Saturday, May 09, 2015

Saturday This and That

Things that caught my eye this past week...

People are ticked off at Manny Pacquiao...
...They think they were ripped off because he boxed with a severely injured rotator cuff. And the Nevada Boxing Commission isn't too happy with him either. But I think the promoters are gleefully counting their take.

If you like Chipotle's guacamole...
...the restaurant chain has made your dreams come true, revealing their "secret" recipe this past week.

The secret recipe for getting "millennials" in church?...
...Be the church.

In recent presidential election cycles, less experience...
...has led to victory in November.

If you're passing through Dayton in the next month...
...there's still time to see the Dayton Art Institute's interesting show, on loan from the Reading museum, of American Impressionism works. Saw it a few months ago and it's worth the price of admission.

Friday, May 08, 2015

Grief, Remembrance, and Reassurance

[This week, I was part of services for two veterans of World War 2. This is the message for one of them.]

Job 19:23-27
Romans 8:31-39
John 11:21-27
Matthew 7:9-14

This is a day for Doug's family to remember and be reassured.

The things to be remembered, from what little I know of him, are many. In fact, it struck me as his son Don was telling me about his dad the other day, that if a person wanted to produce a mini-series about the twentieth century and beyond, Doug’s life might be one prism through which you could tell it. From serving during World War 2 in the Medical Corps and earning three Silver Stars for service at Guam, Leyte, and the Philippines, to toiling away in a locked room for Sheffield Measurements on brackets for one of NASA’s lunar landers, not to mention living through the Great Depression, he, along with his wife, have had memorable years.

But, of course, the object of life isn’t simply to endure it or go through it, as though life were a mere succession of unrelated events.

We’re to live in loving, respectful relationship with God and with others.

Don tells me that on his eighteenth birthday, he asked his father, “Now that I’m an adult, what’s the best advice you can give me for my life?” His father thought for a while and said, “Do unto others as you have them do unto you.”

And for a son to say of his father, “He practiced that” and that “I never heard him say a bad word about anyone,” reflects lots of good memories for family and friends to remember and cherish.

But, whenever we bury loved ones, whatever their age, whether we realize it or not, we need more than good memories, however blessed we may feel by those memories. We also need reassurance.

Illness, physical deterioration, and death are all part of this life. They are all part of our common inheritance from our first parents, Adam and Eve.

Like King David in Psalm 51, we can say, “I was born in sin.”

This is no small thing because as Romans 6:23 reminds us, “The wages of sin is death.”

Even those who live lives of repentance and faith in Christ will die. That’s just part of human life in this world.

Where do we go for reassurance that this life need not simply be a succession of futile events ending in death?

This isn’t a new question. Psalm 121 begins with it: “Where does my help come from?”

And then it says: “My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.”

The God Who created the universe and Who has revealed Himself definitively in the person of Jesus Christ stands ready to bring us His help, His love, His forgiveness, and also His reassurance that when we trust in Jesus Christ as our God and Savior, all is well and all will be well, though we and our world may endure constant turmoil.

The believer in Jesus Christ, Who daily turns in surrendering faith to the God we know in the crucified and risen Jesus, can’t understand everything about God or life or death.

But the believer lives in the assurance that the apostle Paul articulated in Romans 8: “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” And then: “I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

For the unbeliever, frailty, illness, and ultimately, death, the wages of sin, have the final say over a life.

But for those who seek and follow Jesus day by day, who endure in faith, death is the point at which our fellowship with Christ enters its fullest, perfect, eternal phase. Death becomes a beginning with God and the fellowship of believers that never ends.

Though we grieve the loss of loved ones on this earth, and it would be unnatural not to, we live in the incomparable reassurance that the God Who refuses to be separated from those who turn to Him in faith, will welcome us to our true home when we pass from this life.

Now, I don’t know if people will use rasp files* in eternity. But I am certain that we will all have our work there. The work we do won’t be toilsome or painful, but meaningful and joyous. Our bodies will be restored and whole and we will live as God intended for human beings to live when He first breathed His Spirit into the lifeless dust that became Adam.

Today and in the days to come, as you grieve you loss, take joy from your memories.

And be reassured by the promise of our Lord Jesus: “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.”

God bless you.

*The favorite tool of Doug, a precision machinist, was the rasp file.

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

The Anniversary of Babe's First Home Run

Today, May 6, marks the one-hundredth anniversary of Babe Ruth's first home run. He would go on to hit more than 700 in his career, a mark that was later supplanted by the great Hank Aaron.

When Ruth socked his first homer, he was a tremendous pitcher for the Boston Red Sox. He hit the home run against the team for which he would play, mostly in the outfield, for fifteen years, the New York Yankees.

If Ruth were alive and in playing form today, he would undoubtedly be the game's best. He hit for power and for average and was, according to many, a sleek cat in his early years. And the only PEDs the Babe ever used were hot dogs.

Many feel, and I agree, that Ruth was the greatest player ever. Following him in second, I think, is Willy Mays, whose 84th. birthday happens to fall on May 6.

Article Shreds "Christian" Arguments for Same Sex Marriage

I'm not a Pentecostal Christian, which the editors and authors of Charisma magazine obviously are.

I also have zero objection to some legal means by which same sex partners can covenant contractually. After all, the state's interests in domestic partnership arrangements have nothing to do with God and are therefore different from the interests of God and Church. The state dispenses licenses for marriage for the purposes of stemming the spread of disease, providing for the custodianship of children in case of relational breakup, and providing for the common acquisition and disbursement of property between consenting adults.

But, from a Biblical standpoint, anything other than a covenant involving God, a man, and a woman is not marriage. Only resorting to legalistic proof texting or total dismissal of the witness of Scripture (including that of Jesus, Moses, and Paul) will yield a different conclusion. This article from Charisma magazine, triggered by the kerfluffle caused by the incoherent and shallow Twitter ruminations of the lead singer of the Christian band Jars of Clay demonstrate this very well. I don't agree with every particular in the piece, but it's good. Following the footnotes is also a good idea.

God loves all people, no matter what their "orientation." God calls all people to repentance and new life through Christ.

Cliff Clavin Could Tell You

Wondering who will get elected president in 2016? Back in 1983, Cheers mailman gave his formula for determining the names of future chief executives.

Taking Time for Others (How to Be the Church, Part 4)

[This was shared during worship with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church in Springboro, Ohio this past Sunday morning.]

Acts 8:26-40

Many of you already know about what happened on our flight with Southwest Airlines coming back from San Antonio by way of Baltimore a few weeks ago. I found myself sitting down between two women, one in her forties and the other in her thirties. Both appeared lost in their own thoughts and I was glad that I had my Bible and Ellis Peters mystery novel to read during the flight. “Nearly three hours of uninterrupted reading time,” I thought to myself.

God had other ideas.

Nearly three hours later, Danielle and Sara (who turned out to be believers) and I had each been inspired and spiritually enriched by our time together.

We talked about our families and our friends. We talked about the lessons the Lord had taught and was teaching us in life.

I gave each of them the blue wristbands I wear in honor of Sarah, the young woman from my former parish, who loved blue butterflies and was inspired by Psalm 46:10: “Be still, and know that I am God.”

At the end of the flight, each of us commented, “God arranged for this meeting.”

Now, I’m asking God would leave me open to such divine appointments every day.

I’m praying too, that God will orchestrate those kinds of encounters with non-believers so that, whether it’s waiting in the deli line at Kroger or eating at Chipotle, people who need the Savior Jesus as much as I do will be nudged by the Holy Spirit to life-giving faith in Christ through my openness to them.

It can happen. It's simply a matter of not being so wedded to our agendas that we fail to take time for fulfilling our mission as followers of Jesus.

Listen: No one ever had a more serious agenda than Jesus. He was conscious of what He needed to accomplish always. Luke 9:51 says that Jesus had His face set for Jerusalem. Nothing would deter Jesus from going to the cross where He would die for the sins of the entire human race, including yours and mine, then rise from the dead so that believers who turn from sin and surrender to Him can have new and everlasting life with God.

But even with that serious agenda, Jesus was always willing to be interrupted, willing to take the time to share the good news--the gospel--with those in need. If Jesus could take that time for people while He walked on the earth, surely neither I nor my agenda can give way sometimes too. I’m asking God to help me be more like Jesus in this way.

In these Sundays of Easter, we’re talking about how to be the Church. The Church is made up of disciples, followers of Jesus.

Last week, we talked about some of what it means to be a disciple.

Today, we explore the topic further through an incident recounted in the New Testament book of Acts.

Acts tells the story of the early Church, from the risen Jesus’ ascension to heaven until about thirty years later. (So until about 60 AD.) Our lesson is Acts 8:26-40.

The first seven chapters of Acts basically tell us about the Church in Jerusalem as the first believers in Christ told their fellow Jews about Jesus’ death and resurrection and the life available to anyone who believes in Him.

But the events recorded in Acts, chapter 7, usher in a new era in Church history. Stephen, a believer in Christ, is stoned to death for his faith and a general persecution against the Church causes many believers to leave Jerusalem.

This is yet another example of that principle of Biblical faith, first enunciated clearly by Joseph in Genesis 50, that what the world means for evil, God often means for good. That's because when the believers in Christ went to other lands, they didn’t keep their mouths shut or lay low. They told others about Christ so that still more could become believing disciples in Christ’s Church.

No one appears to have been bolder or more dedicated in telling others about Jesus than a layperson named Philip. Early in Acts, chapter 8, we read about Philip sharing Christ with Samaritans, people who Philip, as a Judean, would have been taught to hate from the time he was a baby. But Philip believed that Christ died and rose for Samaritans too, that Christ can transform the life of any person willing to surrender to Christ.

And, Acts 8 tells us that, when the remnant Church in Jerusalem learned that God was anointing Samaritans who believed in Jesus with the Holy Spirit, they decided that Philip was right in preaching to them.

Which brings us finally, to our lesson, Acts 8:26-40. Verse 26: “Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, ‘Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.’ So he started out…”

In John 10:14, Jesus says, “I know my sheep and my sheep know me.” Philip knew that the angel’s message was from God, because through God’s Word, He knew God. So, Philip took off for where God wanted him to go. Like Philip, disciples are responsive to the Holy Spirit, the Author of God’s Word.

Verse 27: “...and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of the Kandake (which means 'queen of the Ethiopians'). This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the Book of Isaiah the prophet.”

Several things to notice here: First, what the New Testament calls Ethiopia, we call Sudan.

Second, a eunuch is a man who has been emasculated and put into the service of his nation’s royalty.

Third, this eunuch was a powerful man. We might call him his nation’s finance minister.

Fourth, the Ethiopian eunuch had gone to worship in Jerusalem. He was what Jews of that time called “God-fearers.” They weren’t Jews, but they believed in the God of the Jews, even if they weren’t yet incorporated into the Jewish faith.

Fifth and finally, everyone read out loud in those days. So, as we will see, Philip knew the man was reading from Isaiah 52 and 53, which talks about how God would, hundreds of years after the words were written, send a suffering servant who would take the punishment of others and redeem them, save them.

Verse 29: “The Spirit told Philip, ‘Go to that chariot and stay near it.’ Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ Philip asked. ‘How can I,’ he said, ‘unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.’”

When disciples encounter unbelievers who appear interested in Christ, they don’t beat them over the head. They seek and they earn the permission to share Christ with them.

If Philip had just started preaching at the eunuch, he would have gotten nowhere. We must earn permission to share Christ with others not by scoring debating points, but by making ourselves lovingly available to helping others know our God, King, and Savior Jesus.

You’ve heard me mention before Peter’s words for us, 1 Peter 3:15-16: “...Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.”

Now, back to our lesson, verse 32. “This is the passage of Scripture the eunuch was reading: “He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth. In his humiliation he was deprived of justice. Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth.” The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus. As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?” And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him.”

Philip was a layperson and he baptized the eunuch!

I know that will make some Lutherans feel uncomfortable.

Philip didn’t go to the church council. He didn’t get an apostle. There were no church councils and no apostles around.

It is true that 1 Corinthians 14:40 says that in the life of the Church “everything should be done in a fitting and orderly.” Under ordinary circumstances, maybe for good order’s sake, a person who had been properly called by the power of the Holy Spirit to the ministry of Word and Sacrament should have baptized by the eunuch. But that wasn’t possible at that moment.

And besides, in the great commission, Jesus commands all Christians to make disciples, baptize, and teach. Listen: Disciples go with the flow of the Holy Spirit. They’re not Lone Rangers, but when the Holy Spirit gives the green light to fulfill the great commission, they go. That’s what Philip did.

And what happened? Verses 39-40: “When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing. Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and traveled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea.”

Philip didn’t hang around for a victory lap. God didn’t let him. Philip had done what he was called to do and now it was on to the next place God wanted him to be.

Disciples rejoice in what God does through them and give God all the credit. Disciples know always that it’s the Holy Spirit, not them, who accomplishes the purposes of God, even when the Spirit chooses to do what He does through them. Then disciples move on, knowing that God has more He wants to do through them. 

This is one of my favorite passages of Scripture. I love the simple and amazing picture of what God accomplishes through disciples that it paints. Through it, we know that...

  • disciples know the Word and are responsive to the Holy Spirit; 
  • disciples respectfully seek permission to share the good news of Jesus with their unbelieving friends; 
  • disciples go with the flow of the Holy Spirit, so that when the Spirit flashes green lights, they go; and 
  • disciples rejoice in what the Holy Spirit does through them, but know that it’s always the Holy Spirit who does the work. 
More next week, as we explore how to be the Church. Amen