Saturday, April 01, 2017

Fear is no excuse for hatred

Fear is no excuse for hate.

In Portland, a man who is not Muslim and escaped his homeland because of religious persecution, came back home from a recent trip to find his place vandalized, painted with anti-Muslim messages. Such hatred is neither Christian nor American.

It is stupid and misinformed.

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

Where temptation comes from

These are some recent reflections on my quiet time with God. For details on what's involved in quiet time, see here.
Look: “...each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed” (James 1:14).

Just before this, James says that we shouldn’t blame God when we’re tempted by sin. God isn’t in the tempting business.

I know that there have been times when I’ve blamed God for the sins that tempt me. Or I blame him for the sins to which I’ve caved. Whether I blame God overtly or subliminally, it’s all the same: Somehow, God is at fault for my feeling tempted. At other times, I may doubt God’s sovereignty. But I can be very devout in upholding the notion of God in being in control when temptations come or when I sin. “If God hadn’t allowed such and such to happen…” “If God hadn’t brought so and so into my life…” “If God hadn’t allowed such and such a thought to come into my brain…”

These thoughts echo the words of Adam and Eve after God confronted them with their sin. “The woman you [God] put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it,” Adam says (Genesis 3:12). “The serpent deceived me, and I ate,” Eve says (Genesis 3:13). Somehow, we want to blame God or the circumstances of our lives for our sin. I do, for sure.

But the real reason I find temptation so enticing isn’t with God. Adam was with Eve when they both were being dogged by temptation (Genesis 3:6). And this is what tempted them: “...the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom” (Genesis 3:6).

As James puts it, they were “dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed.”

Listen: My temptations, sins, and inclinations to sin don’t come from You, Lord! I can’t blame You for them. You don’t create our temptations (James 1:13). They are entirely inside jobs, the result slowly of those particular aspects of my personality and character that most entice me.

But I’ve recently been memorizing this promise from Your Word:

“No sin has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. But God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out, so that you can endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).

We can only be tempted when we allow our desires to be controlled by our sinful impulses. And the devil, the sinful world, and our sinful selves are very good at tempting us to make use of good things or even good people in the wrong ways, at the wrong times, for the wrong reasons. 
Respond: God, Your Word says, “Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4). Help me to delight in You and so, desire what You want for me, which is always for my eternal good. When I am tempted, as I will be, since even Jesus was tempted and it’s an inevitable part of human life, help me to turn to You, trusting that You will provide a way out, allowing me to endure for the greater joy of life with You (Matthew 24:13). In Jesus’ name.
[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God?

John 14:6
Acts 4:12
A week ago, I attended the Centerville mayor’s annual Faith Leaders Breakfast. A representative from each of the faith organizations was asked to say a few words. A man from a local Islamic mosque told us, “We all worship one God.”

Muslims are told this and taught to say this to non-Muslims. In Quran 29:46, Muslims are instructed to tell Jews and Christians: “And our God and your God is one; and we are Muslims [in submission] to Him."

That’s great PR. But is it the truth?

Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God?

Nabeel Qureshi, the noted author and Christian apologist, a convert from Islam, writes in his book, Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward, that even after he had become a Christian, he thought that the God of Christianity and the Allah of Islam were essentially the same. After all, Christianity is the fulfillment of the promises God made to the world through ancient Israel, and Islam, like Mormonism, is a legalistic derivative of Christianity. The Bible and the Quran both mention people like Adam and Eve, Abraham, and so on.

But, after he'd spent time in God's Word, Qureshi came to realize that the God of Christianity and the Allah of Islam are very different in nature, being, and attitude toward the human race.

Above all, we see this through the prism of the Trinity, the Christian belief that God has revealed Himself to be one God in three Persons. Jesus and the apostles taught this reality without ever using the term “trinity.”

Before He ascended to heaven, for example, the risen Jesus told His Church, “...go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…” (Matthew 28:19), putting Himself and the Holy Spirit on the same level as God the Father.

During His earthly ministry, Jesus claimed: “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30).

And one of the most famous benedictions in the New Testament invokes our three-in-one God: “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (2 Corinthians 13:14).

For Jesus and the early Church to claim that He and the Holy Spirit were co-equal to God the Father would have been blasphemous if it weren’t true. Yet Jesus and the first Christians could never be rightly accused of being blasphemous or disrespectful of God.

Even the Old Testament implies the existence of this mysterious three-in-one God in several places. One example: When God creates the universe in the Old Testament, we read that God said: “Let us make mankind in our image…” (Genesis 1:26). Who was God speaking to when He said “let us make” the human race? He certainly wasn’t suggesting that the animals, plants, moon, stars, or planets join Him in doing what only He could do, give life. And there's absolutely nothing to support the idea that God was using the royal "we." No, God was talking to Himself: “Let us make…”

But the Trinity is more than an arcane teaching, the Trinity just makes sense. First John 4:8 tells us that “God is love.” Only a God Who knows what love is and how to give love away would have even thought of creating the universe. If God weren’t practiced in and committed to love, He would have preferred to, as the Brits say, “keep himself to himself.” But when God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Who has experienced from all eternity, the joy of giving love away, that superabundance of love feels compelled to express itself in every molecule and every supernova and every human being God has ever made, every part of the universe for which He became human, died, and rose.

This understanding of God is central to what we believe as Christians.

It’s simple:
  • No Trinity; no creation. 
  • No Trinity; no salvation. 
  • No Trinity; no Gospel.
  • No Trinity; no Church.
The God worshiped by Christians is Trinitarian. Everything He has done, from making us, to saving us, from making us part of His Church, to making us holy by the power of His own Spirit springs from His Trinitarian nature. God would not be God if weren't one God in three Persons. That's not the version of deity that Muslims worship.

We can also see how different the Christian and Muslim views of God are when we consider one of the most common names we Christians use in talking to God.

When Jesus was asked by the disciples how to pray, He began the prayer with: ‘Our Father in heaven…’” (Matthew 6:9).

Jesus was telling all who approach God in His name to regard God as our loving Father.

Islam, on the other hand, is revolted by the idea of God being our Father. Quran 5:18 says: “the Jews and the Christians say, "We are the children of Allah and His beloved." [Tell them] ‘Then why does He punish you for your sins?’ Rather, you are human beings from among those He has created. He forgives whom He wills, and He punishes whom He wills.”

Notice that repentance, faith, or a heart open to God mean nothing to Allah. To Islam, Allah is a mercurial dictator who may give you a break...or not. Allah rules entirely by fiat. And Muslims don’t see how Christians can believe that God would dirty His hands by claiming to be related to human beings as our Father.

Islam also rejects the idea that Jesus, Who said, “...before Abraham was, I AM” (in other words, “before Abraham was, Yahweh”) (John 8:58) and Who accepted the worship of people like Thomas, Peter, and the blind man from this past Sunday’s Gospel lesson, is God.

Quran 5:72 insists that anyone who believes that Jesus is God, the One we Christians proclaim as “the Word made flesh” (John 1:14) will be forbidden a place in Paradise, their only refuge fire, from which they can receive no help. In other words, the Quran teaches that if we believe that Jesus is God, we are going to hell.

Islam also rejects the idea that Jesus is God’s Son.

Jesus teaches, famously of course, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

But the Quran says: “No son did Allah beget, nor is there any god along with Him.”

Jesus says, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). The Quran says, effectively, that Jesus is lying.

Islam tries to have it both ways: to claim a share in the God of Israel ultimately revealed to the world in Jesus, Who they rename Allah, as their own, while repudiating much of what God has revealed to the world in Jesus.

The God of the Bible is a heartsick lover Who beckons us to turn from sin and turn to Him to live, a God Who despised His own dignity so that by sacrificing Himself on the cross, He could win us back from from sin and death. 

The Allah of Islam is like the Greek and Roman gods, who neither give nor promise grace, who sport with the human race while floating above it all, moving only from indifference to anger with humanity.

Christians and Muslims do not worship the same God.

But this shouldn’t make Christians smug. Ephesians 2:8 reminds us: “ is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.”

Rather than being smug, we should be thankful for Christ’s gift of salvation and new life to us.

We are blessed to be baptized and to have heard the Gospel from faithful people so that we have the chance to know God! We’ve been saved by God’s grace through faith in Jesus. That’s a lot to be thankful for, but we can claim no credit for it; it's God's work alone!

And from sheer ratitude, we have every reason to be faithful to the great commission Jesus has given to us, to make disciples of all peoples.

That includes those who are trapped in Islam.

May we be grateful and, by the power of the Holy Spirit, may we be faithful in lifting up Christ to our neighbors, all of our neighbors.

For we believe exactly what the first century Church believed of Jesus: “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)

Let’s show and tell the world this truth in every way God opens to us!

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

Monday, March 27, 2017

Apostles' Creed, Part 1

I like this two-and-a-half minute explanation of what we Lutheran Christians mean when we say that we believe in "God the Father, Creator of heaven and earth."

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

Good Monday News

"Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us..." (Galatians 3:13). (Christ did this when, despite His complete innocence, He bore the weight of our sin on the cross, where He was executed.)

We can never keep God's moral law to perfection. If we make our personal conformity to God' moral law the standard on which we ask God to judge our lives, we will be found wanting and never enter God's kingdom.

But if we believe in Christ and His gospel of new life for all who turn from sin and follow Him, we enter God's kingdom on Christ's merits, not our own.

We are saved by grace through faith in Christ alone.

(Check out Ephesians 2:8-10; Romans 3:28; John 3:16-18; Acts 4:12; Romans 3:21-22).

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

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Knowing Jesus

John 9:1-41
In last Sunday’s gospel lesson, a Samaritan came to have life with God when, to her surprise, Jesus told her every sin she’d ever done while still reaching out to her with love and respect. In today’s lesson, a blind man comes to see that Jesus was “the Son of Man,” a phrase from the Old Testament book of Daniel for God Himself on the earth that He created.

Jesus promises that all who see Him for Who He is in this way and trust Him as their God and Savior will have life with God for eternity.

But as our gospel lesson shows us today, seeing Who Jesus is and trusting faith in Him are two different things. The gap between knowing about Jesus and knowing Jesus can only be measured in eternity.

It isn’t easy to believe. In his book, The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Lutheran theologian, says: “Salvation is free, but discipleship will cost you your life.”

The blind man in today’s lesson learned this truth the hard way, deserted and rejected by his family, his neighbors, and religious leaders. But at the end of the lesson, you realize that he became a true disciple, willing to give up on everything the world in which he lived held dear for the privilege of being Jesus’ disciple today and in eternity.

Let’s take a look at John 9:1-41.

In verses 1-7, at the beginning, Jesus and His disciples encounter a blind man. The disciples want to know whose sin was at fault for his blindness.

We human beings love to believe in neat explanations for the messiness that exists in our world. It helps us feel that we’ve got a handle on things we can’t explain. But this world is messy because the condition of sin has imprisoned the entire universe.

This means that bad things, hard things, and sad things happen even to faithful people.

So, Jesus says that it was neither the man’s parents or the man himself who caused the his blindness. But there was a purpose for Jesus encountering the man that day, Jesus says: “...this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:3).

Jesus then creates a bit of mud, smears it on the man’s eyes, and tells the man to wash himself in a nearby pool. He does so and, as John puts it understatedly, “[he]...came home seeing” (John 9:7).

When the once-blind man’s neighbors find out, they want to learn how it happened. They smell a conspiracy. “This isn’t really the blind man who used to beg,” some of them say. “Yeah,” others say, “he’s an impostor who just looks like the guy.”

The neighbors don’t like that this guy is healed. It upsets the status quo. It makes them envious that a miracle has happened to him. It introduces mystery into a world they thought they’d figured out. They don’t like it that something so good happened to a man who they, like the disciples, thought deserved his blindness. Most conspiracy theories start in this way, folks. But, in verse 9, the formerly blind man tells them: “I am the man.”

The neighbors still aren’t sold on the truth. Or, at least, they don’t want to see the truth that stands before them. So, in verses 10-12, they start to grill the healed man. “How did this happen?” they ask skeptically. The man replies: “The man they call Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes. He told me to go to Siloam and wash. So I went and washed, and then I could see” (John 9:11).

I love his simple testimony: He met Jesus. Jesus told him what to do. He did it. Now, he could see.

Such simplicity in this circumstance is noteworthy. This man isn’t stupid. He can tell, as surely as you and I can tell when we read John’s account of this “conversation,” that the neighbors are getting hostile. Who is this uppity man to claim that a miracle was done for him?

Instead of talking about some miracle wrought by the preacher they’d been hearing about, it would have been more acceptable to them for him to say, “I was never really blind. I only pretended to be blind so that I could spend my days begging.”

Or, he could have left Jesus out of it altogether: “I washed in the pool of Siloam and it cured me.”

But, instead, he attributes the miracle to Jesus.

The crowd doesn’t like this. Some of you know that an atheist once told me after I’d shared some of my story of coming to faith in Christ after years of atheism that I never could have been an atheist. “If you were an atheist,” he told me, “you still would be.” But God can break through the sin, pride, and pain of this fallen world and bring good.

That’s what Jesus did for the blind man.

It’s what He did when He died on the cross and rose from the dead, offering new, eternal life to all who trust in Him.

It’s what He did when He gave me faith in Him to replace my atheism.

In verses 13-16, the neighbors take the man to the Pharisees, the experts in God’s Law. When the situation is laid before them, they’re scandalized to learn that Jesus performed this miracle on the sabbath.

This proved, some of them say, that Jesus couldn’t be from God. Others disagree. The Pharisees are in gridlock.

They turn to the blind man and ask who he thinks Jesus is. The Pharisees don’t want the man’s real opinion. They’re pressuring him to turn on Jesus, to renounce the whole thing, to say that his blindness AND Jesus are frauds.

Once more, the man doesn’t buckle under pressure. Jesus, he says in verse 17, “is a prophet.” A prophet, of course, is a person called by God to speak God’s Word to the world. Now, you and I know that Jesus actually is the Word of God. Jesus is way more than just a prophet; but He is that too. The man says of Jesus what he so far knows of Him. He tells the simple truth. His honesty is moving.

After their pressure fails to cause the man to renounce Jesus, they enlist his parents’ help. “Yes,” they say in verses 18-19, showing the spines of jellyfish, “that’s our son. But we don’t know anything about his story. He’s old enough to fend for himself. Bye!”

In Matthew 10:36, Jesus warns those who would follow Him that “a man's enemies will be the members of his own household.” When we follow Jesus, we can’t expect that all of our family and friends will be happy about it. Being a Christian who seeks to humbly follow Jesus is not making a popular choice.

The formerly blind man is so innocent about the ways of power and going-along-to-get-along, that when the Pharisees ask him to tell them again how he’d come to be sighted, he doesn’t take the hint. He was supposed to admit that he was part of a hoax. Instead, he asks: “Do you want to become his disciples too?” (John 9:27).

At this, the Pharisees tell the man that he must be Jesus’ disciple and that there’s no way of knowing whether Jesus is from God or not.

Now the once blind man says what was becoming obvious to him: “If this man [Jesus] were not from God, he could do nothing” [John 9:33].

At this, the once-blind man, alone among his neighbors and people, abandoned by his parents, condemned by the religious leaders of his country, was thrown out...excommunicated (John 9:34). The good religious leaders rejected him as one unworthy of God.

In the very next verse, we read about this exchange between Jesus and the formerly blind man: “Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, ‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’ ‘Who is he, sir?’ the man asked. ‘Tell me so that I may believe in him.’ Jesus said, ‘You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.’ Then the man said, ‘Lord, I believe,’ and he worshiped him.’”

The blind man saw Who Jesus was--God in the flesh--and so believed in Him and worshiped Him. This is the second miracle in our lesson.

The first was the miracle of restored sight.

The second was the gift of everlasting life when the man who had received his sight believed in Jesus.

This is the miracle that belongs to all who believe in Jesus. May we never lose our sense of awe and wonder at this miracle. The God Who made everything, Whose holiness we have repeatedly violated, became one of us, led a life free of sin despite temptation, and gave Himself on a cross we earned. Now He offers us life with God for eternity when we turn for sin and, like the once-blind man, believe in Him.

Jesus wasn’t done teaching others the way to life through this blind man, though.

In verse 39, Jesus says, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.”

The Pharisees were offended. “Are we blind too?” they ask Jesus (John 9:40).

Jesus’ response: “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains” (John 9:41).

In other words, the Pharisees could see that Jesus was the Son of Man, the Messiah, the Christ, the King of kings, the Lord, God.

But if they admitted to knowing all of that, they would be compelled by faith to let go of the stranglehold they had on power, position, and the lives and consciences of the people they bullied.

The Pharisees who rejected Jesus knew about God, but they refused to know God when He stood in front of them.

They recognized that Jesus is God’s Son. But they were comfortable in living apart from the living God. (And do you know what you call living apart from God? Death.)

The Pharisees chose blindness and so, Jesus says, they were condemned.

But the blind man focused on Jesus.

In ancient days, the rabbis said that Adam and Eve were created blind. They said that the two were totally dependent on God to lead them and that He only led them to places of freedom and peace, places where they were set free to be all that God had made them to be.

But, when they caved into the temptations of the serpent, eating the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, “...the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked...” (Genesis 3:7).

Now, the rabbis said, having fallen into sin, the two were cursed with sightedness. They experienced more than just the good in which God had led them; they now could also see the evil ways they could use their lives.

Sin ensnared them.

Sin fooled them (and has fooled every generation of human beings since) into thinking that it’s possible to live apart from God.

The vision of the entire human race has been clouded by a universe full of idols vying for our trust and our worship, leading us to selfishness, self-promotion, self-loathing, darkness, and death. Now, of course, the rabbis' teaching about this is a bit fanciful. But it does make an important point: When we take our eyes off of the God we know in Jesus Christ, making Him our True North, we lose sight of the only One Who can give us life. We go off course.

When the once blind man came to believe in Jesus, he was set free from his sin and from death. He didn’t just know about God; through Jesus, He came to know God Himself. He saw Jesus as His God and King.

That’s what Jesus makes possible for us see and experience too. May we follow Jesus and never lose sight of Him as “the [only] way, and the [only] truth, and the [only] life” (John 14:6). Amen

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