Saturday, March 09, 2013

"I came to Harvard seeking Veritas. Instead, he found me."

A one-time atheist describes her journey in faith in Christ.

I don't want to gain the whole world...

...and lose my soul.

Here's the original recording, featuring Kirk Franklin:

Open Our Eyes, Lord

How God's Grace Frees Us to Love God's Law

Lutheran Christians, as you may know, love to say that we are saved by God's grace through our faith in Jesus Christ and not by good works. It's a truth that is freeing!

But some take this Biblical truth to mean that God's law, the ten commandments and all the places that amplify and explain them in the Bible, is a bad thing.

But not according to Martin Luther, whose teaching and preaching started the Lutheran movement and the Reformation.

In his newest book, Lutheran Slogans: Use and Abuse, Robert W. Jenson points out Luther began both The Small Catechism and The Large Catechism (the first for laypersons, the second for clergy, with a discussion of the law.

And Luther talked about the commandments in his Large Catechism explanation of the Apostles' Creed, where this statement appears:
The faith...makes us pious and pleasing to God; for through this confession we acquire a desire and affection for all God's commandments.
Says Jenson:
...according to Luther, the reason faith makes us pleasing to God is that it lets us love the law. Faith does not excuse us from the commandments, it makes obeying them a joy, such as is expressed in so many psalms and such as God likes to see in his creatures.
I doubt very much that Luther would be on board with the contempt for God's commands that is in vogue in many contemporary mainline denominations in North America and western Europe.

The denigration of God's moral law, seeing it as irrelevant, inoperative, or even bad, is, so far as I can see, an old false teaching that seems to always be cropping up in Christian circles. The name of this heresy is antinomianism. It argues that because of Christ, Christians are exempt from keeping God's law, even though many of the letters of Paul, the apostle of grace, argues against it.

God's Law, the moral commandments of God, are not the vestiges of a primitive religion, as some smarty pants argue today, but the statement of God's will for all human beings who live on earth until the day of the risen and ascended Jesus' return.

Happily for us, Jesus, perfect God and perfect human, obeyed God's Law perfectly and by His death and resurrection, has erased the Law's power to condemn those who repent and receive the gift of faith in Him.

And when we have faith in Christ, the law, which once only served to hem in our sinful inclinations or to show us, by our inability to obey its commands, how desperately we needed the grace that comes from Christ alone, is transformed for us.

Through Christ, the Law becomes a delight to us, freeing us to spend each day in repentance and renewal through Jesus Christ, as we seek to live according to the Law by which human beings were made by God to truly and fully live!

So, think about that: We are justified by grace through faith in Jesus Christ...because faith in Christ plants a love for God's Law that makes us acceptable to God.

Through faith in Christ, God sets out to sync our hearts, wills, and minds with the heart, will, and mind of God and like the psalmist, we can say: "Happy are those...[whose] delight is in the law of the Lord, and on His law they meditate day and night" (Psalm 1:1-2).

Friday, March 08, 2013

"Hotter Than All the Fifty Shades of the World"

A "holy tension": The wonder and the meaning of God's gift of sexual intimacy to husbands and wives.

Megan Hill writes:
When our marriage bed sinks low, barely visible under crumpled laundry and half-read books, the Evil One [the devil] scores a victory. So we meet the challenge. We persist in writing tender notes, and giving gifts, and making love: strategic maneuvers against the Devil's drift. We hold the marriage bed high, honoring our pleasurable commitments there, to buttress ourselves against marital malady and nothing less serious than its death.
For non-Christians, the ultimate meaning of these symbols is love itself. Love: part emotion, part fantasy, part pleasure. A passionate equivalent to the iTunes Cloud, to which all human love songs and poetry and feelings are collectively entrusted.

For Christians, the symbols mean so much more. This mystery is profound.
In the tenderness, the holy jealousy, the delight, we mean to show Christ and his church. In the oneness, the sacrifice, the nourishing and cherishing, our weak symbols become something greater.
Read the whole thing.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

"Keep Calm and Carry On"

Eric Swensson links to a short, beautiful video about the simple image and words from a World War Two-vintage poster that was never used then, but is having such an impact on people today.

Confused by Seth Godin

Internet guru Seth Godin is a smart guy, I'm told. And I've got no reason to doubt it.

But this post by Godin, The worst feedback is indifference, struck me as funny.

In it, he says that those who generate social media content, like blog posts, shouldn't dread "the cutting remark, the ad hominem attack." "No," he says, "the worst sort of feedback is no feedback at all. That means we've created nothing but banality."

But if feedback is so good, why doesn't Godin's blog allow for comments?

I'm confused.

The Future

Remember The Population Bomb? It was published in 1968 and was not only popular, but accepted as irrefutable truth by many thoughtful people during my college years, 1971-1975. The book's thesis was, as a Wikpedia article on the subject says, that there would be "mass starvation of humans in the 1970s and 1980s due to overpopulation, as well as other major societal upheavals." Because of this impending crisis, the book "advocated immediate action to limit population growth."

But, guess what? The "population explosion" didn't happen. Wednesday's Harvard Business Review Daily Stat delves into why the dire predictions of shortages resulting from overpopulation didn't come about.

MARCH 6, 2013
Whew! How We Dodged the Bullet on Global Starvation

How did the world survive the 20th-century population explosion, which many had expected to lead to mass starvation? Agricultural innovation contributed to a 10% rise in per-capita food production from 1961 to 1980, and greater global trade and a population shift to cities helped the world absorb billions more people, David Lam of the University of Michigan writes in Demography. The population boom was triggered by rapidly falling death rates, but the subsequent global decline in birth rates means that the world's population, now at 7 billion, may soon stabilize and may never reach as high as 12 billion, Lam says.

Source: How the World Survived the Population Bomb: Lessons From 50 Years of Extraordinary Demographic History

Casey Stengel was right: It's difficult to make predictions, especially about the future.

Does that mean that scientists--social as well as physical--should refrain from speculating about the implications about ongoing trends? Or that we should stop paying attention to them?

Of course not!

But I think that we shouldn't ascribe infallibility to pronouncements about the future made by any human being, no matter how well trained, thoughtful, and credible they may be.

As a Christian, I want to make responsible decisions about my life, my actions, and my votes.

So, when I hear what knowledgeable people tell me about the federal debt and its implications for the future or what climatologists say about global warming, to name two examples, I don't stick my head in the sand or go into panic mode. I consider, do what I can, and move on with my life.

This is possible because as a believer in Jesus Christ, I'm assured that I belong to the God Who is in the process of making a new future for His creation. And, because of the grace of God received by all who believe in Jesus, I get to be part of it!

Even with all my sin, faults, and imperfections, God is teaching me to pray with King David:
...I trust in You, O Lord;
I say, "You are my God."
My times are in Your hand...
[Psalm 31:14-15] 

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Baseball's Greatness Captured

Lots of people tell me they don't like baseball because it's "too slow," "not enough action," "boring."

To me, that's all hooey!

I know that it's just a TV commercial, but this new ad from Dick's Sporting Goods, well captures the greatness of baseball. To those who have fallen in love with the game, every single pitch of every game packs all the drama and tension, each pitch calling for the sudden, thunderous action of a basketball overtime or football sudden death.

That's true even when there are no runners on the base paths. It's even true when teams are way behind their opponents in the late innings. You can never tell what might happen in a game in which the defense has possession of the ball!

Baseball is, in my book, the greatest game ever invented. THE. MOST. EXCITING. GAME. And I am so excited that spring training games are already being played!

Tuesday, March 05, 2013


I'm not sure what to make of this research at all. Does it add up to you?

MARCH 5, 2013
To Improve Your Math-Test Score, Write About Your Emotions First

Female research participants who were instructed to write about their current emotions for five minutes subsequently got an average of 15% more math problems right than other women, say Kathleen C. Burns of the University of Wisconsin and Stacy L. Friedman of the University of Massachusetts. The finding is in accord with past research showing that emotional expression has broad positive effects. It's unclear whether simply talking about feelings—as opposed to writing about them—before taking a test could also improve performance, the researchers say.

Source: The benefits of emotional expression for math performance

Monday, March 04, 2013

Sunday, March 03, 2013

Holy Communion (Part 9, The Augsburg Confession)

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

This morning, we continue to consider what it means to be a Lutheran Christian. Our topic today is what we Lutherans believe about Holy Communion. To understand what Lutherans confess about Communion, it helps to consider how we have historically read the Bible.

The entire Lutheran movement is rooted in taking the Bible’s witness about God, including both the Old and New Testaments, seriously. Martin Luther, the Roman Catholic priest and scholar whose work with the Bible led him to discover anew the truth that human beings are saved from inevitable sin and death by God's grace through their faith in Jesus Christ alone and to the Reformation and the Lutheran movement wrote:
No violence is to be done to the words of God, whether by man or angel; but [the Scriptures] are to be retained in their simplest meaning wherever possible, and to be understood in their grammatical and literal sense unless the context plainly forbids it. 
More than one Lutheran pastor and theologian through the centuries has said that Lutheran Christians take the Bible as it comes, seeking to avoid imposing the preferences, prejudices, and prevailing philosophies of their own times on God’s eternal word.

So, for example, when a Lutheran views passages that say, “The mountains skipped like rams,” or “Let the hills sing for joy,” Lutherans don’t believe that mountains skipped or hills sang. Clearly, the Biblical writers in these instances were speaking metaphorically.

And the Bible “comes at us” with many forms of literary expression: history, poetry, song, wise adages, prophecy, and strange apocalyptic literature, to name a few.

There are passages of Scripture that are clear works of fiction, as in Jesus’ parables, stories Jesus made up to make important points. That’s why a Lutheran traveling in the Holy Land would never fall for the advertising of a hotel between Jerusalem and Jericho claiming to the be the inn at which the good Samaritan deposited the wounded man from Jesus’ parable about what it means to love one’s neighbor.

But Lutheran Christians have also historically believed that when the Bible witnesses to events with seriousness and consistency in places that don’t purport to be metaphor or parable, the plain sense of a passage is always to be preferred. This is why Lutheran Christians have historically never shied away from confessing that Jesus was born, miraculously, of a virgin’s womb; that He performed miracles as signs of His being God, with dominion over life and death; that He died on a cross for our sins; that He actually physically rose from the dead; and that faith in this Lord of heaven and earth is, as Jesus insisted repeatedly during His earthly ministry, the only way to forgiveness of sin and eternal life with God.

The documents we Lutherans have always said express our understanding of what it means to be Christians--from the Apostles’ Creed to The Augsburg Confession, from the Small Catechism to the Smalcald Articles--have always insisted that those facts about God and salvation that Scripture insists to be absolutely true are facts and truths we absolutely believe. While today’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has never repudiated this Lutheran understanding of Biblical truth, you will find that many of our pastors, theologians, bishops, and others do repudiate things like things like the virgin birth, the physical resurrection from the dead, and the necessity of faith in Christ for salvation, expressed in conferences, assemblies, official papers, and publications by our own publishing house and no one in the hierarchy of our denomination steps in to say, “No, actually, this is what Lutheran Christians confess.”

All of which leads us to Holy Communion and a simple verb, is.

Please pull out a Bible and turn to Mark 14:22. Three of the gospel writers and Paul write about Jesus’ institution of Holy Communion. And while John doesn't mention the institution of either Baptism or Communion, the two sacraments of the Church, He starts His account of Jesus’ ministry with the miracle of turning water into wine, symbolic of Baptism and and Communion, and describes how, within moments of Jesus’ death, a sword was driven through His side and out came water and blood. So, we can conclude that both sacraments are important. Look at what we’re told by Mark about the night when Jesus instituted Holy Communion: “And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them and said, ‘Take, eat; this is My body.” Then, look at verse 24, where Jesus says, “This is My blood of the new covenant, which is shared for many.”

Our Roman Catholic friends read this passage and, employing the Aristotelian philosophy favored by Saint Thomas Aquinas who was influenced by the Greek philosopher Aristotle, say that in Communion, bread and wine become Jesus’ body and blood and remain so beyond a congregation’s time of worship. This is why the bread is stored in a box called a tabernacle next to the altars of Roman Catholic sanctuaries.

Our Protestant friends say that the bread and the wine represent Christ’s body and blood and that Communion is a time, not to be re-membered to Christ and His Church of every time and place, as we believe, but only to recall what Jesus has done for us, a ceremonial memorial.

Lutherans have historically said, in effect, “It all depends on what your definition of is is.”

We believe that the bread is Christ’s body because Jesus says it is His body.

We believe that the wine is Christ’s blood because Jesus says it is His blood.

We believe that Christ’s body and blood are in, with, and under the bread and the wine of Holy Communion.

We have no way of understanding or explaining it. If we could explain it, we ourselves would be God...and we're not!

We only have Christ’s promise that when His words of promise, what we call the Words of Institution, are said again over the bread and the wine as His people worship, He comes to us again.

Holy Communion is a way that the risen Jesus, now ascended into heaven, can come to us and assure us of the truth of His promise that He is with us always, that He will never leave us nor forsake us.

It’s though Jesus is telling us, “I know that it’s hard to believe in Me or My promises when you can’t see me. But here’s My body. Here’s My blood. Taste and see the goodness of the Lord. See my wounds, touch my body. I am with you.”

Someone has said that Holy Communion is like “the hat on the invisible man.” If a man were invisible, you might not know he was around unless he put on a hat. We can’t see Jesus. But when we invoke His words of promise over bread and wine, He really is with us.

But Holy Communion is more than just an assurance of Christ’s presence with us, wonderful though that is. For those who trust in Christ when He says that He is in the bread and is in the wine, there is also assurance that His forgiveness of our sins--sins which would otherwise send us to eternal separation from God in hell--is ours.

Turn, please, to John 1:29. Early in Jesus’ ministry, John the Baptist catches sight of Jesus and says: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”

Before Jesus came into the world, God’s people would annually sacrifice unblemished lambs on the altar in Jerusalem. The lambs were stand-ins for themselves. The lambs died to take the punishment for sin that every human being deserves. The ancient Hebrews understood that blood had power. It contained the very power for life. Loss of too much blood brings loss of life. Blood is life.

That’s why, after Cain, a son of Adam and Eve, killed his brother Abel, God said that Abel’s blood was crying out to Him.

Many millenia later, when God’s people were slaves in Egypt, God delivered them from slavery through an action that, to this day, Jews celebrate at Passover. They smeared the blood of lambs on the doorposts of their dwellings and while the angel of death brought the deaths of firstborns all across Egypt, the angel passed over the homes of the Jews.

In a sense, as we receive Christ’s blood in Holy Communion, we are covered by the sacrifice of Himself that Christ made when He willingly went to the cross for us. The blood of Jesus cries out for us to say to God the Father, “This man belongs to Me. This woman is one of My own. This child is My child.”

This is why we should never receive the Sacrament flippantly or with anything other than the joy and reverence it deserves. I’m not saying here that you must affect a particular emotion in order to receive the bread and the wine. Fortunately, the power of Holy Communion doesn’t depend on how we’re feeling on any given day. Whether you’re sad or happy has no bearing on Christ’s promises, “This is my body”; “This is my blood.” But the Sacrament must be received with faith, even if that faith is only the size of a mustard seed. We must be willing to trust Christ when He promises that He is with us and that He brings us forgiveness of sin when He comes to us in the Sacrament.

This is what Paul is talking about when he says in 1 Corinthians: “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord. Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves” (1 Corinthians 11:27-29).

Please open the buff and brown edition of The Augsburg Confession and turn to Article 10, "The Lord’s Supper":
Our [Lutheran] churches teach that the body and blood of Christ are truly present and distributed to those who eat the Lord’s Supper...They reject those who teach otherwise. 
Holy Communion is one of the greatest gifts a Christian can receive, which is why the people in the early Church received it every single time they worshiped.

It’s why Martin Luther and the early Lutherans received Holy Communion every single Sunday they worshiped. Luther also offered it every single Wednesday of every week and on other occasions as well.

It was only in America, where there was a shortage of pastors, that every Sunday celebration of Holy Communion fell into disuse.

If a church has a regularly called minister of a Word and Sacrament and Holy Communion isn’t being celebrated every single week, that church is a bit like a motorcycle with one wheel, trying to move along with only one of the blessings God intends to give His people every time they gather to worship Him.

But no matter how often the Sacrament is shared, if those who receive Holy Communion don’t believe in Jesus, believe in the Word of God in the Bible, or believe in Christ’s promises regarding Holy Communion, the elements are only bread and wine.

As Luther says in the Small Catechism, we must believe in Christ’s promise, “Given and shed for you.”

When we do, we are blessed beyond all telling!