Monday, April 24, 2017

Living in the New Creation (AUDIO)

Here. (During the course of the message, several examples of ancient and modern eight-sided baptismal fonts were shared.)

[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio. This message was shared during yesterday's worship services.]


Living in the New Creation

John 20:19-31
Our gospel lesson for the Second Sunday of Easter recounts two incidents that happen within the space of a week. The first happens on the evening of the very first Easter, the Sunday on which Jesus rose from the dead. The second happens one week later. Because this lesson comes up every year, it may be worn from familiarity. But let’s ask God to help us to experience it in a fresh, new way this morning.

Freshness and newness, in fact, fill our lesson. Newness is what it’s all about!

John tells us that the first incident happens “On the evening of the first day of the week.”

The phrasing is a deliberate reference to the first creation account in Genesis, which tells us that God created in seven days.

The ancient rabbis taught that the human fall into sin happened on the seventh day. And for centuries, they had looked ahead to a “new day” or an “eighth day,” when God would create anew and that perfect peace--the perfect shalom--that existed between God and His creation on the first through sixth days would be restored.

It’s for this reason that many ancient and contemporary baptismal fonts are eight-sided. Here's a sampling of what I mean...







When a person is baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, God makes them part of the new creation secured through Jesus’ death and resurrection. The baptized are ushered into the perfect shalom of God’s eighth day, the first, only, and eternal day of the new creation, the eighth day that never ends.

It’s from this understanding of things that Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:17: “...if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”

As Jesus’ disciples huddled behind locked doors on the evening of the first Easter Sunday, they had no idea that the new creation had begun. They were still quaking in fear before the old creation.

Take a look at our lesson, starting at verse 19: “On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.”

In the new creation, the Word made flesh, Jesus, is no longer constrained by the limitations of humanity that He once voluntarily accepted to meet us where we live. This goes beyond being able to walk through walls (although that’s pretty cool). Now, Jesus moves freely between time and eternity, flesh and spirit, so that all who believe in Him have the peace of knowing that not even death can hold us down.

Like our Savior, beyond the gates of death, we will live untethered from death, untethered from fear.

And we can experience that eternal reality even now as Jesus comes to us in His Word, in the sacraments, and in the fellowship of Christian believers.

How confident, hopeful, at peace, and without fear are we to be? Back to our lesson, starting at verse 21: “Again Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you! [‘Here’s My shalom,’ Jesus is saying.] As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’ And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.’”

We should be confident, hopeful, at peace, and without fear, first of all, because Jesus breathed on them. He breathes on us.

Jesus infuses us with the very life of God, when we are baptized children of God and when we trust Christ and His promises of new life, forgiven sin, constant presence, and eternity.

Jesus breathing on us echoes what God did at the creation of the first man, as recounted in Genesis 2:7, part of that book's second creation account: “Then 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.”

In the Old Testament Hebrew, the word translated as breath, ruach, can also mean wind or Spirit. The same is true of the Greek word, pneuma.

Jesus breathes the pure breath of heaven, the Holy Spirit, into all who believe. He makes all who believe in Him brand new. Why shouldn’t we be at peace, confident, hopeful?

We should also be confident, hopeful, at peace, and without fear because God, the almighty God of the universe, has entrusted us, His new creatures, with an important mission.

It’s the most important mission in the world. He’s given it to us even though, alone, we are completely unqualified to discharge it.

But Jesus fills us with His holy breath and then tells us that, in His name, we’re to proclaim His forgiveness to those who repent and believe and to proclaim God’s condemnation--in hopes that they will repent and believe--to those who balk at repentance and faith.

We’re to wield what Jesus calls elsewhere, “the keys of the kingdom.”

We’re to do so with humility and love. We’re to do this without confidence in ourselves, without a sense of superiority. Christians should never act "holier than thou"!

As followers of Jesus, you and I know that we are nothing without Jesus. We know that we have been saved not by our own goodness, but by what Jesus accomplished for us in His death and resurrection.

But Jesus gives us His Holy Spirit and says, effectively, “Act on My behalf, just as I have acted on behalf of My Father.”

Listen: When Jesus saves you from sin and death and then gives you the same mission He fulfilled on this earth, it doesn’t mean that your life on this earth will be easy. But it does mean that as long as you walk seeking to follow and share Christ each day, your life will be imbued with the same sense of possibility, peace, and hope that must have filled Adam when God breathed life into him.

Christian, Jesus says that you are a new creation. 

So that leads to some questions: What are you going to do about it? How many people are you going to invite to come along with you in experiencing the new life you have through Jesus?

And keep in mind that Jesus refuses to give up on anybody. He cares about everyone--from the most indifferent churchgoer to the most rabid atheist. He loves and died and rose for all people. He wants all people to believe that He “is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing...may have life in His name” (John 20:30-31).

All of which leads us to Thomas.

How many Thomases are there in your life?

How many times are we Thomases?

Keep in mind that, according to the original Greek in which John wrote his gospel, Jesus doesn’t describe Thomas the Apostle as a doubter; He says that Thomas is unbelieving.

How often do we regard the good news of Jesus or the promises of God with unbelief?

God’s Word tells us that it’s impossible for us to believe without the Holy Spirit’s breath giving life to our faith (2 Corinthians 12:3). Yet people can put up roadblocks to the Spirit and refuse to believe.
They either deem the message too good to be true or they’re so tied to the way things are in this old creation that they can’t imagine a new and better creation.

There are times when I preach or when I talk with people about Jesus that I can almost physically feel and see their resistance to the good news that we have in Christ’s death and resurrection. They prefer the things they know in this dying world to yielding their lives to a Savior they’ve never seen.

This happened again this past week during my mother's funeral. As I preached the good news of conquering death for us through Jesus' death and resurrection, I could see people resisting that message; their arms weren't folded, but their minds were closed. This was the posture of Thomas when the other disciples told him that they had seen the risen Jesus.

Verse 24: “Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord!’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.’ A week later [The Greek in which John wrote this account actually says, “after eight days."] his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting [John says, in the Greek, that Jesus told Thomas, ‘Don’t be unbelieving.’] and believe.’ Thomas said to him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Then Jesus told him, ‘Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’”

Thomas, the unbelieving one, ends up making the most resounding confession of Jesus we find in all of John’s gospel: “My Lord and my God” he says to Jesus!

His confession is made all the more amazing when one considers Thomas’ track record.
  • It was Thomas who complained that Jesus was talking in riddles: ““Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” (John 14:5) 
  • And it was Thomas who sarcastically told the other disciples after Jesus had decided to go to Bethany, within the grasp of people who wanted to wipe out Jesus’ movement: “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” (John 11:16)
But now the unbeliever believed that Jesus is God, that Jesus is risen from the dead.

If there are people in your life who are like Thomas or if they’re tepid in their faith, distant from God, do not give up on them.

Pray for them.

Ask God to bring people into their lives who will invite them to come and see and know Jesus.

Ask God to for the opportunities to share your own life with Jesus with them.

In the meantime, live with the confidence and peace that is yours because, through your faith in Jesus, you have life in Jesus’ name; you’re part of the new creation!

I witnessed for Christ at the Kroger deli counter again this past week...and I wasn’t wearing my collar, so no "home team" advantage. The conversation started when I noticed a fellow customer was wearing a Buckeyes ball cap. We started with college football and ended with Jesus! God can use any entry point as a chance to help people to know the new life Jesus died and rose to give all people! Our task is to simply keep planting the seeds of the gospel in people's lives.

Make your mission the one that Jesus has given to every one of us, the mission that John tells us, in the last two verses of our lesson, animated his writing of the gospel. “Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book,” John says. “But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”

We who belong to Jesus are ambassadors to this old creation from Christ’s new creation.

Live in peace and share Christ boldly! Amen

[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio. This was the message for yesterday morning's worship services.]


Saturday, April 22, 2017

Praying for Others

Yesterday, I drove by a mosque, from which worshipers were leaving. I prayed that God would protect all who had just been there from danger and hate.

I prayed too, that they would have the opportunity to come to know and follow Jesus, who shows us the face of God and saves us by grace through faith, not by our good works or piety.

How many opportunities to pray for people in all of their needs do I pass by each day?

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


No Conflict Between Faith and Science

I value the sciences.

Science is useful and helps answer questions like what, when, and how? These are what I call mechanical questions, the answers to which allow us to understand the mechanics of our universe and what we might do to appreciate it, harness it usefully, and advance the condition of the world. Where would we be without science?

Science, of course, cannot answer questions like why and who as we look at our universe. These answers have to be revealed to us, which I believe they have been through the God Who first showed Himself to Israel and then to the whole world in Jesus Christ.

There is no conflict between Christian faith and the sciences. Science is incapable of telling us whether God exists or what He's like, although it may present us with tantalizing suggestions.

And God's Word, the Bible, cannot tell us the particulars of genetic engineering or the effects of solar flairs. It was never intended for that purpose.

But, in the Bible, we can learn about the One Who created the universe employing the very mechanics that science seeks to understand. And, it can give to us, when we trust in its message, what science cannot: life and peace with God that never ends.

I say, "God bless the sciences and all scientists, including the millions who are also Christians." May we be open to the facts science uncovers so that we may live more responsibly on the planet God gave to us.

And may all people be open to the truth revealed in Jesus Christ, as Jesus Himself tells it: "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me" (John 14:6).

We need Jesus because even after you've answered the mechanical questions, only Jesus can guide us in using them responsibly, lovingly, and with an eye to justice.

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


Thursday, April 20, 2017

The reality of the demonic and not giving up on Christ!

These are my reflections on my quiet time with God this morning. (For more on what quiet time is and how you can have an intimate relationship with the God seen in Jesus Christ, see here.)
Look: “When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first. That is how it will be with this wicked generation.” (Matthew 12:43-45)

I used to think that the whole idea of demon possession was ancient superstition.

At the age of 63, I say that I’ve seen too much of life to hold to such naive denials.

The concept of demon possession has been abused through the centuries. People have ascribed physical and mental illnesses to the demons. But simply because people have misdiagnosed issues as demonic possession doesn’t mean that demonic possession doesn’t exist.

I’ve come to believe that Satan, the most subtle of enemies, employs the most sophisticated marketing techniques to accomplish His doomed ambition of taking control of God’s creation. So, in parts of India and Haiti, for example, their culture and mindsets virtually unfazed by post-modernity, the devils still overtly possess people. In the post-modern West, the demons still possess people, but in more subtle ways designed not to call attention to themselves, to leave people’s naive notions of having “moved beyond all that” intact. What a putrid pile of stinking manure Satan and his demons are! They can even make themselves seem clean and aromatic, even as they drag their victims to hell with them.

In this passage, Jesus warns us against leaving vacancies in our lives, minds, and wills that can Satan and his demons can enter and exploit.

To me, it’s a warning against falling into what I call “cruise control Christianity.” This is a Christian faith of taking God for granted, not reading God’s Word, not praying, not giving ourselves to regular worship, not submitting to the mutual discipline and mutual accountability of regular engagement in a church, not regularly receiving Christ’s body and blood in the sacrament of Holy Communion. In other words, if I don’t fill up on God, the demons will enter our lives. And that’s true whether they choose to do so overtly or stealthily, the latter being their preferred approach in the secularized West. (After all, the devils can get away with a lot more when people think that their existence has been disproved by science. It hasn’t.)

It’s important to be vigilant. Peter echoes Jesus’ warning in 1 Peter 5:8: “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” And Ephesians 6:12 warns believers: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

Listen: I sense the Lord telling me: I am bringing you great blessings these days, Mark. I am using you as a matter of grace. You are watching how my Holy Spirit can transform and deepen people in their faith in Christ through a steady and intentional attentiveness to My Word and to the Church, My Body, the only thing that will survive the end of this universe. I have graciously forgiven your sins and graciously acknowledged your struggles with your own personal temptations and favorite sins. As you have surrendered to me daily, as you have reached out to me in countless particular situations which you knew that you could not face, let alone conquer, in your own power, I have renewed you with My Holy Spirit and I have set My angels over you.

But, as you know, I am not a coercive God. I force no one to believe in Me, to trust in Me, to walk with Me. I’m not a frustrated suitor or five year old child screaming at you to look at me, to pay attention to me.

I call you. And the closer you remain to Me, the more clearly you will hear me calling in all the everyday moments of your life. The greater the distance between us, the more faint My call will be to your spirit. I will never abandon you. I am with you always (Matthew 28:20). I will never leave you nor forsake you (Deuteronomy 31:6; Hebrews 13:50). But you are a grown-up and I will respect your decision to leave me behind or consign me to the position of afterthought.

Few people make that decision consciously. Our relationship is more like that of a married couple. Marriages and friendships rarely rupture over single events. When the ruptures happen, they’re the result of a steady, prolonged inattentiveness on the part of one person or the other or both. Couples and friends allow time and space to have their way. The same can be true in the lives of those who have fallen away for me. There is no room left in their lives for Me. I will never be the One to give up on our relationship or on You. And I will always fight for those who have wandered away like lost sheep. My love for all people never ceases. But, as I say, I will not force those who have turned from Me to be with Me, either now or in eternity.

Remember that I have said: “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).

Keep following Me, Mark. Keep growing in your faith in Me. Keep living in daily repentance and renewal. You’re either growing or you’re dying. Keep growing. Live in me because, it’s true: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

Respond: Help me to remain connected to You, Lord, in all the ways You so graciously provide connection: Your Word, the sacrament, the fellowship of believers, prayer. Help me to be intentional each day in following You. After all: "Lord, to whom shall we [I] go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). In Jesus’ name.
[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio. He's also a sinner saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.]


The reality of the demonic and not giving up on Christ

These are my reflections on my quiet time with God this morning. (For more on what quiet time is and how you can have an intimate relationship with the God seen in Jesus Christ, see here.)
Look: “When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first. That is how it will be with this wicked generation.” (Matthew 12:43-45)

I used to think that the whole idea of demon possession was ancient superstition.

At the age of 63, I say that I’ve seen too much of life to hold to such naive denials of demon possession.

The concept has been abused through the centuries. People have ascribed physical and mental illnesses to the demons. But simply because people have misdiagnosed issues as demonic possession doesn’t mean that demonic possession doesn’t exist.

I’ve come to believe that Satan, the most subtle of enemies, employs the most sophisticated marketing techniques to accomplish His doomed ambition of taking control of God’s creation. So, in parts of India and Haiti, their culture and mindsets virtually unfazed by post-modernity, the devils still overtly possess people. In the post-modern West, the demons still possess people, but in more subtle ways designed not to call attention to themselves, to leave people’s naive notions of having “moved beyond all that” intact. What a putrid pile of stinking manure Satan and his demons are! They can even make themselves seem clean and aromatic. Even as they drag their victims to hell with them.

In this passage, Jesus warns us against leaving vacancies in our lives, minds, and wills that can Satan and his demons can enter and exploit.

To me, it’s a warning against falling into what I call “cruise control Christianity.” This is a Christian faith of taking God for granted, not reading God’s Word, not praying, not giving ourselves to regular worship, not submitting to the mutual discipline and mutual accountability of regular engagement in a church, not regularly receiving Christ’s body and blood in the sacrament of Holy Communion. In other words, if I don’t fill up on God, the demons will enter our lives. And that’s true whether they choose to do so overtly or stealthily, the latter being their preferred approach in the secularized West. (After all, the devils can get away with a lot more when people think that their existence has been disproved by science. It hasn’t.)

It’s important to be vigilant. Peter echoes Jesus’ warning in 1 Peter 5:8: “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” And Ephesians 6:12 warns believers: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

Listen: I sense the Lord telling me: I am bringing you great blessings these days, Mark. I am using you as a matter of grace. You are watching how my Holy Spirit can transform and deepen people in their faith in Christ through a steady and intentional attentiveness to My Word and to the Church, My Body, the only thing that will survive the end of this universe. I have graciously forgiven your sins and graciously acknowledged your struggles with your own personal temptations and favorite sins. As you have surrendered to me daily, as you have reached out to me in countless particular situations which you knew that you could not face, let alone conquer, in your own power, I have renewed you with My Holy Spirit and I have set My angels over you.

But, as you know, I am not a coercive God. I force no one to believe in Me, to trust in Me, to walk with Me. I’m not a frustrated suitor or five year old child screaming at you to look at me, to pay attention to me.

I call you. And the closer you remain to Me, the more clearly you will hear me calling in all the everyday moments of your life. The greater the distance between us, the more faint My call will be to your spirit. I will never abandon you. I am with you always (Matthew 28:20). I will never leave you nor forsake you (Deuteronomy 31:6; Hebrews 13:50). But you are a grown-up and I will respect your decision to leave me behind or consign me to the position of afterthought.

Few people make that decision consciously. Our relationship is more like that of a married couple. Marriages and friendships rarely rupture over single events. When the ruptures happen, they’re the result of a steady, prolonged inattentiveness on the part of one person or the other or both. Couples and friends allow time and space to have their way. The same can be true in the lives of those who have fallen away for me. There is no room left in their lives for Me. I will never be the One to give up on our relationship or on You. And I will always fight for those who have wandered away like lost sheep. My love for all people never ceases. But, as I say, I will not force those who have turned from Me to be with Me, either now or in eternity.

Remember that I have said: “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).

Keep following Me, Mark. Keep growing in your faith in Me. Keep living in daily repentance and renewal. You’re either growing or you’re dying. Keep growing. Live in me because, it’s true: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

Respond: Help me to remain connected to You, Lord, in all the ways You so graciously provide connection: Your Word, the sacrament, the fellowship of believers, prayer. Help me to be intentional each day in following You. After all: "Lord, to whom shall we [I] go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). In Jesus’ name.
[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio. He's also a sinner saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.]


Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Hope in the Midst of Grief (Message at My Mother's Funeral)

Romans 8:31-39
John 11:21-27
[This was shared during my mother's funeral earlier today.]

I was seven-and-a-half years old and it was the Summer of 1961. It was a sunny but breezy morning, a beautiful day, the air clear of humidity, and I was laying in my bed, in that place between sleep and wakefulness.

The night before, we’d gone to my grandparents’ house to see my great-grandmother, who was dying. Mom ushered me to my great-grandmother’s bedside. “Grandma,” mom said, “here’s Mark. Do you remember Mark?” Grandma, her eyes hardly open, put the fingers of her right hand to her forehead and, with obvious frustration at her failure of memory, shook her head, “No.” I knew then that Grandma was not long for this world.

On the glorious summer morning that followed, mom sat on the edge of my bed and woke me. “Mark,” she said, “this morning, Grandma is walking the streets of gold with your great-grandfather.”

My great-grandmother was, it should be said, just like the rest of us, a sinner whose behavior and thinking often, in Saint Paul’s phrase, fell short of the glory of God. But my great-grandmother was also a saint, like all sinners who turn from sin and trust in the crucified and risen Jesus as their God and Savior. She had been saved from sin and death by the grace (or charity) of God that comes to all with faith in Christ. That’s what a saint is!

The image my mom chose to break the news to me that my great-grandmother had died, comes from Revelation 21:21, in the New Testament. It’s part of the vision John, the apostle and evangelist, saw of the heavenly city--part of the new heaven and the new earth that God intends to establish after He draws the curtain on this universe, which is plagued by human sin and death. God will replace it with a city in which all who have been made clean and new by Jesus’ blood, will live with God for eternity. John writes: “The great street of the city was of gold, as pure as transparent glass.”

I found comfort in thinking of my great-grandmother walking those streets in the perfect light of Jesus Christ’s love and rule. It's all the more comforting to me today because it happens to tell the truth about what will happen for all who trust in Christ.

The truth of Jesus’ resurrection and His promise of everlasting life for all who entrust their lives to Him--which is what it means to have faith--can also fill our days with peace, power, and freedom.

Even in the midst of grief.

Once, as you probably know, a friend of Jesus, a man named Lazarus died. Jesus deliberately waited to go to Lazarus’ hometown of Bethany until He knew that Lazarus was dead. Jesus, God in the flesh, intended to demonstrate the power of God over life and death. He would go to Bethany and raise Lazarus from death.

But Lazarus’ two sisters, Martha and Mary, also friends and followers of Jesus, had no idea what Jesus’ plan was. They only knew that they had asked for Jesus to come to Bethany as Lazarus lay on his deathbed, that Jesus hadn’t shown up, and that now Lazarus was dead.

There’s a note of condemnation in Martha’s words when Jesus does come to Bethany. “Lord,” she says, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” But then, demonstrating that she understands that Jesus is much more than a nice man or a great teacher, Martha also says: “...I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”

Jesus told Martha: “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.”

And then Jesus asked the most important question any of us will ever have to answer: “Do you believe this?”

It’s the question I want to lay before you today: Do you believe this?

Here’s why this question is so important: When you know that, through Christ and your faith in Him, you belong to God for all eternity, you know that whatever this world can do for you or do to you, doesn’t matter much.

There is no one freer to live life with abandon, joy, peace, and love than the person who belongs to Jesus Christ.

You know how the game ends.

Believing in Jesus isn’t just about having an insurance policy for the sweet-by-and-by.

Believing in Jesus means that because you know Jesus has given you eternity as a gift of grace, you can live this life without fear!

You can live with God’s help in being everything God made you to be! You can love God and others with abandon. You can fight for justice. All because you know that there's nothing that this world can take away from you that means a thing.

That’s freedom!

When Jesus later called his dead friend Lazarus from the tomb, it was the straw that broke the camel’s back for the earthly powers-that-be; they feared that a guy Who could call people back from the dead might swipe their power. Jesus had to be done away with. (Although they didn’t seem to consider how they were going to really to do away with a Man Who had power over life and death.) But you can be sure that for as long as he continued to live on this earth, Lazarus, who like all of us, would someday die, lived with a fierce and joyous abandon.

When you know that one day, you will walk the streets of gold with all who have believed that Jesus is the resurrection and the life, you don’t have a lot to fear or worry about. That’s the life of joyful abandon and peace that God wants for everyone gathered here today.

None of this means that we won’t or shouldn’t grieve. We will grieve. The Bible doesn't say that believers in Christ don't grieve. It says that while we may grieve, we don't grieve as people without hope. So, we will grieve, although I have to say that I did a lot of my grieving for my mom over the past forty-plus years as she seemed, sadly, to turn in on herself more and more.

The abandonment she felt as a child. The depression that dogged her in her adult years. These things made living hard for mom.

And it made things hard for our father, a man I love, appreciate, and respect more than I can say. Dad, like me and like the rest of us, you aren’t perfect. (I mean, for crying out loud, you don’t like garlic!) But you are a great man and a loving man whose care for mom all these years has been an example to us all.

We carry with us the hope that because of Jesus and our faith in Him, neither death, depression, nor anything else this world may bring us will have the last words over my mother’s life.

We can be confident that the person of essential sweetness and vitality we knew in younger years and even sometimes in her later years in the midst of her sad withdrawal, will re-emerge and be brought to perfection in the eternal city:

The woman who used to load up her kids when dad was working nights at the filling station and take us to Marina’s for spaghetti dinner because she was craving spaghetti. (Probably because she was pregnant, because she seemed to be pregnant all the time in those days.)

The woman who would laugh so hard at the jokes of my brother Marty or my cousin Susie that you thought she might burst with joy.

The woman of great creativity who used to enter her creations and take blue ribbons at the State Fair.

The woman who adored just being with her three girls: Betsy, Kathy, and Dianne.

The woman whose face brightened even as she lay dying as she caught sight of her dear son, Martin.

And, if we will trust in Jesus Christ, He will go to work on us in this life (we will become what Martin Luther called, "the Holy Spirit's workshop") and bring to perfection in the life to come, the people we were made to be, unintimidated by disease, death, doubts, hurts, fears, or anything else. It will be, as God said of the perfect world He created before the human race plunged it into sin and death, “Very good.”

If today I could presume to speak a word for my mom, now living in the perfect clarity of eternity, to you today it would be this: If you want to live this life to the full, follow Jesus. And if those streets of gold, laid open to us by the grace and power of God, sound good to you, follow Jesus. Amen

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


Monday, April 17, 2017

Are you willing to believe in the Resurrection? (AUDIO)

Here.

[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio. This was the message for yesterday's Easter worship services.]


Sunday, April 16, 2017

Are you willing to believe in the Resurrection?

Matthew 28:1-10
When I was an atheist, as some of you know, one of the hardest things for me to understand about Christian faith was the resurrection.

I had known people who died. None came back from the grave.

I thought that the Easter proclamation that Jesus had risen and the Christian message that all who repent and believe in Jesus have eternal life seemed fanciful. I was a resurrection skeptic.

So, it turns out, were the first disciples of Jesus.

They’d heard Jesus say more than once that He was going to be crucified, then rise again. But when they heard Jesus speak this way, they seemed to ignore His resurrection talk, because they were horrified at the thought of His crucifixion.

So, on the Sunday after His death, Jesus’ disciples weren’t even thinking about resurrection. Jesus was dead and they were grieving.

This is what lay in the background of our gospel lesson for this Easter Sunday morning, Matthew 28:1-10. If you’re skeptical about Jesus’ resurrection or if you’re skeptical that a risen Jesus can give you forgiveness for your sin or life beyond the grave, nothing I say will make you believe.

But if you’re willing to listen to the experiences of those first skeptical disciples and note the way in which Matthew tells us about the first Easter, the Holy Spirit may pry open your heart, mind, and will to believing that the resurrection of Jesus and the new life that only He can give you are true.

Our lesson begins: “After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.”

Unlike the other gospel writers, Matthew doesn’t mention the women going to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body with spices. That doesn’t mean that Matthew and the others disagree; Matthew just doesn’t think it’s important to how he wants to tell us about the first Easter.

In fact, the way Matthew opens his account of the first Easter, almost makes you think that Mary Magdalene and the other Mary didn’t know what they were going to do. This jibes with Mark’s account of the resurrection. On the way to tomb, Mark says, the women asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?” (Mark 16:3)

Under normal circumstances, you’d want to say, “Well, they should have thought of that in the first place.”

But, as I’ve learned first-hand again this past week, when you grieve, you aren’t in normal circumstances. It’s hard to concentrate. You can’t decide what you should do next. So, you just do stuff, including, sometimes going to the loved one's burial place.

That’s what Mary Magdalene, the woman from whom Jesus had cast seven demons, and another of Jesus’ disciples, identified only as “the other Mary,” seem to be doing on the Sunday after Jesus’ death. The last thing they imagine is that they’ll see the risen Jesus.

Verses 2-4: “There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.”

“That seems pretty far-fetched,” we might say. You can bet that the people in the first century who first heard Matthew’s gospel would have had the same reaction. It would have seemed just as crazy as it does to us. An angel descended from heaven, rolled away a burial stone, and struck dumb armed soldiers who were overwhelmed by the appearance of the angel.

If Matthew had been most concerned with convincing skeptics, he may have been well-advised to leave out all the details--earthquakes, angels, heavenly luminescence.

But Matthew isn’t interested in making an impressive argument. He’s only interested in telling you the truth. 

It’s up to you to decide whether you’re willing to believe it or not. 

And, if you are willing to believe, God’s Holy Spirit can help you to believe despite your skepticism.

This is exactly what happened to Mary Magdalene and the other Mary. They come to the tomb convinced that Jesus is dead. Soon though, open to the angel’s message about Jesus rising melts their skepticism into faith. This happens even though they have yet to set eyes on the resurrected Jesus! Watch out: That can happen to us when we attend to God’s Word with an open mind! 

When I started going to worship just to get my wife off my back for sleeping in on Sundays, Jesus grabbed me by the lapels and said, “Listen, you! You have no idea what you’re talking about when you say I don’t exist, when you say that the resurrection is hooey. Listen to the witnesses to My resurrection. Listen to the people who risked their earthly lives, honor, and income to proclaim the truth they knew and experienced!”

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

That’s what happened to me: I let the truth in God's Word do its life-giving, faith-creating work in me, the truth about a God Who loved me so much that He sent His only Son that whoever believes in Him will not be killed off by death, but will rise just as Jesus rose to live with God for eternity.

Folks, good news like that will change not only your eternity, it will have a direct impact on how you live right now. Verse 5: “The angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: “He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.” Now I have told you.’”


In the Bible, the first thing an angel almost always says to the people they encounter is, “Don’t be afraid.” That’s because angels reflect the perfect righteousness and glory of God Himself. The angel says that the women shouldn’t be afraid and then says that, just as He’d foretold, Jesus was risen.

And then, the angel commissions the two women to teach the Church that Jesus was risen from the dead. “Go,” the angel says, “tell the others that Jesus has been raised from the dead. Then, they need to race to Galilee to catch up with Him!”

I’ve wondered why Jesus chose to meet the apostles sixty miles from His burial spot. Maybe this is the reason: After Jesus’ resurrection, some people said that Jesus hadn’t really died on the cross, only fainted or “swooned.” Muslims still say this. But try imagining a man who has fainted after being severely beaten and wounded, waking in a cave. He would still be weak, near death. Can you imagine such a sick, wounded person then tearing up to Galilee on His own?

Wounded men don’t run.

Dead men don’t run.

But Jesus, once dead, apparently now can do more the run. Jesus was living out the promise of the prophet Isaiah: “...those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (Isaiah 40:31)

“I’m running to Galilee,” Jesus is saying through the angel messenger, “tell the eleven to follow Me there and catch me if they can!"

I love verse 8: “So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples.”

The women didn’t have all of their questions answered. They hadn’t seen Jesus face to face.

But they had heard the Word about Jesus and they were running to tell the skeptics what they now knew by faith in Jesus.

Listen: Faith isn’t knowing every answer. Faith is knowing the One Who is the answer.

And here’s what I have learned: When I act with faith in the risen Jesus Who I cannot see, He shows Himself to me in ways I could not have imagined.

The women have no thought of actually seeing the risen Jesus; they simply believe in Him and are intent on proclaiming Him.

But look at what happens next! Verse 9: “Suddenly Jesus met them. ‘Greetings,’ he said.They [the women] came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.’”

When Jesus says, “Do not be afraid” here, they are the same words spoken by the angel to them a few moments before. But I agree with Dr. Jim Nestingen that when Jesus says these words to the women at this moment, He means something different than the angel meant.

From what Matthew tells us, the appearance of the angel would have been terrifying. But from what Matthew says here, the appearance of Jesus seems to have been as understated and matter of fact as His greeting, just as it had always been throughout His earthly life.

That makes sense: When God the Son took on human flesh, He laid aside His glory. He entered the world as a baby. Jesus came into this world not to overwhelm us but to save us, true God AND true man.

I think Jesus is telling the women this: "Do not be afraid...of death; I have conquered. I have killed off its power over you. I’m alive and when you turn from sin and trust in Me by faith, you are alive! I give you a full share in My victory. Death can’t separate you from the resurrection life I have for you. Neither can sadness, adversity, family feuds, career setbacks, poverty, disease, instability, politics, economics. None of these things can separate us from God. This world may do its worst to you. But when you believe in Jesus as the risen King of your life, God will always have His best in store for you!"

So, are you willing to believe in the resurrection?

Then, militate against your doubt and your skepticism.
  • Act on your belief, however faint it may be. 
  • Run (or walk, or hobble, or crawl, or drive) from this place and, today, this week, find someone to tell or some way to act that shows the truth that Jesus is risen. 
  • Read one of the gospels and let their witness help you to know the risen Jesus intimately and well. If you will do this, I feel certain that you will do exactly what I did when I first started taking the gospels seriously and what I keep doing as I dig into them each day, you will fall in love with Jesus. To know Jesus is to love Him...because you know that He has loved you first.
I promise that if you’ll do any of these things in response to the Easter Word, you’ll meet the risen Jesus.

Don’t be afraid! Run with Jesus...you will never run alone. Happy Easter! Amen

[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio. This was the message for today's Easter services.]


Friday, April 14, 2017

Cherish Those Pearls!

These are my reflections from quiet time spent with God today. For more information on how I approach quiet time, go here.
Look: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Jesus, speaking Matthew 7:1-2) 
“Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.” (Matthew 7:6)

I used to think that these statements by Jesus were offered in the manner of, “On the one hand...but on the other hand.” You know: “On the one hand, don’t judge your brother and sister in faith by the standards of the law, unless you would be judged by those same standards. On the other hand, don’t entrust the gospel to just anybody.”

This interpretation would be rightly predicated, I think, on Jesus’ teaching about the Office of the Keys. We aren’t to judge people’s fitness for eternal salvation; that”s God’s job. So we shouldn’t judge. On the other hand, we have the responsibility to withhold absolution from those who refuse to repent.

I now think maybe that I’ve been wrong in this interpretation.

The problem is that this construction of Matthew 7:6, would instruct us to stop sharing God’s Word of truth, Law or Gospel, from certain people. And while, in the case of excommunication for unrepentant sin (the only basis on which excommunication should happen, so far as I can see), the sacrament of Holy Communion would be withheld, certainly Jesus wouldn’t want us to stop sharing His Word with the unrepentant, with the desire that they would come home
Otherwise, Jesus’ parable about the farmer indiscriminately sowing seed, which Jesus later says refers to God’s indiscriminate scattering of His Word, would make no sense.

There are many interpretations of Matthew 7:6. But the one that most attracts me is the one that sees this verse not as a countervailing contrast to Matthew 7:1-5, nor as an altogether different topic addressed on a series of statements by Jesus, as I had, at different times, seen it, but as an amplification of the first five verses of the chapter.

Listen: In trying to understand what Jesus is saying in Matthew 7:6, I looked at several different interpretations, including those by Martin Luther, Dallas Willard, and others. But the interpretation to which I’m most attracted is found in The Lutheran Study Bible:

“Jesus may be quoting a proverbial saying, which He applies to His previous teaching. He compares His disciples to ‘what is holy’ and to ‘pearls.’ He warns that hypocritical condemnation of fellow believers (vv 1-5) is tantamount to throwing these precious persons out of the fellowship to the dogs and pigs...Disciples thrown out of the fellowship would obviously suffer spiritual harm, and the congregation would be attacked for its hypocrisy.”

This is a different spin for me, and a convincing one. The pearls here aren’t “the pearl of great price” in Jesus’ parable (Matthew 13:45-46). There, the pearl is the gospel itself, a thing so precious and valuable that we should give up all that we are and have to take hold of it.

Instead, the pearls here are sisters and brothers in Christ, people who have been bought with Christ’s blood. Christ looks on each one as a precious jewel. 
I’m reminded of the These Are My Jewels statue, which stands on the lawn of the State House in Columbus. In it, Cornelia Africana, a member of a prominent Roman family and herself thought to be particularly virtuous, stands atop the statue, her hands stretched downward to call attention to seven Ohio jewels, Ohioans who served with prominence and distinction during the American Civil War and portrayed with their own statues. Cornelia is effectively saying, “These are my virtuous Ohio offspring.” 


People who have confessed Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior are, then, regarded in much the same way by Jesus. We are His jewels.

Don’t, Jesus is saying then, turn them away with your ungracious judgments. To me, it echoes Zechariah 2:8: “For thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘After glory He has sent me against the nations which plunder you, for he who touches you, touches the apple of His eye.’”

This then, is an underscoring and intensification of Jesus’ teaching about judging others in the fellowship of the Church.

Don’t cast these pearls out among the dogs who don’t believe! Otherwise, those dogs could trample these precious gems, Jesus’ jewels, under foot, and they will lose their faith.

It strikes me that when seen in this way, we can see connections to at least two other passages of Scripture, one obvious, the other a bit more obscure.

The first is where Jesus says: ““Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come. It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble.” (Luke 17:1-2) When we Christians harshly judge or, whether informally or formally, cast out, fellow believers in Jesus because we perceive their sins to be worse than our own, we may cause the judged believers to stumble in or lose their faith. That’s a horrible thing for a Christian to do, even damnable if we don’t repent.

The other passage I think of is Ephesians’ admonition to fathers: “Parents, do not treat your children in such a way as to make them angry. Instead, raise them with Christian discipline and instruction.” (Ephesians 6:4, Good News Translation)

Just as parents are to discipline from love, rather than punish from anger, Christians shouldn’t lash out at fellow believers in anger. Church discipline, if given at all, should be meted out with love, not vengefulness. Otherwise, believers may become discouraged and give up on the faith altogether.

Every believer is a pearl saved by grace through faith in Christ. There are ways to restore sisters and brothers who have fallen into unrepentant sin (Matthew 18:15-20). Condemning them, gossiping about them, shunning them, or tossing them out without a healthy airing of things isn’t Christian and it isn’t loving. Tossing them among unbelievers--who Jesus calls “pigs” and “dogs”--is like taking a Rolls-Royce Ghost and dropping it into a trash compactor. Only the loss is much greater, a person’s eternal relationship with God caused by the discouragement of Christ’s Church. Horrible!

I’ve seen this tragedy happen to Christian believers.

And, often, when the world sees this happen, unbelievers are inclined to trample us under feet.

Respond: No matter what I may be called to say or do today, Lord, let it be informed by Your grace. Help me to love my sisters and brothers in Christ, seeing them as pearls not to be easily judged or dismissed, but as fellow recipients of Your saving grace through faith in Christ. In Jesus’ name.
[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]


The Sacrifice for Sin (Maundy Thursday)

John 13:1-17, 31-35
During Sundays in the Lenten season as we bring our offerings to the altar, we often pray: “Almighty God, you gave your Son both as a sacrifice for sin and a model of the godly life…”

Of course, what’s most important about Jesus is not the life He models. You and I could repeatedly resolve that we are going to live like Jesus...and repeatedly fail.

Not that people haven’t tried. In his Autobiography, Benjamin Franklin, a deist who didn’t really believe in the God revealed in Jesus, decided to live his life around a set righteous virtues he had identified. Franklin wrote each of these virtues on the top of a piece of paper and gathered them in a small book. His plan was to conquer one virtue, then move to the next, conquering it, and so on. He never conquered the first one.

Without realizing it perhaps, Franklin had learned the truth of the apostle Paul’s words in Romans 7: “I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.” (Romans 7:19) Paul concludes: “Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.” (Romans 7:20) In other words, we cannot live a godly life in our own power.

When we try, we seem to get in the way.

Some of you know that last year, I was losing the weight I needed to shed. But more recently, I’ve been eating too much and putting weight back on. God’s Word says that our bodies are “temples of the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 6:19). That means that the abuse to which I subject my body is a spiritual issue. It’s a sin issue.

Right now, I must report, that as it relates to the food I’m putting into my body, sin is winning out.

And why has this happened? Because I took my eyes off of Jesus.

To be sure, I took Jesus as an example of the godly life because Jesus was always self-disciplined in the use of His mind and body. I also became subtly proud of my virtuous self-discipline.

I forgot what Jesus tells all who want to follow Him: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.” (John 15:5-6)

The point? If we see Jesus only or even primarily as our example as we set out to lead virtuous lives, we will fall on our faces every time.

We need help.

We need Jesus.

We need Him infinitely less as a model of the godly life than we need Him as the definitive sacrifice for our sin.

We need His righteousness because we are completely unrighteous.

We need His goodness, because God alone is good.

That’s why Jesus does and says things in the order in which He does and says them in tonight’s Maundy Thursday gospel lesson.

John is the most sacramentally minded of the four gospel writers. He begins his account of Jesus' earthly ministry with Jesus' first miracle, turning water into wine, pointing to the two sacraments, Holy Baptism and Holy Communion. He draws the curtain on Jesus' pre-resurrection earthly ministry with a soldier piercing Jesus' side and water and blood emanating from the wound, again pointing to Holy Baptism and Holy Communion.

Yet in recounting events on Maundy Thursday, John doesn’t talk about Holy Communion, which Jesus instituted on that night. Instead, he focuses on three things from the events of Maundy Thursday:
  • Jesus washing the feet of His disciples; 
  • Jesus telling the disciples to serve each other similarly; 
  • Jesus giving a new commandment, the only new commandment Jesus ever gave. 
Let’s look at each one of these.

During the course of the meal, Jesus ate with His disciples, got up, stripped down to nothing but a towel wrapped around His waist, and prepared to wash the disciples’ feet, starting with Peter’s. You’ve lived through enough Maundy Thursdays to know that washing people’s feet in the first century AD was the work of servants. It seems to get mentioned in every Maundy Thursday sermon.


But feet were seen predominantly in two ways in that culture.

One was to look on them with revulsion, encrusted as they were with dirt from walking in sandals through the sand and rocks of Judea.

The other was to regard feet as euphemistic representations of the most private places of the human body. This is what’s behind the otherwise cryptic passage of Ruth 3:14, which tells us that: “So [Ruth] lay at [Boaz’s] feet until morning, but got up before anyone could be recognized; and he said, ‘No one must know that a woman came to the threshing floor.’"

So, Jesus washing the feet of His disciples was not just an act of selfless servanthood, but also one of loving intimacy, the Bridegroom serving His Bride, the Church.

And Jesus points to His washing of the disciples’ feet as symbolizing the great act of servanthood and love that He’s about to accomplish at the cross. “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand,” Jesus tells Peter who, at first protests Jesus’ intention of washing the disciples’ feet.

Hebrews 10 tells us that through Christ’s act of servanthood and love on the cross, all who believe in Him “have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” (Hebrews 10:10)

And, Hebrews says that, through this sacrifice, we have an advocate for eternity: “...when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” (Hebrews 10:12-14)

Baptized believers in Christ are washed clean of their sin. That's why Jesus says that we don't need to be completely rewashed of our sin again and again; once we have been born as children of God in Baptism, we only need to come again to God in the name of the Lord in which we have been baptized to repent and be renewed as God's people.

Each time we repent and trust Christ with our sins and our lives, remembering that we are baptized into His death and resurrection, Jesus cleans us again from the grime of sin and death that’s always dogging us and attaching itself to us in this life.

Jesus is the perfect sacrifice for our sin and when we trust in Him, He takes up residence within us. We experience what Paul talks about in Galatians 2:20: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

Martin Luther may have had this passage in mind when he said: "When [the devil] comes knocking at the door of my heart, and asks, ‘Who lives here?’ Jesus goes to the door and says, 'Martin Luther used to live here, but he has moved out. Now I leave here.'”

After pointing to His cross, Jesus gives us two commands, one a re-expression of the Old Testament law regarding hospitality, the other a totally new law with Jesus.

Command one: “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.” (John 13:17) In other words, Jesus is telling us, “Serve as I have served you. Without thought to your status in the world, or to how humbling it may be.”

Command two: “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35) In other words, Jesus is telling us, “Love your sisters and brothers in the faith sacrificially just as I have loved you.”

It’s no accident that Jesus gives these two commands after pointing to the cross, because it’s only after taking up residence in our lives through our faith in Him that Jesus can change the ways we live, the ways we respond to our neighbors.

Jesus may be an example for godly or wholesome living to the whole world, Christian and non-Christian alike; but unless Jesus lives in us and powers us, we cannot lead godly lives.

On Monday, I drove to Cincinnati, where God allowed me to administer Holy Baptism to Jameson, the little guy for whom we’ve been praying through his three years of life, and his older brother, Jackson.

After getting back to Dayton, I went to Columbus to be with my mom and my family at a hospital ICU, where mom died on Tuesday morning.

To tell you the truth, my thoughts weren't prone to focus on the homeless guy standing at the freeway off-ramp that day.

And the Old Mark battled with the Lord Jesus Who has taken up residence in my life. “Who knows if he’s really homeless,” I argued. “Besides, I’m out of the McDonald gift cards I keep for situations like this. And on top of that, I’m busy, I’m tired, I’m concerned about my family. Is this guy really that big a deal, God?”

But Jesus won the argument. (He usually does when you start talking with Him!)

I pulled out a five-dollar bill and handed it to the man at the ramp.

Listen: I would not have done that had I relied on my own reasoning. If I'd only been arguing with myself, I would have easily convinced myself to drive on by. Instead, because Jesus lives in me and I have the assurance that no matter how much duping, using, or humiliation this world may subject me to, I still belong to the God we meet in Jesus, Jesus set me free to part with a little of money.

It was, for all its simplicity and humanity, a divine moment that wasn’t done by me, but by Jesus living in me.

I’ve gotten to the point where I believe the line in the old Amy Grant singalong song: “If there’s anything good that happens in life, it’s from Jesus.”

And when you know that, in the words of the late Baptist pastor, Gerald Mann, through Christ you have "God's cosmic okie-dokie," the humiliations meted out by this world become less important to you. You know that the world cannot rob you of you dignity, because by God's grace through faith in Christ, your life is imbued with an eternity dignity.

I don’t have to know whether the ramp guy spent those five bucks on cigarettes, alcohol, drugs,  lottery tickets, or food.

I don’t care to know whether he was, from the standpoint of the world, “worthy” of my help.

But I do know two things.

First, I know that on the night of His betrayal, even though He knew what Judas was going to do, Jesus washed Judas’ feet. Jesus gives grace to all, worthy in the world’s eyes or not. Think of that!

Second, I know that, in the eyes of heaven, I’m not worthy of the grace, forgiveness, and love God makes available to us through Christ.

I’m a sinner. So, who am I to withhold from another person any smidge of grace God puts it in my power to give away?

Despite my sin, Christ served, loved, and died for me anyway. Romans 5:8 reminds us that, “...God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Christ is the “sacrifice for sin and a model of the godly life.”

But Maundy Thursday reminds us that if we would live a godly life, a useful life, a life that even unbelievers would acknowledge to be a life filled with goodness, it doesn’t begin with any of us trying to be good. 

It begins and continues only with Christ loving us, serving us, dying for us, rising for us, and our day in, day out, letting Him into our lives so that God’s will becomes our will, God’s love for others becomes our love for others. 

It begins and ends with Jesus alone!

Jesus’ message for us tonight is simple. Don’t try to be a good person on your own steam. Let Jesus into your life, let Jesus live in you, and He will lead you in the godly life, empowering you to love and serve today and preparing you to joyfully love and serve for all eternity. Amen

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


Thursday, April 13, 2017

Palm Sunday and the Jesus Path (AUDIO)

Here.

[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio. This is the message from last Sunday, Palm Sunday.]


Sunday, April 09, 2017

Palm Sunday and the Jesus Path

John 12:12-19
Archimedes, the third-century BC mathematician, taught the world that “the shortest distance between two points is a straight line.” That may be true. But often, traveling the straight line between where you are and where you need to be will only leave you lost.

As followers of Jesus, we believe that the only way we can get to where we need to be as human beings by taking the sometimes convoluted path to which Jesus Christ, God-in-the-flesh, invites us when He says, “Follow Me.” Or, “Repent and believe in the good news.”

Jesus was surrounded by a lot of “straight-line” thinking from the moment He began His public ministry.

Out in the wilderness after He underwent John’s baptism, Jesus was confronted by the supreme straight-line thinker, the devil. “If you’re so anxious to prove that you’re the Son of God,” the devil told Jesus, “just go to it, turn these stones to bread.” “If you want everyone to know Who you are, throw yourself off the temple, and let people see your Father prevent you from getting hurt,” the devil said. “If you’ve come to be the King,” the devil had argued, “just worship me and I’ll give every earthly kingdom to you.” The devil was tempting Jesus with straight-line thinking. “Why suffer?” he was asking Jesus. “Why go through rejection from Your chosen people? Why endure the trial of a kangaroo court? Why be beaten and spat upon? Why have nails driven into Your flesh? Why be crucified, humiliated?” the devil asked. “I’m offering you a straight line to what you’ve come to take. No suffering. No cross. No resistance to sin.”

This is exactly how the devil, the world, and our sinful selves still tempt us today: “You want it, don’t you? It looks good, doesn’t it. Go ahead and take it.” This is the devil's message to us all the time.

But Jesus always knew that a Savior Who did not resist the temptation that had drawn humanity into sin and death would be of no use to the sinners He had come to save, you and me.

And so, Jesus refused to take the straight line, the easy path. He took the harder path, the one that requires faith in the midst of things we can’t fully understand nor explain.

Jesus knew the truth of Proverbs 14:12: “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.” [ESV]

Jesus’ intention was to go through death, but not end up dead. The straight-line path in this world promises life and may lead to comfort, but always ends in death, separation from God.

Jesus constantly spurned those who tempted him to take the straight line, the easy path.

After He’d fed more than 5000 with a a few fish and scraps of bread, the crowd chased after Him to make Him a king. But Jesus said: “I am telling you the truth: you are looking for me because you ate the bread and had all you wanted, not because you understood my miracles.” [John 6:26, The Message]

The 5000, with their full bellies, wanted Jesus to take the straight line--the shortcut, the easy way--to being the Messiah King they wanted Him to be.

But Jesus knew that doing so would only consign the world, including you and me, to everlasting death and alienation from God.

Jesus could not kill off the power of sin and death over you and me if He did not bear the condemnation for our sins on the cross. For Jesus and for us, the shortest distance between here and the kingdom of God is the way of following God’s plan, no matter where it takes us.

This is why our gospel lesson for today finds Jesus in Jerusalem on the eve of Passover, despite all of the advice given to Him to stay away.

Just before our lesson, Jesus is in Bethany, the place where He had raised Lazarus from the dead. He’s in the home of Lazarus and of Lazarus’ two sisters, Martha and Mary. It’s during this dinner that Lazarus’ sister Mary anoints Jesus’ feet with oil. (Catechism students: Please notice that it was Mary, the sister of Lazarus, not Mary Magdalene, who did this despite how this was portrayed in the excellent movie we’ve been watching together during Lent, Jesus of Nazareth.)

Judas Iscariot, probably speaking for the entire group is horrified. Judas, ever the straight-line thinker, says, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” [John 12:5]

You see, Judas had the same thought that many Christians have today. They look at problems like poverty, abortion, pornography, or gun violence and say that the Church needs to spend its offerings, develop programs, and do lobbying to solve them.

Ministries of mercy will always be part of the work of the Church, of course. They do the same thing that Jesus’ signs or miracles did: They give credibility to our proclamation of repentance and belief in Jesus as the only way to a life with God.

But the Church is not a social service agency.

We don’t offer people political programs.

We offer people one thing and one thing only: Jesus. 

We’re to make disciples for Jesus Christ. That’s it! 

Programs may make us feel as though we’re accomplishing our mission as Christians and as the Church.

But when, as Christ’s disciples filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, we engage in the long, challenging, one-to-one process of making disciples, we do more than change people’s days or earthly lives, God transforms them for eternity to people, like us, committed to following the God who saves people by God’s grace through faith in Christ.

And so, Jesus tells Judas that the poor will always be around and that if their needs are important to him, Judas will always find ways to address them. But Jesus honors Mary’s extravagance: “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial,” He says [John 12:7].

Mary understood what none of Jesus’ other followers nor any of the Palm Sunday crowd nor the religious leaders understood. She knew that the way to God’s kingdom isn’t a straight line that comes by our effort.

The kingdom comes because Jesus died on a cross for us and because the Holy Spirit has given us the gift of faith in Christ and we simply follow Christ. Mary knew that Jesus wouldn’t be the king the crowds wanted. 

Jesus is the King Who would spare no effort--including the offering of His own life on the cross--in order to gain an eternal kingdom in which, He promises, all who follow Him will reign with Him eternally over a new heaven and a new earth. As Paul writes in 2 Timothy 2:12: “...if we endure [in faith], we will also reign with him…” How about that?

And so, we come to Palm Sunday.


Of course, with Passover just days away, Jesus is intent on being the once-for-all sacrifice for our sin, as John the Baptist put it: “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” [John 1:29]

But usually the only time that the straight-line thinking world considers sin is when it catalogs all the ways that others have sinned against them. Jesus’ fellow Jews were expert at listing all the very real ways that their Roman conquerors had sinned against them. They want Jesus to be a king who throws the Romans out of their homeland.

As Jesus enters the city, they think less of Passover, more of Hannukah. Hannukah is a mid-winter festival that commemorates the day, in 164 BC, when, under the leadership of a priest, Judas Maccabaeus, the Jews expelled pagan invaders from Jerusalem, then cleansed the temple.

When Judas Maccabaeus and his followers entered the city, people waved palm branches to welcome the conquering hero. They thought that, under the leadership of Judas Maccabaeus, their country was free. They were mistaken: The Romans conquered the Jews in just a few short years and by 70 AD, just as Jesus predicted, the temple in Jerusalem was reduced to rubble.

But on the first Palm Sunday, around 28 to 33 AD, many welcome Jesus as a king who will go straight after the Romans and make everything right, another Judas Maccabeaus.

They welcome Jesus with palm leaves while chanting: “Hosanna [meaning, “Save us]! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord [A messianic prophecy from Psalm 118]! Blessed is the king of Israel!”

As the disciples watch this, they're clueless about how it all fulfilled Old Testament prophecy. Verse 16: “At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified [after He had been crucified, raised by God the Father, and ascended to sit at the Father's right hand] did they realize that these things had been written about him and that these things had been done to him.”

The Pharisees, who held the upper hand in Jewish religious life, are appalled by the Palm Sunday parade. Verse 19: “So the Pharisees said to one another, ‘See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him!’”

The Pharisees say more than they understand. In the very next verses of John’s gospel, Gentiles--foreigners, non-Jews---will approach one of Jesus’ followers, Philip, and ask if they can see Jesus. Even before Easter, people from other parts of the world starts going after Jesus, following Him.

Jesus promises later in John 12: “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself." [John 12:32]

The Pharisees think that if they can convince the Romans to take Jesus down, to execute Him, they will also take down talk of Him being the King and the Son of God. People will stop following Him. But as we gather on the sacred days of this Holy Week, we will be reminded again that the straight line--the easy path--isn’t the best route to travel to where we need to be.

There is no Easter without paying heed to Maundy Thursday, when Jesus commands us to love our fellow believers as He has loved us and when He first institutes Holy Communion, sustenance, life, and forgiveness for all who dare to follow Jesus.

And there is no Easter without Good Friday, when Jesus accepts our punishment for sin so that we can live with God for eternity.

There is no Easter, no life with God, for you and me unless we learn to repent, trust in Christ, and follow Him wherever He may lead.

In Matthew 7:13-14, Jesus tells us: “Enter through the narrow gate. For 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.”

A straight line may be the shortest distance between two points. But the surest line to life with God that never ends is to follow Jesus. 

As we prepare for Easter, may we not neglect to follow Jesus on this pathway so that we can celebrate Easter with true gratitude and faith and awe. Amen

[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio. This is the message from that congregation's Palm Sunday worship earlier today.]

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Is the Biblical view of homosexuality unloving?

Genesis 1:27
Matthew 19:4-6
1 John 4:8
In thirty-two years of ministry, I have counseled with one person who confessed to being gay to me. It happened many years ago. For this person to do so took great courage; they knew my Christian convictions about the practice of homosexuality. But the reason for their telling me was clear enough: They wanted some Christian they trusted to listen to them speak of their struggles with their sexual orientation.

And so the person told me simply, “I’m gay, pastor.” I responded in the only way I knew how to as a Christian and a pastor. I put my hand on that person’s hand and told them, “I understand and I want you to know that I love you and that God loves you too.”

In telling that person that God loved them, I wasn’t encouraging them to give into their own personal impulse to engage in homosexual relationships. But just as I would use God’s love as the starting point in conversations with any person struggling with temptation, I began with God’s love.


Love is always the place God starts in helping us to deal with temptation or sin in our lives.

As Luther points out in The Small Catechism, even God’s moral law, as summarized in the Ten Commandments, begins with the words, “I am the Lord your God, Who brought you out of Egypt…”

God and His Word always begin in love. We see this in Jesus: God sent His Son Jesus into this world to save sinners; and if we are willing to turn from sin (and to keep turning from sin) and to believe in Him (and to keep believing in Him), God will save us for life with Him that lasts for all eternity.

But, as we deal with tonight’s question, “Is the Biblical view of homosexuality unloving?” we need to briefly mention a few facts we know about God through His Word and through Jesus, God’s Word made flesh.

Fact one: To suffer temptation is no sin. Every human being who has ever walked this planet, even Jesus, Who was both true God and true man, gets tempted to sin.

The orientation to homosexual behavior is no worse than the orientation to sin which is universal to human experience and no different from the particular sins that might have special appeal to us. (I often joke that we all have our own favored personal sins of specialization, along with all the other sins to which everyone else is drawn.)

Had I told the counselee who confessed to being gay that they were damned for their sexual orientation, I not only would have been unloving, I would have been lying.

Fact two: No sin is worse than any other sin. James 2:10 says: “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.”

All sin is a violation of God’s holiness and will. To judge the gay person involved with one or more people sexually to be worse than the heterosexual person involved with others sexually or than the person who routinely takes God’s name in vain, is wrong.

Sin is sin. And the wages of sin is death. But all who own their sin at the cross, trusting in what Christ accomplished there, has forgiveness and life with God.

Fact three: Love is not approval. When Jesus prevented a judgmental mob from stoning a woman caught in adultery, He didn’t tell her, “Go back and keep doing what you were doing.” He told her, "Go now and leave your life of sin." (John 8:11)

Fact four: We in the Church hold what Jesus calls “the keys to the kingdom.” That means that we have the delegated responsibility to proclaim God’s forgiveness to the repentant and His condemnation to the unrepentant.

We are to speak God’s truth, even God’s uncomfortable truth, in love (Ephesians 4:15).

Imagine, for a moment, that you’re standing in front of the church building and you see two young people go out to play in the middle of Miamsiburg-Centerville Road.

Would you say to yourself, “That must be what they like to do”?

Or would you, instead, say something to warn them of the dangers in doing what they’re doing?

Love would compel you to warn them, I think.

Just so, the loving exercise of “the keys of the kingdom” should call us to tell anyone who asks what God has to say about the unrepentant practice of homosexuality: it places those who engage in it in a state of separation from God, no matter how much we love them.

So, what exactly does God’s Word say about homosexuality?

Exodus 20:14 tells us, “You shall not commit adultery.” This is the sixth commandment, which The Small Catechism explains: “We should fear and love God so that in matters of sex we are chaste and disciplined in our words and actions, and that husband and wife love and honor each other.”

The covenant of marriage between a man and a woman is meant by God to be the exclusive place in which sexual intimacy happens.

Now, let’s be honest: Jesus says that even when a husband looks lustfully on another woman, he violates this command. So, the chances are that no human being is guiltless when it comes to the sixth commandment. Not one. (If you think you are guiltless of violating this command, see me after worship. We'll talk. But you'll have a lot of convincing to do!)

But, whatever our sexual orientation, our call remains the same, to repent and believe in the gospel, the good news of new life through Jesus (Mark 1:15).

A section of Leviticus is known as the holiness code. Unlike other parts of Leviticus, which contains ritual/sacrificial law no longer valid because Jesus has become the once-and-for-all definitive sacrifice for our sins and civil laws meant to govern a theocratic nation that no longer exists (ancient Israel), the holiness code is an elaboration by God of the ten commandments. It's part of what the theologians call God’s moral law. One elaboration of the sixth commandment is in Leviticus 18:22. God says: “Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable.”

Of course, some people who think that there’s a divide between the God of the Old Testament and the God revealed in Jesus will object to our even mentioning passages from the Old Testament.

Such people haven’t paid attention to either Old or New Testament.

Jesus says of the Old Testament’s moral law: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17).

Yes, some may say, but Jesus never condemned homosexual intimacy as a sin.

That’s not entirely true.

Every time Jesus spoke of sexuality, He spoke of it as something that happens exclusively within a marriage between a woman and a man. He quoted Genesis: “For this reason a man will leave his father and his mother and will live with his wife. The two will become one” (Matthew 19:5).

Homosexual practice was far more prevalent in first century Rome than it is today; yet Jesus always puts sexual intimacy within the bounds of a heterosexual marriage with three partners: God, a woman, and a man.

So, is God’s will about sexuality and homosexuality as expressed by Jesus and in various places in Scripture unloving?

For me, this boils down to one simple question: What is God’s reason for making us sexual beings? I think that the Bible identifies three reasons.

First, God intends to acclimate us to what a relationship with God is like.

God is eternal; we are mortal.

God is spirit; we are physical.

And yet, in Jesus, God reaches out to us and calls us to be in relationship with One Who is totally different from us, totally other.

Ephesians 5 and other passages of Scripture imply that marriage is a metaphor for our relationship with God in Christ. We marry the opposite and in that relationship, God intends for us to be made as complete as it's possible to be in an earthly relationship (despite all of the ways married people have created to get in the way of that happening), just as we are made eternally complete through our relationship with Christ.

Man and woman complement each other. They are the same but different.

In Genesis 2:23 [ESV], we’re told that Adam looked on the woman God made to be his wife and declared that she was the same, but different: “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.”

People may experience a kind of love and sexual excitement in homosexual relationships, but they won’t be all that God intends for us.

We are most challenged to be our best selves, our fullest selves, in relationships with the other, not in those with the same.

Ephesians 5 says that husbands and wives are both to submit to each other in the same way that we are to submit to Christ. It's in the surrender to “the other” that God liberates us to be who God made us to be.

There are two other reasons that God made sexuality for married couples, I think: to provide pleasurable intimacy to one another and, when it is God’s will, to share their love with children.

In the Old Testament, Sarah gave expression to both of these purposes when she asked God about His improbable promise that she, in her nineties, would, for the first time, become the mother of a child: "After I am worn out and my lord [my husband] is old, will I now have this pleasure?" (Genesis 18:12) God’s answer was, “Yes!”

The gift of sexuality comes from God. God thought it up. He created it.

And it is a gift of love that He intends to protect from any adulteration of these three purposes.

God doesn’t say no to sexual intimacy outside of marriage because He hates us, but because He loves us and wants us to use His gift as it was (and) is intended.

In this, as in so many other aspects of our lives, even when we don't think it's true, God is love.

[You might also be interested in my take on the Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage. In a nutshell, as a civil matter of law for our pluralistic society, it didn't really bother me that much. Read the whole thing.]

[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio. This was the final installment of our midweek Lenten series, Tough Questions.]