Saturday, January 31, 2015

Today is the Day

Today is that day. But one day the door of mercy will close. To those who received and served Christ, He will say, “Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you” (Matt. 25:34). But those who don’t know Him will be turned away (v.46).
Please don't turn from Christ. Go through the open door to embrace the life that only He can give. Please.

In that other big game...

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, is the first choice of possible Iowa Republican caucus-goers, and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is the top choice, by a huge margin, of potential Iowa Democratic caucus-goers. Iowa, of course, holds the first formal presidential contest of the two major parties' presidential nominating processes.

Clinton appears to be a prohibitive favorite there:
Clinton, the former U.S. secretary of state and a fixture in national Democratic politics for more than 20 years, is the first choice for 56 percent of poll respondents. That's 40 points ahead of the next potential contender, liberal populist Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who is the top choice for 16 percent.
Clinton's numbers seem to be scaring off most potential candidates for president in her party.

Things are quite a bit different among Republicans. Lots of candidates are either committed to or looking at the race. So, Republicans in Iowa haven't made any real choices yet. Walker leads the pack with 15%. But then, there's this:
The Wisconsin governor is...the No. 2 most popular choice for likely caucusgoers who want an establishment candidate, and he's the No. 2 for those who want an anti-establishment candidate.
In other words, people don't know Walker very well yet. He's a blank slate on which potential voters are imposing their own versions of Scott Walker. Surely, voters in Iowa, which shares a border with Wisconsin, know something of Walker who, by virtue of his three statewide runs in Wisconsin--in first election campaign, his recall campaign, and his re-election campaign. But some see him as an establishment (i.e., Bush, Romney) Republican, while others see him as an anti-establishment (i.e., Ted Cruz, Rand Paul) Republican.

This means that Walker has a delicate task ahead of him. As he rolls out his campaign, he has to be careful to portray himself as the anti-establishment establishment candidate, or maybe the establishment anti-establishment candidate. That, of course, is impossible and Walker is going to have to just be himself--or a reasonable version of himself--and let the chips fall where they may. To me, he seems a likely viable contender for the nomination, along with Jeb Bush.

Bush, by the way, needs, I think, to hope that one or two others emerge as viable contenders for the Republican nomination besides Walker and himself so that Walker can't position himself as the new and conservative voice over against Bush as the older establishment candidate. Bush's chances are enhanced, at least through the early primaries and caucuses, by a multitude of anti-establishment types like Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Mike Huckabee.

Of course, if Bush fails to win the nomination and the person who garners it has painted their candidacy as distant from Bush's perceived mainstream conservatism, that nominee will have a tough time "re-positioning" in the general election campaign.

In recent history, voters have tended to turn out the party that's been in the White House for eight years. That would suggest that the 2016 race is the Republicans to lose. But, demographics right now give the Democrats an advantage. If they can lock up the coasts and ad a handful of flyover states, they can win routinely, it would seem. These two imperatives will collide in the next election.

Clinton faces her own land mines. As she learned in 2008, being the frontrunner doesn't ensure a candidate of the nomination. She also will be seen by some as a vestige of an unwanted past, even as others see her as a harbinger of a new American future. She will also be assailed for the Benghazi incident during her tenure at the State Department.

Having said all of this, two things:

  • 1. I express no preferences here. If you think that I have, you misunderstand. I've come to believe that pastors shouldn't make political endorsement or get involved with politics. And I'm not doing that here at all. It's just that, against my will, I'm still afflicted with my lifelong interest in the politics of politics. Even when I make my choice about who I vote for in 2016, you won't know it.
  • 2. I wish that presidential campaigns were shorter and that, at least publicly, those in government spent more time governing and less time campaigning. I wrote about that back on January 20, 2007, here. It's worth reading, not so much for what I wrote, but for the interesting conversation that came out of it, either recorded or linked to, there.

Okay, go back to Super Bowl coverage. (Can you tell that I got my sermon finished early today?)

Amazing Benefits of the Family Meal


"Oh come, let's sing Ohio's praise..." (Unabashed Hokiness Alert(

"...And songs to Alma Mater raise"

There's a lot more to The Ohio State University than being champions of college football.

There's the new Brain and Spine Hospital, part of The Ohio State University Medical Center.

And the new John Glenn College of Public Affairs.

And a breakthrough medical technology.

Oh, and by the way, the men's basketball is, as usually happens with a Thad Matta-coached team over the course of a season, improving. They beat two top-25 teams this week and by decisive margins. The victims: #23 Indiana and #16 Maryland. Both wins were decisive.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

"10 Things to Say to a Loved One Who Struggles with Depression"


A few additional thoughts from my experiences as a pastor...

1. Spending time as an active listener, if the depressed loved one wants to talk, is good and can be healing. Just being heard without judgment is helpful. An active listener is an engaged listener who doesn't give advice or make directive comments unless asked for them.

2. If the depressed loved one is willing to pray with you, it can be a very good thing. Don't use your prayer petitions as a means of convincing the loved one of your preferred course for them, but simply reflect what they have shared with you, asking God for help, comfort, and guidance.

Of course, if the loved one doesn't wish to pray with you, you need to respect that desire. But you can pray for them in private and I think that there's probably nothing more important that you can do for them.

Related: How to Help a Grieving Friend

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

If Britain were a U.S. state... would be the second poorest of the nation.

Let that sink in. Britain isn't exactly a Third World country. Even in this era of income disparity, an issue being identified by politicians on both sides of the aisle, the United States is incredibly wealthy by both world and historical standards and most Americans derive some benefit from that wealth. We still have a large, if embattled, middle class.

Spiritually, wealth can be an enormous challenge, often amping up selfishness, diminishing compassion, and contributing to a sense of entitlement.

Biblically, money is not the root of all evil. It's the love of money that's a problem: "...the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs" (1 Timothy 6:10).

I have seen more marriages--and the love and devotion in them--killed by one or both spouses' love of money than by adultery.

I have seen many friendships ruined, many siblings alienated from each other, all because of money.

The call from God is to see our money and our possessions as gifts to be used to God's glory. First Corinthians 4:7 asks, "...what do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?" And Ephesians 4:28 says to the reformed thieves in the first century church in Ephesus: "Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need." This tells us that the function of wealth is to be useful to others, not to be an idol in control of our motives and aspirations. 

Jesus teaches us, in the Lord's Prayer, to ask for "our daily bread." In The Small Catechism, Martin Luther defines the meaning of this prayer petition: "God gives daily bread, even without our prayer, to all wicked men; but we pray in this petition that He would lead us to know it, and to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving." God supplies the world's inhabitants with more than enough of what they need; the problem is that we don't like to share what God supplies.

To have a life with God and a life of significance, we need to hold on loosely to the things of this world and hold on tightly to Jesus Christ. This is one way to live out Jesus' command that we love God and love our neighbor. (HT: Eric Swensson)

Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Powerful Word of God

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

Jonah 3:1-10
Pastor and writer John Maxwell tells about a junior high basketball coach who was smart. If he had a kid who was slow of foot, he named him Speedy. If he had a kid who seemed to lack the confidence to be aggressive on defense, he called him Mr. Hustle. He hung these nicknames on the kids not as putdowns calling attention to their deficiencies, but with a straight face and seeming seriousness. “Did you see how great Mr. Hustle was on defense?” he’d ask the team during practice. 

Guess what happened? When combined with the proper instruction and correction, kids whom the coach called Mr. Hustle really did become hustling defenders and those he named Speedy became among the fastest ones on the team, able to lead the fast break.

Somewhere this coach had learned the power of words. We see this confirmed elsewhere. I read about a study yesterday that said compliments outnumber criticisms by five to one in good marriages.

Our words have power. 

But no one’s word is more powerful than God’s Word! 

Hebrews 4:12 says that “...the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” 

Eugene Peterson paraphrases this same passage in The Message: “[God’s] powerful Word is sharp as a surgeon’s scalpel, cutting through everything, whether doubt or defense, laying us open to listen and obey. Nothing and no one is impervious to God’s Word. We can’t get away from it—no matter what.”

I like this last line because, in fact, we do try to get away from God’s Word. We do it because God doesn’t always say what we want to hear.

And we don’t only try running away from God’s Word only when it warns us against the sins we like to commit—be they gluttony or tax evasion, sexual promiscuity or personal arrogance. We also seem to run away from God’s Word when it forgives and affirms us because we convince ourselves that God couldn’t possibly forgive us.

A woman approached me after worship and told me that, in her mind, whenever she heard the absolution, the assurance of forgiveness for all who confess their sins to God the Father in the Name of Jesus Christ, she thought it applied to everyone but her. She eluded the Word of God for her.

We also run away from God’s Word when it tells us to do things we don’t want to do. Thing like...

Forgive as we’ve been forgiven. 
Lend a hand to someone who doesn’t deserve it. 
Fight for justice and equality for all people, even those with whom we disagree. 
Say a good word for the person nobody likes. 
Tell someone else about the hope we’ve found in Jesus Christ.

And on that last point, I know that more often than I care to remember, I have been hesitant about sharing Christ with others. I've been a lot like Jonah in our first lesson for today.

There have been many times when God’s Word has come to me as it did to Jonah, clear as a bell, whether while I’ve been reading the Bible at home, or hearing it in worship, or an insight from another person in a Bible study. But do I heed it and do what God tells me to do? Not always. And so, I try to block God access to my heart. I try to elude God's Word. 

This was exactly what Jonah did. The Old Testament book of Jonah describes events in Israel and elsewhere in the 8th. century BC. A nation that neighbored Israel, Assyria, was less than neighborly. It was, in fact, Israel’s greatest enemy, murderous and warlike. Assyria’s capital city was a place called Nineveh. Ancient Nineveh set on the same ground as a modern city you may have heard about: Mosul, Iraq.

Please open your Bible to Jonah 1:1-2 (page 645 in the sanctuary Bibles). We’re told: “The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.’” Jonah was not keen on this idea.

In fairness to Jonah, whose reaction to this call, his hatred for the Ninevites, and his surliness toward God throughout the four-chapter book that bears his name have given him a bad press through the centuries, if God told you to go to Mosul, a city where today the murder and intimidation of Christians has been so horrible and pervasive, would you go? 

Or would you, as Jonah did the first time God’s Word came to him, run in the opposite direction and book yourself on a Mediterranean cruise? 

But God’s Word is relentless and powerful! 

God was emphatic that Jonah needed to do what God’s Word had told him to do. 

Once the ship on which Jonah boarded was at sea, the God Who can control the wind and waves, sent a storm. Jonah convinced his shipmates that he was the cause of this life-threatening storm and that they needed to toss him into the drink so that God would bring calm seas. The second they did that, there was a dead calm. The storm had stopped and you might think that that was the end of Jonah, now experiencing the death penalty for his rebellion against God.

But, of course, God initiated a unique bailout plan for Jonah. There’s a lesson in this for you and me: God gives second chances and new starts even to people who don’t seek them

No matter how far you feel you’ve wandered from God, God wants to speak His Word of reconciliation, peace, purpose, and forgiveness to you. God wants you to have second chances. 

That’s exactly what happened to Jonah at the beginning of today’s lesson: “Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time: 'Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.’” 

Jonah still didn’t want to do what God’s Word told him to do. But when given this second chance, Jonah obeys God. Our faith is often measured not in our willingness to do what God asks of us, but in our obedience to do what God asks of us even when our wills cry out to follow completely different paths. 

So Jonah goes to Nineveh. There, he does the absolute minimum that God tells him to do. He only walks a third of the way into the city and delivers what is in the original Hebrew a five-word sermon. Here it is: "Forty days more Nineveh overthrown." That’s it.

If you had been a Ninevite and heard that sermon, how would you have reacted? 

Would you have laughed it off? 

Would you have gotten angry? 

Would you have ignored this strange foreigner covered with the stomach juices of the great fish that had swallowed and spit him out? 

I can imagine reacting in any of these ways.

During my first two quarters as a student at Ohio State, I commuted by bus, getting a transfer in downtown Columbus. There, most days, I saw and heard a guy who was well-known. He walked around the downtown area pushing a stroller filled with rolls of toilet paper. Attached to the stroller were posters with illegible scrawl. This man would go around telling people to repent for their sins and then, occasionally, he would crow like a rooster. Clearly, there was something wrong with the man. The Ninevites might have been expected to react to Jonah in similar ways.

But their reaction was more akin to that of a businessman in the Loop in Chicago one day. There, man was in the habit of pacing quietly back and forth among the throngs of people, then stopping, pointing to a single individual, and saying, "Guilty." The businessman was once the target of this performance, turned to a friend with whom he was walking, and asked, "But how did he know?"

When Jonah proclaimed Nineveh guilty, the whole city repented.

They turned from sin and turned to the God none of them had ever worshiped before. On hearing Jonah, the Ninevite king told his people in Jonah 3:8-9: “Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.” 

Jonah 3:10 then tells us: “When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened.”

Nineveh was spared. Its people--at least the people living there in the eighth century BC--turned from sin and turned to God. God forgave them and they lived, reconciled to God.

What about that paltry sermon of Jonah’s changed the lives of all those Ninevites? 

It’s fairly simple and truly amazing, really: Jonah’s words weren’t just Jonah’s words; they were also the Word of GodThe Word of God is powerful.

Think of it:

God spoke His Word and the world and everything in it came into being. 
God’s Word, the second Person of the Trinity--Father, Son, and Holy Spirit--came into our world and came into your life in Jesus Christ to die and rise in order to set free from sin and death all who repent and believe in Word of good news about Him.
God’s Word comes to us today in the Bible, in the water of Holy Baptism, in the bread and wine of Holy Communion, in the fellowship of believers, in our confession of faith, and even in sermons, paltry and otherwise.

God’s Word is powerful! It comes to us and, usually incrementally, imperceptibly, changes us from the inside out.

God underscores this in Isaiah 55:11, when He says: “It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” 

God has unleashed His Word on the world so that all people will have the chance to repent--to turn from sin--and believe in Jesus Christ, the Savior. It has even, in the words of John Newton in Amazing Grace, “saved a wretch like me.” 

God wants His Word to come to and penetrate all the Ninevehs of the world, even the Ninevehs that reside in our own hearts, minds, and wills.

And God’s Word comes to you again today: to tell you whether to confront you for your sin, to confirm you in His forgiveness, or to send you like Jonah to your own Ninevehs at work or home or school, to believe God’s Word, trust it, and do what it tells you to do because God’s Word is still powerful, even today, even for you. 

By the power of the Holy Spirit, the Word of God convicts us of sin. 

It convinces us that Jesus died and rose for us and that His grace is for us. 

It guides us in living lives that honor God. 

May we hear it and heed it always. Amen