Saturday, February 12, 2011

Power Up!

Small things done in the power of God's Holy Spirit can change the eternities of those you touch. So, power up through prayer in Jesus' Name and watch what God does for others through you!


A fight in honor of flight safety that honors loved ones.

Friday, February 11, 2011

"The Promise and the Perils of Democracy"

That's the title of a series of pieces I wrote six years ago. On this day when we celebrate the resignation of Hosni Mubarak as president of Egypt and a hoped-for transition to democracy in that country, the series seems appropriate again.

"Democracy is the worst form of government," Winston Churchill said, "except for all those other forms that have been tried." Democracy holds great promise. But it has its perils, especially when it lulls us into selling out for less than the complete freedom God wants all people to experience.

The Promise and the Perils of Democracy (Part 1, March 2, 2005)
The Promise and the Perils of Democracy (Part 2, March 11, 2005)
The Promise and the Perils of Democracy (Part 3, March 15, 2005)

It's a "Get To," Not a "Have To"

At least that's true on the days that I get my gaze off my own navel. Followers of Jesus are His ambassadors and we get to tell others the best news not just about Him, but, news that can also be about them!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Dick Vitale on Saturday's Ohio State-Wisconsin Game


More Excellence from Ohio State

If you live in central Ohio or nearby, chances are you know how excellent The Ohio State University Medical Center is. But here's a short article that tells you (and other readers) about the Center's strategy for excellence.

As a pastor who has reason to visit the varied portions of the medical center, I can tell you I always come away impressed with the competence and compassion of its personnel and the treatment the entire institution provides.

I'm proud to be a 1975 graduate of the university! Go, Buckeyes!

Now, I Have No Choice

After reading this review, I have to get the new Bogart biography.

Why Christians Must Speak the Truth About Jesus

In my last post, I talked about being willing to speak the truth in love. That's true in more than just what we usually consider when speaking of interpersonal relationships.

Christians are commissioned by Jesus to proclaim the good news (or the gospel) about Him and the need all people have to trust in Him. We are to let people know that Jesus teaches that He is the only means by which we can receive reconciliation and eternity with God.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Lutheran theologian and pastor martyred as a result of his opposition to Nazism, spoke of the love that must compel followers of Christ to fulfill our commission in another book I've been reading (actually, rereading) lately, The Cost of Discipleship. He cites Matthew 10:11-15, in which Christ commissions the first apostles to spread the gospel:
Whatever town or village you enter, find out who in it is worthy, and stay there until you leave. As you enter the house, greet it. If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. Truly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town. 
He points out that the disciples' greeting as they enter the houses in which they stay in the communities to which they go is to be simple: "Peace to this house" (Luke 10:5).

Then Bonhoeffer writes this powerful paragraph:
This is no empty formula, for it immediately brings the power of the peace of God on those who are "worthy of it." Their proclamation is clear and concise. They simply announce that the kingdom of God has drawn nigh, and summon [people] to repentance and faith. They come with the full authority of Jesus of Nazareth, they deliver a command and make an offer with the support of the highest credentials. And that is all. The whole message is staggering in its simplicity and clarity, and since the cause brooks no delay, there is no need for them to enter into any further discussion to clear the ground or persuade their hearers. The King [Jesus] stands at the door, and he may come in at any moment. Will you bow down and humbly receive him, or do you want him to destroy you in his wrath? Those who have ears to hear have heard all there is to hear. They cannot detain the messengers any longer, for they must be off to the next city. If, however, men refuse to hear, they have lost their chance, the time of grace is passed, and they have pronounced their own doom. "To-day if ye shall hear his voice, harden not your hearts" (Hebrews 4:7). That is evangelical preaching. Is this ruthless speed? Nothing could be more ruthless than to make [people] think there is still plenty of time to mend their ways. To tell [people] that the cause is urgent, and that the kingdom of God is at hand is the most charitable and merciful act we can perform, the most joyous news we can bring. The messenger cannot wait and repeat it to every man in his own language. God's language is clear enough. It is not for the messenger to decide who will hear and who will not, for only God knows who is "worthy"; and those who are worthy will hear the Word when the disciple proclaims it. But woe to the city and woe to the house which rejects the messenger of Christ. They will incur a dreadful judgement; Sodom and Gomorrah, the cities of unchastity and perversion, will be judged more graciously than those cities of Israel who reject the word of Jesus, but the man who rejects the word of salvation has thrown away his last chance. To refuse to believe in the gospel is the worst sin imaginable, and if that happens the messengers can do nothing but leave the place. They go because the Word cannot remain there. They must recognize in fear and amazement both the power and the weakness of the Word of God. But the disciples must not force any issue contrary to or beyond the word of Christ. Their commission is not a heroic struggle, a financial pursuit of a grand idea or a good cause. That is why they stay only where the Word stays, and if it is rejected they will be rejected with it, and shake off the dust from their feet as a sign of the curse which awaits that place. This curse will not harm the disciples, but the peace they brought returns to them...
We Christians must speak the truth about Jesus. If we love as Jesus commands and calls us to love, then it would be the height of arrogance and selfishness for us not to invite others to repent and believe in Christ.

So, the next time someone makes a face when the word "evangelism" comes up, don't be intimidated. It's a good word! Based on the New Testament Greek word, euangelion, meaning good news. When Christians evangelize, they're simply broadcasting the most important news anyone could ever receive from the one and only King of the universe. There is nothing to be ashamed of in that. As the apostle Paul writes in the New Testament book of Romans:
...I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith...(Romans 1:16-17)
Christians who read this: Share the news about Jesus and let the chips fall where they may!

Other friends who read this: Please turn to Jesus, your God, Savior, and best friend, and trust in Him as your only hope in this life or the next. Because that's exactly who He is!

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

When Minding Our Own Business is Wrong

One of the books I'm reading these days is When to Speak Up and When to Shut Up, written by Dr. Michael D. Sedler and published in 2003. The title of the book intrigued me, especially since many of my problems in life have been caused by speaking up when I shouldn't have and clamming up when I should have spoken out.

Sedler has an interesting biography. A social worker who has an advanced degree in Christian ministry, he was raised in a devoutly Jewish home. He came to faith in Christ at the age of 22.

In chapter 2 of his book, titled "When Silence Isn't Golden," Sedler points out something I had never noticed in the Bible before and when, in passing, I shared it with the adult Sunday School class at Saint Matthew Lutheran Church, where I serve as pastor, people were as surprised as I had been.

Sedler says that there are times when those we love would definitely benefit from our speaking up. He then points to a famous incident in Scripture to underscore that truth, Genesis 3:1-6. It contains the account of Adam's and Eve's fall into sin. Here's the entire thing, as translated in the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible:
Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’“ But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate.
Familiar, right? Nothing in there to teach us about speaking up, right?

Consider what Sedler writes:
This story has been recounted over and over in homes, churches, synagogues, in books, magazines, and on television. Always it is the same. The snake deceived Eve and she ate. She then urged Adam to eat. He did so and the two were condemned to a life of hardship. But was it really that simple? Was Adam "tricked" into his actions? Or was silence involved, a time when a voice should have been heard but was not?
Sedler then goes on to point out a truth that is often hidden in plain sight, that Adam was Eve throughout her entire conversation with the serpent:
...and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate...
Now, in the Lutheran circles in which I run, no one has ever suggested that Eve bore more responsibility for humanity's fall into sin than Adam. The Biblical witness is clear and anyone who's exercised the office of teacher in the Lutheran movement of which I'm a part has said simply that both Adam and Eve fell into sin and both bore responsibility for its consequences.

Nonetheless, as my wife mentioned during this past Sunday's class, "I always thought that Eve talked with the serpent and then went to Adam." Every person there either nodded in agreement with her or verbally affirmed her impression.

But, as Sedler points out, you find the same story in almost any translation you consult: Adam was standing right next to Eve during Eve's entire conversation with the serpent. Here are some other translations' renderings of Genesis 3:6:
She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. (The New International Version)

...she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate. (New American Standard Bible)

...she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat. (King James Version)

...she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. (English Standard Version)

...Her husband was there with her, so she gave some to him, and he ate it too. (Contemporary English Version)

...She also gave some of the fruit to her husband who was with her, and he ate it. (New Century Version)
So far, the only translation any member of the class has been able to find in which it wasn't pointed out that Adam was with Eve during her interview with the serpent is The Message.

Sedler says that this fact has, in some Christian circles, been ignored with more sinister results than has occurred in Lutheranism as I've experienced it:
Many Bible commentaries skim over verse six, choosing to ignore it rather than deal with it. Venerable Bible commentator Matthew Henry writes:
It is probable that he [Adam] was not with her [Eve] when she was tempted, surely if he had, he would have intervened to prevent sin.
Sedler dismisses this as an attempt to get Adam off the hook, to lay the blame on Eve, and therefore, to insinuate that women are more responsible for the fall into sin than men. But verse six says otherwise.

As Sedler points out though, there are deeper lessons to be learned from Genesis 3:6:
Adam heard the conversation, saw Eve's dilemma, but remained silent. All the while that his wife was being deceived, Adam watched and assessed the situation, but kept his thoughts to himself. He chose to be silent. 
He did nothing, Sedler points out. Or did he? Sedler turns to Genesis 3:12. There, Adam responds to God, Who has just asked Adam if he had taken a bite from the forbidden fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil:
The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.” 
Sedler writes:
Adam did what people do best when feeling defensive: He blamed another person...Could Adam have prevented [Eve from taking the fruit]? It would seem that he carries...responsibility for watching a precious helpmate make a destructive decision without intervening.
"Mind your own business" can be a good cautionary motto in many circumstances in life. But when you see people about to make errors that risk destroying them or parts of their lives, "mind your own business" is a cover-up for a failure to love. It's an excuse for personal cowardice. (I know what I'm talking about; I've been a coward so many times that it's painful to remember.)

Love must be tough enough to risk incurring the anger of those we love. If we can't tell the truth in love, we can't tell the truth at all.

"Five Reasons to Make Walking Your Way of Getting in Shape"

That's the title of my latest post over at Associated Content from Yahoo! I hope that you find it helpful.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

"Is Your Dream Too Small?"

That's the title of this great sermon by Pastor Glen VanderKloot. Do yourself a favor and read it.

Tough One Ahead for My Buckeyes

Wisconsin, at Madison, will be a formidable obstacle to the Buckeyes' quest for an undefeated season. Go, Buckeyes!

Be a High-Impact Parent

[In our community, pastors share the writing of a regular column for the Logan Daily News. Here's the piece I just submitted.]

Parents have the most important jobs in the world. “You shall honor your father and mother” is the first commandment of what’s called “the second table of the Ten Commandments,” those addressing our relationships with others.

The relationships of parents and children are foundational to all other relationships in life. When parents relate well to their kids and teach their kids to relate well to others, the children are set on a path for happiness and fulfillment in life.

The responsibilities of parents boil down to two key elements:

(1) Preparing their children for responsible adult living.

(2) Sharing Jesus Christ, God-in-the-flesh, with them.

In fulfilling these two responsibilities, parents prepare their children for both their earthly and eternal futures. Both are important, but the second one is most important.

Jesus tells us, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him may not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Parents who fail to give priority to sharing Christ with their children are really saying that they don’t care about their kids’ eternal destinies.

Sharing Christ with children means more than seeing that children are baptized, that they go to Vacation Bible School or an occasional Sunday School class, or that they have Christian trinkets.

Faith in Jesus Christ is caught more than taught. Parents: Your kids will learn to know and rely on Christ when they see that you know and rely on Christ. When they know that you talk over the decisions of your life with God in prayer, that you read and heed the words of God’s revealed Word, the Bible, and that you worship regularly and receive Christ’s body and blood in Holy Communion regularly, it will have a powerful and eternal impact on your kids. They’ll know that you and the God revealed in Christ are for real.

 “I am the way, and the truth, and the life,” Jesus says, “No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). To know God is to know peace in our lives, even in difficult times. To know God, it’s essential to know Jesus. There is nothing more important for parents to teach their kids than the truth about the God revealed to the world in Jesus.

Be a high impact parent: Live for Christ and share Him with your kids!

Sunday, February 06, 2011

We've Had the Revolution...Now What?

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

Matthew 5:13-20
This past week, we have witnessed a kind of revolution happening in Egypt. It looks as though this revolution will result in the end of a long period of iron fisted rule. But assuming that the pro-democracy demonstrators there are successful, there will be questions the people of Egypt will be asking of themselves soon. They’re questions like, “What now?” “How do we go forward?” People who go through revolutions always wrestle with questions like these in their aftermath.*

Last Sunday’s Gospel lesson, taken from the opening verses of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, was a place where Jesus laid down an absolutely revolutionary life, one that puts the world’s standard operating procedures on their heads.

In it, Jesus described people as blessed the world might see us unfortunate, at best. Jesus, it turns out, wasn’t just laying down God’s law in the Beatitudes, but also describing a way of life that seeps into the minds, hearts, and wills of those who cultivate daily closeness to Jesus Christ. Even if we have questions about all that though, because of what Jesus has done for us on the cross, because of His resurrection, and because of the new life we know He offers to all who repent and believe in Him, we hear the Beatitudes and we want to sign up for the Kingdom of heaven.

But after Jesus, through His death and resurrection, works this revolution of transforming us from the enemies of God we were when we were born into the friends of God we become when we are born from above, we have questions: What now? How do we go forward? Jesus starts to answer those questions in today’s lesson. Please take out your Celebrate bulletin inserts and look at today’s Gospel lesson.

Now, as you read the opening verses of the lesson, you’ll have to keep the Beatitudes in mind. In verses 13 and 14, Jesus is saying, “You blessed ones are the salt of the earth. You blessed ones are the light of the world.”

With that in mind, read verse 13 along with me silently, please: “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.”

Most of us love salt. It enhances the flavor of food. But salt is also a great preservative. Those who walk with Jesus preserve what is true and godly. Without moralizing or judging, true followers of Jesus remind us all of God’s will, God’s love, and God’s ability to express His power through weak people surrendered to Him.

Ernest Gordon was a young Scotsman studying Philosophy and History when World War II broke out. He joined the military and was captured by the Japanese in the summer of 1942. He and his fellow prisoners were given rations of one lump of rice each day. They were tortured daily and were worked incessantly, under blazing sun and torrential rain. The brutalization included savagery and thievery among the prisoners themselves, who stole food from other prisoners too weak to defend themselves. Gordon, suffering from multiple diseases, was sent to a holding hut, one where all those certain to die went. One prisoner though, dared to do something that no prisoner had previously done. He cared for weaker prisoners. He took Gordon under his wing, giving him massages, encouraging words, and the occasional smuggled banana. Improbably, Gordon survived and through his benefactor something else happened. Though he had never been interested in God, Gordon came to follow Jesus Christ. He would later say, “'Faith thrives when there is no hope but God.” Folks, the man who cared for Gordon, a Christian, was salt of the earth. He preserved the kingdom way of life. In a place of horrors, he preserved the life of love and compassion and righteousness Jesus sets us free to live. That’s the kind of life we’re called and commanded to live too.

Read verse 14, please: “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”

Over the past several weeks, several of our lessons have featured variations of the phrase, "light of the world." In the Old Testament, we’re told how God called the people of Israel into being to be a light to the nations, showing the world the one true God of the universe, preparing for the arrival of the Messiah. Jesus comes and we’re told in the New Testament that He is the light of the world. In today's lesson, Jesus is saying that those who follow Him—you and me—are to give light to the world. His fellow Jews would have found Jesus’ imagery unmistakably clear. The temple in Jerusalem was built on a high mount. From it, God’s people exalted God before the world.

Now, we Gentile Christians who, the New Testament says, have been grafted into the people of God by the grace given in Jesus and our faith in Him, are to lift Jesus up before all the world. Faith in Jesus Christ is a public thing. Jesus commands us to be lights in this darkened world; we’re to let everyone know about the new life that only comes through Jesus.

That can be a hard way to live. Many Christians, in fact, are like the young man desperate for a girlfriend who asked an unpopular young woman he didn't much like to go steady. She was elated until he said, “But let’s not tell anyone else about it. It’ll be our little secret.” “Don’t keep your relationship with Me hidden,” Jesus says. “Live it out loud.” If we keep our faith in Christ a personal thing, doesn’t Jesus have every right to think that we’re ashamed of Him?

In what Jesus has said so far, we see that we are blessed—saved by the undeserved, unearned grace of God—in order to be blessings to others. But this amazing grace does not bring an end to the commands— laws—of God given in the Old Testament.

Read what Jesus says next, starting at verse 17: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfil. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished…”

So, what law is Jesus talking about? We know that the Old Testament contains dietary laws that God rescinded in the New Testament. We know that ritual laws revolving around sacrifices are no longer needed because Jesus is the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world, once and for all.

Jesus here is referring to the moral laws in the Ten Commandments. These laws are inviolable for all time. Want to know the will of God for your wallet, your mouth, your sex life, your soul? It’s all there in the Ten Commandments and they haven’t changed in 3500 years. Jesus says they won’t change until heaven and earth pass away. They remain as protective fences meant to steer us always toward life at its best.

But you and I know that we can’t successfully obey these laws. The law can’t save us from sin and death. Only Jesus can do that. So why does Jesus still say the law is important?

Lutheran Christians have considered this question and said that there are three purposes that the Law still has.
  • First, the law acts as a curb on the sinful impulses of all people, even before they know Jesus Christ. 
  • Second, the law drives us to Jesus for grace and forgiveness. When we’re honest, we acknowledge that while we understand God’s commands, we don’t keep them. Our inborn sin prevents us from keeping them. Desperate, we turn to Jesus, seeking the same mercy He showed to the repentant thief who hung on a cross next to Jesus and to whom Jesus promised, “Today, you will be with Me in paradise.” 
  • But for the followers of Jesus, there is a third use of the Law. It’s a guide for us. Having been freed by grace from sin and death, the Ten Commandments become a road map for us. God told the prophet Jeremiah to tell His people centuries ago: “stand at the crossroads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way lies…[to] walk in it, and find rest for your souls.” God was telling the people to remember His commands for them and so be led back to Him. When God’s law drives us to Jesus, it leads us to the place where life is found, where rightness with God, with our neighbors, and with ourselves is found.
Now, look at the last verse of our lesson. Jesus says, “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

This passage used to trouble me a lot! The Pharisees were righteous in their own eyes, but not in God’s. They thought that they were great people who had conquered their own sin. But, in their arrogance, they completely lacked the love for God and neighbor that the Law commands.

So, what, I wondered, did Jesus mean by seeming to tell all His followers to try to out-righteous the spiritual snobs He called hypocrites and whitewashed tombs?

Then I realized something: We will be more righteous than the Pharisees—we are more righteous than the Pharisees—when we are humble enough to let the shed blood of Jesus cover our sins and wash us clean. We will be righteous, right with God, when we rely completely on the God we know in Jesus Christ, and not our own wisdom, not our own pretended goodness.

For twenty years, I’ve been doing my taxes using the TurboTax computer program. And every year, I make the same mistake. I’ll be working on some part of my return and figure that I know something better than the program. I input data where I think it should go and totally mess things up. If I could get back all the hours I’ve spent on the unnecessary, grief-inducing side roads I’ve created for myself, rather than simply following the prompts the program gives, I probably could have done something productive with my life.

The Law is still important. It contains prompts from God, pointing us not only to the right way to live, but also to the One Who wants to lead us into His Kingdom. Unless we let the law lead us each day to Jesus, it will condemn us. But if we let it drive us back to Jesus whenever our lives go off course, we will be right with God, in sync with His purposes for our lives. We will be the salt of the earth who preserve what is godly and good. We will be the light of the world who show others the way to Jesus. We will be graced. We will be blessed. The Kingdom of heaven will be ours. Amen

*This approach to the sermon, how to live after the revolution, is that taken by N.T. Wright in his commentary on this text, found in Matthew for Everyone. I so liked his approach, finding that it so clarified what Jesus is doing in the sermon, that I couldn't resist using the same approach myself here.