Thursday, February 11, 2016

Just another picture that makes me want to see Italy

Is that a good enough reason to post?




They sang hosanna?

One paragraph in David Overbye's excellent article on the discovery of gravitational waves, confirming a piece of Albert Einstein's theory of relativity, cracked me up:
Word of LIGO’s success was met by hosannas in the scientific community, albeit with the requisite admonishments of the need for confirmation or replication.
It's understandable how the word hosanna has come to designate celebration in popular usage. 

The most famed instance in which this Hebrew word is recorded is in the New Testament Gospels' accounts of Jesus' entry into Jerusalem on the Sunday before He was crucified. On the face of it, that day, which we today commemorate as Palm Sunday, seems unambiguously celebratory.

Matthew 21:9 says:
The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,“Hosanna to the Son of David!”“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
John 12:13 says:
They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting,“Hosanna!”“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”“Blessed is the king of Israel!
But Palm Sunday is filled with ambivalence, although few then knew it. Many still don't perceive it. (Including me, when I'm feeling full of myself, which is too often for my own good or anybody else's.)

To most of the people who welcomed Jesus, Palm Sunday seemed like a triumphal entry of a new king, the one many hoped would be the instrument of Judea's liberation from Roman rule.

The word Hosanna means Save! Or, Have mercy! While the word may have been said with jubilant relief, a feeling akin to what the scientific community felt when word that gravitational waves had been validated, it is essentially an imploring word.

"Please, Jesus," the crowds were saying, "be the one to save us."

Hosanna was uttered with as much helplessness as triumph.

But the real ambivalence of Palm Sunday rests in the fact that Jesus did come to save people, though not from the problems they saw in their lives.

Like the rest of the human race, including me, the Judean crowds saw themselves as the innocent victims of economic and political forces beyond their control.

Otherwise, they deemed themselves as virtuous and deserving people. They thought that all they needed to be saved from things like their Roman overlords and their lack of economic opportunity. And they were intent on making Jesus the instrument of their collective will.

But what the God we meet in Jesus Christ knows is that even if we have all our earthly needs (and/or wants) met, we still won't be saved. That won't save us from sin, death, or futility.

Jesus came into the world to die and rise so that He could upset and destroy all that consigns this cosmos to death and decay.

But when you think only in the short-term, like the Palm Sunday crowds did, you're not interested in a Savior Who wants to save you to live with purpose and joy forever. Jesus disappointed the people of first-century Judea. His approval rating sank.

And within days, it was politically possible for the leaders of the Judean version of Church and State to have Jesus crucified, the leaders not knowing that in putting Christ in the cross, they were really playing into God's hands. Through cross and resurrection, Jesus makes it possible for the Hosanna prayers of the Palm Sunday crowd to be answered.

Even today, all who turn from sin and entrust their lives to Christ are saved from sin, death, and futility, today and for eternity. Jesus answered the Hosanna prayer, though few may have appreciated it.

I well imagine that the scientific community is jubilant. And well it should be! It seems to have resolved a question raised by Einstein's mathematical speculations a century ago. Many scientists have worked and thought hard to get to this point, though I will point out that even the truest and most cutting-edge scientific advancement is the result of nothing more than thinking God's thoughts after Him.

But I wonder if the jubilation felt by so many, described by Overbye as hosannas, contained the true and simple plea of the word: Save! Have mercy, Lord!

Probably not.

And why should we expect the scientific community to have such a reverential attitude toward this discovery?

Even most churches are incapable or unwilling to commemorate Palm Sunday as a day with a whiff of Good Friday in it or as a day to cry out for God's mercy for ourselves and the whole human race. Instead, Palm Sunday's Hosannas are often trivialized in our churches, the day turned into a parade or a party.

God knows that Christians have plenty to celebrate. Every Sunday affords us the chance to celebrate God's triumph over our worst enemies, sin and death, through Christ's death and resurrection.

But acknowledgement of our need of a Savior, One Who can save us from our sins and our death, is often missing in the modern Church.

My guess is that presidential candidate Donald Trump, a professed Christian, is not alone in the Christian culture when he says that he's never asked God for forgiveness. (That boggles my mind!)

The Judeans aren't alone then, to have thought that the only things from which they really need saving are the threats of would-be earthly overlords or a lack of economic opportunity. Even if presidents were able to magically wave their hands and save us from these earthly problems, it wouldn't give us the salvation only Jesus can give. We would still be dead in our trespasses.

Because we can be so short-sighted, every day is a good day to call out to Christ, not with a sense of triumph or entitlement, but with humility and faith, "Hosanna! Save us, God! Have mercy on us, Christ!" and then let Jesus provide us with the salvation we really need.


Is confirmation that Einstein was right about gravitational waves a big deal?

A very big deal per this beautifully done video from the New York Times:


Read David Overbye's excellent report on the detection of gravitational waves here.

A Walk in the Rain

Just saw this picture over on Twitter and thought how nice it would be to walk down this street...even in the rain.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

4 Disciplines That Let Christ Into Our Lives

[This was shared tonight with the people and guests of Living Water Lutheran Church, Centerville, Ohio. We were commemorating Ash Wednesday.]

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
In tonight’s Ash Wednesday Gospel lesson, Jesus talks about four spiritual disciplines of the Christian life and how we should approach them. A spiritual discipline is a practice by which we surrender our lives to the Lordship and love of the God we know in Jesus in a particular way

As children, if our parents truly loved us, we experienced being disciplined. (Christian parents are called to discipline in love, not punish in anger, by the way.) My parents taught me basic lessons of respect for one’s elders, consideration of others, and thriftiness by, initially, imposing discipline on me so that I would live out of these values. I didn’t always adhere to their expectations of me. 

But usually, discipline imposed out of love eventually does have its effect until discipline imposed becomes discipline embraced as parts of the ways we live.

When we become adults, you know, we can become a bit self-indulgent. We slack off on self-discipline because there are few people who will tell us what to do, even when a discipline may be good for our health or our souls. 

When I was growing up for example, my parents had strict rules about no snacking after school or before dinner. I lived that discipline for a long time, until just a few years ago. Now I graze too much. My waistline shows this breakdown in personal discipline. Like Saint Paul in Romans 7, I can say: “I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.”  

Now, eating without discipline may seem trivial, although we know that even if a Christian never reaches a state of “morbid obesity,” there are, speaking for myself anyway, spiritual implications to overeating. In First Corinthians 6:19, we’re reminded that what we do with and to our bodies is significant: “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own…” 

In a very real sense, the ways we use our bodies--from overeating to engaging in sex outside of marriage, from binge drinking to driving ourselves to exhaustion for whatever reason--represent our futile attempts to grasp for the joy or the personal significance that only comes from God. And if we aren’t willing to voluntarily submit to the discipline of the gracious God Who, through Christ, loved and redeemed us before we even knew we needed His help, we are in rebellion and risk blocking Christ and life with God completely from our lives. The stakes then can be high for things we may count as trivial.

Please don’t misunderstand! We are saved from sin and hell by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone. That truth is central to our faith and lives as Christians. Spiritual disciplines won’t save us. Only Christ does that

But spiritual disciplines are means by which we open ourselves up to the saving work of Christ in every aspect of our lives

Think of it in this way: Until you turn on your laptop, desktop, smartphone, or TV, you’re not going to see the Super Bowl, Game of Thrones or the 700th presidential campaign debate of 2016. Spiritual disciplines are the channels by which believers open their wills and lives to the grace and guidance of God.  

Throughout this Lenten season, our midweek gatherings will focus on Reach Up, Reach In, Reach Out, the six words we use to summarize the mission of Living Water as a congregation and as individual disciples who are part Living Water. 

To help unpack the meaning of those six simple words, in coming weeks, we’ll focus on six spiritual disciplines that God can use to strengthen our faith and to fulfill our mission and purpose as disciples of Jesus Christ. There are many spiritual disciplines; starting next week, we’ll look at just six foundational ones. 

But tonight, Jesus speaks with us about four such disciplines of the Christian life: 
  • giving to the needy; 
  • prayer; 
  • fasting; and 
  • using all of your money in a way that honors God. 
Discipline one Jesus mentions is giving to the poor. When we do so, He says, our motivation shouldn’t be to look upstanding and honorable to the crowd, but to give because it’s the right thing for those of us who have more to share with those who have less, whether anybody else sees it or not. God does give the world its daily bread. There's more than enough for every person on earth. It’s up to us who have been given more of it to share our excess to others, to even things out. 

Jesus then talks about the discipline of prayer. In this case too, Jesus says, don’t pray to be noticed by others. If we play to the crowd when we pray, we get the very thing we’re looking for, the notice of the crowd. But we won’t be connecting with God, which is the real purpose of all spiritual disciplines. And prayer can be a joyous connection with God. When we pray to God in Jesus’ name, we become conduits by which His grace, love, and power enter the lives and circumstances for which we pray. It’s an awesome and humbling thing!

Jesus then talks about, “When you fast…” We’ve noticed on previous Ash Wednesdays the significance of Jesus not saying “If you fast…” He assumes that fasting will be part of the Christian life. Fasting as a seasonal discipline during Lent is fine, of course. But the real purpose of fasting is to remove from our lives all immoderate or even sinful behaviors that get in the way of our loving God, loving our neighbor, or being a faithful disciple of Christ. You can fast from anything--food, social media, excessive TV viewing. You can fast from particular sins with the intention of exorcising the habits that undergird those sins from your life forever, so that your fast from that sin is lifelong. But never should we fast, says Jesus, to get applause for our piety. Except when enlisting prayer partners or spiritual mentors in praying for you and supporting you in the pursuit of your fast, no one else should even know that you’re fasting. It’s your own connection to Christ, not someone else’s.

Finally, Jesus addresses the spiritual discipline of using our financial assets in eternal things. In this discipline, we honor God with our money. This isn’t necessarily about giving to a local congregation, though every believer is called to do that. And the adoption of this discipline doesn’t mean that we can’t sometimes use our money for fun things. Fun can feed our faith too, you know. But Jesus is saying, invest in things that last, eternally. According to the Bible, only one thing on this earth will last eternally, and that’s the people of God, the Church, the fellowship of believers in Christ. When you invest in people, whether by writing a check or getting involved in a mission project or telling a coworker about Christ, you’re seeking to help the people in whom you invest to know Jesus Christ so that, like you, they can enjoy life with God now and in eternity. Absent the investment of our time, our talents, and our treasures in people who need Christ, they will be lost for eternity in their sin.    

Always, the measure of the worth and the power in our exercise of spiritual disciplines--whether these listed by Jesus tonight or those we’ll address in the coming weeks--isn’t whether the world notices us or not, it’s whether our motivation is to honor the God Who sent Jesus to die and rise for us

Without that motive, our disciplines are meaningless. 

With them, we become the humble means by which God makes disciples of Jesus Christ, starting with us. 

More next Wednesday.


Emotionally Yours by Bob Dylan

The use of Elizabeth Taylor's image at the beginning and end of this music video is cryptic.

And the song would sound better sung by someone else, I suppose.

But I love this song from 1985 by Bob Dylan.



With Ash Wednesday, Lent Begins

Today, Christians all over the world are celebrating Ash Wednesday. It begins a forty-day season of spiritual renewal and preparation that precedes Easter Sunday. The season is called Lent.

Actually, there are more than forty days between Ash Wednesday and Easter. But the Sundays that fall during Lent are never counted as part of that somber season. For Christians, Sundays are always "little Easters," days when the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is celebrated.

Lent emphasizes other aspects of Christian belief, most especially the need for total surrender to Christ so that the free gifts of forgiveness, eternal life, and purposeful living can be appropriated by those who turn from sin and believe in Christ.

The word Lent is from Middle English and means spring, the season of the year with which Lent somewhat corresponds.

According to Philip H. Pfatteicher and Carlos R. Messerli, writing in a book called Manual on the Liturgy, "Lent [as a season of the Church Year] derives from the [period of] preparation of [adult] candidates for Baptism [in the Church's early history]. By the middle of the fourth century at Jerusalem, candidates for Baptism fasted for 40 days, and during this period...[instructional] lectures...were delivered to them."

Of course, forty is an important number in the Bible. Jesus was tempted in the wilderness for forty days. The Old Testament book of Exodus says that God's people, the Hebrews, wandered in the wilderness for forty years. The rains that produced the great flood recorded in the book of Genesis lasted forty days and forty nights. So, it was natural that Lent would become a forty-day period.

Pfatteicher and Messerli say that after Christian faith was legalized in the Roman Empire in 313 A.D., "the period of preparation for Baptism became a general period of preparation of all Christians for Easter." That continues to this day.

Ash Wednesday itself, say Pfatteicher and Messerli, features a mood of "penitence and reflection on the quality of our faith and life." The goal is to call believers to remember their mortality, dependence on God, and need to seek God's help in disciplining themselves to surrender every part of their lives to  Christ.

At our congregation this evening, we'll begin our time of worship together with the singing of Just As I am, Without One Plea, followed by corporate confession, the reading of Bible lessons, and then, the imposition of ashes on the foreheads of the repentant. Each person will receive this sign with the words, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Ashes, in a Jewish and Christian context, suggest three things:
  • judgment and God’s condemnation of sin;
  • our total dependence upon God for life; and
  • repentance, the joyful turning back to God.
As the cross of Christ is marked on our foreheads with ashes, we’re reminded of the words of the burial service: “Earth to earth and dust to dust.” (These are based on God's words to Adam and Eve in Genesis 3:19.) Ashes remind us of our mortality and of our need for God.

Ashes are also a symbol of cleansing and renewal. This makes sense when you think about it. When I was a boy and would lodge splinters into my hands, I'd go to my dad. Dad inspected things and soon, got a needle from my mom's sewing kit, and pulled out his lighter. He turned the tip of the needle in the flame of the lighter for maybe thirty seconds and after that, wave the needle through the air to cool it off. Then, he picked the splinter out of my hand. Of course, the reason that Dad ran the needle through the flame was to kill off any bacteria that might cause infection.

In the Greek of the New Testament, the word for fire is pur, from which we get such English words as purge, pure, and purify, among others. When we open ourselves to letting Jesus Christ be in charge of our lives, He begins to purge us of all the old, destructive habits that previously blocked God's presence from our lives and He creates a place of purity where He can live with us and transform our lives. The old life is burnt away and a new life begins.

Just as baptismal water suggests death and brand new life with God...so do the ashes of Ash Wednesday.

[This is a piece I wrote several years ago. I hope you find it helpful.]

God has taught me a lot today

For my morning Quiet Time with God today, I read Acts 15. The New Testament book of Acts, of course, is Luke's account of the life of the early Church, from Jesus' ascension through about 60 AD.

One of the things I love about Acts is that Luke never sugar coats conflicts and controversies that existed in the early Church. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Luke "tells it like it is," assuring us that even among believers in Christ who love each other, disagreements and conflicts arise.

In Acts 15, Luke recounts two conflicts, one theological with implications for the whole Church, the other personal.

The first conflict was over the threat posed by the so-called "Judaizers," Jewish Christians who, unlike Paul, Barnabas, and others, insisted that Gentile converts to faith in Christ had to submit to Old Testament Jewish ritual law. Paul and Barnabas felt that this added legalistic requirements to salvation and discipleship. The good news the early Church proclaimed is that we are saved by grace through faith in Christ alone and not by works of any kind. (This is the central teaching of the Christian faith.)

Paul and Barnabas therefore went to Jerusalem to meet with the apostles and elders, the leaders of the Church, to seek a resolution of the matter. This triggered what we now call the council of Jerusalem. What emerged after prayer and discussion was the directive that Gentiles need not become practicing Jews to be part of the Church's fellowship. A request was also made to the Gentile believers that, out of consideration to Jewish believers in their fellowships, they refrain from a few behaviors.

The conflict was resolved.

Oddly enough, a second conflict arose later in Antioch between Paul and Barnabas. Paul wanted to go to the churches in the cities that he, Barnabas, and their team had gone earlier, places where they had established congregations. The purpose would be to see how the congregations were doing. Barnabas was evidently amenable to that, but wanted to take a young Christian named John, also called Mark, with them. But Paul recoiled at the notion, not forgetting that during an earlier mission, while in Pamphylia, John Mark had abandoned them. Paul deemed him unreliable.

Acts 5:39-41 tells us:
The disagreement became so sharp that they parted company; Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus. But Paul chose Silas and set out, the believers commending him to the grace of the Lord. He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.
The question this raises is this: Was the conflict between Paul and Barnabas resolved?

I think that it was.

They agreed to disagree and they parted ways
.

Sometimes, brothers and sisters in Christ can affirm the faith of those with whom they have conflicts but decide that it's best if they not work directly together. That's OK. Someday in eternity, when God's sanctifying work in us will have been completed, we won't have any personality conflicts; we'll just love the diversity of personalities that all bear the image of God. But this isn't heaven and for now, we can sometimes rub each other the wrong way.

In fact, I think that the split of Paul and Barnabas at this point ended up being a good thing for the mission and future of the Church.

Why?

First of all, by splitting, they covered more territory, encouraged more Christians, and probably won more new converts to Christ than they would have had they stayed together, going to the same places.

Secondly, Barnabas, was able to fulfill his most important calling as a Christian.

Barnabas' real name was Joseph. But his nickname, Barnabas, meant, essentially, son of encouragement.

It had been Barnabas who had taken the new convert Paul (previously Saul, a persecutor of the Church) under his wing, encouraged him, and introduced the new convert to the skeptical apostles.

After taking John Mark under his wing, Barnabas was used by God to encourage another young Christian, one who would later, tradition says, pen the Gospel of Mark.

All in all, agreeing to disagree and the parting of ways by Paul and Barnabas to which the two agreed turned out to be a very good thing.

Conflicts get resolved in different ways.

What Acts 15 tells us then about conflict, I think, is that it's not intrinsically a bad thing


Conflict is even an inevitable thing among people who are passionate about their faith.

Too many Christians operate with the false notion that Christians should never argue or disagree. The Bible repeatedly tells us, both overtly and by illustrative narration, that this isn't true.


When conflicts do arise among Christians though, there must be circumspection among the combatants. People need to ask themselves questions like:

  • Why am I upset?
  • What's really at stake?
  • Is this conflict over a core theological issue (like the one raised by the Judaizers) or is this a personality clash (like the one over John Mark)?
  • Would a compromise be faithful to God, Christ, and the Bible?
  • Is this a conflict that requires the combatants to go their separate ways, even as they affirm each other's faith, and pray for personal reconciliation?
  • Is this conflict great enough to warrant breaking the fellowship of the Church?
  • Is this a time to invoke Jesus' formula for conflict resolution (Matthew 18:15-20) because you feel someone has sinned against you? 
God has taught me a lot today! My prayer is that God will help me to always have a healthy, faithful, and courageous attitude about conflict. 

Sleeping Patterns of Successful People

That's what this piece from NPR's web site purports to show us. I'm not sure what their definition of "success" is exactly, but the report on sleep habits of the 21 people they select as owning that descriptor satisfies curiosity about "how the other half sleeps."

The group's average sleep times vary significantly. The late Winston Churchill got about five hours of sleep each night. President Obama sleeps from 1am to 7am each day, six hours. Virgin chief Richard Branson gets 5 to 6 hours of sleep every night. A few NPR looks at get the usually recommended eight hours of sleep at night.

From the article:
The average amount of sleep per night from these successful people is 6.6 hours.
How does that compare to those of us who are not world leaders or titans of industry?
Turns out, the difference is pretty negligible — the "successful" people get 12 minutes less than the average American. According to this 2013 Gallup poll, the average American gets 6.8 hours of sleep every night.

So it appears hard to link "success" to any particular sleep pattern. Both the successful people and the average Joes are getting less sleep on average than what experts typically recommend, which is seven to nine hours for adults...
I've always been a guilty night owl. I love getting up really early and being productive. But I also love to stay up late and seem to do so even when I've only gotten a small amount of sleep the night before. So, when push comes to shove, I more often stay up late than get up early, which I've never really liked about myself. It appears to be how I'm wired though, as is true with most of my siblings, though one goes to bed very early each night.

The article contains a few other interesting tidbits about all Americans' sleeping habits. Read the whole thing.



Tuesday, February 09, 2016

The Doritos Ad and How To Disagree With Each Other

The reaction of the National Abortion Rights League (NARAL) to the Doritos Super Bowl ad in which two expectant parents see their child by sonogram was strange. They lamented how the ad "humanized" fetuses.

In a post on his blog, Russell Moore argues that it isn't parents who humanize the children they observe in a mother's womb, but God.

Then, Russell gives a warning against self-righteousness by those who consider themselves "pro-life":
...it would be easy for those of us who are pro-life to see this as merely more evidence of how abortion advocacy sears the conscience and blunts even common-sense moral intuitions. But our response here should not be self-congratulation. This small window into the way moral reasoning works ought to serve as a warning to us.

We cannot “humanize” what is already human, but we can certainly dehumanize the humanity around, or within, us. The abortion lobby wants the “fetus” to be thought of only in clinical language, as though he or she were merely an “it,” tissue to be disposed of. Those who oppress the poor want them to be thought of merely in economic categories, as drains on the “system,” not as image-bearers of God. Those who want to “consume” pornography want to think of those on the screen as images, not as people with stories and hurts and families. We too often want to think of our enemies—whether on the geopolitical stage or in our office coffee-room conflicts—as exemplars of total evil, not as each one a representation of God’s creation wisdom. We want to be justified in our actions, by reassuring ourselves that there’s no judgment to come.
He continues:
When those we dehumanize are seen, despite our best efforts, as human, we either repent or we become angered. That’s why Jesus’ hometown was enraged when he pointed to the truth that God, through his prophets, went outside the bounds of Israel to minister to a Syrian soldier (Lk. 4:27-28). I fear that some of us would have a similarly angry response to a sermon about ministry to a Syrian refugee.
In our sin, we want to keep our illusions–whatever they are–that enable us to silence the conscience within us. We want to, in short, walk in darkness. But Jesus is the “light of the world,” the light from Galilee that illumines the nations and ultimately the entire cosmos.
Abortion is a serious issue. And while there are times when it may be seen as, in the words of a statement from a Lutheran body that no longer exists, "a tragic option"--such as in the cases of rape, incest, or when a mother's life is in danger--it's sad and sinful when it's used as nothing but a belated form of birth control. A fetus is formed in the womb by the hands of God. And like all human beings, every fetus is made in the image of God. So, I think it's right to be horrified by the inhumane response of NARAL to the Super Bowl ad.

But the furor should also cause all of us, as Moore suggests, to be circumspect about how we view those who disagree with us as evil. Sometimes the people with whom we disagree are simply people with whom we disagree.

We are all sinners and none of us has any hope of anything like moral clarity apart from our submission to the loving Lordship of Jesus Christ. That realization should incite all of us to treat others with the love and consideration I believe is owed to babies in their mothers' wombs and to all people, no matter who they are.

For Jews and Christians, the obligation to love our neighbor is part of God's greatest commandments.

And for Christians, the ability to love others despite our differences is the litmus test of whether Christ really lives in us. When that happens, we can humbly listen to others' points of view, even when we disagree, and say with the apostle John, "We love because [Christ] loved us" (1 John 4:19).
[Thanks to my son for posting a link to the Moore article over on Facebook. Please read Moore's really good piece.]
Here's the "controversial" ad.




I feel left out...

...because I haven't had any of this list of 25 weird things people have said to pastors and other church leaders said to me.


Is election season good for us?

Like many people, I suppose, I get disgusted by the personal attacks and bragging that goes with electioneering.

And as a Christian, I view the pretensions of any political program to change us from the inside out; only the God we meet in Jesus Christ can do that.

But is election season good for us, despite its limitations and frequent unsavoriness?

Writing for Christianity Today's online edition, writer Chris Horst offers three ways he thinks election seasons are good for us.

First, Horst says that "election season propels the economy." He writes:
Dollars invested in elections don’t evaporate. They are investments in democracy. When we hear about candidates raising hundreds of millions of dollars, our shock comes largely from what we believe is “lost money.” What if we had spent that on education, green energy, or . . . [insert your favorite cause]?  
Election coffers aren’t a black hole, though. Ask restaurateurs and hoteliers in Iowa and New Hampshire how they feel about election season. Or bumper sticker and button makers. Or junior staffers and canvassers working with campaigns. Or television stations selling airtime or newspapers selling subscriptions and clicks. Elections are big business. They employ thousands of people directly, fuel the businesses of thousands more indirectly, and create serious economic value, no matter our affection for politics.
This is all true, but of course, one of the big concerns we have about all the money that campaigns get is if the cash buys other things, putting those who give less at a disadvantage, things like influence, policies that favor particular interests, the subversion of democracy or fairness, even illegalities. But Horst has a point: elections are good for many businesses and the economy generally.

The second good thing election season does, says Horst, is "remind us of the beauty of democracy." 
In places like Afghanistan, Syria, Iran, Russia, North Korea, Cuba, and Zimbabwe, voters have little to no voice in determining the future of their countries. In many instances, dissent is not only forbidden, but squelched. The global political landscape is often unrelentingly bleak… 
…The freedom to vote should not be taken for granted. It is a gift enjoyed only by a small percentage of our planet’s residents—past and present. In a country like the United States, our founders quite literally entrusted the power to the people. We can complain about our system’s effectiveness—about powerful people wielding too much influence or about the unhealthy marriage between faith and politics. But despite its flaws, our system stands in contrast to countries where all the power is controlled by a handful of self-appointed tyrants. 
And it’s not all bad news. Often because of the work of Christian missionaries, many developing countries feature thriving democracies. Nations like Botswana, Ghana, Chile, Uruguay, and the Philippines have proven the merits of democratic rule, even with its shortcomings.
Excellent point. Elections are beautiful: Just think of the sight being shown by live cameras at New Hampshire polling stations right now. They show long lines of people and traffic jams composed of people waiting to vote. That's a beautiful thing. Each voter is making a beautiful statement, whatever their party: "I care about the future my country, community, state, and world. I love America. I believe in us and what we can do together."

Finally, Horst says that election season is good because it "generates meaningful discussion." He writes:
Many of us have been instructed to avoid discussing politics and religion in order to remain polite and amicable. Broadly speaking, this is terrible counsel. To be sure, we should avoid becoming petty, coercive, and disingenuous while talking about religion and politics. But to heal our deepest divides, we need more honest conversation, not less, about what matters most.
Election season often brings out the worst in people. But election seasons also bring things to the surface that might otherwise be left to simmer. 

Elections offer the opportunity for all of us to discuss and settle political issues amicably, in an environment in which the majority rules and the minority is protected.

Politics is imperfect. But it's not a bad word. 

Despite the fact that there are dirty politicians, just as there are dirty doctors, preachers, plumbers, teachers, and other human beings, politics isn't inherently dirty. 

Simply put, politics is the means by which people in an open society work, argue, compromise, and vote their way to fulfilling the mission statement that prefaces the United States Constitution: "...to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity..."

On balance, I think that Horst is right, election seasons are beautiful things.


Sunday, February 07, 2016

God's Encouragement

Luke 9:28-36
We were talking with a young person this past week and the subject of this year’s presidential election came up. She was equally glum about all the presidential candidates in both parties. “It doesn’t matter who we vote for,” she told us. “Nothing will ever get better again.”


I have to say that I share that young person’s assessment of whether the election of any person would significantly change our world for the better. 

Only a spiritual renewal will cause us to act differently toward one another. 

Only massive numbers of people coming to be disciples and to live as disciples of the crucified and risen Jesus Christ, massive numbers of people daily repenting and daily believing in Christ, can move us out of what some are calling degenerative discouragement syndrome

It was discouragement to which that young person gave voice. 

And she isn’t alone, though some try, on their own, to make the best of it. Like people who say, “The world is going to hell. But I’m going to get what I can for me and my family.” 

Not, “The world is going to hell and I’m going to share Christ with whoever I can.” 

Not, “The world is bad, so I’m going to love my family and forgive those who sin against me.” 

Not, “I’m going to pray that God’s kingdom will come.” 

No, these people think, “Things are bad and I’m going to get as much good as I can, other people be hanged. Then I'll die."


The followers of Jesus Christ had observed many epiphanies--many manifestations of His power and Lordship--over the course of His ministry. 

Because of them, they were pinning their hopes for a better world on Jesus. 

For five hundred years, God’s people--the Jews--had suffered from a kind of degenerative discouragement syndrome. It had been that long since God had spoken through the prophets, through whom God had promised a Messiah, a Christ, an anointed King. 

Through those centuries, they endured injustice, foreign domination, and the enslavement of a grace-less religion. 

Many had given up hope that God would ever act. 

But now, as Jesus preached, taught, healed, raised the dead, and cast out demons, the veil of despair began to lift. Was God’s kingdom close at hand, after all? Was Jesus the Messiah, the Christ, God’s anointed king, come to make things right?

Eight days before the events recounted in this morning’s Gospel lesson, one disciple, the apostle Peter, was moved by the Holy Spirit to claim Jesus as “God’s Messiah.” [Luke 9:20] 

According to Luke, Jesus silently acceded to Peter’s confession, charged the disciples to say nothing to anyone because first, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” [Luke 9:22]

At that, the disciples must have felt that the small embers of hope just being brought to flame by Jesus were being doused by His cold wet blanket

Popular thought said that the Messiah--the Christ--would conquer foreign foes and ensure an era of financial prosperity. (The very things we expect of presidents, by the way.) The Christ, they thought, would govern justly and everyone would live happily ever after.


But Jesus understood that the people of His homeland--the people of the world, including you and me--are oppressed by much more than foreign threats or economic challenges, more than poverty or terrorism. All of those ills and many more come from a deeper human problem, the problem that Jesus came to conquer. The problem is sin, humanity’s inborn alienation from God, and death, the common enemy of every human being, that springs from death.


Jesus was telling Peter: “You’re right. I am the Messiah. And this is what the Messiah does. He bears the weight of Your sin and death on the cross, taking the punishment you deserve, so that if you repent and believe in Me, you will have eternal life in the kingdom of God.” 

The kingdom of God exists for all eternity, starting here in the hearts and wills of people who follow Jesus. Being a member of this kingdom today won’t erase the sins or tragedies of this fallen world. It’s still poisoned by sin and death. 

But being a member of this kingdom today will give us the faith and courage to live the Christian life: to love God, to love neighbor, to serve others with no expectation of return payment, to call others to follow Jesus with no expectation that they will say yes, to pray in Jesus’ name for those we love and for those who hate us

When the risen Jesus lives in us by faith, we can take a world going to hell in our arms and love it with the love of Christ

When you know that the story ends beyond the gates of death with eternal life with God, it changes how you do today!


But when you’ve lived for five centuries with degenerative discouragement and you’re told that your favorite myth about the Messiah is false, that the Messiah is going to suffer rejection and execution, that He will conquer your enemies by death and not warfare before He rises from the dead, you need encouragement. 

And so, our lesson tells us that God the Father supplied it! 

Verse 28: “About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. [God always shows up when we pray! Even if we’re discouraged, even if we can't sense Him coming close to us when we call Him. God will show up for us when we pray!] As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. [Already, this should be reminding us of the time in Exodus 24, when, centuries before, Moses took Joshua up to a mountaintop with him as he received God’s Law. When people looked at Moses, they saw the bright light of God on his face. Now back on this mountain with Jesus,] Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem. [The word translated as departure here is literally exodus. Jesus is leading people who repent and believe in Him out of the wilderness of sin and death into the promised land of forgiven sin and new and eternal life.] Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him.”

What a sight it must have been for the discouraged eyes of Peter, John, and James! The holiness, grandeur, and light of God emanating from every pore of Jesus’ earthly body. The lawgiver Moses, centuries dead, and Elijah, Israel’s greatest prophet, carried away by a chariot of fire centuries earlier, there to affirm that Jesus was the Messiah to Whom the Law and the Prophets and the Writings of the Old Testament all pointed. 

God was assuring the three disciples (and us) that despite the cross that awaited Jesus--that awaits who follow Him, He was still God and that the Messiah, after claiming His throne, would reign eternally over all who endure in believing in Him.


Verse 33: “As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, ‘Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters (The word in the Greek in which Luke wrote his Gospel is skene, literally meaning tabernacle or tent, also resonating of the Old Testament's account of God's people during their exodus from Egypt through the wilderness to the Promised Land.)—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ (He did not know what he was saying.) While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and covered them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. A voice came from the cloud, saying, ‘This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.’ When the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone.”


Peter wanted to capture the moment, as though you could possibly capture the majesty and mystery of God in a tent, a booth, a tabernacle, a church, a cathedral, or a universe. God, who Peter was looking at in Jesus, is bigger than all the boxes we try to put Him in

Besides that, Peter seems to think that Moses and Elijah were on an equal footing with Jesus. Just so Peter doesn’t misunderstand, God the Father envelops the whole group in a cloud, like the pillar of a cloud through which He led ancient Israel through the wilderness, and then says unequivocally: “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to Him.” At that, the three disciples found themselves with Jesus alone. 

What was God telling Peter and the other two (and us)? Simply this: “This is all you have been looking for. This is the one to whom Moses and Elijah were pointing. This is your king, God in the flesh. This is your wandering hearts' true desire!” 

Jesus was and is the Messiah toward whom all of human history had been moving

As the book of Hebrews puts it in a passage I mentioned a few Sundays ago: “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.” [Hebrews 1:1-2]

For people discouraged by life, the events of the first Transfiguration Sunday give hope

They must have helped Peter, John, and James and the disciples they led through the pain of Good Friday and Holy Saturday. “Yes,” they could have said, “Jesus has died, but we saw Him on the mountaintop. We know that He is God. But hold on. Hold on!” 

And when they saw the risen Jesus, the Holy Spirit would help them to put the pieces of the mystery together. They would understand that the sinless Messiah had to die so that when He rose, He could claim us not for a kingdom that lasts for a few fleeting years, not a kingdom that may give us material prosperity and personal security before we die in our sins, but an everlasting kingdom filled with the righteousness and peace and presence and love of God

Take courage in the midst of this world’s darkness, hold on tightly to Jesus, because “the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.” [Matthew 24:13] That’s the promise of Jesus’ transfiguration!

[This was shared today during worship with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church, Centerville, Ohio.]