Friday, January 02, 2015

New Year's Thoughts: For Anyone Who Does Wrong (Including Me)

From today's edition of Our Daily Bread:
God is still calling to people: “Where are you?” Many run away, trying to hide from Him or drown out the sound of His voice. Yet we cannot hide from God; He knows exactly where we are. Rather than hide in fear, we can respond in this way: “God, be merciful to me a sinner!” (Luke 18:13).
Read the whole thing.

I have a song containing these lines:
What I did was wrong
And there isn't any way I can make it seem that it was right
Which is why I try avoiding detection in Your light
It's a foolish game that I try to play
Running from You, when You see me anyway
What I did was wrong (1)
Thank God that the One Who sees all our wrong is willing to pardon us from the death sentence our wrong warrants us and takes the sentence on His own shoulders through Christ, setting free all who repent in Christ's Name and believe in Him as their God and Savior.

(1) © Mark Daniels [pretty impressive, huh?...I mean the copyright symbol, not the words of the song.]

Mario Cuomo

Mario Cuomo died yesterday. Younger people will wonder what the big deal is about the death of the father of a CNN morning show host and a current governor of New York. But for a time, Cuomo, the son of Italian immigrants, occupied a big space in American political life, the presidency evidently waiting for him to claim. Outside of New York, he occupied people's imaginations and interest largely by the force of his eloquence and his intellect.

The political classes, at some level, came to dismiss Cuomo for taking what they thought was too much time to consider whether he would or should run for President. And then, worse in their eyes, deciding not to run.

At least some of this reaction, but not all, has, I think, more to do with the political class than with Cuomo. Driven by ambition themselves, they found it incomprehensible that the governor of one of the country's most populous states with an incredible gift for connecting with people, wouldn't, of course, go for the presidency.

Did Cuomo derive some narcissistic pleasure from sucking the oxygen out of presidential politics while he played Hamlet? Who can say?

But, irrespective of one's politics, Cuomo was exceptional in our hyper mediated culture, one in which political rhetoric aims for the faux intimacy of smarmy infomercial marketers instead of engaging discussions of the actual issues.

Cuomo was an eloquent orator with no hint of grandiosity or cant, a unique, compelling, reasoned voice, and one of the best, most compelling, practical, yet inspiring political orators of the past fifty years.

May God comfort his family.



Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Edward Herrmann Has Died

Edward Herrmann, one of my favorite actors, has died at age 71, from brain cancer.

He played FDR in Eleanor and Franklin, later voicing Roosevelt in the Ken Burns documentary on Theodore, Franklin, and Eleanor, televised earlier this year.

And he was wonderful in The Gilmore Girls. Herrmann was also in The Paper Chase.

Loved his voice; it lent both vitality and heft to History Channel documentaries on both the American Revolution and the US presidents.

Because Herrmann was in it, I actually went to a theater in 1979 to see him a forgettable Walt Disney studio production called The North Avenue Irregulars. (This was one of those films produced after Walt's death and before Michael Eisner revitalized the Disney brand. You get the idea.) Nonetheless, even in this movie, Herrmann turned in a creditable performance as a young Presbyterian pastor.



New Year's 2015 Prayer

The greatest challenge to our faith in Christ comes when we struggle to do the will of God even when it's the last thing we want to do.

Christ give His people the power to meet that challenge in 2015...including this powerless lump of self will and confusion whose only hope is Christ the Lord.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Amazing Archaeological Find Underground in Cappadocia



Jewish pilgrims from Cappadocia, visiting Jerusalem, are mentioned in the account in the book of Acts of the first Pentecost after Jesus' ascension. (Acts 2:9).

One wonders if the churches found in this enormous city were where the spiritual descendants of those first-century Pentecost converts, worshiped.

History often overlooks how important Turkey was as a center of evangelism and development for the early Church. Finds like this only serve to further confirm that.

Does Science Point to the Existence of God?

Carl Sagan, the entertaining popularizer of science and creator of the original Cosmos television series, once said that there were two conditions for the existence of life forms and with that proclamation, confidently predicted that we would eventually find more life in the universe. We might do just that.

But it turns out that Sagan was off wildly about the numbers of conditions needed for life. The two conditions he posited were:
...the right kind of star, and a planet the right distance from that star. Given the roughly octillion—1 followed by 27 zeros—planets in the universe, there should have been about septillion—1 followed by 24 zeros—planets capable of supporting life.
After decades of probing by science and the space program, it now appears that there are more than 200 factors identified as necessary for life to exist and, as a result, a shrinking number of candidates on which such conditions might exist.

But, Eric Metaxis says in article in The Wall Street Journal, there are even more mind-blowing results and implications from years of scientific inquiry:
The fine-tuning necessary for life to exist on a planet is nothing compared with the fine-tuning required for the universe to exist at all. For example, astrophysicists now know that the values of the four fundamental forces—gravity, the electromagnetic force, and the “strong” and “weak” nuclear forces—were determined less than one millionth of a second after the big bang. Alter any one value and the universe could not exist. For instance, if the ratio between the nuclear strong force and the electromagnetic force had been off by the tiniest fraction of the tiniest fraction—by even one part in 100,000,000,000,000,000—then no stars could have ever formed at all. Feel free to gulp.  
Multiply that single parameter by all the other necessary conditions, and the odds against the universe existing are so heart-stoppingly astronomical that the notion that it all “just happened” defies common sense. It would be like tossing a coin and having it come up heads 10 quintillion times in a row.
Science seems to be suggesting that the universe didn't just happen from some underived vacuum.

Read the whole thing.


7 Deadly Things

These seven things, which The Week has identified from scientific research reported in 2014, will either kill us or make us sick:

  • Too much sugar
  • Artificial sweeteners
  • Smoking pot
  • Being a pop star
  • Playing football
  • Having too little Vitamin D
  • Being in an unhappy marriage

No surprises here, I suppose.

Read the whole thing. (It's short.)

Sheep Need to Surrender to the Shepherd

Of Psalm 23, probably the most beloved of all the psalms: "The blessings and comfort of this psalm do not come to sheep that do not follow the Shepherd. As Jesus reminds us, 'My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me' (John 10:27)."

Monday, December 29, 2014

Very True

“Every Christian is either a missionary or an impostor.” (Charles Spurgeon)

"There. I said it."

Part of my reaction to a photo of Ohio Stadium taken from a friend's drone and posted on Facebook by fellow grad of Columbus West High School.

My exact response: "I want a drone. There. I said it."

I think it would be ├╝ber cool to own one and put a GoPro camera onboard. No, not to engage in surveillance, but to get great shots of things like Ohio Stadium.

Another classmate, of the female variety, responded to my admission, "Boys and their toys."

This boy would love to own that toy.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

"Fraternization"



WBNS TV sports anchor Dom Tiberi makes a great point.

When bowl season comes around, I always root for all the Big Ten teams. As a fan, I'm loyal to the conference in which my alma mater plays. That's an unnecessary thing for an alum and a fan, I know.

But no Big Ten coach should ever help a bowl opponent of one of the conference schools to prepare for games.

It's not good for the conference as a whole or for the recruiting efforts of individual schools for any of our teams to lose post-season bowl games.

And the stakes are even higher when one member of the conference is in the running for the national championship.

A win by Ohio State over Alabama (an admittedly tall order) will only make teams like Indiana, Michigan, and Penn State, Big Ten teams with whom the Buckeyes struggled perhaps more than they should have this season, look better.

A win will add a gleam to the conference and enhance the entire conference's ability to convince the best players in the country to put Big Ten schools at the tops of their lists.

If Big Ten coaches actually gave Alabama advice on how to beat the Buckeyes, it speaks ill of those coaches. But beyond that, it makes them seem less than smart, failing to see how in the bowl season, conference competitors need to stick together. Maybe there should be a conference policy on such "fraternization."

On the other hand, given the "success" of Big Ten coaches against Ohio State this past season, maybe Buckeye fans should encourage the coaches to keep dishing.


Saved

[This was shared during worship services with the people and guests of Living Water Lutheran Church in Springboro, Ohio, earlier today.]

Galatians 4:4-7
This morning, I want to ask you to do a thought experiment. 

This is a stretch: But, let’s pretend that you’re an average, normal Lutheran walking through a crowded mall. You’re minding your own business, not bothering anybody else--because, after all, you are an average, normal Lutheran--when a young man walks up to you and with urgency in his voice, asks, “Are you saved?” 

By now, you are practiced at fending off such unwanted discussions with strangers. So, you say, softly, so that nobody else can hear (because, after all, you are an average, normal Lutheran), “Why, yes, I am saved.” The young man, pleased with your answer, scans the mall for the next person to speak to.


I mean no disrespect either for the interviewer or the interviewee in this little vignette. The young man is right to want to share his faith in Christ with others. Jesus has commanded—and not just suggested that—all Christians make disciples. 

On the other hand, the average, normal Lutheran is right to feel that making disciples ought to happen more in the course of conversations between two willing participants than in a flash of religious verbiage among strangers.


After the encounter, our average, normal Lutheran finds a bench to wait for his wife while she hits the After-Christmas Sale at Bath and Body Works. But he can’t help thinking about the young man’s question: “Are you saved?” “Am I saved?” he asks himself. 

And that’s a good question for me to pose to you this morning, one average, normal Lutheran to another: “Are you saved?”


For our answer, we’ll be looking at today’s second lesson, Galatians 4:4-7. 

Before digging into it though, we should be honest and note that both Jesus and the Bible teach that there are people who will not be saved and that there are things--like sin and death, over which we have no personal power, from which we all need to be saved

According to Jesus, for example, there are people—maybe people you and I know—who will go to hell. In one of Jesus’ parables, Jesus tells about a wedding banquet filled with people who gain entry into the celebration by wearing special wedding robes issued by a king. One man crashes the party without such a robe. The king has him thrown out, Jesus says, into the “outer darkness, where there [is] weeping and gnashing of teeth.” 

The point of Jesus’ story is clear: Those who seek to gain entrance into eternity with God while remaining naked in their sins, unclothed by the forgiveness that belongs only to those who repent for sin and believe in Christ, will ticket themselves for separation from God, for hell. 

Hell is real. 

But life with God is also real

And because both heaven and hell are real, this business of salvation has life-and-death importance for every single human being!


Now, please turn to our second lesson for today, Galatians 4:4-7. It’s on page 812 in the sanctuary Bibles. 

The church in Galatia, to which this letter was written, was started by the apostle Paul, the writer of this letter, in about 49AD. Galatia was a prosperous region in what is today Turkey. The church’s members were Gentiles, non-Jews. They had received the good news of new life for all who believe in Jesus Christ through Paul’s ministry. 

But since Paul had left them, a group of people known as Judaizers had come along to confuse them about their faith. They told the Galatians that it wasn’t enough to believe in Jesus. If they really wanted salvation, the Judaizers said, they also had to submit to Old Testament ritual law, which had been rendered unnecessary by Christ's crucifixion. The men had to be circumcised. Everybody had to conform to Jewish dietary laws. They needed to make sacrifices for their sins, as though the sacrifice of the "Lamb of God, Who takes away the sin of the world" was insufficient. All of these things and more, they claimed, were conditions for salvation.


Some people in the Galatian church bought into all this nonsense. They allowed themselves to turn what God had given as a free gift—new and everlasting life for all who believe in Jesus Christ—into a legal transaction. 

Others, intimidated by the Judaizers in the way our average, normal Lutheran was in his encounter with the young man at the mall, were rocked back on their heels and wondered, “Am I saved?” 

Paul responds to this question and to the decision of some to turn their backs on power of Christ’s free gifts of forgiveness and life for all who turn from sin and believe in Him alone. “You foolish Galatians!” Paul says in Galatians 3:1. “Who has bewitched you?” How could you have forgotten, Paul is asking, that you’re not saved by your good deeds or your standup characters or by conforming to religious law, but solely by grace through faith in Christ?


Now, please look at our second lesson. Paul talks about the coming of the Son at Christmas in verses 4 and 5: “…when the set time had fully come [when the time was right according to God’s timetable], God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem [to redeem means to buy out slavery] those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.” When God decided that the time was right, He sent His Son. But, as we remember at Christmas, Jesus didn’t come in the full majesty of His deity. Nor did He arrive with the paraphernalia of the worldly kings. He came as a man to share our lives, our deaths, and our condemnation for sin. That’s what it means to say that He was "born under the law," the very law that condemns us to death for our sin. So completely did Jesus share the condemnation for our sins that First Peter 3:19 tells us that Jesus, after His death, even experienced life in hell, where “He made a proclamation to the imprisoned spirits.” Jesus did all this so that those who believe in Him share in His resurrection victory and never need to ask themselves, “Am I saved?”


To be "saved" is to be adopted as God’s children. This is an important point! Jesus once told some of His fellow Jews that God was no longer their father. Genealogical descent from a man named Abraham did not make them children of God. “You belong to your father, the devil,” He said in John 8:44. 

We can only be adopted as God’s children when we believe in Jesus Christ and in what only He has accomplished for us through His cross and empty tomb. We are saved by the blood of Jesus, our Savior! We are adopted into the family of God as a gift of God to all with faith in Christ.


Verse 6 says: Because you are his sons [his daughtersm his children], God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father.’ You know that you’re a child of God, that you’ve been saved, when you’re able to call God, “Abba!” 

“Abba” is the term Jesus used for “our Father in heaven” when He taught us the Lord’s Prayer. In Jesus’ everyday language of Aramaic, “Abba” was the term that little children used for their fathers, a term that connoted all the trust a child has in her or his daddy. When you trustingly and submissively pray to your Father in heaven, your own spirit is confirming that God’s Holy Spirit lives within you and that you are a child of God through faith in Christ.


Don’t let anyone ever make you feel like a second-class Christian because you don’t have the same spiritual gifts or the same spiritual experiences that they claim to have! If you humbly pray to God, your Father, you have the Holy Spirit. You are saved. And He will bring You comfort, hope, guidance, and the assurance of God’s love for you, no matter what happens in your life.


Paul underscores this in verse 7 of our lesson: So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir. In another place in the New Testament, Romans 10:9, Paul writes: “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”


Both of these passages are crystal clear: If you believe in the Jesus revealed in life and on the pages of Scripture—who was born of a virgin, suffered death on the cross for our sins, raised from the dead by God the Father, who offers new life to all who turn from their sins and believe in Him—you can rest assured that you have been saved. You are a child of God!


Now folks, that’s such an incredible thing that, while we may not like the method of the young man in the mall of our little scenario, we should be able to understand why he wants to share the good news of salvation for all who believe in Jesus with others, don't you think? Yesterday on Facebook, a colleague from the NALC posted a quote from C.H. Spurgeon: "A Christian who is not a missionary is an impostor."


Confident that we have been saved through Christ, may 2015 be a year in which we average, normal Lutherans join the apostles Peter and John, who, when facing persecution told those who threatened them with punishment if they ever again spoke in the Name of Jesus, “we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard” [Acts 4:20] in Jesus, the One Whose Name is above all names [Philippians 2:9], the One Who has saved us.

If you believe in Jesus Christ, you are saved. That's good news. It should comfort and empower our living. And it is worth sharing. Amen!