Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Why it's hard (for me and maybe you) to obey God

Doing the prep work for our next discipleship small group gathering, the workbook poses this question: "What are some similarities between the way children obey their parents and the ways Christians obey God?"

As someone who finds obedience to God a challenge, I thought that this was a good question and came up with at least four answers. (If you don't find obeying God difficult, you're either already in eternity with God, in denial, or the most exceptional human being I know.)
1. Both (sometimes) trust that that God or our parents have our best interests in mind.

2. We sometimes obey in spite of what it is we really want to do.

3. We sometimes obey begrudgingly.

4. When we trust God or parents, we trust that obedience is the best thing.
Famed psychologist and psychotherapist Erik Erikson said that human development happens as we successfully negotiate a series of certain internal conflicts over the course of our lives. The first one to be negotiated, he said, is trust v. mistrust. This conflict is played out initially in our homes, with our parents.

Despite the sentimentalization of childhood that sometimes beclouds our judgments, trust doesn't come naturally to us at birth, the result of the inborn condition of sin, the human inclination to trust only oneself. (To put it as the serpent expresses it in Genesis, we want to "be like God.")

Throughout our lives, we must deal with the question of whether we trust ourselves most of all. The gospel about Jesus Christ, God in the flesh Who bears our sins on the cross, accepting our punishment for our failure to trust God and all the selfish, loveless acts and ways of thinking that result, then rises to open up an eternity built on a trusting relationship with God and His grace, is the only thing that can overcome our original sin, our failure to trust.

As Erikson suggests, the remnants of our trust v. mistrust conflict remains with us our whole lives. But the Christian knows that we are changed, in the words of 'Amazing Grace, "the hour [we] first believed..."

When, by the Holy Spirit's power, we're able to confess our sin, our need of a Savior and Lord, and acknowledge that Christ is that Savior and Lord, God goes to work to help us become to trust Him and be set free to love God and love neighbor (Mark 1:14-15; 1 Corinthians 12:3).

But, this side of the grave, the work is never completed. At present, we see through a glass darkly, to use Saint Paul's image, and we know only in part (1 Corinthians 13:12).

The result is that:
(1) there are times when I disobey God's will for my life, even though, because of my gratitude for His grace, I want to obey Him. When this happens and I wake up to see the truth, I need to turn back to Him for forgiveness and the power to live differently. 
(2) there are (many) times when I do or refrain from doing what God wants me to do, even though I would rather go in another direction.
There are some people who claim that Christians project their experience as children with parents onto an imagined God, that God's Word is a figment of the human imagination.

In fact, they have things backwards: God is Abba, our Father and Creator. And when He created flesh and blood human beings, He gave them parents, whose functions in their children's lives is to mirror God's approach to the whole human race. God gives life, loves, nurtures, guides, and disciplines. He does this all through the agency of His Church. Parents are to do the same things with their children.

Parents like these, despite their imperfections, will elicit the trust of their children.

God, always perfect, can elicit the same trust from us for Him when we open ourselves to His grace given only in Jesus Christ.

But that doesn't mean that obeying the God Who loves us with infinite passion is easy. It isn't. And apart from His grace and love given in Christ, we wouldn't even think to try.

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

Monday, August 14, 2017

Today's 11:11, August 14, 2017

This is isolated on George Harrison's lead vocal, with Paul McCartney's harmony, on I Need You. Harrison composed the song and it was included in the Beatles' second feature film, Help.

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

Jesus Knows What the Meaning of Is Is

As readers of the blog may know, I try to spend some time five days a week in quiet time with God: reading His Word and asking Him to show me the truth He wants me to see and respond to for that day.

The practice has truly changed my life and I'm grateful to the North American Lutheran Church, the Navigators, and Living Water Lutheran Church, the congregation I serve, for opening up this wonderful road to intimacy with God to me and the members of our church. (If you'd like to know how I spend my quiet time with God, it's explained here.)

Below is today's journal entry for my quiet time. If it can, as my Navigators coach Bill Mowry says, "prime the pump" for your own relationship with God, that's great. But there is no substitute for spending time in God's Word each day yourself. To soak up His Word is to get to know our awesome, amazing God better. And knowing God better is the deepest yearning of every human being, whether they know it or not: Everyone longs to know the One in Whose image they were created!
Look: “For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.” (1 Corinthians 11:29, ESV)

The discussion in 1 Corinthians 11, of headwear by women and men is so obviously time-bound and tied to Jewish worship customs and Paul’s contextual plea for Gentile-Christians to have consideration of Jewish-Christian sensibilities, that I pass over it.

The discussion of Holy Communion in the chapter, though, clearly has application for Christians beyond the first century, even though it addresses it within the context of the agape meal, which isn't how Christians ordinarily celebrate Holy Communion these days.

I’m especially struck by this verse, which I’ve never taken the time to consider before. Paul seems to be saying that if a person doesn’t perceive the real presence of Christ in the Sacrament, they bring judgment on themselves. In fact, I believe that it is what he is saying.

The pivotal word is the verb, discerning. The word in Greek, the language in which Paul and all of the New Testament writers composed their work, is διακρίνων (diakrinōn). That’s the passive, plural, nominative form of διακρίνω (diakrinó). It’s a compound word and a literal rendering might read to judge through. In other words, to see something in an object, person, or situation beyond its surface presentation, to see it for what it is in its entirety.

As it relates to Holy Communion then, Paul appears to be saying that when we receive the bread and wine of Holy Communion, the eyes of faith see that it is more than just bread and wine. In the sacrament, Christ gives His very self--body, blood, His all--to us.

This echoes Jesus’ words when He institutes the Sacrament. In Matthew 26:26-28, it says:

“Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat; this is my body.’ And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

“This is my body,” Jesus says. And, “This is my blood.”

Failing to trust the promise that Christ gives here to be in, with, and under the bread and the wine is, Paul says, to bring judgment on ourselves.

Listen: Why does God’s Word insist on the importance of discerning Jesus’ actual body in the sacrament?

One reason may be is that He wants us to accept what it is that Jesus says. Jesus expects us to believe that He knows what the meaning of is is. 
When He said, “This is my body, this is my blood,” He didn’t mean, “This represents my body, this represents my blood.” 
He calls (He commands) us to accept the reality that, through the blessing of His Word, bread and wine become simultaneously His body and blood
In the Sacrament, He re-enacts the miracle of God’s incarnation in Christ. Christ incarnates Himself in, with, and under the bread and the wine and fills us with Himself. Just as Christ was and is both truly God and truly human, in the Sacrament, believers are presented with what is both truly earthly food and truly Jesus Himself.

Failing to discern this by faith, in turn, means that we fail to receive what Christ offers in the Sacrament. Christ gives us His blood in Holy Communion to bring about, as He says, “the forgiveness of sins.” 
If this promise isn’t met by faith, both in the Giver and in the gift He gives, there is no forgiveness. 
To view the Sacrament as a symbolic religious act is to not receive what Jesus seeks to give. 
To receive it as an act of Jesus, God-in-the-flesh, with trust--or, what is most possible for us merely from a human point of view, the willingness to trust, since we are incapable of believing in Christ or His promises apart from the faith-creating work of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:3)--is to receive exactly what Christ intends to give through it. To trust in Christ's presence in, with, and under the bread and the wine is nothing more and nothing less than believing in, or trusting in, Jesus (John 3:16-18).

I think that receiving it with trust doesn’t mean we have to understand it. Who has the mind to understand it fully? This isn’t a philosophical proposition to be understood, but a mysterious act of love to be accepted...or spurned.

Martin Luther puts it well in The Small Catechism: “It is not the eating and drinking [of Holy Communion] alone [that brings forgiveness of sin, life, and salvation], but also the words that accompany it, ‘Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.’

“These words, together with the eating and drinking, are the chief thing in the Sacrament, and those who believe them have what they say and declare, namely, the forgiveness of sins.”

Response: Help me always, Lord, to reverence the gift of Yourself You give in the Sacrament of Holy Communion. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen
[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Reflections on Charlottesville and Racism

These are remarks I shared at the beginning of both worship services today at Living Water Lutheran Church. (It lasts a bit more than four minutes.)

I didn't preach today, but our worship director, Mark Brennan, presented an excellent sermon, which you can find here.

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

Saturday, August 12, 2017

"If Jesus calls us to love our enemies, what does it mean to love those white supremacists in Charlottesville?"

Over on Facebook, Dennis Sanders asked: "So if Jesus calls us to love our enemies, what does it mean to love those supremacists in Charlottesville?"

I responded:
Here's what I think. 
Love doesn't mean endorsement or indulgence. 
It means standing firm on God's Word for the sake of others. 
It means calling people to repentance and new life through Jesus. 
It means praying that those who hate will be transformed by grace through faith in Christ. 
It means inviting those who hate to join the rest of we recovering sinners who make up the Church in laying our sins at the foot of Christ's cross and submitting to the Holy Spirit's project of making us new.
By the way, Jesus gave, the command for Christians to love their enemies most famously in His Sermon on the Mount, when He said:
You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your friends, hate your enemies.’ But now I tell you: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may become the children of your Father in heaven. For he makes his sun to shine on bad and good people alike, and gives rain to those who do good and to those who do evil.  (Matthew 5:43-45)
[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Happy anniversary...

...a day the Disneyland Haunted Mansion.

I've never been to Disneyland. But I have been to the Disneyworld Haunted Mansion in Orlando several times. It's fun.

Jim Denney's new book, Walt's Disneyland, gives some of the background on how this attraction came into being and some of its evolution. According to Jim:
Though the Haunted Mansion was not opened until two and a half years after Walt's death, a haunted house was one of the earliest ideas Walt had for his Park. In 1951, when Walt planned to build Mickey Mouse Park near the Burbank studio [Disney realized that the proposed site was going to be too small], he assigned conceptual artist Harper Goff to prepare drawings of a..."ghost house."
Eventually, the walk-through concept for the attraction was abandoned and it became one of the most successful dark rides, including loading guests in cars that take them through ail the spooky doings in a New Orleans-style mansion that appears to the very definition of respectability on the outside, but is full of ghosts and ghouls and cornball humor on the inside. I enjoy this attraction for its humor as well as for the audioanimatronix.

Happy belated anniversary to the Haunted Mansion.

Thanks to my daughter for linking to this video on Facebook.

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

"I like presidents who had campaign managers that didn't have their homes raided."

As pointed out by blogger Ann Althouse, the phrase in the headline above is the most recomended reaction in the comments section to the New York Times account of the FBI's pre-dawn raid of ex-Trump presidential campaign manager Paul Manafort's home in the pre-dawn errors of July 26.

The comment alludes to Trump's dismissive remark, made during the Trump campaign for president, about Senator John McCain's status as war hero. Said Trump of McCain:
“He’s not a war hero...He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured."
McCain was a hero, of course, incurring many beatings and tortures, the scars from which he still wears.

Those beatings and tortures came because he refused to be used for North Vietnamese propaganda or to accept early release POW camp by appearing in such films.

He knew that the North wanted to use him as a propaganda bludgeon on his father, Admiral John S. McCain, Jr.  And to weaken the morale of POWs he would have left behind had he taken the offered ticket home once the propaganda film was in the can.

For the sake of his country and his refusal to accept the preferential treatment he might receive as an Admiral's son, McCain is a hero!

The reader comment on the Manafort story gives Trump a tweak for the disdainful comments made about McCain.

In the meantime, McCain continues to be afforded insulting behavior by his fellow Republicans. Senator Ron Johnson seemed to suggest the other day McCain voted against the Senator Mitch McConnell-engineered health care reform bill because of McCain's recent brain diagnosis and the Arizona Republican was tired. I hope that Johnson apologizes to McCain.

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

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Today's 11:11, August 9, 2017

Today, during the second day of the Braaten-Benne Lectures (part of the North American Lutheran Church's annual Lutheran Week), Dr. Gordon Isaac talked about what Martin Luther said made a person a good theologian.

Isaac emphasized that literally everyone is a theologian. Everyone has to decide what they believe about God. The only question is whether they're good or bad theologians.

Luther said three things makes a person a good theologian:

  • Prayer
  • Meditation (on God's Word)
  • Spiritual trials

Luther insisted that these were the indispensable qualifiers for good theologians, people who know God and can articulate God's truth, not as an abstraction, but out of intimate knowledge of the God, Who when He took on flesh in Jesus said of Himself, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life" (John 14:6).

Luther's qualifiers for good theologians ring true to me. As in any relationship, time is essential. People who say that their relationships are built on quality time, if not on quantity of time, don't know much about relationships. As someone has said, love is spelled T-I-M-E.

Prayer that is more than perfunctory...

Meditation that is attentive consideration of bits and pieces of God's Word, approached as His Word to us...

Facing the trials to our spiritual lives, to our faith in and relationship with God, with God...

These are the ways in which we become good theologians.

Through prayer, meditation, and spiritual trials, we learn that when we come to the ends of ourselves, God is still there.

We learn that when nothing in this world makes sense, God makes sense.

We learn that when we are weak, vulnerable, and incapable of going on, the time we spend with God in prayer, meditation, and spiritual trials, yields deeper faith and good theology.

It's only when we endure Good Friday times with God that we experience Easter Days with Him. And it's how anyone who dares can become a good theologian.

As Luther would say, "This is most certainly true."

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

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Today's 11:11, August 8, 2017

Pictured above, at the top, is the mushroom cloud arising from the atomic bomb dropped at Hiroshima, Japan on August 6, 1945.

Below it, is a picture of what was left of Nagasaki after the second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki three days later.

President Truman believed that the bombs needed to be dropped in order to force Imperial Japan to surrender, avoiding the death of tens of thousands of Americans and others. I've always believed he was right.

But it cannot be easily dismissed that at least 129,000 died as a result of the bombings. It was the worst humanly-produced conflagration in history.

That fact made the current president's statement earlier today regarding North Korea's apparent development of miniature nuclear weapons that can be projected via ICBMs. He promised that if North Korea didn't back down from its nuclear weapons program, it "will be met with fire, fury and frankly power the likes of which this world has never seen before."

Never been seen before? Does that anticipate a use of force that is bigger than Hiroshima and Nagasaki?

North Korea's regime needs to be dealt with and restricted. But I pray that doing so won't require anything like Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

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

Monday, August 07, 2017

Today's 11:11, August 7, 2017

Another from the new release, Magic & Bird by Andy Mineo and Wordsplayed.

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

Check out 'Magic & Bird'

If you like rap, check out the just-released collaboration of Andy Mineo and Wordsplayed, Magic & Bird. I've liked Mineo a lot for a while now. This is an interesting release.

It's one of two new LPs from favorite artists released this past week. The other is Randy Newman's Dark Matter.

The perspectives of Newman, on the one hand, and these two rappers (pictured below) couldn't be more different, in some ways. Newman is an atheist. Mineo and Wordsplayed are Christians. I pray for Newman and enjoy (most of) his music. I pray for these two rappers that God will continue to inspire them, embolden them, and help them to continue as humble servant/artists.

To find Magic & Bird, look here.

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

Purple Heart Day

Today is Purple Heart Day. A few minutes ago, Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, herself a war veteran, posted this tweet in honor of Purple Heart recipients. Thanks to all who have suffered in military service to our country. God bless you!

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

Sharing What's Most Important to Us (AUDIO)


[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio. This is the text for the worship message yesterday morning. A slightly different version of this was shared with the people of Saint Matthew Lutheran Church in Logan, Ohio, in 2008.]

Sharing What's Most Important to Us

Romans 9:1-13
John Harper was a sort of child prodigy. A Scotsman born in 1872, he came to faith in Jesus Christ at the age of thirteen and within four years, he’d begun getting notice as a convincing preacher with a passion for helping people to know and follow Christ.

In 1896, he started a church in London. Beginning with a core of 25 people, thirteen years later, when he left to become pastor of a church in Chicago, the London church had 500 members.

In 1912, Harper and his six year old daughter took a trip on the maiden voyage of the HMS Titanic. When the Titanic hit an iceberg and began to sink, John Harper made sure that his little girl got safely onto a lifeboat and then began running up and down all the decks of the ship. He looked for women, children to get onto lifeboats. He also looks for those uncertain about where they would spend eternity, hoping to incite them to throw themselves into the arms of risen, life-giving Jesus.

“Survivors report that he began...” telling anyone who would listen that eternal life belongs to all who will turn away from their sin and trust Jesus Christ with their lives. “He continued [telling others about Christ] even after he had jumped into the water and was clinging to a piece of wreckage (he’d already given his lifejacket to another man.)”

Four years later, Harper’s final moments were recounted by a Titanic survivor at a large public gathering in Hamilton, Ontario: “When I was drifting alone on a spar that awful night,” said the man, “the tide brought Mr. Harper..., also on a piece of wreck, near me. ‘Man,’ he said, ‘are you saved [from sin and death by Christ]?’ ‘No,’ I said, ‘I am not.’ He replied, ‘Believe [in] the Lord Jesus Christ and [you will] be saved.’

“The waves bore him away, but…brought him back a little later, and he [asked if I had allowed Christ to save me yet]...’No,’ I said, ‘I cannot honestly say...[that I have…].’ He said again, ‘Believe [in…] Jesus Christ…’ and shortly after he went down; and there, alone in the night, and with two miles of water under me, I believed...”

That man was one of only six people plucked out of the water by the packed lifeboats. Harper, on the other hand, at age 40, was one of 1522 people who were left to die that horrible night. But, as we see, at least one of the survivors owed his eternal life to John Harper’s faithful witness.

For Harper, dying was not the most frightening prospect he faced as the Titanic sank; the most frightening prospect was for the thousands who surrounded him to enter eternity without believing in Jesus Christ as the advocate Who covered their sins and charitably gave them a place in God’s kingdom.

Do you and I have that same passion, that same zeal, for those who are living this life apart from the empowering presence of Jesus?

Do we ever give a thought to the thousands of people immediately around us who, day in and day out, try to live life without the lifeboat of Jesus Christ to see them through good and bad times?

Do we really care about all those who haven’t sensed that they can call out to Jesus to save them from their sins, from death, from everlasting separation from God?

Sometimes, I’m afraid, I’m so bent on just getting through my day and I so desire to “get along” with others, that I allow my passion and my love for my neighbors to be forgotten. I don’t tell them about Jesus.

Shame on me for that!

Shame on me for lacking the passion of a John Harper!

This was the passion with which the writer of today’s second Bible lesson dictated the letter to the first-century church at Rome from which it’s taken.

Early in that letter, the apostle Paul tells the Romans, in a passage I also mentioned last week: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. [A gentile being every other human being who isn’t a Jew].” (Romans 1:16)

The gospel, the good news of new life for all who repent and believe in the crucified and risen Jesus, this gospel, Paul is saying, is God’s one and only way of changing a person’s eternal destiny from the death and condemnation for which we are ticketed from birth, to eternal life with God.

Today’s second lesson, from a later chapter in Romans, finds Paul contemplating his fellow Jews who had rejected Jesus. Contemplating is too tame a word to describe what Paul is doing. Paul really wasn't a tame man. Agonizing is a better way to describe his ruminating about his fellow Jews.

It hurt Paul to think of anyone not knowing Jesus and facing the titanic questions of how to live in this world and what will happen to them when they die without Christ at their sides. He dreaded the thought of any one, especially his Jewish kindred, entering a Christ-less eternity!

Paul writes, “I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying, my conscience confirms it through the Holy Spirit— I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race, the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption to sonship; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs [The patriarchs being Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob], and from them is traced the human ancestry of the Messiah [Jesus, Himself, also by God’s choice, born into this world as a descendant of Abraham], who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.” (Romans 9:1-5)

In this passionate passage, Paul was pleading with the non-Jews among the Christian believers in Rome to never forget his fellow Jews. It was the Jews, he said, who first bore testimony about the gracious God Who came to earth in the person of Jesus Christ. They shouldn’t be written off or ignored, Paul argues. They too, need Jesus.

As John Harper knew on that fateful night in April, 1912, you and I who follow Jesus Christ are called to live with passion for Christ, anxious to find opportunities to present and live the good news about Jesus, so that none of our neighbors will die condemned for their sin.

We believe that “God gave us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son does not have life.” (1 John 5:11-12)

And we believe of Jesus what the apostles taught when standing before hostile authorities: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

But of course, sharing this good news--this gospel--must be done with the right motives and the right sensitivity.

When I was in my teens, a neighbor called me on a Saturday afternoon. It surprised me because the guy rarely had much to do with me. He asked if I was doing anything in the next few hours. Caught by surprise, I said, “No.” He invited me to go with him to see a movie. The title made it sound like a comedy, but turned out to be an evangelistic drama.

I might have gone willingly with the guy had his invitation been forthright and honest, even without his deception.

But, as it was, I felt like he’d ambushed me.

As I sat there in the Ohio Theater in Columbus that day, I was seething with resentment. My neighbor’s sneaky invitation turned me against him and only buttressed my resistance to Jesus.

My resentment was heightened after my neighbor tried to high-pressure me once the film was completed and someone had come out onto the stage to issue an evangelistic invitation, into surrendering to Christ as we sat in the theater following the film.

When our motive is genuine concern for others though, I have found that people don’t object to our putting in a good word for Christ.

I’ve told some of you about what happened one day with one of my favorite seminary professors, Trygve Skarsten.

Tryg was the son of Norwegian immigrants and he grew up in New York City, where as a teen, he was a member of a gang. In his late teens though, no doubt as the result of the patient praying and quiet witness of his parents, Tryg gave his life to Christ and went off to college and then seminary.

After serving as a pastor for a few years, he went back to New York to get a doctorate in New Testament studies at Columbia University. Every day while enrolled there, Tryg took a bus to Columbia’s campus.

During these commutes, he struck up a friendship with a rabbi, also a daily rider on the bus. They enjoyed one another’s company. Tryg was coming close to completing his degree requirements when he asked God to give him the courage to tell his rabbi friend about how important Jesus was in his life and to invite the rabbi to follow Jesus too.

On the bus shortly after he'd started praying, Tryg told his friend that he would feel guilty if at some point in their few remaining daily conversations, he didn’t tell him about his own relationship with Jesus, and ask his friend to follow Christ, too.

The rabbi smiled at Tryg and replied honestly, “My friend, I can't take you up on your offer. But I am deeply touched; only someone with great love in his heart would share what is most precious to him with his friend.”

Is Jesus the most important Person in our lives?

Is He the most precious thing we have, the best thing we can share with our friends?

If Jesus is any of these things to us, let’s ask Him to stir up our zeal for the eternal well-being of our neighbors--all of our neighbors--so that we too, can share with them what is most important to us, what is most precious in all times and in all places: Jesus, the Savior, the Messiah, God-in-the-flesh, our King. Amen!

[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio. This is the text for the worship message yesterday morning. A slightly different version of this was shared with the people of Saint Matthew Lutheran Church in Logan, Ohio, in 2008.]

Friday, August 04, 2017

Has the Church abandoned the well as God's truth?

Here. Thanks to my son, Pastor Philip Daniels, for sharing this over on Facebook.

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

She Chose Me by Randy Newman

Randy Newman's first new LP in nine years, Dark Matter, was released today.

It starts out unevenly. The first track mines the old Christian faith versus science meme to an absurd end. (It's a false dichotomy.) The second track looks at Jack and Bobby Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis in a strange, incomprehensible way.

But the remaining seven tracks are strong.

This song is the next-to-last one on the LP. For once, the satirizing Newman takes his tongue out of his cheek and presents a beautiful ballad. Any man who's ever been suprised by a special woman choosing them will identify.

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

Whatever the changes, just one thing matters

This picture, recently unearthed by one of my sisters, had to have been taken after school, probably in the spring of 1963. I'm there with two of my sisters, Betsy and Kathy. That's when Kathy, the sister on the horse, would have turned three. Betsy would have been six and I would have been nine. (Two more siblings, a girl, Dianne, and a boy, Marty, would follow, in 1965 and 1967, respectively.)

I'm sure the picture was snapped some day after school because Betsy and I were dressed in our "school clothes," though, by today's lights, we may seem to be overdressed for school. But because the shirt is patterned, it's not one I would have worn to church on a Sunday morning. That would have required a tie and a sportcoat. And because I was such a nerd (and still am), had this been taken on a Sunday after church, I would have insisted on keeping my tie on until I changed into "play clothes."

"Play clothes" never included jeans in those days, either for me or for most of my friends. I doubt that I had a pair of denims until I was in junior high school. Throughout my public school years, and this was common, I never wore jeans or tennis shoes to school.

They weren't allowed. A student back then only wore tennis shoes for gym class in junior and senior high years. We played ball at recess or, in rare designated times for physical education during the elementary years, in our dress shoes. (No kidding!)

A rite of each fall before school began on the Tuesday after Labor Day was buying a new pair of dress shoes to wear to school each day. Your parents hoped that your feet didn't grow too much and that, somehow, the shoes would last you through the school year.

That was just how we rolled back then.

Today, when my work day is ended, I take off my sport coat, clerical collar, and dress pants and slip into jeans or sweats and a polo. Dress shoes went the way of the dodo bird for me long ago; for years, I've worn "old men's shoes" from SAS.

It's interesting to note the ways in which people's dress have changed over the years since my own parents were born.

For example, check out this picture of a crowd of baseball fans from the 1930s:

Notice the men in dress shirts and ties?

And, I recall, that even in the 50s and 60s, when my grandmother and mother used to take us to the downtown Lazarus department store in Columbus to shop for school clothes, shirt, tie, and sportcoat were required for me and "dressier" dresses and patent leather shoes for my sisters. These trips were major and more formal outings. Not exactly what you wear when you go to Walmart these days.

The picture below shows typical moms (honestly) with kids in tow, walking through the Lazarus air door on North High Street, sometime in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Over all, I prefer 2017 to that long-ago world. Most of the changes through the decades have been good, I think.

Yet, we still live in the same roiling, boisterous, beautiful, sin-plagued world that's always been. We make progress in one field, we fall in others. Different sins go in and out of style, changing as certainly as the styling of our clothes.

Everything about this world, changed or not, should be held onto loosely.

Why? Because this world isn't all there is or that God has in mind for us. God made it perfect. But we messed it up. We became messed up.

Which is why God took on flesh in the Person of Jesus Christ to take our rightful death sentence for sin on a cross, then rose to open eternity with God to all who turn from sin and trust in Christ as their only God and Savior.

One day, Jesus will bring this creation to an end and invite all who have trusted Him into the new, eternal creation--like this world except that it will be perfect, devoid of sin, death, hatred, war, racism, oppression, injustice, sorrow, grieving, or tears.

Peter's call to believers in Christ seems more relevant to me than ever:
Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. (1 Peter 2:11-12)
I pray that the God I know in Jesus Christ will help me to live a life so focused on Him that, whatever changes, superficial or deep, may fall on this world or to my own life, I will keep on trusting Christ as my only hope.

Nothing else matters.

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

Calvin Coolidge, his dad, and the majesty of Constitutional Democracy

While Calvin Coolidge was out of his depth as president, particularly as it relates to understanding the twentieth century's new economic realities, I've always admired him as a person.

The story of his swearing-in has been a favorite since I first read it when I was a boy. It captures the simple majesty of US constitutional democracy and George Washington's great legacy to our country, the peaceful transfer of executive power.

One highlight of a tour of New England several years ago was seeing the room in which Coolidge's father administered the presidential oath of office to his son. I literally got goosebumps.

The tale was recounted again yesterday in a post from the White House Historical Association:
John Coolidge received several telegrams during the early hours of August 3, 1923, all of which bore the same message: President Warren G. Harding was dead.

This meant that John’s son, Vice President Calvin Coolidge, would soon be sworn in as the President of the United States.

The news shocked the Coolidges, who were enjoying a family trip to their home in Plymouth Notch, Vermont. President Harding had also been touring the country during his “Voyage of Understanding.” Coolidge received reports that the president showed signs of recovery from a recent illness; his death was completely unexpected.

Calvin Coolidge sent a telegram expressing his condolences to First Lady Florence Harding shortly after receiving the news. Meanwhile, the family accommodated the crowd gathering outside their home, setting aside one room for reporters as John Coolidge greeted curious neighbors. Despite the commotion, the new president’s youngest son, Calvin, Jr., remained asleep. The family decided to wait until the morning to tell him the news.

The elder Coolidge, a notary public, administered the oath of office. Calvin Coolidge placed his hand on the Bible in a dimly lit room in front of a small audience, becoming the thirtieth president of the United States. His first act as president? Returning to bed.

As President Coolidge slept, a new telephone line was installed, creating a direct line of communication between the farm and the White House.

The next day, President Coolidge returned to the capital in his new role as commander in chief.

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

No vanity here...

Posted this earlier today on Facebook:

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

Only One by James Taylor

James Taylor's 1985 release That's Why I'm Here contained this breakout hit. The hook line with its beautiful harmonies by Joni Mitchell are what make this song. See if you don't agree.

How we can believe

This is my journal entry for a recent quiet time with God. How I approach quiet time is something I explain here.
Look: “Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.” (Luke 24:45)

Throughout Luke 24, which is where we read Luke’s account of Jesus’ resurrection, the disciples struggle to “get” what’s happened.

The women see the empty tomb. But it takes a reminder of “two men” whose clothes gleamed like white lightning, to remind them of how Jesus had said that He would be crucified, then rise from the dead (vv.7-8).

Peter runs to the empty tomb, but wondered “to himself what had happened” (v.12). The other disciples had written off the women’s witness as “nonsense” (v.11).

Cleopas and the other disciple (maybe his wife) unknowingly encountered the risen Jesus on the road to Emmaus and only recognize Him after He breaks and gives the bread to them (vv.30-31).

Later, when some of them are gathered in Jerusalem, Jesus suddenly appears among them. Even with Him there among them, they doubted, thinking that they were seeing a ghost (vv.38-39).

Finally, in verse 45, Jesus opens their minds to understand what they were seeing.

What interests me is the word, understand. In the Greek in which Luke wrote his gospel, the word is συνιέναι. It carries the meaning of comprehending. But it’s a compound word having the literal meaning put together. Any time we understand something, it’s the result of putting together multiple facts.

For the disciples, it wasn’t enough to see the risen Jesus before them. They’d never seen a resurrected person. (They had seen people raised from the dead by Jesus. But, they’d never thought that Jesus would be raised if He were killed. Who, they would have reasoned, was going to do the raising?) For the disciples to believe the evidence that stood before them, it was necessary to put that evidence together with other things: the reminder of Jesus’ past prophecy; the way the risen Jesus broke and served bread the way He had before He was crucified; the witness of the Law, the Prophets, and the psalms; and finally, Jesus unfolding the Scriptures for them.

When God’s Word was brought to bear on the claim that Jesus was risen, the disciples were able to put things together. They could understand.

Listen: This chapter and this verse in particular, underscore how completely dependent we are on Jesus to integrate what we see or hear from the Word of God with our openness to Jesus’ teaching, to Jesus Himself. The disciples knew the Scriptures. They knew what they’d heard Jesus say before His crucifixion. They could see the risen Jesus. But until Jesus “opened their minds,” they couldn’t “understand the Scriptures.” They couldn't understand Jesus and the new thing He was doing. They couldn’t put things together.

Martin Luther writes: “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, and sanctified and preserved me in the true faith.”
Memorizing God’s Word is a great way to allow God’s truth to permeate our lives. But if we look at it only as a way to gain head knowledge or to find justifications for our own sinful behaviors and decisions, we will never understand the Word. We won’t put it together. It’s only when we, like Mary, as described earlier in Luke's gospel, place ourselves at the feet of God, our Teacher, that anything about the risen Jesus or the life to which He calls me will make any sense. (Luke 10:38-42)

I’m reminded of the passage from Proverbs 3:5-6, we’ve been memorizing for our discipleship small groups: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make straight your paths.”

Without the Holy Spirit sent by Jesus to be My teacher, Christian faith will be nothing but a clump of words and assertions. When I place myself at Jesus’ disposal and ask Him, “What are to you telling me here, Lord?,” I begin to least I begin to understand what I need to understand for that moment.

Respond: Lead me today, Lord, and help me not to resist. Bring to mind Your Word whenever I’m about to speak, when I’m tempted, when I’m with others, when I pray. Open me up so that I can integrate Your Word and Your will with my life today. Help me to experience Your living Word. In Jesus’ name. Amen

[I'm the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio. I'm also married, the father of two grown children, a son, a brother, a 1975 graduate of The Ohio State University (Bachelor of Science in Social Studies Education), holder of a Master of Divinity degree, a reader, a nerd, and a fan of baseball and rock music. Oh, and I fix egg whites and turkey bacon most mornings for breakfast. I love the small group of men with whom I presently participate in a small discipleship group twice a month. And I really miss my friends in Woof, our one-time wine-drinking, snack-gnoshing, theology-talking, friend-supporting group who gathered each week around our dining room table after a church Bible study. And I love it when I get to interact with elementary and high school classmates.]

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

A song

"Give me your tired..."

The New Colussus (the poem is posted at the Statue of Liberty)
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name Mother of Exiles.
From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
Emma Lazarus (November 2, 1883)

Putin by Randy Newman

Before Randy Newman spent most of his time composing music for movies (Toy Story) and television shows (the theme for Monk), following the family trade, he was a brilliant solo recording artist whose lyrics satirized the insanities he saw around him.

His LP, Sail Away, from 1972, remains one of my favorites. (It includes a song used in the Norman Lear-Bud Yorkin film, Cold Turkey, which starred Dick Van Dyke and Bob Newhart.)

Happily, Newman has been back in the studio. Two tracks from Dark Matter, a new LP which comes out on Friday, have been released.

One of them is Putin, a hilarious and brutally honest send-up of the thuggish and pretentious Vladimir Putin. Like all dictators--a description which may be too charitable to Putin, since he's more like a mafiosi--Putin is increasingly a parody of himself, which may make him all too easy a target for Newman. But this song is delicious.

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

Today's 11:11, August 2, 2017

My favorite dark ride at Disneyworld in Orlando was always Maelstrom, housed in the Norwegian pavilion at Epcot. But Maelstrom is no more. This was its last run on October 5, 2014.

Of course, videos seem never to do these attractions justice. But Maelstrom was a multi-sensory experience. When the boats were cut loose in the North Sea amid the oil rigs, the air turned chilly and the sea mist was in your nostrils. At the ride's end, you really imagined yourself to be in a Norwegian village.

It's understandable that Maelstrom is no more. The Disney parks have always evolved and changed, sometimes to present fantastic new imagineered attractions, sometimes to piggyback on the latest Disney film. I'm not a nostalgist. I don't pine for the "good old days." But it is fun to look back on what was a terrific achievement. Glad that someone took the video.

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

How to face temptation

"No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it." (1 Corinthians 10:13)

One reason we cave into sin, violating God's will as expressed in the Ten Commandments, is that we grow deaf to God when we're tempted. Instead of living in the freedom and dignity of a child of God, we're trapped by slavery to self, the opinions of others, and, to be honest, the devil. It's happened to me. It's happened to you.

The key to resisting temptation, with an aim to living lives that express gratitude to God for the grace and life we only receive from Christ, is to be tuned into what God wills for our lives, again as expressed in the Ten Commandments.

You get tuned into God and an intimate relationship with God when you spend time in His Word each day, not just reading it, but soaking it up, even memorizing it.

For example, this passage from 1 Corinthians 10:13 is one that small groups at Living Water have been memorizing in our Navigators discipleship small groups.

A good example of how God's Word can protect us from making sinful, stupid decisions is found in the experience of Joseph, son of Jacob, in the Old Testament book of Genesis.

Joseph's brothers had sold him into slavery in Egypt. But there, he ended up working for a powerful man named Potiphar, essentially functioning as his chief of staff and administrator.

Potiphar's wife was attracted to Joseph and tried repeatedly to get Joseph to go to bed with her. Joseph explained that he couldn't sin against God nor his master in this way.

But Potiphar's wife wouldn't take no for an answer. One day, she grabbed Joseph's tunic, saying, "Lie with me!" Joseph ran. When he did, the tunic slipped off of Joseph and he found himself running from Potiphar's wife naked. Enraged, she accused him of trying to rape her. Her possession of Joseph's cloak implicated him. Potiphar had Joseph slapped into prison.

Some might hear or read that story and think that the moral is that Joseph could have spared himself imprisonment if he'd only gone along with Potiphar's wife.


The moral is that Joseph ran from temptation and chose to walk with God, even when that meant being falsely accused and imprisoned for some time. He maintained his faith, his integrity, and his usefulness to the purposes of God for our lives. And Joseph was able to make the decision to run because He knew God through being steeped in God's Word.

Ultimately, of course, it was precisely because Joseph was imprisoned that he came to the attention of the Pharaoh. And because of Joseph's faithfulness to God and his faithful stewardship of gifts God had given to him, including the gift of administration, he was able to save his own people--God's people, Israel--from extinction. It was to be from the people of Israel that God's plan for salvation from sin and death was to be opened to all humanity through Jesus Christ. So, Joseph's decision to run from sin rather than to acquiesce to it is of eternal significance.

Truth be told, every time we face the temptation to sin, the stakes are higher than we may realize or imagine. Not only is our eternal salvation in play, so, potentially, is the salvation of every person whose life is impacted by our decision, whether we decide to cave or run.

Running from the temptation to sin can be painful. The things that tempt us hold out the real promise of pleasure. At least, they do for the short term. The fruit that Adam and Eve ate tasted good, but it also brought the burden of sin, of knowing not just good and righteousness, but also knowing evil and death.

It's better to run from sin and into the arms of the God we know in the crucified and risen Jesus. When we do that, we literally run from death to life.

Of course, when we cave into sin, that need not be the end of our life story. It need not be the end of our connection with the God of grace we know in Jesus Christ. It needn't be the end of a useful life. Jesus came to ensure that sin and death need not be the last word over our lives. It's a matter of trusting God with our sins, our past, our present, our future, our whole lives. It's a matter of running to Him. 1 John 1:9, another of our Navigators verses, reminds us: "If we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9)

Deep down, we probably all want to run from sin. We want God, whether we know much about Him or not. God wants to help us enjoy the life Christ died and rose to make possible. Soak up God's Word each day and He will help you stand where you should stand and run when you need to run.

Just some thoughts on this Wednesday.

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

Monday, July 31, 2017

Something Old, Something New

Matthew 13:44-52
In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus tells us that life with God is built on two strong legs: The old and the new.

In the final verse of our lesson, Jesus says: “Therefore every teacher [or, every scribe] of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.” (Matthew 13:52)

What does Jesus mean?

When Jesus began teaching, preaching, and healing, He crashed into the staid orthodoxies of first century Judea like a nuclear hand grenade.

People didn’t know what to make of Him. He threatened the iron-fisted rule over people’s lives with God exerted by the scribes, the teachers, of what we know as the Old Testament.

These scribes were experts on what God’s Word said in the Old Testament, but unlike the people of faith in the Old Testament to whom that Word was first revealed--people like Abraham, Sarah, Moses, David, Ruth, Isaiah, and Rahab--they didn’t know God.

They had boiled God down to an implacable philosophical proposition, a grim judge who dispensed blessings only to those who kept His Law.

Now comes Jesus saying things like, “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) Jesus is saying, in effect, “You can’t keep the Law fully. You’re incapable of it. The old law was meant to point you to that fact and to your need of Me. And that’s why I’m here: To obey the Law perfectly for you so that, if you will trust in and follow Me, My obedience will cover your sins and change your relationship with God. And it won’t make you feel that it’s OK to indiscriminately violate the old law. It will make you seek My help each day to be obedient, just because our relationship has been made new.”

But for all that was new about Jesus, those who really listened to and followed Him heard the echoes of the old.

The God Who, through Jesus, breathes His Holy Spirit on His Church to give it life is the same God Whose breath first gave life to Adam and Whose Spirit moved over the waters and made creation happen! In Jesus, the Word becomes flesh, God takes on our humanity, enters our lives.

The person who follows Jesus can come to know God as Father, just as Jesus did.

Because of what Jesus has done for us, we have a new respect for the old law, not because we think that if we obey it, we’ll be saved from sin, death, darkness, and futile living...but because of our thankfulness that Jesus shed His blood for us on the cross, we see that God’s Law, as reflected in the Ten Commandments, the way Jesus lived is how we aspire to live.

I took my dad to lunch the other day. I’m 63. Nonetheless, I find myself wanting to please my dad now more than ever, not because I think that he’ll withhold his love from me if I don’t, but because I know how much he loves me already.

This is like the new reality that Jesus came into this world to proclaim and to die and rise to bring into being. He moves me from feeling I have to obey God, to wanting to obey God (even though I often resist Him) because I know that He loved and died and rose for me despite the death punishment I deserve.

“God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

The scribes of the old religion were shaken by Jesus. They were afraid of what might happen if people became Jesus’ disciples and actually believed that they could speak and live intimately with God, read and know His Word, pray in Jesus’ name, teach others how to have life with God.

They wouldn’t be in control; God would be.

The Holy Spirit would be unleashed in believers’ lives, freeing them to live without fear of death, empowering them to love God and to love neighbor, confident, as our second lesson for today puts it, that nothing could separate them from the love of God in Christ Jesus. (By the way, the fear of letting God take control of our thoughts didn't go out with the first century scribes. There may be nothing that terrifies any of us more than just letting go and letting God take control of our lives. "Mark," a wise older pastor told me once, "the biggest problem in the Church is that we're afraid of the Holy Spirit?")

So what difference does this all make to you and me?

Just this: The Word of God, Old and New Testaments, is the Word of God for one reason, it points us to Jesus as the way, and the truth, and the life. The Bible, this perfect and authoritative witness of God by God is a treasure chest and when we read it through the prism of Christ’s death and resurrection, it brims over with the life and love of God for us. (As someone has said, “The Bible isn’t humanity’s word about God, it’s God’s Word to humanity!”) 

To spend time in God’s Word--reading it, praying about it, reflecting on it, soaking it up not as stagnant print on a page but for what it is--an urgent love letter from God--is to know God and it is to know life. 

Old and new, it points us to the truth we read in 2 John 5:11-12: “And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.” The Bible is a living storeroom and powerhouse filled with the infinite treasures of God.

The Word reveals the Gospel to us. Romans 1:16 say: “...I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.”

It is this powerful gospel that Christ detonates repeatedly when we dare, by faith, to take in God’s Word, old and new. 

In those who believe the Bible’s message, crafted by the Holy Spirit, written in the blood of Jesus, life abounds.

It ushers us into God’s Kingdom.

And just how valuable this kingdom Word is, Jesus shows in a string of parables in today’s Gospel lesson.

Jesus says the kingdom witnessed by His Word is like a treasure so valuable that when a man finds it in a field, he spends everything to have it.

It’s like pearls so amazing that when someone encounters them, they sacrifice all to have them.

It’s like a net laid down by God, a net in which you want to be caught so that you can be part of the gospel kingdom, so that you will never be separated from God.

And it is by taking from this treasury, old and new, that we who are believers in Jesus can face each day, help others to do the same, and let others know the good news of new life that they they too can have with Jesus.

Years ago, the US government worked to allow Christians who had been imprisoned for their faith in the old Soviet Union to come to this country. I remember reading in a news magazine about one of these Russian Christians who emigrated to America. In the Soviet Union, it was difficult for him to get or keep a Bible. It was forbidden to own one. But in the United States, he met people who had as many as six Bibles in their homes...many of them left unopened.

Fellow disciples of Jesus, Jesus did not spend centuries giving us His Word just so that we can ignore it.

He didn’t give us the gospel of new life through faith in Jesus so that we could blend in with the rest of the roiling, selfish, dying world.

He didn’t open the way to the Kingdom of God so that we could treat our faith like an occasional trip to McDonald’s.

We’re to be scribes of the new kingdom, steeped in God’s Word, filled with the power of the Gospel, so that we can live in the confidence of God's grace and share Christ and His Gospel with others. 

If you’re not spending time with God each day, you’re missing out on a treasury of intimacy, grace, love, and guidance.

So, please consider taking up the practice of daily quiet time. I aim to do this five days a week.

In quiet time, you read a bit of Scripture each day, ask God to show you the truth He wants you to see for that day, and ask God to help you to live that truth. Then, pray for the chance to share your faith so that you can share the kingdom of God with others.

Our Navigators’ life and learning discipleship team is now beginning to pray about who God wants to participate in the next wave of discipleship small groups. (Our goal is that one day, every member of Living Water, plus many of our friends and neighbors, will be involved with these groups.) Be open to their invitations.

But you don’t need to wait for an invitation: Seek out others with whom you can study and pray and grow together. (I or other of our Navigators team will be happy to help you get started, just as a new group of men recently has.) God’s Kingdom is available to any who willing to receive Jesus and take in His Word, old and new.

Listen: I don’t need to tell you how difficult life can sometimes get. In any given week, I speak with any number of people who feel discouraged, even hopeless.

But neither they nor we need to be kept down. The devil wants to keep us down; but Jesus wants to lift us up! Even in the midst of life’s difficulties, we can have the very power and the kingdom of God filling our lives.

The treasury of God, old and new, is open to any willing to receive it. And it should be available through any disciple willing to share it.

Today, I ask you, be that open and available disciple.

Make it your daily aim to live in and spread God’s life and love and kingdom wherever you are.

Here’s a simple plan for being a disciple: Meet God through His Word daily. Soak it up. Spill it out. Repeat each day.

Meet, soak, spill, repeat.

Meet, soak, spill, repeat.

This is the life of a disciple, a scribe of God’s Kingdom. Amen

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

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Today's 11:11, July 27, 2017

This is from when the Newsboys were good, Peter Furler on lead vocals and Phil Joel playing guitar. I Surrender All is part of the fun and meaningful Love, Liberty, Disco LP. It was released in 1999.

Favorite lyrics?
He doesn't love us 'cause of who we are
He only loves us 'cause of who he is 
Words by John P. Kee, music by Peter Furler.

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

Belated 11:11 for July 26

Even though it's already July 27, here's this:
“I do the very best I can, I mean to keep going. If the end brings me out all right, then what is said against me won't matter. If I'm wrong, ten angels swearing I was right won't make a difference.”
It's one of my favorite Lincoln quotes. Leaders must take others' opinions into account, but they can't be shackled by the quest to win people over.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Who's the greatest?

This summarizes what God seemed to be trying to teach me during my quiet time with Him today. To see how I structure these intimate encounters with God, look here.
Look: “A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest.” (Luke 22:24)

Before this verse appears, Jesus has just instituted the Sacrament. He then tells the twelve apostles that someone among them is going to betray Him and that condemnation will fall on the one who does this.

According to Luke, the apostles then shift into a debate as to who among them the betrayer could be.

But just as quickly, their short attention spans showing, they move to a different argument: Which of them is considered to be the greatest?

I checked on the Greek here for several key words.

The first is dispute. In the Greek in which Luke first wrote his book, the word is φιλονεικία (philoneikia). That’s a compound word, the first part of which means love, like in philadephia (brotherly love). Philoneika literally means lover of strife. It seems to refer to people who just like to argue.

At this dramatic moment, when their Lord has just told the twelve that He is going to be betrayed and die, their love for Him isn’t stirred. Instead, their first reaction is to see who they can pin the blame on for the betrayal. Then they indulge their love of dispute to argue over which of them is the greatest.

The greatest is with them, Jesus. Yet here they are, glorifying themselves. “I’m number one.” “I’m the greatest.”

It’s all so hollow. In a matter of hours, the one Jesus has already designated to lead this lot of losers, Peter, will deny any association with Jesus. Among those to whom he denies following Jesus is a powerless servant girl whose testimony is toothless in that ancient sexist world.

But neither Peter nor the other apostles mind pounding their chests with pride when they don’t feel threatened. They love a good argument when the risk is low. (They’re like moderns who battle with strangers on the Internet, but are loathe to confront or resolve conflicts face to face in their own daily lives.)

The other word I was interested in was considered. In the Greek, the word is dokia, meaning thought. The idea here is that the twelve were interested in how others perceived them. The question wasn’t really who was the greatest, but who people thought was the greatest. Rather than striving to be the greatest, they were aiming at being perceived as the greatest. (And we think that the whole desire to look good more than to be good is a new phenomenon.)

But Jesus, both by word and example, points the twelve to a different measure of greatness: “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.” (Luke 22:25-27)

It’s true, as Proverbs 22:1 says that: “A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.”

But a true good name cannot be conferred by the world. The world is fickle. The world is confused, often confusing bombast and violence, wealth and possessions, for greatness.  True greatness, Jesus says, isn’t about celebrating oneself, pushing one’s self forward, bullying others, or even being seen as the nicest person in the room.

Looking great isn’t the same as being great. And we have to know the difference.

According to Jesus, true greatness=true servanthood. Just as Jesus came among us as One Who serves, we are to be servants.

So, Philippians 2:5-11 says: “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

In God’s Kingdom, Jesus has the greatest name because He is the greatest servant of all.

He descended deep into the sin, violence, and darkness of our world and then deep into hell itself, in order to, respectively spare those who trust in Him from sin and death and to proclaim God’s victory over evil to the demons.

Jesus emptied Himself of all the advantages of deity and became a servant to all for the sake of all.

His was the greatest act of service ever rendered, not just because He was and is God, but also because He was and sinless, yet bore our sin on the cross.

“Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:7-8)

If we would have truly good names, names written in the book of life, we must daily give up our pretensions to greatness, we have to quit trying to be “all that,” whether among our families, churches, co-workers, etc., and seek, in the power of the God we meet in Jesus, to be servants.

Not servile.

Not suck-ups.

Servants: People who seek each day to be lovingly useful to God and to others. People who know where the real power is, emptying ourselves and letting the power of God’s Holy Spirit unleashed in believers in Jesus, be given expression and to take control of us. “...for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10).

My ambition is to have a faith like Paul’s, as expressed 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.”

Listen: All I need is Christ. Christ alone. Through Him, God has given me life (Colossians 1:16). Through Him, God has given me new life 2 Corinthians 5:17; 1 John 5:11-12). Through Him, God provides daily bread (although we human beings can be stingy about sharing it). Through Him, we know that more than daily bread, we need Him, the living bread from heaven.

When I’m full of myself or afraid or apprehensive or resentful or sad, I must remember that Christ is all I need.

Response: God, help me to act boldly with faith in Christ, knowing that You will empower me to do exactly what You want me to do. Help me to remember that when I give myself away to You and to those who need me, there isn’t less of me, there’s more of You and become more like the person You created me to be. Help me to live for Your glory, not my own. Help me to seek Your will, not my own. In Jesus’ name I pray.
[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

John McCain's Speech

I had just returned from making runs this afternoon when I saw the Senate vote on proceeding to debate an as-yet undisclosed health care bill, followed by Senator John McCain's first speech since being diagnosed with brain cancer.

It was, maybe, the best speech McCain has ever given, full of amity mixed with criticisms of his fellow Republicans and Democrats alike and a call to the kind of civil and sometimes incremental governance that the Framers of the Constitution had in mind.

McCain has received criticism from some members of both parties today. Some Democrats felt that his vote to proceed on debate was a vote against the kind of health care coverage he enjoys as senator. A few Republicans didn't like his criticisms of the two most recent health care bills to be produced by Senator Mitch McConnell and the Republican leadership.

But, after listening to McCain's eloquent speech today, I was moved. I saw it as a ringing call to renew American democracy, something which I'd think people of both parties and of no party can get behind.

If you haven't seen the speech, watch it here and decide what you think.