesus didn't have to touch the affected portions of the deaf-mute's body. But He did. Here, Jesus is doing the very work God had promised to do for the exiles some seven-hundred years before.

34Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.”
(1) Ed Markquart says that the words, "he sighed," give Mark's narrative an immediacy that reads like a first-hand account. Markquart attributes this to Peter, whose account of Jesus' ministry, death, and resurrection, have traditionally been thought to be Mark's primary source.

35And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.
(1) An allusion to Isaiah 35:4-7, our first lesson.

36Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it.
(1) Throughout Mark, we see Jesus trying to keep the lid on "the Messianic secret," the secret that He is more than a wonder-wokrer, but also the Messiah and Savior. Until people understand that Jesus has come to deal with sin by dying on a cross and to invite people to die to their own sins in order to have a claim in His resurrection, they're too likely to see Him as a genie who does their bidding.

But it's no use. Jesus' reputation--and the pressure on Him to be puppet king for people's selfish desires--grows with every miracle. And, of course, the disappointment people feel that Jesus isn't a messiah they can control contributes to the opposition to Him and to His crucifixion. In killing Him, the known world--Jews and Gentiles--who murdered Jesus, were, without realizing it, advancing the very plan of God.

37They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”

Sunday, August 30, 2009

For Short Takes...

go to my Twitter account.

Living Belief

[This was shared during worship with the people of Saint Matthew Lutheran Church in Logan, Ohio, this morning.]

James 1:17-27
I once received a letter from an evangelist in which he shared the true story of an event that happened in a remote village in Cambodia. In 1999, a Cambodian pastor came to that village to share the good news that all who confess their sin and trust Jesus Christ as their God and Savior have everlasting life. The pastor was amazed to find that the people of the village were, without needing to be convinced, excited and ready to turn from sin and death and to receive Jesus into their lives. One woman knelt down before this pastor, kissed his hand, and said, “We’ve been waiting for you for twenty years!” That pastor was obviously interested in learning what she meant.

Some of you will remember that several decades ago, Cambodia suffered under the brutal Khmer Rouge regime. For the Khmer Rouge, mass killings of the Cambodian people were a matter of policy. Many mass graves from that awful time have been found throughout the countryside. In 1979, Cambodian soldiers entered this particular remote village. They told everybody to leave their huts and to dig a huge pit. The villagers all knew that they were digging their own grave.

Desperate, the people began crying out to all the gods or spirits they could remember ever hearing about. While this was happening, one woman remembered hearing her long-dead grandmother mention a particular Supreme Being. Filled with anguish, she began to cry out to the One Who might best understand her suffering at that moment. “Help us,” she cried, “God Who hung on a cross!”

When those terrified people finished digging the giant hole, they noticed that quiet had settled over the whole village. One man finally gathered enough courage to look over his shoulder and was amazed by what he saw. More accurately, he was amazed by what he didn’t see: the soldiers had disappeared into the jungle. From that moment forward, the people of that village waited for someone to come to them and let them know the God Who hung on a cross, Jesus the Christ.

In spite of all the superficial indicators to the contrary, I believe that there are many people among our neighbors who, just like the people of that Cambodian village, want to know the God Who hung on a cross. And they want to meet an actual Christian who is actually following Jesus with a servant’s heart, a heart like that of Jesus.

If you want to know why our world is in such a sorry mess spiritually and relationally and psychologically, the answer is simple: Christians have either turned their faith into a spectator sport or they’re engaged in unnecessary arguments that keep them from doing what Jesus Christ has called us to do or they've soft-peddled the need that all people have to turn from sin and believe in Jesus. We aren’t serving others and aren’t calling others to repentance and renewal. We aren't living out our faith.

Our second Bible lesson for this morning, written by James, one of Jesus’ earthly brothers and a leader of the early Church, reminds us of our calling as followers of Jesus: "...be doers of the Word [of God], and not merely hearers...Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world."

Christians love to lament how callous, cold, hateful, violent, and selfish the world has become. But, to change the sorry state of our world, we must change the way we live.

We need to tell the truth about sin and forgiveness, repentance and new life that only comes from Jesus Christ.

We need to daily repent of our own sins and daily seek the help of God in resisting temptation.

We need to love and serve others in the Name and in the manner of the One Who hung on a cross.

One night, New Yorker Flo Wheatley and her son, who was undergoing chemotherapy treatment in Manhattan, left the hospital in order to board the subway for Queens. As they awaited the train, Flo tried to help her son keep standing while people hurried by. A “rough-looking stranger” offered to help. He slung the suitcase Flo was carrying over his shoulders and cleared the way for Flo and her son through the crowd. Later, he helped them change trains and to get a cab. Flo learned that the man was homeless. But when she tried to hand him a five dollar bill, he refused it. He simply closed the cab door and said, “Don’t abandon me.”

That became the inspiration for Flo to take on a ministry of service in Jesus’ Name. With winter coming on, she gathered scraps of fabric and created quilts and sleeping bags for homeless people. She and her kids sewed eight sleeping bags that year, each of which Flo’s husband took into the city and gave to people on the streets.

Eventually, Flo was joined by others inspired by her example to form My Brother’s Keeper, providing many sleeping bags and blankets for homeless people each year.

Jesus once said that when we serve those in need, we really serve Him. You and I meet people every day who have all sorts of needs, especially in these rough economic times. Some simply need to be listened to. Others may need a ride to the doctor’s office or help with school work. Still others may need to have their confusion about living cleared up by receiving our simple, clear word about the everlasting life Jesus gives for free to repentant people.

You and I can’t do everything, that’s true. But the fact that we can’t do everything shouldn’t prevent us from doing some act of service in the Name of the God Who hung on a cross.

Let me suggest three things we can do as servants Jesus has commanded and deputized to change the world.

First: We need to listen to others with servants’ ears. When Flo Wheatley heard that homeless man’s words–“Don’t abandon me”–she heard them with a servant’s ears. She set out to find a way to fulfill that man’s request.

Installing servant's ears on our selfish skulls can be difficult. There are times, for example, when I get so caught up in my own agenda that I fail even to hear the things Ann says to me. We husbands, I think, would go a long way toward becoming the servants Christ calls and commands us to be if we would simply put down the remote and listen to our wives and families.

Second: We need to find ways to use every event that comes to us in life as occasions for service in Jesus' Name. After a wedding Ann and I attended a six years ago up in northwestern Ohio, we went to the reception and noticed that on each table, there was a small, discrete note that said: “In gratitude to God for all His blessings, Beau and Susan have made a donation to the Filling Memorial Home of Mercy.” The Filling Home is a home for the severely mentally and physically handicapped in Napoleon, Ohio, funded by Lutheran congregations.

As I read those cards at Susan's and Beau's wedding, I thought, “Wow! What a great idea!” This couple militated against the self-absorption that often goes with wedding days by giving to others. And in doing that, they prompted all of us to think of how we could serve our neighbor.

Third: We need to consider how we can serve in organized service ministries. The Bible says, “Though one might prevail against another, two will withstand one. A threefold cord is not quickly broken.” We can more effectively, faithfully, and accountably serve Christ when we do it together. That was why I so appreciated your participation in the Drive-Through Baby Shower eight days ago.

You’ve probably heard the true story of the young teacher who was working in an inner city school. He had a nice new car and was driving home one afternoon when he stopped at a traffic light. One of his students saw the teacher and his wheels and approached close enough to talk with the teacher while he waited for the light to change. “Where’d you get the car?” the boy asked. “Well, my brother gave it to me,” the teacher said. What the boy said next stunned the young teacher. “I wish,” he said, “that I...could be a brother like that!”

Fact is, no matter what our means, we can all be brothers and sisters like that. Grateful for the love of God given to us through Jesus, we can give of ourselves, we can serve in Jesus’ Name, we can help the world know the God Who hung on a cross, and when we do, we can, one person at a time, change the world for the better.