Saturday, June 11, 2016

Set free

See here.


How to Grow Up Big and Strong by Rich Mullins

This powerful indictment of the human impulse to vanquish and dominate others appeared on the late Rich Mullins' 1993 classic, A Liturgy, a Legacy, and a Ragamuffin Band.

It's hard to imagine such a courageous and overtly Christian critique of humanity's penchant for making wars, whether in neighborhoods, households, or among nations, being recorded by too many Christian recording artists today. Too often today's Christian contemporary artists bleed the reality out of their tunes, removing the Gospel's scandalous call for total surrender to and simple trust in Christ.

The Gospel--the good news of new and everlasting life for all who believe in Jesus with their whole lives--frees us from the lie of self-sufficiency that the devil has been telling us to take us away from a relationship with God, and so to eternally kill us off, since back in the Garden of Eden.

And it puts the lie to all notions that living like the Rock's or Vin Diesel's onscreen personas is anything other than a big, fat lie ending in death, eternal separation from God and others.

The kingdom of God brought to all who dare to surrender to Jesus belongs only to those with childlike trust in Christ. In it, the least in this world become the greatest and the greatest in this world are the least.

To be big and strong in Christ's kingdom, here now as much as in eternity, is to gain the strength given only to those honest enough to know that without Christ, we can't do any good thing, but that with Christ, we can do all things: from poverty to wealth and back to poverty again, from lowliness to fame and back to lowliness.

Wars may sometimes be necessary to protect others from the aggressive who think that preying on others make them "big and strong." (World War II comes to mind.)

But most human conflicts, at least at the interpersonal level anyway, would disappear if we would realize that God in human flesh, who led a sinless, perfect life, dying for a sinner like me, means I've got nothing to prove by being big and strong. Christ already proved our worth when He died on the cross you and I should have taken.

Still, we teach our kids to look out for number one, forgetting to tell them that Christ has done and is doing all the looking out we'll ever need if we'll just surrender.

Enjoy this amazing song, which sounds like it could have been recorded yesterday.

(In fact, I would love to hear people like Peter Furler, Steve Taylor, Lecrae, Andy Mineo, and U2 cover it today!)

[Blogger Mark Daniels is the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church, Centerville, Ohio.]

Here are the lyrics, as provided by GooglePlayer:

Strong man strangle universe
He drown the stars
Blinded by the mission of a thousand wars
He fit and dominant
Not wonder why
He heed the battle cry

Strong man is survivor
He live to pound
Little wooden crosses in the bloody ground
He fit and dominant
He stand a chance
He not bound to circumstance

And the world keep on turning
And the sun keep on burning
And the children keep learning
How to grow up big and strong
How to grow up big and strong

Strong man take no prisoner
Favor no plea
He leave no gold in teeth of enemy
He fit and dominant
He rise above
He not have the word that mean love

And the world keep on turning
And the sun keep on burning
And the children keep learning
How to grow up big and strong
How to grow up big and strong

Strong man beat the plowshare
He forges sword
He take the flower and he curse the thorn
He crush the serpent
He bite the fruit
His hand is absolute

And the world keep on turning
And the sun keep on burning
And the children keep learning
How to grow up big and strong
How to grow up big and strong
How to grow up big and strong
How to grow up big and strong
How to grow up big and strong

Friday, June 10, 2016

Lutherans and making the sign of the cross

In The Small Catechism, Martin Luther suggested that Lutherans make the sign of the cross both in the mornings and the evenings when we pray.

Doing so helps us to invoke the names of the triune God of all creation--Father, Son, and Holy Spirit--over our waking and our sleeping.

It also helps us to remember the covenant God made with us at our baptism. This is a huge comfort to me as when, Luther says elsewhere, the devil makes me doubt that Christ really has covered my sins. Under those circumstances, I can shout to my doubts and that old liar, the devil, as Luther did, "But I am baptized!" This reminds me to trust in the God Who sent Jesus to keep claiming me as His own as I turn from sin and entrust my life to Jesus! No matter how I feel at any given moment, I can trust that the Lord Jesus to Whom I cling for life is working for my good and is good for His promise of eternal life for all who believe in Him!

I like this little step-by-step illustration of how to make the sign of the cross from a blog called Pastoral Meanderings. (I love how 1940s the illustrations are! It reminds me of some of the pictures that were in The Boy Scout Handbook back when I was in Scouts.)

There are a surprising number of variations on how Christians cross themselves, though. So, if you don't do it exactly as it's illustrated here, it's no biggie. And your salvation won't go out the window if you don't cross yourself, of course. But, for the reasons listed above, it can be meaningful.

After making the sign of the cross, I always touch my heart three times, again "in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit," expressing my love for God, doing so after I receive Christ's body and blood in Holy Communion. (Or, on those rare occasions when I'm blessed to be in the congregation worshiping as someone else leads the service.)

What, exactly, is marriage for? And why be married?

Genesis 2:18-24
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Marriage is a covenant involving three parties: God, a man, and a woman.

Covenant is a word we don’t use very often these days, but from the standpoint of Scripture, it’s a word that means a relationship backed by commitments. In marriage, those commitments come from God and from the man and the woman.

Like the covenant that God makes with us in Holy Baptism, when He adopts us as His children and pledges to never give up on us, the commitment made by God to those who marry in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is ironclad.

The promise that God made through Moses to His covenant people in Deuteronomy 31:6, is the promise that He makes to you today, Ben and Jill, as you enter a marriage covenant with God today: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified...for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”

The problem, of course, is that while God is always reliable, we human beings can be less than that.

We sometimes fudge on our commitments.

Or become less than diligent in keeping them.

Or we take each other for granted.

Or we look for escape hatches.

Or one partner tries to be "in charge."

Or we turn our marriages into boxing matches.

Because of the humanity of the men and women in marriage covenants, many people, including Christians, have given up on marriage altogether.

Why did God create marriage?

And why should you enter your own marriage, Ben and Jill, with anticipation?

A clue in answering those questions, I think, can be found in Genesis 2:18-24. There, we’re told about how God created the first woman and the first marriage. Verse 18 says: “Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.’”

We were made for relationships and for intimate relationships.

The Bible says that we were made in the image of a triune God, one God in three persons, Who for all eternity has lived in a relationship of intimacy and mutual self-sacrifice, of mutual care.

God knows that thinking, feeling beings need relationships with other thinking, feeling beings.

That’s why God made us: So that His overabundant love could give us life and so that we could know and be known by God.

But God also knows that we aren’t spirits. We’re flesh and blood. It helps us to remember that God is there and that God loves us, that God forgives the repentant, that God gives new life to those who die to themselves--taking up their crosses and pouring themselves out for others, when God brings us other human beings to love and be loved in a relationship of enduring commitment, a covenant with another human being who is both like us and different at the same time.

God made marriage to be a foretaste of the pure and eternal relationship we will enjoy with Him and with all who repent and believe in Jesus Christ beyond the gates of death. In that sense, good, Christian marriages can be a kind of preview of coming attractions!

We can see all of this in the last part of Genesis 2:18. God says of Adam: “I will make him a helper fit for him.” Some people look at that noun, helper, and think that it means assistant. But the word in the original Hebrew means not only someone who helps, but also one who brings succor, comfort, encouragement, who builds another up, who nurtures.

And the word translated as fit for means corresponding to.

Husband and wife, these two people made in God’s image, are designed then to fit hand in glove and encourage, comfort, and nurture one another as they seek to be all that two people who seek to follow Jesus Christ can be.

Wife and husband are meant to use their gifts, talents, and abilities to lovingly help and challenge each other to grow as confident, humble disciples of Jesus Christ.*

No wonder that, if I dare to mention him here in this Presbyterian sanctuary, Martin Luther called every family built on this covenant involving God, a woman, and a man, “a little church.”

Jill and Ben, I have been so impressed by the two of you as we have met together and talked about your marriage covenant. (Though I confess, I don't quite get the whole Justin Bieber thing.)

As you enter into that covenant today, I pray that you will seek the power of God’s Holy Spirit every day to be exactly what Christ is calling you to do on this day: helpers fit for each other, partners made in the image of God, committed to being and helping one another to give glory to the One Who gave You life and the One Who gives you new and everlasting life through Jesus Christ.

Pray for and with each other.

Be there for each other.

Lift each other up.

Offer one another constructive criticism.

Honor God.

Share Christ with each other and with the world.

And keep following Christ!

God bless you both!

[Blogger Mark Daniels is the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church, Centerville, Ohio.]

[This was shared during the joyously Christian wedding of Ben and Jill at First Presbyterian Church in Lancaster, Ohio, earlier today.]

*It's heartbreaking to see how many supposedly Christian marriages are marred by partners who are discouraging, belittling, or bullying toward their spouses. Men and women are equally prone to such behaviors, the ultimate reason being our inborn human desire to "be like God," pursued without regard to the will of God.

It only takes one such spouse breaking the marriage covenant's commitment to mutual servanthood, forgiveness, love, and accountability to to undermine a marriage.

Repentance and renewal from God through Jesus Christ, the acknowledgement of one's own faults and need for forgiveness from God and from one's spouse is the fundamental daily step, along with the habits of life mentioned near the end of this message, to keep the marriage covenant alive.

A marriage in which spouses pray together in humility and authenticity is fundamental for maintaining the covenant relationship among its three partners--God, a woman, and a man--alive.

Say I Won't by Lecrae, featuring Andy Mineo

Another one I can't get out of my mind.

Magnet and Steel by Walter Egan

I hadn't listened to music all day long, when this evening, out of the blue, this song from the 70s came to mind.

I never owned the record and don't remember liking it all that much. It's sort of cornball and, lyricially, is based on one flimsy little metaphor.

But listening to it a couple of times this evening, I've concluded that I sorta like it: The song of a guy who realizes that he's beginning to fall in love with and, to his surprise, trust a particular woman.

Ever a fan of harmonies, I also like the background vocals.

The simple guitar solo in the middle is Beatley, as in the instrumental version of This Boy featured in Ringo's walkabout scene in A Hard Day's Night.

Magnet and Steel was produced by Lindsay Buckingham, of Fleetwood Mac fame. Stevie Nicks, also of Fleetwood Mac, is on the background vocals.

Wednesday, June 08, 2016


Dedicated to Woof.

The God Who Wants to Give More...If We'll Let Him

I try to start my days in quiet time with God, using the stop, look, listen, respond format taught to me by my Navigators coach, Bill Mowry. I explain this way of spending time with God and listening to His Word here.

On one recent morning, I spent time hearing what God had to tell me in Ephesians 2:6-10. Below, nearly verbatim, is what I journaled on the passage. I hope that it helps you as much as it helped me. On this particular morning, I felt drawn to use the English Standard Version (ESV) translation of the Bible.

Look: God raised up all who trust in Jesus and "seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus." (Ephesians 2:6-7)

This blows me away! God showed us grace and kindness in Christ, we're told, so that He can show us more of His grace and kindness, given in Christ, "in the coming ages."

We who are saved by grace through faith in Christ, have an eternity of grace and favor yet to experience, not because of our good works (Ephesians 2:9)--so bragging is out--but because of our grace-showering God!

What is there left for us to do--if we don't have to work to prove ourselves and can't brag about our status as children of God, which is God's gift to us for trusting God's grace and kindness in forgiving and making us new through Christ?

Just this: To walk in the new life and the good works that Christ has created for us to do. He even has those all planned out. All we do is "walk in them" by following Him. (Ephesians 2:9-10)

Listen: This is what I sensed God telling me, individually.

"No more performance stuff, Mark! Your performances always come up shy when you depend on yourself.

"And no more taking My grace for granted. You always veer off into sin and away from Me when you do that. Focus on Me. I saved you. I'm saving you. You can't do one thing to make yourself save-able, salvageable. You're only save-worthy by the mercies of My grace given to those who turn from sin and trust in My Son Jesus.

"Put down your dukes. Repent--truly repent--for your sins. Let Me love you. Let Me direct you. Follow Me and I will shower you with grace and kindness. And you'll know that grace and kindness whatever the world may think of you, no matter how fat or slim your wallet may be, no matter how healthy or unhealthy you get to be. And if you keep following Me, you'll know that grace and kindness in greater and greater measure in eternally."


Respond: What can I say, Lord, except today, help me to dare to follow You. In Jesus' name I pray. Amen

[Blogger Mark Daniels is the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church, Centerville, Ohio.]

Monday, June 06, 2016

From Centerville's Memorial Day Ceremonies Last Monday

These two photos were sent to me by the city of Centerville. I was honored to deliver the Invocation during the city's 2016 Memorial Day ceremonies. The event was a meaningful way to remember those who have fallen while in the military service of the United States.

The invocation prayer I offered is here.

[Blogger Mark Daniels is the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church, Centerville, Ohio.]

God's Plan for Churches and Pastors

Ephesians 4:11-15
It’s often said, rightly I think, that we learn more from our failures than we do from our successes.

Today, with Philip and Amy, and with you, the people of Saint Peter Lutheran Church, I want to share with you what I have learned from what may be the biggest failure of my nearly 32 years of pastoral ministry.

It’s a failure I have really only lately begun to see clearly, even though it should have been obvious to me and I should have addressed it a long time ago.

I can only ask God to forgive me for my past blindness and pray that you, Philip, and you, the people Saint Peter, will be spared having to fail yourselves to learn this lesson.

It’s a lesson which, if we will only be open to it, God gives to us repeatedly in His Word.

Let me bore you with a little background. Ann, Philip, and I went to our first parish in northwest Ohio when Phil was one day shy of his third birthday. I was nearly thirty-one, a newly certified and minted pastor and raring to go.

Within two months, our second child, Sarah, was born. At the time of Sarah's birth, our church had eleven people in hospitals scattered in an arc from Fort Wayne, Indiana up into Ann Arbor, Michigan. For people who aren’t from Texas, that’s a lot of territory. I visited all eleven people three times in five days!

But I was bound to prove myself. I wouldn’t have articulated it in this way, but I was going to be Super Pastor. Preacher on the spot. I was everywhere, doing everything. I decided that I would do the church’s ministry.

You know, a pastor can get a lot of compliments when they do everything. And I was getting them.

But within a few months, as I was visiting the parishioner of another congregation whose pastor asked me to drop by for a visit and prayer, I became ill and was rushed from the cardiac care unit where I was visiting, and sent to the hospital ER.

It turned out to be a stress reaction. My body was revolting against my ego.

Now, I don’t tell that story to prompt Phil to avoid stress or to advise the congregation to take it easy on my son. Doctors tell us that a certain amount of stress is good for us. They call it eustress and it prompts us to do our best, using all of the gifts God has given to us to God’s glory.

What I am saying is that my stress reaction was caused in large part by the fact that I was so bent on being Super Pastor that I neglected fulfilling the actual call God had given to me as a pastor, a minister of Word and Sacrament.

That was my failure. And it’s one that, to greater and lesser degrees, I have replicated more than a few times through the years.

What makes it such an epic fail is that by playing at Super Pastor, I was denying the whole congregation the opportunity to do the things that Christ might have been calling them to do. I thought I was doing the work of God. But really, I was so insecure about being a pastor, that I pulled out all the stops to prove myself to people, not to glorify God.

Now, we all know about do-nothing pastors. They think that justification by grace through faith in Christ is God’s license to sit around and do nothing. They practice a cheap grace and reason that since God loves them, they can do and not do whatever they please.

As I’ve told you many times, Philip, anyone who has been called to be a leader gains credibility as a leader as they make deposits of service, love, work, and faithfulness. The call to pastoral leadership is from Christ. Whether God makes our call to serve a congregation all that’s intended to be depends on whether we earn credibility from our deposits of service, love, work, and faithfulness, into the life of the community and the congregation we serve.

My mistake as a new pastor is that I was flailingly busy without thinking about what my true call from God was. I was missing the mark and the people I led, impressed though they may have been, were not being led as God intended for me to lead them.

Philip, don’t make this mistake.

Saint Peter, don’t let Philip drift into this mistake.

If you want this congregation to be all that God intends for it to be and if you want the partnership between congregation and pastor into which Philip is officially installed today to be what God wants, you must clearly understand your calls as pastor and congregation.

Our lesson from Ephesians 4:11-15 helps us to see what our calls as pastors and congregations are.

Please look at verse 11: “And he [that is, Christ Himself] gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds [the word in the original Greek here is ποιμένας and we translate it as pastors]...”

Christ has established this office of pastor. Christ has made you a pastor of His Church, Philip. Christ has given you a pastor, people of Saint Peter. For those who think that Christ is long ago and far away, the calling of a pastor who personally trusts in Christ and views the Bible as the living Word of God by a congregation that has the same beliefs, is proof that Christ is very alive and at work!

And He will keep being at work in their life and work as congregation and pastor if they understand what Christ has called them to do. Take a look at verse 12, please: “[Christ gave pastors] to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…”

Your mission as pastor of Saint Peter Lutheran Church, Philip, is to equip the people to be the Church.

That means empowering them, living alongside of them, teaching them, training them, and inspiring them to do the ministry.

It doesn’t mean that you’re to be the minister.

It means, to paraphrase the Augsburg Confession, that basic statement of Lutheran Christian belief, rightly teaching, preaching, and living the Gospel, the Word of God, and rightly administering the sacraments, Holy Baptism and Holy Communion.

The Church doesn’t need Super Pastors.

Christ doesn’t call anyone to be a Super Pastor.

Christ has called you, Philip, to work as a servant leader, teacher, preacher, comforter of the bereaved and the sick, and trainer so that the whole congregation can do ministry.

A strong tenet of Lutheran belief revolves around the priesthood of all believers explained in 1 Peter 2:9. Speaking to all Christians--laypeople and pastors, Peter says: “ are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”

The whole Church--laypeople and pastors--is called to tell the world about and to live out its faith in Jesus.

And your call, Philip, isn’t to do the ministries that God has called and empowered the people of your congregation to do, but to equip them, first by being a model, to do those ministries.

Our lesson from Ephesians then tells us what the goal of this equipping is.

Verse 13: “until we all [congregations and pastors] attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ…”

Do you all remember the sense of accomplishment, maybe relief, you felt the first time you rode a bike without training wheels or tied your shoes?

Or graduated from the sixth grade, then high school, maybe college, even grad school?

Or on your first day of a paid, honest-to-goodness W2-worthy job?

Or when you got a raise or promotion?

Beyond the money or the compliments that come from meeting such milestones, there is a deep-down sense of fulfillment that comes from them all. They make us feel like we’re growing up, like we're moving forward.

It’s a fundamental truth of life that we’re either growing or we’re dying; there’s no middle ground.

No responsible father keeps tying his kid’s shoe when the kid is thirty-five.

No good mom takes her daughter’s tests or fills in for her at work.

Super Parents like these would rob their kids of growth and fulfillment.

Just so, God wants us to grow in our faith into the fullness of Christ, living, in Luther’s phrase, as little Christs: people who love God and others passionately, people who can help others know Jesus as the way, the truth, and the life, and people who, by the power of the Holy Spirit, can help others know the Word of God and apply it.

Your call, Philip, isn’t to be the token Christian who does all of this.

Your call is to multiply the impact the crucified and risen Jesus can have on every life by equipping the people of Saint Peter and yourself to “grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ…”

If you focus on that, I promise that you’ll have more than enough work to do!

You’ll forgo having everyone think of you as Super Pastor. But you will sense God telling you, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

And people of Saint Peter, if you will allow yourself to be equipped for the life of ministry to which every believer in Jesus is called, you will know the joy and the fulfillment of living in sync with God, of growing up and knowing more of His blessings, and, most importantly, knowing Jesus Christ Himself.

Saint Peter, Amy, and Philip, I pray God’s blessings as you take your journey of faith in Christ together.

[This was shared during the installation of Philip Daniels as pastor of Saint Peter Lutheran Church in Walburg, Texas.]

[Blogger Mark Daniels is the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church, Centerville, Ohio.]