Saturday, October 22, 2016

Come Away with Me (Live) by Norah Jones

Let Me Roll It by Paul McCartney

"I wanna tell you
"And now's the time
"I wanna tell you
"That you're gonna be mine."

That's confidence, I guess.

The whole baseball world wonders...

...where Steve Bartman will be tomorrow night.

Steve Bartman didn't cause the 2003 Cubs to lose the sixth game of the National League Championship Series, when many assumed the team would punch its ticket for the World Series. Cubs pitching and fielding in those two games were the real culprits.

But Bartman became a scapegoat for the frustration of Cubs fans over (then) ninety-five years in which the team hadn't won a World Series. That drought continues. But, as was true in 2003, the Cubs head into a sixth NLCS game with a three games to two advantage over their opponents, this year the Los Angeles Dodgers.

I would love to see Cubs Nation bury the hatchet with Bartman, himself a lifelong Cubs fan, who hasn't been seen back at Wrigley Field on that fateful night when he, like any other self-respecting baseball fan, reached for a foul ball hit his way.

But whatever he does, he (and probably every other fan) should stay away from Aisle 4, Row 8, Seat 113. You don't want to be there if a ball gets hit down the left field line tomorrow evening.

The skinny on murder in the US

This graph is a testament to the chasm that often exists between perception and reality. According to the FBI, murder is at its lowest rate in fifty years.

Dylan, the Bible, and the Nobel Prize for Literature

Poet and pastor Malcolm Guite applauds Bob Dylan's Nobel Prize for Literature and explains the connections between Dylan's body of work and his reading of the Bible.

Years ago, I read an article in Rolling Stone about Roger McGuinn, lead singer and lead guitarist of The Byrds, a band that successfully covered several Dylan songs. This was during Dylan's "Christian phase." But McGuinn explained that in the mid-60s, ten years before Dylan's "conversion," Dylan told McGuinn that he always turned to the Bible for song-writing inspiration. You can hear it on every Dylan LP. He's steeped in the Scriptures and they're apparent in his cadences, sensibilities, and imagery.

Dylan deserves his Nobel Prize and my life has been enriched by his work.

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

Friday, October 21, 2016

Can't Stop Me Now by Lecrae

Just released today.

This Never Happened Before by Paul McCartney

Just sit back and listen (again) to this beautiful ballad.

Some thoughts on loss

The pain associated with a loss never goes away.

No matter what the loss--the death of a loved one, the rupturing of a relationship, the loss of a job, the death of a dream--the pain always remains. It would be unnatural for us not to grieve or always a carry a sense of our loss: We were made in God's image, created for eternity and shalom. But the inborn condition of alienation from God--what the Bible calls sins--distorts us and disrupts God's good intentions for each of us. We grieve as we lose the life we know, deep in our DNA, for which we were made. But there is good news!

God became one of us in Jesus Christ. He lived a sinless life on this planet, yet faced the terrors of this life, yielding Himself on a cross He didn't deserve, all for our benefit.


So that God can stand with us in all our losses and assure us that our Maker, Who also has endured loss, understands.

So that Christ could receive the wrath and rejection that our wrathful rejection of God earns us, turning the wrath from us onto Himself, setting us free from judgment for our sinful condition and the sins we perpetrate against God, each other, and ourselves because of that condition.

So that Christ could, as the prototype of a new human race, devoid of sin, filled with everlasting life, made strong in grace, secure the same resurrection victory for us that God the Father gave to Him on the first Easter Sunday.

Jesus says, "In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart, I have overcome the world!" (John 16:33)

The world and all of its losses have been overcome by Jesus and His victory belongs to anyone who, by the power and grace of God's Spirit that can change a life for eternity, turns from their own sin and sense of self-sufficiency and instead entrusts themselves to Christ. This is what Jesus calls believing in Him or having faith.

Loss is a reality in this finite and fallen world. The God of the cross can comfort us with His Word, the sacraments, and the Church. The Church is the fellowship of recovering sinners (I'm one of those!) who are being reshaped by the grace only Christ gives.

But, make no mistake about it, loss has met its conqueror. He is Jesus Christ, God the Son in the flesh.

Believers in Christ know that beyond their futures in this loss-filled world, we will live as God intended us to live: free of death, sin, relational disruptions. We will be eternally one with God and with all those sinners who are sainted by grace through faith in Christ.

There, God "...will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death' or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." (Revelation 21:4)

In the light of this reality, we can live today fearlessly. We can love even when our love is rejected. We can fight to bring justice to the despised, the ignored, the unloved. Even in the face of our losses, Jesus can free us to live.

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

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Trust in God, me, people?

Five days a week or so, I begin my day with a Quiet Time with God. In Quiet Time, I meet God with this format: stop, look, listen, respond.

Today, the focal point of my Quiet Time was John 2. Here are my reflections and what God showed me.
Look: “Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.” (John 2:23-25, English Standard Version)

Listen: Jesus has been among crowds throughout this chapter. He was at the wedding at Cana, with His disciples, where He turned water into wine, His first sign.

He was at the temple at Passover and drove the money-changers out of the place.

But these verses show how alone Jesus was, even amid a crowd. He was true God and true man. He was as vulnerable as other men, as the Passion Account will show. But He was also God, omniscient. Jesus could “read people like a book,” a truth pointed out in countless subsequent events in His ministry, recounted in all four Gospels.

But I was still a bit baffled by this passage about Jesus not entrusting Himself to them--that is the believing crowds--as I read it today. (Baffled as I have been before and simply glossed over it, I guess.) I wondered this morning what God was saying here.

I decided to look at the Greek in which the New Testament was originally written. The first thing I noticed is that when John speaks of Jesus not entrusting HImself to them, the verb is a form of pisteo, the most common verb form used for believing or having faith. (The noun form is pistis.) That struck me as odd. While the word can be used for common, everyday trust--”I trust my kids not to get in trouble when they go out at night.” “I trust that the pilot of my plane knows what she/he is doing.”--it struck me as funny that John reports that Jesus didn’t trust in the crowd. It seemed more cosmic than the everyday use of the term. Jesus had no faith in the crowd. Jesus had no faith in human beings, even though He loved them enough to go to a cross for them. Why? Because “he himself knew what was in man.”

The Greek has the article: “Jesus knew what was in the man.” While I wouldn’t probably want to press this too far, Jesus speaking of not trusting the man--the Adam--at this juncture in the narrative forms a nice counterpoint to His earlier (and sort of strange) address of His mother as “Woman,” as in “Woman, what does this have to do with me?” (John 2:4). That passage shows us that while He is God and man, with no need for human beings, He nonetheless loves “the Woman.” (And not primarily as His earthly mother, but as a human being.)

Nonetheless, John is telling us in verses 24 and 25 that Jesus wouldn’t entrust Himself “to them” because He had divine insight into what human beings are like. They could not be trusted. That’s why I say Jesus lived a lonely life.

Verse 23 tells us who the people are in whom Jesus did not entrust Himself: They were among the “many [who] believed in Him.” Again, the verb is a form of pisteo, the same verb Jesus uses in John 3:16, when He says that we are saved by belief in Him. Belief is the whole ballgame, the road to justification and sanctification of sinners by God. Yet Jesus doesn’t trust even those who believe in Him.

The Message translation nicely presents this reality: “...many people noticed the signs he was displaying and, seeing they pointed straight to God, entrusted their lives to him. But Jesus didn’t entrust his life to them. He knew them inside and out, knew how untrustworthy they were. He didn’t need any help in seeing right through them.” (John 2:24-25, The Message)

Yet later, after His death and resurrection, Jesus would empower people who believed in Him (His Church) with the mission of making disciples. That seems like a gargantuan act of trust on His part.

What changed?

Above all, Jesus had died and risen from the dead. He had made clear that every follower of His would bear the cross, seeing their own sinful flesh crucified by repentance and going through physical death too. The cross tells us that following Jesus isn’t a walk in the park. Until would be followers of Jesus recognize this, any talk of believing in Him is shallow and meaningless.

This is why Jesus usually instructed people He had healed or set free from demons to tell no one. You can’t understand Jesus as the Messiah until you understand Him as the suffering Messiah who joins us in our suffering in order to redeem it and make us new. John the Baptist had it right when He pointed to Jesus and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, Who takes away the sin of the world.” It was Jesus' sacrifice as a Lamb unblemished by human sin that makes it possible for sinners like me to be saved. No cross; no empty tomb. No death; no rebirth for fallen sinners. No surrender; no real trust or belief.

The people who believed in Jesus because of His signs were incapable of believing in Him as in belief, or faith, or surrender that actually saves, belief that acknowledges that there’s nothing about us that’s salvation-worthy but we trust in the perfect sacrifice of Christ on the cross to make us worthy.

Jesus only could trust the post-resurrection Church with the “great commission” because, through Holy Baptism, He was going to pour His Holy Spirit on His Church. Jesus loves the human race and He loves His Church completely. But He only trusts human beings insofar as they have, by the power of the Holy Spirit’s witness through disciples, come to believe in Him as crucified and risen Savior (John 3:16-18). He only trusts the Church insofar as, by the power of the Spirit, it preaches repentance (Mark 1:14-15) He only trusts the Church insofar as, by the power of the Holy Spirit, it confesses Jesus as Lord (2 Corinthian 12:3) ...and not as a decision made by people who, from their fallenness, is capable of believing in Jesus. The crucified and risen Jesus, then, unlike Jesus before His crucifixion and resurrection, trusts the Holy Spirit in us; but He doesn’t trust in us because He knows exactly what’s in us.

Listen: Though I regularly rail against such things, I realize that I often cave into the temptation to put my ultimate trust or trust on a par with the trust I’m called to have in Christ, in people.

The first “people” I put my trust in most often is me. The absurdity of this should be clear to me, Lord. While I don’t know me as well as You know me, I know enough to know that I’m utterly untrustworthy. In fact, I’ve made a shambles of some friendships because I’m not always trustworthy.

I am, and this is my ongoing struggle as a Christian--though I don’t struggle with it enough: being about me. I let the old Adam have too much say in how I live from day to day. I dream about things that are contrary to Your will. I fantasize being a BMOPE (big man on planet earth). I look for what’s in it for me. I seek more to be comfortable than faithful.

I put my trust in other people. There’s nothing wrong with having trusting relationships with others. But I suppose I have a tendency to idealize people, because of the Christ I see in them. But no one is perfect. No one is worthy of the kind of trust I’m meant and can confidently have only in You.

Respond: Help me to put my trust in You alone and to act on that trust in You alone today. Show me what that might mean for my thought life and for my actions.
[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

Monday, October 17, 2016

A point of pride: America's clean election system

For those concerned about voter fraud, this article by a law professor who has looked for fraud in every US election since 2000, should assuage your concerns. The prof teaches at the Loyola College of Law in L.A., known as a conservative institution.

Here are the money paragraphs from the piece he wrote for The Washington Post:
"I’ve been tracking allegations of fraud for years now, including the fraud ID laws are designed to stop. In 2008, when the Supreme Court weighed in on voter ID, I looked at every single allegation put before the Court. And since then, I’ve been following reports wherever they crop up. 
"To be clear, I’m not just talking about prosecutions. I track any specific, credible allegation that someone may have pretended to be someone else at the polls, in any way that an ID law could fix. 
"So far, I’ve found about 31 different incidents (some of which involve multiple ballots) since 2000, anywhere in the country."
In pointing this out, I am not making a political statement.

But I do think it's alarming when major political figures allege that we have a fraudulent election system. The United States has the cleanest election system in the world. That's a fact. It's one of the blessings we enjoy as citizens of this country. America isn't perfect, but we can be proud and grateful that our votes are counted and reported accurately.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

The world thinks you're crazy? Christ vindicates the faithful

Luke 18:1-8
Imagine this scenario. A man, insisting on his innocence, is convicted of a terrible crime and put in prison for decades. A group of law students becomes interested in his case and, employing DNA evidence not available at the time of the trial as well as finding other evidence the man’s defense attorney never used, prove that the convicted man is innocent. TV cameras and reporters wait outside the prison walls as the man is set free. “How do you feel?” they ask. “I’m sad that I can never get all those lost years back,” he says, “but I’m thankful to finally be vindicated.”

Vindication. When we know that we’re innocent or that we’ve been violated, but justice finally comes, or when we see the things we believe in are prone true, vindication is sweet.

In the passage in Luke that comes before today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus says that those who have trusted in Him, who have followed Him, and allowed His Word to reign with authority over our lives and have endured the rejection or dismissal or even persecution of others for our faith in Him, will be vindicated. We are justified.

Jesus says there that the vindication of our faith in Him, rejected by a cynical and sinful world, will come when He returns to bring judgment on those covered in sin and vindication to those who, by their faith, are covered by His grace.

“I tell you,” Jesus says, “on that night two people will be in one bed; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding grain together; one will be taken and the other left.” [Luke 17:34-35] Many Christians get this wrong, by the way. The ones taken away are, in fact, the ones facing judgment and hell; it’s the ones “left behind” who will remain with Jesus in His eternal kingdom! They will be vindicated for staying faithful to Him.

Jesus continues the vindication theme in our Gospel lesson for today, Luke 18:1-8. It begins: “Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: ‘In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, “Grant me justice against my adversary.”’”

Now, there are several things it’s important to remember as we dig into Jesus’ words.

First, in first century Judea, widows were in a tenuous position. They weren’t supposed to have any property and women generally had no rights. If a woman was wronged, she was completely at the mercy of a society in which a woman’s testimony was inadmissible in court.

Second, Old Testament law made it clear that God expected His people to care for widows, as well as orphans, the poor, and strangers (what we would today call immigrants). [Maybe, a better word would be refugees.] But first century Judea didn’t like talking about God’s Law when it was uncomfortable. (They're not very different from us, are they?)

Third, in the first century world, there was no distinction between civil and criminal law. In our country, we have agencies like police departments to gather evidence and seek indictments against people who have committed crimes. Then we have prosecuting attorneys to prosecute crimes. In first century Judea though, if a member of your family was murdered, the job of finding and seeking a conviction against the murderer was yours. There were no law enforcement officials, no professional prosecutors.

That’s the situation in which the widow in Jesus’ parable, a woman likely penniless and certainly powerless, finds herself as she seeks vindication. We don’t know what the crime was that had been committed against her. (Although the judge seems to acknowledge that she was in the right.) But we do know that the deck is stacked against her because the judge to which she makes her constant petitions didn’t care about God or about the opinions of others. Jesus’ original hearers, knowing how the world usually worked, undoubtedly thought as Jesus began His parable, that the widow and her cause were toast!

Go back to the lesson, please, starting at verse 4: “For some time he [the judge] refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”

The word translated here as attack me, in the Greek in which Luke originally wrote the Gospel, is the verb, ὑπωπιάζω. It means, literally, strike under the eye. The judge was worried that the widow would give him a black eye. That phrase could be, just like today, used both literally or figuratively. The judge is worried that this widow who keeps bothering him, seeking vindication day after day after day, will give him the black eye of a bad reputation.

He’d been careful to conceal the fact that he was a cynic and a sinner who loved neither God or people. But this relentless woman could ruin everything for him. Because she was so incessant, her story was bound to come out. The town would know that she had been wronged and that the judge had refused to do anything for her. So, the judge thinks, “Enough, already! I will see that this irksome petitioner gets justice!”

Of course, this is where people most often misunderstand this parable. They think that God is the unjust judge and that, if we want to get Him to do what we want Him to do, we have to wear Him out with our praying. In this interpretation of the parable, God becomes a surly call center operator who gives us blessings because we keep pestering Him. I hope that, from what you know of the God we meet in Jesus Christ, that picture of God doesn’t seem right.

Jesus sets us straight on this. Verse 6: “And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly.”

Jesus is saying that God is nothing like that unjust judge! The judge finally vindicated the widow against his will. But God, our Father in heaven, wants to vindicate us. He wants to demonstrate to us that we haven’t been crazy to trust in Him, that He is the God Who gives life, forgiveness, purpose, and peace to all who put their trust in His Son, Jesus.

When life seems to have gone dry...when hope seems hard to find...when relationships become challenging...when the world seems to make a mockery of our faith, we can cry out to God and He will fill us with the power of His Holy Spirit, the strength of His love, the assurance of His presence. We will know our faith isn’t for nothing. We will be vindicated!

Through Jesus, the promise given to ancient Israel is also for we who confess that Jesus is our Lord and God: “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” [Deuteronomy 31:6]

In Matthew 28:20, Jesus underscores this promise for we disciples: “I am with you always, even to the close of the age.”

Some read this passage and think that it means if we pray for a new Lamborghini--I saw one parked by Five Guys a few weeks ago--God will give it to us.

God does provide for our daily bread, of course. Jesus teaches us to pray for our daily bread to acknowledge Him as the giver of everything we need to live.

And God does entrust some people with greater wealth...along with the high obligations associated with being a wealthy person who has the ability to care for so many of his or her neighbors on this planet.

But remember that in this parable, Jesus is talking about praying for the vindication of our faith in Him.

Today, in the United States, it’s become increasingly fashionable to ignorantly dismiss the existence of God, the deity of Jesus, His resurrection, or the justification of sinners by the grace of God through faith in Jesus. “Where is God in the midst of all of the world’s sufferings and injustices?” they ask.

The answer: He’s where He’s always been, with those who trust in Him. He’s with us when we go through the cross experiences of our lives, having gone through His own cross for us. And He’s with us when our faith sustains and inspires us to lives filled with His love and, powered by His Holy Spirit, we share the Good News of Jesus, making disciples in His name.

As the apostle Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:7, “we live by faith, not by sight.” But when Jesus returns, when He calls us out of our graves and says, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father…” [Matthew 25:34], we will, like the widow in Jesus’ parable, be fully, eternally, perfectly vindicated in our faith. He will give us the justice not that we deserve, because that would mean death and eternal condemnation. He instead will give us--is giving us even now as we trust in Him--the justice of God’s grace: forgiveness, life, and love we don’t deserve and could never earn, but that God gives freely to all who follow Jesus.

All of which leads to the question Jesus asks at the end of the parable today: “However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

We are all, of course, sinners. We fall short of the glory God intended for us to live in as creatures made in His image.

If we were to be tried for sin by God, the righteous Judge, no amount of evidence could disprove our guilt. The conviction rate would be 100% and our lives would bear witness against us.

Only our faith in Jesus, the Son of Man, can vindicate us, can justify us.

So, in response to Jesus' question here, I give you this exhortation, this encouragement: Pray each day that the Holy Spirit, the author of faith in Jesus Christ who plants it in the hearts and the lives of sinners willing to believe, will fill you with faith and with the assurance that, despite your mistakes, sins, and failings, God loves you with an infinite love and declares you free to live in His grace for all eternity.

God wants to vindicate you in this way, quickly, now, always. Amen