Saturday, February 09, 2013

"Curiosity's Seven Minutes of Terror"

NASA's compelling video about Curiosity's final seven minutes before landing on the surface of Mars is exciting to watch!

Here's a Spencer Michels' report on the Mars lander, as presented on this past Friday's PBS News Hour.

Watch New Discoveries From NASA's 'Curiosity' Rover's Mars Mission on PBS. See more from PBS NewsHour.

There were so many things that could have gone wrong as Curiosity prepared to set down on our nearest planetary neighbor, the fourth rock from the sun. The elegant design for the craft's landing on Mars is a marvel in itself.

The story of Curiosity is a great one that needs telling more often. It testifies to the importance of taking risks and reminds us again of how people can devise technologies that make it possible for us to explore this universe in which, I believe, God has placed us.

Regular readers of this blog know that I don't usually opine about political decision making here. But for so many reasons, I believe that every penny the federal government can spend on space flight enhances technologies we use here, opens up new commercial possibilities which, after NASA does the pioneering for us all, can then be opened to private companies, and teaches us more about the universe we live in, knowledge that can be applied in yet unknown ways.

All these things have been experienced as wonderful, life-changing fallout from previous commitment to space flight and space exploration. When something's working, you don't stop.

NASA still inspires me!

I hope that after you watch these two pieces, it will keep inspiring you too!


Love this honest prayer in song by TobyMac!

Lecrae Talks About His Life and His Music

Love these excerpts from a PBS interview with Lecrae. (After that, what's probably Lecrae's most well-known track, Just Like You.)

"I told him, 'It's OK to do the right thing.'"

This is such a cool story!
Turner, who is from Chicago, met Pitts through a mutual acquaintance — an assistant coach on Turner’s high-school team — and the friendship grew as both began to realize they shared similar interests and personalities.

“We would text and talk and I came to Ohio and we’d hang out and I saw a little bit of myself in him,” Turner said. “He’s kind of quiet and trying to find his way. The difference is, with the shyness and insecurities, I had a brother, Darius, who made me feel comfortable. Devon didn’t have any siblings. I just tried to lend an ear and lead by example. I told him, ‘It’s OK to do the right thing.’”
Evan Turner is da bomb!


Recently, a man visiting our church from out of town asked me, "Tell me, was it always your dream to preach in Logan, Ohio?"

He said it tongue-in-cheek, but since I didn't know this man, I played it straight. "I don't know if it was my dream," I told him, "but it's my call to preach in Logan, Ohio."

Having dreams for our lives can be good, as long as in our dreaming we accept that God's dreams may be different from our own.

Life has a way of making pretzels out of the straight lines to our dreams that our imaginations draw. In life, you never can tell what's going to happen, good or bad.

The unknowns are only multiplied in the lives of those who seek to follow Jesus Christ.

That's because if we want Christ to be in our life, we have to leave it up to God to draw the lines to His dreams for our lives. Since God wants us to love others and to have the servant mind of Christ, His lines for our lives are apt to go all "squiggly" with stops we never imagined, even diversions that may, to us or others, seem like setbacks or comedowns.

But when the call of God sets us down unanticipated pathways, it's good to remember James' words in the New Testament: "Come now, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a town and spend a year there, doing business and making money.' Yet you do not even know what tomorrow will bring...Instead, we ought to say, 'If the Lord wishes, we will live and do this or that."" (James 4:13-15

In Jesus' parable of the prodigal son, a fictional tale He told to convey the idea that our neighbor is anyone whose life situation is known to us, two holy men had their own ideas about what they needed to do as they walked on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho.

Those ideas didn't include a detour to help a man who appeared to be suffering, but who could have been a diversionary trap set by some of the thieves often on this road.

A Samaritan man, on the other hand, was willing to follow God's line, however frightening it may have been or whatever it might have done to his "schedule."

Followers of Jesus know that their lives do not belong to them. My life doesn't belong to me. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 6:20, "You were bought with a price." Jesus has already saved those who turn from sin and turn to Him as their only God and Lord. On the cross, He paid the price to buy us out of slavery to sin and death. The lines of our lives move toward the day we see Him face to face, on a pathway of His choosing. "We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves," Paul writes elsewhere. "If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's." (Romans 14:7-8)

In the meantime, if you follow Christ, don't be surprised where God takes you when you dare to pray, as Jesus taught you to pray, "Your will be done." Life with Christ is full of surprises!

[This was inspired by today's installment of Our Daily Bread by Joe Stowell.]

Friday, February 08, 2013

Judge for Yourself

Aaron Craft probably didn't get a chance to go to the foul line for Ohio State at the end of the Buckeyes' overtime game against Michigan at Ann Arbor, despite what appears to me to be three fouls committed by two Wolverines against Craft in the span of a few seconds because, just moments before, he wasn't called for what also appeared to be a flagrant foul committed by him.

Was the no-call a make up for that? Who knows? After all, referees may have objective rules to follow and for the most part big college refs are excellent, but many judgments are, inevitably, subjective. I certainly don't envy them having to make quick calls with 15,000 would-be refs in the stands.

But for Buckeye fans like me who saw our team fight in a hostile environment against the #3 team in the country for a chance to tie or win on the last possession of overtime, the end of Tuesday night's game was a little less than satisfying.

Fans, of course, can afford the luxury of looking back and rehashing a loss. But in the rush of a season in America's best college basketball conference, the Big 10, coaches and players can only look back for a few lessons and then move ahead.

I'll let you be the judge of whether a foul should have been called on this play...and then move on.

Go, Buckeyes!

[UPDATE: I really do love the Wolverines' fluorescent yellow sneakers. They are cool! And that's hard for a Buckeye to admit.]


"Let us be warned. Seeking righteousness without Christ, by works, merits, or Law rejects the grace of God and despises the death of Christ." (Martin Luther)

Thursday, February 07, 2013

"Good Mood Helps Boost Brain Power in Older Adults"

Be good to your brain: Cultivate a good mood by loving your neighbor. Research conducted by folks from The Ohio State University, the University of Michigan, Cornell University, and Linköping University (Sweden) seems to point to that conclusion.

No surprises here. We are engineered by God to operate optimally when we love God and love others:
When the Pharisees heard that [Jesus] had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:34-40)

Just Purchased at Half Price

I always thought it was cool when Glenn Reynolds, the Instapundit blogger, would simply note, "In the mail..." and then list a book he'd ordered.

So, here's my low tech version of that practice. Here are two books I picked up Half Price today.

I only paid two bucks each!

Barzun died this past October at the age of 104. He published From Dawn to Decadence, a history of the world from 1500 to "the present" (2000), when he was 92. That prompted this comment from Ann Althouse: "Imagine writing something that ambitious when you're in your 90s and still having more than a decade of life left."

By the way, I just noticed that "it was cool" to read Reynolds' blog posts about his latest book orders, even though Reynolds is still blogging and still noting his latest book purchases. I was going to change that phrase to the present tense until I realized there's a good reason for my putting it in the past tense: It's been ages since I read Instapundit. No editorial intended, just funny to note how sometimes your mind tells you the truth without you realizing it.

[UPDATE: In the interest of equal time, I should probably add that I haven't seen Chris Matthews' show since 2007. Our local cable provider, Time Warner, doesn't run MSNBC on basic cable. CSPAN 2 and 3 are also missing, along with ESPN 3 and ESPN U. C'est la vie.]

A Tale of Respectful Dialog and Unexpected Friendship


Wednesday, February 06, 2013

"How to Write a Worship Song (in 5 Minutes or Less)"

This cracked me up!

(Thanks to Pastor Paul "Ukulele Man" McCain for linking to this video on his blog.)

For Those Who Want to Dig Deeply Into What Lutherans Believe

This commentary on The Augsburg Confession is a classic and has been a help in my preparations for the sermons I'm doing on what it means to be a Lutheran Christian. I recommend it for those who want a scholarly look at Lutheran Christianity.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

A Book for Those Who Feel They've "Bottomed Out"

My friend, Steve Sjogren, has a new book out and it should be great!

Steve and I became friends nearly two decades ago. He had started a congregation, Vineyard Community Church in the tricounty area of metropolitan Cincinnati and had started Friendship Lutheran Church in Clermont County, in Cincinnati's eastern suburbs, a few years later.

Even before we met, I got fired up with the possibilities for real, no-strings-attached evangelistic outreach through acts of kindness which Steve had explained in Conspiracy of Kindness, a book that still exercises a profound effect on my thinking and living as a Christian and on my leadership as a pastor.

You can imagine then, how shocked I was when out of the blue one night, I found an email from Steve, suggesting that we get together over lunch. He wanted to help me and our fledgling congregation. And he did.

I was with Steve during some of the horrors he endured after nearly losing his life on a hospital operating table for what was supposed to be a routine gall bladder surgery. Months and years of recuperation followed, although it should be said that even a substantially debilitated Steve Sjogren found more new ways to serve God and spread the gospel than most pastors without such limitations could ever do.

Some of the horrors went through back then are described in Heaven's Lessons and I'm looking forward to the learning from the lessons my friend learned at that time.

You won't find a finer people of God or ones more committed to Christ than are Steve Sjogren and his wife, Janie. I am proud to call them friends! And I find that I am always learning more about what it means to follow Jesus from them. They are blessings!

Here's a preview of Heaven's Lessons:


The World Needs the Church and the Church Needs Lots of Leaders

Management, though a valuable and essential commodity for any organization--from the nation-state all the way up to the local church, is not the same thing as leadership. As John Kotter, professor emeritus of Leadership at Harvard University's Business School, writes: is a set of well-known processes, like planning, budgeting, structuring jobs, staffing jobs, measuring performance and problem-solving, which help an organization to predictably do what it knows how to do well. Management helps you to produce products and services as you have promised, of consistent quality, on budget, day after day, week after week. In organizations of any size and complexity, this is an enormously difficult task. We constantly underestimate how complex this task really is, especially if we are not in senior management jobs. So, management is crucial — but it's not leadership.

Leadership is entirely different. It is associated with taking an organization into the future, finding opportunities that are coming at it faster and faster and successfully exploiting those opportunities. Leadership is about vision, about people buying in, about empowerment and, most of all, about producing useful change. Leadership is not about attributes, it's about behavior. And in an ever-faster-moving world, leadership is increasingly needed from more and more people, no matter where they are in a hierarchy. The notion that a few extraordinary people at the top can provide all the leadership needed today is ridiculous, and it's a recipe for failure.
Organizations need managers. But they die without leaders, lots of leaders who can shepherd ideas from vision to reality.

In my experience, the best leaders are first of all, servants. They're not people who bark out orders or, as the Brits say, "put a bit of stick about." Leaders know that even if they have the power of coercion over the people they've been called to lead, coercion is, at best, management. Leaders persuade, convince, inspire.

They're people who put their hearts on the line, have a passion for moving in a certain direction, and accept the probability of rejection and ridicule. (After all, it's always easier to be a lemming who goes with the flow than a leader who dares to call a halt to most organizations' suicide marches.)

And, in my estimation, anyone who tries to lead in the power of their own personality is crazy. I have come to understand the truth of what Jesus says to His followers "apart from Me you can do nothing" (John 15:8) and of what Saint Paul writes, "I can do all things through [Christ] Who strengthens me" (Philippians 4:13). The very best leaders I have ever known, like my internship supervisor, Pastor Jim Petteys, and my colleague and friend, Pastor Steve Sjogren, have also been humble servants of Christ who have relied on Him above all.

I have jettisoned the idea that only certain types of people are meant to be leaders. Jim and Steve, for example, are very different in personality and temperament. But both, in their own ways, showed me what a leader looks like.

Here's the thing: Everyone is called upon to be a leader sometimes.

But most people shirk from leadership and here's why: It's a lot easier to master the techniques of management or, worse yet, to pretend that we have nothing to offer others, than it is to take the grief of leading the charge for a vision, especially if we believe that vision has been planted in our minds and hearts by God.

If you feel God has called you to lead, I share this simple imperative from Paul directed at those God has given the spiritual gift of leadership, given, as all the gifts are, not for the benefit of the recipient of the gift, but for the ministry of the Church and the strengthening of fellow believers. He says if you are a leader, then lead "in diligence" (Romans 12:8).

Everyone has different leadership styles. Few leaders are the flashy charming types who wow people. Some are plodders. But whatever your style, if you have been gifted by God to lead, whether you're a pastor or a layperson, if you have a passion for a ministry that will help the Church do its one and only mission in the world--make disciples--and you feel called by God to spark the ministry in your Church, then lead.

In his phenomenal book, Courageous Leadership, Bill Hybels wrote:
...the church has an utterly unique mission to fulfill on planet Earth, and...the future of our society depends, largely, on whether or not church leaders understand that mission and mobilize their congregation accordingly.
I believe that's true!

Monday, February 04, 2013

4 Disciplines for Lent

Lent is the forty-day season that falls between Ash Wednesday (this year, February 13) and Easter (this year on March 31), minus the seven Sundays that fall within those two days. (Sundays aren't counted in Lent's forty days because Sundays are always celebratory "little Easters" when we remember Christ's resurrection from the dead.)

Lent isn't a mandate from God. It's a completely human creation. With the other seasons and days of the Church Year, Lent is, in essence, a means of teaching Christians and those seeking to understand Christianity what it means to believe in and follow Jesus Christ.

Many people use Lent to align themselves with Christ. They do this through the adoption of what are called spiritual disciplines.

Lenten disciplines can be good, strengthening faith and helping people to love God and love others more faithfully. But like many good things, we human beings have had a way of messing up the whole idea of Lenten disciplines. "I'm going to give up chocolate," some will announce. "I'm not drinking beer during Lent," others might say. "I've decided to give up cussing until Easter," I've heard people proudly announce.

But, here's the deal: If something is getting in the way of our being Christians, isn't it also worth asking God to help us get rid of it, not just during Lent, but through our whole lives?

That includes things that aren't intrinsically sinful, but which we realize, keep us from living as followers of Jesus. For example, a learned friend of mine has, since the beginning of the year, been on a "book fast." He isn't buying any books, new or old, unless he needs them for his work. That's because he feels that his love for books, learning, and bragging rights of knowing something can sometimes block out God's priorities for his life. He wants to honor God, not feed his ego.

Are books bad? Of course not. But as Paul writes in Romans 14:12: "...whatever does not proceed from faith is sin." My friend understands that.

If you're giving up chocolate just to lose weight, or giving up beer to please a spouse, or giving up cussing to make yourself more acceptable to some people, your "giving up" is really meaningless from God's perspective. You're not undertaking these disciplines to honor God, but as part of a self-help kick.

And if your "discipline" is about trying to prove your "will power," forget it! A will that isn't bent to the will of God may make you feel like you've got something to brag about. But God isn't impressed!

But if your intent is to grow closer to Christ through your discipline, it can be a very good thing.

The Ash Wednesday liturgy we use in my tradition mentions four disciplines most closely associated with Lent. There are many more, of course. But if you've never observed a Lenten discipline, these four might be ones you'll want to consider in 2013. But undertake them not with the attitude that, "I'll give them up after Lent." Use Lent as a time to integrate these disciplines into your life, for keeps.

1. Repentance. Repentance gets a bad rap. It's portrayed as a grim obligation in which we make ourselves miserable for our sin.

Sorrow for sin is part of authentic repentance, but the main words used in the Bible for repent tell a fuller story.
  • The usual Old Testament word literally means to turn around, to change directions. When we acknowledge our sins, we turn away from our sins, which are thoughts, words, and actions that find us walking away from God, and turn back to God and relationship with Him. 
  • The word usually used for repentance in the New Testament means to change one's mind. In repentance, we submit to God in order, in the words of an old Bob Dylan song, "change our way of thinking."
So, repentance entails approaching the God made known to all through Jesus Christ, then
(1) confessing our sins to God
(2) receiving forgiveness and the power for new living that belongs to those who follow Christ. 
Paul had both elements of repentance in mind when he encouraged believers to "let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 2:4). That means humble submission to the crucifixion of our old selves so that our new selves, recreated in the image of Jesus, can rise to life with God.

Repentance is a painful thing because in it we confess our sins, imperfections, and need of God.

But repentance is a joyful thing because it allows us to receive the reconciliation and new with God which Christ's death and resurrection make possible.

This is why when Martin Luther spoke of repentance, he talked about "repentance and renewal."

2. Fasting. We've already touched on this. Fasting can mean giving up those things that get in the way of our following Christ or living life God's way.

It may also mean doing without some things--food, hours on the computer or watching TV, going to sporting events, window shopping at the mall (a vice of mine which I used to indulge a lot)--that might keep us from prayer, worship, reading Scripture, attending to our primary relationships, or serving others.

This is why I always suggest replacing the thing from which you're fasting with a positive, God-honoring activity. If you've decided, for example, to give up watching television one night a week, you'll be able to follow through on your discipline and imbue it with some meaning beyond being a forty-day stunt of your will by, for example, scheduling to volunteer at a food bank on your fasting night.

3. Prayer. Prayer is conversation with God (see here). Of course, believers should always "pray without ceasing." But focused times of prayer, at set times each day, become special appointments with God, deepening our faith, giving our lives both peace and direction.

One point about these special prayer times I would make is to be certain that you always begin your prayers by reading a chapter from the Bible or a devotion based on a passage of Scripture. Since prayer is conversation with God, it's good to let God get in the first word. Otherwise, our prayers can devolve into a monologue about our wants and our feelings.

If you're wondering what to say when it's time for you to pray, the so-called ACTS (adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication) I first read about in a book by Bill Hybels and which I explain here is a good way to start.

And you can never go wrong with the Lord's Prayer, using its profound and exhaustive petitions as a skeletal framework for your conversation with God. (See here for Martin Luther's explanation of the Lord's Prayer found in The Small Catechism.)

4. Works of love. Jesus says that whenever we have cared for those the world regards as "the least of did it to Me" (Matthew 25:40).

Caring for and serving others in Christ's Name is one way we can fulfill both the great commission of making disciples, because people who experience the love of Christ we share through our deeds of kindness will want to follow Jesus, too AND the great commandment that we love God completely and love our neighbor as we love ourselves.

One work of love we may undertake is reaching out to a family member who has been ostracized from the family.

Or, volunteering at a homeless shelter or a food bank.

It could mean participating in a kindness outreach.

Whatever the work of love turns out to be, if it's done in the Name of Jesus, you'll find that what started out as something you thought you were doing to benefit others will, miraculously, benefit you, freeing your from your slavery to yourself, turning you out to the wider world. Forgetting ourselves through Christ has the byproduct of filling us with more joy and life than we could possibly derive from spending time worshiping at the altar of me. This miraculous transformation probably shouldn't surprise us because Jesus says, "Those who find their life will lose it, and lose their life for My sake will find it" (Matthew 10:39).

Now, if I've come across as some "expert" in all this, let me close by saying that I am a sinner in daily need of Christ's forgiveness and help to live as the truly human being I was created by God to be. If you share this trait with me, you might consider adopting a Lenten discipline this year. It could change your life.

[This was originally intended to be my presentation for the Saint Matthew Lutheran Church women's group tomorrow. But because the meeting has been canceled and presenting it at the March meeting would find us three months into Lent, here it is.]

This is a Tough Message

But it's also life-giving: He is rich who is satisfied with what he has.

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Not So Much: Dodge's Use of God's Name to Sell Trucks

Yes, God did make a farmer. The farmer's name was Adam. Someone should have told the late Paul Harvey of that fact when he wrote his essay years ago.

But even overlooking that, I don't think that God's Name was given to the human race to sell Dodge trucks, as it is in the long-form commercial Chrysler unveiled during the Super Bowl, images of farmers accompanied by Harvey reading his essay, God Made a Farmer.

God gave His Name to us so that we can pray to Him, praise Him, and thank Him. Any other use of God's Name is useless and so, disrespectful.

There's a commandment for that: "You shall not take the Name of the Lord your God in vain." (See here, checking out the Second Commandment and its meaning.)

Did Dodge violate that commandment with its Super Bowl ad?

God needs to judge that.

But if I were a Dodge executive and the idea for this ad had been pitched to me, I'm sure that I would have felt at least a little squeamish about it.

For all its invocation of God's Name, it's really about glorifying not the Maker of the farm, but the one entrusted with taking care of the farm...and those men who identify with Harvey's farmer, guys who perceive themselves to be rugged individuals, sometimes conquerors of the world who tough things out.

Like lots of advertising then, the ad appeals to our egos or our fantasies about ourselves. And it continuously invokes God as second fiddle in its paean to tough guys.

All for the purpose of selling us trucks.

Whether the Chrysler folks feel good about that or not, they'll have to answer for themselves.

But as for me, I am definitely not down with it!

The Christian Creed v. the American Creed

Among the reasons that, for all the lip service given to faith in our public life, Christianity isn't entirely at home in the United States is that the value most highly prized by Americans isn't the highest value commended by God.

If you ask the average American what the ultimate value is, the one thing for which they would be likeliest to fight to the death, I think the answer would be freedom.

On the other hand, though the Christian gospel--the good news of forgiveness and new life for all who believe in Jesus Christ--brings the ultimate freedom to people, setting them free to be the people God made them to be and not what sin, their own or others', dictates, freedom is not the ultimate value of Christian faith.

The ultimate value of Christian faith is love.

Christian love is self-giving love. It willingly divests itself of what the world knows as freedom in order to love others.

This is the love that Jesus gives.

The Christian gospel tells us that Jesus divested Himself of the freedom of being God in order to take on humanity and undertake love's greatest deed: God, unblemished by sin, submitting to death without resistance for His beloved, the human race, then rising to take an eternal kingdom, not for Himself, but for the benefit of all who believe in Him.

Christians are then called to live out the same sort of self-giving love. Paul writes in the New Testament book of Philippians:
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:4-11)
Jesus has the Name above all names not because He lived and died for freedom, but because He lived and died and rose for love.

And He calls us to give His kind of love the ultimate place in our lives. 1 Corinthians 13:13 says: "And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love."

When freedom is your ultimate value, you can become a monster: self-centered, ego-driven, materialistic. Make freedom your ultimate value and you will ultimately be enslaved by the things you chase as an expression of your freedom. You will be separated by a self-constructed wall from God, grace, and other people.

If freedom is your ultimate value, you might love, after a fashion.

But if God's love is your ultimate value, you also will be truly free.

And this brings up another reason Christianity doesn't entirely fit with our American culture. Americans are taught to believe in self-sufficiency, the notion that we can pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps and that, if we decide to be loving, or free, or decisive, or whatever, we can make it happen.

But no Christian is taught to believe that she or he can resolve to be loving or anything else. Christians know that resolutions and good intentions won't change us. Only Christ can do that. That's why the apostle Paul writes in Romans: "I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate" (Romans 7:15). And later, "Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (Romans 7:24-25) Only the love of God, given in Christ, can set us free to be our best selves.

This applies especially to the ultimate value of love. We may learn over time to be loving by letting ourselves be loved by the God we see in Jesus, by submitting ourselves to no master but Jesus.

We open our wills to Jesus and let Him make us over into His image, including taking His love as the ultimate good in this life and the next. We cling to the words of John:
In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. (1 John 1:10)
There have been Christians imprisoned for their faith in Christ who were infinitely more free than the jailers who held them and had the freedom to go wherever they wanted. That's because freedom is, in the end, not about getting to do what you want to do, it's about getting to be the person the God of love sets you free to be through Jesus.

I love my country. But I'll take "faith, hope, and love" over "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." That's because in Christ, happiness has already pursued me. So has love. I don't have to go looking for it. I simply let Jesus Christ in. And that, by the by, brings freedom!

What Lutheran Christians Mean When They Say, "I've Accepted Jesus"

This from D.J. Lura's wonderful, What's a Lutheran, Don'tcha Know:
As a Lutheran Christian, it is OK to say you have “accepted” Jesus, but only in the sense that it is a passive acceptance.  Like being shot, you can “accept the fact” that you have been shot, or being caught in a tornado, you can “accept” it as happening to you; so it is when you are captivated by Christ (your old life is over).  You can accept, or receive, or recognize that God has claimed you.  Notice the difference, though.  God is the one working, deciding, choosing; not you.  God wants so desperately to be your God, and be merciful to you, that he finally won’t leave such an important choice up to you.  Instead, he calls, gathers, enlightens, and chooses by the power of the Holy Spirit when he sends you a preacher [a baptized, believing Christian] who announces “You are forgiven on account of Christ.”

The Ministry of the Church (The Augsburg Confession, Part 5)

We’re continuing our sermon series on what it means to be a Lutheran Christian, using what The Augsburg Confession proclaims about Biblical faith as our guide. Today we’re going to look at the Biblical foundations for Article 5 of the Confession. The topic is The Ministry of the Church.

But before we tackle that, I think that we may need to clear up any possible misunderstandings from last week’s discussion of justification.

The doctrine of justification boils down to this: We deserve condemnation, death, and eternal separation from God for our sin. Despite what we deserve though, God came into our world in the person of Jesus, took the punishment for sin we deserve, and then rose from the dead. Today, God offers forgiveness of sin and eternal life with God to all with faith in Jesus Christ as a free gift that we can do nothing to deserve or earn.

Faith in Jesus is foreign to our sinful natures though. So, even the ability to have faith or trust in Him isn’t something we can decide to have. Faith in Jesus Christ is a gift.

So, if even faith is a gift from God, the question arises, “Does that mean everybody will be saved?” If there’s nothing we can do or must do to be saved from sin, death, and hell and if life with God is a gift, does that mean everybody lives with God for eternity?

The short answer is, according to Jesus Himself, "No. Not everybody is saved.” After all, even when a gift is offered, it isn’t always received. That's why Jesus says in Mark 16:16: "The one who believes and is baptized will be saved; but the one who does not believe will be condemned."

In Revelation 3:19-20, the risen and ascended Jesus is speaking to the members of a church of lukewarm believers in Laodicea, a city in Asia Minor, what is now known as Turkey. Jesus is disgusted with them. They’re nice people. But they compartmentalize their lives, keeping God in what they think is “His” place, while keeping Him out of “their” places.

Look at Jesus’ words in Revelation 3:19-20: “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten [In other words, if God loves you and you claim Him as your God, you can expect that He will sometimes discipline you and put your life back on the right track.] Therefore be zealous and repent [Turn away from sin and turn toward God. Now look at what Jesus says next.] Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come into him and dine with him, and he with Me.”

Saving faith in God comes to those who acknowledge Jesus when He knocks. But Jesus does all the work. Faith happens when we hear Jesus calling to us and we say, “I’m here, Lord.”

But that leads to another question: How do the doors of people’s lives come to be open to Jesus? How do people come to saving faith in Christ?

Please turn to Romans 10:9. It says:
...if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved...[slip down to verse 12] For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek [or Gentile, meaning non-Jews], for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him. For ‘whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ [Now, please pay close attention here.] How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?...
The gift of faith in Jesus Christ enters people’s lives through the preaching of God’s Word about Jesus. Preaching about Jesus is how Jesus knocks on our doors so that He can give faith in Him to us.

“Wait a minute,” someone might say, “I learned more about Jesus from my mother or my father or a Sunday School teacher or a friend than I ever did from a pastor in the pulpit.”

If that crossed your mind, notice I didn’t say that the gift of faith in Jesus enters people’s lives through pastors. I said it happened through the preaching of God’s Word about Jesus.

If the only people in Christian congregations preaching God’s Word about Jesus are the pastors, then no Christian congregation is fulfilling the mission Christ has given to it.

The calling of every Christian is mentioned in 1 Peter 2:9. Peter writes: “But you [that’s you, if you’ve received the gift of faith in Jesus] are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, [God’s] own special people, [here comes the purpose statement] that you may proclaim [proclaim: The word in the Greek in which Paul first wrote this passage is kerusso, a word that is also translated as preach] the praises of Him Who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.”

It is the call and ministry of every person who believes in Jesus Christ to preach the gospel, the good news of freedom from death and hell for all who believe in Jesus Christ.

Every believer in Jesus Christ is called to be a preacher because, whether in a chapel or sanctuary, in the waiting room of a hospital ICU, in a funeral home, at a gas station, grocery store, mall, gym locker room, on the job, or on a Facebook page, everyone we encounter every single day needs to hear about Jesus.

People who don’t know Jesus need to have His Word preached to them so that they can receive the gift of faith.

People who do know Jesus need to have His Word preached to them so that their grasp of the gift of faith in Jesus will be made stronger.

If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, you are called to daily ask for the guidance of God’s Holy Spirit on how you can sensitively, lovingly, and persuasively, by both words and deeds, preach the Word about Jesus Christ to all the people you meet.

This is the ministry of the Church.

It is the only ministry of the Church.

As member of Christ’s body, the Church, it’s your ministry too.

We are to preach the Word about Jesus so that others have the chance to open the doors of their lives to Christ and come to faith in Him and so, have eternal life with God.

That’s what Article V of The Augsburg Confession confesses (page 13 of the buff and brown books in the pew racks):
So that we may obtain this faith, the ministry of teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments [Holy Baptism and Holy Communion] was instituted. Through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Spirit is given...He [the Holy Spirit] works faith, when and where it pleases God, in those who hear the good news that God justifies those who believe that they are received into grace for Christ’s sake. This happens not through our own merits, but for Christ’s sake...
(Sharing the Sacraments of Baptism and Communion are “preaching the Word of God,” by the way, because in the water, bread, and wine, God’s words of promise make the Word about Jesus visible to us. In these Sacraments, we can “taste and see the goodness of the Lord.” More on the sacraments another time.)

God creates faith in Christ in people to whom Christians, including sometimes, even pastors, preach the Word about Jesus.

I was excited, but a little discouraged. I was going door-to-door on a fall afternoon in Cincinnati, telling people who would listen that a new Lutheran congregation was coming to their community and asking if they’d like to know more about Jesus Christ or this new church that hadn’t even had its first worship service.

I kept records. In the first month of doing this, I’d already knocked on hundreds of doors and i actually spoke with 1 person for every 60 doors on which I knocked. (None of this was an efficient way to start a congregation, by the way. But it's what I was ordered to do by the Division for Outreach of the ELCA and I dutifully followed my orders.) As I went from place to place, a lot of people I could tell were at home didn’t come to the door when I knocked or rang their bells. Rejection isn’t fun. But I kept going.

I walked up to one house where I thought I had saw a couple a few moments before, the woman putting up orange and black bunting because the Bengals were playing the next day.

I rang the bell. Nothing. No sound. I waited, counting off the ten seconds I would stand there until I trudged off to the next house. One-one-hundred. Two-one-hundred. I got to nine-one-hundred, when the door swung open. A woman of about 40 stood there.

A little startled, I got off to a slow start introducing myself and explaining why I was there. I handed my brochure to her. She looked at it and looked back up at me with piercing blue eyes. Little did I know that this was an appointment made by God.

Linda and her husband Bob had two teenage sons. They had never been involved in a church. But when Linda’s dad died unexpectedly just a few weeks earlier, the words from the Bible read at the funeral and the words about Jesus preached by the pastor had stirred something in her. So too had the words and cards of comfort from Christian friends who talked about the help they got from Christ when facing tough times in their lives. God’s Word about Jesus was being preached to her. She needed Jesus. She needed faith. God sent the church, including at that moment, me, to speak God’s Word about Jesus to her.

I didn’t read Bible verses to Linda. I just invited her to get on a mailing list through which she could learn more about Jesus and this new congregation.

Sometimes it takes people years of hearing God's Word from many different sources for them to really hear the Word about Jesus. It often has to be spoken in many ways by many different people: friends, family members, co-workers, pastors, before faith takes hold.

Most often, I find, people keep the doorways into their souls closed. They won’t let Jesus in. They're too scared of giving up their freedom, too frightened to yield control over their lives to Christ.

But sometimes, the doors swing open, Jesus walks in, faith happens, and a life is changed forever.

That’s what was starting to happen for Linda on that October Saturday in Cincinnati, Ohio. She didn’t work to have saving faith. The Church just did the ministry to which it was called and faith came to her door. And Jesus did all the work!

Tomorrow, you may have an appointment set by God with someone who needs to hear the Word about Jesus. They may not open their lives to Jesus when you invite them to worship, Bible study, a project of service in Jesus’ Name, or tell them how Jesus helps you in your life.

But, if Christians are heeding Jesus’ command to pray for people to preach His Word to those who need to hear it and if all of us in Christ’s Church will be faithful in preaching Jesus’ word, you won’t be the only person God sends to knock on their doors.

Just speak the Word about Jesus in your own way at the times God shows you and leave the results to God. That’s how people come to believe in Jesus.

That’s also the only ministry of the Church.

That’s your ministry.

May we all do it faithfully because sharing Jesus with others, it turns out, is a big part of what it means to truly be a Lutheran Christian. Amen

[This is the sermon prepared to be shared at both the 8:30 and 10:15 AM worship services this morning with the people and guests of Saint Matthew Lutheran Church in Logan, Ohio.]