Friday, June 19, 2015

Please Pray for Cepres Church in Haiti

Earlier today, I shared this on the Living Water Lutheran Church (Dayton, OH) Facebook page.

Could you please pray for Cepres Church in Haiti?

Living Water has a team who goes every year to work with Cepres, a school, an orphanage, and a community in Haiti. The team and the congregation also have an ongoing relationship with these ministries in Haiti, through an organization called SMI Haiti.

Haiti is the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, the twentieth poorest in the world. (By way of comparison, according to the World Bank, Kenya is the 30th. poorest nation; Bangladesh is 34th.; Laos is 48th.; Vietnam is 53rd; India is 55th.; and Iraq is 81st.

According to the CIA:
[Haiti is] the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere with 80% of the population living under the poverty line and 54% in abject poverty, the earthquake further inflicted $7.8 billion in damage and caused the country's GDP to contract. In 2011, the Haitian economy began recovering from the earthquake. However, two hurricanes adversely affected agricultural output and the low public capital spending slowed the recovery in 2012. Two-fifths of all Haitians depend on the agricultural sector, mainly small-scale subsistence farming, and remain vulnerable to damage from frequent natural disasters, exacerbated by the country's widespread deforestation.
Government-to-government aid is often susceptible to Haitian government corruption.

But when church groups like Living Water and parachurch groups like SMI Haiti are able to take money and volunteers directly to places in the country, real progress is made, spiritually, economically, in education, and in food for kids who are fortunate to get one meal a day.

Of course, the real key to long-term change in Haiti is on the spiritual front. The country is afflicted and often held back by voodoo. When Christ comes to people, assuring them of their eternal value--God made them and has made a way for reconciliation and new life with Him through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, people gain the power for living.

Cepres Church has gained a strong foothold in Haiti. Its pastor is a convert from voodooism. After being given up for dead by voodoo priests, members of a church helped him and prayed for him. By the power of God in Christ, he survived and came to surrender to Christ as God and Lord.

He has been a leading hand in the establishment of an orphanage and a school and providing relief to the people of the area. Brought to life by Jesus Christ, Pastor Jean-Marie and his congregation, are bringing life to others. Please pray for Cepres Church and for Pastor Jean-Marie and his family. And if you feel moved to help the church with a place to worship and meet, check out the embedded post below.

Please share this post on your Facebook, Twitter, Google-Plus, Pinterest, and other accounts. Share the link in emails, if you feel so moved.

Some may read this and think: But it's just one church and one spot in Haiti.

True. But it is one spot.

And by your prayers, your sharing of the link to this post, and by the financial gifts of those so disposed, God can and will make a difference in that one spot. (He already is making a difference in that one spot.)

When God came into the world in the Person of Jesus Christ, He didn't refuse to heal or help one person because His humanity prevented Him from being in the presence of everyone in the world needing help. He helped those before Him.

In this post, I'm putting Cepres Church and the people of Haiti who live in its community before you. You can be the hands and feet of Jesus for these people who stand before you now (Matthew 25:31-46).

Thank you.

Below are pictures that show a bit of the life of Cepres Church in Haiti. It's the congregation with which our church's...
Posted by Living Water Lutheran Church (Dayton, OH) on Friday, June 19, 2015

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

My Brave Face by Paul McCartney

This 1987 collaboration with Elvis Costello first appeared on Paul McCartney's Flowers in the Dirt LP.

The entire album reflected a strong effort on Macca's part, after a succession of rather bland projects during the decade preceding. It was released to coincided with a world tour and McCartney said that an explanation for its high quality was that he didn't want to be stuck in America promoting a bad LP.

It's one of my favorite McCartney projects, a consistently strong album from track to track. There's only one song on the entire album I don't care for.

This one, with an arrangement (and video) clearly meant to evoke memories of the Beatles, has particularly strong lyrics. McCartney and Costello worked together on several songs, some of which appeared on projects by each. Listening to them makes you wish that they would work together more. They seem to bring out the best in each other.

This song is all about the facades we create to protect ourselves from others, so as not to unveil our deepest selves to everybody. The song calls them "brave" faces. Others might call them "game" faces. Here, the narrator is lamenting the loss of his woman and talking about the fakery he engages in each day to avoid talking about how much he hurts.

Included here is the music video of the version McCartney and his band recorded for Flowers in the Dirt (the video being really stupid) and the interesting demo done by McCartney and Costello.

By the way, as alluded to in the first video, Paul McCartney really did, as of a few years ago anyway, still have the set list from the Beatles' 1966 tour taped to his Hofner.

In 1987, Macca hadn't used the bass for several years when Costello remarked on how much he loved the instrument's sound and asked McCartney to use it on the material they composed together. The album marked the return of the famous "Beatles Hofner," which has remained a staple of McCartney's recorded and live performances ever since.

[UPDATE: Actually, McCartney has had at least two Hofner basses, I've learned from this and several other articles.]

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Keep Scattering the Seed

[This was shared during worship with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church, Springboro, Ohio. There are two worship choices every Sunday. At 9:00 AM, there's a traditional service and at 10:30 AM, there's a contemporary worship. Feel free to join us any time.]

Mark 4:26-34
In today’s gospel lesson, Jesus tells two parables or stories about “the kingdom of God.” We’re going to focus today just on the first of the two parables of the kingdom. 

Now, the kingdom of God exists wherever the Holy Spirit empowers a person to believe in Jesus Christ as the only way to life with God and so, repents of sin and surrenders their whole life to Christ. The kingdom exists wherever a person trusts in Jesus as their God and Lord. 

But we live in a fallen, sinful world. Sin exists within and around us, which is why it’s so important for Christians to confess our sins, ask God’s help to resist the temptation to sin, and put our lives in the hands of Jesus every day. 

Yet, given the simple fact that sin so clearly has our world and often we ourselves by the throat, we may sometimes question whether the kingdom of God is present or if it hasn't been completely overrun by evil.

In both parables today, Jesus encourages us not to give in to despair! The citizen of God’s kingdom has an eternity of hope. 

Yes, evil is rampant in our world. Disrespect for God’s Name, thievery and murder of all kinds, injustice to the poor, violations of God’s will that human beings have sexual intimacy only with persons of the opposite sex to whom they are married for life, reputation-damaging gossip, materialism, and all sorts of other sins fill our world. 

They often fill we Christians because, like the apostle Paul in Romans 7, we can honestly confess, that though we want to do good, evil is right there within us. 

Yet, the kingdom of God is still among us, still growing, and still able to usher into eternity with God anyone who dares to break with the world, repent of sin, and surrender to Jesus Christ.

Look please at Mark 4:26-29. Jesus says: “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how.” 

Here, Jesus introduces us to a reckless farmer. He scatters seed. He doesn’t bother with things like watering, hoeing to remove weeds, or laying on manure. He just scatters and goes through his daily routine, sleeping at night, waking in the morning. This man’s job--his only job, apparently--is to scatter the seed and wait and presumably, pray. (Like every farmer I have ever known has done and does.)

Folks, that’s our job as Christians, too

The seed of God’s kingdom in this parable is our word--our witness--about the gospel. At least in the Church, we use that word gospel, the modern rendering of an old English compound word, “God’s spell” or “God’s news,” all the time. 

But we ought to regularly remind ourselves of what the gospel is. We all know John 3:16, on which we focused a few weeks ago: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” That’s the Gospel! 

Every person born to life on this planet is ticketed for separation from God and for hell. 

But because God loves us so much and wants us so much, He gave Jesus up to death on the cross. 

Everyone who believes in Him--everyone who trustingly gives their sins over to Jesus and entrusts every piece of their life to Him--has what every human being was made for, eternal life with God

This happens through Jesus and only through Jesus. That is the good news of God’s kingdom.

Today--and this is a little scary when you think about it, Jesus scatters this good news by one means only: through you and me, the people of His Church. 

We Christians are the farmers whose job it is to tell others the good news about Jesus

We’re to scatter the seed of God’s kingdom, then leave the growth and cultivation of that seed to God. 

Yet it seems that as we Christians interact with our spiritually-disconnected friends, we find it easier to scatter anything and everything but the gospel. 

And as we Christians fail to tell others the good news about Jesus and many churches rush to accommodate the world by telling people things like, “It’s OK if you shack up, cause boys will be boys and girls will be girls; it’s OK if you don’t believe that Jesus was born of a virgin and physically rose from the dead because we’ve never known anyone but Him like that either,” while the 21st. century Church is talking about everything and doing everything but the gospel, the world is embracing all sorts of new evil, walking farther away from God.

In Acts 1:11, the crucified and risen Jesus, just before He ascended into heaven, told the eleven apostles and, through them, told us: “You shall be witnesses of Me.” If you’re a baptized believer in Jesus Christ, you are one of His witnesses, called to scatter the seed of the Gospel

But what if we fail to ever tell others about the Gospel? 

Imagine for a second that you’re an interested spectator at a murder trial, anxious to hear testimony and form your own opinion based on the testimony of witnesses. 

What would happen if all the witnesses called on simply sat on the stand and provided no information on the case? 

Imagine that the witnesses who could be enlightening or helpful, instead talked about Kanye West and the Cavaliers, Caitlyn Jenner and national politics, but never said a word about the case at hand. 

This is what would happen: The jury (and you, as an interested spectator) would be unable to make an informed decision. 

If we Christians, who have been called to be witnesses for Christ, fail to tell others about Christ, they are unable to make a judgment about whether to receive the new life in God’s kingdom that Jesus offers

Today, folks, the jury is out for many people when it comes to Jesus Christ because Christ’s witnesses have gone AWOL

People are left with no witness about the most important question of their lives--whether they will receive life with God through Jesus Christ. And that happens because no Christian has dared to give witness for Christ's Gospel. 

The stakes are high! Heaven or hell for all the people we may interact with in our lives depends on whether we Christians will be faithful witnesses for Christ or not

Look at what Jesus says in Mark 4:29, at the end of the first parable: “As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.” 

The “He” here is not the farmer who scatters the seed in the first few verses of the parable. Look, please, at Joel 3:13. The words from this Old Testament prophet’s book lay behind Jesus’ words to us today. It says: “Swing the sickle, for the harvest is ripe. Come, trample the grapes, for the winepress is full and the vats overflow—so great is their wickedness!”

Both this passage from Joel and the words of Jesus in Mark 4:29, are about the ultimate judgment that will come to this world. The world will hurtle along from one evil day to the next. Evil will overflow through the life of the world. Those who refuse to repent and believe in Jesus will keep on sinning unrepentantly and never blink an eye. 

Then God will wield His sickle. This world will come to an end. Only the seeds that have borne grain--only those who believe in Jesus Christ--will rise again.

This is why you and I must get over our fears and ask the Holy Spirit each day to present us with opportunities to scatter the seed of the gospel. 

We need to ask God to give us time in our conversations with our neighbors, friends, and family members to tell them that surrender to Jesus Christ is the only way to life with God. 

We need to ask God to help us scatter the seeds of His kingdom! 

But how do we quiet Lutheran Christians find a way to scatter the seed of the gospel so that others can come to eternal life with God? Here are a few steps you can take toward being an active witness for Christ. 

First: Maintain intimacy with Christ. Use what we Lutherans call "the means of grace," the routes God takes to fill us with faith, to give you a closer walk with Jesus Christ. These include God's Word, which we need to study, and Holy Communion. They also include prayer, conversation with the Lord. Through each, Christ draws us closer to Himself and cultivates an intimacy with us that God craves. 

Second: Live in daily repentance and renewal. Repentance is changing our minds about our sins and turning to God for the forgiveness He offers through Christ. Two major things will happen when we live in daily repentance and renewal. One, God helps us to avoid sins that might harm us, harm others, or harm our relationship with God. Two, God helps others see the authenticity of our faith. When others see that we are admittedly imperfect people who seek each day to orient our lives to the will of God, it will enhance the credibility of our witness for Christ. 

Third: Be intentional about forming friendships with spiritually-disconnected people. Jesus was always reaching out to unbelieving people. God's Holy Spirit can empower us to reach out to the same kinds of people and, as we share our witness for Jesus with them, some will follow Jesus. Be sure as you form such friendships, you maintain strong friendships with fellow believers with whom you study Scripture, pray, and maintain accountability in a small group of Christians with whom you regularly meet. Without this anchor of faith and love, you could be lured away from Christ yourself. You’ll be hearing more about this as we deepen the discipleship culture of Living Water and implement Simple Church

Fourth: Remember your own story. It’s the true story of how Christ daily impacts your life that will give you the “street cred” to scatter the seeds of the gospel among the people you know and meet. 

Fifth: Be kind. Romans 2:4 says that the kindness of God is given in order to lead us (and others) to repentance. God has been kind to us. Although we deserve death and condemnation, He has patiently given us time to become acquainted with His Son, repent for our sins, and believe in Jesus. Being kind also means being patient toward your disbelieving friends. Give them the time and space to experience God's love so that God can give growth and maturity to the seeds you scatter, so that they can believe in Jesus and grow as His children too. 

When the kingdom of God that Jesus came into the world to bring, takes hold in a person’s life, it brings comfort, hope, and, what the Bible calls, a "peace with God that transcends all understanding," peace in the midst of even the most difficult and hard moments in this life and unfettered peace in eternity after we, like our Lord Jesus, have risen from the dead and are in the presence of our Father. 

May God use us to share His kingdom with everyone we know. Amen