Saturday, April 02, 2016

Books I'm Reading Right Now

I usually have two books going at the same time. (Reading them, not writing them.) Right now, there's How to Say No to a Stubborn Habit: Even When You Feel Like Saying Yes by Erwin Lutzer and The Wild Blue: The Men and Boys Who Flew the B-24s Over Germany 1944-1945.

Ambrose was a favorite historian of mine. His biography of Dwight Eisenhower, one of the best studies of Ike I've read and Citizen Soldiers, a moving account of the heroism of G.I.s who were central to the Allied victory in World War 2, are among my favorites.

The Wild Blue focuses particularly on a man whose heroism and patriotism were later impugned when he ran for president in 1972, George McGovern. The South Dakotan who would later become an historian and a US Senator, piloted what were, by common consent, the most difficult-to-fly aircraft of the war. This is a great book!

Lutzer, a very conservative Christian evangelical, provides tremendous insights and guidance for anyone wanting to defeat bad habits in their lives.

Without the Bible, God's book, and other reading material, life would be barren. (In saying this, I'm not putting other books on a par with the Bible, by the way. It would be ridiculous to compare any book to the Word of God! But I am glad that God has gifted some people to author all kinds of books.) I'm so thankful for the gift of reading, for authors, and for the fact that my mom took me to the library to get borrowing privileges when I was little. (My first book was an oversized book containing photographs by Matthew Brady and others chronicling Abraham Lincoln and his times. Already a nerd, I was about four at the time.)


Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Martyrdom in Yemen

During Holy Week, a parishioner from a congregation I previously served asked me to pray privately that Father Tom, an acquaintance of hers, would not be crucified by ISIS on Good Friday.

But those radical Islamist thugs and nihilists went ahead with their threat, killing a priest who bravely volunteered to minister in Yemen despite the dangers. It's tragically sad and infuriating.

Please pray for Christians being persecuted by Islamic-rooted terrorists, asking God to help them witness for Christ boldly and humbly in the face of persecution.

Ask God's Holy Spirit to use their witness to win their persecutors to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. Please pray also for the governments of sovereign nations as they employ their resources to protect their citizens from acts of terrorism and to bring terrorists to justice.

Finally, please ask God to comfort and encourage Father Tom's family and friends with the promise of Jesus in which he believed:
"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. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son." (John 3:16-8)



For the next president: NATO and other security partnerships

An interesting article from earlier this year that appeared in The American Interest. If you're not a subscriber (which I am not), this will be the only piece you can read from the site this month.

I think there's a general failure to understand the need for security arrangements like NATO or the one the US has with Japan. This need has been demonstrated by history.

Russia's ability to wreak havoc and the need for intergovernmental cooperation in combating things like terrorism are compelling reasons for keeping NATO, for example.

The USA's decision to keep Japan demilitarized and under the American nuclear umbrella has, for decades, prevented a nuclear arms race between China and Japan, also, proponents would say, something that would be contrary to US interests.

What, some will wonder, about George Washington's warning, given in his farewell address, against "entangling alliances."

Washington's words have often been used by people like the "America Firsters" who, after the rise of Hitler, effectively prevented the US from working with other western democracies to, at first, thwart and then, to defeat, the Nazis. Millions of lives were lost as a result of the drag they inflicted on American policies.

Washington was, in fact, the father not only of his country, but also of US foreign policy realism. His warning against "entangling alliances" was rooted in his historical context and was advanced in service to the guiding light of his approach to foreign affairs: to always do what was in the best interests of the country.

At that time, that meant keeping the fledgling United States from becoming a partisan in the conflict between the western world's superpowers of the time, England and France. To be associated closely with either one, to be allied with one country or the other, would put the development of the then-delicate United States at risk. Washington wanted to give the US breathing room to develop its political and economic life, to be able to engage in trade with both of the two major powers without picking sides. When you're the littlest and weakest kid on the block, it's best not to rile up the two neighborhood bullies.

Had Washington been around at the end of World War 2, when the US emerged as the preeminent power of the world, at that time hurtling into a Cold War with a third world economy that had atomic weapons (the Soviet Union), I'm sure that his counsel would still have been to do what was in the best interests of America. At that time, that would entail recognizing the country's changed status among nations and understanding the need to provide leadership to alliances that preserved the freedom and stability for the US. NATO was one of the post-war institutions that did that.

Many argue today that NATO has outlived its usefulness. As indicated above, some disagree with that. They also would say that mutual security arrangements are beneficial to US security and allows this country to act as the "senior partner" in security arrangements with other countries.

It seems to me that the Achilles heel of these arrangements, alluded to in the linked piece, is the failure of nations under the US security umbrella to pay their fair share in manpower, arms, and money. As the article also says, this has allowed western European partner nations to develop social insurance policies that the US doesn't feel it can afford, in part because of other outlays, including those for NATO.

History demonstrates that a United States turned in on itself is less secure than one engaged with the world.

How that might be expressed today is a political issue and I don't advance political opinions here, just historical observations.

But my observation is that addressing how to renew partnerships like NATO in light of cyber-terrorism, terrorism, and the aggression of nations like Russia and China is probably something that should occupy the time and thinking of the next president and the American people.


True


Sunday, March 27, 2016

Italy

Doesn't this look inviting?

Easter: Embracing What the World Calls Crazy

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

Luke 24:1-12
The message of Easter is one with which we absolutely must be careful. Here’s why: If we aren’t careful about how we hear and respond to the Easter proclamation, the message that God the Father so loved this world that He gave God the Son to die for our sin and rise to give us new, eternal lives, we might do crazy things.

Things like: doing for others without expecting anything in return; forgiving others as God forgives us in Christ; living voluntarily under the will of God and not under our own desires; following Christ and not following our hearts; risking being thought a fool for telling others that their lives can be changed forever if they trust in Christ of Easter--not in themselves, or their 401(k)s, or their looks, or their work ethic, or their supposed goodness. Our personal power, our money, our looks, work ethic, and earthly goodness are all things of this world that either die, fade, or give out. We will all be separated from them either in this life or when we draw our last earthly breaths.

Easter says that the God we meet in Jesus Christ has overcome death, and wants to share His victory with us, here, now.

In the eyes of a world that sees life on this earth as nothing more than an extended effort to make ourselves comfortable before we die, faith in the Jesus of Easter is a crazy thing. The risen Jesus, now enthroned in heaven, isn’t as tangible as a 70-inch HDTV, a well-appointed man cave, or a nice house.

Faith in the risen Jesus doesn’t dismiss any of those things. But it challenges us not to live our lives for the dead and dying stuff of this world. And it isn’t easy to live the life for the risen Christ we can’t see.

This world deems doing so as crazy. Hebrews 11:1, in the New Testament, teaches us: “...faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” For the Christian, faith is trust in a God we’ve never seen, faith in a resurrected Savior we’ve never seen.

Life with God through Christ is a free gift. But it isn’t an easy life! As one wise person has written, “It’s harder to believe than not to.”

But here’s how faith in Christ works: If you refuse to believe, you will never believe. If, on the other hand, you confess to God how hard you find it to believe in Christ, how hard it is to surrender to a Savior you’ve never seen, but that you want to believe, God will use the Word and the Sacraments (Holy Baptism and Holy Communion), to build faith within you.

God builds faith in the risen Jesus in the lives of those who are willing to believe.

Are you willing to believe?

Are you willing to trust in what the world counts crazy?

Sometimes our faith is tiny. But if we will keep listening to the words of new life, forgiveness, and call to surrender that comes from Jesus through the Bible, the words of other Christians about Jesus, and the Sacraments, faith will come to us and even sustain us in the darkest times of our lives. “I don’t know how I could have gotten through without Jesus to lean on,” a widow whose joy had returned to her several years after the death of her husband, even though her grief would never completely go away.

Luke’s account of the first Easter begins: “On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. ”

The women went to the tomb without faith. They loved Jesus. They revered Jesus. They missed Him. But for all their devotion to Jesus, all they expected to find on that first Easter Sunday was His battered, wounded corpse. They weren’t expecting their worlds to be turned upside down.

But then, something crazy happened to them!

Luke continues: “While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: “The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’” Then they remembered his words. When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others.”

The women could have thought, “This is crazy. We’d better keep this to ourselves.” At this point in Luke’s account of Easter, they’re just like you and me: They had never seen the risen Jesus. They had never known anyone who had risen from the dead. They had never previously met these two men in dazzling clothes. Their message was crazy talk!

But hearing again Jesus’ words of promise created faith within them.

Why is that? Because the Word of God and the Word of God about the resurrection of Jesus has power. It doesn’t matter if the person speaking it is a classmate, butcher, computer programmer, retiree, housewife, basketball star, preacher, or angel. When the simple truth about Jesus’ death and resurrection is shared, it can create faith in those who hear it. It can create faith in those willing to believe it.

It may require years of hearing and reading the Word about Jesus for a person to have faith, as it did in me. I was thick of head and hard of heart. It took time for the good news about the crucified and risen Jesus to penetrate and give me faith. Others are fortunate in that they hear the Word from their moms and dads as children and always have faith.

But whether in a short time or a long time, it's the Word of God that creates faith in Jesus Christ within us.

Romans 10:17 says: “...faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.”

Romans 1:16-17, says that the Gospel about Jesus “the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’”

There’s nothing you and I can do to convince ourselves that Jesus rose from the dead and will give new and everlasting lives to all who believe in Him. Faith comes by hearing a Word you may not--like the woman on the first Easter--have expected or, like me for years, even wanted to hear. Your ability to hear it and believe it comes from the power of the Holy Spirit-propelled Word about Jesus, the good news.

When people come to faith in Christ or to the daily renewal of their faith that God gives to those who daily repent and entrust their lives to Jesus, they can’t explain it. They know that faith is a gift and are gratified to have it because they know that, as Scripture teaches, only those with faith in Christ live with God.

But like any gift, you can choose to open it up or push it away. Luke writes in our lesson starting at verse 10: “It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.”

The apostles should have believed, shouldn’t they?

They should have been open to the gift of faith.

After all, they knew Jesus’ promises. In Luke 9:22, among other places, Jesus had told them: “The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”

But here were the apostles pushing away the gift of faith in the risen Jesus being preached to them.

This was a perilous moment for the apostles. They had to make what Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Lutheran pastor and theologian executed by the Nazis in the waning days of World War II, called in his book, The Cost of Discipleship, “the decision.”

We have to make the same decision every day. Will we receive the gift of new life promised by Easter through surrender to Jesus Christ? Or will we take a pass?

How we decide will determine the quality of our lives in this world and whether we spend eternity in heaven with Christ or in hell. It’s as simple as that.

Fortunately though, you don’t have to work to believe in the risen Jesus. If you and I will not push Him away when He comes to us in His Word--whether through the Bible, in the fellowship of believers, in His call to repent for sin, in His call to receive forgiveness, or in Holy Baptism and Holy Communion--we can have life-changing, eternity-changing faith in Jesus Christ.

But, be warned: When we embrace the gift of faith in the risen Jesus, we dare not keep it to ourselves! When the women received the angels’ word and faith that Jesus had risen from death to give second chances and new life to all who believe, they ran back to tell all the other disciples. The the real test of whether our faith in Jesus is real or just a hobby on Easter Sundays comes in just this, whether we share the Word about the risen Jesus. As one writer asks, “Can we say that we really believe in the resurrection of the Lord if we aren't willing to tell others about it?”

Jesus is risen from the dead!

Turn from sin each day and entrust your life to Him.

He will give you life that begins with Him at your side in this dying world and life that lasts forever in the perfect eternal world to come. That’s the good news of Easter!

No matter how crazy it seems, don’t push it away.

Take it into your life every day.

Dare to believe.

Dare to ask for the power to believe that comes from God to those willing to believe in God in the flesh, Jesus Christ.

Tell others.

Then watch your faith grow.

Happy Easter, everyone!