Friday, August 19, 2011

Heart Cath Report (Goofball Edition)


The video speaks for itself, I suppose. (No, I'm not referring to how plain it makes it that I'm a goofball.)

I had a heart attack in June, 2010, initially undiagnosed. It damaged 40% of my heart. After the diagnosis was made at Mid-Ohio Cardiology in Columbus, I underwent a heart catheterization at Riverside Methodist Hospital, also in Columbus.

Today's cath procedure was indicated by a stress test I took last week. It indicated a slow flow of blood in the heart. The cath showed no blockages.

However, my heart has not bounced back as fully as the doc would have liked. So, in October, as a precautionary measure, a defibrillator will be implanted in my chest. Should any arrhythmias develop (there have never been any previously), the defib will send electrical impulses to ensure that the heart beats uninterruptedly.

Got home after dinner with Ann at Cosi's. Relieved and happy. Thanks to everyone for their prayers. God bless!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Insecurity and Egotism

“Insecurity results from egotism,” someone wrote on Twitter recently.

That single sentence so jarred me the moment I read it that I neither responded to nor noted the name of the writer. The words have made me think and I’ve concluded that while insecurity may have many sources, personal vanity is definitely one of them.

Taking myself as a test case, I know that many of my insecurities—whether over talking too much, saying the wrong things, getting a sermon or project I’m planning just “right,” meeting new people, wondering whether I’ve worked hard enough each day, or, very specifically, going to my fortieth high school reunion as I did several weeks ago—are born of a desire to make the “right” impressions on people, to be seen as competent and proficient and a “good guy,” to please people, to be esteemed.

How stupid of me!

As a Christian, I believe that, through Christ, we know that God loves us as we are, leaving us with nothing to prove, assured that He gives us His Spirit to help believers in Him to become all that we were meant to be, no matter what other people may think of us.

I know that, in reality, I only play to a gracious audience of One. But too often, my vain desire for affirmation from those whose word about my life ultimately doesn’t matter can cause me to quake in fear instead of living with love and abandon.

God, help me to get over myself and get out of the way as Christ lives in me.

[By the way, my reunion was a blast!]

Why God Doesn't Overwhelm Us

Why does God veil His glory in a crucified Savior? Why doesn’t He just come on strong and overwhelm us like a Super Bowl halftime show?

The simple truth is that we couldn’t handle that kind of revelation of God. Exodus 20, in the Old Testament recounts God giving the Ten Commandments to His people Israel through Moses. It was an event accompanied by stunning signs of God's presence. Just after the giving of the commandments, Exodus says:
When all the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking, they were afraid and trembled and stood at a distance, and said to Moses, "You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, or we will die." (Exodus 20:18-19)
Human beings in the unveiled presence of God see their distance from God’s holiness, perfection, and power. Instead of overwhelming us, God comes to us in the God-Man Jesus, bringing forgiveness and peace with God to all who believe in Him. It’s Jesus Who makes it possible for us to approach God as our Father and it’s in Jesus’ Name—and not in our own merit or power—that we can come to God in prayer.

Even in Jesus, the suffering servant, though, Peter and others who spent time with Him, saw the almighty, perfect God and their distance from Him. Once, Jesus performed a miraculous sign. Peter was overwhelmed and said, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.”

But Jesus never goes away from those who honestly submit to and trust in Him. God is holy and infinitely powerful. But God also loves us. That's why He brings salvation "from below," coming to us as a Servant, rather than from above as a conqueror. It was only as a servant Who dies on a cross that He could take our punishment for sin, conquering sin and death through His servanthood.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Chestnut Ridge Park


My wife and I were feeling bummed on Monday night because a heart catheterization I must undergo will prevent us from taking a long-planned vacation. (Ann took responsibility for the planning, arranging for us to visit friends Michigan and Minnesota and a crossing of Lake Michigan via car ferry from Ludington, Michigan to Manitowoc, Wisconsin.

But a recent nuclear stress test showed that there is a minor issue affecting blood flow to the heart at the site of a stent implanted in my heart after I suffered a heart attack last year.

The catheterization is a precautionary measure. The cardiologist's assistant says that absent my heart attack, the issue at hand wouldn't warrant a heart cath.

But my cardiologist is very thorough. Despite our disappointment over the scrubbed vacation, we appreciate the doctor's thoroughness.

So, on Monday evening, we went to Chestnut Ridge Park near Carroll, Ohio, one of the great parks in the Columbus Metropolitan system. With temps in the 70s at the time, there was a breeze that held the promise of autumn. We briefly walked a trail, then settled on a deck next to a large pond. It was beautiful to look at and wonderful to listen to the silence. I also enjoyed watching the many fish swimming just below the pond surface. (Only those under 15 and those over 60 can fish there.)

It reminded me again of what beautiful world God created.

It was perfect.

Your prayers for my health would be appreciated, especially if it's determined that a new stent will have to be implanted.

(By the way, the close-up at the beginning of the video is my attempt to show all those fish. If you look closely, you can sort of make them out.)

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Jesus: God and King

[This was shared during worship with the people of Saint Matthew Lutheran Church in Logan, Ohio, earlier today. The Gospel lesson is actually the one designated by the lectionary for next Sunday.]

Matthew 16:13-20
This morning’s Gospel lesson is so filled with good stuff that we need to go through it verse-by-verse. So, please pull out the special bulletin inserts and look at Matthew 16:13-20.

In verse 13, Jesus asks the disciples who people were saying He—the Son of Man—was. In the next verse the disciples give their answer: "Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

Apparently, the buzz was that Jesus was the reappearance of one of the prophets. Elijah and Jeremiah, of course, were Old Testament figures, while John the Baptist, the last of the great prophets, had just died. In seeing Jesus as a prophet, the people were onto something. Like all true prophets, Jesus calls us to live for God alone. Not for our own interests. Not for our own desires. Not for our own emotions or intellectual analsyses. Not for our country or preferred ideology. We're to live for God alone.

Eventually, Christians would see Jesus as THE prophet, THE priest, and THE king, among other things. But Jesus is much more than is encompassed by any of these titles.

That’s why He asks the disciples in verse 15, “But who do you say that I am?” This is the most important question any of us will ever answer.

And there is really only one right answer.

Don’t misunderstand that. By “right answer” I don’t mean saying the right words. That’s what some people think Christian faith is about.

Two guys were stranded on an island after their boat sank. “I guess we should pray,” one told the other. “Good idea,” the other one said, “but I don’t know how to pray. Do you?” “No” the first one admitted. Suddenly, the second guy remembered something. “Hey!” he said, “I used to live next to a church and sometimes heard what they said over the sound system. Maybe I could say that.” The first guy agreed to that plan. After a brief silence, the second guy said, “B7. G59. N24.”

Folks, even if the words you recite are the Apostles’ Creed or the Lord’s Prayer and not Bingo numbers, saying the right things without faith won’t cut it.

That fact came home to me again this past week when I talked with a seminary classmate. The people of the church he serves had invited a theologian of our Evangelical Lutheran Church in America to speak. Later, there was a Q-and-A and a member told the theologian, “I understand that there are faculty at your seminary who don’t believe that Jesus was born of a virgin.” The theologian asked: “Why would anyone believe that?”

Now this theologian doesn't represent all the theologians of the ELCA, to be sure. For this theologian though, who had, as an ordained person, no doubt said the Apostles' and Nicene creeds for years, belief in the Bible’s teaching that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit was passé.

But, as I’ve said before, truth has no expiration date.

The Bible has already been spell-checked by God and it needs no revision by post-moderns who think that they're smarter than God, no matter how credentialed they may be.

God's Word to legalists who want to load people down with religious rules, as well as to revisionists who want to amend God's commandments to suit current societal trends, is plain: You cannot add to or subtract from the Word of God!

The truths that God revealed to our mothers and fathers in the faith and that are recorded on the pages of Scripture are just as true today as they were centuries ago.

God’s Law in the Ten Commandments is still God’s Law and has not changed.

God’s Promise of new life for all who turn from sin and entrust their lives to Jesus Christ has not changed.

Jesus is still the only way to God.

Jesus’ Name is still the only one given by God for us to be saved from sin and death.

But that incident with the theologian goes to show that even if you say the right words and jump through the right religious hoops, it doesn’t mean that you’re in right relationship with Jesus, God in the flesh. Jesus asks us, “Who do you say that I am?”

In verse 16, Peter answers Jesus' question: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

Now, the first thing to be said about this passage is that, given how Peter wanted Jesus to save His skin and be an earthly conqueror of the Romans, given how he denied knowing Jesus on the night of Jesus’ arrest, and given how hopeless Peter was after Jesus died on a cross, Peter probably had little idea of what he was saying at this moment.

We all know how that goes.

I had no clear idea of exactly what I meant the first time I told Ann that I loved her. Nor did I realize that nearly thirty-eight years later, I would love her more fully and completely now than I ever could have imagined then. Only time can imbue confessions like, “I love you” with their fuller meaning.

The same has been true for me in my life with Christ. I fell in love with Jesus and gave Him my life in 1976. But having had Him by my side in the thirty-five years since—years with ups and downs, joys and disappointments, health and sickness—have only made me love Him more.

Peter didn’t fully understand his confession. But his answer was authentic and true, more than mere words.

The first title he uses for Jesus in his confession is Messiah. This is the English transliteration of the Hebrew word, mashiah. It means anointed one. It was a title given to all of Israel’s kings. (And even, as those of you who have been involved with reading the Bible in a year know, of a Persian king named Cyrus who God used for His purposes.) The anointing of Israel’s kings was a sign of their selection by God.

But the title came to be used of the special king God had promised through His prophets. THE messiah would come set the world right with God and fully establish God’s justice. The New Testament Greek word for Messiah is Christos, or, as we know it in English, Christ. Peter confesses Jesus as the king of the world and the king of his life.  

So must we.

The second title Peter uses of Jesus is the Son of the living God. Israel’s kings were referred to as God’s sons. But here, Peter is saying more than he himself realizes.

Pull out a pew Bible and turn to page 681. There, look at Colossians 1, verses 15 and 16. The passage tells us what it means to call Jesus, “the Son of God.” It says of Jesus: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him.”

It would be awhile before Peter’s faith caught up with his confession. But he had it right: Jesus is God.

If we see Jesus as anything less than the one true God and King of the universe, we have no part in Him, whatever words we may say.

Please go back to our Gospel lesson, verse 17: “Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.’”

Peter’s confession about Jesus was pure miracle. His fledgling faith didn’t come from flesh and blood—not from the collection of human thought or the confluence of human emotions or human experiences.

God Himself had revealed the truth about Who Jesus was to Peter. The same is true for us whenever we confess faith in Jesus.

Turn to page 662 in the pew Bibles and look at First Corinthians 12:3. We’re told: “…no one speaking by the Spirit of God calls Jesus accursed, and no one can say Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.”

This is what Martin Luther is talking about in his Small Catechism explanation of the third article of the Creed: "I believe that I cannot by my own understanding or effort believe in Jesus Christ my Lord, or come to Him. But the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, and sanctified and kept me in true faith."

Only God can give us faith in Christ and faith in Christ only comes to the willing.

In verse 18, Jesus continues by telling Simon that He is giving Simon a new name, Peter, Petros in the Greek of the New Testament. It means rock.

Jesus then says, “On this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of Hades [the gates of hell] will not prevail against it.”

Jesus builds His Church on the faith confessed by Peter.

God has always built His people on faith. Genesis 15:6, says that Abraham, the founding patriarch of Israel, believed all of God’s promises for the future and the Lord counted Abraham’s belief as righteousness. Through his faith in God's promises, Abraham was counted right with God. And on his faith, God built Israel, the people who were called to be a light to the nations and, in time, become the home of God come to earth, Jesus.

Peter showed the same openness to faith Abraham exhibited and Jesus builds His Church on such faith.

The Church is made up not of bricks, mortar, carpeting, or sound systems, but of flesh and blood people who believe in Jesus. Without a faith in Jesus as the one true way to God, the Church doesn’t exist even if people sing hymns, light candles, recite creeds and prayers, and listen to preachers.

Article 7 of the Augsburg Confession, one of the key confessional documents of Lutheranism, says that the Church exists wherever the Word of God is preached in its purity and the Sacraments of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion are administered rightly…in other words, wherever people meet Christ in faith.

In verse 19, Jesus says that to this flesh and blood people who believe in Him, He will give “the keys of the Kingdom.” Filled with the Holy Spirit and taught by God’s Book, the Bible, you and I are given the responsibility to tell others about the will of God in His Law—the Ten Commandments—and the will of God in His promise that all who turn from sin and believe in Jesus will be saved. We are to declare God’s condemnation for unrepentant sinners and to declare God’s forgiveness to repentant sinners. It’s a scary responsibility for which none of us would be qualified were it not for the fact that, by grace through faith, Jesus lives in us.

Faith in Christ qualifies us for graces and responsibilities for which we, on our own merit, have no qualifications.

And using the keys of the kingdom can open up an eternity of hope and peace to others.

Berhanu Ofga’a is a pastor of the Lutheran body, the Mekane Yesus Church, in Ethiopia. Once, during Ethiopia’s long civil war from 1974 to 1991, he was imprisoned. One night during his incarceration, he heard a man weeping and begging, “Does anyone here know Jesus Christ? Does anyone here believe in Jesus Christ?”

Because Pastor Ofga’a was imprisoned for his confession of faith in Jesus, he was at first afraid to say anything. But finally he declared that he was a Christian. The voice then asked, “Please, how can I know Jesus?” From his prison cell, Ofga’a helped that man confess his sins and confess his faith in Jesus. And his own faith in Christ was deepened in that experience, sustaining him through a hellish time.

Today, Pastor Ofga'a is the general secretary of his Lutheran body in Ehtiopia. And even today, he and his fellow Lutherans are daily at risk of their lives for their faith in Jesus. In the course of the past year, radical Jihadists have destroyed over 50 of their church buildings. Members have been persecuted and subjected to violence. Yet, from 2009 to 2010, the Mekane Yesus Church grew from 5.3-million members to 5.6-million, an increase of nearly 1000 members each day. (By point of comparison, our own ELCA had 5.6-million members in 1990 and today has 4.5-million members.)

There may be many different reasons for the explosive growth of the Lutheran church in Ethiopia. But the biggest reason no doubt is that our fellow Lutherans there are bold and unapologetic in confessing the same faith confessed by Peter in our Gospel lesson: Jesus is the Messiah and God!

Nothing—not prison cells, not hell, not death itself—can prevail against Christ’s Church. Those with faith in Christ are set free, today in this imperfect world and one day when we see God face to face, to live and speak for Jesus and to glorify Jesus with our whole lives!

May we always do so!



Who do you think will represent the National and American Leagues in this year's World Series?