Saturday, January 16, 2010

Acquainted with Our True Desires?

"Well, I'm scufflin' and I'm shufflin' and I'm walkin' on briars/I'm not even acquainted with my own desires" (Bob Dylan, Bye and Bye, 2001)

These words, I think, reflect the experiences of so many people today. We labor under such a load of cultural accretions that we're unacquainted with our own true desires.

With the glut of options we have today for how to spend our lives and a whole industry--advertising--more than happy to establish normative desires for us, not to mention our natural predisposition for denying our need for what other mortals need, we're insulated from what we truly crave: relationship with God and with others.

So, we keep searching for the next thing to scratch our itches. (U2 sang about this some years ago.)

The first thing the Church must do in this generation is reacquaint people with their own real desires, not the ones a befuddled world says we should have. We must go down in the gut and show people how much they want and need relationship with the One Who made them and then, to restore relationship, died and rose for them. And we must show how much we want to be pulled out of our selfish isolation, into relationship with one another. The God of love in Christ "satisfies our longing, like nothing else will do."

Pointing Beyond Ourselves

Christian faith is about God, not us.

Faith Tidbit #20

The first miracle performed by Jesus, according to the Gospel of John, was when He turned water into wine at a wedding in the Galilean town of Cana. Usually, when the New Testament speaks of Jesus' miracles, it uses the term semeia, meaning sign, to describe them. This is significant. Signs don't point to themselves and they're not ends in themselves; they point elsewhere. Jesus' signs point to His lordship, to His power over life and death.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Five Tips for Avoiding Haiti Relief Scams


I donated to the Haiti relief efforts of Lutheran World Relief, one of the most reputable relief agencies in the world.

Lesson from Flight #1549

Live in thankfulness.

Faith Tidbit #19

The 66 books of the Bible include representatives of various literary genres. Among them (with examples in parentheses): History (Exodus, 1 & 2 Kings); Wisdom (Proverbs); Hymns (Psalms); Prophecy (Isaiah); Apocalyptic (Revelation, Daniel); Letters (Romans); and Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). Of special note are the Gospels, which appear in the New Testament, and recount the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Also of note, the strange literary form of apocalyptic. The genre name comes from the Greek word, apocalupto, meaning I reveal. The Old Testament apocalyptic book of Daniel and the New Testament book of Revelation, are present visions of God's plans for those who trust in Him.

Thursday, January 14, 2010


The following is today's daily emailed inspiration from my colleague, Pastor Glen VanderKloot:
+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + +

Funny, Isn't It?
(Author Unknown)

Funny how a $20.00 bill looks so big when you take it to church, but so small when you take it to the market.

Funny how long it takes to serve God for an hour, but how quickly a team plays sixty minutes of basketball.

Funny how long a couple of hours are spent at church, but how short they are when watching a movie.

Funny how we can't think of anything to say when we pray, but don't have any difficulty thinking of things to talk about to a friend.

Funny how we get thrilled when a baseball game goes into extra innings, but we complain when a sermon is longer than the regular time.

Funny how hard it is to read a chapter in the Bible, but how easy it is to read 100 pages of a best selling novel.

Funny how people want to get a front seat at any game or concert, but scramble to get a back seat at church services.

Funny how we need 2-3 weeks advance notice to fit a church event into our schedule, but can adjust our schedule for other events at the last minute.

Funny how much difficulty some people have learning a simple gospel message well enough to tell others, but how simple it is for the same people to understand and repeat gossip about someone.

Funny how we believe what newspapers say, but question what the Bible says.

Funny, isn't it?

Not really.

+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + +

Matthew 6:33 NIV

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.


Dear Lord, change my attitudes about time I spend with you. Amen


Faith Tidbit #18

The Old Testament portion of the Bible begins with the book of Genesis. Genesis means origins or beginnings. The first two chapters of Genesis contain two different accounts of creation: Genesis 1:1-2:3 and Genesis 2:4-2:25. Should this shatter our faith? Of course not. The Bible, while it encourages human intellectual pursuits, is not a book of science. Each of the two accounts convey important truths to us about God, love, life, and humanity. Each are true, even though they differ substantially.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

'On Judgment Day'

I present the lyrics of one of Randy Stonehill's most powerful songs, On Judgment Day, for the edification of Pat Robertson and all who think that Haiti's tragedies justify their spiritual superiority complexes.
Judgment Day

In the slums of Port-au-Prince
When the rain comes pouring down
The homeless people sleep on the
muddy ground
And the children die so young
'Cause there's not enough to eat
When their only food is the garbage
They have found

I just can't get their faces
Out of my mind
No matter how hard I try
And I realize I must never forget
There, but for fortune, go you and I
I just couldn't believe my eyes
And I wanted to cry out loud
Can't you see there will be
A terrible price to pay
On Judgment Day

The cruise ships painted white
Are anchored in the bay
The tourists fill their plates from the
lunch buffet
And the people on the shore
Gazing up like silent ghosts
Are doomed within a life
That is worlds away

I just can't get their faces
Out of my mind
No matter how hard I try
And I realize I must never forget
There, but for fortune, go you and I
I just couldn't believe my eyes
And I wanted to cry out loud
Can't you see there will be
A terrible price to pay
On Judgment Day

Written and composed by Randy Stonehill
© 1985 Word Music (a division of Word,
Inc.) and Stonehillian Music (ASCAP)

When others face misfortune, our call as Christians is to help them. See here and here.

Here is a good organization that will provide help to the Haitian people.

Dear Pat: Two Suggestions for Pat Robertson

Dear Pat:
Here are two suggestions, offered in Christian love:
  • Shut your mouth more
  • Read your Bible more
If you would do these two things, you would cut down on the level of embarrassment you seem to regularly inflict on the cause of Jesus Christ in the world.

Most recently, you said that the earthquake in Haiti was caused by that nation's "pact with the devil." Let me be clear: I believe that people can make pacts with the devil. Evil is real. There are, I believe, consequences to heedlessness toward the will of God.

But you have a track record for "explaining" the tragedies that befall other people as indicating that they've incurred the wrath of God. Jesus' words in the Gospel of Luke should cause us to hesitate in making such rash, unfair, and, I think, heretical judgments. Go ahead, Pat, put your microphone down and open the Bible to Luke 13:1-5 right now. No Bible close at hand? OK, here's what Luke tells us:
At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.”
The way I read it, Pat, Jesus is saying that the whole human race needs to repent--turn away from sin--and turn to Him for forgiveness and life. Things like earthquakes underscore the fragility of life and what a dangerous state the world is in. If someone else is victimized by an earthquake, a tornado, a flood, cancer, or some other cataclysm, it doesn't mean that they earned the tragedy; it means they, like everyone, live in a fallen and imperfect world groaning under the weight of its fallenness until, we Christians believe, it's restored at Christ's return.

No doubt there are Haitians who sin. My guess is that there might people in Virginia Beach who do, too. I know that I do. That's why I gratefully and joyfully live in daily repentance and renewal!

OK, let's review:
  • Shut your mouth more
  • Read your Bible more
Mark Daniels

Previous Adventures with Pat Robertson:
Pat Robertson is No Prophet
Bad Theology, Dumb Politics

Please pray...

for the people living in those parts of Haiti hit by yesterday's earthquake.

Haiti is the poorest nation in the western hemisphere, a place that has experienced political turmoil and violence for decades.

Please ask God to help Haitians and agencies and groups, including many churches, that will provide aid, so that life there can be rebuilt and strengthened.

Please particularly pray for the witness of the whole Christian Church there as it brings both material aid and the more significant comfort and hope that comes from a relationship with Jesus Christ to the people.

A colleague of mine, who serves on the staff of a Lutheran congregation in Columbus, is deployed full-time in Haiti with his wife. I received a blast-email from him yesterday, assuring all of us that he, his wife, and the people of the community he serves there are fine, that the earthquake had hit a different part of the country. I'm sure that he and Upper Arlington Lutheran Church, through which he has been called to Haiti, will be doing a lot to address this tragedy.

Please keep Pastor David Mann, his wife Pam, and the people of Upper Arlington Lutheran Church in your prayers as they care for the many needs of the Haitian people.

Faith Tidbit #17

Christians believe that the Bible was written by human beings under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The New Testament book of 2 Timothy says, "All scripture is inspired by God [literally God-breathed]..." The 66 books of the Bible are referred to as the canon, a word derived from the Latin, meaning a measuring line. Christians are to measure their lives, faith, and practices against the true, perfect measurement of the Old and New Testaments. Historically, Christians have held that while human beings may make errors in translation, transmission, or interpretation, the Bible as originally revealed to its human authors is inerrant.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Faith Tidbit #16

Over the centuries, Christian believers have come to believe in and experience the Bible as a unique book--or more accurately, a unique set of books. We call it the Holy Bible. The word holy means set apart for God's purposes. Bible is simply the English transliteration of the Greek word for book, which in turn is taken from the name of a Phoenician port, Byblos, a place where papyrus was prepared and from which it was shipped. Papyrus was used for the first books. The Holy Bible is the book set apart by God.

Monday, January 11, 2010

C.S. Lewis on Truth and the Christian Freedom for Liberality of Thought

Prepping for tonight's first gathering of a group that will spend several Monday evenings discussing and reflecting on the popular novel, The Shack, at our church, I remembered the cited paragraph below from C.S. Lewis' classic, Mere Christianity.

Christians don't believe that they have a corner on the truth market. But they do believe--I believe--that God has revealed Himself to the world, first, in general terms through the universe and its amazing order; then, more specifically through His people, Israel; and finally and definitively, in Jesus. Jesus is truth and His word is truth, both claims Jesus made for Himself.

One can hardly be accused of arrogance for learning the truth that 2 X 2=4 and being willing to share it with others.

On the other hand, Christians who go around acting as though the truth about Jesus is their truth, their discovery, or the result of their goodness, rather than something that God has graciously revealed to them, do a disservice both to God and to the world around them.

Read what Lewis, who, like myself, was once an atheist, says:
I have been asked to tell you what Christians believe, and I am going to begin by telling you one thing that Christians do not need to believe. If you are a Christian you do not have to believe that all the other religions are simply wrong all through. If you are an atheist you do have to believe that the main point in all the religions of the whole world is simply one huge mistake. If you are a Christian, you are free to think that all those religions, even the queerest ones, contain at least some hint of truth. When I was an atheist I had to try to persuade myself that most of the human race have always been wrong about the question that mattered to them most; when I became a Christian I was able to take a more liberal view. But, of course, being a Christian does mean thinking that where Christianity differs from other religions, Christianity is right and they are wrong. As in arithmetic--there is only one right answer to the sum, and all other answers are wrong; but some of the wrong answers are much nearer bring right than others.
This bears relevance, it seems to me, to the brouhaha that arose after Brit Hume's comments regarding Tiger Woods.

Of course, just as math teachers can share the multiplication tables or alegbraic equations arrogantly, lording their knowledge of certain information over their students in such a way that they're no longer teaching, but feeding their desire for superiority, Christians can share their faith arrogantly. Scripture specifically condemns this. Peter writes in the New Testament:
Always be ready to make your defence to anyone who demands from you an account of the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence. (1 Peter 3:15-16)
In fairness, can anybody say that when Brit Hume suggested that Christianity had the forgiveness and restoration that Tiger Woods might need and that Buddhism did not, the commentator was being arrogant?

Or was he simply sharing the truth as he saw it, as he felt it had been revealed?

How is this different from what one would expect of any commentator?

If the commentator offers his or her take with compassion, as Hume clearly feels for Woods, to what are people really objecting?

"A good example has more value than good advice"


Lord: Steep me in Your Word and will, not just for the sake of my relationship with You, but also for the sake of those whose lives I touch each day. Deal with my sins and protect me this day from temptation, the sin of the world, the sin in myself, and the sin incited by the devil. Help me to depend wholly on You and help me to grow in that dependence. In Jesus' Name. Amen

Faith Tidbit #15

The Bible, as read by Christians, is composed of 66 books. Thirty-nine of them are in the Old Testament and twenty-seven are in the New Testament.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Seeing Jesus, Seeing Ourselves

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

Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
From the moment a child is born, all sorts of speculation begins. Who does she look like? What will he become?

The fact is that all of us are born as mysteries. In some ways, we spend our whole lives unscrambling the mystery of our psyches and souls to figure out who we are and where we belong and how we fit in.

The Epiphany season of the Church Year, which began this past Wednesday, on January 6, is a time in which an even greater mystery than our own personal identities unfolds for us.

The season always arrives after the Twelve Days of Christmas, a nearly two-week period when we celebrate the birth of Jesus. But, you know, as wonderful as it is to welcome a baby into the world, the birth of a child is commonplace. Children are born every day. It’s hard to imagine, when we open our copies of The Logan Daily News or The Columbus Dispatch tomorrow that we’ll see a headline screaming: “BABY BORN!”

If there were such a headline, we’d probably yell back at the newspaper, “Unless it’s my kid or grandkid, so what?” The Epiphany Season gives us the answer to the question, “Jesus was born. So what?”

Today’s Gospel lesson is a start to answering that question. We read part of today’s Gospel lesson a few weeks ago, during Advent. In every Advent Season, we have two Sundays devoted to the ministry of John the Baptist. His ministry was all about preparing people to welcome the Messiah, God’s Anointed King, the Savior. Today’s lesson tells us that some people even thought that John might be Messiah.

But John tells people that it’s not him, that their picture of the Messiah is incomplete. “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

Then it happened. People got their first glimpse of the Messiah. Luke, the writer of our Gospel lesson, says, “Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’” .

As we consider Jesus at the Jordan with John the Baptist, how is our picture of Who Jesus is clarified?

And, how does our picture of Jesus help us see ourselves more clearly?

We see those questions answered, I think, in at least four ways.

First,, we see them answered in the disclosure of Jesus as the Messiah, the Christ. God was good for His ancient promises. God’s Word never lies. God did send an Anointed One. And this Messiah, just as God had promised in the Old Testament years, would overcome our sin by suffering and dying for us and then rising to allow us to live forever with God.

We also see our picture of Jesus unscrambled and we see ourselves more clearly in the revelation that the Messiah will baptize believers with the Holy Spirit and fire. Once, an English bishop visited a sleepy little church along the Thames River. The village priest was discouraged and depressed, because he wasn't really accomplishing very much. Finally, the priest confessed, “Bishop, I can't say that we are setting the Thames on fire.” The bishop looked at him sternly and said, “Young man, I am not the least bit concerned about setting the Thames on fire. What I want to know is, if I take you out and drop you in it, will you sizzle?”

When we open ourselves to Jesus Christ, He wants to set us on fire with a blazing, passionate love for God and for our neighbors and with a fiery faith in Him that brings light to everyone around us so that they too will want to give their lives to Jesus.

Can people see that fire in us as Christians?

Can they see it in the life of Saint Matthew Lutheran Church?

As one challenging preacher once asked, "If being a Christian were a crime, would there be enough evidence to convict us of the charge?"

In the other New Testament book written by Luke, the book of Acts, we're told the story of the first Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came to Jesus’ first followers. When it happened, those first Christians were given tongues of fire that allowed each of them in their own way to tell the story of the God Who so loved the world that Jesus died and rose to open the way to a new life for all who repent and believe in Him. They were on fire.

Through this same Holy Spirit, we can be too.

A third way our lesson shows us Who Jesus is and Who we can be when we follow Him, is seen in that, when Jesus prayed, heaven opened. When we pray in the Name of Jesus, heaven is opened and God shows up.

But don’t get too sentimental about that. When heaven opened to Jesus at His baptism and the Father called Him the Beloved Son, it was the opening act in a ministry that would send Him to a cross!

We, as followers of Jesus, are never promised an easy life. We can be assured, as I learned again this past week from some of the correspondence I received from people who didn’t like affirmations on my web site of Jesus as the only way to God, that we will offend people when we strive to be faithful.

But we are also promised that God will be with us always. Paul says that followers of Jesus live in the assurance that “nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

“Prayer is not about getting what we want,” says Brian Blount, a professor of New Testament at Princeton University, “or even what we oftentimes are sure is right for us and those around us; prayer is about unleashing the frightening, unstable, uncontrollable power of God.”

When we pray, we don’t control God or others; we ask God to come and take control on earth as in heaven.

Several years ago, I read an article from a Florida newspaper profiling Archie Griffin, who became college football’s only two-time Heisman Trophy winner while playing at Ohio State. Griffin, in his playing days, was about 5’7” and 170 pounds, a shrimp among monsters.

He graduated from college on time and inspired others to do the same thing.

He never made the party scene.

How did he resist the dark side of athletics which seems so often to overcome superstars?

I found part of the answer in that article, where Griffin’s younger brother, Ray, remembers their college days: "[Archie, Ray says] would get up in the morning and would pray on his knees for 45 minutes before he went to school...I'm not exaggerating…He was having a strong conversation with the Lord, I'm telling you."

Archie had a so-so career with the Cincinnati Bengals in the NFL. But even then, he impressed others with his work ethic, his determination, his willingness to go the extra mile, his pleasantness to strangers who walked up to him.

How did Archie Griffin become the man he is? I believe he is the person he is because through prayer in Jesus’ Name, heaven is opened to him. Heaven is opened to us when we pray!

Fourth and finally, we learn Who Jesus is and learn about ourselves when we consider that Jesus comes to those who follow Him with a winnowing fork.

Winnowing forks were used in the ancient world as part of the process of harvesting crops like barley or wheat. On the tops of hills, barns were built with openings on either side, allowing the constant winds in Judea to blow through.

As the harvested crops were brought to the barns, the forks were used to toss them up to be caught by the wind. What wasn’t desirable blew away. What was good remained.

Jesus shows us that He’s the Messiah by gathering us into His barns--His kingdom, His Church--in spite of the fact that none of us are entirely desirable. We’re saved by God's grace, by which God receives all with faith in Christ into the Kingdom of God.

But Jesus is also fitting us for heaven when we’ll live in the presence of God. And so He commits Himself to winnowing us internally, so that when we finally do stand in heaven’s halls, only what’s good and pleasing to remains. The real us. The God-formed us.

Lutheran pastor, Paul Gauche, says, “Christ winnows that which isn’t necessary..." And then Gauche asks, "Got any bad habits? Got any behaviors that seem to hold you back...from where you think God is leading you?”

If you can answer yes to either of those questions--and I know that I can--resolve now that you’ll allow Jesus to daily use His winnowing fork on your life so that you can become your God-formed self.

One of my frequent prayers is, “God, kill off anything in me that isn’t from You!” All that isn’t from God in us is going to die anyway; so, why not allow God to help you get rid of it now: the bad habits, the secret sins, the unloving thoughts or ways of living?

King David had a similar prayer request to mine, although in more eloquent language. You can find it in Psalm 139. "Search me, O God, and know my heart," he said, "test me and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting."

In Jesus’ Baptism, we begin to see Who Jesus is. We also see that He wants to give us a life like His.

We see that Jesus is the Messiah; that He means for us to be on fire with His love, grace, and power for living and sharing Him with others; that when we pray in His Name, the power of heaven is unleashed on earth; and that those who follow Jesus allow Him to separate us from all that’s useless or sinful in us so that we’ll be fit to stand in the presence of the God Who wants one day to say to each of us, “This is My Beloved, in Whom I am well pleased!”

Who might you and I become—what sort of church might Saint Matthew become--if we truly let Jesus Christ have our whole lives--if He were our Messiah, if we were on fire for Him, if in our prayers we let Jesus into every nook and cranny of the world, and if we let God work constantly to make us more like His Son?

I would love to see God unfold mysteries like that. Wouldn’t you?

May Epiphany, 2010, trigger a new revival in our faith in Jesus and may it spill all over our family, friends, community, and world. Amen!

Faith Tidbit #14

Jesus teaches that He will return again and draw life on this planet to a close. That "day of the Lord," as the Bible calls it, holds out no sense of dread for believers. Jesus says that we're not to waste time speculating on when He will return. People who presume to know when Jesus is returning ignore Jesus' statement that He will come at an unexpected hour and that not even He knows when that will happen, only the Father.