Friday, May 18, 2018

Living the Word God Gives

This a journal entry from my quiet time of over a week ago. To see how I approach my quiet time with God, see here.

Look: “Apply your heart to instruction and your ears to words of knowledge.” (Proverbs 23:12)

This verse makes me think of the time I spend each day doing nothing: watching ball games in which I have little interest, loading up on the latest news from Washington D.C., perusing Facebook or Twitter, entertaining myself with trivialities.

Obviously, there’s nothing wrong with ball games, the news, or connecting with ideas and friends on social media. The question is how much of that sort of input can finally erode or eliminate my capacity for being a faithful disciple of Jesus?

What is the tipping point at which these trivial pursuits take over my life, making me just what the devil wants Jesus’ disciples to be: ineffectual, distant from God, spending far too little time in God’s Word or in prayer or in study and reflection rooted in God’s Word, spending far too little time living out my relationship with Christ or sharing Him with others?

I find it easy to become more consumed with the world than I am with the Word.

When I stop applying God’s instruction to my life, I’m a sap, a pushover, for the temptations to sin presented by the devil, the world, and my sinful self.

Listen: Spending time in God’s Word and God’s mission with God’s people and on my own as a redeemed saint/sinner is essential.

But I’m to be more than a reader of God’s Word; by the power of the Holy Spirit, I am called to apply God’s Word to my life.

I am to act and live in the freedom of grace given by God to all with faith in Jesus Christ.

People trained to be neurosurgeons, bricklayers, or lawyers are expected to apply what they learn.

Each is meant to enter into practice, an interesting term implying that while those trained never stop learning, they daily practice applying what they’ve learned. They perform surgeries. They lay bricks. They try cases or provide legal counsel.

Disciples are students, which is what the term New Testament Greek word translated as disciple, mathetes, means. Even as we keep learning to be more like Jesus, whatever our daily callings may be, we’re to daily apply the things we’ve learned to how we live as followers of Jesus.

Disciples are also teachers. I am called to both be and to make disciples (Matthew 28:16-20).

In fact, to be a disciple includes these two elements side-by-side: Being, making. I apply God’s Word to my life; I share that Word with others. I let the Word, Christ Himself, do its work on me; I share it so that He may do His same life-giving work on others.

And God’s Word, definitively shared in the Bible, but always new as I attend to it, not only teaches me old lessons, it keeps teaching me new ones. I then share or teach others these lessons from God, the truth of God centered in Jesus’ death and resurrection, the old and the new lessons. Jesus says in Matthew 13:52: “...every teacher 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."

If I don’t pay regular heed and give regular, prayerful consideration to God’s Word every day, if I’m not seeking to apply what God is telling me, teaching me, and calling me to every day, I risk losing sight of God, His will for me, His grace for me, His love for me. I risk sinking into a terminally trivial life. In fact, I’m called to a life of significance, a gift of grace that God intends for everyone who comes to faith in Christ. First Peter 2:9 says: “ are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.

So, I need to keep attending to and applying God’s Word to my life both to keep from forgetting all about God in my own life and in order to fulfill my mission as a disciple by sharing that Word from others. Through Moses, God told the people of Israel, speaking of His Torah, the way of life: “Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates, so that your days and the days of your children may be many in the land the Lord swore to give your ancestors, as many as the days that the heavens are above the earth.”

Jesus warned how the pursuits of this world can crowd Him out in His parable of the seeds, representing His Word, that fell on different kinds of soil. Some seed, Jesus explains, “fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants” (Matthew 13:7). Jesus later explains: “The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful.” (Matthew 13:22) In other words, we lose our spiritual fruitfulness when God gets crowded out of our lives.

James talked about how easy it is to lose sight of God when we don’t take the time to daily reconnect with Him in prayer and contemplation of His Word, weekly reconnect through worship, and regularly apply what God is teaching us in our daily lives. “Anyone who listens to the word but does not do [apply or live out] what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.” (James 1:23-24)

Respond: God, today: (1) Give me the opportunity and give me what I need to use the opportunity to share the Gospel with a spiritually disconnected person; (2) Help me to spend time in Your Word and apply it; (3) Help me to engage in the “mutual conversation and consolation”* with sisters and brothers in Christ. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen

*This phrase comes from The Smalcald Articles, one of the basic confessional documents of the Lutheran movement meant to explain Biblical faith. You can find the Articles along with the other confessional statements in Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions, available at Amazon.

[I'm the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

Whose Will Comes First? Not Mine

This is the journal entry from my quiet time with God one day this past week.

Look: “So the Philistines fought, and the Israelites were defeated and every man fled to his tent. The slaughter was very great; Israel lost thirty thousand foot soldiers. The ark of God was captured, and Eli’s two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, died.” (1 Samuel 4:10-11)

Israel and the high priest, Eli’s two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, had largely forgotten God. They relied on their own ideas and impulses. After going into battle against the Philistines and losing, the Israelites hit on a plan: They would bring the ark in which God’s presence on earth dwelt onto the battlefield.

The Philistines understood that Israel’s God had been faithful to the Israelites, delivering them from slavery in Egypt, giving them victories as they took the places assigned to them in the promised land. So, they were afraid and resolved to fight hard when they saw the Israelites had dragged “their god” onto the field of battle. The Philistines crushed the Israelites and took the ark of the covenant besides.

Listen: What happened?

(1) The Israelites weren’t following God, they were using God for their own purposes. They didn’t ask, “Lord, what should we do?” They asked, “Lord, bless what we’ve already decided that we’re going to do, no matter what Your purposes may be.”

(2) They treated the ark of the covenant not as the place where God dwelt on earth, but as a good luck charm. If God isn’t in the things that we do as His people, we will fail no matter how many times we invoke God’s name.

Respond: Today, in my decisions and in my words, help me to seek and react to Your will, not my preferences. In Jesus’ name. Amen

Monday, May 14, 2018

When You've Got Decisions to Make (Church Lessons, Part 6)

[This was shared yesterday morning during worship with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

Acts 1:12-26

When I was in school and we neared the end of an academic year or of a quarter, we reviewed all that we’d learned before we took the final test or heard the final bell. Today is the last Sunday of the Easter Season, 2018. Throughout this season, we’ve looked at the New Testament book of Acts. Acts is the history of the early Church, from Jesus’ ascension somewhere between 28 and 33 AD until sometime around 90 AD. We’ve considered how the early Church followed Jesus, lived life, and shared Jesus with others after Jesus had gone back to heaven. Today, we will review the lessons God has been teaching us throughout Acts. 

But there’s a sense in which all of the lessons we’ve derived from Acts this Easter Season are summed up in the sixth one we cull from today’s appointed first Bible lesson, Acts 1:12-26. It's this: Every decision we make as the Church and as individual disciples is to be rooted in God’s Word and in prayer

In other words, our every action, our every word, are to be rooted in a relationship of intimacy with God that we share together as sisters and brothers in Christ.

In John 15, Jesus tells His Church, including us, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) 

If we do anything in life apart from the life-giving power that only comes to human beings through Jesus Christ, apart from an intimate relationship with the risen and ascended Jesus, we will never accomplish all that we might otherwise

Proverbs 16:25 tells us, “There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death.” We need to be connected with the God we know in Jesus in order to make the right decisions in life. 

As the Church and as individual disciples of Jesus, our standard isn’t what the world thinks. 

It isn’t what the standards of this or that profession proscribe. 

The only One Whose say-so matters is Jesus. 

That’s why the apostle Paul said, “I can do all this through him [Christ] who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13).

A friend recently asked me about a decision I’d made and why I felt so confident about it. 

Above all, I wanted the person to know that I have no confidence in Mark Daniels. Zero. 

There were two very different reasons for my confidence, I explained. 

First, because I had spent time every day with God in His Word and in prayer. 

Second, because the decision I sensed that God was calling me to make was precisely the opposite of what I had wanted to make before I started praying. I’d preferred the easier route; God pointed me to the harder one. 

What, my friend wondered, had God done to make things clear to me. I told him that it was the same way God has always made things clear to me from the day I came to faith in Jesus. No voice from heaven. No flashing lights. No bolt from heaven. Just peace, clarity, and certainty. 

I liken it to the experience of Elijah who sought a word from God. God didn’t make Himself known to Elijah in a mighty wind that cracked open ancient rock formations. God didn’t reveal Himself or His Word to Elijah in an earthquake. God didn’t disclose Himself or His will to Elijah in a raging fire. Elijah only finally perceived God in “a gentle whisper,” or as another translation puts it, “a still small voice” (1 Kings 19:12). 

Elijah experienced “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding” (Philippians 4:7). 

And that’s what you and I can experience when we seek intimacy with God, when we root everything we do and say in the Word of God and in prayer in Jesus’ name.

We find the early Church acting on that belief in today’s first lesson, Acts 1:12-26. Let’s set the stage: The eleven remaining apostles have just returned from the Mount of Olives from which they had watched the resurrected Jesus ascend back to heaven. Just before that, Jesus told them to wait for the Holy Spirit’s power before they pursued the mission of the Church, making disciples. 

The apostles are to wait. 

And how do they wait? 

Verse 13: “When they [the apostles] arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.” 

The apostles and the others with them spent their time waiting by praying. We don’t know the content of their prayers in Jesus’ name. But we do know that they prayed. They waited on God.

After a period of prayer, Acts tells us, starting at verse 15, Peter felt compelled to speak. As he’d been praying, Peter had also been considering the Word of God

Listen: Prayer that isn’t rooted in God’s Word can deteriorate into a self-absorption that leads us away from God. Considering God’s Word as we pray can remind us that our primary concerns, in order, need to be: God first, others second, ourselves last. 

But considering God’s Word without prayer can turn Bible-reading into an intellectual exercise, the acquisition of facts untethered from God. You get bragging rights at the next small group or Bible study meeting.

Peter knew that prayer and consideration of God's Word need to go together. So, as he prayed, he remembered or read two passages from the Psalms, Psalm 69:25 and Psalm 109:8. As he prayed, Peter understood the application of these two verses to the life of the Church. Always, as we read Scripture, we need to be asking God, "How does this apply to me today? What does this passage tell me I need to see or do today?" 

Peter, in prayer, considering God's Word, and considering the life of the infant Church, saw an application in those two passages from the Psalms.
Let me explain: Jesus was the fulfillment of the mission of salvation and new life God had started Israel, with its twelve patriarchs, the great-grandsons of Abraham and Sarah. 

Israel’s entire purpose for being was to bring God’s salvation to the world through the birth of the Messiah, the Christ, God's Anointed King.

When Jesus called apostles, He called twelve of them. That was no accident! Through the apostles' proclamation of new and everlasting life for all who turn from sin and trust in Jesus, a greater Israel, one made up of Jews and Gentiles who believe in Jesus, was to come into being

Judas had been called to be an apostle. But he had betrayed Jesus and defected to Satan, the Evil One. The psalms told Peter that someone who, like the other apostles, had witnessed Jesus’ resurrection had to take Judas’ place as an apostle, a patriarch of God’s enlarged Israel so that the mission of the Church could proceed as God intended.

Now, if Peter and the others were Americans like us, he might have said, “Let’s take a vote for a replacement apostle.” 

Instead, the group came up with the names of two men who had been with Jesus from the day that Jesus was baptized in the Jordan until they saw Him risen from the grave, then asked God to show which of the two--Justus called Barsabbas or Matthias--it should be. 

They cast lots to figure out who God chose. We don’t know exactly what the Bible meant when it spoke of “casting lots”: It could have been tossing dice, drawing straws, or something else. But the point is, when God’s people “cast lots,” they weren’t putting their faith in dice or straws. They were trusting God to show them what to do after they had prayed and considered God’s Word

The lot fell to Matthias and, at that moment, having a full complement of twelve apostles, the Church was ready for the coming the Holy Spirit. 

I wonder whether after the lots had been cast if there wasn’t someone in that room who wasn’t sure about Matthias and was tempted to suggest, “How about if we make it two out of three?” 

However tempted any of them may have felt, all accepted that, because they were people rooted in prayer and God’s Word, Matthias was the apostle God had chosen.

The New Testament book of Acts can help us to answer the question: After we have been baptized and can say that we believe in Jesus as our God and Savior, now what? How do we live as the Church? How do we live as Christian disciples? (It's interesting to note that when Luke set out to give us a clue about the answers to these questions from the experience of the first-century Church, he didn't write the Book of Just Hanging Around. He wrote the Book of Acts!)

The lessons the book of Acts has taught us this Easter Season have included: 

  • (1) In all ways, we are to seek to take care of the needs of our fellow believers so that together, we can be authentic witnesses for the new life God is establishing in all who confess that Jesus Christ is Lord
  • (2) Share Jesus, knowing what to share about Jesus, sharing what we have personally experienced of Jesus, and looking for opportunities to share Jesus
  • (3) The only power to overcome the sin, death, and futility of this world is the risen Jesus Christ. The true, eternal Church is made up of those who trustingly live as though they believe that’s true...because it is! 
  • (4) Every disciple in Christ’s Church is a witness for Christ
  • (5) God has no favorites
  • (6) Every decision we make as the Church and as individual disciples is to be rooted in God’s Word and in prayer.

And honestly, as I've said, if we can remember this last one, God will empower us to do the rest. 

We who make up Christ’s Church need each other. The New Testament describes the Church as Christ’s body. When any part of its body gives up on mutual care, sharing Jesus with others, trusting in Christ’s power over sin and death, being witnesses, accepting that God loves and Jesus died and rose for all people, or regularly praying and considering God’s Word, the body can’t function as Jesus intends for it to function. 

But it must all be rooted in a daily time with God in prayer and consideration of Scripture. It’s in these quiet times that God can 

  • assure us of His love for us, 
  • listen to our confession and grant us His forgiveness, and 
  • empower us to live the life that our Church Lessons show us are meant to be normal for everyone who confesses Jesus as Lord.

Look, I know how busy life can be. I’m right there with you. 

But I also find that the more time I spend in God’s Word and in prayer, the more time God seems to manufacture for me to get the things I need to get done accomplished

And I am assured through this regular interaction with the God I meet in Jesus that maybe the things I think I need to get done don’t need doing at all

In the end, the Christian life is simple: To stay close to Jesus and to share Jesus with others. Spending intimate time with the God we know in Jesus will help us to live that life.

Martin Luther, whose life was filled with busy-ness, including preaching, teaching, pastoring, leading, raising a family, and welcoming all sorts of people to his home, once said, “I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours [of every day] in prayer.” Never try to face the frenzy of daily living before spending time with the One Who can conquer any storm!

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened,” Jesus tells us, “and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). When we come to Jesus, He will also give us the power to live faithfully for Him. 

Be ready for all that God has called you to do and be in life: Soak up His Word and pray in Jesus’ name. Amen

[I'm the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Heeding Christ's Call, Turning from Racism

Two events that have taken place over the past several days have disturbed me a lot.
2. An African-American graduate student at Yale University was the subject of a call to Yale police. Her wrongdoing? She had fallen asleep in a commons area. To their credit, Yale police said it was not a police matter.
In both matters, two women were minding their own business but were deemed suspicious because they are black.
In America.
In 2018.
As to the first situation, I will be turning 65 later this year. I identify with the woman and so, find the treatment to which she was subjected deeply disturbing.
As to the second matter: Personally, when I was a student at Ohio State who commuted daily from my home on the west side of Columbus to campus, I often dozed off in the student union between classes. Nobody ever filed a complaint about me. Of course, among the other reasons why this was probably the case is that I am white.
The Yale case is disturbing in that the truly guilty party, the student who called the police, clearly acted out of racial fear. Another term for racial fear would be racism. This sin exists among us and within us to an extent that we white folks find hard to admit. But cases like these two are rooted in racism and no amount of denial can change that fact.
Racism is a sin and its existence has a continuing horrible effect in America on those who are its victims, as well as a devastating eternal impact on those who act upon it, refusing to repent or change. When we yield to racism, when we excuse it, we put our immortal souls at risk.
We must all change. This fatal disease of racism must be exorcised from each of us.
This is especially urgent for those of us who claim to be disciples of Jesus Christ. We follow a Savior, God-enfleshed, Jesus, who saves us from sin and death, not because of our virtue, but in spite of our sin. We are saved by grace through faith in Christ alone. And, all my neighbors, whatever the tones of their skin, are, like me, made in the image of God. So, those of us who trust in Christ are particularly called to turn from the sin of racism and to call our sisters and brothers in Christ to do the same.
God tells us: “... if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14)
I don’t know about you, but I pray for healing in this land. And I know it starts with me repenting, trusting in Christ, and then, in the power of the Holy Spirit, loving all my neighbors, fighting for justice for each.

Monday, May 07, 2018

God has no favorites!

[This was shared with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio, during both worship services on May 6.]

Acts 10:34-48

We’re considering church lessons, lessons for we disciples of Jesus Christ taken from the book of Acts. Today we come to Church Lesson #5: God has no favorites

This comes to us from some of the first words in today’s first Bible lesson, Acts 10:34-48, spoken by the apostle Peter: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism…”

Another way to express this insight is put on the lips of Papa, the character who represents God the Father in the novel, The Shack. Repeatedly, Papa says of people, “I’m especially fond of…” whoever it might be. In time we learn that Papa is “especially fond” of everyone, every one of us, no exceptions. God shows no favoritism. He loves all people equally.

Sometimes, I think that this is the hardest of all lessons for we who make up Christ’s Church to learn.

We can be like the older son in Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son. When the prodigal son came home, you’ll remember, he did so intending to beg his father, who he had treated disrespectfully, for nothing more than a job as a hired hand. But the father instead threw a party for him. The older son wasn’t happy. “...All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’” (Luke 15:29-30)

We can fall into the same kind of thinking, deluding ourselves with the idea that we deserve more of God’s grace and forgiveness than others and that some people deserve nothing from God. But we are sinners saved only by the grace of God through our faith in Jesus Christ. As disciples of Jesus, we are not less than others; neither are we more.

We need to remember that we follow a Savior Who told a murderous thug being crucified next to Jesus confessed his sin and confessed his faith in Jesus and was told by the Lord, “Today, you will be with me in paradise.”

Sometimes, we forget that God has no favorites, not even us. And sometimes, we forget that Scripture teaches us that God so loved the world that He gave His only Son so that all who believe in Him will not perish, but live forever with God.

God loved the world: Not just us or our family or our congregation or our posse or the people we like at our church or our country or our race. God loved and God loves the world. The apostle Peter is reminded of this truth in today’s lesson from Acts.

Before we look at this important passage, a bit of background. Remember, in a verse mentioned last week, the crucified and risen Jesus’ parting words to the Church before He ascended to heaven were: “ will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 

Up through Acts 10, where today’s lesson appears, we see the Holy Spirit setting out to prompt the Church to fulfill the first three aspects of this mission. Starting in Jerusalem, the center of Judean religious and political life, out into all of Judea, then to neighboring Samaria, the message of new life for all who turn from sin and trust in Jesus and His death and resurrection for sinners, the Holy Spirit empowered the Church’s proclamation of Jesus. 

In chapter 10, the Gospel reaches “the world,” in a city not terribly far from Jerusalem, Caesarea. But Caesarea, named for the Roman rulers, was an outpost of the Roman world, the world beyond the normal experience of those Jews who were the first Christians. There, a Roman official, Cornelius, and his family come to faith in Jesus. Peter saw this, which is where today’s lesson starts.

Verse 34: “Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right.” 

By “does what is right,” Peter doesn’t mean religious or charitable acts meant to earn salvation. If we could earn our salvation by being good people, Jesus would not have had to die for your sins and mine. Anyone who thinks they can be saved by the good they think they do is pouring contempt on what Jesus has already done for us. Jesus tells us what doing right is in John 6:29: “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent [to believe in Jesus, to surrender daily to Jesus].”

As if to make sure that Cornelius and his family understand just what they’re signing up for by confessing faith in Jesus and to convince the Jewish Christians who were with him (and maybe to reassure himself that it was OK for him as a Jew to share Jesus with these Gentiles), Peter then lists seven actions God took through Jesus to bring new life to all who believe in Jesus. 

God, Peter said: 
(1) had Jesus proclaim the message of peace with God for those who we believe in Jesus;  
(2) anointed Jesus will the Holy Spirit, just as the Old Testament had foretold of the Christ, the Messiah; 
(3) remained with Jesus, just as He had always been with His called leaders;  
(4) raised Jesus from the dead, showing that because He was sinless, death could not hold Jesus and that Jesus can give life to whoever believes in Him;  
(5) chose the Church, you and me, to be witnesses for Christ;  
(6) told the Church to tell the good news of new life for all who believe in Jesus everywhere; and  
(7) made Jesus the final judge of the living and the dead. 
This, as explained by one Biblical scholar, is what Peter talked about in verses 36-43 of our lesson.

Look at what happens next, starting at verse 44: “While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.”

This event has often been called the Gentile Pentecost. As happened on the Pentecost that happened ten days after the risen Jesus ascended to heaven, when Jews who had believed in Jesus were filled with the Holy Spirit and empowered to share Christ with others, Cornelius and his family, Gentiles, were now filled with the Holy Spirit and proclaiming in all sorts of languages the good news, the gospel, about Jesus!

Peter and the Jewish believers in Jesus who were with him needed no more evidence to convince them God has no favorites. Verse 46 forward, “Then Peter said, Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.’  So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.” 

Ordinarily, of course, we are baptized and then we receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38; 19:12). But we cannot and must not limit God, even though it’s so easy for all of us to do just that when we look at the challenges and the difficulties of our lives

Whenever we find ourselves trying to limit what God can do, we should remember the words of God to Moses when Moses was doubting God would accomplish what He set out to do, “Is the LORD's arm too short?” (Numbers 11:23) (Or, as another translation renders the passage, “Has my arm lost its power?” [New Living Translation]). 

On that day in Caesarea, in response to the good news of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit filled people who had come to believe. No wonder Peter said in essence, “I’ve seen enough evidence from God. Baptize them all right now!”

So, what does this all have to with you and me? Just this: God never gives up on us; it would be a sin for us to give up on anyone just because they’re different from us

Everyone in this world is as loved by God and as in need of Jesus as you and I are. 

We dare not write anyone off. We dare not stop praying for every possible opportunity to share Christ with the people in our lives so that they too can walk with God in this world and the next.

Besides, our judgments about the hopelessness of people are not infallible. When our son Philip was in seminary, he spent about a year working with ex-cons and recovering addicts who would show up at an inner-city Columbus church. On the last night he spent with these men, Philip told them, “You know, when I first started working here, I thought to myself, ‘I’ve got so much to teach these guys.’ But tonight, I want you to know that I have learned much more about Jesus and His grace from you than I have ever taught. Thank you.”

Listen: Your world (our world) is filled with Corneliuses for whom Jesus suffered, bled, died, rose, and ascended, filled with Corneliuses who, whether they know it or not, are looking for someone to save them from their sin, from themselves, from death. And if you don't know any Corneliuses in your life right now, find them, befriend them, love them, tell them about Jesus. 

They need someone willing to tell them and show them how God has acted to save them and to give them life with God, right now, right in the midst of this imperfect world. They’re looking for someone who can show them and tell them the truth: God has no favorites and every child of God is one of whom He is especially fond. Will you be the person who lets others know that? Amen

[I'm the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]