Friday, June 23, 2017

Shame on Johnny Depp

Johnny Depp's rhetorical question about the last time a president was assassinated by an actor must make every legitimate opponent of Donald Trump's policies, actions, and words cringe. Depp doesn't help the cause of those who want to disagree with Trump through political dialog and action.

And it's just plain wrong to fantasize--however facetiously--about doing violence to other human beings. It's not the right thing for Ted Nugent to do; it's not the right thing for Johnny Depp to do.

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

Good Advice

"Take the day's measure of good, and be thankful, and who knows but more may be added?" from The Confession of Brother Haluin by Ellis Peters.

As I say, you never can tell what God may have up His sleeve.

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

A 'Melania Makeover' and the Value of a Human Being

The New York Post has the story of a seemingly attractive woman who feels the need to look like someone else, in this case like Melania Trump.

This is not much different--only be degree--from the person who feels the need to derive their sense of identity and worth from having someone else's name on their clothing, be it jerseys, sneakers, dress shoes, t-shirts, ties, suits, or other articles of clothing.

If you don't know by faith in God that, through Christ, you are acceptable in the eyes of the only One Whose opinion matters, you become subject to the temptation of subordinating your own unique personhood to other people or things, all so that you can feel powerful or worthy.

But God has already shown you your infinite value by sending His Son Jesus to die on the cross for you, where he bore the punishment for sin that we all deserve. Then He rose from the dead to open up the perfection of eternal life spent in God's presence to all who trust Christ for forgiveness, life, and the certainty of their worthiness.

Trust in Jesus, not face lifts, hair coloring, sneakers, a career, a house, a car. None of those things can deliver what only Jesus can and does give to those who repent and believe in Him: a certainty of their worth, the presence of God and the support of His Church today, and the promise of life with God beyond death.

[UPDATE: This situation also reminds me of the former Rachel Dolezai, one-time leader of the Spokane NAACP chapter, who, it turned out, claimed to be black when, in fact, she is white. We are all "fearfully and wonderfully made" (Psalm 139:14), no matter how difficult that may be for us to accept.]

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

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Is this a bid for the Nobel Peace Prize?

For about two years now, Chris Riccobono, who owns Untuckit, has been telling the story of how he was inspired to become a shirt salesman. (He also clearly wants to be a model.) Finding a shirt that looked good untucked became his passion. His passion? Really?

Riccobono makes it sound as though his shirts are the answer to some pressing world need, akin to a cure for cancer or Middle East peace. Every time I see this commercial, I want to scream.

(I've held that in for two years. Now, I feel better.)

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

Wednesday, June 21, 2017


[Below are reflections on my quiet time with God from this morning. For more details on how I format my time with God, see here.]
Look: “...But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— if you continue in your faith…” (Colossians 1:22-23) 
Two things stand out here: (1) My reconciliation with God and my freedom from sin and its consequence, death, have been accomplished. I’m not waiting for salvation to happen to me. In Christ and through my faith in Christ, it has happened to me and is happening to me. I’m reminded of Jesus’ words to the woman at the well: “...a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth…” (John 4:23) The kingdom is coming in its fullness, but it has already come fully to all who believe in Jesus. “Today salvation has come to this house…,” Jesus said of the unlikely candidate for salvation, the extortionist Zacchaeus (Luke 19:9). As I trust in Jesus, I am in the kingdom even now and know that nothing can separate me from the love of God given in Christ (Romans 8:31-39).

(2) The citizenship in the kingdom of God which I enter by faith in Christ is mine so long as I continue to live my faith in Christ. God is faithful. God will never rescind my salvation. But if I cease to believe, ceasing to trust God with my sins through Christ or to trust in Christ for forgiveness and life, I voluntarily cede my citizenship. Jesus says: “"Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 10:32-33)

Listen: “Daily repentance and renewal” must be more than a Lutheran motto, but my way of life. The daily renewal of my faith relationship with the God I know in Jesus is how my faith is maintained against the corrosive influences of my own sin, the sin of the world, and the never-ceasing temptations presented by Satan. As I live in intimacy with Christ, He takes hold of my life more deeply. He enters into my life more fully (Revelation 3:20). I experience His kingdom and the confidence, peace, and hope of it more completely.

Respond: Today, Lord, help me to more fully, completely, and transparently yield my life to You. Help me to trust You with my whole life. Thank You for making me part of Your kingdom through Christ and my faith in Christ. Amen
[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

Sunday, June 18, 2017

What Now?

Matthew 9:35-10:8
Today is the second Sunday after Pentecost. It begins the longest season of the Church Year.

To the outside observer, the Sundays after Pentecost don't constitute the most exciting or compelling part of the church calendar. There’s no Christmas, Easter, or Pentecost to enliven it.

Our Roman Catholic sisters and brothers and other fellow Christians don’t speak of the season as “the Sundays after Pentecost,” but lump it in with what they call “Ordinary Time.” That’s how most people will see this season of the Church Year, just ordinary.

It is in some ways. I think of it as the Season of Getting Down to Brass Tacks.

The question that our Bible lessons throughout this season ask and help us answer is a simple one: After God has entered our world in Jesus, died on the cross for our sins, risen from death to open life with God to all who repent and believe in Him, filled us with the Holy Spirit to empower us to believe and share the Gospel news of new life through faith in Jesus, what now? While we await our personal encounters with Jesus, either at our deaths or when He returns to this world, how do we live? What now?

That question takes center stage in our gospel lesson for this morning.

It comes at a transitional spot in Matthew’s narrative of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.

After the exciting beginning of Jesus’ ministry and following the incredible time of teaching we call the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus begins what may seem like a fairly routine portion of His ministry. (If anything about Jesus’ time on earth can be called routine!)

Our lesson finds Jesus at what we might call a hinge of His earthly ministry, one on which a door is closed on one phase and is opened to a brand new one.

Here’s what I mean: Up to this point, Jesus has been the One doing all the ministering. Jesus has been the Actor, His disciples the audience.

But in our lesson, things change. Here, Jesus calls and empowers His followers to enter into the same ministry with the same power--the same authority--He possesses as God the Son.

There will be another hinge in Jesus’ ministry, coming after He dies, rises, and ascends into heaven, when all who follow Him will be unleashed not just onto the small land of Judea to share Him with others, but when all of His disciples--everyone who bears the name of Jesus--will be sent into the whole world to share and live out the Gospel so that their neighbors of all colors, races, ethnicities, and backgrounds can come to know and follow Jesus.

We, in the Church, live on the other side of that doorway.

But today, let’s take a look at what we can learn about living in this green season, this ordinary time, from what Jesus says and does in today’s gospel lesson.

Matthew 9:35: “Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness.”

This was Jesus’ ministry before His death, resurrection, and ascension summarized: He taught, he shared the Gospel of new life with God for all who repented and believed in Him, He brought God’s healing to people’s lives.

But that ministry was about to expand beyond Jesus, motivated by the loving compassion of God for all people.

Read on, please: “When he [Jesus] saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed [The word that Jesus uses here, in the Greek in which Matthew wrote his gospel, means more literally, troubled] and helpless [This word in the Greek carries the meaning of cast away, thrown away], like sheep without a shepherd. [The people were lost, set adrift in the world without hope, untethered from God by their inborn sin.] Then he [Jesus] said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.’”

Don’t miss out on the importance of that last sentence. These sheep--lost in sin, lost to death, losing out on purpose for their lives--are troubled. They’re the world’s throw-aways. But, unlike the world, Jesus has compassion on them all...on all of us. They, like us, need a shepherd, someone to lead them to life and peace with God.

Jesus was, while on earth, a shepherd to many people.

But, for the sake of being the perfect human sacrifice for all of our sins, Jesus had voluntarily accepted the limitation of living one human life while on earth, able to reach, touch, and speak to only so many people.

It’s possible that He could have talked to all the residents on Planet Earth at a single time (and Scripture says He will do just that when He returns one day), but it is in the nature of our loving God to want to meet us and offer us new life intimately, one to one.

By accepting that limitation, Jesus fulfilled the desire of the little boy I’ve mentioned before who couldn’t get to sleep, afraid in his bedroom by himself. His dad pointed out that he and mom were just down the hall and that besides, “God is right here.” “I know that God is right here,” the little boy says, “but I want someone with skin on them.”

Jesus was God with skin on Him.

But it’s Jesus’ intent that we should all meet God through people with skin on them, through people who believe in Jesus Christ and whose lives have been changed for all eternity by Him. It's people who know, follow, and love Jesus who can bring the God we know in Jesus close to others.

So, switching metaphors from sheep to crops ready for harvest, ready for eternity-changing good news, ready to be brought into the shelter of God’s kingdom, Jesus commands His disciples, including you and me, to pray for workers to move into that harvest.

I can think of no other command we have received from Jesus that is more ignored by His Church. We're even more obedient to Jesus' great commission command to make disciples, to evangelize, than we are to this one.

We Christians often lament the sorry state of the world. It bothers us to consider how many people go through their lives without ever knowing Jesus Christ, the only One Who can save them from sin, the only One Who can give them the life with God that they yearn for even of they don’t know it.

But we fail to do what Jesus tells us to do in our gospel lesson this morning: To pray that God will send disciples with skin on them into the lives of all people in order, by the power of the Holy Spirit Who lives in every Christian, to duplicate the ministry of Jesus--the ministry of teaching, proclaiming the good news, being agents of God’s healing--to the harassed and helpless who need Jesus as much as you and I do!

Praying that God will send workers into all of the harvests of the world should be something that we as Christians do every single day!

We need to pray that God will send workers to bring in the harvest of the lost among the elderly, baby boomers, GenXers, and millennials, to bring in the harvest of those presently lost in Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, atheism, to bring in the harvest from all who do not yet know Jesus.

But be careful what you pray for! When we pray in this way, we must also be prepared to be the workers that Jesus sends into these harvests.

We may be the disciples with skin on them that Jesus sends out.

Consider what happened to the Twelve that to whom Jesus first commanded this prayer. He called them to be workers in the harvest. He sent them out to do exactly what He was doing, at first only in Judea. Later, He would send His whole Church with the mission to go to the whole world to make disciples. That’s our call--yours and mine--today.

It is a daunting mission. But it’s one we take seriously at Living Water.

When we revised our congregation’s constitution a few years ago, we knew that we had to adopt a new mission statement. The old one was more of an observation than a statement of our mission.

But we became convinced that we didn’t need to formulate some snappy new wording. We didn’t need months of input or study.

That's because the risen Jesus gave His Church its mission just before He ascended to heaven to sit at the Father’s right hand: “...go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20).

This is Jesus’ answer to our question, “What now?”
  • We are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, what now
  • We’re given the Holy Spirit at Baptism, what now
  • We are told to pray in Jesus’ name, what now
The answer: Do the mission Jesus has given to us; be and make disciples. We’re to keep being and making disciples until Jesus returns. As we do it, Jesus promises that He will be with us always, to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20).

On Tuesday night, we’ll have an open house, allowing you to ask questions about our proposed three-phase building project.

I must tell you that, as a pastor who has been through two previous building projects, I face this one with some apprehension.

I’m not concerned about arguments over the bricks and mortar; the plan reflects the prayers for God’s will and the extensive input of our members.

I’m not concerned about leadership or financing.

The thing I pray about as your shepherd is that, in the excitement over putting up the first phase of this project, we forget about our mission of being and making disciples.

Listen: If we see any building we erect as anything other than a tool for being and making disciples, we shouldn’t bother building at all.

The first disciples of Jesus followed Jesus, taught others about Him, proclaimed the good news of new life through repentance and belief in Jesus, and brought Jesus’ healing to others without having sanctuaries, fellowship halls, offices, kitchens, or classrooms. And history shows that they did pretty well at the mission of being and making disciples Jesus gives to His Church. The first permanent church structure wasn't even built until the fourth century.

I believe that the first phase the Vision Forward team and the Church Council is proposing can help us with the mission that Jesus has given to us. So, can the subsequent phases...but only if we refuse to see our buildings as ends in themselves.

We must not see any building project as a destination, only a route by which we get to our destination. The destination, the constant journey of the Church, is to fulfill Christ’s great commission, to make disciples. And Jesus even tells us to cheat in pursuing it; we’re to pray the power of God’s Holy Spirit on all those disciples with skin on them who have been sent by Jesus Christ to turn the world upside down--one person at a time--with the life-altering good news of Jesus Christ. Whatever we do, we must always remember and pursue our one and only mission!

For the Church, that’s always the answer to the question, “What now?” Amen

[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio. This was the message prepared for worship today.]

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Thoughts on the Philando Castile Verdict

The Philando Castile verdict is the latest chapter in a horrible ongoing feature of our national life in America. Millions of Americans are daily aggrieved because they feel they are denied justice owing to the color of their skin. It's hard to argue otherwise.

I pray that God will prompt us all to remember the words God spoke to all the world through the prophet Micah: "He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you, To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." (Micah 6:8)

If this were our way of life, Philando Castile might still be living today.

Earlier this week, we were awed by and thankful for the actions of the US Capitol Police and others in law enforcement in saving lives threatened by a gunman assaulting members and staffers of Congress. Their heroism was inspiring. They represented the thousands of women and men in blue who keep their communities safe each day.

But we are also aware of the issue of recurring police violence visited, with inordinate frequency, on people in the African-American community.

Irrespective of the specific merits of the Castile case, it is clear that all Americans--white, black, brown, red, yellow--need to find ways to live with the justice, mercy, and humility that God commands.

We can't possibly live with these attributes as our hallmarks on our own, apart from the help and empowerment of the God revealed in Jesus Christ. That's because, as Jesus tells us, "Apart from me, you can do nothing" (John 15:5). Left to our own devices, we cannot rise above our own sins: sins like racism, fear of those who are different from ourselves, the notion that the powerless are always threats to the powerful, and so on.

No matter how often we resolve to end injustice or treat others with love, we will fail in that resolve absent a humble repentance for our past sins and a humble surrender to the God Who came into our world in Jesus, then submitted to unjust execution for our sins and rose to give new, everlasting life to all who believe in Him.

If things like violence and bigotry are to be defeated in this country, it will not be because we've all decided to be nice.

Nor will it come because of sterner laws or sensitivity training, important as such things might be.

It will only come when we turn to Christ.

It will only come when we, seeking to follow Jesus, begin, by His grace and power to reflect His presence in us.

That's what happens: You walk with Jesus daily and He will begin to change you from the inside out.

To those who keep trusting in Jesus, turning daily away from their sins, and daily following where Jesus leads, our thoughts, actions, and motivations start to change, "for it is God at work in you, enabling you both to will and work for [God's] good pleasure" (Colossians 1:13).

In Phlippians 2, the first century apostle Paul, issues this command: "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus..."

We can only have the mindset of Jesus when we believe in Him, when, through Holy Baptism, Holy Communion, and God's powerful Word, the Holy Spirit is unleashed in us to help us live out the life of love, justice, and mercy God has always meant for us to live.

I, a white man, am the servant of my neighbors who are black. And Christian honesty compels me to say that their families too often suffer the summary justice of officers who may be afraid, may be untried, may be racist. I pray in the name of Christ, that things can change.

And I always pray for those who do the difficult task of law enforcement, that God would keep them safe also. And I pray that God will give us all wisdom.

And I pray that the scourge of racism will finally be exorcised from our souls as we follow Jesus Christ, the Savior and God Who alone can transform us from God's enemies to God's friends.

None of this is a political statement. 

It's a plea for all of us to turn from sin and the myth of human self-sufficiency and, instead, to invite Jesus into the center of our lives, as individuals and as Americans.

When we do that daily, Jesus takes up residence in repentant and believers; they, in turn, begin to think differently, live differently, engage with society differently.

Believers in Jesus realize that they cannot (I cannot) be Christians on the strength of our own will power. Like millions of others Christians, I confess each week that, "...we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves. We have not loved you with our whole heart. We have not loved our neighbors ourselves." This what we say when we ask God to forgive us and help us to live as God calls human beings to live, in Micah and others places in the Bible, and to provide us the help of God's Holy Spirit in doing so.

The Christian knows with the apostle Paul that: " is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do" (Ephesians 2:8-10)

It's difficult to imagine a better work we could do as Americans than to follow Christ and invoke His power in living with the kind of humility, love, and mercy that could bring racial justice fully into being and consistent respect for all people, including police officers, into being. But we must begin with Christ! (There is no other way, John 14:6).

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

Did Dylan Swipe from SparkNotes for His Nobel Lecture?

That's the question recently raised by Vox.

It's not implausible.

I love Dylan. But it must be conceded that he has always been a heavy borrower, sometimes it's said, plagiarist.

There are the whole-cloth thefts of a southern poet on an LP some years ago, then his "original" paintings which turned out to be Dylan's renderings of post cards. Those are just a few examples his alleged artistic thievery.

But this seems to take things to a higher order of magnitude. It's one thing to mimic the musical styles of Woody Guthrie and Chuck Berry, or to take the words of Rimbaud or Ginsberg as models for lyrics. It's another to swipe from an online equivalent of Cliffs Notes for a Nobel lecture.

Some will, I suppose, write this off as another example of Dylan's impish disregard for social norms and other people's opinions. But, this is actually serious business. Plagiarism is serious business, especially when it involves the most recent Nobel laureate for literature.

The irony here is that no artist I know of more jealously guards his copyrights. You can find some Dylan performances on youtube, but he routinely quashes a lot of videos of his performances from appearing there. And on Apple Play, Dylan's lyrics don't appear with his songs.

I still think that Dylan deserves his Nobel Prize for Literature. His body of work is filled with originality and daring re-imagining of old ways of writing and speaking.

Nonetheless, if this is all true, Bob, what were you thinking, resorting to thievery from an online source like some disinterested high school kid trying to make the deadline for a term paper?

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

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

With My Own Eyes, I Shall See God

Job 19:23-27
[This was shared during a memorial service earlier today.]

It’s no secret to say that the last sixteen years of A’s life have been marked by more than a fair share of chaos and uncertainty. But today, we trust that, A is at peace.

The peace to which the believer in Jesus aspires isn’t just escape from this world. To be eternally dead or eternally condemned for our sin will not bring human beings peace at the ends of their earthly lives.

For believers in Jesus, God grants a different, a better peace.

Christians believe that because they have trusted in Christ, their peace isn’t just rest from this world, but life with God, life as it is meant to be.

Christians believe that the God Who promises never to leave us nor forsake us has something even greater in store for those who trust in Him when we pass from this life.

Jesus, the crucified and risen Lord, promises those who believe in Him: “I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” (John 14:3).

And then Jesus says: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)

The rest from the chaos and uncertainty that the God we know in Jesus gives us then, isn’t simply a body decaying in a graveyard, removed from the turmoils of this world, but a new, revitalized life with God: A rest from worry, pain, disease, and conflicts. A life filled with joy and adventure lived out in direct intimacy with the God Who made us, Who brings forgiveness to the repentant and life everlasting to those with faith in Christ.

This has always been the hope of those wrestling with the sin and darkness of this world. In the Old Testament, we read the history of a man named Job. Everyone knew that Job was faithful. Even God bragged about Job’s faithfulness.

But then one day, the chaos, uncertainty, death, and grief of this fallen world were unleashed by Satan on Job in one grievous swoop.

All of his property and holdings were destroyed, his estate trashed.

All of Job’s children were killed.

Then, Job was afflicted with disease, his body covered in open sores.

Job wrestled to trust God in the midst of these experiences. So-called friends came to tell Job that God was punishing Job.

But Job knew better.

He knew that he trusted in the God of all creation and that the bad things that happen to us in this world don’t come to us from God; they come from the evil that’s been in this world since Adam and Eve bit into the forbidden fruit (Genesis 3).

He knew that when the world’s chaos and uncertainty engulf us in this world, the pain of that hasn’t come from God, but that it is only God Who can help us, that we need Him even more and we need to trust Him even more.

You need to know that too.

To all who wrestle with the evil of this world, Jesus says, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

In whatever faces you in the days and years ahead, you can depend on God to be your strength, if you will dare to trust this God revealed to us all in Jesus Christ. When we, like Job, turn to God revealed in Jesus as we face life’s challenges, we can say: “The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me.” (Psalm 28:7)

But we can say much more than that. With Job we can say: “I know that my redeemer lives and that in the end he will stand on the earth.”

Jesus, God in the flesh, once crucified, bearing the condemnation you and I deserve for our sin, has bought us out of our slavery to sin, death, and chaos, by dying in our places. And, just as Job had foreseen centuries before Jesus’ birth, Jesus has stood on this earth, alive, after He had died, Jesus rose again!

And, Job knew, Jesus would stand on this earth once again, to bring this fallen universe to an end, to raise the dead and to give eternal life with God to those who have trusted in Him and to grant sin, darkness, and death to those who, by their rejection of Christ, have sought those things.

Job could say, as all believers in Jesus can say: “...after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another.”

This is the rest that God has in mind for us.

Beyond the gates of death in this world, He promises the joy of being totally and perfectly restored in the presence of the God Who loves us to all who believe in Jesus.

With our own eyes, we will see God.

I pray that today, by faith in Jesus, you will be comforted, that you will allow God’s healing to touch you and fill you.

The believer in Jesus knows the God Who stands with them, carries them, and empowers them through the dark passages of this life and the God Who will one day, welcome every believer in Jesus into His kingdom of peace, life, and forgiveness in eternity.

Jesus once said, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.”

Believe in Jesus today.

Trust that He can forgive your sins and make you new.

May Jesus and His promise to you of an everlasting place with Him be your strength and comfort today and all through your lives. Amen

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

The Trinity: Knowing God

Matthew 28:16-20
This morning, a re-run. I hope you don’t mind.

Today is an often-overlooked day on the Church calendar: Holy Trinity Sunday, the first Sunday after Pentecost.

[This is example of a genre of Christian imagery known as gnadenstuhl. It portrays the Trinity at the moment of Jesus' crucifixion. I thank my son, Pastor Philip Daniels, for sharing this particular image on his Facebook account this past week.]

When I was about eight, I asked my mom for an explanation of the Trinity. How could God be one God in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? Mom told me to ask our pastor, which I did.

“Mark,” he said, “think of water. It can come in the form of a liquid, a solid (in water’s case, ice), or gas (in this case, steam). But whatever form it takes, it’s always water. Three in one.”

That helped somewhat, though it tilts toward a heresy called modalism long ago rejected by the Church.

The problem with the analogy is that as Christians, we don’t believe that God takes on different forms as though God were engaged in some eternal Halloween party, changing His costume from time to time. We confess that God is always one being and that God is always three persons. No analogy is going to exactly explain something as mysterious as the Trinity.

Some people think that the Trinity is an arcane idea best left undiscussed. 

Yet as I’ve gotten to know God better through the pages of Scripture, the fellowship of believers, and the Lord’s Supper, I’ve come to agree with an acquaintance of mine who wrote a few years ago, that there may be nothing more important for us to try to “get” as Christians than the Trinity.

The word “Trinity” is never used in the Bible. But repeatedly, by inference in the Old Testament and in plain words in the New Testament, the Bible affirms that three persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—are co-equal, co-eternal personalities of the one and only God the universe.

For example, in our first lesson, from Genesis, God the Spirit brings the life of the universe into being (Genesis 1:2).

When God decides to create human beings, He says, "Let us make..." Who's He talking to? I think that pretty clearly, God is talking to Himself (Genesis 1:26).

And, look, please at today’s Gospel lesson. It contains the Great Commission. In verse 19, Jesus says: “...go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit...” Jesus is putting Himself and the Holy Spirit on the same level as God the Father.

The Gospels tell us that Jesus makes a point of placing Himself on an equal footing with God the Father many times.
  • “Before Abraham was, I am [Yahweh],” He says in John 8:58. 
  • “I and the Father are one,” He says in John 10:30. 
  • “Anyone who has seen Me has seen the Father,” He claims in John 14:9. 
Yet, Jesus isn’t saying that there are two or three Gods over the universe. Like His fellow Jews, Jesus affirmed the truth of Deuteronomy 6:4: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.”

So, without ever using the word trinity, the Bible affirms that God is one God in three persons.

But what has the Trinity God to do with you and me in 2017?

You’ve heard the phrase: “I love humanity. It’s the people I can’t stand.” We find that funny because we know that there is no validity to our claims of being loving people in general if we are unwilling to love particular people.

Love at its most basic level is not about affectionate feelings. Love is a commitment to willing and doing what is best for those we love, even when we disagree, drive each other crazy.

Love that isn’t lived out practically isn’t love. You can’t be loving if there is no object of your love.

Now, one of the most famous passages of the New Testament is 1 John 4:8, which says, in part, “God is love.”

It's important to note that John didn't write, "Love is God." That would make God just an idea.

Nor does God’s loving character make Him tolerant of all our behaviors. Much of what we human beings do is sinful and of sin, God is absolutely intolerant, even though He never stops loving us.

In these three words, “God is love,” we aren’t given a license to do whatever we want, irrespective of the will of God.

No, in saying that, "God is love," John is making an eternal statement about an eternal God. Before God created the heavens and the earth, before Jesus died and rose so that all who believe in Him may be freed of their sins, before the Holy Spirit formed the Church, God is, God was, and God will be eternally loving.

"God is love" means that love is at the core of God’s character and being. Love is why and how He acts.

But, that raises a question: Who did God love before the beginning?

The answer, I think, is that in eternity, before there was time, before there was a creation, God was already loving others. God the Father loved God the Son and God the Spirit and God the Son and God the Spirit each loved the other two members of the Trinity, have done so and will do so for all eternity.

Even the existence of this universe in which we live at least suggests that God is one, but is more than one person. Only One Who loves and has always known how to love would have thought of giving such a great gift as this thing called life.

When I was twenty-five, I’d been married for five years and my parents were growing impatient. Where, they wondered, were the grandchildren we were supposed to be coming up with? Then, my dad, father of five kids, decided to have a talk with me, giving me advice for the first and only time that I can remember.

Dad told me that if we were looking for the right time or the right reason for having children, to forget it. There’s never a right time. There’s never a good reason.

And that’s the point. It’s in the very nature of love to forgo convenience to self and to give, to serve, to stand by, to live for, even, if necessary, to die for.

God has always known how to love. He exists in what the theologians call a "triune" relationship of perfect love and doesn’t need more love. He’s always loved perfectly. He's always been loved perfectly. God doesn't need more love. Honestly, He doesn't really need us.

But, because God is infinite and eternal in His love, God loved the universe into being. God the Word, Christ, spoke into the darkness and chaos and God the Spirit wended His Word and life sprang up.

We--every one of us--are the products of God’s love: unnecessary but loved nonetheless, superfluous but cherished.

Today, the Holy Trinity calls us to follow Christ right into the center of His loving fellowship.

He claims us as His own in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit at our Baptism, and then calls us into an ever-renewing relationship of love with Him and all that He has made.

Sin and death and isolation from God and from others will be the last word over every human life unless people are washed clean of sin and made new through repentance and faith in Christ. Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians 5:17: “...if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”

Christ calls us into life abundant and eternal. But there is no life without love. This is no biological observation: the unloved child, abused by her or his parents, isn’t experiencing life; the couple in a loveless marriage aren’t living; the teen subjected to bullying and putdowns is experiencing a love deficit that is, inherently, a life deficit; the visitors ignored when they worship at a church they’ve never been to before are being treated both lovelessly and as though they weren’t even alive.

And this is why the Trinity is such an important reality for us to experience. We live in a fractured, fractious world. People are divided and often hateful. Love of neighbors, including love of our enemies, is a rare thing. It’s so rare that only Jesus and the people who, by faith, draw life from Jesus really live it.

God has created the Church, the fellowship of believers in Christ, to make disciples and to usher believers into a community of love that fills us with the power of God to move toward being the loving people we were made to be and promises us eternal fellowship with God and others.

In the Garden of Gethsemane before His arrest, Jesus prayed to God the Father that all who followed Him, “may be one...just as you are in me and I am in you...” (John 17:21). God wants us to live in the same selfless fellowship with others He has always known. That’s what Jesus died and rose to give to those who dare to believe in Him.

If all of this sounds airy and theoretical, removed from the hard realities of your life, consider this: Every time we pray to our Father in heaven in Jesus’ name, we do so at the prompting of the Holy Spirit, Who through God’s Word and the witness of other Christian disciples, helps us to trust that when we come to the Father on the bases of Jesus’ perfect righteousness, our prayers are heard.

More than that, we believe that when we’re confused, afraid, worn out, incapable of putting a coherent thought into words and simply call out to the God we know in Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit forms our groans into prayers that, through Jesus, reach the Father. (Romans 8:26-27)

I have never prayed so completely as I have when, wrung out by life, I have asked heaven, “What? What?”

If it weren’t for the Holy Spirit and the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus to open our access to God the Father, prayers like that would only bounce off the ceiling.

The Holy Trinity can make a difference in our everyday lives if we will be open to His threefold ministry to us. God in His fullness, Who cares about us even though He doesn’t have to, Who is able to stand with us in every experience, also makes it possible for us to experience fellowship, community, with Him and with His family, the Church.

This is why the Church is so important. Only the Church has been designated to connect people with the Trinity. And in a world filled with the idea of mashing others into oblivion and lifting ourselves to the top, of crushing and being crushed by selfishness and self-will, we need the liberation from self and the connection to God and to others that only the God Who is the Holy Trinity can give us.

We need, truly, more than anything else, love that changes our hearts, our minds, and our eternities. And only the God revealed as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit can give it. Amen

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

Note to Self

Note to self: For the glory of God and the love of neighbor, pray more, opine less; share Christ, not my puny thoughts; strive to show God's love, not my alleged smarts.

That's because "...the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God's sight," (1 Corinthians 3:19) including my own supposed wisdom.

The world doesn't need another fool's version of wisdom. It needs Jesus Christ. He is where life and wisdom are found. With the apostle Paul, I've resolved " know nothing...except Jesus Christ and him crucified" (1 Corinthians 2:2).

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

Friday, June 09, 2017

Praying for Friends on Tough Anniversaries

Today, I'm praying for a friend and family going through the anniversary of a tough day, the start of a rough period in their lives.

You probably have people in your life who face these dark markers in their lives each year. Pray for them when those days come around, that God will encourage and comfort them. Even if you can't speak with them on those anniversary dates, you can pour God's love and life into their sadness through your prayers to God for them offered in Jesus' name. And God can do infinitely more than any of us can.

"Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen." (Ephesians 3:20-21)

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

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Love Alone is Worth the Fight by Switchfoot

A cherished friend gave this CD to me when it was released three years ago. Love this track.

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

Glad to See You by America

This is a track from America's 1974 release, Holiday. George Martin produced the album, as he did other America projects. Martin's arrangement on this and Holiday's other tracks adds depth and beauty.

I've always loved this song despite its misuse of God's name in the chorus. The interesting thing though, is that the composer and lead singer, Dan Peek, later became a Christian and a pioneer in the Christian contemporary music movement of the 70s and 80s.

The chorus and the whole song can, in fact, even be read as a plaintive cry to God, as in:
God, I'm glad to see you
I thought you'd left me far away
I remember in my atheist days writing a song that included the line:
Sometimes, God
I feel like I'm
A million miles from heaven
And I can't find my way back home
In my mind, at a conscious level, I was treating God as a concept, the way politicians who thoughtlessly end their speeches by saying, "God bless America."

But I think that in my subconscious, I sensed the alienation from God and others that goes with thinking that you're a creature without a Creator.

Who knows what may have been going on in Peek's subconscious when he composed the song?

Incidentally, in this period, Peek was dealing with substance abuse issues.

In 2011, he died in his sleep of a rare and poorly understood disease, fibrinous pericarditis.

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

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

As we grow older, do friends become more important than family?

Research indicates this may be the case.

And I'm inclined to agree. Why? Because as much as people may love their family members, they don't have much (any) choice as to who their family members are. Family members often have diverging interests and, sometimes, unfortunate shared histories.

Friends are different. As the old saying puts it, "Friends are the family we choose."

In my mind, this research also has implications for marriage; I often tell engaged couples that marriage, when it is good, is only friendship plus intimacy. After all, most people choose marriage partners just as they choose their friends.

The research also indicates what I believe to be true: that disruptions in our friendships can often be more stressful than disruptions in relations with one's family.

Of course, as the article points out, people can have strong friendships with family members, too.

Read the whole thing.

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

Quenching Our Thirst for "It" (AUDIO)


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

Monday, June 05, 2017

Claiming the Place Prepared for Us

John 14:1-6
[This was the message shared today at the funeral of George, a member of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio, where I currently serve as pastor. A one-time successful high school football coach, George received several offers to serve on several major college staffs, but turned them down in order to be there for his wife and children. He became a successful business executive. In retirement, he was an integral part of the churches of which he was a part, providing amazing servant-leadership. He will be missed, but we rejoice that he is with his Savior Jesus right now!]

Unlike many of you here today, I have known George only three-and-a-half years, the time since I became pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church.

But I learned early on something of what made George tick.

Before we moved into our condo in Miamisburg, George led a team of Living Water folks to get the place ready for us to move into. Anything that we needed, he saw that it happened.

I had already begun to work here before Ann and our belongings arrived. One night, I arrived at the condo, expecting it to be empty, only to find George doing a little finish work.

We started talking and each of us, tired of standing, ended up plunking ourselves down on the floor of one of the bedrooms before there was a stick of furniture in it, talking for maybe a couple of hours.

In that conversation, I learned that George was a leader and that like all true leaders, he was, above all, a servant.

I learned that he was a man of his word and utterly loyal.

I learned that he loved his wife, his family, his friends, his church, the players on his old Meadowdale football teams.

That night, before he left the condo, George told me, “Pastor, I don’t know you very well. But you seem like an unassuming guy. So, I’m going to tell you something: Don’t be afraid to ask for whatever you want or need.”

The first impressions I formed of George that night on the floor of our condo were, in the subsequent crowded three-and-a-half years, confirmed repeatedly. George was one of the greatest people I ever knew and I count myself blessed to have known him and to know you too, Marilyn. Like hundreds of other people, I loved George. He was truly one in six billion!

I had to say all of that today because George would never have allowed me to say it if he were physically present with us right now.

But there’s something else I need to say to all of you today, something that George and his family definitely want me to tell you. It’s rooted in our Gospel lesson for this morning, John 14:1-6.

These verses are part of Jesus’ words to the disciples on the night of His betrayal, when He was arrested and taken for trial, before going to the cross to offer His life as the perfect sacrifice--the “lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world”--for our sins, yours and mine, opening up forgiveness and eternal life with God to all who turn from sin and trust in Him.

Jesus here knows that He must die. There is no other way that He can tear down the wall of sin that separates us from God than for Him to die.

And He knew with perfect clarity, because Jesus is both truly man and truly God, exactly what suffering awaited Him. Contrary to what some people think, I believe that the perfect clarity with which Jesus could see what awaited Him only made His suffering and His experience of worse than it would have been were He only a man.

If anyone needed comforting, it was Jesus.

Yet, on this night, it was Jesus comforting His disciples.

While they didn’t know exactly what the next twenty-four hours would bring, the disciples did know that the forces of the Jewish religious leadership and the Roman government were arrayed against Jesus, that they wanted Him dead and would have Him dead if they could lay their hands on Him.

The disciples had hoped that Jesus would take the reins of the first-century equivalent of Church and State and bring them justice, vengeance, and ease. But now Jesus seems to be saying that their hopes for an earthly kingdom will not pan out. They needed comforting.

And so, Jesus tells them: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”

In the past year or so, many of us have had a recurring conversation with George: He would learn of some setback in his health and we would ask how he was doing with things. We wondered how he felt about it all. And George would say, as he did to me, “I’m OK, pastor. I’ve had a good life. And besides, I know where I’m going.”

George knew where he was going because he believed in Jesus Christ! George knew that Jesus had gone to prepare a place for him long before George was ever born.

And Jesus has prepared a place for you too.

Some people hear talk of the place that Jesus prepares for people in eternity and they think, “There go the Christians again, talking about pie in the sky in the sweet by-and-by.” They think of Christians who, in the old saying, are so heavenly minded that they’re no earthly good.

If that’s what you’re inclined to think when we speak of Jesus having prepared places for us in eternity, I invite you to consider the lives of George and Marilyn.

Did you ever know two people more engaged in the living of this life, more committed to each other, to their children and grandchildren, to other people, to work, to helping others, to having fun, to the Church?

In their retirement years, a time when some people sit back and settle into selfish pursuits, George and Marilyn have been servant leaders in the Church. George served as a mentor to high school kids. Marilyn has worked at Hannah’s Closet.

Listen: When you belong to the God we meet in Jesus Christ, it doesn’t drive you into some la-la land separated from reality; it empowers you to move with confidence and hope and courage into the very world that Jesus Christ died and rose for.

You try to make a difference--loving and serving and leading and helping others to know Christ--because you know God already has your back for all eternity.

Nothing can hurt you; so you can help others.

When you know that Jesus Christ has prepared a place for you in eternity, it liberates you to live this life with commitment, love, abandon.

We saw this repeatedly in George. George was never afraid of dying; he was only afraid of failing to live fully in whatever days God gave him on this earth. That’s part of why we loved him so much!

George showed us all how to live as people set free from fear of sin and death!

 He could care about others even when he was not doing well. I’ll never forget talking with George at Marilyn’s birthday party. I wanted to see how he was doing. But he wanted to ask me how my vacation went. “Did you relax?” he asked me. When I assured him that I had, he said, “Good!”

George faced death fearlessly because of his relationship with Jesus. I know that he and his family want you to know that today.

But here’s something else I know that George would want you to know: The place that Jesus has prepared especially for you in eternity will go unoccupied if you refuse to have anything to do with Jesus.

Jesus says: “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 10:33)

We can be confident about following Jesus Christ into an eternity with God the Father if we dare to follow Jesus Christ here on earth.

If we fail to trust Jesus here, the grace of forgiven sin, a new way of living on earth, and an eternity with God cannot be ours.

Jesus will never force His love or His lordship on us, here or in eternity. If we want Jesus in eternity, we must claim Him here and now.

Jesus famously tells us in John 3:16-18: “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.”

The comfort and the power for living that Christ offers to every human being, along with an eternity with God, only belong to those who dare to turn from their sin each day and trustingly follow where Christ leads each day.

Jesus gives us what we call the gospel--the good news--that all who repent and believe in what He offers, have what George had, confidence about their eternal destiny, confidence to live each day.

“The time has come,” [Jesus says.] “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

Are you trusting that Good News today?

Are you trusting in Jesus today?

This is what Jesus dares all of us to do in the balance of our Gospel lesson. After Jesus told the disciples that they already knew the way He was going, the way of following His Father’s will, the way that take Him to the cross, to the resurrection, to the right hand of the Father, Thomas said to Jesus: “‘Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?’ Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’”

Some people fault Christians for citing these words of Jesus. To them, they seem closed-minded. “Jesus is the only way to life with God?” they ask. The answer is yes!

Because Jesus loves all people, Jesus wants all people to follow Him in living with God, filled with confidence, hope, peace, and resilience in this life and filled with God’s love and life for all eternity.

But why should Jesus be the only way to life with God? Think of it like this: The Bible says that we are born in sin, a condition of alienation from God, lost in a roiling sea of death that will destroy us unless we grasp the outstretched hands of the Savior Who died and rose for us. If we insist on holding onto our sins or the earthly measures of success or to anything else from this dying world for hope or life, we cannot grasp onto Christ. We must hold onto Christ, and to Christ alone, in order to hold onto God.

Jesus tells us: “...wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” Jesus is that small gate and narrow road that leads to life. George found it. May you find it too.

Marilyn, life without George will not be easy for you, we know. He leaves a hole in your life and that of your family that cannot be filled by any other person. And it would be unnatural for you not to grieve. But I pray that knowing that George has gone to the place Jesus prepared for him will comfort you and that you will be comforted too by the fact, guaranteed by Jesus’ resurrection, that one day, all who trust in Christ will be reunited in eternity. That will be an amazing thing! God bless you. Amen

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

Quenching Our Thirst for "It"

John 7:37-39
In The Silver Chair, one of the books that make up The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, there’s a scene in which a girl named Jill Pole, who is from this world, is mysteriously transported to an alternative universe called Narnia and there, happens on a lion. He’s sitting by a pool of water from which she desperately wants a drink. But seeing the lion, she simply stands, paralyzed by fear and indecision.

“If you’re thirsty, you may drink,” a voice tells her. It was a voice, as Lewis says, “deeper, wilder...stronger” than any she had ever heard, “a sort of heavy, golden voice.” She wondered where the voice had come from.

Then it said again, “If you are thirsty, come and drink.” Now she realized that it was the enormous lion who was speaking to her. Frozen in fear, she said nothing.

“Are you not thirsty?” the lion pressed. “I’m dying of thirst,” she told him. “Then drink,” he said.

After considering matters, Jill thought that she didn’t dare go any nearer the lion or the stream. “I suppose I must go and look for another stream,” she said. And then the lion told her, “There is no other stream.”

In Lewis’ Narnia, Aslan is a figure of Christ, the King of kings, sent by the Emperor Over the Sea, a figure for God the Father. In this scene, Lewis gives us a picture of how God the Son and God the Holy Spirit work in our lives to give us faith and to give us life that can be found nowhere else.

You see, we’re all born with a thirst for God and for the life that only God can give.

That’s true whether we know it or not.

One pastor calls this our human desire for it, that unsettled feeling that tells us that there’s more to life than existing from day to day.

We’re born craving it and sometimes we think we’ve found it in new fidget spinners, new spouses, new friends, new cars, new homes, new jobs, new boats, new hobbies.

There’s nothing wrong with any of these things. Everything in this world, including every human relationship, can be wonderful blessings.

But none of them is it. None fill our thirst for living water.

Saint Augustine, who spent many years searching for it in his study of philosophy and in illicit sexual relations before coming to faith in Christ, spoke of our common search for it in a well-known prayer: “You have made us restless for Yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds rest in You.”

One of the psalmists speak of the same thing when he writes: “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?” (Pslam 42:1-2)

What is it then? What can quench our thirsty souls? 

It’s the very life of God, His breath, His Holy Spirit. 

It was the Spirit Who God the Father breathed into us to first give human beings life: “...the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being” (Genesis 2:7). The perfect life of God filled the human frame.

Of course, that life became distorted, marred, perverted after humanity fell into sin, bringing deterioration, death, broken relationships and a constant thirst for it.

Many today are so steeped in the sin and death of this world and all the habitual lifestyles we adopt to approximate what we’re looking for that it doesn’t dawn on them that what we’re looking for can’t be found in things filled with the death, sin, and corruption of this fallen universe.

Still, for many, the search continues. Paul told a crowd in Athens that searched for it in all manner of little gods, godlets, and lifestyles: “From one man [Adam] he [God] made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.” (Acts 17:26-27)

Then, Paul revealed to the crowd that He knew about what they were looking for: A relationship with Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, Who died and rose to bring forgiveness and new, everlasting life to all who believed in Him. This Jesus could fill them with the Holy Spirit, with the life human beings lost at Eden, the life that they longed for. Only Jesus could give them it. Only Jesus can give it to you and me.

When, in Lewis’s story, Jill Pole sees the water that could quench the thirst from which she’s dying, she wants it more than anything. But to get to it, she must pass through Aslan. And so she hesitates.

When I was starting a new congregation in the Cincinnati area, I went door to door to introduce the church to the community. One house I stopped at was a large one set on a golf course. A young couple invited me in. They offered me water and I sat in their living room for a visit.

It turned out that they were both preachers’ kids. They were knowledgeable about God and the Bible. They had both been through divorces. I asked them how long they’d been married. They weren’t married.

“I know that’s wrong,” the man told me. I didn’t deny it. “So, how do you feel about God?” I asked them. “I love God,” the man told me, “But He’s just not part of our life right now. I want God in my life. We both do.” I asked him if he would like to do something about that desire, because, I assured them, “God wants you even more than you want Him.” They said, “Not now.”

That’s one of the most tragic conversations in which I’ve ever been involved. Here was a couple who knew what it was: life from God, life with God, freedom from sin, the power of the Holy Spirit to live in community with God forever, through faith in Jesus Christ. They hesitated. They said they weren’t ready yet. They were too busy with their sin to let God in just then.

Folks, the time to get ready, the time to let Jesus in, the time to drink the living water that Jesus can give to us is always now!

In today’s short Gospel lesson for this Pentecost Sunday, Jesus is speaking to a crowd in Jerusalem during the feast of booths or feast of tabernacles. It occurred each year seven weeks after Passover and was celebrated during the harvest season. During this season, it was common for Jews to erect booths or tabernacles in their fields in remembrance of the temporary shelters their ancestors used during the forty year Old Testament exodus. Jesus is in Jerusalem to teach and to make an amazing promise.

Take a look at the lesson, please. Verse 37: “On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink.’”

I love the fact that Jesus spoke in a loud voice!

The world wants to turn Jesus into a compliant, namby-pamby dishrag, a weakling who will go along with us and not stand in our ways when we go wrong. But Jesus isn’t putty in our hands!

Revelation 5:5 calls Jesus, “the lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David,” Who by His death and resurrection, triumphs over His enemies--our enemies of sin, death, and darkness--to bring us life.

Last week, you’ll remember, Jesus told us, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). Here, He tells us--in a loud voice--that if we want the life of God, the Holy Spirit bringing us, as we confess each Sunday in the Creed, “the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting,” if we want it, if we want to quench our thirst for what only God can give us, we must come to Jesus Christ. There is no other stream!

We can’t steal this living water from God. We can’t get it by being good people, or by dabbling in religion. All roads don’t lead to God or the life we long for. Jesus is the only road.

That may fill us with fear, betting our whole eternity on surrender to a Savior Who commands us to leave our sins and our most cherished selfish dreams behind.

And yet, we know that Jesus isn’t just the Lion of Judah, He is also “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).

If we are thirsty for the life that God only gives through Christ, we must come to Jesus!

Verse 38: “‘Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.’ By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.”

Today, six Living Water young people will affirm their desire to live in the covenant of their Baptism. They are saying that, for themselves and not because their parents brought (or dragged) them to church, they believe in Jesus Christ, that they don’t want to seek life anywhere else.

Of course, they haven’t formed these intentions on their own. They’ve been influenced by their families and this congregation.

But more than that, the Holy Spirit, unleashed in their lives when they were baptized, has drawn them to Jesus, filled them with life, caused them to realize that the holes in their souls--and the holes in every human soul--can only be filled by the sinless, crucified, risen, and ascended Jesus Christ.

As Paul reminds us: “ one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:3).

And it is this same Holy Spirit Who can sustain them--and all of us--through the ups and downs of this life, quenching our thirsty souls through God’s Word, the witness of the resurrection, and the fellowship of the Church.

It is only when God helps and guides us that we can follow through on our good intentions of following Jesus always.

 Jesus once said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” (Matthew 5:6).

It’s Jesus’ promise, certified by His death and resurrection, that if we will look only to Him to fill that need for life, peace, hope, and relationship that only He can fill, we will be filled to overflowing.

He will send His Holy Spirit and we will have forgiveness and life, “pressed down, shaken together and running over” (Luke 6:38) as Jesus says.

That’s what He promises all who trust in Him on this Pentecost Sunday and every day we dare to affirm, by word and by living, our total trust in Him. May this be our way of life. Amen

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

Saturday, June 03, 2017

Stetzer: Christians Need to Repent for Conspiracy Theories (I agree)

Ed Stetzer is a conservative evangelical Christian and the executive director of the Billy Graham Center in Wheaton, Illinois. He's an expert on and practitioner of Christian evangelism. He's also no mean theologian and social thinker. I really respect this guy.

Here is a piece he just published in 'Christianity Today' about the need for Christians, in this hyper-mediated and polarized era, to stop spouting conspiracy theories. Stetzer is right, I think, in calling this a violation of what we Lutherans know as the Eighth Commandment: "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor."

In the Small Catechism, Martin Luther explains the meaning of this commandment for a Christian's daily conduct:
We should fear and love God so that we do not betray, slander, lie, or gossip about our neighbors, but defend them, speak well of them, and put the most charitable construction on all that they do.
Just because you're suspicious of someone on the right, or the left, or the middle, or somewhere else on the spectrum, doesn't mean that the bad things you hear about them must be true.

Our social compact is being daily eroded by loose ships sharing hot tips, not so much by major news outlets, most of whose journalists and editors work hard to corroborate good and bad news, but by ordinary citizens passing on the latest conspiracy theory on Facebook or Twitter. (I'm especially sensitive about this because my grandfather spouted all sorts of conspiracy theories when I was a kid. Because he was my grandfather, I believed what he said and often re-spouted them at school, only to be acquainted with the documented facts by good teachers.)

As a lifelong student of history, it's my observation that most conspiracies that involve more than four people eventually crack. If the conspiracy was nefarious, somebody talks to the right person, or takes money to betray the other conspirators or to write a tell-all, or to get revenge, or to look like a hero. In short, most "conspiracies" aren't.

Be that as it may, Stetzer is right: We Christians have a lot of repenting to do on this point.

As to counsel for the future, I turn again to Luther, who said that when we hear items of gossip (like conspiracy theories), we should let our ears be their tomb. Bury them; don't spread them.

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

Petition for Our Troubled World

This petition, an adaptation of a petition published by our brothers and sisters in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, will be included in the Prayers of the Church at Living Water tomorrow morning. Please include similar petitions in your own personal prayers tonight and tomorrow:
Lord of all comfort and peace, give to the world that peace which only You can give. Deliver Christians from the hands of persecution, restore peace to lands ravaged by war, grant safety to refugees, and comfort those victimized by war and terrorism, especially we remember the people of Ukraine and Syria daily assaulted by the Russian military and the people of Britain recently attacked by Islamist terrorists. Bring peace to our own nation. In the face of political division and tension, let us find peace in You and Your unchanging promises. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.

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

Praying Blessings on the United Kingdom Tonight

Praying blessings on the people in the United Kingdom in the wake of these latest attacks. May God comfort all those who mourn. May He also guide law enforcement and intelligence officials as they bring the perpetrators to justice and prevent potential terror incidents.

This incident underscores two things for me. First, we are blessed in the United States to have the FBI, CIA, NSA, local law enforcement and first responders, and the US military. In this modern world, the possibility of terror will never be entirely eliminated. But these government entities are tremendous assets in the USA in preventing and minimizing individual terror incidents.

Second, this incident underscores how important intelligence-sharing particularly through FVEY (Five Eyes) and NATO, through which the democratic West mounts a common defense against not just existential threats like Russia and China, but also against Islamist terrorists, really is.

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

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Welcome to America by Lecrae

I've posted this song before. But, man, it's good.

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

Chasing Cars by Snow Patrol

This was playing in the restaurant I ate at a few hours ago. I forget about this song. But I love the simplicity of the lyrics and melody.
I don't know where
Confused about how as well
Just know that these things
Will never change for us at all

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

Apolitical Post About Kathy Griffin Prank

I'm late on this...but I just learned a short while ago of the horrible Kathy Griffin image, in which she holds a representation of Donald Trump's severed head.

I'm glad to see that prominent members of both parties have condemned it. Griffin has released an apology, of course. But it's difficult to understand how what she did ever seemed like a good idea to her.

Satire can be a useful means of speaking truth to power and pretense. But rare is the person actually gifted for it. And even those who are gifted for it can step over the line.

Clarence Page just pointed out during an appearance on Greta Van Susteren's show that Bill Maher, brilliant if usually boring, has said that a joke is only funny if there's some element if truth in it. On that score, Griffin's prank was not even close to being funny. Even those Americans who regard Donald Trump with alarm and fear and wish him out of office would never wish him killed.

By the way, this is not a political statement on my part. It's a call for civility. No matter how base or vile one may think Trump's tactics, views, or policies are, there is no place for incivility in one's opposition to him.

And that's not a political statement. I have my own opinions on politics, shared only with family and friends. But I don't share them beyond that circle.

I have become convinced that, except in the rarest of circumstances, pastors should not give their political opinions, endorse candidates, or intimate that one party has an exclusive pipeline to God. To do any of these things is to alienate those who may disagree with one's politics, getting in the way of the pastor's calling, sharing the good news of new life for all who turn from sin and trust in Christ. It is also to denigrate the God we meet in Christ, robbing Him of His glory by subordinating Him to our own preferences.

But I have no qualms about calling out things like injustice, such as discrimination or bigotry, or things like assault on others' humanity or the social compact. Mr. Trump has often used vicious, loveless rhetoric and speaks, as Richard Nixon did, of his "enemies" (i.e., those who disagree with him). But if such words horrify a person, no good can come from them escalating the horrors as Griffin did.

And I was equally horrified by the vile, evil things that were said about recent presidents, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, as American incivility and mindless partisanship have increased by the year.

We must do better.

Kudos to CNN for relieving Griffin of her duties. Hopefully, she (and all of us) will learn from this incident.

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

Monday, May 29, 2017

Memorial Day Prayers, Blessings, and Charges

Today's Centerville Memorial Day Service was a meaningful remembrance of those American service members who gave their lives for our country.

Colonel Bradley McDonald, Installation and 88th Air Base Wing Commander at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, challenged us all to remember, revere, and respond to the sacrifices made by members of the armed forces.

Mayor Brooks Compton also spoke movingly about the significance of the day.

Local high school students sang, read a self-written essay, and presented the moving The America We Love, written by former President Barack Obama.

The Centerville Community Band played Goin' Home, as well as Beautiful Savior and the National Anthem.

Local boy and girl scouts led us in the Pledge of Allegiance.

Greg Martin piped Amazing Grace and Tom Voss played Taps.

I shared the Invocation and the Benediction for today's gathering. Both are presented below.
We gather in the name of God the Father, God the Son, Jesus Christ, and God the Holy Spirit. Amen 
Father, we come together today to remember those Americans who have given their lives in the cause of freedom. We thank You for their sacrifice and we pray that we, the living, will be worthy of the great cost that they have expended for us. As they were diligent in doing their duty for America, help us to do our duty: to understand the founding principles of this unique and special land--freedom ensured by mutual accountability--and to keep them in mind when we speak and vote and form our opinions; to be informed as citizens; to be good neighbors who understand that, while we may sometimes disagree, we and our fellow citizens all love America. As we remember and celebrate the sacrifices of the fallen, fill us with new resolve to be Americans: committed to our neighbor’s freedom, fighting for others’ well-being as the fallen have done for us, seeking to extend the blessings of the great American constitutional experiment to all of our citizens, and maintaining this unique and blessed land for future generations. Help us in these ways to honor those we remember today. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen

It was the height of the Vietnam War and I was in high school. Several of my classmates would go on to fight in that war. An admiral came to speak at an assembly. It was a time when people were saying, "My country, right or wrong." But the admiral said that he didn't subscribe to that view. Instead, he believed, "My country: When right to keep it right, when wrong to make it right." In honor of those who have fallen, we can do no less than to seek, with God's help, to take a similar approach. 
And now, the Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make His face shine on you and be gracious to you. The Lord look upon you with favor and give you peace. Amen

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