Saturday, July 16, 2016

Every Breaking Wave by U2

Close Your Eyes by James Taylor

"And I still love you."


You don't need to know the person or circumstances (I don't even know the circumstances) to join me in this prayer:
God, help my friend going through a tough time. Provide whatever is needed and sustain with Your love and power. In Jesus' name. Amen
Please pray for my friend. Thanks.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Heart of Gold by Neil Young

This video starts out uncomfortably and ends stunningly.

It's 1971. Neil Young is performing live. In the midst of the show, he rummages around in his pockets for a harmonica, an instrument he's only recently begun playing.

This is a guy who's already experienced great professional success. His fumbling around would today be seen as an unprofessional waste of the audience's time. We seem to have lost touch with how endearing being real can be.

Another element of what happens before Young dives into the song is his near apology for how weird it must be for the audience to hear "these new songs." The impatience of audiences with artists performing new songs is nothing new. Old success can be a straight jacket for artistic exploration.

In a recent interview on BBC radio, Paul McCartney--incidentally, inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by Neil Young--talked about what it's like to sing an old Beatles or early McCartney solo classic before a packed arena. Everywhere, he said, there are flashes from cameras and cell phones ablaze. But when he introduces a new song, the arena becomes a "black hole."

McCartney has the same sympathy for audiences wanting to hear the classics that Young seems to voice here. People save up a lot of money to come to a concert, McCartney says, and if he were to attend a concert by the Rolling Stones, he too, would have certain songs he would expect.

Still, I admire artists who challenge both themselves and their audiences by trying on new or unexpected material in live concerts.

The bravest example of this I've ever seen came from Eric Clapton at a sold-out show in Cincinnati some years ago. "If you came here tonight to hear the pop hits," Clapton said, referring to almost his entire musical catalog. "This is a blues show."

The disappointment among what seemed like a majority who hadn't known that this was a blues tour was almost palpable. But over the course of a unique show that seemed to add instruments and volume with each song--starting out acoustically and moving toward a screaming finish--Clapton won everybody over. Even me. I knew it was a blues show when I went and I'm not that into blues, but a friend had gotten my ticket for me. That was the only reason I'd gone. But when I left, I was glad I had. It was, I think, a satisfying night for artist and audience.

So, back to the video at hand. After fumbling around for the right harmonica and tuning it, Young, in this 1971 clip, plays the simple intro to Heart of Gold. The tune, the arrangement, and the voice are simple but arresting. And a classic is ushered into the world.

Emotionally Yours by Bob Dylan

One I've posted before. But I love this song.
It's like my whole life never happened
When I see you, it's as if I never had a thought
I know this dream, it might be crazy
But it's the only one I've got, okay

The only one whose opinion matters

Public opinion is fickle and people will like or dislike you for lots of reasons, most of them unfair.

A few years ago, I wrote a song inspired by the circumstances of several people I'd known through the years who were falsely accused of financial shenanigans, one at a corporation, the other at a public entity.

In each instance, the media reported the allegations while the accused were forced by legal realities to refrain from comment.

Meanwhile, their communities were abuzz with unkind rumors of all manner of illegal, nefarious, and immoral activities of which my acquaintance was supposedly guilty.

In both cases, I felt like I was watching a game of telephone, a tumbling profusion of lies, sparked by, in each instance, one unproven allegation. Every time I tried to correct the false information, I was treated either as naive or complicit with wrongdoing.

You know, it isn't just the American system of jurisprudence that holds a person to be innocent until proven guilty, the God of the universe expects us to treat rumors, even allegations from public officials, as false until proven otherwise. In the eighth commandment, God says, "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor." In his explanation of this commandment, in The Small Catechism, Martin Luther writes:
We are to fear and love God so that we do not betray, slander, or lie about our neighbor, but defend him, speak well of him, and explain his actions in the kindest way.
We need to be told this kind of thing, of course, it's foreign to our nature to give others as much consideration as we expect for ourselves.

But fallible human beings clearly aren't the ones whose opinions about us should matter most in our lives.

My song starts out:
People will say what people will say
They refuse to be confused by the truth
I've seen that this is often true. People say uncharitable things about others because, in doing so, they make themselves feel superior. They're looking for affirmation in all the wrong places.

We make a mistake when we allow the opinions of others about us to rule our choices and behaviors. The only One Whose opinion of us matters is God. He will judge our lives, not other people.

The great news in all of this is that God judges those who turn from sin and turn in faith to Jesus Christ with grace. He will do that even for people who are guilty of the sins that others gossip about. He will even forgive gossipers and would-be judges who repent and trust in Christ alone as their judge, God, and King.

Jesus frees us from the changing whimsies of others' opinions of us, roots us in love and life for eternity, and sends His Word and His Holy Spirit to guide us toward living according to God's will, not others' will, not our own. In this, there's freedom.

None of this means we should ignore the opinions of other people altogether. When loved ones or mature fellow church people speak the truth in love to us about perceived wrongs or bad judgment on our part, we should listen; they may be speaking God's truth to us. Christians, in particular, voluntarily live in a community of mutual accountability with their fellow Christians. Where this mutual accountability exists, we actually have more freedom not less, as God uses Christian community to set us free from sin and relational acrimony.

In any case, our ultimate Judge is God. And His desire is to set us free...if will let Him.

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

[I don't know where I got this graphic. I saw it a year ago, liked it, and kept it. Apologies if I have violated any copyright laws.]

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Take your nap!

I sometimes nap. Apparently, I'm not alone in the practice. According to Michael Hyatt, napping confers five benefits on the snoozer:
1. A nap restores alertness. 
2. A nap prevents burnout.
3. A nap heightens sensory perception.
4. A nap reduces the risk of heart disease.
5. A nap makes you more productive.
And these aren't just Hyatt's opinions. He presents data for each of his points.

He also gives tips on good napping.

Read the whole thing.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

That love command hasn't been rescinded

TobyMac posted this over on Facebook. Check out Matthew 22:36-40:
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

AUDIO: What the world needs now


Lord, give me more faith in Christ than in my sins

Today, for my quiet time with God, I prayerfully reflected on Luke, chapter 13. Two verses particularly caught my attention. Jesus is the speak in both:
"...unless you repent, you too all will perish." (v. 3) 
"...unless you repent, you too will all perish." (v. 5)
Jesus has evidently sensed the desire of the crowd surrounding Him for His take on two recent tragic events that people were talking about.

One the murder ordered by the Roman governor, Pilate, of Galileans (natives of the region in which Jesus was raised), who were at the moments of their deaths, offering sacrifices at the temple in Jerusalem. (As I read this today, I found myself thinking of the Christians engaging in Bible study at the South Carolina church where a racist white man gunned the believers down last year.)

The other incident to which Jesus refers is one in which eighteen people were killed when a tower at a place called Siloam collapsed on them.

I infer from how Jesus couches His words in these verses in Luke's gospel, that He hears a note of judgment in the crowd's discussion of at least one of these events.

When horrible tragedies happen, people are desperate in their search for explanations, in their craving for orderliness, and in their hope that their own virtues will exempt them from the bad things that happen to people in this marred and imperfect world.

But Jesus tells them not to get any ideas about easy explanations or about their possessing a moral superiority that will make them bulletproof in the face of life's harshest possibilities.

Then, He tells the crowd, twice, that without repentance, they will perish. Of course, when Jesus speaks of perishing, He has in mind eternal separation from God, the only Source of life.

I feel chastened by this passage, not because I judge life's victims guilty for the tragedies that befall them. God forbid!

I know that bad things happen to faithful people. Job, in the Old Testament, was a righteous man. Yet he was hit by multiple tragedies. And personally, I've known many people--faithful, loving, believing people--whose lives have been dogged by tragedy and loss or who themselves, died too young.

Furthermore, Jesus makes it clear that repentant believers aren't exempt from pain in this life. "In this world," Jesus said once, "you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world!" (John 16:33)

And He says that God "...causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous" (Matthew 5:45).

Sure that God isn't a monster who picks out life's "winners and losers," I would never think of blaming the victims of tragedy for their tragic circumstances.

But Jesus' words still caught my breath today. He chastened me by His serious, implacable, non-negotiable call and command that I repent.

I realized that sometimes, more often than even I know, I'm sure, I take God's grace so much for granted that I fudge on repentance.

I often offer perfunctory mouthings of confession with little intention of changing the way I do business from day to day.

Truth be told, at a functional, life-level, I can be more interested in God justifying my sins--"O, that's OK, Mark. Nothing damaged," I imagine the chump version of God I seem to sometimes erect in my mind--than in justifying, rendering righteous and new and horrified by sin, this clump of God-stuff, Mark.

The good news is that Mark can be justified. (You can be too.)

But to receive the justification by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, which is the central promise of Christian faith, bringing new and eternal life to all who trust in Christ, there must be a genuine brokenheartedness--not necessarily emotional, but real--for my sin.

There must be a genuine desire--not measured in goosebumps, but in the surrender of my will--for God to flush from my life, to rip violently from my existence, the sins of which God's Word and the Holy Spirit have made me aware.  I must cling to God and not to my sins!

No one is without sin, of course. No one can be aware of all of their sins when they lay themselves with honesty and transparency before God. And no one repents perfectly even when we do repent with a broken heart and a surrendered will. That's OK. God judges our lives on the grace curve as we trust in Christ.

But, here's the point: Freedom from sin isn't permission to sin.

Grace isn't a blank check to spit on the revealed will of God.

Jesus told the woman caught in adultery who He had protected from a judging crowd that had been about to stone her to death, "Go and sin no more" (John 8:11). I've preached and taught many times that, while that woman lived on this imperfect earth, she could never lead a sinless life. (Any more than you and I can.) But, I've also taught that, after Christ protected her from the eternal consequences of her sin--which is what God's forgiveness does for us--the intention of her heart, in light of such grace, should have been not to sin again.

That should be my intention too, every time I repent and know that I am forgiven.

Often though, after repenting, I turn around and commit the same sin for which I just repented, whether in word, dead, or thought.

I confess egotism and self-absorption, then think egotistically or with self-worship.

I confess coveting something, say "Amen," and covet again.

And so it goes.

Though I know better, I act as though I think some sins are more serious than others. It is true that some sins can have graver earthly consequences. In this world, murder brings worse consequences on the murderer than taking God's name in vain does on the speaker. In the civil realm, this is perfectly understandable and appropriate. But, in the eyes of eternity, all sin is equally horrible as violations of God's holiness and of God's will for me as a human being. I know that. But I don't always live like I know it.

Repentance isn't an onerous duty, of course. Repentance brings joy as the repentant, entrusting her or his sins to Christ, is set free from sin's power and enabled by the Holy Spirit to live in that freedom.

All too often though, I treat God's forgiveness as though it untethers me from the life-giving bond of love for God and love for neighbor that all sins violates. I misunderstand my freedom and I go from bondage to bondage, exchanging chains for chains, if I don't prayerfully and actively live in the freedom of forgiven sin.

Father, when I repent, help me to leave my sin with You. Holy Spirit, through the Word, through Christian friends, shout Your directions to me and give me more faith in Christ than in the momentary pleasures of my favorite sins. In Jesus' name. Amen

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

How Great is Our God by Chris Tomlin

Sunday, July 10, 2016

What the World Needs Now: Christ!

Colossians 1:1-14
A woman with whom I was once briefly acquainted told me that she worshiped at her church every Sunday. She loved what she called “the inspiring sermons” given by her pastor each week and, though she never got involved with the church, thought that the people there were friendly enough. “I’m a Christian,” she told me.

But one of the first things she ever asked me was when my birthday was and when I told her she said, “Oh. So, you’re a Scorpio. Interesting.” I didn’t know the woman very well, so I didn’t pursue the subject. But what I found interesting--horrifying, really--is how she could consider herself a Christian and, at the same time, put any stock in astrology.

I was certain that her mixing of belief systems was what lay behind what, over time I could see, was her vapid, meaningless Christian faith.

We live in an age in many people, like that woman, strive to mix belief systems so that they can have the version of God they want to have. Or, the version of religion that leaves them with no God.

This phenomenon is nothing new. It’s what scholars call syncretism. It all seems so open-minded, doesn’t it, taking one from column A, one from column B, add a dash of this and that?

The problem for Christians, of course, is that the One we confess as God in the flesh, Jesus, has insisted that He is the only way to life or truth or God. Jesus even insists that it’s only through Him that we have the power to live lives of love and purpose.

The issues raised by that woman are precisely the issues engaged in the short New Testament letter, Colossians, that we’re going to be considering today and over the next three weeks.

Colossae was a town in Asia Minor, roughly today’s Turkey, located about 100 miles southeast of the more well-known Ephesus. Unlike the Galatian Christians, who thought that they needed to add adherence to Old Testament law to their faith in Christ, and to whom the apostle Paul wrote maybe twenty years before he wrote this letter, the Colossians Christians, were mixers and matchers of all manner of idol worship and religious practices.

Because of this syncretism, the faith of the Colossians Christians was quickly devolving into a Christianity without Jesus. We’ve seen this sort of thing, haven’t we? Churches in which members confess Jesus as Lord in their creeds while dismissing Jesus as only a good man, the Bible as only a book, or the Gospel as just one way to God?

Many of today's Christians, like the Colossian Christians to whom Paul wrote, are often syncretistic. Paul wrote the Colossian Christians for two reasons:

  • (1) To point to Jesus, the fullness of God, the only God, the only way to God. 
  • (2) To call the Colossians to live the kinds of lives of love and passionate engagement with the world that only Jesus can set loose in us. 

The world needs love, for sure. The sad events of this past week in Louisiana, Minnesota, and Texas confirm that.

And Jesus Christ is the only certain source of love. That’s what Paul wants us to know.

Take a look at our lesson, Colossians 1:1-14, please.

After greeting the Christians at Colossae on behalf of Timothy, his young assistant, Paul says beginning in verse 3: “We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people— the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven and about which you have already heard in the true message of the gospel that has come to you.”

Notice that here, Paul uses three key words: faith, hope, and love. This is not the only time that Paul has spoken of faith, hope, and love, you know. In 1 Corinthians 13, what's often called "the love chapter," Paul concludes, saying: “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

But what did Paul mean by those words faith, hope, and love? And what is Paul telling us in today’s lesson about those three things that might be different from what he wrote to the 1 Corinthians?

Faith, of course, is trust in God. Christian faith isn’t a philosophical proposition, it’s a relational term. As Christians, our faith is in a personal being, the God we know in Jesus.

When we have faith in--believe in--Jesus, we trust in Him in all the ways Scripture refer to God. Jesus is our rock, our redeemer, our Lord, our Savior, and our King, among other things.

We trust that whatever Jesus leads us through, no matter how hard, as long as He is leading, it’s OK. Through Jesus, we follow God into eternity.

We trust that He forgives our sins, helps us face things we could never face in our own strength, and helps us see the light of God’s love even when the world has gone dark.

That’s faith.

Love isn’t necessarily having great feelings about somebody. As I’ve said before, it’s impossible for me to imagine that as He suffered on the cross, Jesus had sentimental feelings about the people who taunted Him, spat at Him, mocked Him, and crucified Him. But He loved them. Love is what motivated Jesus to die on the cross for us.

He exhibited it even as He was drawing His dying breaths. Ge prayed for those who murdered Him.  (Let that one sink in for a moment!) “Father, forgive them,” Jesus prayed from the cross, “for they do not do what they are doing.”

Love is the commitment to do and be the best for God and others, even when we don’t feel like it.

That’s love.

Hope is the most important thing that Paul talks about in these opening verses of Colossians.

Paul isn’t talking about hope the way we do when we say things like, "I hope it doesn't rain tonight." Or, “I hope that we’ll have a good turnout for the Family Film and Fun Nights.”

That kind of hope is fine, of course. But hope as Paul speaks of it here has to do with following Jesus and knowing that no matter how things go in this fallen world, we have a hope that cannot be destroyed.

I visited a gravely ill man in the hospital. "It's OK for you to pray for my healing, pastor," he told me. "If God does heal me, it means that I'll be around a while longer. If God doesn't heal me, it means I'll be with Him in eternity. It's a win-win."

All who turn from sin and trust in Jesus Christ as their God and King live each day in the hope that one day, we will live in direct fellowship with God in eternity. No matter what happens to believers in Jesus, nothing can defeat them.

That's hope.

Paul had never visited Colossae. The church there was started by another member of his ministry team, Epaphras. But he tells the Colossian Christians that he thanked God for the faith and love evidenced in their lives, a sure sign that they were drawing hope from its only source, Jesus.

Please slip down to verse 9. Paul writes: “For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light.”

Paul tells the Colossian Christians what he prays for them.

He doesn’t pray for their health.

He doesn't pray that God would bring them wealth.

He doesn't ask God to give them success.

He doesn't pray that God will give them ease.

He doesn't even pray for the well being of their families.

Paul almost never prays for things like these. And he never asks that others pray for him for such things.

Instead, Paul says that he prays that Christians in Colossae...

  • will be filled with the knowledge of God’s will, 
  • will be given give the wisdom and understanding that the Holy Spirit can give us for everyday living,
  • will lead lives worthy of association with the name of Jesus, 
  • will experience the seeds of Christ’s grace, forgiveness, and love bearing fruit in lives of love and good deeds done for others, 
  • will know God intimately, 
  • will be strengthened by the One Who calls all followers of Jesus away from thinking and living like the darkness of this world. The darkness of this world to which the Bible often refers is the very darkness that we have seen in recent days in video clips from Louisiana, Minnesota, and Dallas.

By their tight connection to Jesus, Paul was praying, the lives of the Colossian Christians would reflect the very light of the world, Jesus Christ Himself.

Do you see what Paul is praying?

He’s praying that the Colossian Christians will grow as disciples: followers of Jesus, people whose every thought, action, impulse, and word reflect Jesus, God enfleshed.

This week, I’d like to ask you to take verses 9-12 of our lesson as your own personal prayer.

Pray them for your family.

For Living Water.

For the North American Lutheran Church.

For yourself.

As you turn Paul’s prayer petitions into your own prayer petitions, eventually expressed in your own words, pray that God will help you and help the Church to grow as disciples of Jesus Christ.

Listen: America needs Christ and the Church as it never has before. The world needs Christ and the Church as never before.

And, God has given each of us who bear the name of Christ a critical role in helping others to know and follow Jesus Christ.

There's a little story told about a scene in heaven that unfolds right after the risen Jesus gave the eleven remaining apostles the Great Commission. In the story, an angel is standing with God the Father witnessing this commissioning. "Jesus is giving the responsibility of spreading the Gospel and His love, making disciples, to those eleven guys?" the angel asks. "Is that the plan, Lord?" "Yes," God responds, "that's the plan." The angel can't believe it! The eleven didn't have an impressive track record. "What," the angel asks God the Father, "is plan B?" Says God: "There is no plan B."

When it comes to living, praying, and spreading the transforming love of Jesus Christ, it's our move, Church! That's God's plan. In the face of the world's darkness, it's up to us to spread the light!

Listen, please: Disciples in whom the love, grace, power, and sovereignty of the God revealed in Jesus Christ is present and growing are the only means by which America, the world, and people everywhere are going to live in the faith, hope, and love that only Jesus Christ can give.

Please make Paul’s prayer in today’s lesson your prayer each day this week.

I guess the logical response to my request is, “Why? Why should I bother?”

Why shouldn’t people just cast about for the mix and match combination of religious beliefs that makes them, you, and me feel comfortable and in control, like the woman I mentioned at the beginning of this message?

Paul answers that question in the last two verses of our lesson: “For [God] has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”

To honor the God Who has rescued us from sin, death, and hell; to honor the God Who has changed our eternities through Christ, I ask that you pray that God will help us and help all for whom we pray to be faithful disciples, to grow as faithful disciples, who live our faith with authenticity and who love others as Christ has loved us.

How can we give less than our all to the Lord Who has given everything to us? Amen

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